Richard T. Edmundson
D.O.B.: January 2, 1911
My earliest memory is walking down to a Saint Vincent de Paul home operated by the local Catholic Parish, manned by nuns. That was at the age of four. I remember walking to the home. The reason this home was established by the Saint Vincent de Paul society was to take care of homeless children. It’s still in existence in other cities. There were about 15 boys and 15 girls on the average. I was probably the youngest and at 14, well, at fourteen they had to move. So, at age 7, while still at the home, I remember them letting us go out to the fence and watching the victory parades in 1918 of World War I. I remember all the World War I songs of the time, which were far more pleasing than those of World War II, although World War II had nice ones, mainly from the big band era. I’m trying to think of them. Someone who organized the band members from all over, over in Europe. He eventually died in an airplane crash. At age 13 I graduated from the Parish Catholic school which was also manned by nuns and then I was sent to a brand new high school manned by French brothers. French was entirely spoken at all prayers and everything except English classes; even on the playing field during recreation periods it was all French. The thing about that was that I had never been exposed to another language because I had been confined to St. Charles Parish and the home, so it was quite an experience to get two and a half years of high school with all the French. That isn’t true today. So, at age 16, my 16th birthday, January, 1927, I was halfway through my 3rd year of high school, I was arbitrarily found a job at the local rubber mill and just told to go to work, leave school. So that was how I left school in 1927. So that’s when I got a job at 30 cents an hour working nights in the rubber shop. We called it the rubber shop. And there were only 2 of us working nights there during that period. Well, after two years, in 1929, that’s when we had the great stock market crash, followed by the great depression. And on the advice of others I took a civil service exam for letter‑carrier in the local post office. And I came out first in that exam, fortunately, but when I got in, because of the depression, there was not much work. I’d average 10 dollars for 2 weeks. In those days you got paid the first and the fifteenth of the month. Actually, I used to be excused from the home to go home summers, where my mother supported my grandfather who was practically dying of cancer for years, and she was alone with him. It had 2 bedrooms, a kitchen and a closet with just a toilet, if you will, and a couch in the kitchen. So, I mean, that was real poverty. She had worked since she was thirteen years old and at that time she was pretty well worn out. That was one reason I was forced to go to work at sixteen. They needed help. Other people made the decision. But I realize now that that was the only possible thing to do because she was receiving charity from the St. Vincent de Paul society and so forth.
So, during the depression, I remember the crash in 1929. Wealthy stockbrokers jumping out of windows, billionnaires broke, businesses bankrupt, unemployment nationwide. I entered the postal service in 1930. I was appointed at age 19, June lst, 1930. I remember Franklin Roosevelt was president from 1932 on. He established the WPA (Works Progress Administration) which allowed men, unemployed men, to work on public projects. I can remember seeing men around a fire in a barrel. Some of them had been supervisors when I worked and were out there working for minimum wage, but it was a thing that helped them survive. That was the WPA. The young men were encouraged to join the CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corps. It was like a paramilitary thing. They had uniforms. They lived in camps in the woods and their objective was to clean up the forest, plant trees, do everything for conservation. There were thousands. This was while I was in the Post Office. Well, in 1930, or about that, because of the depression, civil service workers, postal workers, were required to take a 30‑day furlow without pay and a 15% pay cut, which, people today, when they write about how lucky civil service employees were, don’t realize what they went through during the depression. They don’t get credit for that in the magazines and newspapers, who are only interested in their benefits.
So, going on, poverty was unbelievable. This is from personal experience. Landlords were unable to collect rent for years. Neighborhood grocers carried people like my family for years because they had no income. Well that’s the bad part. A big point of Roosevelt’s administration during those years was the repeal of prohibition which had been in effect for years and had developed the gangsters and rumrunners, people like Al Capone … these people profitted greatly during prohibition by importing booze. So he repealed that law.
