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I spent a lot of summer vacations with my grandfather and grandmother [Dobson] in Newark from the age of six until we finally moved there, so it was familiar to me. I came to know the neighbors on Choate Street, some of whom were long-time friends of Granddad Dobson and had known my mother when she was young.
Living close to my grandparents was a real treat. I wouldn’t say they spoiled us, but it felt special when we visited their house, especially when we could go by ourselves—we didn’t have to share their attention with brothers or sisters! Today, most children are lucky to see their grandparents once a year. Children need to know their grandparents.
This area of Newark was close to everything one needed. Main Street was full of all kinds of stores, but the one I always loved to go to was Bob Cook’s store, where we bought groceries and where there was a great selection of “penny candy,” and that was a good thing. A penny was important when a youngster went to a store, much more important than it is these days!
I had a friend on Chapel Street named Vivian Zimmer, and her family moved to 55 Choate Street. I spent a lot of time at her house, with her brothers and sister as well as her mom and dad. They had a player piano in the living room, and we spent lots of weekends at the piano or watching her family play cards together. Vivian remained friends over the years until she died about three years ago. She used to come home for visits, so I got to really visit with her often over the past thirty years. I miss her. Betty and Ginny England were also neighbors in the years we lived on Choate Street. I remember so many wonderful people from that part of my life. I have lots of great memories.
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I was lucky enough to make friends easily, so my school years were fun, although I was not a “social butterfly” by any means; I was just determined to graduate from high school. Basically, I was probably an average student, never on the honor roll, but school was not a struggle until I ran into Bookkeeping. I signed up for the Business Course in high school because I knew that I wasn’t interested in college, and even if I were, there would have been a huge money problem. By the time I graduated, Kay was seven years old and Bob was about two, so my parents still had a lot of financial responsibilities.
I had wanted to be a Medical Secretary, but at that time there was no schooling available in Wilmington for such training. The closest place was Philadelphia, and no way did I want to go that far away. I graduated from Newark High School in June 1940 and decided to enjoy the summer and then look for some kind of work. I found a job as a live-in nanny for a very young girl, but I must admit that the job did not last very long. It was not for me, but my friend Mickey Grundy was interested, so she took the job and worked for that family for over a year. She was waiting to enter nurses’ training at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, but she had to be nineteen years old to enter, so this job filled in that time for her.
[I had forgotten about that until Mickey and I were talking this year, and she reminded me how much she enjoyed the time she spent with that family. She also kind of got interested in meeting some boy, too, and decided to learn to roller skate, dance, etc. All the things I was never permitted to do, remember, because of my physical problems—I told my doctor that I was going to have fun, no matter what! Guess you know that went over big.]
The weekend after I graduated from Newark High, I went to a graduation get-together at the home of friends of our family. I met several different people, and among them was a boy named J.B., who had only recently moved to Newark from Iowa. He was living with his father and also intended to work in Newark, I guess. My first impression of him was that he was conceited as well as good-looking. I have to admit that I eventually realized that I was a poor judge of people. Since all young people did not have cars in those days, J.B. and several others who lived in my neighborhood walked home with me. We did not see each other much during the summer because he had a lot of new friends, and I also had friends that I continued to see.
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[Note: There is a gap of about three years (1941-1944) in Betts’ memoir at this point.
Betts and J.B., the young man she met following her graduation from high school, eventually fell in love, and J.B. gave Betts a ring before he left for service as a U.S. Marine in the South Pacific during World War II. For reasons that remain unclear, Betts and he broke off their relationship during the war. Thereafter, Betts met, and shortly married, the man who would be our father, Benjamin Leroy (“Ben”) Lamplugh, who also soon went off to join the war effort.
The memoir takes up Betts’ story again in 1944, shortly after the birth of her first child, George Russell, nicknamed Rus.]
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After Rus was born, on May 20, 1944, I decided that, since Ben was overseas, I would have to go back to work. My job with the railroad was no longer available, since I had taken so much time off due to difficulties with my pregnancy. About the fifth month, I had bleeding problems, which ended up with a ten-day hospital stay; injections of Progesterone, which was still in the research stage; and, when I was sent home, I spent the next two months in bed. Luckily, I had a fine, healthy baby so it was all worthwhile.
