Paul Harris Life Story – Harris Water Main & Sewer Contractors
May 18, 2017
Recently the granddaughter of Paul Harris, (Melanie) came across his life story when cleaning out her office drawers. After reading for the first time in almost 20 years the family felt it was important to share the type of person he was with the general public.
What do you write, when your granddaughter calls and says “Grandpa will you do me a favor? Please tell me in as many words as you like about you and Grandma’s life.”
I’m sure you know that I was born in Brooklyn, New York on June 14, 1926.
Flag Day- A minor holiday. But here’s something I bet you didn’t know. I was not born in a hospital. Your great grandmother decided she wanted this baby to be born at home, in her bed on satin sheets. I guess that explains why I’m such a special person- Ha Ha. I was the third of four children. My sister Florence (she died quite young), came first. Then came uncle Mody and after yours truly came Lenny. Uncle Lenny died while vacationing in Hawaii at the age of 60. Grandma and I had just arrived at your house in Murrysville to attend Adam’s Bar Mitzvah when I received the news of Lenny’s passing away on the tennis court.
Good news from here on to the end. Maybe.
I don’t remember too much until I was about six or seven. The only thing I do remember and it might have to be before I was six, was going to Camp TaGola in the summer. How I loved came-Almost as much as I love you! I went to camp until I was eighteen. The war (WWII) was on. I enlisted in the navy when I was seventeen. They didn’t call me to active service until I graduated from high school and was eighteen. I was in camp when I received the letter calling me to active service. I put in for overseas duty once every week (was I dumb), but I was always turned down. It seems a number of Bobby Soxers (teenage girls) signed petitions, begging President Roosevelt not to let me go. So what was I to do? I had to follow the Commander in Chief’s orders. If you believe what I just wrote you can’t be my granddaughter.
I hope you don’t mind me skipping around.
I remember once when I was about five, Uncle Mody and I had a fight. He chased me down the stairs. To get away I jumped down a whole flight of stairs—-and broke my leg. I walked with crutches for quite a while. While I’m on the subject of medical problems, I’ll fill you in on a few of mine. I broke my left leg (above), I was hit by a car chasing a ball into the street and ended up in the hospital. Torn ligaments-no broken bones this time. I don’t know how many times I tore ligaments, sprained joints, or received cuts while playing all kinds of sports. Playing football for Erasmus Hall High School, with three minutes to go, I got a knee in my back and damaged my spine. I was out of school six weeks. Many years later, I had to have my spine operated on. The operation was a success and it made a new man out of me. I could go on and on-there’s more. But I think I played on your sympathy long enough.
Now let’s go back. My adolescent years were probably similar to yours. I was just busy growing up. School, now that I look back was good. I could have been a better student. I never developed good study habits-like you or Adam. I always passed and probably had a 85-90 average. With you, school first then sports. I was the opposite. One thing- I never cut school and never ever wanted to smoke. My parents smoked like chimneys. My two brothers and I –never. Isn’t that strange?
I almost always lived, while growing up, in a private one family house. Most of my friends lived in six story, sixty or seventy family apartment buildings. We used to play in the halls and basement. The superintendent was always chasing us. When he caught us, we took quite a beating. We never complained to our parents. Many years later in Florida, I met one of the superintendents who used to smack me around. As I looked down at him, I told him who I was. He sort of remembered. Then I asked him if he would like to smack me around now. I think he peed his pants. It was after the war. I was about twenty-one and in the best shape of my life. I don’t think he will ever hit anyone again.
The house that I will always remember is the one I moved into when I was about eleven and moved out when I came home from the service at the age of twenty. I took my Bar Mitzvah lessons in this house. I had all my Camp ToGola trophies hanging on the walls over my desk in the basement. Do you remember the wooden shelf you made and gave to me that I now have hanging in my workshop? Well, I made one similar to yours when I was in sixth or seventh grade and hung it over my workbench in this house. Your Uncle Mody got married and moved in with Aunt Lilly into this house. I used to entertain your grandmother while getting to know her in this house. Aunt Lilly couldn’t wait to move out. She came from a family of four girls and got married and moved in with a family of three boys. She used to call us horses or animals. She wasn’t aware until she moved in that boys are different then girls; especially when eating. Many a night she went to bed hungry because she didn’t move fast enough at the dinner table-Joke.
Believe it or not in this two-story house we had two telephones and two bathrooms. Unheard of in our circle of friends and relatives.
Relatives. Let’s talk about them for a few seconds-Your great grandmother was the oldest of five girls. Your great grandfather was the only boy with six sisters. He was the toughest man you ever met. His sisters never made a sissy out of him. He, like your uncles Lenny and Mody, loved to fight. I was just a lover. The three of them would fight and even to this day in the middle of the night I still, on rare occasions, cry out in my sleep for Mody to help me. As I’m dreaming someone is chasing me-Ask your Grandmother.
Growing up I used to see all aunts and uncles on Sundays or at family functions. My father was always the ‘rich’ one. He helped many of our relatives when they were in need. I think he fought with them more than he helped them.
But there was one relative I really loved and that was my grandfather, my father’s father. Believe it or not I don’t think I ever called him Grandpa. I always called him John. His name was Jacob. Don’t ask me why. I don’t remember. He was about six feet two inches tall and stood as straight as a soldier. He always had a full head of full hair cut in a crew cut. I loved his stories. I still have one or two of his tools. As far as I can remember he lived with his oldest daughter Ray. That’s Michael Knigin’s grandmother. He loved baseball and cowboy magazines. Ray used to live near a large sports complex. My grandfather was there everyday during the baseball season. No television in those days.
One block from high school was a second hand bookstore. The owner always saved all the cowboy magazines for me. Once a month I would buy them all and bring them to John, my wonderful grandfather. Unknown to me when he finished them, he would sell them to the elevator operator in my Aunt Ray’s apartment house.
My father had my grandfather stay at Camp Tagola all summer. We allowed guests in those days. So all summer long I would see him every day. It was great! It was a very sad day for me when he passed away. He was in his eighties.
I never knew either of my grandmothers. My Grandfather on my mother’s side, I only remember him one time, reaching up into the kitchen cabinet where my mother had hid the lollypops, taking the box down and giving me one. I must have been a good boy that day.
Two of the nicest people I ever met or will ever meet were my in-laws. You hear all kinds of mother-in-law jokes and a lot could apply to my mother-in-law. But she was something! Tough, but fair. Hard to get along with, but hard not to be with. Could she cook! Do you know that the first two years of my marriage, every Friday afternoon while we were at work she would fill our refrigerator with fruit, vegetables, and meat for the entire week? And in a box on top of the sink was a completely cooked meal for us for Friday night. No matter how many times we fought and we fought plenty (I threw her out of the house a few times) she always came back and lectured me on whom did I think I was. So, long as her daughter and later her grandchildren lived in that house no “big shot” was going to keep her out. I loved her and miss her. Notice I did not mention my father-in-law. There was only one like him. He was really special. The nicest, sweetest man you could ever meet. My mother-in-law was the boss-The General they used to call her. My father-in-law was the calm one and always seeing good in people. He was the peacemaker. He was my good friend.
When I finally went into business, he was the first one I told. “When I bought my first truck, he was the first one I told. When I bought my first power tool, he was the first one I told. He was so happy to hear my good news. You know Melanie, maybe I built my business just so that I could keep telling him of my successes and I could then see him smiling from ear to ear. I can see his smiling face right now-You would have loved him. There was absolutely nothing phony about him. What you saw was what you got.
You know when my in-laws got sick near the end; we had them move into our house. I made a nice apartment for them downstairs for the few months that they lived with us before they died. When I would come home from work, I first said hello to them. Then I would eat and then I would have to go downstairs and have dessert with them. And they would ask me to tell them every detail about my day. They were so interested and proud that this “big shot” son-in-law was doing good and coming up in the world. After a while your grandmother took things for granted. To my in-laws, your great grandparents, it was always new and exciting. I liked that.
I’m sorry that so much of this letter is about dying. But this letter is about life and the two things go hand in hand.
Have you ever been to a track meet? Of course you have. One of the field events is hop, skip and jump. That’s what this letter seems like. I’m jumping all over the place. I’m just following my thoughts and going in whatever direction my mind sends me.
Melanie, life makes so many twists and turns and zigs and zags. You know, who knows if I had zigged when I should have zagged. I might never have met your grandmother, uncle Mody would never have met Aunt Lilly and Uncle Lenny would never have met Aunt Roberta.
My father was always in the plumbing business. When WWII broke out, all his men were taken into the service. There was no building going on; therefore, his plumbing business took a hiatus until the war was over. After the war, I started college. I was only there three weeks and two days when my father asked me to stay out one day. He wanted me to look at a new business. What a business! An ice cream parlor. What did we know about running a food business? My father said he was a businessman and could run any business. Besides, my aunt who found this store knew the business and she would run it. Sounds beautiful. She quit the first day. I never went back to college. One of the biggest mistakes of my life and something I regret to this day. Well out of this ice cream parlor, Uncle Mody met Aunt Lilly, Uncle Lenny met Aunt Roberta (Aunt Lilly’s cousin) and last but not least, I met your grandmother.
It was one stormy courtship. On and off again for about two years. You know the ending-She finally caught me. Your grandmother’s best friend told her “If you marry Paul, you won’t have a good day the rest of your life.” And at that particular moment she was right-What sensible girl would want to marry someone like me? Limited education, a lousy job, no car, no money, and most likely no future. If someone like me came calling on one of my daughters I would throw him out of the house. Your grandmother must have seen something no one else saw. I always said she was smart. Now that I look back forty-nine years-let me say it again-forty-nine years-I know she was smart. You know what, she’s getting smarter. – Don’t tell her I said so.
Well, we struggled. It took us three years to get our first car. After all the girls were born life started to get better. I was not in business for myself. The long days of working three different jobs (in one day) were over. Now, I was working long hours, but they were for myself. Grandma stayed home with the children, answered the phone when customers called, and did the bookkeeping. The business kept growing. The rest is history. Now your Uncle Steve is running the show and doing a good job.
Melanie in these few pages, I have only given you a bird’s eye view of my life. Seventy-two years (this June 14) is a long time. From my perspective, a very short time. I touched on only a few subjects and a few people. There were so many more that played both minor and major parts in my life. So many friends, relatives, business acquaintances, and employees played a part in this life of mine. Not to mention children and grandchildren.
Some I miss, some I love even though I haven’t seen them in many years, some I didn’t like then and still don’t like them. I always made sure the ones I didn’t like knew I didn’t like them. Maybe I wasn’t too open with the ones I liked and loved. That’s my nature. You are supposed to get smarter as you grow older. In some respects I think I have. To tell you the truth I am still learning. I think if I went back to college, I would be a top student. I think about it often. But being retired doesn’t leave enough time. Would you believe that?
Melanie I am going to call it quits for tonight. Let’s call this Part I. I hope to write Part II and with luck Part III. This is only the tip of the iceberg. I haven’t or hardly mentioned my my daughters or son-in-laws. I’ll get to them soon.
You ain’t heard nothing yet!!!!
P.S.-Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?
February 27, 1999
And so the beat goes on. So does my memory. Memory to me is the continuing story that tells who we are, where we’ve been, what we’ve done and perhaps more importantly, who has shared life’s journey along the way. With me and I guess with anyone who has past the age of seventy two, the cast of characters that have come and gone are just too numerous to mention. But I’m going to reminisce and write about a few.
I think I’ll start with two people I know you have never met. But they played important roles in both grandma’s and my life. I’m talking about your great Aunt Edith and great Uncle Ike. They were (both now deceased) grandma’s brother and sister and also brother to your great Aunt Elaine. Her, you know.
Edith was the oldest. She was always trying to do the best for grandma and me. Edith was married to Sam. Sam also started on the “A+” list and like Ike, worked his way down.
Sam owned a small grocery store/deli when I came into the family. We lived around the corner from Sam and Edith. We almost did everything together. In the beginning neither one of us had a car. My in-laws always chauffeured us (or Ike) around in a group.
At one time when I was still working for a boss and looking to make a few extra dollars, Sam gave me a job in his store. I worked Saturdays only from about noon to midnight. I helped service customers, make deliveries, clean up the filth and mess accumulated all week. For all of the above (I could eat and drink all I wanted to) I was paid five dollars. At that time, five dollars went a lot further then it does today. When we closed we went to Sam’s house. Melanie, your mother was not born yet. Waiting at Sam’s house was your grandma and a small feast. We had lots of fun eating and laughing. I don’t remember what time it was when we would finally leave to go home and walk around the corner to our house. In those days, it was safe to walk outside late at night. This routine went on for many months until Sam said he could no longer afford to pay me. I needed the money. I left to look for another part time job.
Would you believe that at one time my in-laws tried to talk Sam into making me a partner?
My in-laws put up the money for Sam to buy his store in the first place. Sam wouldn’t consider it and recommended instead that my in-laws (his in-laws too) buy me my own grocery/deli store. And believe it or not, they did! Looking back, way back, I am glad that even though the deal went through and they bought me a store, it didn’t materialize. I along with a lot of help from my mother-in-law, we backed out of the deal (contracts were signed) on the morning that I was to take over the store. Was it raining that Monday morning so long ago. My in-laws were sued because the deal was consummated. They settled and that was the end (thank God) or my almost being in the retail business. To this day, I believe the worst and toughest business is retail.
Although Sam found and recommended this lousy (it closed about two months after I backed out of the deal) store we still stayed close friends. Probably because of Edith.
When I went into business for myself, I used to rent he garage in Edith’s house to store my small inventory. My house had no garage. Their car (we both had cars at this time) and my car stayed on the street.
Our families did almost everything together. Our children started sleep away camp together. What tailgate parties we used to have on visiting day. My mother-in-law did most of the cooking. Grandma and Edith perhaps a little cooking. Sam, I and my father-in-law did all the eating. I can taste it now. When we finished eating we all fell asleep on the grass under a tree or on a chair. What wonderful days! Oh yes, we did find some time to be with the children.
It all fell apart when Edith died at the age of 44. I think Sam tried (not very hard) to raise his two daughters by himself. You don’t know these girls either. That’s a story for another time. We took the younger girl, bonnie, to live with us. Sam took her back. It was downhill for Sam and bonnie from that time on. The older sister, Vickie, married very young and moved out of the house.
Sam subsequently did things that I felt were wrong and we eventually drifted apart. I firmly believe if my wonderful sister in-law had lived we would be close to this day. In the beginning Edith did everything possible to help us out, even cooking some meals for us and leaving them in our house. I think she even shopped for us. She was always trying to make life easier for these two struggling newlyweds. She was like a mother to us. As the saying goes “the good die young.” How true in her case.
Now, we come to Ike. At one time and for many years, I couldn’t have wanted a better brother-in-law or friend. He was always ready, willing and able to give a hand and help out whenever or wherever he was needed. He worked for his parents in the butcher store and was able to take time off almost whenever he wanted to. My in-laws were very good to their one employee-their son Ike. That I believe is where his problems began. They were too good.
Ike loaned us his car for our honeymoon. In fact, he loaned us the car whenever we asked and sometimes we didn’t ask. He was wonderful. I can still hear him say, “Bring the car back on empty. Don’t put any gas in the tank, I’ll take care of it.” I wouldn’t want a better brother in-law at that time.
Ike married late and to a real winner. Why he married someone the complete opposite of his three sisters and mother, I’ll never know. Her name was fern and was called Fifi by her family. If any person fit the name of Fifi, it was her. We stayed pretty close through the early years of his marriage. In fact, Ike was working for my company when he got married. My mother in-law asked me to give him a job. I couldn’t say “no.” I should have! As good as Ike was before his marriage that’s how bad he became after his marriage. I finally had to fire him. No that’s wrong. He quit before I had the chance to fire him. It nearly broke up the whole family. It took my sister in-law Edith’s death to bring us back together again. But it never was the same, always a strained relationship. Things happened after my in-laws died (they died 10 days apart, one never knew the other had died). That really cut the cord, frayed as it was. We never really bothered with them again. At this last breakup we lost Elaine also. For some unknown reason; she sided with Ike. We got back together with Elaine twenty some odd years later in good old Pittsburgh. I’m sure you remember that. I’ll cover Elaine at another time. I could write a whole book about my relationship with my sister in-law Elaine.
