My name is Henry Stevenson, Sr. and Linda is my daughter. When I was really small we lived out on a place called Dalton Street, which is out off Veranda Street. It’s a little street and it’s well out of the city. It’s just a small little street. We lived down there on the left hand side about the third house in, it’s still standing there today, cause I seen it the other day when I went by. And when we was, ah, when I was a small child, I lived there. I was born on September 15th, 1939. And, ah, I can remember when we were kids we used to slide down that hill in the winter time. And I remember, ah, a car was coming up one day, that hill and I was sliding down and I saw the car and I rolled right off that sled and that sled went under that car, so that was kind of a close call. At any rate, even though your parents are always on yah tellin’ yah, you know, that things are dangerous, you still did things like that as a kid. So, um, I don’t remember too, too much from that point. Ah, we had ah, my next real recollections were, we moved, well actually, let me go into a little bit more detail there.
Ah, my father at that time worked for the railroad so he had a pretty good job. Yah, he had a pretty good job at that time. And, he used to work construction before that, but then he got a pretty good job on the railroad. Jobs were … my father told me…that jobs were scarce and back then, if a person had a job they didn’t really retire. You had to wait to get a job if you wanted to get into the job market and there was particular jobs that you wanted. Like workin’ on the railroad or workin’ in some factory or something like that, you had to wait for the old‑timers to die before you could get jobs. And work was scarce anyway because the economy wasn’t as booming as it is now. And back then not many people had money, nobody had televisions that I know, well way back then, nobody had televisions. Ah, very few people had cars most everybody walked. And, ah, so you had a job like, a good job with the railroad, you did very well.
And, ah, the next, phase of this that I can remember, o.k. was that, ah, we lived on, a place called Little Middle Street. Which was down almost two streets up from the wharf, two streets up from the docks, the Maine State pier. There’s a street called, Little Middle Street. It’s right next to Maccucci’s. O.K., we lived down that street and, ah, we had moved from Dalton street down to that street and in those days there was a lot of tenement houses. Now what a tenement house is, is ah, is a square building usually three stories tall, and some of them had, ah, were kind of skinny and they had three families who rented those tenement houses. So you’d have a family at the bottom floor, a family on the second floor and a family on the third floor. And when you rented them, you got the whole suite all the way back. They were big, the rooms were good size, but they were all like in a straight line. Um, some of the tenement houses at that time, they were wider they were set up the same way. You’d, ah, go up the front stairs and go into a hallway and if you went left and opened that first door you’d have that whole set of rooms that went from the front to the back of the house.
You had a back door, some of them had back porches that lead down to a small backyard,
and, ah, so those were bigger but they were all based on the same, but you had a lot of those in Portland. And that’s where a lot of the, ah, ah, poorer people lived, in tenement house because they were cheaper. And a lot of them were run down, but, uh, where we lived, we lived in a rent, but it was, it was a house because my father had a good job naturally. It was a tenement house. To the side of it, in front of and but to the side of it that was right on the street and there was kind of like a big yard area. It wasn’t long, it was all dirt like but you could walk just past that tenement house right straight in and this house was setting in the back and my grandmother rented the top floor and my father and mother rented the bottom floor. Now back then, ah, you didn’t have central heat. In other words furnaces that burned oil and stuff. You had what was, what was called “cold water flats” and what that was is you just had cold running water you didn’t have any hot water. And, we had a cast iron stove that burned coal and we had a little, ah, coal stove in the living room. Now as you walked into this place, they were fairly small units. On the right‑hand side was a small living room and we had a radio, which was another sign if you had a good job you could have a radio, but this is a floor model radio. And I remember we had a little, ah, I remember, we had a little pot belly coal stove and my father had a little easy chair there. These are some of things I remember. And, ah, that coal stove had to be cleaned everyday, take the ashes out and dumped. And, ah, we used to sit there, around the radio and listen to different programs. Some of the programs were like “The Green Hornet”, “Fibber McGee and Molly”, and different types of programs like that. And, ah, so, ah, when nobody had TV that’s what we, if you could afford a radio, that’s, what you did, you sat around and listened to that.
In the kitchen area … so if you come out of that room … you opened up into the biggest room in the house, which was the kitchen area. Which was probably no bigger than maybe 10 feet by 15 feet, and that was the main room. And you usually had a small table there and two or three chairs, you had the kitchen cook stove, which was cost iron, it was a coal stove or a combination of wood and coal And right off that kitchen, there was a little pantry. All that was, was just a small space that was, ah, I’d say maybe six feet deep, by maybe five feet wide, or something like that. As you went in, on the left‑hand side there was a counter top, not made out of this nice Formica you see there, just boards right, and that was just boards right. And that was just, what about maybe six feet long and maybe two feet wide. Underneath, you had a couple of rows of cabinets you could open up for pots and pans. And up above you had, ah, a couple of cabinets for foods.
And, ah, you had no refrigerator but [what] we used to do for refrigeration in the wintertime. Oranges used to come packed in these wooden crates. They were pretty nice, they were all made out of pine, so you had a crate about a little more than three feet, and they were probably maybe, I’d say a good foot, maybe a foot and a half deep by a good, maybe foot and a half wide, but the top part was one board, 3/4 inch thick [and] in the middle section, there was another board 3/4 inch thick and the bottom part was a board. And we used to nail that on the outside of the windowsill and in the winter time, right, when it was cold outside, that’s what became your refrigerator. Before people had refrigerators that’s what we used to use down in the poor section of town.
In the summer time you didn’t … see the system back then wasn’t like it was today … when your mother went to the store, she didn’t buy all kinds of frozen stuff or stuff like that. You bought canned goods, but you didn’t have a lot of stuff in the house. We didn’t have a lot of snacks, we didn’t have … like in the morning … you had like oatmeal or Cream of Wheat, ah, if you were lucky enough to have the milkman come around. If you could afford that you had fresh milk everyday. If you couldn’t, then you drank powdered milk. Um, if you opened the cupboard and [in] those days, here’s what you were gonna find: you were gonna find some beans in there, maybe a couple of cans of beans. Ah, you only lived week to week and when it came to storing up foods and stuff like that, there was no such thing as that. Maybe in the..if you had more money, certainly, you’d probably have more food. Because food was the main thing back then. Everybody, ah, when all of the parents went to work, like the first priority, well…actually the first priority was the rent if you had to have a place to stay. The second priority was the heat, ’cause you had to buy coal or some way to keep your heat and your third priority was food and food, o.k. was always big in our kids mind because you didn’t have that much of it. You know you had ah, the diets were different then too. Like I can remember getting up going to school, like we’d have oatmeal almost every single morning. Then once in a while we’d have Cream of Wheat. And ah, every once in a while, you night have toast. And, ah, very rarely, you might have pancakes, depending on what your mother had at the time, and, ah, how much Your father worked. And in those days, most of the women didn’t work.
So of in the kitchen area, that was the pantry and actually, what you had … your mother went out and bought the food. And the food bill was very, very cheap because she would just buy enough that was gonna last that week. So, we’d like have oatmeal in there, we’d have beans, the diet was very, very bland. Ah, you didn’t have hardly any meat except for like on Sundays, your mother might get a roast, or get a ham, or get something like that for … like Sunday would he the big weal … would be the big day. Off in the pantry, that’s actually where your mother did all the cuttin’ of the onions and everything on that counter. O.K. that was your little pantry, that’s where all of the work was done like that.
And then, of course, off that room, on the left‑hand side of it. If you was facin’ if you came into the house, you walked into the kitchen you was facin’ back wall, the pantry would be on the right‑hand side, the bathroom would be on the left‑hand side. And the bathroom, ah, in the city was a push type toilet, but the way that was set up was the bottom bowl wasn’t porcelain, it was made out of cast iron. So it was rough, you know I mean the texture of the bowl itself. It looked like a bowl like today, only it was made out of cast iron. It was taller and skinnier too and, of course it was bumpy, yah know it didn’t have the texture. Well, we had seats, see, usually it was made out of oak or whatever they made it out of, but you had a wooden seat. And then there was a skinny pipe that went up the back, about this big and round and then there was a water closet on the top, which was made out of wood. All it was, was a wooden box. O.K., usually, ah, inside the wooden box, they put a tin liner or a copper liner, so that it wouldn’t rot out the wood and it wouldn’t leak. And what would happen was is you had another skinny pipe coming up through the floor up to the bottom of that and what would happen is you had a pull chain. All it was was a little chain coming all the way down with a wooden handle on it. So when you was done, you pulled that chain and the water from that box ran down that center tube and flushed the toilet. Right and that was great, I mean if you had one of those, that was super good because if you didn’t have one of those, you had an outhouse.
