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Shortly after our second son, Rick, was born, on November 11, 1948, Ben went to work in the maintenance department at Cities Service Oil Company and continued to work also for Richter Trailer part-time.
I’m sure you remember the story about the “green glasses,” how your Dad got angry at someone at work who was trying to make him hurry and finish a paint job. Ben would not be hurried, since he prided himself in doing things right the first time. Anyway, Ben told the guy who was harassing him that he would paint the man’s glasses green if he did not leave him alone. The man continued to harass Ben, so he did as he had promised and painted the guy’s glasses green!
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There are lots of stories about our life in those days, but I won’t go into that because I would have to write a book! We had friends in our neighborhood, and I am sure you remember the Jacobs family, the Carneses, and the Striplins. We tended to spend what little social life we had with some of those folks, outside, talking, enjoying a cold beer, or eating steamed crabs at the picnic table in someone’s back yard.
We became the proud owners of our first television set in January 1949. I think it was our anniversary present to us! Our friends the Striplins also had a TV. We often had company in the evenings, watching programs like the “Ed Sullivan Show,” Milton Berle’s “Texaco Star Theater,” and whatever else we could find to watch. Television was limited to three channels, and there was not much to choose from. I think programming ended about midnight and didn’t begin again until around 6 a.m. Also, it was black and white, not color.
Daytimes, Norma Striplin and I got together to watch the “soaps,” while the kids ate lunch, napped, or played outside. One of our favorite “soap operas” was “Love of Life,” which our kids called “Slub of Slife.” [Note: the origin of the title of Betts’ two-part memoir] The “soaps” were a change of pace from laundry, housework, changing diapers, and “baby talk,” among other things, and they added variety to our lives. Guess they still do.
In those days, we also had a coal furnace in the kitchen. I always seemed to let the fire go out—your Dad always said, “You walk by this thing a million times a day. Don’t you ever open the door and check to see if it is still working?” Ben did not realize that I did not really understand what I was supposed to do when I did open the door to the furnace. My father had always taken care of the heating situation in our house on Choate Street. Sometimes, I wished I knew how to do everything!
There is another story that I tell quite often, about Norma Striplin and I trying to build a fire when we had neglected to check the status of the heating. Since I knew your Dad’s opinion of me as one who did not keep a watchful eye on the heat, I always tried to build another fire before he got home from work. Well, needless to say, I was hardly ever successful. If there was no kindling, I would get the hand saw and try to cut some small pieces of wood. Even the children thought that was really funny!
After all these years, I am sure you now realize how unhandy I really am, and I was lots worse when I was a younger woman. Anyway, one day, Norma came over and said that her furnace was out, and they did not have any wood to start the fire. I scrounged around for some wood but could not find enough to help in this situation. We went over to her house, and Norma finally decided to go up to the attic and see what was up there that she could cut up.
Norma was a farm girl, so she could climb, and also handle a saw or anything else that was needed for her family. Certainly a lot different from me at that time! When she came down from the attic, Norma had a few pieces of an old chair, and as it turned out, the rest of the wood was part of the braces that held up the roof of the house! I was amazed, but we did finally get a fire started. Years later, when I went back to visit in that area, I was surprised that the house was still standing and still had a roof on it.
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During these years, I not only had the children to take care of but also a couple of dogs, because every child needs a dog–for Mom to take care of. That was the way it turned out at our house. Actually, later on, after we moved to 312 Endsleigh Avenue in 1955 we had a cat, too. I guess my children remember “Tom” the cat best.
We inherited Tom thanks to Judy. Personally, I could not stand to have a cat around, but Judy had rescued this kitten in our back yard; a dog had it cornered. She chased the dog and brought the kitten into the house. I insisted that she take the kitten outside, but Judy cried and said the dog would get the kitten, and of course her act worked.
I told Judy to take the kitten to the basement, but “out it goes in the morning.” As it turned out, we had Tom for six years or more. The children got attached to him, and, even when our doctor said we should get rid of Tom because of allergies in our family, we kept him. I told the doctor that the children would rather get rid of me and keep the cat—enough said!
Ben went to work for Gibraltar Trailer Manufacturing Company building house trailers, around 1950. He worked in the plant and also did service work for the company. Jim Fyle, the owner of the company, enjoyed hydroplane racing. Whenever he was going to race, Fyle always asked Ben to go along to pull the boat trailer. When the races were held locally, we could go with him, but that didn’t happen very often. Hydroplanes were racing boats that just skimmed across the water, and I always considered them dangerous as well.
In 1954, Ben again changed jobs, going to work for Ottie Gowl at Atlantic Trailer Company. Ben was a supervisor and also a maintenance man. This meant that he traveled for the company whenever there was a problem with one of the trailers after delivery. Ottie had been employed at Gibraltar Trailers but finally went into business for himself. He had a lot of faith in your Dad’s ability and considered him a very good worker.
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Before we moved to Endsleigh Avenue, we lived in Victory Villa, where all the children started school—Rus in 1950, Judy in 1952, and Rick in 1954. They walked quite a distance to Victory Villa Elementary, but they were with the rest of the children in the neighborhood, and usually mothers walked with them until we felt sure they did know their way to school.
When we moved to Endsleigh Avenue in1955 our children had to change schools. They went to Martin Boulevard Elementary School, which was about two blocks from our home. One reason for moving was to have the children in a school close to home. After the kids were in their new school, I helped there, substituting in first-grade classes or assisting the nurse with paper work or screening tests. This filled up some time for me, since I really missed having my children at home.
I also worked part-time for Middle River Realty Company but found sitting at a desk too confining, even on a part-time basis. In the fall of 1955, I started work in the office of our family doctor, Dr. Marvin Rombro. I worked there part-time from 1955 to 1959. When I told your Dad I was going to work in our doctor’s office, he said I would last about a month in that job. I believe that was the only reason I stayed with Dr. Rombro, except for the fact that I really enjoyed the office work and the contact with people.
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I had not worked for about ten years, and it felt good to have something to do outside the home. The fact that I went to work did not help your Dad’s and my “relationship” (as it is now called), because in those days “a woman’s place was in the home,” and, if a woman worked outside the home, it “proved” that her husband could not provide for his family. Well, I must have been among the first “liberated women,” because this was the 1950s.
Times sure have changed, and I admit that I have changed a lot, too. When we married, I was a dependent individual who always had someone else tell me what to do. I expected to be able to lean on your Dad the way I had on my parents, but I found that he was not around enough for that.
I had a lot of responsibility in the home, and I learned to make my own decisions. As your father always said, I became “too d—– independent”! I was always told that we do what we have to do, and this was the first step. I have had to live with my decisions.
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We moved to 37 North Chapel Street in Newark in December 1959. Your Dad worked at your Uncle Bill’s gas station in Wilmington for a while and then for Deemer Steel in New Castle as a maintenance man. When he took us to see where he was going to work, Rick said, “That place sure needs to be fixed up.” Steel plants never are clean and neat, are they?
Your Dad continued to work part-time for Uncle Bill, depending on his work schedule at Deemer. I worked at the University of Delaware from March to September 1960, then went to work for Dr. Perry L. Munday from September 1960 through January 1962. At this time, Rick was attending middle school and Judy and Rus were at Newark High School.
Ben become discontented with his job at Deemer Steel and decided that he wanted to go back to Baltimore. I was not happy about another change in 1962, because Rus was to graduate from high school in June and was already enrolled at the University of Delaware for September 1962.
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We did move back to Baltimore, and Ben went back to work for Jim Fyle at Gibraltar Manufacturing Company. We lived at 9100 Philadelphia Road, in Rossville, Maryland, a suburb of Baltimore. We were again neighbors of our good friends the Jacobses, and that was one good thing about the move.
Rus remained with his grandparents in Newark so that he could graduate with his class at the high school. Meanwhile, Rick was enrolled at Golden Ring Junior High, and Judy went to Overlea Senior High School, so they were bus students for the first time in their lives. I worked at Wilmer Eye Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore from April 1962 to September 1964.
Then came changes which affected all of our family.
End of Part V
Next: Part VI: An Independent Woman, 1964-2013
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For those interested in reading more of my reflections on history, here are links to several books on the subject: