Interviewed March, 1995
Well, I was born In 1937 In a little town outside of Munich, a beautiful little town. It originated about 900 AD, anno domino, and it was a town famous for its breweries. When I grew up, you walked up Main Street and there were the smells of about twelve breweries in the air. Hops, a very, very heavy smell. Wonderful beer and, as a child, we didn’t think of anything ‑ you didn’t think it was bad to drink beer It’s like kids drink milk or soda here. I remember I had, not an aunt, an older relation, and for a ten o’clock mid‑morning snack she had those big old porcelain bowls which served as mugs and she put beer in there and then took a hard roll and broke it and you ate that with a spoon. As a four, five, six year old, seven year old child.
Anyway, what I remember from my very early years was really very little. I remember in 1945 in May, and in May our town was always cold, we had six months of winter. I remember they bombed our bridge. The Germans exploded the bridge over the River Isar which was a very fast moving river with lots of boulders, and as a result it shattered all the windows in my mother’s house. It was cold, you know; it took the plaster off and then the Americans came through the town in their tanks. This, I remember this so well, the noise, the rumble, this terrifying rumble.
Our house was on a corner; the road came down like this, a sharp corner, they call it the 181 corner because it was like this, so they had to go very slow and the whole house shook. To me this was one of the most terrifying things I ever felt because we were not used to noises like that. I was eight years old. We had to get out of our house because it was a large house and the American troops wanted to occupy it. So we moved next door. There was a smaller home and the people had left. And, I’ll tell you what, from the moment I met some of these people, and I don’t know which forces there were, they were so kind, they were so nice to us. At this time we didn’t have central heating, we had wood stoves. I remember my mother getting up , and this was in Germany, so called progressive Germany, at 6 o’clock in the morning, 5:30 in the morning and with the little pieces of wood, make fire in the now very fashionable wood stoves again. I can do without it. Well, anyway, the people, the soldiers were very nice, and they helped my mother. One of them gave me chewing tobacco. I didn’t know what it was. It was chewing tobacco, and he said for Papa, or whatever, and my father was in the war, he was not back yet. And I tasted it, I thought maybe it was candy‑I didn’t know, I didn’t know! Anyway, I found out very quickly.
I have a brother. He’s two years younger than I am. My mother married very young. She was twenty years old when she married and she had me when she was barely twenty‑one. I think how would I have handled a situation like this with my husband being in a war that was ever escalating. It was deadly, people didn’t come back from it. And yet, you have two little kids, and you have really nothing, because you did have money but money did not buy anything. Money didn’t buy anything. I remember my first communion. We couldn’t buy anything. Everything was bartered. People went out, they brought their Oriental carpets to the farmers in exchange for a side of smoked pork. It was just a totally different environment. We took our little wooden cart and we walked for miles to the farmers to see if we could pick apples from the ground, potatoes. I mean I look at this, at how we grew up and, yet we were civilized. We were middle class people but there was nothing here. And I look at what we have here in this country and see how so many people rely on others. They are not, unfortunately, a group of people who are not self‑ reliant, they look for handouts, they wait to be taken care of and yet, this is a much richer country. You really can do some great things here. You do not lose that perspective.
For holy communion, I got a dress, I got a beautiful white dress and I had a candle and the shoes, but I forgot what my mother had to do in order to get those. I don’t know what she exchanged, where she found items that the shoemaker was interested in or the dressmaker was interested in. They wouldn’t take just everything! They were choosy too.
It was a quiet life. We read a lot of books. We had our Sundays that were strict. It was church at 9:30, it was the High Mass. We came back and then Mother and Father fixed dinner at noon time. We sat down and ate at 1:00. At 2:30 we went for a walk and, I remember as a child, this is what you did. We went for a walk. Cars, at that time, were hardly existing, and I’m talking strictly between ‘45 and ‘50.
I remember in 1948 when the Deutsche Mark, the old German Mark, was voided, and everybody started out with 40 Marks of new money. Forty Marks, which at that time was less than ten dollars. The dollar was four Marks, twenty pfennig. They issued the money. Every child, every person, regardless of age got forty Marks new money. The money in the bank, and people horded lots of money, I mean, shoeboxes full of money, was devalued I think it was one hundred to one that they devalued it. So, people did lose a lot but amazingly so, immediately after that particular day the stores brimmed with merchandise. These people horded. I know that because my aunt, well I call her aunt, she was my Godmother, was also one with shoeboxes full of money. She had boxes of cards. She had a shop with books, with cards, with all kinds of souvenirs ‑she had them there for years. All of a sudden she pulled them out, and there they were, available, good quality photographs, you know, good quality books. It’s very, very odd what people did in order just to preserve. These were their resources. They didn’t want to give them out for unimportant money. They wanted something tangible for them. That was the name of the game.
Another thing that really impressed me was Munich. It was a beautiful town, and was bombed very heavily during the war. I mean really, really, almost to the ground. And the spirit of the people at that time was ‑the German basically is very clean and orderly. That’s one of their great attributes. They’re really very good in this respect. The women, the children, the old men, the old women, they were out there after the war ended with baskets, with bags and they picked up the debris from all these buildings. It was massive. They picked it up with their hands and they put it on carts and then they rolled it out to what they called “Schuttenberg”, which is a huge mountain now of rubble, a rubble mountain. Just like ants. You go out‑you didn’t have frontloaders, you didn’t have fancy equipment, it was all done by hand.
We didn’t get too much bombing. I remember the blackouts, you had to draw the black paper curtains, thick paper curtains, and because we were in a small town, in a resort town, we didn’t get bombed. It seems that the bombings occurred more in the north, Hamburg, Berlin, the big towns, especially over in the west where they had the industrialized areas, strategic spots. Our town was really not important. But you could hear when they bombed Munich. You could hear them. It was frightening. But I think I was too young and I really didn’t see much of it, you know. I didn’t see much of the war.
My mother came from around the Lake Constance area and my father was up from Baden‑Baden. It was about 100 miles north. They came to this town because there was a very solid hotel industry. It was a resort town, with many beautiful hotels and they were both in this environment. And so, this is where they lived.
I went to school, it didn’t interrupt, but like I said, I don’t remember terribly much of it. You didn’t go to pre‑ school like you have here, you didn’t send the children to school at 2 or 3 years. It was more traditional. I remember going to kindergarten. I think that started when I was 5 to 6 years of age, and then you started elementary school. I went to Parochial School, with very, very strict sisters, very strict. I remember the first thing, you go in, you say a prayer., everybody stands up to say your prayers. And then immediately afterwards you had to recite multiplications. I mean it’s still so ingrained, 16, 32, 48, 64, blah, blah, blah … It was a mental exercise they put you through. Knowing how you could be taught, having seen how you could be taught versus how we were taught, it’s light years apart. We were not participants.
Maybe it’s just because I grew up in a small town with strict sisters, we were not really permitted to participate, you know? You were asked a question and you’d better know the question. If not, you were in trouble. Discipline was extremely strict. A freedom of expressing yourself never existed in Germany. Never. I only saw it in books and I found out by reading that it exists in this country. And when I came here, of course, you can speak your word and not have to be terribly concerned about the reactions that you cause, the results of your thinking. And every day I would have to be extremely careful, you really had to be careful. You were just not encouraged to be free. You were so strictly wedged into a society that expected certain things of you.
To give you an idea: to go shopping, there were two major stores in town, two department stores. One was Richter’s, one was Schneller’s. They were both on the same street, maybe two hundred yards apart from each other. You bought something at Richter’s, ok? But, with this shopping bag you did not go into Schneller’s. You went home, you dropped it, and then you went to the other store. This is what I talked about, the so restrictive and peculiar customs. If you start to rebel, if you start to do things differently, you become very quickly noticed. People are a little bit leary of you, you know? You don’t fit into the mold. You are treated with a little apprehension, you know‑ you really don’t belong, you don’t belong. And I think this is what happened to me because I started to rebel. I started to really rebel. When I was ten, and as a girl at that time, you had no opportunities, ok, you were not encouraged, absolutely not encouraged to seek higher professions. This was not for a girl. You get married, you have children, you’re a good hausfrau, and go to church and this is it. And unfortunately, my father belonged to a very old fashioned category of German men, and this is what he expected of me.
He wanted me to marry somebody in town, and stay around him, and live this little life. At ten years, I knew it, I knew that he expected this of me and I said no. I don’t want to. I mean, there’s more out there, I don’t want this! We didn’t speak for over half a year. I didn’t talk to him, and he didn’t talk to me, which was very, it was very difficult ‑ and I loved my father, but I must have been pretty head strong without realizing it. I just felt in me ‑ I must have been rather self‑confident. Even so, I had a terrible time greeting people on the street.
To me now, growing up, having my son grow up here, it just doesn’t make any sense that you, as a child, should be plagued with such an inane behavior. But I think it’s all because of the way we grew up. For example, over there in a little town, everybody knows everybody. You say “Good morning!”, “Good morning!” everybody walks, you go to church, blah blah blah blah. okay, so you constantly say “good morning”. I was self‑conscious, and I had a fear of addressing people. I had a fear. I saw somebody coming I knew I would have to say good morning to, and I knew that it would be most difficult for me. You know, it’s really strange, what I remember about this particular phase of my life. I must have been 6, 7 years old, and I put my, I dug my fingernails in and forced myself and it was so difficult! I forced myself to acknowledge this person and say “Guten Morgen”. I don’t know why it was so difficult. I don’t know why because I communicate readily. I have no problem. I think it had to do with the way we grew up, the way we perceived ourselves, maybe. Because I don’t have the problem here. This was what I perceived as a major hurdle in my life. My brother is very shy. My brother did not greet people. He would look the other way, and it’s such a simple thing. Terribly simple.
