March 25, 2011
OK...Let's side step here for a moment and talk about something really fun!!! I know you're gonna like it...I can't help but like it! When my Dad was a young man, he spent a lot of time at the skating rink. He learned how to figure skate! He was good...like really good! Just like those figure skaters you see on TV. You're not going to believe this...but my Dad was so good...he ended up competing!
He competed at several rinks, depending on where the competitions were. These photos are priceless!! How do you like these costumes?!!
Enter stage right....my Mom!!!
Probably the cutest little thing on skates in the whole county. My Mom would always watch my Dad skate and thought he was so handsome. My Dad recalls the day he met my Mom. She and another girl came up to my Dad out on the floor. The one girl knew my Dad already and said "Hey, my friend here wants to know if you'll teach her how to do a "3 turn". He said "ya sure".
As he tells me the story the other night..this is how he talks, he says "I takes her by the hand". Instead of saying 'I took her by the hand'...he says "I takes her by the hand and proceed to show her how to do a 3 turn. Well, she's giggling and laughing and messing around. I told her, no, you're not being serious here, so no, I'm not going to show you if you're just gonna giggle and carry on." So he just left her there on the floor and skated away. As you can see, my Dad was serious about his skating. I asked my Dad, "Well, did you think she was pretty or cute?" He says "Oh ya...she was sharp...she was definitely...right there." And so, from then on they saw each other all the time at the skating rink and were together ever since.
My dad asked my Mom to marry him. She said yes.
He told me he asked her father for permission to marry her. He said yes. Here's the part I like...he said "her Dad had to sign for her because she was only 20." He said back then, if you were under 21, you had to have a parent sign for you.
They moved into their first apartment. My Dad's Grandmother moved in with them. They began building a family...the first 2 children were born...they bought their first house...then next 2 children were born. My Dad's Grandmother lived with them until it was no longer possible for them to care for her. They moved her into a place called Heart Home for the elderly, and eventually she went into the hospital where she passed away at age 89 or 90. He doesn't remember her exact age, but she sure did live a long time. I'm glad she got to see her grandson have a family and get to see some of her great grandchildren. I just remembered...they used to call her "Mum". That's what my Dad called her and my Mom did as well.
Like any young couple, in the beginning, money was tight, but eventually, years later, my Dad's business was doing well. He bought one acre of land in the suburbs northwest of Pittsburgh. He began building his dream home with his own two hands. With the house complete, they sold their house in Pittsburgh to my Mom's parents (my Grandparents) and moved into their new home. Then...guess who was born next? Me! Yes, I was child number 5, born in July of 1970. That's me there in the stroller, and those are my brothers and sisters.
The first 4 children were born consecutively...then there was an 8 year span of before I was born. Three and a half years later, my little sister was born. And then....they were done...she was the last born...the baby...(little brat! Ha Ha! Just kidding!)
I've got a few more things I'd like to share with you about my Dad. I will save it for Part 4, the final post...not the final chapter...he's still alive and well. He's 75 and is very much into building and flying model airplanes. He even joined a club last summer. He calls them "a bunch of old guys".
End of part 3...stay tuned for the final post of my father's story
And so...picking up where I left off...my father was shipped off to Hershey Orphanage for boys. He said he really cannot remember the details of how he got there but, he thinks his uncle may have drove him. An interesting detail...my Dad was 13, about to turn 14 in one or two weeks...once a child turned 14, they could not get into the orphanage...my dad got in just under the wire. Once a child got into the home, they could stay there until they graduated high school. At that time, they were given a brand new suit and $100 dollars.
The orphanage at Hershey was started by Milton S. Hershey in 1909. We are all familiar with Hershey chocolate, and this is the Hershey I am talking about. Milton Hershey and his wife Catherine were not able to have children of their own, so they started a school and orphanage for boys.
Here is a picture of the original homestead that housed the first orphans. Later there was a whole building and school for the orphans. My father did not come to this school until 1949. I have searched the internet for old photos of the orphanage or school and cannot find any photos from back then. The school is still there today and helps underprivileged boys and girls get a good education. It is no longer an orphanage.
