Childhood Memories


Camp Trouble

Well my aunt Catherine was a nurse with very advanced ideas. She would come and visit every once in a while, she was a nurse for a public school in Montana. She convinced my mother that my sister and I should go to camp during the summer…that we should get away, it would help our independence, that we would learn how to swim, that we would learn how to cope, etc. She had this whole spiel. My mother was not good at sending us to strange places or doing anything on our own, but she convinced my mother, so my sister and I went to this camp. This is a church camp.

Alright, we’re only about the second day or so. There was this woman who was in charge of all the students. There must’ve been 18 girls and boys, and she had some teenagers helping her. Only thing she didn’t do was supervise the kids in any way, during the day or night.

At night, we were 6 or 7 in a cabin. We had to be in bed at a certain time. One night in the dark, I climbed out of the window of my cabin. I wandered away, far away. I don’t know where I am. And this is a deserted camp! The closest place you can get help is a ranger station where they look for forest fires in a tower up there. Other than that you’re on your own! We didn’t have a car. We had a couple horses, and we’d fight over who would ride them.

Anyway, I’m wandering around most of the night. Finally I came across a camp, a men’s camp, where they were mining and blowing up things. I said, “Sorry I’m lost. Could you get me back to where I belong, point me back in the right direction?” I’m really old enough to know better at this point, I’m like 10. The man said, “Sure I can do that.” He was really nice and did get me back. Which is Holy Hallelujah! It had never crossed my mind that it was dangerous thing to do… Holy Hallelujah!

But when I got home, my mother never let me and my sister out of my sight. My sister was better than me, but we couldn’t be trusted. That’s not the first time in my life that i’ve done really stupid things. I’ve been just lucky that I didn’t get into worst situations.

Early mining camp, Quigley, Montana.

Best Friend

Do you remember, Krisanthy? -Her mother was my best friend when I was young. We did everything together. We went to the movies, and we’d watch movies, separately with our own families, but then we’d come together and walk down the street and recite the dialogues. When you’re a child you remember everything, so we used to do that. We learned how to ride bicycles together…

But later in high school, we separated. I had my friends and she had hers. But as a child she was my best friend. We saw each other nearly every day, she lived up the street from me in Montana. They were a Greek family, she lived with a bunch of aunts and uncles. There weren’t a lot of Greeks in Montana, but it seems they were all in Billings. We didn’t have a church, we weren’t big enough for a church. We have to get a priest to come and do a sermon. They would come to an uncle’s home.

I don’t keep in touch with her anymore, she died a long time ago. She used to say, you’re parents both died of cancer, you better be careful Nellie. But she actually died from cancer a long time ago…so you never know.

2500 block of Montana Avenue with Carlin Hotel in the early 1920s, Billings, Montana


Traveling Adventures


I think the most interesting trip I’ve been on was in Egypt. We had just been to the Middle East, just came from Jordan. The thing that struck me that was so interesting about it was that Egyptians are Arabs, and yet they are an entirely different people. They don’t sing, they don’t dance, they don’t play music, they can’t do any of those things because it’s against their religion. Even if they have weddings they have to bring in Christian people to do the music. They can’t don’t do any of that stuff. So I always thought their lives seemed so dreary, let’s put it that way. This is why they make up all this drama within the family because they don’t have anything else interesting to do. So they foment, have disputes, and fight.

Despite that, the Egyptians were always happy to see you, everywhere we went. One place we went, this guy did this dance, where they would whirl around, mystic…whirling dervish. They whirl around until they’re so dizzy that they’re still upright but out of it. It seemed like such a religious experience. For them it really was. They are communicating. I don’t even know if they believe in God or whatever, but it just struck me as so different. I thought the whole experience was absolutely fascinating.

The whirling dance is a form of meditation, a way of connecting with the cyclical nature of life and the universe in order to reach a higher plane of spiritual consciousness. In Egypt, dancers perform a folkloric dance known as tanoura, based on Sufi whirling dervish tradition.

We had an experience in Greece, when we first driving to Eleni. We were looking for the place we were staying. We stopped at a church to ask these people outside the church. So I said to this woman, “Do you know where this is?” And the woman comes up to me and take the hat off my head and walks away. Turns out they were gypsies. Gypsies in Europe are allowed to camp in churches, one night only. They were washing up and getting ready to leave. I thought they were just apart of what the church was doing.



Meeting Munzer


I met Munzer at International House at Columbia University. The Juilliard students would go to International House at the end of the dinners. International students lived there and paid a fee to live and dine there. But they didn’t always show up for dinner. We would then go in and eat whatever was left over. What all college students do, especially musicians! Anyway, I’m there waiting for a friend of mine, Ellen, we were going to go together to have dinner. She never showed up, but then I met him. So that was the first time. We just met scrounging food!

International House, Graduate Student Housing, Columbia University

The Lion’s Den was our favorite local hang out. It was on the Columbia campus. It’s just a place where Columbia people could meet.  I think the football team is the Lions, the mascot.


The Lion’s Den was the name of a student lounge in Ferris Booth Hall. Before Ferris Booth Hall, the Lion’s Den was the name of the student pub in John Jay Hall, which is now called JJ’s Place.


I took him to see the Juilliard Quartet once. He didn’t fall asleep to it, but he thought they were drunk, because they were swaying to the music. He thought they were drunk! He had some interesting things to say about music though. He decided to take an Acoustics course at Columbia, and he successfully completed it. And then he told me “Now I know everything about music.”


Getting a Handle on Marriage

I wish I knew more about men before I got married. My father was a very gentle, compliant person. My mother was the one who would discipline us. I didn’t date in high school, and rarely in college. I was more interested in doing my thing, learning whatever it was. So when I got married, I just couldn’t get a handle. What was this guy, you know? I really didn’t understand what on earth was going on. I got pregnant immediately, well before the marriage really. We got married because of that. And then I had another one and another, four them in five years. And I didn’t know anything, it was chaos! Anyway, I wish I had known more when I got married. I always admire women nowadays, this generation, women are older. I was 23 when I got married, but I might as well have been 16, according to my sister too. My sister also thought I was way way way too ignorant about social things. It’s true too, she was way ahead of me.



Raising a Family


Nightmare Poconos Tradition

There was one family tradition that was not at all a pleasant of one for me, but for the children. We used to go once a year to a reunion of people we went to school with. One of the families had a camp outside of New York up in the Poconos. We drove there, it was a long driving trip, we had the four kids in the back of the car on this long trip. And we get there, and you have to constantly watch them in the wild. In this cabin, that’s not really very comfortable. Because they believe in making it as uncomfortable as possible, you know these people with money, they think they’re getting a rustic vacation. But you have to constantly watch the four kids that they don’t drown in the damn pond out there, that they don’t eat anything they shouldn’t, that they aren’t picking things off the trees to eat.. For me, it was a nightmare! But it was a family tradition…that I wish never happened.

Vintage hotel, motel, restaurant and roadside attraction postcards from the Land of Love in the Pocono Mountains in northeastern Pennsylvania

Raising a Family in Signal Mountain

We went to Signal Mountain because we only had 2 choices. At that time there wasn’t much building going on. We were one of the first transfers from Dupont to go there. Lookout Mountain and Signal Mountain were the only two places where they were building houses. We chose Signal Mountain because the house was half built already. We were under time constraint. We came in the summer and Munzer had already started working at Dupont. We were living in a motel, the 6 of us, and Dupont is paying for this. So we were under time constraint and we got the house that was already half done. There weren’t many houses that were even big enough for us, because we had 4 kids. So we needed a larger than average house.

This is the one we picked, we didn’t really choose it, the house chose us. We painted the extra paint job, painted it yellow. But when it came to picking the flooring, tiles. They said, pick one, first one – nope, don’t have it, second one – nope, don’t have it. So I said, “Why don’t you show me what you do have…”

We were sent there. They sent the technical and creative people like him to experience the plant-level. They were making this beautiful fabric that was going on the market. They thought they should  know something about plant problems. So we were sent here for 3 years to get some experience. We were supposed to go back, but in those 3 years, everything happened at Dupont. All the patents gave out, or were about to give out. Nylon and other fabric, all these fabric patents gave out and everyone could make them. And also, cotton was finally getting its act together. It used to be awful because cotton was difficult to iron, to get the wrinkles out of it. Cotton would wrinkle so badly. They had finally fixed the wrinkle problem with cotton and so cotton was coming back while these patents were giving out. So Dupont needed some new patents.

They went into building material, all this stuff that you see, Tyvek, that’s one of them, but not fabric anymore, which was Munzer was working on. So we got stuck here, doing basically quality control for what was coming out of that plant. Gradually, Dupont got worse. Now that plant is closed and Dallas has taken over Dupont, and it doesn’t even exist anymore.


In 1935, nylon was discovered, the world’s first true synthetic fiber and one of DuPont’s most successful products. The Dupont Chattanooga manufacturing plant closed down in 2015, 60 years after it was built.


We were supposed to go there for 3 years maximum! But we spent the rest of our lives there. We’ve been there for 52 years! I’ve had some horrible experiences there. I had to deal with the fact that when you go to the bank, they treat you like dirt because you’re not a man, even though the teller was was a woman who was waiting on you. Everywhere you go, it’s the same type of thing! Anyway, I never liked this place. But Munzer loved it there. You know, it was green and he had friends. He still has many friends. Of course we have a lot of good memories about the house and the experiences we had there too…

But I hated the schools there, the schools were lousy. My daughter was going into 8th grade and reading the same book she had two years ago! We sent the boys to private school, so at least they got an education. Delal, we came up when she was in 8th grade, and the cutoff was 7th grade at the Girls Preparatory School, so there wasn’t any opening at the school. And we were up to here in debt, so she never went to private school. She was happy though, she never wanted to go. But not only that, when she got to Wisconsin, she realized she didn’t have enough science background to take chemistry or any kind of science topic she wanted to study in the beginning. So she ended up taking Psychology, that was her major, Psychology. Everything is so poorly prepared here.

I think you learn a lot from children, especially if you’ve had no experience raising children. I had my brother who was ten years younger than me, but he was just there, I paid no attention. But when I had my own I had to pay attention. You learn so many things. You learn that every kid is different and they learn differently. I think their experience in school is what gave me an idea of how poorly most teachers are at educating children. They’ll teach them by rote, they teach them in a particular way, and if they don’t conform to that then they are thought to be stupid or not able to learn. And I don’t think things have changed much. There are new things to learn, but it’s still same old, same old.



Sharing stories with Athan and Matt, May 18, 2019, New York City


School Days


A big lunch

Punishment today for children is very mild compared to what the school principal would do when I was in elementary school! Back then, for a mild punishment, the principal would double twist your ear! In those days, physical punishment was not forbidden. It was just normal.

One time, I had this teacher, he was very nice. He never used the stick, he would just talk to us. Most of the other teachers would use bamboo sticks. Usually you open your hand, and they would hit you, three times. One winter time, I was coming in from outdoors. It was freezing out, no gloves, no nothing. I go into the classroom, and the damn teacher, one of the bad ones, I don’t do something right. I don’t do give the right definition of the right vs. the left river bank or something. He hit me three here, and three here. I was crying all afternoon. It was so bad, with my hands freezing and he hit me, it froze the pain! I never hit my kids. My father never touched anybody either.


One time, it was second year elementary school, and we were laughing for some reason. The teacher punished us by spanking us. My turn came, and the spanking would be either to hit you with a stick on your hand, or with younger children, hold you and bend you and hit you on the bottom. It was a hot summer day, in the afternoon after a big lunch or something. Every time they spanked me… I farted! So that was a good lesson for the teacher.

School students Aleppo, Syria 1900s

It’s very sexy

There was one time I got in big trouble as a child. I’m maybe five years old, not yet school age. Our family has other children, and so they tried to get rid of them, so they sent them to local schools. We had an old fashion, religious kind of school across the street from our house. The owner is misanthropic. So they send us there.

It’s very sexy!…The windowsill of our house is wide and square, so you could sit there as a child. There’s enough room to sit. This neighbor girl, about my age I guess, we were playing together, sexually! Then this damn teacher, no, this older student from school passed by and saw us.

Boy that was a big deal! She reported us! On the way to report me, I ran away home. I opened the door, and guess what, I couldn’t find my shoes! I was such a conservative child, I can’t go home without shoes. So anyway, I finally ended up going home. So worried that my family, especially my father, would give me hell. I go home, and they had heard about the story, but they said, “Don’t worry.” So that was the most exciting experience at that age. I don’t remember anything younger than that.


Third Year

In third year elementary school, they had school songs. So we’re singing, and for some reason, the teacher told me, in front of all 34 people, said to me, “Dont sing!”

In third year, me and my brother are in the same class. I’m older so I’m ahead of him. I sat in the front of the class, and because I was the best I was in charge of keeping control of the classroom. My brother was the worst student, I’m telling you, I was supposed to keep the classroom under control until the teacher comes, but not with my brother!


Measles in the basement

When I was growing up, my eldest brother had a tremendous wedding celebration. Our house had several rooms and they devoted one side of the whole house for them after the marriage. There was a small room and a big room. Then, the system was when a man married a woman, you’d pay a dowry. But more modern people would buy furniture for the new home. And they did that. One big room and the smaller one next to it was devoted for this young man, his wife, and their future children. And they had kids and they grew up there, up until the kids were 12 or 13, supported by my father. Because my eldest brother was working with my father.

The wedding was for outside the family. This was a custom, and you can rent a stage, and construct the stage in the courtyard. Our courtyard now had a stage, like in the movies, where it was all furnished and an orchestra, not a full orchestra, but a small group would play music. In the courtyard, the men would dance the Dabke, in a circle. The women would make this sound, “Yeyeyeyeye!” very loud. My sister can do it, not everyone can.

Dabke is a Levantine folk dance, which means it originated from a region in the Middle East that includes the countries of Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria. … Today, dabke is seen all throughout the world at weddings, family gatherings, and celebrations.

The trouble with that wedding, was that me and my older brother had the measles at the same time! We were having a problem with that disease, and we couldn’t join the crowd. They put us in the basement! But before it was a basement, it was a storage for charcoal – I mean, it was clean at the time. We hardly knew what was going on, except the noise from the celebration. And here was some people with measles and fever. It had happened at the same time, me and my brother, measles is very contagious. It wasn’t easy life…



I fell down the edge of a swimming pool and hit my head. That’s all I remember. In those days they used to organize each class in a row, 2 by 2 by 2, as they dismissed them from school. I remember I did go out of school, and then I was supposed to go home – usually I’d turn right to go home. But I was supposed to take a left to the bookstore to get a book for my father. I turn on the left route, but I remember I walk about 100 meters and then I remember myself completely in the other direction, another 100 meters the other way. And that time between when I lost my memory, I don’t know what happened, it’s empty! I remember when I woke up on this side, I was crying. I was waking up from nowhere. It was a very bad emotional situation.

It happened to me once again, this time, I was in school, and I fell. Me and my friend were playing, I fell and hit my head. And all I remember was I was supposed to go home, and I remember taking the normal route to go home. So twice, I had amnesia in my life. And they were both caused by trauma.

Souk in Aleppo, Syria (Kevin Bubriski)

A dream I never forget

My dreams are nothing unusual. It’s usually an extension of the day’s activities. Nothing strange. But occasionally there are some strange things. I’ll tell you about one that’s a bit strange. When I was a young child, our courtyard is square. One dream I had was I’d go around and I’m full of money. I put a pile here, and when I come back, it’s gone, and I put some more. I’m collecting silver money from our own house, and then it disappears. Shows you how rich I was…in my head. That dream I never forget.