Another thing was food over there. Food was very precious. You didn’t have much to eat, especially when I was very little. During the war, we existed on potatoes, boiled potatoes. You got ration cards. You got, I think it was, 10 grams of fat per day, which is not even minimum these days. Ten grams of fat between the three of us, father was not there, so once a week mother got a stick of margarine. That was it. So, I had to stand in line at the butcher. Now, there was meat. There were sausages and all this, but where it went, we didn’t know. We certainly didn’t get it. But we had to stand in line together with 50 other people with a can, a metal can. Then the butcher sold us the water in which they boil the sausages. We got it home and this was your soup stock. Just to have the smell of meat. We didn’t have meat. And one day, I remember it was a big red letter day. My mother was able to get like a quarter pound of liverwurst, and we had this with our potatoes and we had this with our cottage cheese. Milk products, aside from butter, were
readily available, more readily than everything else because it’s cow country. This is in the Alps where the Swiss cheese comes from, in Austria, Switzerland and Germany, it’s right there where you create the cheeses. We were all very healthy, my mother too, but my father passed away in ‘83.
In school they offered English. I was so pro‑America, even from a very young age on. I think it’s partly because I recognized a distinct difference. Maybe it had something to do with the soldiers who came who were gentle and generous to us as kids, you know? And friendly, outgoing! The German is a sour person. They are not communicative, they are arrogant, they are snobs in many ways, they are unwilling to yield, they are unwilling to accept new ideas. They are so rigid in their beliefs. In some ways it is great because this generates a certain quality. You have the measurements, you have to perform. My God, I don’t think there is a relaxed German out there! That’s why they drink so heavily.
In Fasching, which is in February and March, and I might be totally off the wall here, but this is my perception, the German becomes very humorous, very friendly as long as you give them beer or wine, you know, or liquor because then you relax them. Then they become funny, charming. Why do they have all the drinking songs? Why are the spirits such an important part in a German life? Coming from Bavaria where the men go at 9 o’clock in the morning in the Gasthaus, they drink their beers, the big ones, come back at noontime, eat their dinner, lay down, you know, and then probably go again. And once a week they religiously go in there and they play their cards. Saturday nights they went shooting with the small caliber rifles.
To give you an idea, like I said, our house was on the corner. We had a gasthaus across the street, Schletzbaums, and there was a big gasthaus right next to us. And because this is a town, the houses are all built together, they are not individual homes. It was like a main street, one building next to the other. Routinely, every Friday, every Saturday, the men went in the Gasthaus, the women too because they had those Bavarian dances that they practiced, the Schuh Plattler, and all this. I remember going to bed and I’d hear the ‘loom pah pah, oom pah pah”. But then at about 12, 1, 2, 3, 4 AM they let out. I routinely woke up because they used to congregate right on this corner, they were talking loudly. It was a totally acceptable fact that men drank. Absolutely male. It was acceptable, almost expected. If you excluded yourself, I think , as a man, if you decided to not join in, you were viewed as strange, as not a man’s man. You had to go in to drink; drinking and shooting, do all kinds of things. This was a male society.
But women drank beer, women drank schnaps. It was a male thing to go to the gasthaus and play the cards. Now, maybe this existed in England, in Ireland, you know, maybe this existed all over the place. It just was very dominant in our town because of the breweries probably. And the women stayed home. The women could go to church, there always was an evening Mass on Saturday night, you know, after you have the house cleaned and the kids in bed, you can always go to church. You can always sit home and darn, and I see this and I think is this all there is. It can’t be, it can’t be! Then you look out the window on Sunday and you see the same couples walking by. It was so rigid! I said I’ll die. I’ll die if I stay here. It was a beautiful town. Beautiful mountains, nice people, beautiful homes, you know, but totally, totally stifling.
I took English in my school. My first English lesson, I must have been 8 years old, maybe 10. We didn’t have books. We didn’t have school books. It’s very difficult to understand what we went through because of the war. We were very poor, the whole country. But somehow, my teacher, and she was not a nun. It was a parochial school but she was not a nun, she was a regular person, a regular teacher, she brought in a can of Maxwell House, the one pound or two pound can. I remember it so well, the blue can. This was our study material. We translated the thing. Then eventually, we did get books, printed on recycled paper, sometimes you could even feel the wood chips in it, it was so coarse. But anyway, I learned. I was good in school. I knew my aim was not to be darning on Saturday nights, that there is so much out there. I read a lot, I read everything I could get my hands on. At that time, in the stores, because my aunt was in this business, each week they had those little books, 50, 60, 80 pages. Billy Jenkins, Wild West Hero. You know, junk. I remember the first time I read Hemingway, and Hemingway talked about Absynth and I said gee, I’d like to try this. This was my learning material.
