2020: J – April A to Z… Family Stories
I’m back in 2020 for my fifth year of participating in the yearly April A to Z challenge… and as usual I racked my brain scribbling ideas on paper since the end of last April. It wasn’t until January, that the light bulb finally went off in scrolling through the 85+ of unfinished blog posts in my draft folder. Bingo… there was my A to Z topic…
Family Stories as told to me… mostly by my husband!
From the moment I married into this Italian family… I fell in love with their stories… their memories… and the family. My husband grew up in West Haven, Connecticut… where there was so much to enjoy as a young boy… especially a place known as Savin Rock… although long gone now. It somewhat resembled Coney Island… but was even larger when his parents, aunts and uncles grew up. They had stories… and I was always an eager listener whenever they told those stories… remembering, and scribbling down to preserve, just as I did with the family recipes that had once only been in their heads. 2020 has became the year I’m telling many of those stories… along with my husband’s memories to preserve for the generations to come. Many of those who told me their stories, are no longer with us… and I hope to keep their memory alive in these stories… as they are now my family also… and I love them all!
My previous years of A to Z Challenges are:
- 2016: A to Z Southern Foods and Memories… they said write what you know… and being a girl born in the South… well this was what I knew.
- 2017: A to Z Conversations with Mama… it was a somewhat easy one for me to write as I’d journaled our conversations for years… I researched favorite topics to write.
- 2018: A to Z All About Nancy Drew… this one has been my favorite topic so far, and I don’t know if I’ll ever come up with another one to equal it
- 2019: A to Z Italian Famiglia Foods and Memories… I felt it was time to finally write the favorites of my husbands family foods.
Come sit a spell and enjoy!
Jobs in the Family… and more
“One of my first jobs was bringing in firewood for Grandma Minnie’s stove… I even remember splitting the wood also. I was never a kid – I always worked. Saturday’s were a busy day around Grandma and Grandpa’s house… everyone had jobs… from the morning sweeping of the backyard to the weekly chore of Saturday grocery shopping.”
Working with Uncle Johnny!
“I often went to a small house-type restaurant owned by Joe Minone with Uncle Johnny for lunch when I worked with him… just across from Kelsey’s Pharmacy. It was really small inside… I’m only remembering one booth, maybe three stools at the counter and a couple of tables. The guy who owned it wasn’t really interested in making money… it seemed to me… just serving food like you’d eat at home. He always had two big cast iron pans on the stove… one of sausage and peppers and the other of sauce and meatballs; it was some of the best sauce I ever ate. Johnny loved to eat there and bullshit with Joe.”
“Johnny let me drive all his cars when I turned fourteen and worked with him. He’d laugh and say, ” you won’t get in any trouble if we’re ever pulled over because I know all the West Haven cops and most of the New Haven ones. He always liked to tell me “don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of everything.”
Talks with my father-in-law!
On one of my many talks with my father-in-law… he told me about how he began working at the age of eight years old… helping to support the family; dad worked at the local neighborhood market and delivered groceries on his bicycle. At the age of sixteen he quit school when a full-time job came his way… saying “if you were lucky enough to find a full-time job, you quit school to take it… jobs were hard to come by.” His generation was the last who worked at a young age to help support the family. They didn’t enjoy the type of childhood my generation did. I was privileged to have a childhood… able to enjoy being a child before growing up to have adult responsibilities. Children in our parents generation were often expected to help support the family.
Dad applied to Armstrong Rubber in 1941 upon hearing that they were hiring welders. It wasn’t long after working there… that he left to join the Army Air-Core in 1942; he returned back to Armstrong after he was discharged in 1946. Dad was first hired as a mechanic/welder in ’41… later becoming shop superintendent, and then senior foreman on the day shift. Dad didn’t like the title of superintendent… he didn’t like the pressure of being in charge while doing nothing; he enjoyed working hands-on and repairing equipment. Dad made his final walk through Armstrong in 1981 when he retired after forty years… it was a sad day for him. If that plant never closed, he would have continued working there until he could no longer make that walk.
During the bowling alley scene in Jersey Boys, Steve told me… “My father was also a pin boy at a bowling alley when he was young. I remember him telling me that it was one of his many jobs he held as a young boy. Must have been a local bowling alley in Shelton… probably right in town somewhere.” (I wish I’d heard that story years ago, as I would’ve liked to have known more about that job. Dad often talked to me about his many jobs of delivering groceries and newspapers on his bicycle when he was only eight years old. Steve and I took him on a ride back through Shelton one afternoon and he guided us up and down all the roads he delivered groceries on… and still remembered all the names of who lived where.)
When I cleaned out my father-in-laws desk… I found my husband’s W2 Forms from his first jobs… Working for the town in the summer… working two weeks at Jimmie’s… and working at Grossman’s Lumber
“I had two jobs in my life I ever quit. The first one was my very 1st job at Jimmy’s at Savin Rock. I only worked there about two weeks… working almost every Friday and Saturday night until 2 a.m. Besides punching out onion rings, I waited on customers, and after closing, we all pitched in to clean… oil was everywhere from the frying. After Jimmy’s, I went to work at Grossman’s Lumber, and worked there until I joined the Air Force. The second job I quit was after I married… I was working at Armstrong full-time and took a part-time job right down the street from my parent’s house. It became too much… I couldn’t handle both jobs and quit after only one week there.”
Talking about the economy and pricing came these remarks…. “Right before I went to work at Jimmy’s, I could buy two hotdogs (20-cents each), fries and a pint of milk for a buck, and still get about four-cents back in change. When I was in high school, I bought a pint of milk for two-cents or chocolate milk for five-cents. I didn’t often drink soda, because the very next day I’d have pimples on my face. I remember going to buy cigarettes for my mother – twenty cents a pack. No one ever questioned kids coming in to buy cigarettes back then… there was no age limit… all mother’s sent their kids. How could they impose an age limit when they were sold out of a vending machine… which is no more. The only place you see those cigarette vending machines today, are in antique malls.”
While watching a movie, “So I Married an Axe Murderer”… they showed him cutting bacon, and Steve said… “I did that once when I was in basic training… you spent days on different jobs. I spent one day in the meat cutting room, where I cut bacon all day long. They taught me how to use the meat slicer and exactly how thick they wanted it; everything is precise with the government… no more… and no less – it must be perfect! It wasn’t a bad job, even though it was very cold. My friend, Louie, ended up in the kitchen washing dishes all day… I think I got the better of the two jobs.”
“I first worked in the final-finish department when I was hired at Armstrong in 1971. My job was to clear the jammed-up tires on the conveyor belts. I later moved to the sprayer booth, where I sprayed a finish on the tires and then I moved to the tire booth, where I built tires. I loved that job, and was very good at it… for being a short guy. The quality control guys enjoyed watching me build tires, and often told my father that I was the best tire builder they’d ever seen; I worked clean, neat and gave them a lot of tires… dad liked hearing that! I really enjoyed building tires even though it was bull work… and I built quality tires for them. The auto industry was booming in the 70’s… cars were selling and they needed tires. We had multiple Sears contracts and that kept Armstrong in a strong competitive market… sometimes we couldn’t even build enough tires to complete the orders. I remember seeing the warehouse always full of tires – top to bottom – and they were shipped out daily, but it was always full. I knew sometimes some of those tires made their way over the back fence too – when their cars needed tires… that’s just how it was!”
“Health insurance at Armstrong was very different compared to today. You were covered 100% – no questions asked. Both of my children were born while working there and I never received one bill. No one gave it another thought of what you’d owe after the insurance paid their share… no co-pays… so very different compared to today.”
“While working at Armstrong, I thought my job was secure forever … and that I would have that job until retirement. What a real blow to me, and everyone, when we began hearing of the West Haven plant closing. I felt it was coming when they relocated much of our equipment to the Tennessee plant… but hoped it would never happen. I worked there until it closed in 1981, but I still feel it changed my life forever. Through their retraining program after I lost my job, I went to welding school and had several jobs and layoffs. One of my first welding jobs was at Electric Boat in New London… if you can weld there, you can weld anywhere. I worked there about two years before being laid off again… then it was several jobs before my longest employment again at New Haven Body Building… and once again in 2009 I was laid off for the last time. I collected unemployment for two years, and decided to retire early at the age of 62.”
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