Auburn, New York
Dick was from Auburn, New York, a city about 300 miles north of Carlisle. At one point he suggested that it would be nice if he and I went to Auburn for the weekend. I would stay with his folks and he would fix me up with a date. That sounded like a great idea to me, so off we went. There was overnight train service available so Friday night we went in to Harrisburg and caught the train to Canandaigua, New York. This is a small city about 40 miles west of Auburn. The train ride was absolutely beautiful, going up through the mountainous parts of Pennsylvania. When we got to Canandaigua Saturday morning we had to hitch-hike to Auburn, which was no great problem.
When we arrived at Dick’s house we had breakfast with his parents. When I was introduced to Mrs. Congdon I shook her hand – too vigorously for her liking as she pulled it away. For all the rest of the time I knew her she often complained about how I hurt her hand and it never recovered. So, we lived through that. Dick wanted to show me Auburn and we drove around quite a bit. Then after supper we picked up Dick’s date – Janice Tutton – and then went to pick up mine. We were a bit late getting there and Sally told me later that she was all set to cancel out on the date, but we made it there before that happened. So there we have it – the beginning of the Sally & John era. This was on Saturday, May 4, 1946, and her life ended on Saturday, January 3, 1998 – almost 52 years of life together. So there is much to fill in, much to say, even more to feel, and a world of change in all our lives.
A New Life
May, 1946-August 1950
“Good evening, Mrs. Corp – it certainly is a pleasure to meet you and your husband.” So began the evening. Off to one side was Sally – my eyes were captivated and I knew this was going to be a happy date. How could I impress such a good looking woman? I certainly started off the wrong way – I had decided to wear the wrist bracelet that said – “Hands off he’s mine – Beth.” And during the evening while we were chatting I found it appropriate to lie about my age-made myself a year older than my nineteen years. Sally was born in August, and I wasn’t born until March of the following year. I felt it was necessary to correct that fault of my parents so I added a year to my life by claiming I was 20.
Sally was dressed in a skirt and blouse, and her dishwater blonde hair was all done up in curls. We chatted for a little while and then headed off to Dickman’s – a sort of nightclub on the shores of Owasco Lake. Dick’s date was Janice Tutton, and of course I would find out more about that as the weeks moved on. Sally was part of a high-school group made up of Dick, Janice, Cornelia Farrell, Billy Talpey, Ann Dowd and Gordon Dungey. This was not a dating group, but really just some high school friends that remained together.
The evening went along very nicely, and got everyone home safe and sound. Sally indicated that she had been on a picnic a couple of days before and was going to the picnic grounds on Sunday to see if she could find some forks that were missing . I gladly accepted the invitation to help her out, and the next day we went in her father’s car to sort things out – I don’t remember if we found the forks or not, but it was great being with her again. I found out that her family nickname was Shy – she explained that that was because as a little girl she couldn’t say “Sally” correctly. My next big dilemma was how to see her again – that was settled when I found out that in three weeks the Cornell University prom was to be held. She agreed to a date, and her father’s car would be available for us to use to drive to Ithaca. Also, her mother, Alfa, indicated that I was welcome to stay at their house instead of trying to find a hotel room.
So, on Sunday Dick and I began the trip back to Carlisle, and we chatted a lot about Sally. She had a serious boyfriend, Andy Alexander, who had been a paratrooper in Italy. He had been killed about a year ago, and Sally had taken it quite deeply. His father, Sasha, was a refugee from Russia, as his family was part of Tzarist Russia. Sasha lived in New Jersey, his wife having died several years ago. Sally had been in nurses training at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester at the time of Andy’s death, and shortly thereafter she quit the program and returned home. Now she was working as a “Candy Striper” at Auburn Memorial Hospital. Dick told me that he really wanted to help Sally get out of the doldrums about her loss, and that contributed to his decision to set up this date with Sally.
Second Date – Cornell University
In due course the time came to have my second date with Sally, and this began a delightful sequence of weekly trips for me from Carlisle to Auburn. The train ran between Harrisburg and Canandaigua, NY, so I had to make my own way from Canandaigua to Auburn. But, the hitch-hiking was easy and I always made good time between the cities. Also, a couple of times I decided to hitchhike the entire way and thus got to see much of Pennsylvania, and that section certainly is beautiful. I would make the trip each weekend and Sally and I would explore the world around Auburn. In the process I got to know Sally’s sister, Nancylee and her brother Bob. Nancylee is about three years younger than Sally so she is still in high school. I also met Sally’s brother, Bob. He had been in the Air Force during WW II and currently was attending College at Cornell in Civil Engineering.
Around this time Sally’s brother, Bob, and Rita Ringwood were married. Rita had been working in a data processing facility using IBM computers. So she was a competent handler of punch cards as that was the data I/O format back then. Bob was a person who had deep feelings about things, yet kept pretty much to himself. One thing Sally warned me about was that he did not easily take to people and if you crossed him it could be trouble. Rita and he had many a squabble and I often wondered how they would make out in married life.
Often when I was visiting Sally it would mean a round trip to Ithaca. Bob and Rita lived in apartment there but had no car so if they came to Auburn for the weekend then we would drive them back to Cornell. At one time I brought a friend, Eugene Albright, with me to Auburn. I think Nancylee joined us and the four of us went out together. I had met Gene at Carlisle Barracks and he and I had a great time getting all the words to one of Gilbert and Sullivan’s songs, “When I Was a Lad”, in the operetta HMS Pinafore. We would listen to a bit of the recording, copy the words, and proceed. Anyway I thought Gene would enjoy a trip to Auburn so I asked him to accompany me.
Very soon it became obvious to me that Sally and I made a perfect couple, and so in July, 1946 I proposed to her that we should get married. She agreed and we started making plans for our future. I knew that I was going to be discharged from the army later in the year and at first we figured we would get married in December. One slight snag was that I was only 19 and thus would have to get my parents permission. I figured this would be given, perhaps reluctantly because of my age and also because Sally was Episcopalean – not Roman Catholic. We decided that it would be great for Sally to meet my folks since we would be living in Upper Michigan until I finished my undergraduate degree at Michigan Tech. We picked an early August date for the trip, to coincide with her 20th birthday on August 7, 1946.
The trip to Hancock took the better part of two days and we arrived in Hancock quite exhausted from the overnight travel. The only decent train connections for Hancock required us to travel to Pembine, a town about 50 miles outside of Hancock. The train arrived there quite late at night and my dad drove to Pembine to meet our train and drive us to Hancock. My dad was a great fellow and he and Sally got along famously. My mother was less than thrilled but nevertheless treated Sally very courteously. I wanted to get Sally her engagement ring while we were in Hancock, so we picked it out at Haughs Jewelry store. I really dug deep but was able to just barely come up with the $75.00 it cost.
While we were there we decided it would be best if we put off the wedding until the summer of 1947. I would get in another two terms at Michigan Tech, take the summer off, and then we would get married August 30, 1947. We returned to Auburn and I continued to travel every weekend to Auburn from Carlisle Barracks. One time I nearly got in serious trouble from a case of not paying attention. During the summer the Corp’s often had a picnic in their side yard. One warm summer day everyone was in the yard and Sally & Nancylee were both there dressed in their coolots. Well, I ventured up to what I thought was my sweetheart and came up from behind her and put my arms around her. Something felt kind of strange and Nancylee obliged me by letting me know in no uncertain terms that I had blundered.
In December of 1946 I was discharged from the Army and I stayed in Auburn until after Christmas in 1946 when I left for Hancock. During that time I got to meet more of Sally’s friends, especially Cornelia, Janice, and Gordon. Janice married Fritz Fingado and is living in British Columbia. Cornelia married Edwin Goodwin and she lives in College Park Maryland- Ed died around 1995 or so. Gordon set up a very successful leather business in Auburn, but died in 2007.
Sally and I decided that the wedding would be in Holy Family church in Auburn, but special consideration had to be made because while I was a Roman Catholic, Sally was an Episcopalian. In order to be married in a Catholic Church it was thus necessary to check in on the need for her to take instructions. This upset her quite a bit. She considered herself to be a high Anglican and every bit as much a Catholic as me. But she agreed to meet the rules of the Roman Catholics and we went to Holy Family to make arrangements to have the wedding there. We spoke with an assistant and he assured us that it would not be necessary for her to have instructions. The church was available for August 30, 1947, and so everything seemed to be set.
Dick Congdon has stayed in my life some of the time, but not all the time. He was discharged from the Army as expected, and I took over his job in Carlisle Barracks as Company Clerk. One day after he had been discharged I received a phone call from him and he wanted information on what weekends he was on furlough from Carlisle. It seems there was some sort of a paternity problem and he wanted to know if the records would show that he was clear of any involvement. It seems to me that Dick always has led an unusual life. He was in Illinois for some time as the director of University Press at the Northern Illinois University in Dekalb. Then at one time he was telling me how he worked as a taxi driver in a city in Mexico. The next time I was able to track him down I found he had been in Waterville, Maine, but he had left there a few years earlier. In 2008 I was fortunate enough to find him, but more on that later.
Upon returning to Hancock late in 1946 I registered at Michigan Tech and within a week or two was back in College. It took a little time to get back into the swing of things – in my first math test I scored a numbing D. The term ended successfully however, and soon it was summer vacation time. There was a full selection of summer courses that I could take since the school was being swamped with returning veterans using the GI bill. The GI Bill is one of the best pieces of legislation ever enacted by the US Congress.
I didn’t take any courses in the summer session, as I was heading for Auburn in early August but I would return to college in early September in time for the first term. So I had a free summer, and I caused a bit of chaos back in Auburn. I broke a toe while fooling around at the Hancock Beach and Sally was convinced that I would have to walk down the aisle on crutches and folks would comment that that was the way she caught me. However her worst fears were baseless.
When I arrived in Auburn a couple of weeks before the wedding the place was very busy, and I knew I was just in the way. We figured it would be wise to check with Holy Family church to make sure everything was in place, so we met with the pastor. Right after we introduced ourselves to him and told him why we were there he said to us: “I never gave permission for you to be married here, and even so Sally must take instructions since she is a non-catholic.” That was a nice way to start things off and after we pled our case he relented and let us proceed with our original plans. Welcome to Holy Family church!
We had the wedding party set up with the male witnesses being my brother-in-law Paul Brooks, Dick Congdon, and Sally’s brother Bob. The female witnesses were Cornelia Farrell, Nancylee, and sister-in-law Rita. The members of my family that attended were my father and my sister Janet with her husband, Paul Brooks. The wedding was at Holy Family church and went off without a hitch. It was a bit rainy early in the morning but it stopped by the time of the wedding.
The reception was held at the Corp home on E. Genesee St and it overflowed with all kinds of good people, talking, eating and drinking. My dad met friends of the Corp family and apparently had a good time. Jay had a Manhattan a little too quickly and ended up taking an early nap. Once again Mr. Corp made his car available, and in the late afternoon Sally and I took off for our honeymoon.
We had made arrangements to meet Jan and Fritz Fingado at the hotel Syracuse for dinner, and we did indeed meet them there. Then we retired to our room and after getting unpacked Sally decided she wanted to call her mother, so that we did. We reached her with no trouble – except the Corp family and friends were having a party. I could hear them laughing and joking and especially in an uproar about the happy couple calling their folks on their wedding night! But we survived that and thus began 50+ years of marital bliss.
The next day we drove up to Gouverneur and spent a few days touring in the Adirondacks before heading back to Auburn. That weekend Sally’s mother wanted to take a trip to New Jersey to see some friends, so off we went on that short trip. Upon return from that it was time to pack up and make our way to Hancock, Michigan.
I had rented a furnished apartment at 309 Franklin St. in Hancock (for $30/month) so we moved right into that. We had received a $500 War Bond from Sasha as a wedding gift, and except for a couple of dollars that was all the money we had. My allowance from the GI Bill wouldn’t arrive for a couple of months, and that was a luxurious $105/month. So Sally had to find a job, which she did, as a clerk at Gartners – a local clothing store. She would be paid about $50/month so it seemed all was going to work out.
The apartment was on the third floor of an old apartment building. However while the whole third floor was once an apartment, the owner had partitioned off the front two rooms to form a second apartment. Of course this also meant that tenants had to share the bathroom, and, as we found out later, also the hot water.
This is how we found out about that. There was a water tank alongside the wood burning stove in our apartment, and water pipes went from the tank into the firepot of the stove and back into the tank. Thus, water could be heated when we had a fire in the kitchen stove. And only then as it turned out there was no hot water in the third floor. So one day we really got the fire going well in the stove and were looking forward to a good hot bath. Lo and behold, we heard our neighbor go into the bathroom, turn on the water in the tub and soon they were relaxing in a great hot bath. We were a little more careful about that in the future.
That added apartment was interesting in another regard also. It happened in due course that the people in the front apartment moved out and a friend of ours, Bob Monica and his wife Barbara moved in. The heat for their apartment was a little gas heater whose exhaust was piped in to the chimney that went through a corner of their apartment. The owner had cut a hole in the chimney for the flue of the gas heater and one cold winters day we heard the fire siren blasting. (Our apartment building was about 100 feet from the fire house, and whenever there was a fire the one full time employee of the fire department would sound the fire siren. The siren was coded – a long blast was a 10 and a short one a 1. This was done to inform the volunteer firemen in what part of town they were to go to.) The siren blasted a 23 and Sally and I were curious as to exactly where the fire was, since that was our section of town. Soon the truck screamed onto our street and the firemen pounded up the front steps into that front apartment. It seems that wallpaper around the hole that had been cut in the chimney had become overheated and burst into flames. Fortunately Barb and Bob had put out the fire before the firemen arrived so no great damage was done.
Of course I remember that first apartment of ours very well, and there are many stories to tell. The apartment had 4 rooms, but only 3 were useable – kitchen, living room and bedroom. The fourth room had junk in it and our ice box. In the summer we would buy ice in order to preserve our food, but in the winter we put food into the ice box in order to try to keep it from freezing too hard. The apartment was heated by an oversized space heater in the living room and it burned oil. There was a 100 gallon barrel outside in an outhouse which we had filled with oil and I would carry it up to the heater in a 5 gallon can.
We could not keep the fire in the heater going continually since even at the lowest oil flow setting it would be much too hot. So, at night we would shut off the oil when we retired. That meant that in the morning the apartment was frigid. So, being a nice new husband, I would get up early, turn on the oil flow and then jump back into bed. It would take about five minutes for enough oil to flow into the firepot so that I could light it and start to heat the apartment. You can well imagine that at least once I failed to get back to the heater as quickly as I should have and too much oil had been released. One time it was so bad that when I threw in the lighted match to start the fire it actually exploded and covered me with soot, but no other damage was done.
We lived in that apartment from September 1947 until June of 1949, when I graduate from Michigan Tech. In the meantime Sally’s job at Gartner’s went bad in the sense that there was an employee, Louise, who made life miserable for Sally. For some reason I never understood this woman was a monster to Sally. The other employees were simply great, and when Louise wasn’t around everything went well. But after putting up with this for well over a year Sally quit and found other things to do. Sometimes she would help my dad in his bakery, as a sales person.
I remember we lived very close to the vest – money was always tight. One year Mrs. Corp sent us a little green for St. Patrick’s day – a five dollar bill. We decided to splurge and went to a movie at the Orpheum Theater in Hancock. They had a program where they gave away gifts and we won a small pitcher that night.
My folks lived about a 10 minute walk from our apartment and we would see them from time to time. I started making pasties in my Dad’s bakery as a means of making some money. He rented me use of his oven and use of his tools for making the pasties and it proved to be a good source of income for us.
My studies at Michigan Tech went very well. They were on a system where they had 3 sessions a year, and thus 12 were necessary for graduation. I had completed 5 of them before Sally and I were married and I completed the last 7 by June of 1949. In fact, during the final two sessions I had been hired by the department as a laboratory instructor – the GI’s were pouring into school and there was a real shortage of faculty. During this time the Communist fear was rising and people were expected to take an oath of allegiance, or some such frill. When it came my turn to take the oath I preceded it by informing that I was a communist and as such I would swear to anything. They did know I was joking at the time, so I didn’t get fired.
I did quite well in my remaining years at Michigan Tech, and one day the Chairman of the Department, George Swenson, informed me that I had received a fellowship to work for my Masters Degree at Iowa State College in Ames, Iowa. I graduated in June, 1949, and after graduation Sally went back to Auburn to stay with her folks and I went to Ames to see about renting an apartment and to see if Sally could get a job. My GI bill had run out and the Fellowship paid my tuition and $65/month living allowance. I rented an apartment at 203 Welch Avenue for $38/month, so we needed to add a little to our income in order to get by. I found a job for Sally, but she needed to learn to type in order to do the job. I told them she could type 35 words/minute – I figured she could learn that over the summer. So I went to Auburn and informed her of our great good fortune. She didn’t see it quite that way, but we bought a typing manual and she strove mightily.
The semester started in Iowa State after Labor Day so we had a couple of months of vacation. I got a job with the Hemingway Processing company as a sort of all around worker. This company processed locally grown vegetables and canned them. I started out in the warehouse helping to label the cans. I found out that identical cans were labeled with different prices – so much for the value of higher priced vegetables. Also I found out that creamed corn was obtained from corn that had been sitting around too long and was in danger of fermenting. I met a lot of interesting men there – most of them were alcoholics and were doing mainly seasonal work. They were in a sober period and were really nice and intelligent people.
I worked through the summer there and when it came time to leave for Ames I worked a deal with Clarence Corp, Sally’s father, to buy his 1940 Dodge for $300, to be paid monthly over the next year. So Sally and I packed up our wedding presents that we had not taken to Hancock and took off for the Midwest. We went by way of Hancock to pick up the rest of our worldly goods that we had left with my folks and so arrived in Ames with a carload.
The apartment we had was quite minimal. The building was an old fraternity house that had been abandoned by the fraternity. The people who owned it lived on the first floor, and on our floor, the second floor, there were three apartments. There was only one refrigerator and that was in a hallway. I figured I was really smart and picked the bottom shelf since it was the biggest, but it also was the shelf which received all the spillage from the upper two shelves. Also there was only one bathroom on our floor so we had to have a lot of cooperation. All three apartments were occupied by young couples – no children. Our apartment had two rooms – one was a sort of living room and the other was over the porch.
Sally got a job in a Soils Testing Laboratory at the College and became the chief limestone tester for the State of Iowa. I spent each day in the Electrical Engineering department, but Sally and I would meet back at the apartment for lunch. So each day she had to walk across campus and past Lake Laveren, which we called Lake Latrine. This was because the lake was ringed with birds and as they flew off from their treetops they fertilized the lake. The campus also had a campanile and if they were playing some slow music she would be a few minutes late for our lunch. We always had soup and a sandwich for lunch and most often had fish sticks for dinner. To this day I will refuse to each fish sticks again. We listened to “You Are What You Eat” Victor Lindlahr and perhaps that improved our diet a little.
Winter started to set in and life went through some changes. First I was offered the opportunity to teach a couple of courses and I jumped at the chance since my fellowship paid so little and I got a raise to $85 per month for the teaching. My course work was going fine, and I started on my Master’s Thesis research. The winters in Ames are frigid. The cold wind blows across miles of relatively flat land and we shivered all winter long. The battery in our trusty little Dodge gave up the ghost and I replaced it with the cheapest car battery I could find. This was stupid, of course, for then even the new battery couldn’t start the car on the cold days and I had to give the car a push to encourage it.
But this was the not the worst problem. The coal miners of Appalachia had long been upset by the operation of the mines, and John L. Lewis, the head of the miners union, was slowing down the production of coal. During the winter of 1949-50 the miners took matters into their own hands and shut down all mining. The landlord of 203 Welch took this as a grand opportunity to reduce expenses and basically shut off heat to the apartments. I remember one time I went to their apartment to complain about the lack of heat and found their apartment to be warm and cozy. We did not even have a kitchen in our apartment but did our cooking on a little two burner gas hotplate tucked into a little closet. So we couldn’t get much heat from it into our apartment. Further the second room over the porch was as cold as the outside temperature, so we had to close it off and sleep in the remaining room.
But, winter passed and my thesis work was going fine. The final experiments were done about two weeks before the end of the summer session, and my oral exam on the Thesis was held on the day before we were leaving Ames. The exam went fine, and there were no corrections to be made in the Thesis. So the next morning, in mid August 1950, we fastened four huge ears of Iowa corn to the hood of the car and fled from Iowa. On the way out I informed Sally that that morning I had seen a couple of huge rats in the hallway of the building.
During the Spring of 1950 I had applied for a job at Bell Aircraft in Buffalo, New York, and also at Boeing Aircraft in Seattle, Washington. I had not heard from Bell and Boeing offered me a job, so that was where we were heading. We figured that moving all the way to Seattle would mean we wouldn’t be out East for a while so we decided to leave some of our belongings in Ames, drive to Auburn to visit Sally’s parents then to Upper Michigan to visit mine, then back to Ames to reload the car and away to Seattle. Since Boeing was paying for the shipment of our things from Ames we mailed some big things, like an ironing board directly to Seattle. The trip to Auburn went fine, although we couldn’t drive above 50 miles per hour since above that the Dodge shook badly. Driving through Cleveland was a challenge, but when people saw the corn on the car they swerved out of our path. After visiting the Corp’s we drove to Hancock to say goodbye to my folks, but while we were there we received a telegram from Bell offering me a job and we readily accepted it. So back we went to Ames, picked up the valuables we had left there and proceeded to Buffalo.
We found an apartment in North Tonawanda, on the second floor of the Argina’s house at 455 Goundry street. The first floor was where the owners lived – we referred to them as Anna and pappy. We had to go through their apartment to get to our apartment, and Anna would often go to our apartment while we were out – I guess to check and see we weren’t ruining anything. Anna was a large very powerful woman, and pappy was a short little runt. They had a 5 inch TV set and would watch wrestling every chance they could. There wasn’t much else to watch on TV those days. It was great, sometimes, to watch TV with them. They would end up wrestling on the floor and trying to outdo the actors on the TV. The material we had shipped to Seattle finally arrived and cost us a bundle since we had to pay for it from Ames to Seattle to storage to Buffalo. The ironing board probably cost us 10 times its value.
Anna cleaned house for people to raise some extra money, and told a great story about that. She drove a huge older car very cautiously and one day drove it to her job and pulled into the driveway to park it. When she was finished she went out to her car. The man who hired her looked out the window and saw her car slowly moving down the driveway into the street. He rushed outside to stop the car and what he saw was Anna pushing the car down the driveway. She didn’t feel comfortable backing up, so she was getting the car into the street by brute force!
Anna and Pappy were great fun and the rent was affordable, but we wanted more privacy, so we found an apartment in Kenmore at 251 School Road. It was an upstairs apartment, but we had our own entrance and thus a much better level of privacy.