Another thing that was instituted during Roosevelt’s first term was … they financed night school for people who wanted to earn a high school equivalency diploma. That was free, so I went years to night school and eventually obtained a high school equivalency diploma. One of the
first since that was instituted. I followed that up during WWII by going to night school at Providence College and, foolishly, I pursued what I always liked and was good at instead of a commercial course. I followed all the advanced math courses at Providence College, nights … algebra, calculus, etc. Well, eventually, when I became assistant postmaster, I would have had an advantage if I had followed an accounting course. I had to learn the accounting rudiments on my own.
(At this time Nana reminds him that he didn’t mention he met a lovely girl and got married, ha, ha). You see, as a sub, you got an hourly rate of 65 cents an hour and you only got paid for the hours that you worked, but you still had to pay maybe 2% for retirement. A regular carrier got 40 dollars a week, 2100 dollars a year, vacation and sick leave … minor compared to today. So, in 1930, Congress passed the 40‑hour law, which enabled people like me that subbed. I had subbed for 5 years (1930‑35), and, as a result, extra jobs were created among the carriers. (That gave every regular carrier a day off a week). That required utility regular carriers to fill In. So in 1935 I got to be a regular carrier and that was my license to get married (he laughs) to the most popular girl n high school. I was courting her, and that’s where the marriage came in.
So, in 1939, my first daughter was born. It happened during the Christmas rush, when I those days, you were swamped with mail. Oh, incidental to that marriage in 1935, 1 borrowed 100 dollars from her grandmother and we went an a honeymoon to New York for, oh, maybe a few days, I forget. We were two lost souls in New York but we had a good time. So I eventually repaid her grandmother the 100 dollars. In 1939 Joyce was born. We went four years without
children … went four years, I think, without a car. When we first married we rented an apartment on Carrington Avenue, that’s up above the Hamlet, almost down to Manville Road. So, after a year there the fellow went up on the rent and I looked around, again in the middle of the depression. I went to a real estate man, or I saw an ad. He had a house for sale on Paradis Avenue which I didn’t realize at the time had been taken over by the bank during the depression. So we bought the house through him. We gave him a second mortgage and the real estate agent managed the first mortgage through another government agency, PHA. We had that house from 1936 to 1952. Then we moved to a new home in Union Village on Hillview Ave. in 1952. We stayed there until 1980. While we were there Mike was born. Back to Paradis Avenue, Franny was born my second daughter, in 1941, about 18‑months after Joyce.
Getting back to the post office, in about 1948, I transferred to a clerical position inside the post office. During the period when I was a letter‑carrier, I wanted to get out of the post office so I took a 3‑year correspondence course in refrigeration and air‑conditioning with the object of getting out and going into business for myself. At the end of that course I got a certificate and a paid ticket to Chicago and a hotel room for a week’s shop training. That was the end of the course. The week before I intended to go to Chicago I was offered a temporary supervisory job at the post office. So I passed up the s op training and took the supervisory job which led to several promotions, ie., superintendent, the third ranked position in the Post Office; it had to do with all the physical parts: carriers, trucks, everything … schedules. That was around 1954, say when Mike was born.
I’m trying to remember when the Assistant Postmaster from our office went to the regional office and I became Assistant Postmaster. I figured I did that for 10 years so subtract from 1973 when I retired. I worked 43 years and at age 62 I retired in 1973 as the Asst. Postmaster. I was 19 when I went in. I could have worked until I was 70. (Nana then reminds him that to celebrate they took their first plane ride to Las Vegas and had a good time with another couple). The fellow that took my Superintendent of mails job, John Lawless, we still go out with him every week … well, he retired the same time I did. So, the two couples, went on a tour to Las Vegas. I had been
before‑one year there was a Superbowl football game in Los Angeles and there was a packaged deal. Leo, the former Asst. Postmaster and a few other guys and I was asked to go, so five of us went to the Superbowl in Los Angeles and after that we came back to Las Vegas for a week, all expenses paid, included in the tour. Never paid a cent for a drink the whole week…they all went on the hotel bill. The next time they had that tour they cut that out. Huh, five men! That’s where I learned to play Black Jack. When I came back, I had to take some water pills. You’re not taping that are ya? (Laughing) What else do ya want to know?
