Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Glimpse Back

A month or so ago, one of my sisters found a box containing some of our mother's stuff that she didn't even know she had. Inside the box were pages and pages written in Mom's hand. Mom always liked to write, and I think if four children and being widowed at age 39 hadn't interfered, she would have been one hell of a writer.

She wrote on any kind of paper she could find. On some small scraps of three by five inch paper, I found the beginning of a novel. It was clearly autobiographical and even with some of the names changed I recognized some of the people she was writing about. Instead of Dolores McCloskey, she was Dawn McCrea. Her best friend, Catherine (Cass), was now Colleen. Her baby sister Joanne, she called Jane. She lived in a section of the city called Eden, instead of the real life Esplen.

Here's how it began:

"Perhaps you have never read a story without a plot, but I am about to attempt writing one. You see, my story has no end. I can't say "And they lived happily ever after," for my tale concerns not a few people, but my closest friends, our clique, modern youth as I've seen it. My real motive in writing this is to reveal the staunch and sturdy friendship we've built among us. Regardless of mistakes, folly, we stand together. Our future is before us. Doctor, Lawyer, Merchant, Chief--yet meanwhile we are living. "

Mom goes on to write about some teenage adventures, including one of her friends losing her virginity, which was quite scandalous. Her descriptions of two boys she had crushes on were cute. (One she called a "bronzed Greek god" and the other a "blond Adonis.") I was disappointed when I ran out of pages just after she shared a kiss with the blond Adonis in his dad's fancy Buick. I'd love to know if she ever finished the story.

I laughed at a shopping list on the back of one of the pages:
6 doz buns .90
1 can spiced ham 1.50
2 katsup .30
2 doz cakes .45
candy-peanuts .50
1# coffee .30
1 cream .15
relish .35

Another interesting find was a journal entry written on Sunday, December 7th, 1941. Mom would have been 21 years old at the time. This is what she said:

"Well, this day began as usual. Being Sunday, I arose late and just about made it to 12 o'clock Mass at the Point Church in downtown Pittsburgh. After Mass, I followed the Sunday routine by waiting on the corner of Ferry and 3rd Avenue for Cass and Peggy, the three of us then making a dash across the busy streets, startling Sunday drivers by our bold jaywalking, walking briskly up Liberty and into the Jenkins Arcade to avoid the brisk December weather. And as always we looked into the windows of a shop displaying novelty jewelry before leaving the Arcade for another mad dash thru the Penn Ave. traffic and into the lunch room at Walgreen's drug store. We even had our regular order of ham salad on toast and coffee, lingering long enough to smoke at least three cigarettes, tongues wagging while going over the current capers of our clique. Yes, it was the usual Sunday for us. We had nothing more important to talk of than the surprise party we were planning for Jimmy McCloskey's birthday on the 12th. Nothing more important in our frivolous heads than thoughts of Tom, Jack and Larry, members of our clique for whom we three were bearing torches.

We left Walgreen's and walked down Penn, stopping to look at the clever window display in Horne's dept. store. Christmas was in the air. Everyone pushing, crowding, but everyone gay as they watched the huge Santa Claus in the window. As each person turned away from the window, he turned away with a broad smile and laughter in his eyes for the laughter of the Santa Claus brought mirth to all.

We three crossed the street to our car stop, boarded our car and arrived home about 2 o'clock as we did every Sunday. Daddy left for work just after I arrived home, mother was out for the afternoon, and just Joanne and I were at home. We just sat around reading the funnies and after awhile I curled up on the studio couch for forty winks. Joanne woke me in time to start preparations for supper. Mother, Aunt Clara, Anna Mae, Jack and the baby came in around five. We were just about to sit down to the table when Joanne turned the radio on for some dinner music. The program was soon interrupted with special bulletins. This was no longer our usual do-nothing Sunday. This was history in the making. This was an outrage to our government. While the Japanese Consul General was having negotiations with our government for peace, Japan was bombing our territories.

What little supper that was consumed was done so automatically. The coffee pot was twice emptied and the ash trays held too many cigarettes. The thought of war made your blood run cold. I resolved then and there if my business is affected in any way I'll close, store my equipment and do whatever I can to help with defense work. Every able bodied American will be on their toes now.

Peggy and I went to church in the evening for our novena. After church we went to the show where we met Bobby, Cass, Ernie and Jimmy. We stopped and had hamburgers and coffee in a little shop in the Rocks and then came home where we all sat around."

Fascinating stuff. I only wish there was more.


Judy Schneider said...

Wow, Joyce! What colorful stories. I love the language and the local references to the Point Church and the Jenkins Arcade. Like you, I wish your mom had written more! Maybe you could preserve the voice and carry on the stories. Thanks for sharing them with us!


Joyce said...

Hi, Judy!

I want to write a story set in WWII one of these days, and when I do, I'm naming my protagonist Dolores. I think Mom would like that.

Anonymous said...

Joyce--Thanks so much for immortalizing Mom on your blog. It was really moving to see her words in print, even though I read them over and over in her own handwriting. It really made me feel like I spent the day with the family on that fateful day. I can hardly wait for you to do the WWII story and see what "Dolores" will do....Fondly, Amy