Continued from the Feb. 11th issue.
Our principal at Miner School then, was Miss Celia Foley, an autocratic white-haired little lady who wore nose glasses. To us, the students, she seemed very old, but I never knew her age. Going from room to room, in the school, Miss Foley would remove her glasses while talking to teachers and students. Invariably, she forgot to pick up the glasses again. One of us in sixth grade would be called upon to retrace Miss Foley’s path through the school until the glasses were found and returned to her.
Miss Foley arrived and departed each day in her chauffeur-driven limousine. This day during the worst part of the Depression had caused some rather acid remarks at the same time. To this day I cannot imagine the dressy little lady in the limousine ever understanding the plot of a good share of the students when I attended Miner School.
I recall one head on battle between Miss Foley and my father. We were informed (fifth and sixth grades) that Miner School was to form a Harmonica Band. In great anticipation I added my name to the list of aspiring musicians and raced home at noon to announce the great news. Mother and Dad asked questions, talked it over and gave their permission. I could be in the band!
Later, that afternoon, I was called to the office where Miss Foley told me I could not be in the band. She explained that my family was too poor and on relief. I could not afford the fifty cents to play the harmonica thus I could not be in the band. I never knew if any other student was refused a place in the band for this reason.
Of course, I went home in tears with my tale of woe. Dad listened patiently, asked a few questions and rose, with eyes ablaze. He said quietly to my Mother, “I’ll be right back, Lois.” Mother opened her mouth to ask a question, but Dad was gone. True to his word, he was back in half an hour. He had good news. Miss Foley had reconsidered-I was almost welcome to be in the band!
Dad would not tell me what he had said or what Miss Foley said. She had simply changed her mind. I do not know where the fifty cents came from I just remember the thrill of learning to play that little harmonica so I could play some of Dad’s favorite old melodies. And, a few years ago, I saw an advertisement for the same little Horner harmonica, the price was almost thirteen dollars!
I ran errands for Miss Foley the rest of the sixth grade and did little chores around the office. Miss Foley was very kind to me, and I’ll never forget her advice when impulsively, I gathered up all the Mrs. Linley Girl Scout cookies I had taken orders for and raced home with them, only to go straight back with the dozen she had ordered. To this day, when something similar occurs, I can see her small straight figure and hear the words, “You must learn to use your head to save your feet!” from a friend a dozen years older than I, I learned Miss Foley was principal at Miner School when she was a student there. I do not know when Miss Foley retired or what happened to her. I am sure she always tried to do her best and she expected us to do the same. I’m not sure she ever understood the financial problems so many families faced.
Our family of five eventually lived in the three large first floor rooms while a childless couple lived in our former two rooms. We were still poor, but we children were not aware just how poor.
In the fall of my seventh grade, I was sent to Lutheran Hospital for a tonsillectomy. While I was there, Mother was taken to the Methodist Hospital (at the time the hospital was located in the first block of Lewis Street, west of Calhoun Street) with pneumonia. That same year, I was horrified to have members of my homeroom bring a basket of food to us! It was even more embarrassing to sit in class and have a report given to the class. It had been delivered to the family in time for them to enjoy a really good Thanksgiving dinner! I made up my mind, then and there, if I ever gave anything to anyone in need, I should do it without anyone else knowing what I was doing for whom.
Dad was now getting part-time work in construction. He was working on what was then called the Grand Leader building at the southeast corner of Calhoun and Wayne Streets; this has once been the site of the White Fruit House. As the White Fruit House it had been the market for the best fruit raised by Gene Stratton Porter’s family when she was growing up. Many years later my father-in-law told me he recalled buying a dill pickle for a nickel at the Fruit House. The pickles were kept in big barrels of brine and very good!
The building was being constructed as a modern department store when Dad worked there. I remember him bringing small chipped mosaic tiles with which the main floor was covered. Any flaw meant the tiles could not be used in the new building. My brothers spent many hours playing with the discarded little tiles.
While we were still on Broadway my mother said we needed more seating space in our living room. I seem to recall two rocking chairs and we would bring straight kitchen chairs in when more seating space was needed. Dad used some old lumber and built a frame with arms at each end. On this frame he fastened the back bench type seat from an old (no longer used) car. I thought he was wonderful and very cleaver, and we used this so called davenport for many years.
I recently saw a TV program showing new furniture designs. I had to laugh when one company proudly displayed their latest. They were now producing a “clean basic line” of sofas which resembled (diversely so) the back bench type seat of vintage cars! And in a very slick page magazine I saw something very much like Dad’s design without the arms. Oh, yes, it cost several thousand dollars. How my father would have laughed at this. He had a wonderful sense of humor.
There by the railroad we were poor, desperately so, at times. But we were together with a roof over our heads and food to eat. Mother was an excellent seamstress so we had clothing mostly made over from hand me downs. Mother could look at a fashion picture and copy it, so she made fashionable dresses, skirts and blouses or shirts for me and the boys. She also had a few clients with money enough for custom-made clothing. She earned a little to help out then and continued sewing for discerning clients until the last two years of her life.
We children knew we didn’t have a home like some of our schoolmates, but we made better grades then they and our parents were always there for us. We saw, first hand that no matter how much money one has, life can still be difficult. One just has different problems when there is plenty of money.