I would like now to change the subject from relatives to friends, two of my special childhood friends. The one friend that I seem to remember goes way way back in time. I met Shelly when I started kindergarten, I think. The school was P.S. 91. You met Shelly and his wife Joyce this past Christmas at my house. We went through public school and high school together. Shelly is the one who told me to enlist in the Navy. Growing up, we were always together, along with another good friend Bert. Everyone called him Buddy; except me. I don’t know why. Bert went through public school with us and then went to another high school. Bert was brilliant. Always the smartest in any school he attended. At public school graduation he was told he would be the valedictorian if he would only change his friends. Needless to say he wasn’t chosen for that high honor. His friends meant more. Maybe he wasn’t that smart after all. After the war I Saw a little more of Shelly and Bert. We all got married and met only on rare occasions. Shelly came back into my life again when I moved to Florida. We now see each other about twice each month. Bert I met once by accident in a hotel we were vacationing at, maybe thirty years ago. He went onto law school at Harvard. Here’s a little side story about Bert. There was a very rich girl that he wanted to marry. The family of the girl was against it because he was a poor boy. So, she married the boy her family picked out for her. Year’s later Bert handled her divorce and then married her. I heard Bert was a big shot lawyer in Hollywood. It was a sad day for me when one of my friends here at Woodmont told me that he read that Bert had died. I figured he must have been only sixty-nine years old. Sad.
Of all our childhood friends I believe Shelly and I were the only ones to go to sleep away camp. Never to the same camp. We were too young to know the great depression had started and how lucky we were.
I’m happy to say that we in my family we did not suffer because of the depression. My father was an excellent provider and made sure that we were never deprived of anything or wanted for anything. My father would buy every piece of sporting equipment young boys growing up would want and enjoy. Yet he never knew how to use any of them; including riding a bicycle. One thing that I think about to this day and regret is that I never had the fun of having a catch with my father. His schooling stopped at the age of eight and he went to work. Whatever he accomplished (I think it was a lot) he did on his own. For that I will always be proud of him. Growing up, I remember when I was in public school and at the beginning of a new term the teacher would ask each child what their father did for a living. I would always say he was a builder, not a plumber. Yet there was a time when we had a chauffeur driving us around in a twelve cylinder Cadillac and my father drove a Cadillac coupe for business. Imagine two cars in those days. We had cooks, sleep in maids, great vacations, yet stupid me was ashamed to say his father was a plumber. A plumber who went to work every day in a suit with a white shirt and tie. Years and years later when out of necessity I became a plumber, I always left the house with clean clothes and came home with clean clothes. I could never stand the typical plumber. One with filthy hands, black fingernails and overalls (dungarees to you) that when you took them off they could stand by themselves. I always looked forward (sometimes I thought it wouldn’t ever happen) to the day when I like my father would go to work in a jacket and tie. In the beginning, I was working so hard that I didn’t have time to think about that successful boss look. Slowly I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I have arrived! Melanie, you know when I knew it happened. When I decided to buy my first hat. In those day men wore hats, no caps when they dressed to go out. Grandma and I went to a nice hat store on Pitkin Avenue. Everyone knows about Pitkin Avenue. It was the best shopping avenue in the world. No shopping centers in those days. When the salesman asked me what kind of hat I wanted, I told him a homberg. He stepped back, looked me over (I was dressed real nice with a beautiful tan camel’s hair top coat) and said “not for you.” You see, I was still working with the tools and no matter how hard you worked to get your hands clean and fingernails back to their original color, it could not be done in one or two days. You had to stop working for about two weeks before you would see a pleasant change. This hat salesman saw my hands and that turned him off. In those days and today, too, a homburg is worn by the successful lawyers, doctors, businessmen and gangsters. I still insisted on buying that hat and in the end I prevailed. I loved that hat and really enjoyed wearing it. When we would go into a restaurant that had people waiting for tables, I usually didn’t have to wait. When the matredi would see me standing in the crowd, he would call me up to the front. You see I looked more like the gangster type. I guess he didn’t want any trouble. I had that hat stored in a closet in the original hat box until we moved from New York to Florida. I asked all these boys, son in-laws and grandsons if anyone wanted it. I got one big “no.” It went into the garage along with a lot of other “treasures” of mine.
Let’s go back to friends. Growing up my life was filled with friends. I will talk about another two now. One was called “Streaky” (Norman). He got his nickname because he moved and ran very fast. Today he lives about one mile from me. We used to meet with Shelly once a month for lunch. I still meet with Shelly, not with Streaky. Today’s Streaky’s body is filled with arthritis. I think I’ll have to change his name to Creaky.