Reminiscing the hills

When I was growing up, we used to do boy scouts. And we used to go camp somewhere almost every summer. As a result, we learned a lot about the Middle East. One year we went to the north, to what became Turkey later, and Lebanon, and then Palestine before trouble started. All these were done with us as boy scouts! Then we also used to have camps organized by teachers and so on, from different countries. In some suburb in Damascus, you’d go through a large area, where groups of boys that came from all over the Middle East. Like Jamborree in Europe, a worldwide boy scouts get together and camp together. I was not rich enough to go to Europe. My friend’s brother did, he went to Jamborree. But we had a local one like that but for Syria, for about a week or two. We went to Damascus, in a mountain village.

It was really great, we would learn together, work together, camp together, cook together. Apparently the group leader had brought some guy who used to be a cook from a school, so instead of us wasting time cooking, he would cook. This guy one day spilled the kerosene in the food! And there was no food. It tasted like kerosene. That was terrible. No matter how much you cleaned it…

We camped in the mountains, where there was a hill and a fountain down below. Usually when you’re a boy scout, you would take turns and guard at night in the freezing weather. Everyone is sleeping except for this one person guarding at night night. There was one guy who couldn’t stand it, so he went back to bed!

The emotional part of it, was a year or so later, we went back to this particular hill after we finished camping. We went back up the hill, to reminisce. It was a really emotional time, to go up the hill and only a few months ago you were there with the whole boy scout. I started crying, it was so emotional to remember. In the pre-Islamic Arabic literature, there was a poet who wrote and started the poem, with an opener describing these kind of things.

Scouts of Syria, The Damascene Scouts of St. George reaching the top of Hermon Mountain on foot in August 1933. From the book “Syria” by Amer Badr Hassoun.

In the 8th century, a wise man called Hammad Al Rawiya assembled Al Muaallaqat, which means “suspended odes” or “hanging poems”. The Mu’allaqat contains seven long Arabic odes or qasidas that have come down from the time before Islam. Each is considered the best work of these pre-Islamic poets. They start, with a nostalgic opening in which the poet reflects on what has passed, known as nasib.

My best friends

I can tell you right now, I never forgot my best friends. That question, of who my childhood best friends were, always comes to my mind, that same question. Second year elementary school, my best friend was just a regular child, a student. And I had two other ones in second year. They happened to be twin brothers. These were my earliest good friends that I remember. I don’t know how you would describe friendship at the age of 7 or 8 years old. But it was so strong that it is still with me now. I remember when I asked myself the same question, I wondered how it can be that strong. The names of the two twins were after Arabic heroes. The heroes themselves were brothers. The last time we were in touch was many years ago.

There was a time, when I was older, we were adults… There is always some trouble in the Middle East, and there was some trouble with colonial powers and local leaders. We had trouble in Iraq. What happened in Iraq affected students everywhere in the Middle East. There was an internal revolt in Baghdad. A new government came in. At the time England was the occupier of Iraq. The French were occupiers of Syria and Lebanon. The British were occupiers of Jordan, Palestine…

Palestinian women pre-1948 protesting British rule.

There was some kind of revolt in Baghdad by a young man to try to get rid of the British. We as students or young people, got excited in Aleppo. So we run away with some ten friends, we organize a team to fight. Of course our families wouldn’t allow that, so we had to run away. I left a note for my father that I’m going to be fighting…and we run away! We went to Baghdad. The thing that’s interesting, we took a truck to go to one city along the Euphrates, and all the way down to the bottom of the Gulf. There is a city, called Abu Kamal, at the border between Syria, Iraq and Palestine. And well, we wanted to go further, but the governor of that city was quite smart. He never allowed us to leave the city. We tried to get permission every day to cross the boundary. He told our ambassador, I have knowledge of today and yesterday. But I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. He kept telling these kids who were trying to go, trying to tell us, you better watch out!

What we did was, we had a few dollars in our pocket, so we went ahead and rented a boat and took it up the Euphrates, all the way to Iraq. We got to a place where there was a war! We couldn’t cross because there was a battle right there. Guns and everything! We were in the dessert. I had a pair of binoculars that my father had given to me as a gift because something I did for the house. I used it and then I lost it there. I really feel bad about it. So we sat down there and we didn’t do anything. The city wouldn’t allow us to go. The people there, the villagers, were very generous. They hosted in their homes, good food, good treatment. And here we were, there was a battle going on, and we were enjoying life and the generosity of the rich people.

Then finally, we decide to keep going, and we get to a point where we were returning home, coming from Iraq back to Syria, horizontally. Apparently was so upset, crying that we were gone. Apparently he heard where we were, and he didn’t waste a minute, took a taxi, and rushed to where we were. I was with my friends at the edge of the river, washing clothes. It was hot and dirty, you know. One of my friends goes, “Look behind you!” And I see my father above my head! Anyway, that was the end of it. He took me to a friend’s house to stay. Then the next day we went back home, and I felt relieved! For the first time, we had someone who was responsible, a father.

Before there was a revolutionary man who was trying to recruit high school kids to join a revolt against the British. It was stupid, but to us, we were heroes! We were stupid, young people, emotional activists… We were at least 10 friends from high school, out of 30, who managed to keep together to travel from Syria to Iraq. Before that there were about 30 high schoolers before we went who were excited. We wanted to fight, but fight who? It’s not easy to raise kids, in an area that’s not stable.


Journey to the United States

I was dreaming about becoming a doctor. But again, I couldn’t afford it. I was not rich enough to do anything on my own. After high school, after the baccalaureate, there was a competitive exam in the summer after I finished. It was asking students to pick up and send them to Europe for education beyond high school. But Europe was closed because of the war, so instead they sent us to Egypt. And I was one of those four from Syria, to be picked up. So I was sent to Cairo. And the door was open for education beyond high school.

That summer before I passed the exam, was really an uncertain time. I had just finished high school, I didn’t know what to do. My father and mother couldn’t send me to Europe. Someone said, look go to your high school, there is a letter for you! There was a letter from the minister of education in Syria. They said we elected to send you to Europe for education. That was great. I went to Damascus, and that the door is closed for Europe. But we can send you to Lebanon or Egypt. I selected Egypt. I went to Egypt for four years at the expense of the government. I couldn’t afford it so I was lucky to do that.

Cairo University, 1960

When I finished the four years, I came to Columbia University. I was at Havemeyer Hall. When I came, the first thing I did was I had to go to general studies. I had to convert from one degree to the other. Ultimately I wanted to go to engineering. In any case, my application was accepted. I had to pay tuition for the first year.

My brother Abdul, younger than me, who did very well and went to Brazil, he told me he would support me. He did, and he sent money to me for the whole first year. But then he applied for a U.S. visa when he was Brazil and he got it. And of course he wanted to drop everything and come to the U.S. He came to the U.S. with whatever money he saved, not much. Although we had the impression that he made a lot. But it takes a lot of money to live in New York. He came, and he supported me the first year, but then he went bankrupt. We were so hungry… We used to go to the Cedar Restaurant and live off of bread. You order a dish, but usually the basket of bread is free.

Havemeyer Hall, Columbia University

There was this research project that we needed to do for our degree. The project consisted of extracting oil from cotton seeds. Then in the government, there was something called the Atomic Energy Commission at the time. They were offering scholarships. So I got one. Instead of getting $100/month, I was getting $300/month. That was great!

Then through that, I had a chance to take the qualifying exam for the doctorate. I passed. There was this Egyptian guy in the program. We had teachers who were really biased against this Egyptian guy. No matter how well he did on the exam, he would always get a bad grade. This poor Egyptian fellow, took the exam 3 times! He felt he did very well, but every time he flunked. The system at the time was loaded with individual interests. If you liked someone, you could help…

Anyway, once I got my doctorate, I worked for DuPont. The work for DuPont was interesting. They usually send a scout to various schools looking for people they want to hire. Dupont interviewed me the first round, and nothing worked out. Then this second round, they said we don’t have a guy from Persia. And the Dean said, we don’t have a guy from Persia but we have Munzer! …and that’s how I got hired. I’m not from Persia, but close enough! It’s amazing how life works out. So I went there, and they immediately gave me an offer. That’s how I ended up in Chattanooga.

Dupont Chattanooga manufacturing plant. It closed down in 2015, 60 years after it was built.


Parents assume tremendous responsibility in guiding their children, guiding them in the right direction. And depending on the age of the child, to protect.

I think that somehow because we had a girl as a first child, made life much easier, much more smooth, than if it were a boy. That’s a feeling I have. Delal was fantastic. As my first child. That’s all I can remember, only good things about her.

The other thing you learn, is that, from the four children, no two had the same hobby or same interest. Each one has one of his own. And they all excel in their own hobbies.



Sharing stories with Athan and Matt, May 18, 2019, New York City


I made up for the time I was alone

I grew up in Fort William, Ontario. It’s actually Thunder Bay now. At home, I was the only one, so, it was very lonely… it was quiet…. There were two rooms in the house, a kitchen and a living room. My father was a woodworker, a lumberjack. So, he would have periods of going to work, so it’d be three months at a time that he would travel. So, it was just my mother and me.

The Church of Saint Patrick in Fort William, Ontario, 1920.
 Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec

When I was younger, I always thought that I’d get married at 25, that’s the time I thought I could marry. But I got married at 19. And I had my first child when I was 21. That was Chris. My daughter Chris was born. She was born in Canada. The others were born in America. I had eight children, wonderful children. I loved them all. Three boys and five girls. So, it made up for the time I was alone.


Childhood Memories

Tobogganing in my coat

The only time I got in trouble as a child was when I went in my good coat, with my friends. We went, like … what do you call that? tobogganing, that’s right. We went down this ski slope. Tobogganing with my friends after school. And when I got home, I got in real big trouble. I hadn’t ruined by coat, but it was my good coat.I shouldn’t have gone… so, my mother was very upset. I wore that coat most the time, that was my coat. So if I ruined it, it would have been a big deal. I was about nine years old when I got the coat, it was a brown coat.


This was a hot pepper!

There was a time, when I was younger, we didn’t have supermarkets like now. There’s little stores. And my mother sent me to the store, and they would give you, you know, different packages. It wasn’t a sealed package, that you could open it and taste it.

So my mother sent me to get peppers, and this was a hot pepper. I wanted to taste it. And, it was very hot. It was a red pepper, yes…HOT. I got fooled at that time. There I go… back to my younger days now.

Corner grocery store in Toronto, Canada, c. 1930, City of Toronto Archives

A different form of baptism

Oh, I think, I was little… I don’t know… what age I was but, it was like a bridge and, like, my parents… they worked in a… my mother was a cook at the camp and my father was a woodcutter, right… And, I think, at that time they would take me, because my mother was there… and they would take me, and… I think, I walked on a bridge that I went across but, I don’t remember… falling in.

I fell…fell off the bridge just walking, right… there was water… and, that’s the only thing… Maybe, that’s the reason that I don’t like water….

It was a very small body of water. It wasn’t that big, no. But, that’s the only thing… I don’t remember, like, somebody must have saved me because… I don’t remember, otherwise, anything.

A different form of baptism, I guess, right?

I don’t know, but I don’t care for water. If I have to travel, I’d rather the plane.

Bridge in Simcoe County, ON – 1956


An extraordinary day at work

As a mother I would say most of the time I was with my children, working. Not working, I mean, taking care of the children. I was home most of my life. But after Giorgio was unable to work, I worked in the liquor store.

And I was held up once, at the liquor store. That was an extraordinary day! There were three girls, they were black, and a guy, right? The guy took me to a refrigerator and started asking me questions about the liquor, the wine, right? And in the meantime, the girls were upfront and they were taking all the good Champagnes, all the expensive Champagnes, and Brandy, they were all in the front. Then, I just felt something, you know, that something was wrong, so, I ran to the front… She had a Piper Champagne, and I was holding it, trying to pull it! I tried to pull it from her, right?

Nobody was around, even to see this! But, I wasn’t afraid. I was just trying to get that Champaign away. So, he was distracting me while they were stealing, right? I didn’t report it because nothing happened. I couldn’t do anything anyway, I didn’t know what they stole. But, I was lucky…otherwise.

At the liquor store, we’d got held up. Yeah, your dad always got held up. It happened quite a bit.

And, one time, when Johnny was there, they tied him up, yeah. That was bad. I had to go to the school… it was a parents thing, something like that was going on. In the meantime, I had to drop Johnny off at the liquor store, right, and his father was robbed. With a gun!



Young Love

Well, the first date… I wouldn’t call it a date because we had a banquet. You know, the Polish organization got together. That’s when I met your grandfather. We were dancing and that’s how I met him …and I loved his singing. That’s what I fell for, his singing. He had a great voice and I loved the singing. At the banquet, there were 90 of them! So, we had a great choice. Before that, us girls had no boyfriends… it was Polish heritage to get married!

Celebration of Polish Sea Festival by polish community, Coleman, Alberta – 1959

After the banquet, we had to go back to the farm. The banquet was in November and, then, in December, I saw him again because they told us, all the families, to invite them over for Christmas Eve. I didn’t think nothing of it. Not for a while. There were a couple of times that he came after that, and yes… and he would sing.

He had a beautiful voice, yes…Olivia has that voice but so does Ritchie and Holly, they had the voices like their father had. I was surprised that even Georgie said he was impressed by their voices. He said that.

I think, being with him I was more grown up, even though, it wasn’t. I think you could say, I was more of an adult. Because that’s what I would think about… making someone else happy now.

To Doug

I’d say that the secret to a successful relationship is sharing your love with each other and being there for the other person. Not being selfish, just about yourself, but sharing and taking care, and thinking about what the other person would love, and not being for yourself… that’s what I would say. Yeah. And, you are that. I just hope you do get a person that loves you as much too… and being, you know, sincere. That’s what I hope… because, you’re a wonderful person. You’re a wonderful person.



Flying in my dreams

Oh, the only dream that I remember was a dream of myself flying. And, planes… maybe, it was because of the war pictures and that, we saw…

And, it felt so good flying way up in the air.

And, I… in the dream…, they would try to get me, right? They couldn’t… I was just above them.

They couldn’t get me. I wasn’t on a plane flying, I was just flying. Myself, flying over… I loved that it felt so good, flying.



Mon père et ses forêts en Algérie

Mon père a travaillé dans les Eaux et Forêts. Dans tous les pays, il y a un organisme qui s’appelle les “Eaux et les Forêts”, qui s’occupe des eaux et des forêts domaniales : c’est-à-dire les forêts qui appartiennent à l’État, et pareil pour l’eau. Lui, il était plus pour les forêts. Comme en Algérie il y avait beaucoup d’incendies, avec des adjoints, ils allaient faire des tranchées, s’occuper de la santé des arbres, des forêts… Il avait commencé bas dans l’échelle, agent, et il a fini ingénieur parce qu’il a passé des concours et tout ça. Une grosse tête.

L’Algérie a toujours été très touchée par les feux de forêt. Pendant la période coloniale, le bilan a été désastreux, notamment lors des périodes de troubles politiques.

Ma mère : des ciseaux, une aiguille et du fil…

Ma maman, elle, n’avait pas fait d’études. Elle avait fait la sixième, mais comme elle pleurait et que sa maman était toute seule – pas de père et tout… –, sa maman l’a quittée de l’école. Elle a toujours dit : “J’ai regretté que ma mère m’ait quittée de l’école.”

Sa grande peine, à ma mère, c’est de ne pas avoir eu de père, puisqu’elle avait 2 ans quand il a été tué à la guerre. Mon oncle est né après la mort de son père : mon grand-père avait été en permission et puis “tac tac”… Quand il a été tué, ma grand-mère s’est rendue compte qu’elle était déjà enceinte. C’est triste. Elle ne s’est jamais remariée, elle avait 24 ans. Un jour je lui ai dit : “Mais tu t’es jamais remariée ?” Je l’ai vexée, parce qu’elle avait le souvenir et elle ne voulait pas le gâcher. Elle voulait garder ce souvenir de cet homme qui était le père de ses deux enfants. Moi, je la soupçonne quand même d’avoir eu un petit copain – je l’espère pour elle !

