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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
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…