Later on I started to work, and I worked two jobs. I worked for the American Express, who had an office, a banking office and a travel office in our town. Outside of town there were these huge barracks for the SS soldiers. We didn’t know what was going on there during the war.
Anyway, after the war they left and the Americans moved in and it was full of American troops including American Express offices. So I started to work for them. This is where they had all the wines and the liquors. Systematically I started to find out what these things taste like. The different foods too because we were so restricted in our routine things. I worked there through the day. Then one time I was on the phone, I answered a call and it was this voice with a very heavy South American accent. He said, “Senorita, I am looking for a secretary to help me translate German, English, Spanish”. He identified himself, he was a diplomat from the Peruvian Consolate, but he lived in our town, on the outskirts. And I said, I know, I have somebody for you, it’s me. I learned [Spanish] on the side. For six years I worked at the bank and for six years at 5 o’clock he came and picked me up. He had four cars. He had a little Volkswagon Beetle, he had a Carmen Ghia, he had an old Cadillac, you know a black old Cadillac with all this chrome on it, and he had a Jaguar. He was a little roly poly man, very shiny skin, black eyes, black
hair. Very civilized, very well bred. He was married to one of the Princesses from the Wittelsbach house, which is a direct line from Prince Ludwig who made all the castles in the Eighteenth Century, the friend of Wagner, a very, very controversial figure in German history because he loved beautiful things. He was a little crazy. From the German viewpoint he was totally crazy. But he created beautiful things. Five huge castles and they are open to the world and people know Bavaria through this. If he had been just a plain king, they probably wouldn’t remember him! So he was a little extravagant. One of his great nieces was married to Consul Juan Bradstock Edward Loaza. He only bought merchandise from England. He only bought from Harrod’s. He had his shoes ordered. I learned a totally different dimension again. They served me dinner there, the cook came and she served me dinner. Consul would usually come at five PM, it was a half hour drive, and then he took me home about 10:30 at night. I must have been crazy to work so much.
Then I met my husband. He was stationed there. We met on a mountain in winter. We took the sleds up there in the snow. We were a group of people walking up. I had seen his picture before because he was scuba diving and I just saw this little inset in that black neoprene hood. My girlfiend fell in love with one of the divers on the scuba team and she had this picture she showed me. Ooh! Isn’t he handsome? Phil was a very handsome man! Ooh! Is he handsome! I didn’t realize he was married at that time. As it happened, my husband is a little crazy. I think I always liked this about him because he is sometimes unpredictable, which creates a lot of excitement. Sometimes not pleasant excitement but at least there is life, there is movement, it is not static, it is not boring. I didn’t want predictability. I didn’t care for it at all.
Anyway, we met, we fell in love, deeply, you know. His wife was over there and their two children. They went home, and he went home. He didn’t stay there very long. But we wrote and I decided I would come here. I’m looking back and it’s like with the women with the plain wagons when they went out to California, they made the big trek over there. Well, I think I shipped like 38 boxes and little crates and whatnot, shipped it over here. All with such trust that the man I knew would be there. You know I must have been very naive or very sure in my knowledge that he was a good man and would not deceive me. I came to NY airport at that time it was Idlewild. There was nobody who said he would have to be there. But he was there. He had bought a house and we got married half a year later.
[This did not go well with my father]. Not well at all. I lived with my parents basically all my life because again, in this town, in Germany at that time, you were not encouraged to leave home. You stayed home until you either married or went to a cloister. This is one thing that was offered to me too, you know? I would get a free “stipendium”, what do you call it? A free scholarship. I would get a scholarship but with the requirement that I go to this particular school which, later on I found out was like a preparatory school for nuns. Black stockings, etc. Then I
got the pamphlets, the brochures, and what is required? Black wool stockings. Can you imagine what a black wool stocking feels like? You bring them up to here, there was the garter, the scratchy stuff. Not even nice merino wool. Hand knit, hard, with pieces of wood in there! I mean black, black, black. I said “No!”. My parents said “Why not? This is wonderful for you!”. And I said “No. I will not”. So I must have been pretty determined.
I was very pro‑Catholic. There was nothing else in our lives. You were not acquainted with other religions. You knew there were Hebrews, there were Jewish people, but again because of the philosophy at that time, you know, you looked down your nose at them. They were supposedly not good people. Unfortunately you were taught to be a totally detached, unloving and unkind person. Strictly Pro‑Catholicism. Nothing else counted. We had one small Protestant church in town because there was an influx of Northern people which were Lutherans and Protestants. But they were shunned. Really small town, ignorant people.
Anyway, so I came over here. We had a nice little house, nice and little. What really overwhelmed me was this genuine generosity of the American people. They were helpful, they were kind, they were friendly, they helped you along, they called you. They were personal. You see, as a German, you can be friends for forty years, close friends. But you can still address this other person, your friend, as “Frau so‑and‑so”, which doesn’t make sense to me, because if you share your innermost thoughts, you are a close friend. You should not detach yourself. This is what the Germans do, they detach themselves. They don’t want to be attached, they don’t want to belong to somebody else. They don’t share. They really don’t share. You should share. You can share with little. And if nothing else, then little friendly gestures, but they were really not there. I cannot recall too much of that.
So, when I came here, they gave me showers when I got married because at that time I worked for the Asbury Park Press, the newspaper. My girlfriend visited with us at that time. She was in Santa Barbara. She went out there and she came to us to see me and we spent a couple of days in New York, then she went back to Germany. She was with me at the job interview. Now, I didn’t, I knew a lot about the states, only what you can get from books. I didn’t really know how life is here, I didn’t know that. So you try to do as you did before, you try to be the same person, but you always have to keep your eyes and ears open to absorb, you know, to gather what is required of you. Because you cannot come to this country and you cannot (not that I would) you cannot dress in the lederhosen. This is a caricature. But there are people out there that will do this and they are not able to change, to move their life a little bit around, to bend. I had friends who lived here for 5, 6 years who had positions here, they decided no, I cannot live here, I don’t like it, I don’t like it and they went back to Germany. They are very happy over there.
I felt bad because I left my parents ‑ I have a brother but I’m the only daughter, and it was very painful. My poor mother. At that time we had airplanes, you could fly. You could take boats, it was not like you are gone forever, but in their mind, I was gone forever. It was very painful to see that. I didn’t call them because they didn’t have phones. This was a novel thing where you had to put in your request, like it is with the former East Germany. You had to wait like 60 months or whatever for a phone to be put in. It was a horrendous situation. So we exchanged tape recordings, we exchanged that. And eventually, they got used to the idea that I’m over here, and that I’m fine. I sent them pictures, that no harm has come to me, that they didn’t lose me, I’m doing well.
So anyway, I worked for the Asbury Park Press. And it was a bit difficult because I worked in the advertising department and it was fast paced. I had to learn so much, so quickly because you couldn’t dilly dally. You worked with deadlines, constant deadlines. You had to be so fast, and I think this is really what got me into this fast moving mode, you know, these deadlines. I remember, I came home, and I had to take the bus because we only had one car and my husband took the car to work. So, I took the bus from Asbury to Eatontown, which is about 10 miles. And I came home and sometimes my husband had made supper, which he still does. He’s a good cook. I really was under a lot of pressure. A lot of pressure at that time, and really nobody to share it with. Pressure of adjusting. Even so, I was really open and ready to adjust, I didn’t have any restrictions ‑ no holds barred, I was ready to embrace everything that came along. Still, all these different things, just where to go shopping, the different types of food, different sizes, different clothing. What I brought from over there for six months of winter was not the suitable thing for New Jersey! So, anyway, I adjusted.
We were in our old house for less than two years, and we had developed a nice circle of friends and one of them was a realtor. He said “Oh ‑ I have just the house for you!”. All right. So, he showed us the house and it was a big house. It had sixteen rooms, it was on the ocean. It was one of those old colonials in Seabright at a fantastic price. So, now talk about adjustment. Phil said “Ah!”. With all the furnishings in it. Phil committed himself. He wrote him a check for the down payment. I came home, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t sleep for weeks. I’d wake up in the middle of the night and I’d have this lump in my stomach. Again, the German upbringing, once you decide on a house, you stay there forever. You don’t pick up and leave. You remain stationary. You are planted there. You make the best out of it. You put roots down and you grow. Never mind all this hopping around. Well, my husband liked to hop around.
I was nervous! I was nervous. I didn’t know where we would get the money from to support both houses. I said “Phil, how do you know that this is going to sell?” “Don’t worry about it”, he said, “it will sell.” I said “But, how do you know?” I basically had the negative thoughts that I’d brought with me from over there. Not optimistic. But the house sold, no problem. We moved in, big house on the ocean. It never had heat in it. It was a summer house. So Phil had them install the heat before we moved in, except they were not finished and I remember we moved in on the first of March and it was ice cold! You talk about a cold house! And then the windows, it really didn’t have storm windows. it was open, wide open. How we were surviving this … we really did.
Then I became pregnant in ‘65 and Ray was born in ‘66 and Ray is our only son. The two boys from his first marriage ‑ they were fine. They lived with us, each one, for about two years each. Which, in a sense was good too. One left and the other one came, which again, presented challenges for me. And I was young. I was not a worldly girl. I had seen things, but I was still very naive and very vulnerable. And there was always this threat, this very, very potent other woman, the first wife. They communicated, how are you and the children, blah, blah, blah. Very difficult. I experienced this pain In Germany too. There were occassions when we couldn’t get together because he had to do things with the kids. It was my insecurity, my fear of losing him, anger, pain, pain. I had dated before. I was a good looking girl and I had a lot of fellows who wanted to go out with me and I enjoyed my years, but never so that I wanted to marry this person. The other relationships just petered out because I got bored with them. I really did, I mean it was all very predictable.
I have a dear friend, Mary Mitchell, she was a reporter for the Washington Post. Very, very intelligent woman, and we carpooled together to the Asbury Park Press. She was a feature writer. She had this little red Triumph with the open roof. We had a good time together. Then she moved to Washington and she married. She invited us to her wedding in New York. We got the invitation, we accepted, it was on this particular Saturday. I do things very fast and sometimes I can become a little careless because I do so many things quickly. So, what happened, I misread the time of the wedding and instead of 14:00, I misread 4:00. This was another thing because in Germany you don’t say 14:00 hours, you say 2 o’clock. So, here we are still at home, we are not even dressed and it is like 1 o’clock in the afternoon, and I said “By the time we get anywhere we are not going to make it. What are we going to do?”
Now, I would go now, even if I’m two hours late, I still would go, but at that time I said, we can’t we are not even going to be at church. We just can’t go. So we decided we were going up to our farm instead. We packed up everything. Phil has a farm in upstate New York, about 75 acres. Not really a farm, a house up there and his family would spend some time there in the summers. So, we drove up there. I was so exhausted. This is where Ray was, became pregnant there.
So, a month later we were in Germany, and I said to my mother “I’m so cold, I’m always ice cold, I’m freezing!”
She looks at me and she says “Are you pregnant?”
I said “No! I don’t get pregnant”. I really thought I couldn’t get pregnant. I hadn’t. And we didn’t use any precautions. I really thought, it’s me. I mean it can’t be Phil because he has two sons already, so I never gave it a thought. And I found out when we got back that I was pregnant. And then Phil found out a couple days later that he’s supposed to go to Viet Nam. And it was also the first year, the first winter in our big house. We moved in March of ‘65 in this big house, and in December of ‘65 he found out that he has to go in January to Viet Nam.
At that time I was four months pregnant. And, oh, it was hard on him. It was very hard on me because the wind still was roaring through the house! But then my mother came over. I had Ray and I stopped working. She stayed for five months, which was very nice, but again, I had to show her what to do because she was not familiar with everything.
So she took care of the baby and I ran the house. We had brass beds there. I remember living with the stripping agent, with the smell of the paint stripper. I just wanted to do so many things. The house was a lovely house but totally neglected. There was mahogany molding, the beautiful wide mahogany molding like this, painted over with green paint. I tried to strip it and sand it. I did too much. Anyway, I made it through this. I had borders, because our house was a summer house and people used to come and rent and they had studios in there. I had this old captain who had come there for thirty years, and another German couple. Then I decided I’d go back to work. I hired a German couple to take care of Ray, an old German couple. They spent the summer there until October and then they said “We are going to Florida”. And it was very difficult for me.
You know yourself when you have children, you have to find the right person. The uppermost thought in your mind is to find reliable people to hand your child over. I remember I applied for a job and he looked at me and he said “Mrs. Kelley, why don’t you stay home and raise your child?” and I listened to him and I thought, why don’t I? But I must have been driven, I really must have been driven. I still work. I haven’t stopped.
The only time I didn’t work was during the two months when Ray was born and two weeks before. I worked at the Asbury Park Press in advertising, and then public relations, I got to know some people. They were New York based, Ruthrauff and Ryan, they had a good name in New York and he opened an office in Little Silver. I worked with him for a few years. One of their major accounts was Steinbach’s, at that time a very good department store in New Jersey. I handled some special events promotions for them and they went very well. They wanted to have me full time.
So, I said “I really can’t , I have a child”. But I did work for them and also Ruthrauff, I didn’t give this up and I ended up working again two jobs. Not full time, though, but I worked the two of them plus I had this house. Then, the social obligations were there, too. I had friends, they were members of various clubs, and I was able to coordinate my life. I think basically because I am very organized and I can do things very quickly. I don’t dillydally, I do things quickly. I benefitted from that [German upbringing]. The organizational skills were really pounded into you. I don’t want to bash on all the values that I grew up with in Germany. There were some very, very good values. They are still in me. I think a lot of what I am I got from growing up there. I just discarded some of the things that I did not care for. The restrictions, I discarded those.
I became assistant to the executive VP for Steinbach’s. At that time Ray was starting to go to school and I told him “I want to work full time”. They offered me a position as Auditor, an Audit Supervisor, and Store Manager, all for short periods of time. Every area was new so I think I like challenges. Inside I feel I still want to prove to myself that I can do all this. This is really the driving force, maybe, just to prove to myself I can do anything. Well, not anything, but I can do a lot of things, as far as my approach is concerned, It all boils down to the way you are regardless of what field you are in, it is your personl attributes and the way how you do things that make you successful. If it is family life, friendship, if it is club work, if it is relationships with other people, you have to nurture it. I think that is what I do. I nurture a lot of things, like my garden. I’m a 100% garden person. It really restores you when you’re out there and you work at it. I empty my whole mind and I just see the task ahead of me. Then I see a lot of work but it transforms into something very lovely. This approach I like. I like to take things that are not so great or not the way I like or the way they should be, and I like to put my own stamp on it and try to create something that I think it should be. it even works with recipes. I’m not a person to follow a recipe. I look at it and then I put my own thing together. I’m very creative this way. And most of the time it works out very well.
In ‘85 I decided to go right into Store Management. It was not my cup of tea. I think it was too boring. We looked at the same merchandise day after day. Seasons change four times a year, but it still was boring. It was tough. You were asked to put in tremendous hours, I had a lot of responsibility to the people who were working for me. We were always faced with budget considerations. Then I was offered a position for the company I am now with as a trainer for a new computerized pharmacy system. Now, I didn’t have computer, I knew nothing about it. I knew nothing about it! And I went in there and I applied and I guess they liked my style. I was offered the position and here I am!
I sit in front of a terminal, I have my keyboard. There was another trainer there and I said “What do I do now?”. We had to write a manual. We had to have this program in 180 stores, written, installed, and operational within six months. This is where I’m good. My time management is there. My cohort, Bob Schwartz, spoke wonderfully eloquent. He was a stand up trainer and could talk to the people and could explain It and used excellent language. I was the driver. I said “Bob, let’s sit down. We’ve got to do a lay out, we’ve got to make that booklet, we’ve got to write the manual”. And, you know what? I said “Let’s do it as if I am going to learn it.” I knew nothing about pharmacies. The people in the pharmacies in those 180 stores know nothing about this program either. They’re going to be faced with different screens, different menus. So, I interpreted my own requirements. All right, let’s start out, let’s explain what this thing is. How do you log on? What do you do? What is the purpose of all this? Wrote the manual. Really, that was very exciting because you had a deadline. You had to perform. I couldn’t lolly‑gag ‑ this was not it.
We had load up all the generic names and the pharmaceutical names into the system. You could log on and you could pull out the people’s names and any drug interactions that would be caused by their taking different medications. It really was great. We accomplished it, we got it going. We set up three different training areas and then they carried it on from there. After the six months were over, I was offered a position as Manager of Computer Operations, in their huge General Merchandise Distribution Center. I accepted. I got home and said “I must be crazy! Why am I doing this? Why can’t I just take a nice, easy predictable job?” I wanted it and yet I say “Why?”. Because it puts me under pressure. Then I say, how much can I afford to give here without neglecting, without shrinking down my other life? I have a son, I have a husband, I have friends, family. I have responsibilities here. How much can I give? Can I make my job that big? These are very major considerations. They are to me.
My new work place was run down when I started. That’s why I say, you can apply your philosophy to any kind of business that you take over. The criteria of how you want to see certain things or how you envision it should operate is always there. It doesn’t change. It doesn’t change with each individual category. Just the nature of that business is different. Oh, I worked so hard! I set up controls, I cleaned out and this was another time driven business. You had 300 workers who needed their computerized labels and reports each morning at 4:00 AM without fail. I had 16 people in data entry and they had to key in all the documents to generate a stream of computerized information that went into a huge system which, at the end of the day, printed out many lists, bills of labels, and these labels were then taken by the warehouse workers and were put on a rolling band. Then the scanner, the overhead scanner, picked up the information on those labels and picked the merchandise. So, it was terribly time driven.
One Christmas Day, I was called at 11:00 at night. Terrible snowstorm, the transformer on the roof blew, and I knew I had to be out there. Things like this are major milestones because I didn’t like to leave home at 11:00 at night, on Christmas night, drive out there not knowing how I’ll make or when I’ll make it, and then be faced with what? But I had to be there and make sure things get done. And I do push, I do drive. Gently‑I’m not obnoxious. I don’t ever want to be. But I drive. I set up this continuous push ‑ you have to do.
I worked two and a half years there, then they offered me a promotion to the main office which serves the entire company with all their systems. There were two managers and three assistant managers. I took a position as an assistant manager. I had never taken a course in computers, I really didn’t know much. And here I’m faced with telecommunications network, I am faced with all different kinds of subsystems, the laser printers, the impact printers, microfiche. To give you an idea how many pallets of paper we used each week. For print out, we had 20 pallets of paper, 45 cartons on it, so you’re talking about 900 cases, each with 5000 pages in it. So, you’re talking 4,500,000 pages that were printed and had to be distributed with absolute speed and accuracy.
[I balance the parts of my life] with speed and delicately. Sometimes, things go a little bit by the wayside. As far as relationships are concerned, I probably don’t give my husband enough time. We sit together now when I come home‑ I’m so dead tired! I leave at 10 minutes to seven in the morning and I come home at 9:00 at night. I give everything I have in the job that I am in because that was another promotion from the Computer Operations. I’m Manager of Office Support now, which is totally different. Again, time is extremely sensitive there. But it is difficult.
It’s my own perception. I think it’s the drive I have in me to show myself that I can do it. This might go back to when I was very little, when my father said to me “Who do you think you are? What do you think you are?” and I told him “I don’t want to stay in this town.” At ten or twelve years old. “I don’t want to marry a guy in this town. I don’t want to go and become a sales clerk.” Because there were only three opportunites that I had when I grew up. That is to go into the cloister, to become a nun, which was a very favored step for many. Can you imagine me a nun? That would put the fear of God in them! Or, you go and become a clerk in one of the many, many retail stores. If you really aim high, you will become a chief secretary to an important man. So, when I didn’t want to go into this environment, I didn’t want to go to school to become a nun, my father said “Who do you think you are?” I said “There’s nothing wrong with it. Why shouldn’t I aim for something else?” It was not instilled by my parents, this drive. My parents would have been very happy to have me there in a nice gentle environment, no upheaval. Don’t create a ruckus, just live nice and easy, “Good morning”, “Good morning”. Raise your kids, don’t create a ruckus.
Ray, our son, is very independent. He is very determined, too. There is a determination in him that I see and he is very bright, he’s very intelligent. He’s a little lazy and he gets this from my dear husband. If he can do it the easy way, do it the easy way. And I frown on this because that was not given to me, you know? I’ll do everything the hard way. Phil finds ways to do it the easy way or close his eyes, but then he drives himself to overachiever Americans are not as driven, I think. I don’t want to generalize, but I think that Americans have a less stressful attitude to many things in life. This is what attracts me. They take it com ce, com ca. It’s not going to kill you, which also indicates that you have a very assured attitude, you are a very assured person, you can fall back on your feet. There is no crisis if things don’t go right. you’re flexible, you’re imaginative, you create an alternative. In Germany, this is not there. They are so rigid that a change throws them in a total upheaval. Absolutely upheaval. They cannot cope with it. At least my generation cannot cope with it. Now, the new generation because they adore, even so they don’t say it, but they adore everything American, they take it in, they copy American styles, American behavior. They overcopy it, they become too intent in their endeavor to be just so that it becomes stressful.
I feel I’ve come a long way. The title of my life story would have to have something to do with achievement. To achieve what I feel I can do. Just because I’m doing now doesn’t mean I’m going to stop. There is so much more out there. I have never thought about it in my whole life. I just do what I feel I should do. That’s all it is. I think I have good instincts. Without really realizing it, I think I’m comfortable with myself. I’m peaceful most of the time, peaceful inside, which also means when I feel I’m driven, It’s what I want. I don’t know yet. Maybe circumstances drive me and I just react to it. It’s a possibility.
I think I could have done more. I really look back, oh sure. The one thing I did here, I underestimated myself and my capabilities when I came to this country. I was raised very modestly and in my approach, my thinking, like my father said, “You’re nothing, really”, instead of saying “You’re wonderful!”. So, I’ve had to battle with this all my life. If I would have come here knowing a little bit more about myself and about the culture here, I should have jumped right into higher education, I should have gained more knowledge and then used this as a jump off, as a platform to go a little bit higher. All my life, what I did, I worked my way up, up, up. But it was a gradual, sometimes I jumped a little bit, but it was gradual. And it was predictable, but this is based on how I performed, not necessarily what I know. There are things out there I’d much rather do. I’d much rather be involved in art, in some artistic endeavor. I just didn’t fall into this stream. I fell into the business stream. But I would love to go into art. I only found out by association with the garden club, that they consider me basically an artistic person. I didn’t know that before, it was never pointed out to me. I never had an opportunity to do anything creative, to show. But I think I might do something in this line. Not necessarily painting, you know, but other areas. I love to read, I read a book like this, right through. And I look at different media, everything. It gave me this thought to enrich my life by learning. I think what drives you really is this learning aspect. Maybe I never learned enough. I taught myself a lot, but not enough. It’s all in your approach. Everything else you can learn the mechanics of it, but it’s how you do it, I think what is really the key. In anything.