Another good friend was a girl named Millie. A real tomboy. She hung out with us and was one of the guys. Years later when the war was over and we were sort of grown up, her mother once said to me, “Paul marry my daughter and you won’t have to worry another day for the rest of your life.” The family were manufacturers of dolls. My reply to Mille’s mother was “who marries their best friend?” I occasionally wonder whatever became of Millie.
There were so many others, both boys and girls. I think we had some great times. All clean fun, no drugs or alcohol and no TV. We would meet and hang out in the corner candy store. Today there are no candy stores to hang out in. What a shame. Now that I think about it, we had some nerve. Five or ten kids standing around in the store. Spending usually nothing. And in those days you could buy pieces of candy for one penny or get a small coke for three cents. I’ll bet today you don’t even bend down to pick up a penny. We took up all the room in the candy store, made lots of noise, sat on stools at the soda fountain and guess what? We were almost never asked to leave. Everyone was nicer then. At one candy store ( Hoffman’s Candy Store) on rainy days, when my mother did not want us to walk home for lunch she would meet my brothers and me in Hoffman’s with our lunch. We would sit at a table in the rear and buy a vanilla malted. Hoffman sold sandwiches but never cared that these sandwiches were brought from home. Once in awhile if the weather was really bad and my mother couldn’t make it to Hoffman’s, I would always order egg salad on a roll with a dill pickle. Of course I also had my vanilla malted. I can taste it now sixty some odd years later. It was so good.
When I was a little older. I used to deliver the early edition of the next morning’s newspaper in the evening before to Hoffman’s customers. My pay was, you guessed it, one vanilla malted.
By the way we (meaning my brothers and me) never paid for anything at Hoffman’s. Mr. Hoffman would write everything down in a book and on Sunday evening the whole family would be on the way home after a day out at the movies, shopping, and eating out on Pitkin Avenue or visiting relatives we would be sure to stop off at Hoffman’s. My father would settle our account. But not before we all had malted or ice cream sodas. We were never fat. We were very active. No TV to keep us home or lazy. Even at home we were always busy. In our basement we had a regulation size pool table, ping pong table, punching bag, weights, bar bells, rowing machine and for me, I always had to have a little shop to putter around in. Then there was the occasional homework and the never ending fights between brothers. No girls to get in the way; except my mother. Sleight as she was next to us, she seemed always to be able to calm us down; especially when she spoke the magic words “wait till your father comes home.”
Which reminds me of another story. A terrible story with a happy ending. If this story had no happy ending Melanie, you would not be reading part II or I. You would not be here.
My father always carried a small pistol with him on workdays. It seemed he paid his employees in cash or he carried a large sum of cash on himself. I personally believe he would have done more damage to any potential bad guy with his fists. To continue- when Pop would come home he would place the gun on top of a tall cabinet in the foyer-out of our reach. I think you can guess the rest. One night when he came home, put the gun away and went into the kitchen to eat supper, my brother Mody got a bright idea. Mody climbed up on a chair and took the gun down. He pointed it right at me and was all set to pull the trigger when a voice must have come down and said to Mody, “Paul has a lot of living to do, don’t pull that trigger.” So for some strange reason (maybe the above) Mody stopped pointing the gun at me and pointed it at the floor instead. And then pulled the trigger. What an explosion! I never knew my mother and father could move so fast. My father grabbed the gun out of Mody’s hand and started to beat him up while my mother was beating my father. What a sight! Needless to say, that gun never came into the house again.
My brother Mody did not give up. An another time, he tried to cut my ear off with a razor. I don’t remember if it was before or after the gun episode. Do you think I should have run away from home? For no other reason other than my life seemed to be in jeopardy. What was Mody trying to tell me? I am happy to say it’s now safe to be in his company.
Rich or poor-old or young-there is nothing more important than your health. Just ask me. I found out the hard way.
In Part I, I mentioned several of my surgeries. But, I experienced one on March 10, 1999 that I will never forget or even thought I would experience. It was a doozie. Quadruple heart by-pass surgery with a new aortic heart valve thrown in for good luck. A cow’s valve at that. Anyone for a glass of milk? It’s now the end of week ten since my surgery and I’m rapidly coming back to my old self. Who would ever think that a person as active as me, a non-smoker who always exercised and usually ate good foods would not be healthy.
Well, I’m well on the road to recovery. So let’s look to the future. And the future looks fine. With four graduations in the next month everything is coming up roses. Just think your brother will be graduating from college. And your baby sister from high school. How fast the years go by.
This essay is to be about my past, not about my present. The present is Part III or IV. My surgery got me off track.
In case you don’t know or remember, I was married on April 24, 1949. Today is April 13, 1999. In eleven days your grandmother and I will be married fifty years. As I told you in Part I, Grandma’s good friend told her, “If you marry Paul, you’ll never have a good day the rest of your life.” Looking back over the years, I can tell you Melanie that friend must have been talking about another Paul.
Sure we had some rough times in the beginning and that was mainly because it was so difficult to make a living. We were both young, strong and in love. We may not have talked about it or planned ahead like so many young couples do now. But we knew that we would make it! And make it we did. Once our children started to arrive our lives changed. And in more ways than one. I went into business for myself. As the children grew so did my business. Grandma was remarkable, taking care of three babies, answering the phone and doing the bookkeeping. I don’t know how she did it. Wait yes, I do know how she did it. It’s the way she was brought up. She was brought up in the right way. Never be afraid to work and always help “your man,” (A European expression.) We may not have seen much of each other in those early years, while the business was growing. But, the house was spotless, the children were immaculate and a good meal was always on the kitchen table waiting for me, when I finally arrived home. One thing that made your grandmother mad was when I would call to say I was leaving for home in five minutes. A job would then come in that had to be done right away. I would go do the job without bothering to call home to say I would be late. Meanwhile, my supper was being cooked. When I finally did arrive 2-4 hours later than expected, did I get a tongue-lashing. This scenario happened many times. I think what finally happened was that my supper wasn’t started until I came in the front door. Oh yes! And our bank account was growing. Who could ask for anything more?
I always looked forward to Sunday, (when I didn’t have to work). Grandma would dress the girls real pretty and we would join your great grandparents on your grandmother’s side to go visiting or out to a nice restaurant to complete a lovely day.
I remember once when we all went out to a famous fish restaurant in the city. I believe your grandmother was our only child at that time. Was she bad on this day! Grandma and I took turns taking her into the bathroom, so that other dinners and our family could eat in peace. I don’t think she ever stopped screaming. I think that was one Sunday when I wish I had been working. There were many more good Sunday’s than bad ones.
I remember once when the Korean War broke out and Grandma thought I would be taken back into the service. That’s when she begged me to go to work in a shipyard. She figured I wouldn’t be taken back into the service if I was helping to build and repair ships. Melanie, those few weeks or months that I worked in several different shipyards had to be one of the worst periods of my young married life. Some mornings when I went to the shipyard, wasn’t picked to wok. Would be sent home. On those mornings I would walk aimlessly around just killing time and feeling mad at the world. Money was so important to us (just to cover expenses) and on these days I would come home with nothing. Grandma would be working and I would be walking. I had no car and probably no more than two or three dollars in my pocket. I brought lunch from home. Being new to the shipyard routine, I didn’t know you had to pay off the snapper (the man who chose who work that day) or you didn’t work. Once I learned the system, I worked practically everyday. The shipyard had its own breed of workers. Unique only to the shipyard.
I made a friend of another young fellow who had a car. He would pick me up at my house around five in the morning and the payment for the ride would be a glass (full) of whiskey. The regular shipyard workers when they left for lunch almost never came back in the afternoon. They drank (booze) for their lunch and were too drunk to find their way back. I did the same amount of work with or without the “old timer” partner given to me as part of my work team each day. On payday, the wives would be there to grab the paycheck. If the husband got the check it would be spent in a bar before he even got home. Happy to say, we never had that problem. Needless to say, I don’t miss the shipyard. I worked in three different ones, including one in Philadelphia. We went to Philly early each morning by bus and came back home each evening. Sounds like fun? It wasn’t!
It’s hard to believe that I still have so much to cover. I’ve hardly touched on the subject of daughters or son-in-laws. Hopefully, I’ll get to them in Part III. Then there is Elaine and husband Lenny. Maybe I’ll leave Lenny out because some of the things he did are hard to believe. My story is non-fiction not fiction. But Lenny and his company, I believe, were my first real customer. He helped me get off to a good start.
Melanie I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I have enjoyed writing it.