The orphanage was on a dairy farm and daily life included chores. The children woke early every day at 5 am and worked the farm before school.
They milked the cows and cleaned out the barn before they even had breakfast. After breakfast they would clean up, change clothes and go to school. As soon as they came home from school, they returned to the barn to milk the cows again. At last after milking and other chores they went in to eat dinner. After dinner they had one hour to do their homework, and then would have an hour of free time to themselves to do what they wanted. Bedtime followed free time and then it would start all over again in the morning. It was a very structured life. Everything was scheduled by time.
On Sundays, the orphans children rode a school bus into town and were permitted to wander around for one hour. They each received an allowance of 40 cents per week, and were able to spend their money as the wanted. My father told me, "you know, you could get an ice cream cone or whatever." I can only imagine how much that time meant to them. Can you imagine, 40 cents and 1 hour of free time? It's definitely a strict life and I wish that kids today would have such an experience.
When I think about the over abundance children today receive compared to what children received back then...it is no wonder this generation feels entitled to everything! It's really astounding when you really think about it! Older generations are more thrifty and conservative...they save everything and make the most of everything they have. It's the more recent generations that have dumped every possession they have into the landfills because they were just bored with it, or it wasn't the right color, or they just deserved a new one. As I write this, I am incredibly humbled and ashamed. Even now, I am learning from my Dad.
My Dad did not like living at the orphanage at all. He said he felt very lonely. It was hard work, but it was honest work, and they were compensated for their labor with a roof over their head, food, an allowance and an education. He never said he was mistreated there, just that he did not like it...and I can undertand! My father was there for about three or four months before his Grandmother sent him money for a train ticket back to Pittsburgh. He took his money and ran away! He did not tell anyone he was leaving! He stole away to the train station, and for $5.24 he bought a one way ticket to Pittsburgh. re-creation--not actual ticket
From the train station in Pittsburgh, he proceeded to take a street car (trolley) the rest of the way home. The street car cost 10 cents to ride, and you paid when you got off. All my father had left in his pocket was a penny! But here's the best part...it was an old silver penny! He was hoping to pass off the silver penny as a dime because that's all he had! When the street car stopped, he put the silver penny in the machine and ran like the wind! He doesn't know if it worked, and he didn't stick around to find out. He just laughs when he tells this story, and I love it!
Anyhow, the orphanage did call the next day to say that he was gone. His Grandmother informed them he would not be coming back. My father told me they didn't have a phone until he was 17 years old, so I am assuming the call must have been made to his uncle's home.
At this time, my father went back to school and life continued on as usual. Living on welfare, my Dad's grandmother received only $30 dollars a month to live on. In my Dad words, "We had zero...nothing". He remembers going to the welfare office for his clothes. He would go up to the counter and they would hand him 2 pair of pants, 2 shirts and underwear. He describes the pants as something like "Dickies" work pants. I asked if he got shoes from them as well...he doesn't remember...but he assumed he did, because there wouldn't have been any other way for him to get shoes. His memories of the clothes are not good memories. He really despised those clothes! As he told me the other night, the clothes were "plain jane garbage". He said they were made of very cheap fabric and very poorly made. The pants and shirts were navy blue. He said he kinda feels like his clothes caused some of the problems he had in school with the other kids. He was very self conscious about his clothes while the other kids had "nice stuff like blue jeans". He said his clothes stuck out like a sore thumb! Now let me tell you, for my Dad to open up about feelings like this is astounding in itself. I am so glad that he shared being self conscious about his welfare clothes. It just makes me love him all the more. And to think when I was a teenager, I complained about not having expensive designer jeans such as Gloria Vanderbilt and Jordache! I had no idea of what it meant to have nothing!
As I write this, I'm getting choked up a little and tears are forming in my eyes. We grow up thinking our parents are this tough brick wall and cannot be crumbled...strong and sturdy...and they are...but we don't really think about who they were and what they felt like as a child...that they had hurts and wants as well.
end of part 2...stay tuned for part 3 of My father's story