“Et quand un jour je lui ai dit: “Mais tu t’es jamais remariée ? Je l’ai vexée, parce qu’elle avait le souvenir et tout elle ne voulait pas le gâcher. Elle voulait garder ce souvenir de cet homme qui était le père de ses deux enfants. Moi, je la soupçonne quand même d’avoir eu un petit copain – je l’espère pour elle [rires]. Ça c’est ton arrière arrière grand-mère.”

Après la sixième, ma mère a fait de la couture. Elle a cousu. Au début elle faisait des vêtements pour les gens parce qu’il n’y avait pas de magasins comme maintenant. Elle faisait des robes, des pantalons et tout ça ; et après, elle n’en a fait que pour nous. Moi j’étais toujours bien habillée, ça ! Belle robe, un beau tissu… mes frères aussi, toujours élégants ! Voilà, ça, c’était ma maman.

Jusqu’en 1959, l’école n’était obligatoire que jusqu’à 14 ans.

Mon petit frère, mon filleul

La naissance de mon petit frère Jean-Marie…J’avais 10 ans et maman devait aller à l’hôpital, mais en fait un quatrième enfant ça vient tellement vite que c’est mon père qui a accouché ma maman. Et puis j’entendais que ça bougeait dans la maison, je me suis levée et puis il y avait une dame qui était arrivée et elle me dit : “ah non, non, non tu vas pas là !”. J’aurais bien voulu voir cette naissance ! Mais bon, pour une enfant de 10 ans, c’est pas un spectacle… C’était de la curiosité, parce que ma mère je l’entendais crier ! Je me souviens de ma mère quand elle a appris qu’elle était enceinte, elle était folle. Elle sautait parce qu’elle pensait que ça allait tomber ! Elle étendait le linge très haut. Parce qu’il n’y avait pas l’avortement. C’était impossible d’agir, il y avait pas la contraception. C’est comme ça qu’il y avait des familles de 5, 6, 8 enfants. Et puis, surtout pas l’avortement.

Et donc après ce petit bébé… comme ma mère n’en voulait pas… À 6 mois, il a eu une diphtérie qui l’étouffait vraiment. Le docteur est resté la nuit à lui enlever les peaux qui poussaient. Il avait 6 mois, il s’accrochait, je me souviens, À mon père… Toute la nuit, le docteur était là. Et puis, au matin, il était plutôt guéri. Et puis après il s’est mis à loucher… Mais Jean-Marie, c’est un petit frère que j’ai aimé, vraiment… parce qu’en plus ma mère, elle m’a mise marraine… alors là j’étais fière de mon petit filleul ! Voilà, c’est Jean-Marie. Et puis c’est toujours resté. Bien que je lui trouve des défauts aussi, hein !

Les femmes en France ont obtenu de nombreux droits en matière de procréation dans la seconde moitié du 20e siècle. La loi Neuwirth de 1967 a autorisé la contraception. La loi Veil de 1975 a légalisé l’avortement.

Mais même aujourd’hui, l’Algérie est resté l’un des pays les plus restrictifs de la région en matière d’avortement. Avec la loi sur la santé de 2018, le droit à l’avortement est devenu légal de manière limitée. Jusqu’à présent, les Algériens étaient obligés de se rendre en Tunisie, qui avait légalisé l’avortement en 1973 – même avant la France – afin de contrôler la population.
La diphtérie était une cause fréquente de décès chez les enfants jusque dans les années 1940.
Depuis l’introduction d’une vaccination efficace, à partir des années 1920, les taux de diphtérie ont considérablement diminué. En 1974, la portée de la vaccination antidiphtérique s’est accrue lorsque l’Organisation mondiale de la Santé a inclus l’anatoxine diphtérique dans sa liste des vaccins recommandés pour son programme élargi de vaccination des pays en développement.

Une famille en temps de guerre

Mon père… c’était un gentil. Ma mère, elle rouspétait beaucoup. Il fallait obéir, ne pas la contredire. C’était son idée qui était la bonne ! Une maman avec 4 enfants, ça peut pas être… et puis c’est plus les mamans de maintenant et les enfants de maintenant qui sont chouchoutés. Quand y en a 4… au suivant, hein! Bon, malgré tout, je garde un très bon souvenir de mon enfance.

Moi, je pense que je ressemble plus a mon père. Là, je me jette des fleurs ! Mais je suis pas comme ma mère. Elle boudait souvent, c’était parfois difficile pour la famille. Moi j’avais toujours dit: jamais je ne bouderai ! De toute façon, après on se réconcilie ! Donc autant y aller tout de suite plutôt que de dire “ah et t’as dit ça”, “ah et j’ai dit ça”… non.

Ma mère, elle n’avait pas vécu avec un père et une mère puisque son père était mort à la guerre, elle n’avait vécu qu’avec sa mère et son frère. Elle n’a jamais senti qu’un père et une mère, c’est deux autorités, et que ces deux autorités ne sont parfois pas d’accord. Donc elle ne se rendait peut-être pas compte. Mais je ne lui en voulait pas non plus, c’était comme ça. Et puis c’est notre mère. Et une maman, c’est précieux !

Jean-Marie devant Bernard, mon père et ma mère – Cannes, France

Y a eu cette guerre, aussi. À partir de 4 ans, jusqu’à 10 ans, j’ai toujours eu un peu d’angoisse. Et encore, on était pas en France ! C’était quelque chose d’inquiétant, la guerre. Ça inquiétait les enfants de 4-5-6 ans ,quand on entendait les adultes chuchoter à cause des collabos qui allaient rapporter à la police ce qui se disait, ce qui se faisait… donc ils ne parlaient pas. Et surtout pas devant les enfants. Ils ne parlaient pas devant nous, mais on sentait cette peur qui était entre eux. Quand l’enfant voit que les parents ne sont pas bien, il est encore moins bien, parce qu’il ne sait pas. Et il se dit : “Si le protecteur n’est pas sûr, comment je fais, moi, pour être protégé,?” Et même pendant quelques années après la guerre, on y pense encore.

Famille française écoutant la radio de la BBC pendant l’occupation, Seconde Guerre mondiale

Affiche de propagande de la Wehrmacht allemande dans la France occupée, 1940.

La Seconde Guerre mondiale, l’Algérie et l’Afrique du Nord étaient sous le contrôle de l’Allemagne nazie et de la France de Vichy. Pendant la guerre, de nombreux Algériens musulmans et européens ont servi dans l’armée française. Les troupes algériennes se sont particulièrement distinguées dans le corps expéditionnaire français sous le général Juin lors de la campagne d’Italie de 1943 et de l’invasion du sud de la France par les Alliés en 1944.

Pendant ce temps, les forces d’occupation (les forces alliées et les puissances de l’Axe) ont commencé à transmettre des messages et des promesses d’un “monde nouveau pour les peuples autrefois sujets”. Les promesses d’émancipation ont enthousiasmé le peuple algérien, qui allait enfin pouvoir former une nation souveraine.
“Ils ne parlaient pas devant nous mais on sentait cette peur qui était entre eux. Quand l’enfant voit que les parents ne sont pas bien, il est encore moins bien, parce qu’il ne sait pas. Et il se dit : ‘Si le protecteur n’est pas sûr, comment je fais, moi, pour être protégé ?'”

Après, il y a eu la guerre d’Algérie ; mais je peux pas dire qu’on en a beaucoup souffert, nous, dans notre famille. Peut-être qu’on n’était pas au mauvais endroit, on était au bon endroit, je sais pas… en tout cas on est passés à travers les gouttes.


Le retour du soldat

Il y a un truc dont je me souviens et qui m’est resté, et c’est un grand bonheur : c’est quand mon père a été libéré. Qu’il est revenu de la guerre parce qu’il était parti pendant longtemps et ma mère n’avait pas de nouvelles, pendant huit mois. Alors il y a une anecdote rigolote : c’est que ma mère, pendant 8 mois, elle n’a pas reçu une seule nouvelle de mon père. Et tous les jours, le facteur passait et ne s’arrêtait pas, et au bout du compte il n’osait même plus passer devant chez nous. Et un jour, ma mère dit : “Je vais faire une neuvaine.” Vous savez ce que c’est ? Aller à l’église pendant 9 jours, communier à la petite messe du matin pendant 9 jours. Elle est allée à la messe tous les matins, et le neuvième jour passe le facteur avec une pile comme ça de lettres. Si tu crois pas au Bon Dieu après ça !

Mon père avec moi et Jacques

Lire, coudre, chanter, écouter la radio…

Il y avait de vraies veillées, comme on les appelait. Après manger, on était ensemble ; les enfants lisaient ou ils jouaient. On veillait en attendant d’aller se coucher. Ma mère, il fallait lui enfiler les aiguilles. Quand j’étais là, je lui enfilais les aiguilles. Après, mon père l’a fait pour elle, et elle cousait. Il n’y avait pas de télé, ils écoutaient la radio : il y avait les pièces de théâtre ou des choses comme ça qu’on écoutait à la radio. S’il n’y avait rien à la radio, on se parlait, on lisait ou… ma mère, elle, chantait. Elle a toujours aimé chanter. Un peu moins après, la pauvre, mais elle chantait bien… Moi, après, plus grande, j’ai écouté aussi, mais mes enfants : à huit heures c’était “closed”, couchés !


Les vacances

Quand j’étais enfant, je venais en France. Puisque j’étais en Algérie, je venais en France dans l’Allier pour voir la famille de mon père. On allait un peu à la pêche… on n’avait pas beaucoup de distractions dans ces petits villages. Par contre, c’était l’été et il y avait souvent des fêtes dans les villages où on allait jouer “sur le parquet”, comme on disait. C’était le lieu de danse des villages. On allait danser sur le parquet. Dans la famille ou on étai,t il y avait des vieux vélos, alors on prenait un vélo et hop ! on allait se promener un peu en vélo le long de la petite rivière, qui s’appelle la Besbre d’ailleurs, et qui se jette dans la Loire… et c’était Jaligny-sur-Besbre, à côté de Vichy. C’est là que je venais assez régulièrement en vacances d’Algérie. On prenait un bateau pendant 24 heures pour faire Alger-Marseille.

Peut être quand Jean-Marie a eu deux ou trois ans… Peut être que j’avais 14 ans quand je venais. Les quatre enfants étaient contents de partir en vacances en France ! J’étais drôlement fier puisqu’il n’y en avait pas beaucoup qui venaient en vacances en France… Ou même en vacances…

De gauche à droite : mon père, ma mère ma grand-mère, une grande-tante.

Mes amies chéries

J’ai gardé, et je les ai toujours, des amies de pension. Notamment Huguette, que je vois toujours, et c’est vraiment une amie de toujours. On s’est connues quand on était en quatrième, et on s’est plus perdues de vue. Parce qu’on était déjà en pension ensemble, on s’entraidait. Par exemple, le samedi je lui faisais ses mises en plis, je lui mettais des bigoudis, comme on le faisait, parce qu’elle sortait beaucoup le dimanche – elle avait une correspondante à Belabes. Et puis ces gens-là avait un fils et tu vois, il fallait qu’elle soit belle pour aller voir son correspondant ! Et puis, quand elle rentrait le dimanche soir, elle me disait : “T’as appris les leçons?” “Oui !” Je lui racontais l’Histoire, parce qu’on avait Histoire le lundi. Elle me disait : “Raconte-moi l’Histoire!” Alors je lui racontais l’Histoire parce qu’elle n’avait pas appris sa leçon…

Et cette amie-là je l’ai toujours. Depuis j’en ai quand même deux autres. Bah y’a Huguette, la grande Maggie, et Marie-Claude, qui s’appelait Latordre dans ce temps-là, et puis celle de Lille. Mais vraiment Huguette… D’ailleurs ils devaient venir avant Noël pour nous voir. Et comme je n’étais pas bien, ils ont remis le voyage. Je ne pouvais pas les recevoir. Elle habite Metz. Je crois que cette amitié est si solide parce qu’on n’est pas tout près. Parce que des fois, à être trop près, on voit les défauts, tu vois. Alors que quand on est loin, on n’a que les bons moments à se raconter.

À Strasbourg, j’ai rencontré la grande Maggie. Pierre-Jean avait trois ans et demi. Après la guerre d’Algérie, comme tout le monde est revenu, on a éclaté dans toute la France. C’est comme ça qu’il y en a eu une à Toulouse, une au Mans, une a Lille et une a Metz. Comme on était tous fonctionnaires, l’État nous a dit : “Toi tu vas là, toi tu vas là…” Moi, comme je venais de me marier avec un Français de France, votre grand-père, lui il était nommé à Auxerre, donc moi je suis venue d’emblée.

Mes amies de pension
Ma classe de Première

Mes parents sont restés encore un an en Algérie après l’indépendance. Et puis mes parents ont été obligés de rentrer rapidement parce que mon père était malade et que les hôpitaux là-bas, c’était… Et ils ont eu le choix entre Nevers et Thonon-les-Bains, puisqu’il était fonctionnaire aussi. Il a pris Thonon-les-Bains… Et il a bien fait, hein !

Quartier général du 1er régiment étranger de la Légion étrangère française, à Sidi-bel-Abbès, en mars 1960. L’Algérie était le foyer de la Légion depuis sa création en 1831.
La guerre d’indépendance algérienne a débuté en novembre 1954 et s’est terminée en 1962 lorsque le président français Charles de Gaulle a déclaré l’Algérie un pays indépendant le 5 juillet.

Des négociations prolongées ont abouti à un cessez-le-feu signé par la France et le Front de libération nationale le 18 mars 1962 à Évian, en France. Les accords d’Évian prévoyaient également la poursuite des relations économiques et culturelles. Les accords d’Évian garantissaient les droits religieux et de propriété des colons français, mais la perception qu’ils ne seraient pas respectés conduisit à l’exode d’un million de pieds-noirs.

Après l’indépendance de l’Algérie en 1962, environ 800 000 pieds-noirs de nationalité française ont été évacués vers la France métropolitaine et environ 200 000 ont choisi de rester en Algérie. Parmi ces derniers, il en restait encore environ 100 000 en 1965 et environ 50 000 à la fin des années soixante.

Ceux qui ont émigré en France ont été victimes d’ostracisme de la part de la gauche pour leur exploitation présumée de musulmans indigènes. Certains les ont blâmés pour la guerre, d’où les troubles politiques qui ont entouré la chute de la IVe République française. Dans la culture populaire, la communauté est souvent représentée comme se sentant retirée de la culture française tout en aspirant à l’Algérie
“Mes parents ont été obligés de rentrer rapidement parce que mon père était malade et que les hôpitaux là-bas, c’était… Et ils ont eu le choix entre Nevers et Thonon-les-Bains, puisqu’il était fonctionnaire aussi. Il a pris Thonon-les-Bains… Et il a bien fait, hein !”

Le baccalauréat

Ça, c’était une sacrée épreuve, le baccalauréat ! Plus comme maintenant où ils te le donnent… Première partie de Bac avec écrit et oral : à l’oral, il y avait toutes les matières. La deuxième partie : à nouveau, écrit, oral. Avec ça, les profs qui te posaient des questions… Et puis en plus, j’étais petite. Alors déjà mon physique ne m’aidait pas, et j’étais gauche. J’étais timide, mais je le faisais parce qu’il fallait. “Allons-y gaiement !”… Pas très gaiement quand même.…

Sur une classe de 30, il y en avait peut-être 10 ou 15 qui avaient le Bac, pas plus. Il y avait une sacrée sélection. C’est pour ça qu’on était tous très contractés, très inquiets de cet examen ; alors que maintenant, je les vois partir le matin du Bac et “ha ha !”, ils chantent, ils ont leurs téléphones… Mais c’est tant mieux. C’est mieux !

Au début des années 1960, le taux de réussite au baccalauréat atteignait seulement les 60 % environ.
“Puis en plus tu sais j’étais petite et tout. Alors déjà mon physique ne m’aidait pas et j’étais gauche. Mais je le faisais parce qu’il fallait. Des fois tu étais poussé par le reste. Allons-y gaiement ! Pas très gaiement quand même…”


Le moment où je me suis sentie devenir adulte, c’est quand je me suis mise à travailler, à 21 ans. Parce que déjà, on n’était pas majeur avant d’avoir 21. Et puis c’était un peu spécial pour moi puisque j’étais en Algérie, qu’il y avait des évènements, que j’étais une fille et tout ça… Mes parents n’ont jamais voulu que je parte travailler dans les douars. J’étais institutrice, en plus, je venais de commencer. J’ai commencé un peu tard à cause de ça, parce que mes parents n’ont jamais voulu que je démarre là-bas. C’était trop risqué, surtout pour une fille. Donc je suis restée près de deux ans chez mes parents à rien faire. Et puis après, quand même, j’ai pris un poste un peu sécurisé. Il y avait plus d’armée autour de l’école. Autour de moi, il y avait plein de militaires. J’étais la seule fille du village ! Mon premier poste d’institutrice, c’était en Algérie, a Boudjebar. Et puis, j’ai gagné mes sous ! Après, j’ai travaillé et puis je me suis mariée et puis voilà ! C’était 21 ans, quoi. À cause de ce retard pris à cause des événements, qui ont fait que moi, j’avais peur d’aller dans les villages sans protection avec les Felagas qui rôdaient autour, en plus moi une fille. J’avais peur. Et c’est comme ça que j’ai commencé et que j’ai pris mon indépendance à 21 ans. Arrivée à Auxerre, j’ai été mariée, alors elle était limitée l’indépendance !

J’ai rencontré Colbert en Algérie. Parce qu’il était militaire. Il était militaire et puis moi ben… J’étais une jeune fille qui se promenait dans la rue ! C’était à un bal. Il jouait de la clarinette. Je suis allée à un bal du 1er Mai ou du 8 Mai, j’en sais rien. Et puis là, il y avait un orchestre militaire. C’était la fanfare du régiment. Il jouait de la clarinette. Et puis on était trois ou quatre copines et puis on parlait, on disait “celui là, il est pas mal… celui là…”. Et puis je lui ai dit : “Tu vois celui qui joue de la clarinette, il me plairait bien !”. Comme ça. Et puis une danse ou deux après, il pose sa clarinette et il descend de l’estrade. Et puis moi, je ne sais pas, j’étais un peu timide, un peu effacée. Et puis elle me dit : “Tiens, il vient vers nous !” Et je lui dis : “Ca, c’est pour toi”. Et puis non, c’était pour moi ! Et voilà comment je l’ai connu.

“Il jouait de la clarinette. Et puis on était trois ou quatre copines et puis on parlait, on disait ‘celui là, il est pas mal… celui là…’. Et puis je lui dis : ‘Tu vois celui qui joue de la clarinette, il me plairait bien !’. Comme ça. Et puis une danse ou deux après, il pose sa clarinette et il descend de l’estrade. Et puis moi, je ne sais pas, j’étais un peu timide, un peu effacée. Et puis elle me dit : ‘Tiens, il vient vers nous !’ Et je lui dis : ‘Ca, c’est pour toi.’ Et puis non, c’était pour moi ! Et voilà comment je l’ai connu.”
5e Régiment d’Artillerie, 1960


Growing Up In Brooklyn

My mother and father had no money, we never went any place. I couldn’t even go to the Statue of Liberty. People were going to the Statue of Liberty or the World Fair. And I couldn’t go ’cause nobody would take me, they didn’t have any money. I remember being jealous that other kids around the block were going. They came home with like a little figure of something.

1963 New York World’s Fair “Kiss Me” bobbleheads. Both are “puckering up” to kiss each other.


We never ate out for dinner, never went to a restaurant. I didn’t care. But we were poor. And my father also lost his job and I remember we had to eat a lot of potatoes and eggs for dinner. He lost his job at the time…God, another one. I don’t know how long it lasted. He had to use all his bonds that he had saved, I remember. My mother was so upset that he had to use the money saved. He worked for Bethlehem Steel Company. It was a big shipping company, and they used to get bonds. Then they fired everybody, you know, let go, and he had to get another job.

October 5, 1949 – Bethlehem workers wait in the pay line at Sparrows Point.
World War II brought a massive expansion in shipbuilding, and The Bethlehem Steel Staten Island Shipyard was responsible for producing ships. There were also landing craft, cargo ships and tugs produced at the yard during the war.

We all had a split up, by the way, and lived with different parts of the family. That was very hard for my mother and father.

We lived in a high rise and we had the front rooms. And if you had those downstairs front rooms, you had to take care of the building, you had to be a maintenance person. So my father became a maintenance man of the building too, besides working he had to do that. He had to do the shoveling of coal downstairs in the furnace, you know, to warm up the building? And because of it we didn’t have to pay rent.

When they finally sold the building, the person that bought it wanted those front rooms, so we had to leave. The lawyer said if we were paying just $2 a month they couldn’t put us out, but because we weren’t paying anything they were able to put us out. So before we found a place to live, we all had to split up and live with different aunts and uncles. My father and mother were with my mother’s brother and his wife and three children.

Bay Ridge Brooklyn 1945 


My Mother

My mom was a beautiful woman, and she was the sweetest thing in the world, so sweet.

She worked like a dog. My mother’s mother died when my mother was only 13 and there were her three brothers and a sister. My mother had to take over the job of being a mother to her siblings and take care of her father…when she was 13. And so she worked so hard at 13. Her sister wanted to work and so didn’t want to do anything in the house. So my mother did everything, raised her brothers and sister and took care of her father.

And then she had four children of her own and worked like a dog taking care of us, being poor and everything. And she used to have her brothers come to visit and she’d go around the corner and get bags of food for them so they could bring it home ’cause they were either out of work or something. I was so young I didn’t understand why she was doing all this. She was so good to them all the time, you know? But owing money to the person around the corner, to the grocery store, just to give them bags of food, all of them.

Corner grocer
Bay Parkway & 86th Street, NYC – 1951

So I didn’t realize until I got older that these brothers and sisters, they were like her children because she raised them, you know? And that’s why she was the way she was, so good to them. And I’m thinking, you know, we’re your children – take care of us! Well, she always did anyway. But I’m just saying, I didn’t understand why she was doing this until I got older. I realized that they were like her children and that’s why she took care of them the way she did.

She taught me everything I am, cooking especially. She was a fantastic cook and I became like her, always cooking like a fiend, always cooking. And she gave me her big cake pan. That was her famous cake pan, she gave it to me ’cause she said only I was like her, cooking and baking the way she used to. I lost it, it was in the garage when we moved and I don’t know what happened to it, I’m so upset I don’t have it.


The Nuts!

“I was coming home with her… So anyway we came into the house, my mother was bathing me. She gave me a bath and while she’s drying my hair I said, “Mommy, you know what I saw today? Two nuts walking down the street.” She said “Nuts, what are you talking about?..You mean …” I said, “You know the nuts!” She said, “You mean peanuts? You know, walnuts?” I said, “No, you know the nuts mom!” She said, “You mean two crazy people?” I said, “No, not two crazy people.” And she kept asking me and I kept saying “No, that’s not it mom. You know the nuts that walk down the street.” Finally I said “You know Mommy, the ladies that wear the veil over their head, black veil over their head?” My mother said “Oh, you mean the nuns?” I said “Yeah!” And I was so happy and I wrote that story in my English class in high school and my teacher loved it so much he made me read it in front of the class and they were all laughing! Oh, you know the nuts that walk down the street…”
Nuns Sister Mercy, Brooklyn, NY – 1950s


My Father

He taught me honesty. He was born on Lincoln’s birthday, February 12th, and he was just like Honest Abe. We used to call him Honest Abe, you know, Abe for Abraham Lincoln. And he taught us to be very honest. I wouldn’t take a penny from anybody. Never, never, never. That’s what he taught me. I think you just try to emulate your parents. Emulating them, they wouldn’t necessarily say a life lesson in words. But we all knew how honest he was from different stories that he’d tell us, where he worked and stuff like that, and I knew he was so honest. We all did.

My father was a doll, very comical, very funny man. Everybody loved him. Oh I could tell you some stories about him, he’s so funny.



“The three of us used to come home from work together. So he’d be sitting down and he said “Watch this.” He’d start yawning, put his hand on his mouth yawning. And he’d say “Watch watch watch.” And everybody started yawning on the train and he thought that was very funny.”
Scene on the New York Subway, 1969


Working Days

I worked at 303 Fifth Avenue. My father had gotten a wonderful job in the city from somebody that he knew on Fifth Avenue, and so he got me and my sister a job there, an office job.

5th Avenue Manhattan, 1945

That’s was my first job when I graduated. My father knew everybody in the building ’cause he was chief engineer of the building. He used to repair things, you know electrical things. He was an electrician first of all by trade and he’d take care of everything, elevators, so what would you call him? Really a maintenance man right? But he liked the sound of chief engineer of the building.

Crowding into an elevator, 1961

And he knew the office, he knew everybody, so he found out that they could use some girls to work in the office and he got my sister and I a job, we worked together in the same office. 

My sister was in the entertainment field, so it used to bother her that she was doing office work. You know, my father wanted her to bring home real money so he made her get a job in the office. But she was bad at it. Then she was fired because she was always late and always angry.

And then my father was so embarrassed, so insulted that she was fired, he wanted me to quit. So I told my manager, I said “I’m quitting. My father wants me to quit, I’m quitting the job.” I was a secretary and biller. And he said “Oh, Pat, I don’t want you to go.” He said “I’ll give you a raise, I’ll give you a $5 raise, I’ll put curtains in the room, you don’t even have to do the billing anymore, just make sure the other girls in the office do the billing.” And I said “I don’t know, I’ll ask my father.” And my father said “You tell him if you stay you want a $10 raise.” So I went up there and I told him I have to have a $10 raise… and he said “Okay.” So he gave me a $10 raise. And I stayed ’cause they wanted me to stay, ’cause I was a good worker and I didn’t carry on like my sister.

A secretary hard at work, 1961

I got paid weekly. And when I left there I was making $74 and when I started it was $45 a week and that was a lot of money in those days, nobody was making $45 a week in an office job. So I already started high.

I finally left that place after four years. Afterwards, my father made me take the first job that came, you know that? I told the new job I wanted $74 and they said $64 or something like that. And I took it, I had to take a cut in salary because I had to take the first job. My father needed the money. He couldn’t miss out on my check ’cause I gave him a lot of money when I was earning $45. I came home with $39 after taxes and I had to give my mother and father $25 and I kept $14. That was to eat lunch, take the train to work, eat lunch, buy clothes, $14. But I figured they needed it and that’s why I didn’t complain about all that.

But of course I kept getting raises there too so I don’t even know how much I earned when I left. I went four years at the new job where I took a drop in salary, ’til I became pregnant (I married when I was at that job).  I was at the front desk and greeting people and I started showing and wearing maternity clothes, and they didn’t want that anymore. So I had to leave. That’s okay, I wanted to anyway, so I quit. But, they’re not allowed to let you go now because of that… And then I never worked again.



Raising a Family

I worked harder raising four children and taking care of a husband. That was my life. But I had a nice life with my children, I love them so much, the four of them. They were so adorable. I was a little over-protective, but you know, I don’t know, I didn’t know how else to be. I think I was told that by my children as they grew up. I don’t remember my parents being like I was. Maybe they were, maybe they sheltered me, I don’t know.

But that’s what I’m most proud of – my children. ’Cause I raised basically good kids, you know? I know a lot of troubles other people have had with their children. I had a little trouble. But all in all it was fine. Put a lot of work into it.


I sucked at driving

“Fourth try I finally got a license. I was too fast, too slow, too something else. The fourth try I did it. Oh, that was funny. Oh, gosh. And then when my children were little, they had to tell me where to go. Do you believe it? They told me how to get to places ’cause they would remember how grandpa would drive them around, how they got to these places. Me, I said “You’re always going a different way. I’ll never learn how to get any place.” He’s always trying a different way, like trying different ways, he said, just in case I get stuck and I can’t go one way I know another way to go home, go some place, you know what I’m saying? But me, I would get all confused. So my children had to guide me. “Take this street, mom.” You go this way and that way. Oh, they were cute. I love my children so much like I love my grandchildren.”
1975 Subaru advertisement


To My Grandson

I used to make a big cake when you used to come over. Remember that big round cake I used to make when you’d come over? You don’t remember, sometimes I’d make half and half, you liked chocolate and you didn’t like icing on the cake so I’d leave half the cake without icing and the other I’d put icing either chocolate or vanilla for your brother. You don’t remember?

Betty Crocker Cake Mix Vintage Ad, 1956

What about Halloween? I used to have a little Halloween party for you. I baked a special kind of cake, oh it took me so long, I don’t remember what kind of cake it was. A man or something with a hat on. Oh, it was just a big job. And I think your mother took a picture of it. And I used to give you little bags of Halloween candy and a little gift inside and once you made fun of what I gave you, you said “You gave me a nail clipper.” Remember, I gave you a nail clipper?


Nieces to Pieces


I taught you so many things when your were little. Remember? Puzzles? It was putting puzzles together.  I couldn’t believe how you knew how to put that puzzle, that gigantic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs together, my gosh. I pretended I was helping you, but I couldn’t really help you. You knew exactly where every part was, oh my. Then we put in on the pool table and you started sitting on the pool table down in the basement, remember?

And playing with all the toys that we used to go and buy, after we’d eat at the diner. We’d go to the… I forgot the name of that store. Buy a toy down in the basement. We used to go down a big staircase. Don’t you remember down to the basement, and you’d walk around. I’d say, “Only one toy!” And you knew exactly what you wanted, and then you said, “Can I have two grandma?” I said, “Okay,” so you got to pick out two.

They had a bunch of books on a table down in the basement there, and they had all the toys, I said, “You’re gonna buy some books now hunny.” So I sat down on something, I don’t remember what the heck, I was sitting waiting for you, and you sat on the floor and started looking through all the books. And I said, “Well, which one do you want? And you said, ” I don’t want any of them, I read them all.”

Oh gosh, you are so funny, so funny, so determined. You want what you wanted. You knew everything. Yeah, you looked through the pictures, you called that reading, but you were only a little boy. I think you were five. Four or five. No, you must’ve been three. ‘Cause I took care of you only for three years. The first three years, and then when your mother went to work she put you in a daycare. So you must have been three years old, gosh. Only three looking through all those books. Gosh. Three years old…


My first blog

Bible Class and Confraternity

The priest had a Bible class once a week. We’d go across to the church, I don’t know where it was but it was in the church some place and he’d have Bible class. We’d all have to listen to him for an hour and then he’d let us go dance there, he had put the records on and after that we were dancing. And that was his way of getting us to listen to his preaching, you know?

Sample audio file

The priest had a Bible class once a week. We’d go across to the church, I don’t know where it was but it was in the church some place and he’d have Bible class. We’d all have to listen to him for an hour and then he’d let us go dance there, he had put the records on and after that we were dancing. And that was his way of getting us to listen to his preaching, you know?

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lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry’s standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book. It has survived not only five centuries, but also the leap into electronic typesetting, remaining essentially unchanged. It was popularised in the 1960s with the release of Letraset sheets containing Lorem Ipsum passages, and more recently with desktop publishing software like Aldus PageMaker including versions of Lorem Ipsum.

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Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry’s standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book.

Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry’s standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to

One day on the train, the three of us used to come home from work together, Aunt Gloria, me and my father. So he’d be sitting down and he said “Watch this Pat and Gloria.” He’d start yawning, put his hand on his mouth yawning. And he’d say “Watch watch watch.” And everybody started yawning on the train and he thought that was very funny.

— Jane Smith