I remember, ah, when we went, off we went to the country or something or to somebody’s place in the country, you had to use the outhouse. There was two kinds of outhouses. The one that I was familiar with, because nobody that we knew in the country had any money either, so. The one I’m familiar with is was the one that was, I don’t know how many feet from the house, maybe 100 feet from the house or whatever. You walked from the house to the outhouse, it was just a little wooden structure and it had a little bench in there, with a hole cut in it that you sat on. And in the wintertime, it was cold [hearty laughing] and sometimes in the wintertime, ah people used to take these, ah, a thin piece of rope and they’d attach it on the house and run it and attach it to the outhouse. So at night when they went to the outhouse they could kinda’ feel along [hearty laughter]. But at any rate, ah, the better houses had inside outhouses. It was built on an outside wall and they used to call it two‑holers, because they had two holes cut in instead of one. One was for the little kids, it was a smaller hole and the other one was for the [adults] … and those used to have, like regular toilet seats on ’em. But, they were still real drafty, yah know, ’cause it was, it couldn’t he inside the house, but usually … a lot of the farms had ’em. They’d have the main house and they’d build a smaller building off to the main house and then that was usually attached to the barn. Sometimes they had another, another extra room there and then the barn. And, ah, right off the house, as you come through that door, there’d be this, this wall on an outside wall, right? And there’d be a door there you’d open up and you’d have the two‑holer.
Now on the back side of that they had removable wooden panels. Because you had to shovel that out every once in a while, or somebody had to shovel it out. I don’t know who did. But, what you do, you’d have a bag of lime and after you went to the bathroom, you’d spread that lime in there. That would help decompose and kinda disinfect that. But ’cause after it’d been there for quite a while, once it took a long time to fill up, then you’d have to redig that out and start over if you had one that was in your house. You had … they used to call them privies, and if you had a privy on the outside, a 100 feet from the house, 50 feet from the house or wherever you kept it, you had to dig a hole down and you’d just move that privy over it. When that one filled up you’d just dug another hole and moved the privy over the new hole and we’d just buried that, the rest of that hole up. And that’s the way they’d do it.
And, ah, believe it or not, people who go treasure hunting now‑a‑days, they try to find those places because, a lot of times when dishes would break and stuff like that, they’d throw ’em in the privy or people would drink and they’d drop bottles down there or stuff like that, or, I think, change could get lost down there. So, well at any rate, that’s another story. So, o.k. now, ah, before I get into… Well, back then, o.k. in my culture anyway, ah, the way it used to work, is that the role of my mother, would be, I can say this now, because I can look back on it, I’m 60 years old. The parents accepted these roles, o.k. When a women gets married, then she would stay in the house, take care of the house, take care of the kids because that was a full‑time job. O.K., that was the role, so that when a woman got married, that was what was expected of her and that was what she accepted, at the time. And, the role of the man, was to go out and earn the money to support the house and the family. And, that was what was expected of him and the way he was brought up, and that was what he accepted. So, that’s usually what the roles of that was, and the roles of the children of that time were to he obedient to their parents. That was yah, I’m tellin’ yah, that was what, …obedience to authority was a big thing back then for the kids. That was what our role was, that our role also was that there was chores to be done and stuff like that and we was suppose to help out. So, that we were one family unit, so everything, everybody had a role in this, ah family unit. And, ah, as I look back now, because back then, I didn’t realize it. I was just a kid, like every other kid and stuff like that! But, back then, o.k., that’s what actually was goin’ on. But I can see all of this now that I’m 60!
O.K., we’ll get back over to the house now, because there was other things in the house
that’d be interesting to you. O.K., now we was in a cold‑water flats, so, o.k. the bedroom was, if you were standing like you went into the, you went into the, ah, house, like this, o.k., you were standing in the kitchen, and we talked about the back wall. Ah, where the bathroom was and where the. ..also the sink was in the pantry … that was a cold war effect. There was no sink in the bathroom. just a toilet, that was it. Ah, o.k., on the left‑hand side there was two bedrooms. A
small bedroom, where us kids was and a bigger bedroom for the parents. Now a lot of times, ah, in the wintertime there was no heat except for the coal stove. So there would be heat during the day there, o.k. and up until and before people went to bed. And the way that worked is, was that the bedrooms would be cold because all of the doors in the house except for the living room and the kitchen would be closed. Because, with just a stove the at size, right, you didn’t want to try to waste fuel on heatin’ the other rooms when it wasn’t necessary. So the kitchen was heated by this stove and when it would get real cold, we’d put the other small little pot‑belly stove on, so you’d have two rooms that were comfortable in the house, until you went to bed and the fires would die down. You’d let the fires die down because you didn’t want to, burn up coal, ok., ’cause everybody was thrifty then, ’cause nobody had no money.
And so, I used to remember my mother, before Vern and I, my brother and I, went to bed.
She used to have these flat irons, 3 or 4 of these flat irons on the stove that stayed there all day, and they got hot. That’s how you ironed clothes, with a flat iron, and just the heat from the stove heated the metal part of it. So she used to take one of these in and iron the sheet on the bed to get it warm. O.K., then Vern and I would jump in, right, and we’d maybe, like 3 or 4 blankets and a big heavy quilt. O.K., and after a while you could blow your breath in the … you could see your breath in the bedroom, it was so cold. It got as cold in that bedroom as it was outside! So, if it was 10 below outside, it would be 10 below in the, in the thing bedroom. And the worst thing you had to do was to got up in the middle of the night to pee to run way in the other thing [room] and it would be wicked cold! Right, but I mean that’s the way life was then. So you didn’t, you didn’t think of it as being bad. I mean when you was a kid, you thought about it and this is the way it was. Yah know, and if you had to go you had to run to the bathroom and run back and jump in bed. So, at any rate, ah, that’s the way it was in these cold water flats. And when the stoves ran out, when the stoves, ah, went out, it would get … be cold like that. Now in the morning, it was your mother’s duty to get up, like at maybe 5 o’clock in the morning, 4 o’clock in the morning before her husband went to work. And it was her duty to get the stove lit and to get breakfast on. And so, she was the one who had to get up when it was really, really cold and get out there and start the store up and get things goin’ and get the breakfast goin’ and stuff like that. Then, ah, when, I think my father used to go to work before we went to go to school because back then, ah, he used to go on the jobs early. So my mother would feed him first. O.K. and he’d be and he’d go to work. Then she’d get us kids up and you’d hate to get up in the morning because the bedrooms was cold because they kept the doors closed, because they were trying to get heat enough in the kitchen. See what I mean? So, we’d get up and we’d run out and close the door, right and get dressed as quickly as you can. And so stand over by the stove and get warm, yup, that’s what we’d do. And then, oh, my mother would give us breakfast, and oh, then we’d go to school. And that’s the way it was primarily in the house as I remember it. And that’s primarily in the neighborhood … is all the other kids that were there would … did pretty much the same thing. Because we lived in, we lived in a poorer neighborhood. Although my father had a good job, a steady job, which was terrific, he wasn’t making big, big money.
So, oh, the other thing was … that I can remember … they had a fish man that used to come around. And what he did is he had this pushcart, it was a wooden pushcart, with big wagon wheels. You know there was one wagon wheel here and one wagon wheel here and there was a bed about as big as this table [my dining room table], made out of wood, with sides, and it had fish in it and it had a handle on it like this, right. And it had two legs on this end so he could kinda pick it up, like this and walk down the street with it. And when he wanted to set it down, he just set it down like that, because the back end was heavier. And he had a scale on it. A big scale with a pan. And if you wanted your fish fillets, it costs you few cents move. If you wanted the fish whole, he’d just threw it up on the scale and it was so much a pound And you got it for that. Right fresh from the dock. He went down and got it from the dock and came back up and he’d peddle that fish all over the neighborhood. We called him the fishman.
And then they had another guy that came around we called him the rag man. And he used to collect rags and sell ’em down to the junkies. They used to be … they were mostly jews that used to buy like iron and scrap metal and bottle and rags and stuff like that. Those were small
businesses at that time. And they were mostly owned Jewish people. So, they had the rag man.
Now I don’t know who he was, or what his name was or anything about him, but he use to come around and, ah, call for rags. You could hear him outside ‘rags, rags’.. like that. Yah know, this sounds like out of a movie, but this is actually the way that neighborhood was,, right. ‘Rags’ and he’d go through all the neighborhoods yellin’ for rags. And, I’m not sure if he paid, I think he paid so, like maybe a half cent a pound or whatever, right. He’d get rags and then what he’d do is he’d go back to the junkie and sell the rags to make more money. But ’cause this was all in the real poverty. The fish guy didn’t make much money, the rag man didn’t make much money, my father didn’t make much money, but the leverage my father had at that time is that he had steady work. See that was the whole key, having steady work.
Before that, my mother and father worked in the shoe shop. O.K., now I think we got kind of the way we was living as a smaller kid. Why don’t I go over now and give you the two cultures of my mother and my father and we can go on to other things. O.K., now you have to remember we are only, I was only the third generation in this country on both sides and that was the reason for a lot of the poverty that we had when we was kids. We’ll start with my mother’s side of the family, the Italian side of the family. O.K., my grandmother come from a small town called Terrachina(sp), and I’m pretty sure that was outside of Rome about 60 miles. So she was actually a Roman. She was actually considered Roman. I think its south of Rome, which I think is still in the same area, and it’s actually all Rome there. And, ah, it’s a small place, and if I can recollect it was, I think it was called Terrachina(sp), the town. And, um, her husband, o.k. came from, ah, Montecasina(sp) which was, ah, another town that’s further down the “boot”. But during World War II, they had great battles there. It had a big monastery. Yah, my grandmother’s husband. Not my mother, my grandmother. We’re talking about … what we’ll do is get into a little bit of the history about the culture of my mother. So, we’ll go back. And, so, we’re talkin’ about my mother’s mother and my mother’s father. They’d be my grandparents, ok. And, ah, um, so, he lived in a town called Montecasino(sp), which was ah, ah, got a great big hill and had a gigantic, oval monastery on it. And during World War II there was a lot of controversy over bombing this monastery by the allies because there was Germans up there spying on their every move and killing them. Yah know, killing the American forces. So, what they did is, the allies had to go on the top of that, which was a big deal during World War II. But, at any rate, that’s the town that he came from.
So, ah, now let me think, my mother’s name was, my grandmother’s name was Elizabeth
and my father’s name was Louis, ah, my grandfather’s name was Louis. And also, ah, let me think how to put this in perspective now. O.K., I don’t know much about their lives in those towns, but there’s a family legend, ok. and I’ll tell you what that family legend is, but we don’t know if its true or not. I mean you have these family legends you don’t know how true but I’ll tell you the way I heard it anyway.
O.K., on that side of the family. My grandmother, evidently she was a lady and she had culture. She was, um, she was brought up, she was an only child and from what I can understand, her father was a doctor. So they had, they had money. So they were fairly well to do over there in Italy. And she was a lady of culture. That’s, that’s what I heard. And her mother, o.k., which was my great grandmother, ah, also helped her husband in the doctoring thing. So she knew a lot about medical stuff. Now, my grandfather from what I can understand, was a lieutenant or something like that or a captain in a cavalry, over there at that time. So, evidently his, I don’t know whether his parents had money or not, but chances are they were probably well to do as well. So, he met my grandmother somewhere and he fell in love with her, but she was “put off” by him. She, she liked him but, yah know probably not enough to marry him. So as, to make a long story short, she, he … my mother claims that he kidnapped her o.k.,and brought her to this country. Whether that was true or not, I, I think it’s kinda farfetched, but at any rate, because when my grandmother, on the way, on the ship, she had a baby, on the ship comin over here. And that was my uncle Tony. That was my uncle Tony. And, oh, when they came over here, they went to Boston. And he became a baker. O.K., and, ’cause she was just a housewife. And they migrated, oh, up to Portland, Here for whatever reason, I don’t know. But they migrated up to Portland and they settled on a street in Portland called Deer Street, which is no longer there. But if you know where the Hub furniture company is in Portland … if you’re comin’ up, oh, over there by Fore Street … You know where the Custom’s House is? It’s right close to the Custom’s House there. On the right‑hand side, if you’re facin’ the hub company. There used to be a street that went right from that right up to middle Street, it was called Deer Street. And that’s the street where all the Italians used to live.
All the houses and tenement buildings, or whatever and all the Italians lived on that street. And, oh, down at the base of that street, there used to be an old, brick oven place where they made bread. And bread was 10 cents a loaf. And you could buy it when it come right out of the ovens! They had these big brick, oh, ovens that had big arches in ’em, with the fires in there. They had big wooden paddles and they used to shove the bread in there, right. And they used to bring it out when it was done. Ten cents a loaf and you used open that up and put butter in it and it was the best thing you ever ate! But, at any rate, Deer Street, That’s where all, that’s where they lived. We lived in the tenement houses there, on the second floor. And, oh, so I don’t wander too far off’en this thing now, let’s get back to my mother. O.K., then we’ll come back to in that neighborhood, if you want to, or would it he easier to stay in that neighborhood until we finished it? O. K. we’ll go back to my mom.
So, oh, my mother came from that, from that culture. In order to … I have to go back to this neighborhood a little while to just, to show you what my mother … the reason why my mother did things the way she did. O.K., so that’s where my grandparents lived on Deer Street. Um, at that time, they had absolutely nothing and they were in poverty. And also, my great grandmother lived there too. So they brought her over now, I don’t know whether they brought her over at the same time they came over or sent for her later. But, at any rate, the three of them lived in that place on Deer Street. And, they were very, very poor.
Now, the way the story goes, is that the company that is Sealtest now, ok. he [my father’s father] took all of his money .. and him and another guy went into business and called it Sealtest. And the other guy swindled him [my father’s father] out of his part of it and so he took to drinking. That’s the way the story goes. How true it is, I don’t know, but that’s the way they got into dire poverty anyway, here, the way I understand it. So, um., they lived in poverty there an [Deer Street].
So, they had 14 kids, so they really had a hard time, really had a lot of poverty. So, my mother, at a very early age, she didn’t go too far in school. Probably to 6th to 7th grade or something like that. What she did is she found my mother crying in the kitchen, found her mother crying in the kitchen one day. Her mother says, I can’t make the bread because I don’t have any flour. So my mother says, well, what I’ll do, is I’ll help you out. I’ll leave school and I’ll get a job. And I’ll get you some money so you can have flour. So, she left school and she went to work in a shoe factory, which was down on Pearl Street. There was a lot of shoe factories and places like that. She happen to go to that one on Pearl Street. And she made the money that she needed; she Have it all to her mother so that she could bake bread. And at least have something to eat for the family. That’s where she met my father. My father also worked in the shoe factory. Now, I’ll go back on his line, up to this point, so I’ll bring it all together and show you what actually took place.
Now, my father’s side of the family came from England. Derbyshire is the town that his father came from. O.K., now we’re gonna talk about my father’s father, o.k., which would be my grandfather on his side, on the English side. And my father’s mother … let me think now. We’re gonna talk about my father’s father and his grandfather and grandmother. O.K.,you got that in your mind? My great grandfather’s name was Author and my great grandmother’s name was Mary
and they came from Derbyshire, England, because I have a copy of their marriage certificate. So, they came from Derbyshire, England.
Now, as family legend has it, he was a clothier there, meaning that they had money there. Not tons and tons of money, but they had some money and in some of the genealogy that I did on
that side of the family, I found an entry, that when they first came to this country, they settled in a small town called Milton, New Hampshire, where there was a woolen mill or something. Some kind of a weaving mill there. And there total worth at that time was about 300 dollars. Which was pretty good back then, because when you consider my great grandmother bought a house in Sanford in the 1800’s for 100 dollars and when they first came over here, they had 300 dollars that was pretty good compared to most immigrants. And at that time, my grandfather was 6 years old. So, at any rate, when they first came over, that’s where they settled, in that little town. And the, ah, the next thing that I found was in, ah, Sanford, the Goodall mills. So they must have been gonna get more money or better living conditions or whatever, because that’s what the reason why people used to move at that time. So they left that small town [in Milford, NH] and that small mill and went to work for the Goodall mill in Sanford, which was a big mill and that, was run by English people. Um, and so, that’s primarily what they did. They were weavers and also farmers. And, ah, my grandmother bought a house in the 1800’s, I can’t remember the exact date for 100 dollars there on Jackson street. Now whether that house is still there or not I don’t know but I’ve been wanting to go down to the York, registry of deeds and see if that house is still there. It wouldn’t take much lookin’.
O.K., but at any rate, ah, my grandfather and his father, o.k., lived in there until right through my grandfather’s twenty’s and thirty’s I would say. Because my grandfather belonged to organizations and he became both my great grandfather and my grandfather became citizens there, and I have copies of that. And they had, it was … from the look at that … when you became a citizen of the United States, you had to renounce the Queen [hearty laughter]. You had to renounce the Queen! I don’t know whether you still do that or not, but you had to renounce the Queen to gain American citizenship and it says so right on that paper! Yeah, that’s a big step that means you’re givin’ that up completely! You can have that now [dual citizenship], I don’t know whether you could have had that then. But, at any rate, they, ah, both became citizens. And, ah, then what happened was, this is family legend again, but I think this is true family legend, because I remember my father and uncle talking about it. My grandfather was disowned by his father for some reason, which I don’t know. Evidently, when my great grandmother died, she’s buried in Oakdale cemetery in Sanford, when she died, o.k., my great grandfather remarried. And he
married a girl by the name of Lucy. That’s all I know about that. And the way this tradition thing was, is, he was going to, ah, go back to England, my great grandfather. And he wanted his son to
go with him. Now his son had been married to a woman in Sanford and he finally got divorced from her. She claiming desertion and he claiming that she had, that she got pregnant and had a child, but it was from another man. Now whether this is true or not I don’t know. This is just ah, things that I’ve heard and stuff. But the thing was, about this, ah, the way my father says, that my grandfather was ready to get aboard the ship. They got aboard the ship and then my grandfather came back off. So his father disowned him. O.K.,for not going back to England I don’t know what the reason was, but I’d like to know. So my grandfather came back and stayed here and I think he didn’t go back to Sanford, but he went over to the Holland mills in Limerick. It’s either Limerick or Limington, and that’s where my uncle was born. So my grandfather remarried a woman from Portland. Her name was, ah, Edith Winterson. My grandfather went from Sanford to the woolen mills in, ah, it’s either Limerick or Lymington,, there, it’s called the Holland mills. The reason why most people did that was because they had electric lights in the houses they used to build for the people that used to work for. the mill. They had electric lights, they had foundations, they had better working conditions. So that’s where he went. And he met my grandmother, Edith Louis Winterson, was her name. And he had, um, my father [who] was the youngest. He had Uncle Art and he had Aunt Louis and he had my father, which is Joseph. He had those three kids.
Then what happened was, is, later on they moved to Portland for some reason. It must have been to get better work or whatever it was. Ali, they moved to Portland and, ah, they were poor too, very poor. And, so my father grew up in poverty and I’m not sure exactly where they lived, but it seems to me they lived up there on Congress Street somewhere. And my father, when he went to the lower grade schools and then when he got to the eighth grades or maybe the first year in high … ah, his father was failing and so his father died in 1936. So my father, while his father was failing, quit school and went to work to support the family. And that was, that was not unusual back then, that kids would leave school. Because everybody was in such dire poverty, it was a matter of survival So he quit school and he went to work in the shoe shop. So, he was working in the Pearl Street shoe shop and my mother went down to get a job in the Pearl Street shoe shop.
So how they happened to meet was … was in order to get up on the second floor, there was no stairs, you had to go up by an elevator. One of those wooden kind of elevators where you have the slat doors that pulled closed. So ah, at any rate ah that’s where my mother and father met. Now, back then, in those days, the families were a lot closer knit. Like for example, ah, my mother, ah, she was afraid to go to work because it was dark and when she got out of work, it was dark and so, when my father from the shoe factory, asked her, “Do you want me to walk you home?”.. and she says “no”. And, although she was afraid to go home and come to work, ah, the officer on the beat, the cop there was in charge of that neighborhood. Ah, he used to walk her to work when and walk her back home when he could. And, ah, the cops back then, o.k., used to patrol their own neighborhoods. Now that cop knew everybody in that neighborhood, he’d know every single kid, every single parent. He knew exactly what was going on in that neighborhood all the time. And, ah, the thing is, ah, the cops now‑a‑days don’t know what’s goin’ on in the neighborhoods because they’re not in the neighborhoods, they’re in squad cars And you can’t, if you’re in a squad car, you can’t be in a neighborhood. And that’s the reason why they don’t really know what’s goin’ on in the neighborhood. But when you have to put on a coat in the wintertime and walk that beat and get out there and meet the people, and be with the people all the time, you get to know every single body whose in that neighborhood and you’d get to know what’s goin’ on in that neighborhood.
So, at any rate, my mother was afraid of that. So, at my father’s persistence, over a period of time, he asked to walk her home and finally when she got to know him, she said “well, O.K.” So he walked her home but, in addition to this, in a culture where you have poverty, o.k., you have like, you didn’t want to bring your girlfriend to your house because you were poor. You know and the houses weren’t really that good, although they were clean. Because back then, the parents made the kids get down on their hands and knees and scrub the floor by hand ’cause it was all wooden floors. And that’s the way you did it. Ah, you didn’t have the thermostat … you had a lot of pride…,O K., And you didn’t have the things that you really needed to, to invite a guest up. Like you couldn’t say, like “sit down and have coffee and cakes” and a nice table cloth and stuff like that. You didn’t have that type of thing.
So, it was always like, well … yah know, in your own mind, and in my mother’s own mind she would say, ah, “I really don’t want to bring him up”. And the same way over to my father’s house. Where his mother was deathly set against any kind of a girl that my father ever brought home. So, my father knew it would be an argument there or something said that was wrong or out of the way or whatever. So, when my father used to walk my mother to, ah, home, that would be it, right on the doorstep. There would be no kissin’ or none of that stuff! I mean this was, at this point, is absolutely out of the question!
The girls were that way too, I mean the girls control, o.k., everything. The women controlled everything at that time. They didn’t even have the right to vote but, believe me, they controlled the whole house. When they made it a point to say “we’re gonna get married,” o.k., “I’m gonna be the boss of the house”, they were. They were the boss of the house. And the fathers were the boss outside gettin’ the jobs and stuff like that. And, so they were the boss of the house. You can believe it! They still are now, but they were more so then, they let you know then!
So, at any rate, um, after a period of time, my father asked my mother for a date. And she said “I’ll have to ask my father and you’ll have to meet my father”. Just to go out on a date. So, he said “o.k.”. So they went down and met my father. My father has always been a good person and
has always been courteous and stuff like that. He was a good person. He got along good with her father, so he went on a date anyway. He took her up to H. H. Hays, way up on Congress Street, which had like a soda counter in it and stuff like that. And ah, he bought her a malt or something, right. Well back then, when you was workin’ in a shoe factory makin’…that was what they called sweatshops, you didn’t make hardly nothin’ !
In order to bring a girl on a date and go up there and buy her a malt and himself a malt, that took money away from the family like, yah know, so that was kinda like a big thing. This is a serious thing. She had like a nickel in her loafer she used to keep in her stockin’ in her loafer. So she understood right away that dad was spending a lot of money. That was a lot of money, buying two sodas back then. So, she said “I got a nickel in my loafer if you want it, to have, you know, and “no” he says, “you keep it” he says, “I’ll take care of this”. So, that’s the way that got started.
Then after a while, ah, on a lot of dates, stuff like that, they decided to get married. And, ah so, it was o.k. with her father because he had got to known dad over a period of time. See, the thing is, courtship were a lot longer then. You went with each other for a year or two or three years just to make sure that, yah know that, that was the person you really wanted to be with. It didn’t always work out that way, but in most cases, the general public, it was the general thing back then. So then, ah, they decided to get married, but my father’s mother, o.k., didn’t like the idea. So my father said to her “yah know, you’re not gonna get anybody better than Thomi [nickname for
Thomasina], you’re not gonna get nobody better than her”. And so, she didn’t like it and my father married, but she didn’t like it. So now my mother had to go live with my [father’s] mother. O.K. and his father had already died but, ah the mother was there and the mother told my mother “I don’t like you”. And so my mother had to live under those condition for quite a while, until she died. And that mother hated my mother.
And, but my mother was always a kind person. She used to help out anybody at anytime she could and she used to help her out, even though his mother despised her. She used to help his mother out as best she could. When his mother was dying, she called for my mother to help out because she got cancer and my mother used to help clean her up and stuff like that. She had cancer of the rectum and my mother used to take care of her when nobody else would. None of the other kids would, so my mother did it but my mother has always been that way. So, um, on her deathbed, she told my mother that, ah that she had hated her but she didn’t mean to. She was just afraid that “You were gonna steal my son away”. Yah, so that’s the way a woman thinks, so, at any rate, that was all forgiven. But that’s the conditions my mother had to live in.
So that brings us up to, ah, ah that phase. Now, my mother and father were together. So, ah, now they’re living on, um, let’s see, now we’re going back to, ah, Little Middle, we’re going back to Little Middle Street and, ah, now the next thing that came upon us was that my father went into the Army. He went in, in 1943, I believe. And the way that happened was, if you had a job on the railroad, you didn’t have to go into the Army or you couldn’t get drafted because it was kinda like a related type of a field only in the United States. It was like a Civil Defense type of thing, in other word, you was still working for the, for the, ah cause, Ah, only you were working on the home‑front, rather than, ah being a soldier. So, ah, at any rate, he was kinda like exempt. So, he had this foreman, my father was always a strong man, he was very strong‑willed. Ah, let me tell you a little bit about my father. Ah, back then, and the men especially back then, just about all of the men that I knew of, my father included, were very strong‑willed men. They were not afraid to tell you, o.k., the way it was. They were not afraid to stand up for what they believed in, no matter what the consequences were. If, ah, you said something about a member of the family, they were ready, willing and able to fight, right there on the spot. Ah, if ah, somebody held a grudge against yah, they held it for a long time. You know that’s the way it was. It was, ah, if ah, if you was like a Catholic, right and ah somebody said something against that to you you was ready to fight for it. So that’s the way people were back then. They weren’t afraid to say the way they feel felt they weren’t afraid to ah, act upon it.
So my father was a very strong‑willed person. And, ah, ready to go the mat. So, at any rate, I wanted to put that in there just to give you some kind of an idea the way people were back then. So at any rate, my father had this good job on the railroad but this foreman that he had was kind of on his back because my father wasn’t afraid to, ah, speak up for the rest of the men. In a lot of cases, he used to speak up for the guys if they wanted a raise or if the company was doing something that was dangerous and stuff like that. My father was kinda like a spokesman for the guys. He wasn’t afraid to tell ’em. So this foreman was on my father’s back anyway about something. And ah, he told my father, he said “if you don’t do what I tell you, then what’s gonna happen is that I’m going to railroad you into the Army”. Meaning that he would fire him and then my father would have to go into the Army. My father looked him right in the eye and says “you can shove this job up your ass I’m going down to enlist right now”. So see the way people were way back then and that’s, that’s the way a lot of people were. And even when years later when I went to ah, when I went to become a boiler maker, a lot of the old‑timers that were in that craft were the same exact way. When they said they were goin’ on strike, they went on strike! No matter what the consequences are. No matter what the situation in the family was. The family accepted that and that’s the way they were. Men were men back then, they went and did what they had to do.
So, at any rate, my father enlisted and ah, he went to boot camp down to ah, North
Carolina, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Just before they were gettin’ ready to be shipped out he sent for my mother, sent her some money so that she could come down and see him. And ah, my mother went down to North Carolina. What that forced the family to do … that forced the family to move to my grandmother’s house on Deer Street. Which was very, very poverty stricken and also a lot of my uncles went in the army. One went in the Navy and the rest of them all went in the Army. This was during the Second World War. And so we had to live at my grandmother’s house now. Now, what that also forced in the family was that all the women had to get out and go work because with all these people living in that one tenement house, you know, it [the tenement house] wasn’t that big and there was, well, a lot of my uncles and aunts were younger then and they were still at home. Like Uncle Julio, Uncle Louis, ah, uncle Yola, I mean aunt Yola, ah, my mother. My mother was married, but Yola wasn’t married, ah Larry wasn’t married, Louis wasn’t married, Blackie wasn’t married, ah Carlo wasn’t married. See all of the people went into the service, into the Army or the Navy … most of them in the Army. So that forced that particular household, O.K.,…[they] didn’t really have an income, except when my father used to get his pay, he used to send money to my mother. And I’m sure that the kids, ah my grandmother’s sons used to send money to the mother too. And an unfortunate incident happened there too. One of my younger uncles died when he was only 24. What happened, was that ah, he had a denture plate, he had a small denture plate in his mouth and he had just had an operation on his throat and somehow that denture plate slipped down there and ripped that open. And by the time they had got him to the hospital he bled to death. And you know my grandmother knew that that happened before it … while it was taking place and he was, he was down in one of those states where the had an Army camp, where they were training the GIs that’s where it happened. And she got up in the middle of the night screaming because she saw that, she saw an image of that. That her son was dead.
So at any rate, during that period of time, ah, during the Second World War, that’s what happened to my father and my family, ah was that we were forced into more poverty, ah where food was scarce and stuff. And, ah everybody had to get out and try to work and stuff. And I remember at that time that my brother and I, because that was all the kids that my dad had at that time, is my brother and I [and we] lived there in that house. And it was real scary. And it was very traumatic. And it was a time where you got up in the morning and you would have maybe a bowl of crackers and coffee, because there was no milk. And, ah during that period of time and into, ah, more years after that, we had to depend on goin’ down and get surplus food from the state. And at that time, when everybody was very proud and stuff, even poor people were proud. Everybody had dignity sort to speak. The process to get that food was very humiliating. It was so bad that my father refused to go down to the city hall and make out the applications and stuff. And them people down there really looked down their nose at you. So my mother was the one that did that. She went down to the city hall and give out your whole family history. And everybody back then was very closed‑mouthed. You was taught when you was a child not to give out any of your family information. Everybody was closed‑mouthed and there was a reason for that. And the reason for that is that you could get into trouble o.k. for saying something, o.k. about your parents. You could actually hurt family members by saying something outside, because that’s the way people were, number one.
But the big reason for this, the reason why people were so closed‑mouthed back then. When you came from the old country and you was an Italian or you was, ah, came from England but you had a Christian name, o.k.,you was looked down on. If you was an immigrant you was, looked down on. It was really hard to get a job, especially if you was Catholic and especially if you was Italian or especially if you was Irish and you was Catholic. We was Italian Catholic, right. In the households, o.k., the people used to try to learn English as quickly as they could because you was looked down at, as nothing but scum. You couldn’t find work, right. Um, that’s one of the reason’s why, like the Italians, grew into a little area [and] they kept to themselves. The Irish into another area [and they] kept to themselves, yah know. And the Jews in another area kinda kept to themselves. You know, because back then, right, it was ah, ah, sometimes the Italians would go beat up on the Irish and sometimes the Irish would come down and beat up on the Italians, yah know. If you were an Italian caught in the Irish section, you were probably gonna get beat up. The same way in Boston right today.
We’re talkin’ about culture and at any rate, and um, my father went overseas. And we was in poverty and ah, there wasn’t much food around, you ate what you could get and you was thankful for it. Ah, it was a type of household that was terrifying to a little kid. Ah, you did the best you could. I remember my great grandmother, o.k. ah, every once in a while she would slip me an orange. She wore, like in the olden days, you know how the women wore those long dresses, like down to here, she had a black one. And it had two pockets over here and three pockets over here. She’d always reach in there when we was alone and bring out and she’d give me an orange or she’d have a banana, maybe a peach or something, yah know. And ah, that was really something. There was a story about her my mother told me. That, ah, when she came over to this country, and she used to doctor up people when she had to because she had the knowledge at that time of her husband who was a doctor in Italy. And there was this rich guy that, ah, had something wrong with him. And the doctors couldn’t figure it out. They kept treatin’ him and all of this other stuff. And, and ah, from his servant he found out about that my grandmother, ah, knew a lot about doctorin’, so he told the servant to bring her to him, to see what she could do. And ah, whatever was wrong with him, she fixed it up anyway. And he wanted to give her a lot of money and she wouldn’t accept it. She was very, very poor at that time but she said that its not right that if I help a person get better, o.k., that I should take money for it.
Now she was Catholic, my grandmother was Catholic on that side. On my father’s side, my father was an atheist he didn’t believe in no religion or no God, or nothin’. Matter of fact, when my mother and father got married, they got married by the justice of the peace. Now my mother is Catholic and back then, yah know, that was really a no no! [hearty laughter], but later on, they came back and got married in a Catholic church.
So, at any rate, my father went off to war and my mother went down to the, ah fish factory and worked. She worked at two places. She worked in the fish factory and she worked makin’ ammunition boxes somewhere down in that area [the waterfront of Portland], they made ammunition boxes and they tested them to make sure they were waterproof for the war. Ah, ah machine Sun boxes, that’s what they were. They have a top that opens up. So, at any rate, um, my mother worked down there and that’s the situation we were in.
And we went to school. We went to Cathedral Grammar school and religion has a real
strong effect in my life because I was brought up in the Catholic faith. The first parish I belonged
to was St. Peter’s parish, which was the parish down on Federal Street that belonged to the Italians. It’s still there today. And, that’s not sayin’ now that all the Italians were good Catholics and because a lot of them weren’t. A lot of them didn’t go to church. My grandmother went to church. My grandmother was a very dedicated and a [good] Catholic. And she used to go to mass and she used to pray a lot and stuff like that. And oh, so that’s how I became a Catholic. I was born into it, I was baptized in that parish. I made my communion and confirmation in that parish. We went to church every Sunday and ah, that’s how I became a Catholic. I went to Cathedral Grammar school, which was run by the nuns and so the influence of Catholicism was very, very strongly put onto me.
Ah, o.k., we want to go back to when my father came back from the war. We were still living at Little Middle Street. Ah, when he got back from the war, he went to work in construction which was booming at that time. After the war, construction was, ah, booming. The economy was good. See, what brought the economy back was actually the Second World War. Because, now everybody needed tanks and guns and planes and ammunitions and all of that stuff. That put a lot of people to work. Although we was kinda like in a little poverty area there, there was a lot of women that went too, and a lot of men too, went to work down on the big ships. They built a lot of liberty ships right over there in South Portland. There was a lot of shipyards that were workin’ around all over the country. So that there was a lot of people that were makin’ good money. At that time, they were makin’ really good money. They were also learning trades like being welders and riveters and all of that stuff. And my father was in construction but he was a laborer before he went into the service … and then he learned the construction trade a lot better when he come out of the service, so he could get a job in construction.
So, ah, he worked for different contractors but he was smart in that when he got on the job sight, even though he was usin’ the pick and shovel, right. He would be askin’ the carpenters questions. He would be askin’ the electricians questions. He would be askin’ the foreman, “well
how do you figure up how to build one of those pyramid type forms for footing” and staff like that. And he had a little notebook and he would be jottin’ all of this stuff down, yah know. And that’s how he learned. And he eventually worked his way up from just bein’ a laborer all the way up, finally comin’ toward the end of his life to a superintendent for the construction firm. So, at any rate, when he got back from the war, things really looked up for us then.
We moved from Little Middle to Big Middle [street], which is down the street probably, ah, I’d say maybe the length of four football fields, in a big tenement house. We lived on the second floor and a funny thing about these tenement houses is that in the tenement house that was next door to me, o.k., there used to he an Italian person [that] lived on the bottom floor. and Irish people [that] lived on the second floor and I don’t know who lived on the third floor. But you would walk into the hallway, the main [hallway], all of these tenement houses were built the same, when you walked in the front door, there was a hallway and a door on the left and a door on the right. You went upstairs and there was a door on the right and another door on the left. And you went up the third steps and it was the same way. But the funny thing about this is you went in, you could tell there were Italians because you could smell spaghetti sauce. When you went up the next door you smelled corned beef and cabbage and knew there were Irish people there. When you went on another floor, you could smell fried chicken and it was colored people that lived there. No matter what floor you lived on, you could tell by the smell of the food what nationality lived in that place [hearty laughter].
But, at any rate, we lived in a tenement house there. We were still poor because, ah, although my father had good jobs and stuff, the kids started comin’. We eventually had, ah, my mother and father had 10 kids. They would have had 16 but my mother had 6 miscarriages. And accordin’ to the doctors, my mother’s waist was so thin back then, there was no way that she was gonna be able to have any kids at all. So I guess she proved him wrong! [hearty laughter]. But at any rate, all those kids started to come in. Ah, it probably would be a good idea if tell you somethin’ about my brother and I and the way our life was back then.
So, as I say, religion had very, very strong influence on, ah, me especially. Ah, not so much on my brother, but on me especially because I was the stronger of the two. In that, my father was a strong man and I was proud of him and, but my father and I used to argue a lot. So I was becoming, in effect, just like him, not knowing it. Because in my mind, somehow, I wanted to be just like him. So, I wanted to be strong‑minded, strong‑willed and all of that and say what I was never afraid to say the way I felt about a lot of things. And so my father came home from the war anyway and he became a Catholic. He was an Atheist and he became a Catholic. And what turned his mind around is that he used to write to my mother and my mother used to write back that she was prayin’ for him to come back home safe. And my father had a lot of near misses over there where he should have been killed and he wasn’t. So, that converted him and when he came home, he became a Catholic. Now, when my father goes into something, he always used to teach us, “if you’re gonna do it, go all the way or don’t go at all” Though he became a real good Catholic and he gave those priests a wicked hard time up to Cathedral [church] … but all the questions and everything that they couldn’t answer and stuff like that. But, at any rate, he became a really, really good Catholic. And one of the things that, that I remember my father tellin’ me was that, um, there was an article about a bad priest and he could not believe that there was such a thing. Because he believed in his heart that once you went to do something you went an of the way. And if you was gonna become a priest, you need to be a really good priest. And how could anybody, who ever became a priest, not be a good priest? And so when he heard about this bad priest, he couldn’t believe it, yah know. And that’s how strong in his faith that he was. And so, we went to church every day… we went to Cathedral Grammar school and we learned a lot about our religion there.
And when I got ready to go to high school, I wanted to go to Portland high with all my friends, and he [my dad] made us go over there, to Chevrus, which I didn’t want. But, now later on in life, I’m glad that I did because I got a real good education over there, yah know. And education for me was always a struggle because in grammar school, I was the kid that used like to always stare out the window and not pay attention in class and stuff like that. And so, I stayed back once, well, earlier on when I went to the North school, that’s when I was really small, ah, that was kind of a different school because you went there and almost everyday you had to fight in the schoolyard.
And discipline in school back then was the way it should be today. And if you threw a spitball in the class, if you talked out of turn, they sent you right up to the principal and he smacked your hand with a ruler. And if it was that way today you wouldn’t have a lot of this stuff you have with kids now a days in runnin’ a classroom, And it was the some when I went out to Chevrus. When I went out to Chevrus your parents had to give you, o.k., a letter saying that those Jesuits could discipline you and they did too. We were hell raisers, some of us, right, but we got disciplined in there. And that’s straightened us out quick And if they had a kid that was uncontrollable and they couldn’t discipline, after about the third warning, they used take and call the parents in with the kid there present and tell the parents “if you can’t do something with this kid, we’ve tried, but if you can’t do something with this kid, he’s gonna be expelled from this school. So, ah, there were kids actually expelled from school. There were a lot of kids that quit from that school.
When I first started as a freshman there, you went in and you took an aptitude test so there was no excuses that you couldn’t learn the subjects or anything like that. O.K., after that, ah, the way it was set up, they had the A class, the B class, C class, D class. Now the A class were the kids who were the great achievers, who were smart kids. I was in the next class, B class, so that the smarter kids wouldn’t be held up by the next grade. So it would be that the B class wouldn’t be boring to them. While they were studying Greek and German, I was studying French, see what I mean? Those kids were gonna be high achievers, so they never held anybody back. So, if you started out in the B class, you could end up in the A class if you wanted to study hard enough or if you had the aptitude, see what I mean, during the four years that you went there. Which was a really good system. So they had the A class, the B class was the average, the C class was the ones that really couldn’t do the A or the B work. So it was more a formalized … all of these were college courses though. And the D kids was more like of a business course, because they could never get the scientific stuff like the chemistry. What people don’t realize today is that back then they understood that there were people out there that could not do this particular item, yah know.
Ah, for example, in my business, when I was growin’ up, when I was in the buildin’ trades and I became boss of the job sight and I had a group of men, o.k., that I was responsible for getting’ the work done. O.K., I recognized this particular guy was only capable of welding out six tubes for the day, while this guy ever here was gonna give me 23 every single day but that doesn’t mean that I had to fire this man that was only givin’ six because I understood that he was only capable of only givin’ me six tubes a day. See what I mean? Right, he was doin’ the best he could. That’s all he was capable of and so they recognized this years ago. Now a days, they don’t recognize this. You’re just a number in a computer now…but they [Chevrus] recognized this.
And so what happened was that, ah, the D class, if person wasn’t good enough for the B class, they’d try them out in the C and they weren’t good enough, the tried them in the D class. But, a lot of kids, because the studies were hard, a lot of kids left on their own. They couldn’t do it. So out of my class, like 160 kids of the original class that I started out with, and when I graduated, there was only like 30 of us original ones left. I mean, there was still 160 some‑odd kids that graduated. But the first year, so many dropped out of the original class and then they got more kids to come. See what I mean? But out of the original class, only about 30 of us stayed there. That’s how hard it was. And I had to study, like three hours a night to make it, if I wanted to. Because I was a poor student, it didn’t come easy.
But at any rate, I was very strong‑willed. I had a Catholic education there as well. I was a very strong believer. My brother and I were both alter boys. He didn’t believe as strong. He was still a good catholic but he didn’t believe as strong. Ah, he was more outgoing. Ah, he was more understanding. I wasn’t that type of person. I was more dog headed, more stubborn, I was, ah, like my father in a lot of ways. Ah, I was not as demanding, ah, as far as discipline was, as my father was because, ah, when my father was home, you did somethingyou got the strap.
That was our discipline, you’d get the strap. He’d bend you right over the bed and give 5 or 6 really good whacks. And, ah, if you knew if you did something wrong you were gonna be disciplined. Which is another thing, ah, in this day and age that should be brought back, is a right to discipline the kids. I’m not talkin’ about punchin’ ‘em in the mouth or really beatin’ ’em with a whip or anything like that, I’m talkin’ about regular discipline, yah know.
But at any rate, ah, so I was very strong‑willed and, ah, I didn’t know it at the time that I was gonna have a much tougher role in life because I was that way, [hearty laughter]. Now I can look back and I can see, yah know, if I had to do it again, it would be different. Ah, like when I got into an argument with my father, which was quite often, yah, know because I was just as strong‑willed as he was. And I can see it in my grandkids, especially Joshua [hearty laughter]. Not these kids, but in Joshua ah, wicked [hearty laughter]. But at any rate, um, ah, if I do somethin’, I want to try and do it all of the way and I want to try and do it the right way. If I see somethin’ wrong goin’ on, I usually speak up about it. I don’t like things that’s wrong. I don’t like to see old ladies get beat up and if I happen to see that, I’m gonna stop my car and jump out and I’m gonna punch the S.O.B. right in the mouth! And I don’t care if I get arrested. I don’t care what the judge says. If I have to go to jail, I’m gonna do it! Because that’s the way I feel. And that’s exactly what I would do! And, ah, I’m not gonna be wishy‑washy about it.
So, at any rate, I took on a lot of the attitude and a lot of the things of my father without even realizin’ it. Um. ah, when my brother and I were alter boys and stuff like that, we raised a lot Of vain there and staff. Had a good time and a lot of fun. When I argued with my father, my brother became passive. He just went upstairs and did his thing while I stayed down with my father and really got into it, yah know. My brother was always a really nice person and he liked to go out and have a few beers and have fun and stuff like that and now that he’s gone, I miss him, I really miss him. But we did everything as kids together.
Now, I’ll tell you a couple of interesting things. My father had a bunch of kids. I couldn’t
go to my father and say “dad, give we a couple of bucks, I want to go to the movies or give me this or give me that”. Nah, ah, I wouldn’t even dare to go ask him that. Because I understood that he worked really really hard, o.k., and he put every .. he gave his paycheck to my mother. That’s what he did. And I did the same thing to your mother. When I get my paycheck all through my life I’ve always given it to your mother, the whole thing. If I made extra money on the side, I’d give it to your mother. I didn’t hold it out for me. I didn’t have to go to the bar with the guys. When I got married, I said “O.K., I’m getting married, this is it, I’m gettin’ married” and your mother said the same thing. Yah know, we’re together now. Why do you need the guys in the bars for? What do you need to do that? You can still have friends but I mean you don’t have to play that second life, yah know, you’re into this now. Do everything you can for your kids and your family.
So, at any rate, a couple of things I never asked my father. O.K., so my brother and I used to do little things to get money. So, one of the things we did, we used to build these little shoeshine kits out of wood, yah know. And we’d go down … the big battleships used to pull right up here in Portland at the State pier, loaded with sailors. And Portland was a sailor town. There was all kinds of hell‑raisin’ and all kinds of bars in Portland for the Navy. Believe me when I tell you this. There were sailors everywhere and the police department was really pullin’ their hair and there was SP everywhere, you could see ’em everywhere down there. Talk about, right in the middle of where I used to live, o.k., was where all the sailors used to corrupt. So, naturally, we used to build these little shoeshine kits, we’d go right down first thing in the morning when they were getting off that ship and it was 10 cents a shoe. We’d shine these shoes, 10 cents a shoe, right. And there was plenty of sailors, yah know that could see that we didn’t have no money, right so, yah, no problem [hearty laughter]. So that’s one way we used to get money.
Another way we used to get money, was we used to go junkin’. We’d go around all the back alleys and different places and pick up rags, scrap metal and bottles. And then we’d go to the Jew places down there; they used to buy that stuff, right. And we used to sell it to them. Now, these old Jews, yah know, they were older guys, yah know. They used to look at you and they’d know you didn’t have nothin. Anyway, right, so they never tried to cheat us, but we’d try to cheat them once in a while. Like we’d get a burlap sack and we’d put some rags in there and we’d take a sidewalk brick and then put rags over it. We’d bring it over yah know like we were pullin’ the wool over these guys eyes, but those old Jews, they knew, right and they used to go along with it [hearty laughter]. Yah know they probably had a big laugh at it. Yah know because you was only getting’ three pennies for this, two pennies for that, yah know. But at any rate there’s a couple of things there that was neat that Vern and I used to do.
So, at any rate, getting’ on back. Now, we went to Chevrus, both Vern and I went to
Chevrus. And ah, while we was at Chevrus, and while we was still young, we took it upon ourselves, because we was very patriotic and we cared what went on in this country. We valued, it was taught to us in school, when we saluted the flags and stuff. It’s not so much now‑a‑days but back then, that you were patriotic. You already understood when you was a young kid that if you ever had to go defend this country, because freedom was precious, you’d be ready, willin’ and able. And you’d go and you went down when you was a teenager you registered for the draft. There was no, “no I’m not goin’ down to register for the draft”, you just went down automatically and did it. And ah, a lot of kids automatically joined the services when they got out of high school. It was just automatic. And so, bein’ patriotic, we said “Yah, let’s go down and join the Maine Air National Guard”. Because we liked the Airforce and we wanted to get in the Airforce. So Vern and I went and we joined the Maine Air National Guard. And when we did that, ah, I was a sophomore and he was a freshman in high school. And that summer we went down to boot camp when all the other kids were on the beach enjoyin’ the summer. Vern and I was down to boot camp at Lackland airbase. And we grew up really fast when we hit that place. And ah, we went through boot camp together and come out and, but, Vern and I was always responsible. When dad went to war, we already knew at an early age how to cook eggs. Ah, how to make breakfast. Ah, how to sew a button on our clothes if it fell off. How to do a myriad of different things around the house. We always took care of the chores, automatically without bein’ told. We already knew that because we had to be responsible when we were very young. So, that when we got older, we was already responsible. So, we went to boot camp. And that’s another story and a lot of funny things happened and stuff, but that’s another story.
So ah, when we come back to our outfits, he became a medic and I was a teletypewriter operator. And ah, a funny thing about Vern, Vern was always jokin’ around and stuff right. So, we used to have to, we were required to watch these films. O.K., military films for our training. And Vern was always the one who chose the military films that we had to watch. So he used to pick the goriest operations where it shows a guy’s leg gettin’ amputated and stuff like that. Guys were faintin’ [hearty laughter] and everything else in that movies. We used to have them at Fort
Williams, that was where we were stationed, right down here, Fort Williams in South Portland. We had our drills and then in the summer, we had to go two weeks, like down to Rhode Island to that air base down there or wherever. We was a field outfit. And so ah, ah, pretty much, that’s what … I can move on from there.
Ah, then after we got out of high school, Vern got married. I didn’t. Vern got married before I did. But he didn’t go to college. He didn’t want to go to college. Oh, also in Vern’s life when he was very young…
At a young age, there was a wonderful place in Portland I wish was still there today. I
think the whole city of Portland is stupid not to have something like this again, But they had, what they call the history of .. the Museum of Natural History that used to be down on Elm Street. It was a great big gigantic building and it had just about everything in there. It had a lot of rock collections, a great huge shell collection. It had a great big turtle that was six feet tall or five foot somethin’ tall. Ah, it had a stuffed buffalo’s head in it. It had anything that … you had Indian artifacts in there. They had great big cases of stuff, ah that you could walk around and see. And also they had societies within this museum. They had the astronomical society. They had the nature society. They had the Audubon society. And kids of any age could go there and join any of those societies. And they had people that were willin’ to volunteer their time, like astronomers, ah amateur astronomers that used to take the kids out and ah, with telescopes and stuff and show ’em where Mars was on the horizon in the wintertime and stuff like that. They used to have the Audubon society that used take the kids out on these boat excursions and stuff like that. They were really inexpensive things to do, but to show them the different birds and stuff. The nature society would take you out and show you all the different things about nature and stuff. Really, really great things for kids to get into at that age. And my brother started in that museum and he was really very quick to pick things up. He was very smart that way. And he eventually became assistant curator of that museum at a young age. And I thought that would be a neat thing to tell you about. But after he had a family and kids comin’. he had to leave that and go to work as a boilermaker in construction like me so that he could support his family.
So, ah, then I got married to your mother and Vern got married to Claudia. Ah, he met Claudia through high school, I met your mother when I was very young, and I met your mother at a dance. And I offered to drive her home because I had a car and she says “no thank‑you”, I said “O.K.” but I didn’t think nothin’ of it. Yah know she was just another girl that I danced with. And then, ah, later on I met her again. She was stayin’ over to, ah, Gerald and Rose’s [house]. And I started goin’ out with her but not on a real steady basis. And then I think I went to boot camp or I went to tech school after boot camp. Maybe that was it. I been down in Texas to learn how to be a teletypewriter operator. And ah, then I started goin’ with her more steady and finally I married her. Went with her for about a year and then married her.
And we was deathly poor, when we got married. Ah, but at any rate, Vern went on and
married Claudia and he started havin’ kids. And I didn’t really have a trade of any kind. O.K., but my father had taught my brother and I how to do just about anything in the house. Yah know, so I was workin’ for W.T. Grants, which is a retailer, makin’ absolutely nothin’ for money. I had, I
don’t know, I think we had two or three kids at that time, livin’ in dire poverty. Ugh, dire poverty.
I tell yah how bad it was when your mother and I got married. Right, we had a small apartment up on Grant Street, in a tenement house. And we smoked back then. We’d get a package of cigarettes; we only allotted ourselves so much because we didn’t have no money, hardly. Ah, and we’d take a pack of cigarettes and we’d cut the cigarettes in half, right, what was left in the pack might not be a full pack. It was a full pack, we’d just split the cigarettes, but, when there was like seven or eight in there we’d cut the cigarettes in half and we’d each take half. That way there, instead of smokin’ a full cigarette, you’d smoke a half a cigarette. That’s how economic you have to be when you get to be poverty. You realize things, yah know.
So ah, the second week we got married, I got laid‑off. I was an apprentice architect at that time. And that’s what I really wanted to do in life, but I couldn’t really do that. It was way out of my grasp. Ah, I had, um, I got laid‑off and at that time, I was only makin’ like 80 cents an hour as an apprentice. So, we was without a job. We was without nobody to help us. We didn’t have anybody to help us. Ah, I had left home under unfavorable circumstances, because they didn’t like my wife. My wife had left home because she couldn’t stand it anymore there. And they didn’t like the idea of me. So she lived at the YWCA and I lived at the YMCA. And the day that we left, she was over to my house and I said this is it, “dad and mum, I’m leavin’” And it was right in the
middle of the wintertime and there was snow on the road and I took her by the hand and we left
that house at 143 Washington Avenue and we walked. Not havin’ a dime in our pocket, well, I had a few bucks, but not that much. And nobody to help us. And broke, no job, poor and we walked down and I walked her all the way down to the YWCA, that’s where she was stayin’ And I think she had a job then, at a laundry or somthin’ but she wasn’t makin’ peanuts. just enough to barely pay her rent. And I went over to the YMCA and got a room there. And then I got a job somewhere down at the cardboard factory, or something, where there was a sweatshop and you didn’t make nothin’. And that’s how we started out. And ah, a little while later, we got married.
About six months later or so, we got married. And ah, we was in a different tenement house then, down on State Street. But we didn’t have nothin’ We didn’t have nothin’ We had a few bucks and when we got our apartment, we didn’t have a broom or dustpan or nothin’ so that’s what we bought. Just a broom and a dustpan and stuff. That was your mother’s actual wedding gifts. Yah know, we had absolutely nothin’. That’s the way we started, really.
And, so at any rate, the influences that was on my life was, I would say, [was] my father and I respected him and I wanted to be just like him and he was a good man. I knew there was times when he had a lot of kids and we didn’t have much money and we lived over on Washington avenue as we had 10 kids and we lived on Washington avenue. And we contributed to the house as much as we could as kids. And then he used to go out and work on construction. But I remember him sayin’ to my mother, “get the kids the shoes that they need” and my mother used to say, “well you need work boots because you got holes in them”. He says “I’ll stuff newspapers in my work boots”. So that his kids could have shoes.
And I remember as a kid, bein’ younger, that there was times when my father got laid‑off in the wintertime, my mother used to stock up as best she could. And I was the one who went down and got the surplus food. I used to get it on my sled. I’d take my sled down there and I’d go in and they’d punch your card and they’d give yo u like two big blocks of cheese, and they’d give you powdered milk, powdered eggs came in a can. And once in a while, they’d give you a can that had a chicken in it. Yah, that was really a delight to get that. You’d always get Spam and prunes and all that. And I’d pack it right up on my sled and I’d take it back home. And every week, I’d do that. We’d go and do that, we’d get that surplus food, boy that bailed us out. It bailed a lot of families out. And they should bring that back today. That would not only help the fathers out, but instead of the food stamps, where they’re havin’ all kinds of problems, at least the people would be getting’ food.
But, at any rate, ah, religion was a strong factor in my life and I’m glad that I have that. I can say this that I truly believe in my faith. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I truly believe. I believe everything in the Catholic Church, what they teach. And the reason why I did that is, I had it in grammar school and I had it in high school. I left the faith for about six or seven years. I went totally the other way. And then I found there was somethin’ missin’ in my life, and I went back. But before I went back to become a Catholic, I said to myself, now I might not want to become a Catholic, I might want to become a Baptist or a Lutheran or something like that. So I started studying these other faiths and stuff. And my way of thinkin’ and in my studies I found that they were lacking in a lot. Maybe it was just my background. I had absolutely nothin’ against the other faiths at all. But, it made me grow up and gave me a much better understanding of what my own faith is and about what other people’s faith was about. And so I went back to my faith. The second time when I did go back to it, I went back wholeheartedly, not haphazardly, but wholeheartedly. O.K., and that’s where I stand in my faith right now and I still stand today that way.
I don’t have… when Jehovah witnesses come around, I always say hi to ’em and talk to ’em and stuff like that, yah know. Because I have nothin’ against anybody else’s faith. Whatever they want to believe, they should believe in. But if they have any other questions, they should go searchin’. So, that’s where I stand there.
Ah, my work. I started out workin’ in retail. I love retail, so I started out workin’ for W.T. Grants. Just before that folded, I got a chance … your mother’s father was a boilermaker. I got a chance to go boilermakin’. which was very, very scary. That meant goin’ all over New England. Ah, it meant makin’ really, really big money. I mean big money at the time. At the time before I did that, we had absolutely nothing. We was really in bad poverty. Your mother always…I always ,gave my paycheck to your mother. And your mother always spent the biggest part of that paycheck on you kids. She always, always did that. And your mother … one thing about your mother is that she has a very kind heart. She really does. She’s really a good, good person. And I said this to boilermakers and other people when they’ve asked me, yah know, I’ve said the same thing to ’em. I says, “if I had to live in life again, I would marry the same woman over again.” I would probably treat her a lot better than I did at some times, but I would definitely marry the same person. I have no question about that in my mind. She was the right one.
So, at any rate, you kids were very, very fortunate you had a mother like that. Because she went all the way for you kids. You guys had the best of clothes that we could afford. The best of everything. The best Christmases … you remember that Christmas tree? You want to thank your grandmother and grandfather, truly because they used to get … I used to have to go and fill the car sometimes twice with the presents that they used to get. And the thing is, faith… we tiled to give you as much as we could. The only thing I regret in my life that I didn’t have any control over is that I would’ve like to have spent more time with you kids. Although, we used to go on all the picnics and stuff. I had to go on the road quite often. If I hadn’t done that I don’t know what would’ve happened because we would’ve been in such dire poverty. I think you kids would’ve been worse off, because I came from poverty and I know what poverty does to people.
First of all, it gives you low esteem, o.k. Second of all, you go to school, the first thing that happens is the kids make fun of yah, “oh, look at … how come your wearin’ flamingo red stockins?” Naturally, because flamingo red stockins’ only cost 39 cents a pair instead of the regular a dollar and a half a pair. When you don’t have a dollar and a half you buy the flamingo colored socks, right. Ah, when you got holes in your shoes, you’d stuff ’em with newspapers because kids know. They can see that. You used to worry about havin’ to go to the doctors because you had holes in your underwear and stuff like that, yah know. We was always clean personally because my mother saw to that. Made us take baths and stuff like that. But I mean ah, the thing is, is that the influence that effected my life … I think that out of it all, that I had, that I was very, very fortunate that I had a good life, because I had good parents, o.k. Ah, even though they were poor, they were good. They stuck together, they stayed there all their life and they was for the kids as much as they could possibly be. With all the other turmoil whirlin’ around and out of the poverty that they came from. And I thank God now, that with four generations, and look at the advancements that we’ve made in our people, our little clan [family] here. Look at, you’re getting’ your master’s degree in college. That’s phenomenal. You might not realize it but that’s phenomenal. Danny’s got his master’s degree in college. Look at Henry quittin’ his second year of high school and look where he went to. He went back and got his high school diploma and he went to tech school and now he’s a private eye. And that’s a phenomenal thing to be able to do that in life. And ah, there’s a lot of kids out there that, ah, don’t have the opportunity. In foreign countries, they don’t have the opportunity. We should feel so lucky to be able to have that.
I feel that I’ve had a good life, although we’ve had a great many hardships. And in my work as a boilermaker, it was real heavy and a lot of real hard work and in a lot of dangerous Places and a real hot, hot environment and some real frigid cold environments, where your body and your mind was physically strained. And I become a certified welder, which was strained a lot more. Because in order to get jobs, I had to go take a “make or break” test. Every time I got a call from the union hall, I’d go up to Millinocket, I had to take a welding test right there and if I didn’t make the welding test, I didn’t get the job. So, they’d set up a tube at a 45 degree angles it had two parts, at the joint in the middle, you had to heliarc the first pass and you had to stick weld it out. They would x‑ray them if they showed bad spots in there, I didn’t get the job. So, even though I became a very good welder, I was always fearful when I went to a job. And I was always nervous when I went to a job to take that test. When I got on the job there was a lot of times that I went up 150 feet and walked their on and did what I had to do up there. And I loved it because it was macho. It was my thing. I liked being on the edge at times. Other times I was deathly afraid. Really afraid. There was one time when I first started, up in Jay. They had a block that a cable ran through. O.K.,they had a beam that went outside of a window and at that point to the ground was 80 feet, ok. And from that point up to the roof was 4 feet. Every once in a while, you had to crawl out on that beam and you had to undo that block and let the cable drop so that they could use that at another spot. That meant you had to go on the roof, climb over the edge of the roof on that 4” beam and shimmy out there to do that and I was deathly afraid, but I knew if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t be able to stay in that business.
But, at any rate, ah, culture has a lot to do with my life. Ah, definitely into the Italian side and the English side. I’ve done genealogy, some on both and I feel that if it with those, ah with
that, very, very well. I feel it’s a big, strong part of my life, being part Italian and part English. And ah, I was into construction for many years, that had a definite impact on my life. So ah, I would say, ah, the strong will of my father that’s been passed down to me, that’s been passed down to you. I notice in my children, you [Linda] and Holley and Henry have really got that same thread. And I think it is a thread that my grandfather on the English side had. And I don’t … my mother was also strong‑willed too on that side of the family. It is prevalent that we’re achievers, we’re very very strong achievers. We’ve always been good workers. That came down from both sides. My mother was always a hard worker. My father was a hard worker. Um, you kids are all hard workers … there’s not one of my kids that’s not a hard worker. Um, yah know that the thing is, is that’s all drawn from certain genes that comes to us from our forefathers and we don’t realize at times but I think that the strong will, the stubbornness, the achieving are prevalent. It is very prevalent on the English side and ah, so I think that’s primarily the thread. Cultures shouldn’t break away from their own and they shouldn’t be assimilated like it’s getting’ to be. But, um, I think the cultures should be preserved.