I remember, you don’t, I remember the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in, what, 1941? I was in the Post Office and, of course, a year before we ever got into World War II, all United States men were given a draft card. Then, when we finally got into the war…the war began in 1939 when Germany invaded Poland … I think about 1941 we were sucked into it by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. That was quite a shock. So, then we were in the war and during the war the rationing of gas, food, cigarettes was quite hard. I can remember my mother and other people standing in line at the butter store for an hour or more waiting to get a pound of butter or eggs or coffee. That’s how bad rationing really was. People in the shipyards were making big money. Civil service employees got nothing‑in fact, I think we went about 25 years without a pay raise … twenty‑one hundred, right through to 1945. Those were the bad years, during the war.
When we first moved to Hillview Ave. in ‘52, Joyce and Franny were going to high school down where they had been since pre‑school years, kindergarten up. They both went all through St. Clair high school. That was another French school operated by Precious Blood parish. They graduated from there. In those days North Smithfield didn’t have any High Schools of their own so the town paid for transportation and tuition to high schools around the state which all high school students went to. so Joyce and Franny used to travel by bus. It was all reimbursed by the town. That was before they built … the first school they built was Halliwell, I guess, and eventually the Junior‑Senior High School, in North Smithfield. Mike went all the way through North Smithfield schools. The two girls went through St. Clair. He graduated from high school in 1972.
Your mother, Joyce, was a year or two ahead of Franny. Must have been two years. She made a lot of friends. We went to Sacred Heart Parish‑they were brought up through Sacred Heart, outside of school, and she made friends with the girls up in the village. And, I guess like any high school girls they went around dancing here and there, but nothing spectacular, normal high school living. Nana did a lot of sewing and the two girls, when they were younger, we sent them to dancing school, Hilda’s, and they became a sister act. I can’t remember anything spectacular. She couldn’t ride a bicycle‑she wasn’t athletically inclined.
(I started asking questions a out what it was like after the children left home).
Well, the thing is, it gave us a certain amount of what ya want to call freedom but we still had Mike. Joyce was married. Mike was 12 years behind Franny. I used to like to fish so we would go up to Sebago Lake and also vacation for a week on Moosehead Lake. We’d always take Mike and do a lot of fishing and stuff like that, during the warm weather. After my retirement, after the girls were gone, we went down to Florida for 7 or 8 years or so and met people we had worked with like John Lawless and Leo Bradley, we were all friends and we used to meet in Florida and go out to dinner and we had that for maybe 7 years or more. Sometimes we went for a month. So,, then we were old. (Ha, ha.)
So, after we retired, we saved up enough money, maybe $3000 to take a trip to Hawaii, Mom and I. I retired in ‘73 so it would be about ‘75. Had a wonderful time and on the way back we stopped at Las Vegas, played a little more Black Jack. We saw the shows, we saw some top notch shows which we always liked to go to. We’ve done that several times. (I asked if they ever went back to Hawaii again). Oh no, I never saved $3000 again. I always said if we got the chance I would have loved to go back to Hawaii, beautiful state. The way the trip was arranged we stopped at San Francisco for 3 days. Then we went from San Francisco to Hawaii and it was 15 days for the trip.
(I asked more questions about what was going on in the later years after the kids were al married off). I can’t remember, ha, ha, ha. I’m not gon a tell you everything. (Nana added that every year they wont to Moosehead Lake fishing for 2 weeks). In later years, after Mike was married, we made a deal with this lady up at Sebago Lake and we rented a cabin for 3 months and I had a 16‑foot boat at the marina and went fishing practically every day. That’s when Sandra came to visit us on her honeymoon‑she didn’t know where we were staying and she rode around and around and saw our car and that’s how she found us. She also stopped in some store and said, “Do you know my grandfather?” Who the hell would k ow us up at Sebago Lake! Ha, ha. That was 7 years ago.
Before that Joyce and Fran stayed with us for a week. Then Franny and Mike Curran used to come up with Janice and Jeff for a week, They did that for a couple of years. And we had other people visit us‑sort of vacation stuff. Oh, Emery and Irene from Hartford used to come for a week. I used to take Emery up for a week in the spring for spring fishing during those years. A lot of it was spent at Sebago Lake during the summers, winters Florida. Finally sold the boat and so forth. I don’t remember when, say 1987‑88. I used to go up one week in the spring with Emery after I sold the boat. We went to where your father goes on the salmon river … Pulaski, New York. So, Emery and Mike and I went up there fishing. Emery thinks Mike would just drive around in the car; he wasn’t a fisherman. But we had a nice time … stayed in a camp on the river. I used to love to go down those rapids, bumpity bump on he rocks, fishing. Your father never liked boats. It was a four hour trip‑we’d start way up in the headwaters and o down and the guy had 2 big oars and it was a metal, flat‑bottom boat, boy are they rugged and held hold us back or anchor but usually work with the oars to get into a pool. He had 5 rods for the two of us and we caught some trout.
(Nana said “We could write a book just on Victory Highway). Let me start writin’. H , ha. About the ‑‑‑‑‑ I chased with a golf club. Oh, don’t tape that! Is that still going? Oh Christmas. So we moved up to the beautiful apartment on Victory Highway, I think you’ve been there.
For a year or 2 it was nice, mostly elderly people, but then they started letting in undesirable people, to say the least. Downstairs I had a woman with a black guy and a little girl and one time there was a family downstairs, she had two girls, sort of teenagers and they were buggers and they had boys over raising cane. I had to call the cops more than once … when the cops came in the back door, the kids went out the front and I was waiting there with the golf club.
So, after that we moved. We stayed there a total of 6 years. But it was progressively worse. The thing is it was a beautiful apartment. So then we moved to Avenue B, second floor. They were uneventful year to tell you the truth. Climbing the stairs was bad. We had a nice porch and she had to go down cellar for the washing machine. We bought a dryer and washer machine. They used to charge us $525/month. He used to give the people downstairs a break on their rent to take care of the yard, but they weren’t doing anything. Finally I realized I was paying more to
live upstairs! Finally I saw the ad for this place in the paper and I realized I should never have left a single home because, to me, apartment living is unbearable. But this is cozy, compact, quiet. Been here 2 years. $725/month but to us it’s worth it for the comfort and what we lost by not having our own home. I do my best keeping up the place but I find it hard. Up to now Mike has cut the grass but I’ve enjoyed working in the garden, sometimes I over‑do it but I’m always doing something, for something to do to keep busy. I’d keep it even if he went up on the rent. If he had to sell the house I’d buy it rather than move because this is where I want to live out my days, if I can.
Back to the life story… Like I say, I think of the parallels of today, single parents and in those days of the home, there were all single parents, through no fault of their own, widows, widowers, people who couldn’t handle work and family… like my mother. She went to work at 13. She was supporting my grandfather‑he had retired from the rubber shop. He got about $20 a month pension and that paid for the coal for the winter. But I never saw the man go outside the door he was so sick, right from the time when I was 4 years old. The house had a kitchen stove in those days, didn’t have a bath tub or anything, wash in the sink.
My father came over from England with his family and they were Protestants. The English‑ the worst Protestants in the world … taken from the Catholic Church in Henry the
VIII’s time. He proclaimed himself head of the Church of England. So, they were Protestant My mother was a strictly Irish Catholic and the Irish and the English hate each other because of what England has done to Ireland over the centuries. So, my mother marries an English Protestant. Of course, I have to guess this because my mother would never tell me the real story‑never did. Of course, she never had much chance. So I assume that after I was born, I think they might have separated but I don’t know that.