Without my parents’ love and support, this would not have been possible. I had been living with them since my marriage, because Ben was in the military. The railroad did have a job for me, though, in Maryland. In September 1944, along with my son, I moved to 2 Byway South, Riverdale Apartments, in Middle River, near Baltimore. This location was within walking distance of my job. I worked in the railroad’s freight office, where we handled shipments for the Glenn L. Martin Company in Middle River, a major supplier of aircraft to the government.
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My sister Gertie and her daughter Lynne came to live with me early in 1945. That spring we moved to a larger apartment in the same complex, this one on Byway North. Our friend Virginia (“Ginny”) England Henderson, her daughter Sandy, and her sister Betty England also came to stay with us. Imagine: four women and three babies sharing the same two-bedroom apartment!
Our neighbors marveled that all of us could share an apartment, but it really was a case of survival—we were working mothers with babies, but not much money. This was a long time before “Women’s Lib.” Actually, the arrangement worked out fine for us. Betty England went to high school, so she was home in time to replace her sister Ginny and my sister Gertie as “babysitter.” Gertie and Ginny worked as waitresses from 4 p.m. to around midnight. When I arrived home from work around 5 p.m., Betty went to her part-time job in a local restaurant.
Needless to say, we were a busy group! Sounds like musical chairs or a merry-go-round, and sometimes it felt like that. We shared a lot of good times all together during a tough period in all our lives, and the babies did just fine.
Among other things, there was rationing of shoes, meat, cigarettes, etc. Everyone was issued ration stamps, and, when the stamps were gone, we had to do without some things until the next month. All-in-all, it was a time that proved we could do a lot of things on our own.
I was surprised that I had become a person who could make her own decisions. When I was growing up, decisions were always made for me, by my parents or by the doctor. My life was never really my own. This time of my life proved a lot to me. We continued to share the apartment until Ben was discharged from the U.S. Army in November 1945.
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I don’t believe Ben or I ever realized how difficult the change in our lives would be when he was no longer in the service. We were no different from thousands of others who had married during the war, I suppose, but because we had not really lived together it proved to be very difficult. When Ben came home, Rus was about eighteen months old. Ben expected him to be a “baby,” but, as we soon found out, at eighteen months a child can’t really be considered a “baby.” Rus certainly didn’t understand what “that man” was doing in our house! It was a long time before Rus would even go out in the car with his Dad, unless I went along, too. It took a lot of time and patience for things to get to the point of “normal” living.
At the time of our marriage, Ben was with the 82nd Airborne Division, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in the summer of 1943. After being injured in a “jump,” he was transferred to a Field Artillery unit at Camp Rucker, Alabama. After several months, he was sent to Hawaii, where he was when Rus was born in May 1944, and he then was supposed to be transferred to Japan.
Eventually, Ben was sent to Japan, but he was never involved in any action there because the war ended. When Ben came home late in 1945, the girls moved into the apartment next door to us. Eventually, Gertie and Ginny and their children moved to Baltimore to be nearer their jobs. Ginny’s sister Betty moved back with us and stayed until she finished school, while continuing to work nights at the restaurant.
A few months before our daughter Judy was born (October 5, 1946), we moved into a prefab home in a development called “Victory Villa,” a government housing area originally built for the families of wartime workers employed by the Glenn L. Martin Company. Victory Villa was filled with Martin employees and ex-GIs trying to get used to civilian life and raising their families.
Thanks to the GI Bill, Ben found “on the job training” at Owens Yacht Company in Dundalk, Maryland. He wanted to learn carpentry, and this was a good place to start. Ben had an aptitude for the work and did very well. In those days, the pay scale was low, but we did manage to make ends meet.
Ben also found a part-time job doing maintenance work for Richter Trailer Sales on Pulaski Highway, not far from our home. He worked for Richter for several years. Ben was a good worker and kept busy supporting his family. Of course, he wasn’t home much, but in the post-war period one had to work hard to make ends meet. Things had finally settled down, and we were able to get along and had no problems.
End of Part IV
Next: Part V: Trying to Make It in Post-War America
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For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to several books on the subject: