The cover design is by Alberta Maydock Rooney. The blue spruce tree centered in the design, of course, represents the one planted next to the front steps of the Larson home by Mary Larson Wirtz after transplanting it from Bear Creek, Pennsylvania about 1927. It survives as a beacon, indicating the site of the Larson home, built by Olaf Larson and his sons and featured in many of the stories in this volume.
The symbols surrounding the diamond depict a cabbage, a white horse, a rose, and an aromatic shrub plant; symbols, whose importance become clear upon reading the selections in this book.
This booklet is a joint effort by my son Leo and myself to get my stories together and to share them with the family. In this, Leo's wife Alberta has been most supportive by her interest and encouragement.
I wrote the stories, but Leo has done the major work of organizing them and putting them in their proper perspective. I've been so close to some of the narratives that I sometimes assume that others know the background of them as well as I do. Leo endeavors to clear up some points that might be obscure to a future member of the family. He has written all of the paragraphs in between the stories and without him this booklet would never have been assembled.
We offer it in the hope that you will enjoy it and receive the same pleasure in reading
it, that we have received in writing it.
Laura Larson Rooney
At age seventy-five, Laura Larson Rooney began writing the short stories, reminiscences, poems and essays that comprise the body of this collection. She wrote the pieces as her contributions to a class of senior citizens being taught in Morristown, New Jersey by Miss Franny Olack under the sponsorship of the federally funded Comprehensive Employment and Training Act. Miss Olack nursed the novel conception that older people could do more than weave baskets, play cards, and indulge in other such activities typical of the programs offered in most centers for the aged. She thought they could write.
Laura wrote of the inception of this class and its later effects on her in one of her pieces labeled:
"Storytelling and Poetry Class"
The class first met at the Church of the Redeemer, a Morristown Protestant church, in the spring of 1977. On that first day, I had no inkling of how important the class would become in my life nor how it would grow to such stature as a CETA project.
The teacher, Miss Franny Olack, in introducing herself that day, spoke of having come from a small coal mining town in Pennsylvania. This caught my interest immediately for I too had come from the same background. In talking with her after class we both were surprised and delighted to learn that it was the same town, Larksville, Pennsylvania.
That first day and afterward, Franny worked hard to interest us and awaken a spark of creativity in we older people, an uphill and losing battle in some cases. But those who did join in the activities of the class were in for a surprise. When bombarded and prodded with ideas by this exuberant and knowledgeable teacher they could do more creative writing than they dreamt. Franny never gave up, nor lost her enthusiasm, and in time this rubbed off on many in the class and they were inspired to try.
Many students came and went until there were about twenty regular members meeting twice a week. As Franny said, the aging have a deep well of experience, and can lower a pail into it and fill it, and this is something the young do not have. This encouragement and many others gave confidence to the class members. They began to notice their writing improving as it became easier to share ideas and benefit from the constructive criticism of their teacher and peers.
As the class progressed their confidence was enhanced by a series of readings of their own work before groups at the Morristown Library, St. Peter's Church, the Morristown Senior Citizen's Center and other groups including a radio appearance by Yula Fisher and myself. Mrs. Pat Wheeler, manager of the senior citizens center, was most helpful in making these appearances possible. These appearances added much to the general good feeling of all concerned.
But the effects of the "stretching of the mind" which Miss Olack stresses, was felt in many ways outside of class. I'm sure that what we have learned in class has spread out into our daily lives and touched our thinking and general attitude toward life.
Personally, our writings in class have inspired me to make a family booklet of letters that have been written in the family, from 1887 to 1946. I've had the letters saved safely all these years, but it never occurred to me to put them all together, so that the younger members of the family could read and enjoy them.
Laura Rooney completed and published this collection of letters in the summer of 1979 and she and the members of her family refer to it as "The Blue Book" named after its binding.
When Laura "lowered her pail" into her past experiences to find material for her stories to complete class assignments she often reached back to her parents and her early childhood. One of her first stories was about some memories of her mother.
"My Mother, Sarah Jane Larson"
My mother was born in England in 1863 and both of her parents died shortly afterward, leaving her an orphan in the care of her maternal grandparents, Mary Munley Gerrity and Thomas Gerrity.
They brought her to this country when she was three years old and she often told us of a happy childhood in their care. There was a large family of relatives and friends here, and the child who later became my mother was at home with all of them. They were poor, but managed to survive in their new surroundings.
Of the school she attended, she had little to say, but often she told us of going from the school to a house about a quarter of a mile away, for water. She and another girl would take the pail, gaily, running, dropping it, throwing it from one to the other on the way to the house, but on coming back, they'd try to act business like, and hurried, their demeanor somber, but they didn't fool the teacher. He knew that they were the "class clowns" and he probably sent them on the errand to get rid of them for awhile.
When quite young, as was the custom in those days, my mother was sent to "work out" as they called it, in the house of a carriage builder. There were a lot of children there and she had plenty to do.
Her grandfather came for her pay once a month, giving her a small sum from it to spend as she wished.
She became acquainted with another girl who worked in the vicinity and this girl told her of an aunt of hers, Mrs. Rock, who kept boarders in Larksville, Pennsylvania, a distance of fourteen miles from Scranton where they worked. A train ran between the two towns and so they planned that on the next Sunday they had off from work, they'd go to see this aunt and incidentally, the boarders. This they did, and that's how my mother met my father. He was on of the boarders.
He had arrived from Sweden several years before. His brother Benjamin, and sister, Bengta, were with him and they had settled in Texas where the three of them worked on a large ranch. Olaf, my father, didn't like it there, and when an agent from the Pennsylvania coal mines cam along recruiting workers for the mines, Olaf signed up and went north to Larksville, where he was given a job and had a boarding house arranged for him.
It was to this boarding house that my mother and her friend went visiting. It was run by a couple, Mr. and Mrs. John Rock. John was a baker and didn't work in the mines. Mrs. Rock was a good boarding mistress. She was good-natured and encouraged gaiety and music in the evenings when work was done. Someone would play the accordion, and there was singing and dancing.
My mother often told us how she like Olaf right from the start, seeing him standing there in the doorway, so tall and handsome and looking on at all the gaiety in the room. He was quiet and content to merely look on and enjoy.
On one of these trips that my mother, Sarah Jane, and her friend made to see the "Aunt," a peddler came to the boarding house to sell his wares. He opened his pack and spread all the merchandise out there on the floor for all to see. Olaf reached down and picked up a change purse, paid for it and then presented it to Sarah Jane.
She knew then that he liked her, and she had known for a long time that she liked him. When he asked her to marry him, Sarah Jane said that she couldn't; he wasn't a Catholic, and she was. He replied that, "There is only one step to take, and I'll take it." He would become a Catholic. He began instruction in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania immediately with a priest at St. Mary's Church, walking the three miles each way, once a week, in the evening. They were married when she was eighteen and he was thirty years of age and they raised a large family, of which I was the youngest.
My mother was a happy, cheerful person who looked on the bright side of life. There was always music in the home and laughter. She loved to work in the yard, planting flowers and tending them. We always had a cow, which she took care of , as she was a firm believer in feeding the family well with good plain food and lots of milk.
She was always kind. When the husband of my father's former boarding mistress, John Rock, was old and alone in the world, my mother took him in and kept him for the three years before he died. She realized that he wanted to feel needed and helpful so she let him do the churning and butter making, in which he took great pride.
She "built" my father up to us children, always. She'd point out his good qualities and praise him and tell us of good things that he had done. In this I think she was wise. It's a good thing for a child to feel secure in the knowledge that his or her father is a person to respect.
As I became an adult, I was able to see and appreciate another side of my mother. She didn't preach or nag, but we knew that she expected us to do the right thing and we did it. We had no set time to come home from a party. She'd say, "When the party's over, come home. My God, where else would you go?"
She never discouraged us from doing something new, be it taking a job away from home, driving a car, or whatever we had the courage to do. She maintained a good home in the house that she and my father had built, until she died in it, at the age of 83. We and our families were always welcome in it and we enjoyed going there.
In her reminiscence about her mother Laura hewed strictly to the facts as she recalled
them. In another reminiscence called, "My Brother, Lawrence," she takes a
writer's liberty with the facts and weaves memories of two older brothers who left home,
Thomas and Lawrence, into one story in the interest of simplicity and a straight-forward
In the spring of 1980 Laura was invited to speak to a fourth grad class in Randolph Township, New Jersey. The class was studying aging and the aged. One of the questions asked was, "Did you have TV to watch when you were a little girl?" Part of her answer was drawn from the following essay written as a class assignment in March, 1979. It illustrated the triumph of self reliance and youthful imagination in devising amusements in childhoods spent before World War I, unaided by the electronic impulses of amusements commonplace in her latter years.
"Games I Played Long Ago"
When I was young, I had few toys, just a doll and carriage, table and chairs for a tea party and a small ironing board that had written on it, "To Laura from Santa Claus." I dearly loved that board and ironed the handkerchiefs on it on ironing day.
Fresh in my mind are the games that I played as I was growing up and which required no "store boughten" aids.
One game in particular was one in which all ages participated. We sat in a circle on chairs and the one who was "it" stood in the center and told either a long or a short story about a dog of his that had been stolen. The important thing was to ramble on about the dog and the, suddenly, jump at someone in the circle and say, "I accuse you (name) of stealing it." The accused person had to jump to his feet immediately and say, "Who, Sir, I Sir?" or he was out of the game. The dialogue went on, "Yes, You Sir," and continued "No, not I Sir," followed by "Who then, Sir?" and another person was named and had to jump to his feet to defend himself and accuse someone else. This went on until just two were left in the game.
Another game that required no props except a round, smooth rock was "Duck on the Rock."
The one who was it put his rock on a large flat stone and the others in the game lined up at a line drawn in the dirt about fifteen feet away. Each one got a turn to try to knock the rock or duck off the rock. Those who didn't throw anywhere near the duck had to go and stand by their rock until someone knocked the duck off the rock and they could run to home base, the one who was "it" trying to catch them after first replacing the duck. The first one caught became "it" and the game went on.
Another game was "Railings" in which two teams competed. One team stood in a ring, hastily made by a stick in the dirt, while team two ran and hid. After a certain count, team one left the ring to round up team two and brought each one back to the ring as he was caught. When all had been caught, they had to stand in the ring while team one hid, and the game went on. It was hide-and-go-seek on a large scale.
The quiet games that we played at home in the evening were dominoes and checkers,
but mostly we sang, as I remember. My mother encouraged us to sing the songs we had
learned at school and as we grew older, we'd take different parts while my brother Joseph
accompanied on a violin. I can still hear the echo of those songs sung long ago
clearer than today's radio.
Laura elaborated on the importance of singing in the lives of the people, young and
old, in the days before radio, television, movies and stereo systems.
"And They Sang - And They Sang"
In the little town where I grew up, singing was and integral part of life. On every occasion, voices were raised in song, and I can still hear the, clear and beautiful, as they were then.
Men came from Wales to this town to work in the mines. They brought their families and of course, their love of music and their trained voices. Some of them had sung in Eisteddfods in Wales and attended them in America.
Very often, they got together to sing and I was able to attend these practice sessions. They were professional in their renditions and sometimes we went to the Welsh Congregational Church in adjoining Edwardsville to hear them sing and loved it.
One time they put on a "Cantata" and charged admission. The very word "Cantata" intrigued me, and I felt so important and pleased to be attending one.
My mother fostered this love of singing and music in the home. She was ecumenical in thought and practice and we youngsters were free to attend musical programs in any church were we were welcomed and behaved ourselves. An older sister and I used to go to a "fashionable church", as we called it, a church of wealthy parishioners, in Wilkes Barre, just to hear their marvelous choir. It was St. Stephen's on River Street.
We also attended the Billy Sunday Revival meetings, held in a large tent, when he conducted them in nearby Wilkes Barre, just to sing with them. We bought their hymnal book so we could play and sing the hymns at home.
There were some "rented" houses in town and in one of them lived a young Welsh couple. They had an organ and used to play and sing together every night. At one time they got behind in their rent and were afraid that their organ would be confiscated for the back rent. They were willing to let anything else go, their bed, their stove, or whatever, but not their organ. My mother knew how they felt and she had them bring the organ to our house late at night and she hid it for them in our parlor. The parlor was sacrosanct, kept locked except for weddings, funerals and other important occasions, so no one knew it was there. When the couple got on their feet again, they retrieved their organ.
I attended school in this town all of my school life until I graduated from high school in 1919. in the primary grades we sang a lot, and I remember a song I particularly liked, "Have You Any Petty Cares, Boys?" I always thought it was Patty Cares. I had no idea what it meant or what "cares" were.
In this song, the girls asked the question and the boys whistled the answer or the chorus. I suppose this was to show how happy they were and I liked the rollicking tune.
One year, a new school was built and there was opposition in the town as to its cost and the need for it. Some taxpayers said that there weren't enough children in the town to justify it being built.
On the day the new school was dedicated, the school authorities had the children march through the town, singing all the way. A band playing school songs led the parade. Even children from neighboring towns who had come to see the affair were pushed, protesting, into line and told to march and sin and everyone did. People were attracted to the parade by the music and there were no more complaints about the lack of enough children in town to fill the new school.
The Welsh weren't the only singers in that town. The Slavish Church had a choir and also congregational singing in their native tongue. They sang with heartfelt meaning and gusto.
A choir from the Russian Church used to come to our town on what we called "Russian Christmas" and they were excellent singers. They went from house to house dressed in the peasant costumes of their homeland. One was dressed to look like the devil with horns and a tail and he carried a mean looking pitchfork. He would rush at the children as if he were going to spear them. He did it in jest but we children didn't understand that and we were truly frightened.
At one school affair, and eighth grade class sang the Welsh song "All Through the Night" in four parts. This is something I haven't seen equaled since. They knew their music and I'm sure they could have sung, by sight-reading, the notes, as well as the words.
World War I was being fought all during my high school years and again we marched and sang to flag raising, bond selling rallies, troop departures and similar events. At parties, we sang "Over There," "There's A Long, Long Trail," "Hinky Dinky, Parlez Vous," and other songs popular during that war. We sang "I Didn't Raise My Boy to be a Soldier," until it was banned as unpatriotic.
The older people sang, also. They'd join in with the younger ones at parties, school affairs or on any occasion where singing took place.
One happy memory of my high school days is of climbing up on a quickly constructed,
temporary bleacher, to sing with our group for a flag raising I believe. Before the
program started and after we were settled high on the bleachers, our leader, Mr. Dan
Lewis, had us sing "There's Music in the Air," as sort of a warm up. I can
hear us singing that tune today as I can still hear the echoes of those other songs sung
Given a class assignment to write about "catalogues," Laura used it to
further illustrate how children of her time amused themselves inexpensively and creatively
and contrasts their purposes and expectations with a modern girl.
My most vivid memory of a catalogue, back in the early 1900's, was when my older brother was ordering some hunting equipment from a Sears-Roebuck catalogue. He sat at the table writing the order and to amuse us younger children pretended not to know what C.O.D. meant and so asked us. We didn't know of course, but a neighbor child who was playing with us piped up, "It means 'Carry Out Dead'." Within a week that boy was dead and buried, a victim of diphtheria, a dread disease at that time. Even to this day, C.O.D. brings back to my mind that unlucky answer.
We used the pictures of flowers from Burpee's Seed Catalogue to paste on a Christmas present for our mothers. We'd save the rectangular cardboards that separated the biscuits in the shredded wheat box, they were 3 x 9, large enough to paste three pictures on each one. When we had three or four cardboards done, our teacher would thread them together for us, one under the other with a space between, and that was a wall hanging beautiful in our eyes and a worthy present for our mothers.
Through the years, I've ordered things from catalogues from time to time but not on a large scale.
One evening I was baby-sitting with a six year old little girl. In the home
was a large Sears-Roebuck Christmas catalogue and we spent several hours looking at it and
saying what we'd like to have. To my consternation, I realized that she thought that
we were really going to get all the things we chose, so, we didn't play that game again.
Of course, an inexpensive and enjoyable way to while away a Sunday afternoon, then and now, was to take a walk. Laura describes country walks with their many joys and minor hazards in the next story.
"The Fifty Acres"
Above the town where I lived in Pennsylvania, up on the mountainside, was a farm run by people named Steele. They had two sons who came down to our school, so we felt that we knew them and could be "to home" when we walked up there, usually on a Sunday afternoon.
It was a far walk from the town. When we got there, we felt honor bound to walk the circular road that surrounded the farm. Not to do it would be to "chicken out."
I don't remember ever buying anything but eggs, but we came home loaded down with things we had acquired on the long walk.
In passing the apple orchard, we felt free to pick up any apples that were on the ground. The Steeles allowed their cows to roam around in there and sometimes the apples fell into a "cowflop" as we called it, and it was imbedded there. Of course, we knew better than to touch one of these apples, but sometimes a delicious looking apple, lying free and clear, still smelled and tasted of cow manure, and was quickly thrown away when bitten into.
Everything was of interest to us. We knew where to get a drink from a shaded creek that ran further on along the road. We'd cup our hands, lie on our stomachs, and drink deeply of the clear, cold, bubbly water. We'd douse some on our faces and hair for good measure.
Our trip to the farm was never the same at any time, depending on the season.
In the fall we gathered hickory nuts, black walnuts, and wild grapes that grew along the road. We didn't trespass nor destroy anything, just picked up what we saw lying outside the fence. The Steeles knew us and we were always welcome to enjoy our walk.
There was sort of a public outhouse or privy which we avoided after our first visit there. it smelled just awful in summer, attracted a strange kind of large buzzing fly that repelled us by its menacing looks and sound.
We picked up leaves that were pretty and took them home to press in a book.
Once in a while the Sunday walk was not entirely pleasant. Once, I sat on an ant hill and my scared screams brought everyone running to help me.
Another time, I stepped on a chestnut burr and there was another screaming match.
But all in all, the walk to Fifty Acres Farm was well worth the effort involved and
is fondly remembered.
Sex education was not a part of the school curriculum when Laura was growing up. This taboo subject was handled in the home as this tale of a mother's instruction to her three young daughters clearly illustrates.
"Straight from the Cabbage Patch"
One day my two older sisters and I asked our mother where we had come from. She was ready for the question and she had an answer for each of us. She proceeded to tell in detail how each of us had arrived into the family.
My oldest sister, Matilda, was born on December 24th, so of course, Santa Claus had brought her. She was under the tree on Christmas morning when the family got up.
There was great wonder and rejoicing among her five brothers when they saw her there. They ran to tell all the neighbors and stressed that she was alive, not a doll. No one in the neighborhood could top that.
My next older sister, Mary, had been born on June 30th on a beautiful day, my mother said. She had gone to the yard to look at her favorite rose bush with the lovely pink roses, and lo and behold, a beautiful baby was lying there sound asleep. And that baby was my sister, Mary.
Now, it was my turn to hear of the wonderful place where I had been found. I had been born on November 12th.
I was greatly "let down" and disappointed to learn that I had been found in the cabbage patch in back of our house. I knew this cabbage patch well and didn't like it.
Mother said that when my father went out to bring in the cabbages before winter, there I was and he brought me in also. In an aside, my sister Mary said, "Probably yelling her head off."
So when our "Poetry and Storytelling" class at the Morristown Senior Center was asked to write a few lines to be put up on the cards in the Morristown busses, I wrote:
November - when cabbages lie in the field
Green, wet, ice coated, miserable
Waiting to be taken in for the winter.
One field of endeavor with which Laura is quite knowledgeable is that of teaching. She taught in Larksville, Pennsylvania from 1921 to 1926 and in Mendham, New Jersey from 1945 to her retirement in 1964.
In the first of the following two stories she puts her tongue in cheek and describes her own early childhood education under the benign Miss Candelson, she of the "winning, bewildered smile."
Being an educator she could not leave this droll portrait of a benighted teacher without turning to a description of two of her teachers who commanded her respect. her second story redresses the devastated balance created by her first story. It describes excellent teachers she enjoyed, one in her childhood and one when she was seventy eight years old. They were remarkably similar.
"The Undedicated Teacher - Miss Candelson"
In Larksville, Pennsylvania, in the early 1900's, the classes were put into rooms; they were never spoken of as grades. Children didn't know what grade they were in but went happily along wherever they were put. The room was known by the name of the teacher and in my second year of school I found myself in Miss Candelson's room.
Miss Candelson presided over this room; I can't honestly say "taught." She was a pretty, pleasant person, dressed in the latest styles and had a winning, bewildered smile.
In winter, she carried a large brown muff and this oversize muff held a fascination for us children. We loved to stroke it as she stood outside during recess with her hands inside it. She never seemed to mind how we clustered around her like playful puppies, gently shoving and pushing for a vantage point where we could fondle the beautiful, shining fur.
Miss Candelson had a large group and attempted to hold classes and succeeded to some extent but the room was always noisy and the children restless.
In the center of the room was a pot-bellied coal stove which was red hot in winter. The children who sat in seats near it often put a scarf over their faces to ward off the intense waves of heat, but the children in the far corners of the room were cold and put their warps on.
Once in awhile some boys would get into a "fist fight" in the room and Miss Candelson's gentle admonition was, "Boys, don't knock over the stove."
When this got too bad this teacher would clap her hands and announce, "Now we will all sing."
She'd appoint a monitor to choose the songs and keep them going while she sat at her desk and embroidered.
Often while one class was up front reciting on the two long benches provided for that purpose, the remainder of the class in their seats, wrote the Roman numerals to five hundred on both sides of their slates.
Every day they did this, except once in a while, Miss Candelson would have them copy the index from their reading books.
Before the day ended, Miss Candelson went up and down each aisle with a glass water sprinkler, hardly looking at the work and shaking water on the slates so the work could be erased. Each pupil had a rag hanging from the grill work under his desk and he or she used this to clean and dry the slate, ready for the next day.
We surely learned the Roman numerals to five hundred but I've found little use for them in my seventy-eight years of life!
In looking over some old pictures recently I came across a class picture taken sixty-six years ago when I was in "Miss Jacobs' room." This brought to mind what a good teacher Miss Jacobs was and how we all learned that year with her.
When we reached Miss Jacobs' room we found quiet order and discipline and we loved it and learned. She was strict but not mean and she inspired us to observe and think and express ourselves.
I remember being made conscious, for the first time, of movement in drawing. We went to watch the children skating on a nearby pond and came back to the classroom to put the action into charcoal drawings.
Instead of endless singing of rote songs that year, we studied notes and music. Miss Jacobs always had some staffs drawn on the blackboard after lunch. She'd blow a scale or part of a scale on her pitch pipe, or sing the syllables with "loo" and then send someone to the board to write what she had sung. We loved the challenge.
These examples are only a few of the many we experienced in Miss Jacobs' room, but I tell of them because now in the person of Franny Olack, we have a teacher so like Miss Jacobs.
Franny is enthusiastic and inspires her class to learn, to observe and think and to bring out what is within one's self, each one in his or her own way.
For a senior citizen this is especially important. Sometimes, we are inclined
to sit back and think that we have done everything that we are ever going to do and can
coast from now on in. Franny shakes us out of that kind of thinking and we are
encouraged to use powers of thought and observation that we didn't realize we possessed.
In the stories seen so far in this collection, Laura has dipped into the deep well of her memory to describe certain of her family members, her childhood amusements and the most memorable teachers she experienced. In the next few stories she depicts certain aspects of the strenuous life of a typical housewife of this era, one not aided by servants and before modern technology came to her rescue.
Teddy Roosevelt was president when Laura was born, being sworn in to office in September, 1901 after as assassin's bullet had killed President McKinly, just two months prior to Laura's birth. As a father of six, Teddy said, "For unflagging interest and enjoyment, a household of children, if things go reasonably well, certainly makes all forms of success and achievement lose their importance by comparison." Perhaps. Teddy had servants, but the Larsons with eight children who lived to maturity, had none. The rigors of housekeeping then, especially for a large family, are clearly seen in these stories.
"Wash Day in the Early 1900's"
Families were usually large in those days and the weekly washing and ironing was formidable task taking two days, one to wash and the other to iron. Monday was the washday unless it rained and if that happened, the whole week's work was put out of order.
Early on Monday morning, the housewife put a huge boiler of water on the coal store to heat. She was usually helped in this task by whomever was available. The heated water had to be poured into a washer, soap powder added, then the clothes, whites first, and the washer was ready to be turned by hand.
This was sometimes done by an older child or an old person living in the house, or if need be, by the housewife herself.
When one washer-ful was done the clothes were put through an attached wringer into a tub of clear rinse. They were wrung out of there into a tub of blue rinse and finally to the line to dry after starching the things that needed to be starched.
Colored clothes were put through the same procedure until the water became too dirty and had to be replaced by clean water and new soap.
Finally, the most soiled work clothes were washed and even strips of rag carpet were added at the end of the wash.
When written, the whole washday experience sounds easy and pleasant, but this was not so. Filling tubs, emptying them, carrying clothes to the line was a back breaking job and usually took all day.
Women of that day took pride in how their wash looked on the line, white clothes had to be white and towels clean. They were particular as to how the clothes hung, sheets together, then pillow cases and all articles of sameness hung together, not hit or miss as they were taken from the basket.
Tuesday was ironing day, another whole day's job. I remember seeing ironed clothes draped on chairs, tables and even hanging on pictures on the wall, so they could "dry out" before being put away. Before ironing they had been sprinkled with water to make them easier to iron and so were a little dampish when finished.
Needless to say, some housewives did a better job than others, their wash was cleaner and they did the wash as it should be done.
On the other side, a story comes to mind, of a young housewife who used to put her wash out on the line, but left it there after it was dry. Rain would wet it again, it would dry again, but there it stayed until finally taken in perhaps later in the week, or the next week, whenever she got to it. This exasperated her neighbors no end.
Washing and ironing were demanding tasks in those days but most housewives took pride in the way they were done.
"Our Coal Stove"
In our kitchen at home, we had a coal stove which required great care and attention on the part of my mother and the rest of the family.
It was very important that the fire wasn't out in the morning when my mother got up to put different members of the family "out to work" as the saying went. She'd go to bed earlier than us, but from time to time she'd call down to see if we were taking care of the stove. There was a standard procedure as to the care of the dampers and coaling over so the fire would last all night and be ready to go first thing in the morning when breakfast had to be prepared.
Some of the special things cooked on that stove occur to me in memory; large pots of mashed potatoes, rich in milk and butter and served with cold buttermilk. This was called "kali" and the recipe came from her Irish grandmother. My mother insisted that we take a forkful of potatoes, dip it in the buttermilk and then eat it. The potatoes were kept hot on the stove just far enough back so they didn't scorch.
Another dish that he called "beasting" was made about once a year when our cow had a calf. The first milk that the cow gave after calving was supposed to contain good health-giving properties that were good for a person. Mother let the milk come to a slow boil, added sugar (so I suppose we'd eat it), and then let it simmer until it clotted and that was beasting pudding.
She made piccalilli in the fall. It comprised everything that was left in the garden, cabbages, cauliflowers, onions, cucumbers, and the smell of that cooking in vinegar permeated the house. She used to say that it was the union of the vinegar and sugar that made the piccalilli special.
We had two large apple trees so there was always a pot of applesauce being made on the stove and later sprinkled with cinnamon.
And of course, bread being baked in the oven was a constant and tantalizing smell. The fire had to be just right, not too hot, but hot through, and more importantly, it had to be ready when the bread was ready to bake.
In retrospect I can see that we took care of our coal stove and in return it took care of us.
"Carpet Cleaning in the 'Old Days' "
Every spring in my childhood was the time to houseclean every room in the house and the biggest job was to get the carpets from the parlor and dining room clean.
These were taken up, one room at a time and put on the clothesline outside for airing and beating with a wire carpet beater or broom. Very often the line broke under the with of the rug and pounding. Then the rug would be swept while it lay on the grass, the line repaired and the rug put up again for further beating to get the dust out.
While this was going on, the rooms were thoroughly cleaned, papered or painted before the rug was relaid and the furniture put back in place.
Very often, the carpet in the upstairs bedrooms presented a more formidable job. In many homes rag carpet had been sewn together in strips to fit the room. At housecleaning time, these strips were carefully taken apart and the individual strips were washed in the washer or tub one at a time. When all were clean again, the sewing together took place and the carpet laid in the scrubbed, sweet smelling bedrooms.
During the upheaval of housekeeping we children enjoyed the novelty of sleeping on the floor but we were always glad to get back to our accustomed beds.
In 1900, the year before Laura was born, the population of the United States was almost 75 million people. About a third of this total were immigrants or the children of immigrants. The Larsons were of this third. Olaf had emigrated from Sweden as a refugee fleeing famine and Sarah Jane, after being orphaned at birth, had emigrated with her grandparents from England after their initial move from Ireland. Their marriage then was a coupling of two representatives from the massive migration here of the peoples from northern and western Europe. They and their offspring would in turn look at the newcomers from southern and eastern Europe who came in the wave after them as "the immigrants." Sarah Jane referred to the earlier arrivals than she as "the Americans." The American Indians were never mentioned.
From 1900 to 1910, the years that saw Laura grow to age nine, 8.8 million immigrants poured into America. Pennsylvania, which had a population of 6.3 million in 1900 contained then about one-twelfth of the entire country's population second only to new York with a population of 7.2 million. The coal fields of Pennsylvania were a primary target of these new immigrants. The largest numbers came from Austria-Hungary, Russia, Italy, Poland and the Slavic countries of southeastern Europe including a large number of Jews from these areas. It is of all these people that Laura speaks in these next stories written as class assignments in her "story telling and poetry" class, attended after she had celebrated her diamond jubilee.
Leaving home and coming to a strange new country must be traumatic at the least, but to come to a mining town to work in the mines, must be doubly so. The mines, dark and dangerous, surely could not be very pleasant at best.
Yet in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries many did just that. They came from all parts of Europe, prepared to stay and make America their home.
On arrival they had the appearance of having previously lived on farms or of working out of doors. Their cheeks were rosy and pink, eyes bright and most of them were young.
I liven in a mining town in Pennsylvania as a child at that time, and saw the new arrivals as they came. They'd get off the street car, loaded down with bundles and bags and sometimes even a trunk. They were accompanied by their future "boarding mister" who had presumably met them at the boat. There seemed to be an arrangement about their coming and where they'd stay. There was usually a house where a man and his wife took boarders. The woman was called "the boarding Mrs."
My father had come from Sweden around 1880 in much the same way and he felt sorry for these youths. When occasionally in the evening after work, one of them would sit up on the hillside above our house, playing sadly on his accordion or flute, my father would say, "That boy is lonesome."
As "children about town," we participated vicariously and from a distance in all of the doings of the new townspeople. We admired the brides in their wedding finery, saw the babies being carried to their christenings in their long, lacy dresses and shawls, and even attended funerals at times.
Very often, a professional photographer took pictures of the deceased in the coffin out in the yard and the funeral cortege as it left the house. Someone told us that it was to send pictures back home to loved ones in the native land who would want to know all about the death. We children were probably on the outskirts in some of those pictures. We were always respectful and awed by these sorrowful occurrences and I hope that our presence brought comfort to some in a faraway land.
Most of the immigrants stayed on to raise families and became responsible and valuable members of the community.
After years of working in the mines their pink cheeks paled and their straight young bodies became stooped from rheumatism caused by working in the dampness underground and lifting heaving burdens of coal.
Some who came so hopefully to work and live in our town met with accidents in the mines or succumbed to illnesses nurtured there and that was the end for them. It must have been hard for their folks and friends in the native land to receive the sad news from so far away.
They were industrious and clean, and in time became home owners and helped build churches and schools. Their children, as they came of age, defended this country in time of war and many of their names are on the town's Honor List of war veterans posted on a well-cared for structure in front of the high school.
The first to come, made a big sacrifice so that those who came after would profit. The sacrifice was not made in vain; America gained by their coming.
The immigrants, besides bringing the types of people who would build America and fight her wars, brought with them their fair share of characters. The first Laura describes is Boots, whose bigotry causes him to wrongly identify the recipient of bad luck in this tale. He also manages to devise a fool proof method of evading interrogation for a foul crime.
"Boots - An Eccentric Character"
I shall tell you of an eccentric character we knew in our town as "Boots" because he always wore them, no matter what the weather. He carried himself erectly as if marching, when going only to the store.
Rumor had it that he had been a servant in a royal house in the "old country" and he imitated his former master in many ways. He'd show up at a wedding, uninvited, make a great show of asking for a dance with the bride, bowing ceremoniously to the groom and the bride's parents and then to the bride. To her he gave his deepest bow and then proceeded to dance, oh so formally with her. It was as if he imagined he were back in a beautiful ballroom of the past, acting out a fantasy of beautiful behavior.
He lived alone and discouraged any offers of friendship or visits from people in the town. This was a challenge to some local boys to visit him, "willy nilly." He'd chase them away with a knife "that you could row a boat with," according to the boys' scared accounts.
He hated with a vicious hate men he called "Polanders." Evidently, they had come from a country not friendly to his country in years gone by.
One time, he took one of these men to live with him, but next day the man was killed in the mines.
"Boots" went around saying, "I knew I'd have bad luck taking a Polander in." The one day roomer was the one who had the bad luck, in my opinion.
At one time, some chickens were missing from our chicken coop and my mother asked "Boots" if he knew anything about them. He went down on his knees in front of her, crossed himself with a great flourish and swore that he knew nothing of the missing chickens. She was so embarrassed by the whole scene that she never asked "Boots" about anything missing again.
The hard physical labor required of the immigrant miners and the ever presence of danger from cave-in or other mishap, led many of these miners to hard liquor and even one of their women as Laura describes in this next story.
When I try to remember the main street in the town where I grew up, immediately comes to mind Larksville Corners, distinguished by having a saloon on each corner, four in all. As children, we never saw inside these saloons, but could hear the loud talking, sometimes singing and occasionally a drunken figure would come reeling out, shaking his fist at imagined enemies.
These places were especially lively on pay nights. Often we saw a woman whose husband was inside, slip in quietly and remove the pay from her husband's pocket, laughing to herself as she went home with the pay to be met by waiting children.
To see a woman drunk was unheard of, but one day we saw one. I say "we" because we children had many playmates and never went far from home unless accompanied by one or several friends.
This woman I spoke of, was staggering home from the store with two big bags of groceries. She was dropping these, talking and swearing to herself as she went along.
We knew that her family was anxiously waiting for her to come home with the food so we offered to help her carry the groceries home.
As we went along Luzerne Avenue, she kept up a running commentary on the occupants of each house that we passed. If anyone were sitting on the front porch, she said loudly, "Don't speak to them," and she'd tell us of how "no good" they were.
This made for a slow trip but we finally got her to her destination. I remember this because it was so unusual and made a lasting impression. She was well known and nobody on a porch ever answered her, pretending not to see her.
Life in those times was hard for both men and women so some drank to forget their troubles.
But these were a small percentage of the town's population. For the most part, people were good, honest people, intent on raising their families and leading a good life. The churches and schools were excellent and well attended and the town was a good one in which to grow up.
Metro, the third character described among the immigrants who peopled her hometown in her childhood, gave his name to any question to which there was no answer. When asked a question to which they had no answer, the people of the town would say it was, "A question for Metro." Here then is the story.
"A Question for Metro"
One hot summer day when there was no work at the mine, two friends, Metro and Menko, rented a boat on a quiet lake and went fishing. They had a lunch with them and a plentiful supply of beer. The lunch combined with the beer and the heat put Menko to sleep.
When he awakened Metro was no longer in the boat, but Metro's fishing line dangled from the side. Now thoroughly awake and alarmed, Menko called down into the depths, "Metro, where are you?"
"Do you know what time it is?"
"What will Annie say?" (Annie was Metro's wife.)
"Don't you think we should go home now?"
But there was no answer from the water below.
Finally, Menko realized that he'd have to go home by himself. To his befuddled mind, there wasn't anything else to do.
When he got home, added to his grief for his lost friend was alarm that he was held responsible for Metro's drowning. When asked by the coroner's jury what he had done toward rescue, he eagerly told how he had hollered down to Metro, "Do you forget that we have work tomorrow?"
"What about payday next week?"
"Who, going to take this boat back?" and he continued with his endless questions for Metro. But Metro never answered.
Finally, Menko was absolved from the charge of doing away with Metro. But from that time on, in that little town, a question that had no answer was a "question for Metro."
Laura described in these pages many of the sadder aspects of the immigrants lives as seen by a young girl, the funerals, the work and the drinking. But all was not sadness and hard work. Very often the newcomer saved money enough to send for his sweetheart and then there was a wedding to celebrate. The wonder is not that Laura and her young friends came to view this happy spectacle in the next story, but that when told finally to leave, they did.
"A Polish Wedding"
In the small mining town where I grew up, we children watched the European immigrants arrive with great interest. A friend would evidently meet them at the boat in New York and pilot them to our town. They'd arrive on the street-car, carrying a trunk between them and we'd follow at a respectful distance, as they went up the street to their boarding house. We called them the greenhorns.
This house was painted white so we called it the "white house." The men who lived there got a job laboring in the coal mines and saved money to pay the passage of their sweethearts so they could get married. When the girl arrived she was taken to town next day by the boarding Mrs. and a wedding outfit was bought.
The wedding took place at the "white House" and we children were interested spectators to the whole proceeding. There was music and dancing in the basement of the house and we children watched from the small windows above, looking down on the dancers and enjoying the music.
Men paid to dance with the bride. A plate was placed on a table and the men threw silver dollars on it, trying their best to break the plate. When this happened, everyone cheered and a new plate was brought out.
We never interfered nor made noise, afraid we'd be chased home. At one wedding that I remember, my older sister Matilda was asked to come in and dance and she did. We didn't know what to make of that and got so excited wondering what our mother would say if she knew, but no one ever told.
When it got late in the day and the weddeners or wedding party thought we had seen enough, the party was getting rougher and louder, the best man would line us all up on the back porch and treat us to a balogna sandwich and a bottle of soda pop.
Then he'd say, "Now, all you kids go home," and we did.
Some of the immigrants who came to Laura's hometown were Jewish and they tended to enter commerce rather than the mines. Like all groups they varied widely in their personalities. In these next two stories, Laura contrasts the cool, austere Kleins with the more warm and friendly Mr. Fine. The Kleins led an ordered, safe existence. The Fines suffered personal tragedy but inspired a heart warming example of selfless help from other poor immigrants.
"Klein's Hardware Store"
Mr. and Mrs. Klein ran the hardware store in Larksville and kept a neat, orderly place. They attended strictly to business, keeping to themselves and not getting familiar with anyone in town.
We would never dream of calling them anything but Mr. and Mrs. Klein, not Loueys, or Bills as we did other storekeepers in town.
I remember the smell of the metal nails and how dark the store always was. It was quiet also, no loud talking, joking or "fooling around." Nothing was said, but the very atmosphere of the place was one of dignity and service.
Mr. and Mrs. Klein had no family that we ever saw and evidently led quiet lives. They had a good reputation in town for honesty and square dealing and service.
"Mr. Fine's Little Boy"
A grocer whom we called Mr. Fine, used to come around to the houses taking orders for groceries. His store was in a neighboring town, several miles away and he traveled in a light wagon pulled by one horse. He'd take orders one day and deliver the next. People "charged" the groceries and paid on payday. If they didn't Mr. Fine skipped them on his next trip.
We had a large family and presumable bought big orders of groceries and when my mother pain him, Mr. Fine would give us children peppermint candy sticks, one to each, all around.
Mr. Fine and my mother used to talk to each other of many things while we children listened. We had a cool, shady porch, an invitation to restful conversation on a hot day.
One day, Mr. Fine was in a reminiscent mood and he told of the dreadful time he and his wife had when first they came to this locality, as Jews displaced.
They had come from Europe to New York bringing their two small children with them. They had barely enough money to make the trip and soon discovered that New York held no promise of a living for them and that they'd better get out before their small amount of capital was gone.
Someone told them that Plymouth, Pennsylvania was a good spot to open a small store as it was a mining town and work was good. So they boarded a train from Hoboken to Scranton, changed there for a train to Plymouth and arrived early one morning, tired and hungry, with two sick children.
They rented two rooms in a house that a friend in New York had recommended to them. They knew no one in town. Mr. Fine went out frantically looking for a doctor for his little boy who now had pneumonia.
He found one who came to the house but could not save the youngest boy, a mere baby. With all the tragic happenings of the day, his running to the drug store, weeping and asking questions, word got around town that a young Jewish family were new to the town and in dire straits.
That night, Mr. Fine said, his rooms were filled with Jewish men who came to help. He didn't know them and they didn't know him; but they gave freely of their friendship and money, enough to set him up in business.
The business prospered and Mr. Fine did well, but he could never forget the little boy that he had lost, nor the kindness he and his wife had received on that first sad night in a strange town.
The consumer price index of 1900, if it had existed, would have listed a dozen eggs at twelve cents, sirloin steak at twenty-four cents a pound and a turkey dinner at a restaurant as twenty cents. You could buy a blanket for thirty-five cents, work shoes for one dollar and twenty-five cents and a man's shirt for fifty cents. A bead purse, by which Olaf courted Sarah Jane could be purchased for sixty cents. A penny then, which a small child might possess, was not as meaningless as it is today. Laura talks of its expenditure in her childhood as an adventure in choices in a store run by Polish immigrants appropriately named Poland.
Poland's Candy Store in 1905"
When I was a child, payday at the mines was a big event in our lives. It was then that we each received our penny, a whole penny all for ourselves.
My father would talk quietly to us on the wisdom of saving and not running out to spend money as fast as we got it. We'd look at him solemnly and in agreement and ask him to put our penny up on top of the door jamb, our bank in those days.
After a short interval, Dad would put the paper down, get the penny down for us with a smile and off we'd run to the candy store down the street.
There on display was a case full of dishes of penny candy, some one cent each, or two for a penny or even more, depending on the kind of candy.
We'd stand on a box put there so we could see into the case and then endure the agony of making a choice.
Mrs. Poland, the candy store lady, would stand there patiently waiting for us to decide. It was so hard and took so long.
I liked root beer barrels and they were four for a cent, a good buy, but no, licorice straps were tempting.
In the end, after looking the whole case over, I chose coconut blocks as Mrs. Poland knew that I did every payday. But it was fun to prolong the pleasure of spending a whole penny.
Brushes with History
A long lived person such as Laura who dips deeply into her personal store of memories cannot do it without drawing forth some memories which however tangential, are important memories of her nation. Many of Laura's memories are strictly personal, important only to her and her family, but others include personal memories of events important to a whole people. Allusions in this anthology have already recalled the Great Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902, the waves of immigration that changed this country forever and the impact of World historical importance in the telling of the tale, not only of Laura, but the whole United States.
One might not expect the memory of traumas caused by the Civil War to still permeate the lives of people decades later but they did as Laura tellingly recounts.
"The Drummer Boy's Boots"
The Civil War, 1861-1865, was long over, when I was a youngster growing up. But the memory and the effects of the war lingered on. Frequent mention of those who had been killed in battle, died in the notorious Andersonville prison, or came home, disable, kept the terrible aftermath of the struggle alive in our town.
When my mother came to live in Larksville, as a bride in 1881, among her neighbors was a family which had lost a young son in that war, years before. He had been a drummer boy in the Army of the North.
His mother had never stopped grieving over this loss. She told the whole story to my mother, over and over again as she cried.
My mother told the story to us children as we grew up, and we all felt saddened by the tale, and wished that it had never happened.
The story that this mother told was that before her son had left home to fight, his father had bought him a pair of new boots. His two older sisters had crocheted an inch high edging around the top of each boot as sort of a decoration. They used brightly colored yarn in making this addition to the boots.
In his letters home, this boy told of the hard conditions under which they were living. How, in a certain place where they were encamped, the wells had been poisoned by the enemy and they had no water to drink. He said that they were trying to get a drink from the water left in the wagon wheel tracks in the muddy road. He wrote, "Our dog, Shep, at home, wouldn't drink that water." As the war went on, the son was heard from, from time to time, where there was fighting.
Then came a day, when rumors came filtering into the little town of Larksville, of a big battle taking place to the west of them in a place called Gettysbug. The family was hoping against hope that their drummer boy was not in it but he was, and he was killed.
When the family was notified, the father hitched up his team and started for Gettysburg with his wagon to bring his son's body home for burial. He traveled day and night.
When he reached the battlefield, he saw bodies heaped all over the place. The only way that he knew which one was his son was by the boots with their gaily colored crocheted tops. So he took his son home for burial.
As I grew up and went to school in that little town, in seventh grade we memorized the poem by Francis Miles Finch, "The Blue and the Gray." In the last two verses, were the lines:
"Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment day;
Under the one, the Blue,
Under the other, the Gray."
"Under the sod and the dew,
Waiting the judgment day;
Love and tears for the Blue
Tears and love for the Gray."
I felt I understood the poem better, having known of the drummer boy.
One of the inventions that radically altered the way the American people lived was the automobile. The first car produced for sale in the United States was built in 1898, three years before Laura's birth. By 1900 there were about 8,00 in the country. It was not until 1908 that Henry Ford mass produced the Model T.It was the first cheap car and changed the nature of the automobile market from a rich man's pleasure to a perceived necessity of life for the common man.
Some indicators of what the roads were like that Laura alludes to in the next story, can be seen by the fact that there were three million miles of rural highways in 1920 but only 36,000 miles of them were hard surfaced.
"The First Time I Saw a Car"
In 1910, or earlier, an automobile was a novelty in our small town. Our house was set back from the road and when we'd hear a car coming, which was seldom, we'd run out to the road to watch it pass. The road was unpaved and the car would disappear in a cloud of dust.
If it were a big, fancy car, the driver was apt to be dressed in a light duster over his clothes and a cap with a big visor and goggles. Any ladies in the car would be protected from the dust also and usually wore heavy veils over their hats.
About that time, my older brother Joseph, in high school then, acquired a two cylinder Metz car in some way. It was nothing more than a frame really, but he loved it. He'd work on it in the yard and even made parts for it by melting lead on the kitchen stove.
Once in a while he'd give me a ride up the road and back. I'd be in bare feet, hair flying and enjoying it. There was no top on the car and no seat either. We'd sit on the floor with feet straight out and couldn't hear to talk to each other, the motor made so much noise. I have ridden in better constructed and safer cars since but never remember enjoying the ride as much.
The transition of the automobile market from the rich to the masses is underlined by the following story of Laura's adventures in the early 1920's with a car owned by her mother, the widow of a coal miner, struggling to keep the family home together.
"My Godfather and the Willy's Knight"
In 1923, I drove an open touring car, a Willy's Knight, that belonged my mother. I don't remember having to take a driver's test, nor did I get a driver's license.
My godfather, Joe Gibbons, taught me to drive and he was a hard taskmaster. I was very cautious and quick to stop if I saw something anywhere near me, "grandstand stops," he called them. Or he's ask sarcastically, "Are we going to go All the way through Kingston in second gear?"
But then, he'd feel sorry, I suppose, and try to build up my confidence, and increase my "ego" by surmising out loud that the people on the sidewalk were admiring my beautiful new car and were so jealous of me driving it.
Finally, after he had me in tears many times, he declared that I was a good driver and could go it alone from then on.
The car was a five passenger, stick shift, open touring car, complete with curtains in the trunk that could be put on in case of rain. The only drawback was that by the time you got them in place, you were drenched and didn't need them anymore.
In cold weather, the radiator had to be drained at the end of the trip and refilled when starting out again. There might have been antifreeze then, but I didn't know about it.
The roads weren't as good then as they are now, for a long cross-country trip; but there were some very good local roads. One road, in particular, was used by new drivers to practice on. There was hardly any traffic and it led nowhere, stopped abruptly at someone's driveway. It was rumored that a politician in power had had it built just as far as his home. It was a good story anyhow and we took full advantage of the good road and didn't care how or why it got there.
My godfather taught me well and in over fifty years of driving, I have never had an accident. I sometimes have wondered if he made his amends for his sarcastic remarks while training me by what he did on my wedding day. He came to the house that morning with his hat full of rose petals, gathered in his yard. As I walked out to the car to go to the church, he preceded me, scattering the petals in my path.
The British passenger liner Titanic was the largest passenger liner built to that time. Westbound to New York on her maiden voyage, she struck a mostly submerged iceberg at 11:40 P.M. on April 14, 1912, and sank two hours and forty minutes later with a loss of over fifteen hundred passengers and crew.
Shipboard wireless was still a novelty in 1912. Many ships didn't carry it and had only an operator on duty in daytime. Many of the operators were inexperienced and the range of the wireless was short. The Titanic's range was one hundred and fifty miles at best.
Walter Lord in his book about the sinking of the Titanic, "A Night to Remember," says, "The night crackled with signals. Ships out of direct range got the word from those within range. The news spread in ever-widening circles ... The whole world was snapping to agonized attention."
The shortcomings and potential of wireless were dramatized by the performances of two ships. The Californian was ten miles away but her wireless was unmanned for the night, her operator gone to bed. She gave no help. The Carpathia was fifty-six miles away, heard the Titanic's distress signals and raced to the scene. She picked up over seven hundred of the survivors and brought them to New York City.
Larksville's brush with the signals being sent that tragic night is recounted in her next story.
"The Sinking of the Titanic"
In 1912, on the mountain above our town, lived a man and his wife and children. This family was adjudged "queer" by the townsfolk. The children of this couple were small and probably too young to come down the mountain to school, but the wife didn't come either.
She kept to herself, and if anyone happened to go up to their small cabin, the wife his herself and the children until the stranger had left.
But the husband and father was different. He did "outside work" at the mines, just enough to keep his family in food and shelter. But he was sociable and attended to all family business such as grocery shopping.
His main interest was in a sort of radio tower that he had constructed in his yard on the mountain. It was high and absorbed all of his spare time and money. He dabbled in sending and receiving messages over the air, today he would be called a "ham operator."
But the townsfolk knew nothing of this kind of "foolishness" and looked on this man as a "ne'er do well" but harmless.
One morning early in April, 1912, this man came running down the mountain into the town, all excited and looking for news. He said that he had been up all night listening to S.O.S. calls from the sea.
He was sure that something terrible had happened at sea but he didn't know what it was. He said that ships were calling back and forth frantically, all night.
Before the day was out, everyone knew that the Titanic had gone down with a loss of over fifteen hundred lives. This was the worst disaster in the history of navigation to that time.
The fact of the matter was, that this man was a way ahead of his time, not queer, just smarter than most of the people he had to live with.
Vaudeville, consisting of songs, dances, acrobatic demonstrations and skits started in this country in small halls in the early nineteenth century. It grew by the late part of that century to travelling artists performing in great chains of theaters called circuits such as the Keith, Orpheum, and Pantages. The acme of success for a performer was to play at the Palace theater in New York City.
From 1910 to 1930 vaudeville was gradually supplanted by motion pictures as the most popular entertainment. It was seen thereafter, on a declining scale, as part of a package containing both vaudeville arts and motion pictures.
Laura describes two memorable performances she saw in this next piece.
A show that I especially remember through the years is one that I saw at the Palace theatre in New York a long time ago.
Judy Garland was featured in person. She came out onto the stage in a sailor suit, all alone and she sat on the floor with her legs dangling over the edge away down on the right side, where the footlights ended.
She talked to the audience in a quiet, informal way. I can't remember anything she said, but her very stage presence had an affect on the group as a whole, that I've never seen duplicated by any other artist.
As the saying is, "She had them eating out of her hand," The rapport between her and the group could be felt throughout the theatre. She could do no wrong.
After a bit she got to her feet and said she'd sing for us and maybe dance. Each offering was received with glee and good will. The simplest rendition, "brought down the house," as they say.
She had a difficult time ending her performance and getting out of there. They didn't want her to leave.
When we got outside and were going for our car, several people asked us if Judy had appeared that night in the show. They seemed surprised when we said yes and told how good she was.
We learned afterward that Judy had been having mental and physical problems and it had been "touch and go" whether she would be able to do the show that night.
Another performer that I remember well is Eddie Cantor in 1923. I don't recall the name of the play, nor the theater, but Eddie was the whole show, tireless, dynamic and talented.
He bounced all over the stage. I think it must have been sort of a slapstick play, certainly not serious.
He was on radio in after years and every year in June he sang "Ida" for his wife on their anniversary. He had five daughters, and spoke of them a lot.
When a neighbor of ours called his mother to tell her of the safe arrival of their fifth child, he said, "This is Eddie Cantor," and his mother knew that her fifth grand-daughter had been born.
By the turn of the century motion pictures fifteen minutes in length began to be seen as part of vaudeville programs. The child gradually devoured the parent's place on the program until finally it caused its demise.
In 1905 Edwin Porter produced the first American picture with a story, "The Great Train Story" and the explosive growth of the film industry was off.
By 1914 the industry produced "The Birth of a Nation" a twelve reel film by David Griffith, one of the greatest of all silent movies.
The movie is given some credit for aiding the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist organization which began after the Civil War. They were anti-Negro, anti-Catholic and anti-Jew and were said to have four million members of 1924. The Irish on Pringle Hill in Pringle, Pennsylvania were unimpressed with their numbers and their tactics.
Movies, first came to our town after World War I around 1919. They had been in a larger town three miles away, but now, a family who had had a saloon business in the town for years built a movie house. They had a large family of growing children and all joined in to help run the movie house.
One son ran the projector, another collected tickets at the door, a daughter sold the tickets in the front booth and another daughter played the piano down front. The father and mother were present also and took general charge of everything.
I don't recall the price of admission. Fifteen cents seems to ring a bell in my mind. Whatever the charge was, the pictures were worth it and gave pleasure to many people. This was a mining and mill town and the people worked hard and the varied movies were a welcome relief in their drab lives.
I was a teen-ager at the time and I particularly enjoyed "The Perils of Pauline." A different episode was shown each week. This always ended with Pauline tied to the railroad tracks or in some such similar peril and a sign would flash on the screen, "Come next week to see what happens next," and of course we came. She was always rescued just in the nick of time but soon she was in another dangerous predicament. Her real name was Pearl White and we loved her and worried about her.
Those were the days of silent films. The piano player down front kept an eye on the screen and did her best to suit the music to the action portrayed. She was good at it too. One certain fast roll of the keys meant that the Indians were coming, another the cavalry. Then there were the dreamy love scenes when the piano played softly and tenderly.
If the picture came on upside down or got stuck, the children down front stamped their feet and yelled until it was righted. The owner of the movie house would go down and threaten to put them all out, but he never did.
One picture that I remember especially was "The Birth of a Nation." It encompassed so much, and was done on such a grand scale, that it was unforgettable.
One sad result of the showing of this remarkable picture was that it gave rise to a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan. Crosses were burned here and there and high feelings aroused, but no permanent damage done.
Our town had many hills in it and on some of these crosses were burned with regularity. But there was one hill, Pringle Hill, on which the Irish had settled years before when they came from Ireland and on which their progenies now lived. These people erected a large, permanent sign at the entrance of the street leading up to their hill. The sign invited the KKK to come up and burn a cross, but the invitation was never accepted.
On January 16, 1920 the eighteenth amendment to the constitution became effective outlawing alcoholic beverages. This so called "Noble Experiment" was repealed by a later amendment in 1933 but its effects linger on in our society. People drank more and the women joined the men in the speak-easies, or illegal drinking places, which replaced the saloons. The general disrespect for this law spread to disrespect for all laws by many. Smuggling and bootlegging became rampant and supplied vast profits to criminals and racketeers and was the source of the capital used to finance much of organized crime in the United States.
In this reminisce Laura tells of early local speak-easies when prohibition was still a local option and then the effects seen when it was tried nationally.
Years ago in our town, even though liquor was sold legally in the open saloons, a widow who had a family to support, sold liquor on the sly and nothing much was said about it although it was generally known.
Once in a while someone complained and the local police made a raid, but never found any liquor on the premises. Those were the days of outdoor privies and the bottles of liquor were lowered on ropes, partway down the "privy hole" until the raid was over. Then it was brought up and served as usual.
Other speak-easies in town had no regular place of business, but a bottle was left in some designated spot and paid for later. The cemetery was a favorite place for this transaction.
There was one small town nearby which allowed no saloons within its borders. On 4th of July parade days they'd carry banners which boasted "Not One Saloon in Our Town." The common talk in our town was, "NO saloons, but MORE drunks in Courtdale." Those who wanted drink in that town knew where to get it. People who couldn't or wouldn't pay the high liquor taxes, or were refused licensing for some reason, found a way to make a few dollars on the side from a few regular customers.
Years later, when Prohibition came, the whole structure of drinking changed for the worse. People who never before had drunk now began to make beer in their own homes and drank it. Wine making was common, recipes for making it were talked about and traded.
In the old days, a woman wouldn't be seen in a saloon, but with Prohibition they joined the men in the speak-easies and drinking has increased with each passing year until now we have a problem with even teenagers drinking.
In Prohibition time, bootleggers flourished and a general disrespect of law began and we are paying the price today.
Most of the stories Laura wrote for her writing class dealt with her earlier life, but not all of them. Before we turn to the ones reflecting later experiences, a short biographical sketch may help present them in a sharper perspective.
Laura attended Larksville High School during the World War I years and graduated in 1919. She then worked her way, with family help, through East Larksville to teach elementary school there from 1921-1926.
While teaching she met Francis J. Rooney from nearby Kingston, Pennsylvania and married him in 1926. Frank and she set up housekeeping in adjoining Edwardsville while Frank worked as a trainman out of the Kingston office of the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad.
Their first born, a daughter Frances, named after her father, had a precarious birth in 1927 followed by a sickly childhood. Fifteen months later, a son Leo was born in 1928 and names after his uncle Leo Gallagher, husband of Johanna Larson, Laura's oldest sister. Another daughter, named Sarah Jane after her grandmother, was also born in this home.
Frank was transferred to the Scranton office of the railroad and so the family moved there to occupy a home owned by Laura's mother. It was the same house built by Thomas Battle and was the childhood home of Sarah Jane Larson.
The baby Sarah Jane died there three months after this move at age eight months. Laura and Frank's last daughter Mary was born here in 1931.
After weathering the deprivations of the Great Depression, the family was recovering in 1941 when Frank died of peritonitis after a gall bladder operation at the age of thirty-seven.
Laura tried to keep her family of three young children alive by operating a small grocery store while meanwhile taking evening courses in advanced math and the reading of blueprints. Her technical training completed in 1943, she took her children west to join her sister and her husband, Leo and Johanna Gallagher, on Bainbridge Island in Washington State.
They had invited Laura to come with her children to live with them while she sought work in the shipyard. And so in the spring of 1943 the Rooney's joined the Gallaghers on the island. She obtained a job as an electrician's helper in the shipyard and with her knowledge of blueprint reading was given the task of mounting metal name tags on the electrical circuits installed in the minesweepers under construction there.
The first story drawn from this western sojourn tells of a memorable act of kindness.
"A Special Birthday"
During the second year after my husband died, I was working out of the Electric Shop of the Winslow Shipyard building minesweepers for the navy while World War II was in progress. I had come there to work, bringing my three children with me, aged 15, 14 and 11.
Workers had come from all over the United States to work there, so there was a shortage of houses but people "made do" with what they could find. The woman who worked with me, Myra,lived in a house without conveniences and cooked and baked on an unfamiliar wood stove.
She knew of my approaching birthday and that the day held no special prospect of joy to me. We used to look at the surrounding mountains, snow topped with Mr. Ranier in the distance, and I longed to see the familiar Poconos instead.
On the day of my birthday, we worked as usual, no mention being made of what day it was. But on leaving the yard after work, there at the gate waiting was my youngest daughter Mary, holding a beautiful white cake to surprise me.
Myra had planned this, and had arranged to have Mary there to receive the cake from her as she had baked it the night before. It was all white, as the children had told Myra that was the kind I liked.
This meant so much to me, as it came at a time of need, and cheered me to think of the trouble that Myra had gone to, to please me. I knew that it wasn't easily done and I shall never forget nor fail to appreciate this kindness of one human being to another.
The children and I enjoyed the cake and made a gala occasion of it.
The second story recalling her war work in a Puget Sound shipyard portrays the memorable emotions of patriotism generated by our engulfment in World War II, so in contrast to attitudes common in later wars.
"The Launching of a Minesweeper in World War II"
The shipyard in Winslow, Washington Puget Sound was a busy place that morning. Another minesweeper was commissioned and ready to leave for the war in the Pacific.
The battleship U.S.S. Washington had limped in that week from the Pacific, damaged and painted in weird stripes and figures of camouflage, so feeling was high among the workers in the shipyard. Many had helped build the U.S.S. Washington in the Bremerton Shipyard nearby and they recognized it, although there was strict secrecy about the comings and goings of ships in the harbor.
All morning, workers, sailors and officers were running back and forth to the new minesweeper due to leave almost any minute.
A group of four or five of us used to eat our lunch up on top of a pile of logs nearby. We'd spread newspapers to sit on, after the precarious climb up on the logs. This day, we climbed up as usual and declared that we'd sit there and eat our lunch no matter what happened, even if the new "sweep" decided to leave at that time. We had been waiting all morning to see it leave and had become tired of the wait.
Just as we were settled nicely with our lunches opened, the new minesweeper gave a long toot and started to move from its moorings.
All the other ships round about took up the whistle and there was wild excitement as workers ran down to the dock to yell and wave and cheer. Signalmen on other ships were waving messages with flags and being answered from the departing ship.
We, on top of the logs, who had declared emphatically that nothing would make us move until we had eaten our lunch, jumped to our feet at the first whistle, newspapers flying in all directions. Regardless of our precarious perch, we jumped, hollered, waved and cried and prayed for the good luck and safety of our ship and its crew.
I shall always remember that experience of such a great surge of patriotism and love of country. May she always live in freedom, home of our children to come!
Given the class assignment to describe something she had done but never revealed, Laura told of the following illicit journey enjoyed by her and her good friend and fellow worker, Myra.
"I Never Told This Before"
During World War II the Winslow shipyard was a busy place. My friend Myra and I started out each day with the tools and supplies needed and spent the whole day aboard ship working, coming off only for lunch hour.
We were proud of each minesweeper as it was finished and taken for testing on a trial run by the navy. If accepted, it was then commissioned and sent to the navy yard in Bremerton for further outfitting.
The day of the testing was an exciting day in the shipyard. Important officers from the navy and the company assembled with key workers for the whole day's testing out on Puget Sound. Everyone worked on the ship as usual, on last minute jobs, but were told that a warning blast on the whistle would mean that all unnecessary workers should get off.
Myra and I were working down in the hold when we heard the whistle. Neither said anything, but we exchanged a look which said, "Let's go for a ride, it's a beautiful day."
Slowly we gathered our tools, put on our sweaters, and when we felt the ship moving, we went up the ladders hurriedly, but of course, too late to get off.
We sat down in an inconspicuous place on the side, out of everyone's way, and enjoyed a lovely day's outing. This was the tenth minesweeper we had worked on and we were proud of the part we had played in getting it ready. We never admitted that we had stayed on for the trial run on purpose. Others guessed that we had and they were right.
Frank Rooney's mother, Minnie, had remarried in 1925 to Floyd Landers and they were living in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. It was told to Laura in a letter that Minnie was heard to lament that first she had lost her son Frank and then his children had been taken away from her to live in the west. Laura also heard that her mother, Sarah Jane Larson, had throat cancer and was not expected to live beyond six months. As the youngest child in the family, Laura has always been especially close to her mother and so decided to move within easy visiting distance of her during her last days.
Laura finally relocated her family in Allentown, Pennsylvania in the late summer of 1944 when she found employment as a lathe operator producing artillery shells on shift work in the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania steel works. With the end of World War II in the summer of 1945 her work there came to an end. She then sought a job in teaching and found one in the elementary school system in Mendham, New Jersey. Clyde Weinhold, the Mendham principal, told her later that she was the first teacher he had ever hired and was pleased that his judgment was so well vindicated. She had not taught in nineteen years but she took up her new life with the courage imbued in her marrow by the precept and practice of her parents.
When "the ice storm of the century" struck Morristown in 1948, her daughter Frances was still in nurse's training in Kingston, Pennsylvania and her son Leo was basking in the balmy breezes of the central Pacific with the United States Navy working on the atomic bomb tests being conducted on Eniwetok Island. Laura and her daughter Mary had to brave the ice storm alone.
"The Ice Storm"
In early January, 1948, Morristown and the surrounding vicinity had a spectacular ice storm, the effects of which lasted nearly two weeks.
The town became a fairyland overnight. Ice sparkled from all of the trees and bushes, and the electric wires above the street became ribbons of beautiful, shimmering glass. Sometimes, these ribbons ran in a straight path, but at other times they festooned and tangled among tree branches or descended to the cold, icy ground, broken by the weight of the ice, light and airy though it appeared to be.
There was little light or heat in town, and once again, as in Revolutionary days, candles were seen in the windows of houses in Morristown. There was a"run on candles" and they were to be found in a most unlikely place, a delicatessen on Speedwell Avenue. There, the whole supply was soon sold out.
The sun came up each day, but it was so cold that there was no melting. Wires could be heard snapping and seen looping dangerously on roads, sidewalks, yards and porches.
Film and camera supplies were also in demand, as people hastened to take pictures of the many beautiful and unusual sight. The scenes were of almost unbelievable, delicate imagery.
But there was another side to this exciting, spectacular occurrence. Homes and businesses were without light, and in many cases without heat for ten or twelve days, at the least.
Schools were closed. Children toured the town on their own, taking in all the glorious transformations caused by the ice storm.
Anyone who owned a generator was in business, starting furnaces. The local electric company linemen and electricians couldn't cope with the enormous job of sorting out the wires and re-connecting them, so workmen were imported from as far west as Chicago to help with the task.
One of these workers was heard to complain in disgust, "These Morristown people would rather have trees than electricity. Every time I go near a tree to free a wire from the branches, someone commands me not to dare cut a limb off."
My daughter Mary and I lived in Sherman Park area of town at the time of the ice storm. We had no heat nor light for twelve days, but we did have a small gas stove in the basement where we could cook. We had a table there, at which we sat every night, reading and studying by candle light. Mary, who was in high school at the time, caught the drippings from the candles each night and busied herself fashioning a snowman with them. At the end of the siege, this snowman was three inches tall, complete with hat and shovel. We kept him as a memento for several years.
In the prologue to this volume, Laura describes the genesis of the "poetry and story telling" class that she attended in Morristown. So far we have seen only the stories generated by her in that class; now we turn to some of the poetry.
This collection includes seven poems. The first expresses Laura's feeling about poetry and gives an insight into her philosophy that one is a sojourner in this life.
"How Poetry Makes Me Feel"
Poetry makes me feel that I'm a sojourner,
taking my turn for a comparatively short time,
one with all the poets who have lived
and loved before me, and written and felt,
since the beginning of time.
Their poems portray the human heart
jubilant in love or power, or
just plain good spirits,
or saddened by the cruelty and
uselessness of war,
the greed and ignorance of human nature.
I feel a oneness with them
and with what they think and feel.
The years between us evaporate into nothingness.
I soar with them, into the clouds
or descend with them into the depths;
our spirits are joined.
When reading poetry
I am transported into the mind of the poet
and I feel with him all the gladness, pain and
sorrow that he feels,
and I am one with eternity.
To inspire thoughts for the next two poems, Frannie Olack brought to class actual flowers of early spring. Laura wrote these two poems while actually looking at these blossoms.
Before the snows have finally left
and spring is coming soon,
she sends harbingers to tell us
that she is on her way.
These small, brave messengers, the crocus
raise their yellow heads out of the snow
and announce to us
that once again, all is well
and the earth will bloom again.
As I look at a bouquet of the tiny forget-me-nots,
in each small, perfectly formed flowerette,
I see proof of God's love
and His master plan for the world.
No detail is overlooked.
The green stems are just the right size
to hold so fragile a flower.
Each flowerette has five miniature petals
no more, no less.
The color in all is the same.
Perfection is not flaunted;
it exists mutely,
to be seen
by those who will look,
and recognize an all enveloping
law of the universe.
When Leo Rooney called home from the hospital on February 2, 1963 to tell his nine year old son Lars that his mother Alberta had just given birth to a brother, he was dumfounded by his son's reaction. "Great and it's Groundhog Day!" Lars exulted and soon telephoned that news to all the neighbors. Leo was impressed by the birth of a son and didn't particularly note the day; but his mother, baby sitting for Lars, did. Here is her own introduction to the next poem.
"You've all heard of 'occasional poems', poems written for Christmas or someone's anniversary or the like. I had a grandson born on Groundhog's Day, so I was inspired to write one for Groundhog's Day. It's entitled..."
The Groundhog came up
out of his hole today,
groggy with sleep
like a tired child.
But when he saw the sun
and his own shadow,
he awoke completely
and danced around
like a gamboling spring lamb.
Laura returns in memory again to scenes from her girlhood in the last three poems included here. She includes two expressions that need explanation. The "first woods" were those closest to her home and the phrase was used to distinguish them from the larger woods of the mountain behind her home in Larksville. We have seen the expression "all over" used here before in "The Mine Accident." It was a whistle signal used by the mines to indicate that work for the day was finished. If blown before the usual quitting time it indicated the further message that a serious, perhaps fatal, accident had occurred. It was as if after such a brush with death even courageous miners could not be expected to continue their work underground.
In my dreams I very often go back
to the home of my childhood.
Again, I see the loved faces and travel
with my next oldest sister and playmates,
to the woods where we loved to go.
The "first woods" were near at hand
and to get to it, we'd jump merrily
over cracks in the ground, unmindful
of danger from the mine underneath.
We'd sit in the woods and regale each other
with the story of Fogarty's cow.
She had fallen into the mines through a crack in the earth
and scared a miner, working there, into a resolve to live better.
He thought, when he saw the horns and the wildly rolling eyes
that the devil himself had come for him.
But we weren't afraid of falling in.
We didn't know enough to be afraid.
From earliest childhood, we had lived with these cracks,
and they held no terror for us.
Our fathers and brothers worked down there
and we thought of it as a friendly place,
though we knew that the frequent appearance
of an ambulance and the colliery whistles
blowing "all over" when someone was killed,
belied this assumption of safety.
Olaf Larson, Laura's father, seldom spoke to his children about Sweden and his life there before he emigrated. He did not teach them any of the Swedish language believing that to be inappropriate since he and his family were now "Americans," However, he did tell Laura about his sister, her namesake. Laura recalls, "The time when she was five and he was three seemed to stand out in his mind. They were part of a big family and the older brothers worked in the woods. Their mother would boil the potatoes the day before and it was Laura and Olaf's job to peel them for frying for the next morning's breakfast for the men and boys who were going off to work. To a little fellow, three years old, the 'mountains of potatoes' looked real."
"When I Was Very Young"
When I was very young, I learned
that I was Laura Larson and that I lived"
in Larksville, Pennsylvania.
My father told me that I was named
for his favorite sister in Sweden, Laura
and that his father's name was Lars.
(Surely our family loved alliteration,
and I did, also.)
I thought that it made me special,
being called Laura. I pictured
this namesake in Sweden, helping her mother"
peel mountains of small boiled potatoes,
though only five years old, bringing in the cans,
filling the tea kettle,
picking potato bugs in the garden
and climbing a big hill to see
the church spires of Copenhagen across the river.
I could see her clearly, in her red serge dress
and white apron with the ruffles
over the shoulders.
This last poem included here was written while Sister Maura, previously Margaret Honor, was terminally ill. Margaret was a close friend of Laura's from early childhood. They grew up together and graduated from high school together in 1919. It was Margaret who spawned the idea that they both should study to be teachers as she knew another girl who had done that by working her way through East Stroudsberg Normal School in eastern Pennsylvania near the Delaware Water Gap.
They graduated from this school together and then went on to separate careers, Margaret into the convent and Laura into teaching and the raising of a family. Though often separated by distance they remained close friends.
Interestingly, Frannie Olack, Laura's teacher in Morristown, was a friend of Sister Maura and a neighbor in Larksville. Sister Maura had told Frannie that she hoped to visit her poetry class when she next came to visit Laura, but she did not live to do so.
"A Poem of Thanks"
Thank you for relatives living and dead
who loved me as a child,
and who love me now. I feel their love
as soft lamplight that surrounds me.
I remember the red roses in my mother's yard
and the rice pudding with raisins that she made,
I hear the melodies sung in our home,
enhanced by piano, violin and organ.
Also, I thank God for the good friends
who were with me when I was young
and who are with me now that I am old.
Though miles apart, we are together.
After two years, the "storytelling and poetry" class Laura attended, came to an end in the spring of 1979. Its effects on the lives of its members continues. Laura was chosen as one of five members of the class to represent the achievements of the group at a national convention in Cincinnati, Ohio.
She described it for the benefit of the recipients of a brochure issued by the Morristown Senior Citizens Center of which excerpts are included here.
"Our Convention Trip"
Sunday, March 25th, 1979, was a memorable day for the five poets and storytellers who were privileged to go to the 29th Annual Conference of the National Council on the Aging, held in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Pat Wheeler, manager of the Division on Aging at the Center, and her husband and daughter, took us to the Newark Airport, where Pat, Marjorie Bingham, Jake Unterreiner, Yula Fisher, Lula Foster, Ruth Hoster, Franny Olack and I, boarded the plane to Ohio at 6:00 P.M.
On reaching Cincinnati, we taxied to the place where we were to stay, "The Cincinnati Club," a private business man's club with which arrangements had been made to house us for our two night's stay. We were made welcome there and were extended every courtesy.
After breakfast at the club next morning, we went up to the Netherland-Hilton Hotel where the convention was being held, to register and to attend at least part of the opening session.
Most of us skipped lunch on Tuesday in preparation for dining at the "Top of the Crown," a swank Stouffer's restaurant. The dining room was on the thirty-second floor, which revolved slowly, giving the diners a changing view of the city of Cincinnati and the Ohio River, very interesting and pleasant.
In the program book, we were listed as "Discussing the Dynamics of the Power of Literature - Powers of Age project co-sponsored by CETA, and the Town of Morristown, and performing original pieces.
This theme was able and dynamically explained by Franny in her introductory talk at the luncheon where we gave our program. She engendered an enthusiasm, which she passed over to our first speaker, Ruth Hoster. Ruth started us off a a "bang," literally, when she shouted, "I'm me, I'm alive," and pounded the roster.
I was the second to read. My nervousness soon disappeared when I stood at the microphone and saw so many smiling faces at the tables and a crowd standing in the back and in the balcony, all attentive and listening to our program. I read a piece called, "The Undedicated Teacher" and one called, "Fogarty's Cow," among others.
Then came Lula Foster with her deeply moving poem of the tree. After the program, a woman came up to Lula Belle and asked her for the last two lines again. She had liked the poem so well that she had copied it down as Lula read it.
Jake Unterreiner, former milkman and gas station attendant, was introduced as the man who had learned that "poetry" is not a dirty word. Jake read his wishful poem, "If Dreams Were True," and others.
Rounding out our program with the continuing "bang" that Ruth Hoster had started, came Yula Fisher. Yula captured the listeners with her nostalgic rendition of story and songs.
It has been a mind stretching" experience for all of us, a highlight in our lives. And what makes us more happy, from comments made to us after the performance, we feel that we have touched other lives and inspired others to "go and do likewise."
There were many nice things said, but the one that meant so much and "made our day," was said to Franny Olack, Ruth Hoster and me as we were leaving. A woman stopped us to tell us that in her opinion, our contribution was the "highlight of the convention." We left the convention on that happy note.
Lt. George Jenkins met us at LaGuardia Airport on our return and helped us with our baggage checkout. Very capably and with good will he saw each of us to our homes safely and for which we were very grateful.
We are also very grateful to everyone who helped in any way to make this experience possible. It has been worthwhile and I sincerely believe that the ball which Morristown has started rolling at the convention, will roll on and touch many lives in a creative, valuable and exciting way.
While it is hoped that these selections will be of interest to present and future members of the family, this volume by no means purports to be a family history, even in part, nor a biography of Laura Larson. However, one cannot fail to see the personality of Laura reflected in these pieces.
Though her life was marked by profound tragedy, she never lost her way. She looks back upon the sorrows of a girl semi-orphaned at ten and widowed at thirty-nine, who had to struggle to raise her young family, as a life full of wonderful memories. No anger, bitterness, regret or self pity is seen in these selections. Her view reflected in them and throughout her life is one of love and courage, nurtured by her family in early life in such abundance as to last a lifetime.j
She will be seventy-nine this November when the cabbages are brought in for winter. She lives independently in Morristown, New Jersey. She tells her editor and his family in nearby Mendham Township, that she is currently writing a long reminisce about her sister Johanna and then plans to write a similar piece about the Rooney branch of the family tree. There is more to come.