Interview by Claire Townsend
Filmed by David Mueller
Claire: Now starting from the beginning again, you lived
in a very big family. How many were there?
Helene: There were nine, six adults and three children… my mother
and father and my father’s three maiden auntie’s and bachelor
uncle… and uh, then my sister Peace Pilgrim, my brother Al.
Claire: Now, now whose siblings were the auntie’s and the uncle?
Helene: My father’s sisters and brother.
Claire: And how come they all lived with you?
Helene: Well, they uh…sort of… felt they were needed in
our household. And uh, they also, I think the… to uh, to them
the satisfaction of mothering the children because they didn’t
have any of their own. And so they sort of took over the situation and
they became our mothers. We had… we always felt we had four mothers,
our birth mother and three adopted mothers.
Claire: So, was… that must have been kind of neat.
Helene: Well it was for us. We had a very easy time of it when we were
children. I mean, actually I always felt we had more advantages than
people with a lot of wealth. And we didn’t have that. But we had
all of the love and attention that many in more favorable circumstances
financially do not have. I mean uh, we uh… were never farmed out
to uh, strangers. We always had someone at home to care for us.
Claire: Now what was the home situation there in the beginning? Were
you in the city?
Helene: No we were in the country. We had a poultry farm. And of course
we also raised all our own vegetables. And uh, we lived on the outskirts
of the town of about 4,000 population and uh,… we lived in a wooded
area so we were really very much in the country. We didn’t have
close… very close neighbors.
Claire: And this was outside which city?
Helene: Egg Harbor City… Egg Harbor City which was and where my
ancestors settled. And my great grandfather was one of the founders
in the first year. And my grandfather on my father’s side was
the… a teacher in the school in the area. So we had moved there.
Claire: And this man who was a schoolmaster, he was whose father?
Helene: My father’s father was the schoolmaster. My father was
born in school because uh… this was actually in (*) township outside
of Egg Harbor City. He did teach in Egg Harbor Schools but at the time
when my father was born he was the schoolmaster in (*) County School
right outside of the town. And it was customary then for the schoolmaster
to live in the schoolhouse on the premises. So of course all of his
children started school at an early age, sort of like nursery school.
They sat in with the other children. Incidentally my husband’s
mother was one of the students.
Claire: And what about the maiden auntie’s? Is that how come they
were so well educated?
Helene: That’s right, they started their school at an early age.
And they were raised in the school. So they were surrounded by it.
Claire: Now tell me a little bit about your father. What kind of man
Helene: My father was a man of few words but when he spoke everybody
listened because they knew he had something to say. He was not given
to idle gossip or…uh…you know he stuck to really important
things. And he was well liked in the town where he lived and in fact
he was getting ready to run for public office when he met his untimely
Claire: Was he, did he have a good reputation in town?
Helene: Oh yes, his reputation was so good that when we were kids if
we wanted to go to a store and buy something on credit, there was no
problem because they knew it would be taken care of. Although we were
not people of wealth. My father had the responsibility of the whole…
for that family of nine. And uh… of course he wasn’t in
business but uh… I mean he had the poultry business, but aside
from that it was more or less a scratch and go, you know, situation
Claire: Now your father earned the money that came into the house?
Claire: But a lot of the work was taken care of at home. Tell me about
Helene: Yes, I mean in those times uh, …you, you raised your own
vegetables. We had our own poultry, uh… chickens to supply us
with meat and uh, you bought only what you actually couldn’t produce
yourself. And uh… the auntie’s, uh two of them, uh…
were dressmakers, professional dressmakers. They used to go up regularly
to Philadelphia and they had people there that they did dress making
for. Uh… so uh, all of our clothing was made at home and all the
food was preserved at home, everything that we had. So uh, actually
it was more or less, uh, uh a way of life that having today doesn’t
exist for most people now. Uh, so folks don’t have the time. The
time I guess maybe is more valuable. In those times we had time more
to stay at home.
Claire: Who did the cooking?
Helene: My mother basically did the cooking. My mother was a strong
person physically. And uh, she did really, she would do the laundry
which was all done by hand. We had no washing machines. She did the
laundry and the cooking. But everybody had their job to do. And the
auntie’s would always have their chores and on laundry day, one
would do the hanging out. Of course there were no dryers. It was all
done on the line, so one would be hanging out and another would have
something else to do and uh, with the cooking we always had dressings
or some sort of finishing they called it, the finishing to do. The auntie’s
would help with that and serve the meal and so forth. They would always
come in. My mother just did the baking. And then my mother would wash
the dishes. So….Claire: Now two of the aunts always dressed alike.
Helene: Yes, the oldest and the youngest. They…..
Claire: What were their names?
Helene: Uh, Birdie, we called them Birdie. Bertha and Katherine but
we called them Birdie and Rena. Aunt Birdie and Aunt Rena always dressed
alike when they were younger and did things together because Aunt Lissette,
the middle one we called Aunt Setta, she was the odd one. She was the
more intellectual one, uh…. she was more serious. She was an avid
reader and uh, uh more or less philosophical. The others were uh, more
into uh, taking care of the home and the children and so forth. But
they each had their function and they coordinated very well. And we
had so many people wonder why so many adults, women particularly, four
women in the kitchen for instance. I mean they couldn’t understand
how that could be. But we didn’t have any problems. They got along
fine. My mother was very easy going and so she didn’t object to
anything that they would want to do. So uh, we didn’t have any
Claire: Did each Aunt take primary responsibility for one of the children?
Helene: Well, uh, Aunt Birdie uh took care of Alfred. She had the boy.
Aunt Rena had both of us girls. She had Mildred, Peace Pilgrim, and
then when I came along she had me too. We were, I just sort of felt
she was my mother of the three aunts. Because we always slept with her
and uh,… you know she just took care of our everyday needs. Of
course the others took a part. I mean they would uh, pay for our music
lessons for instance. And they would… Aunt Birdie did a lot of
the sewing for us. They all did their part but basically Aunt Rena was
Peace Pilgrim and my mother of the three.
Claire: And what would dinnertime be like at home?
Helene: Well at dinnertime of course we all sat around the dining room
table. And my father was always the first to be served because he always
had to go to a business meetings or had some social function to attend.
And he was a very fast eater. So he would be finished eating practically
when we just about got started. So he was the first to be finished.
And my mother was the last from the table because she ate very slowly.
And she said she never had any problems with her digestion because she
always ate very slowly. But it was a lively time because there was a
lot of discussions. And after dinner we always had a reading session.
Aunt Birdie was the reader. She would read us… her favorite author
was Dickens, Charles Dickens. We have all his books. And she would read
from one or the other of his books and then she would read us something
current from the newspaper stories. And or course after that we all
gathered around the piano. Peace Pilgrim would lead us. And my father
and I would do the singing. And Al would play the violin. There was
no radio, no television.
Claire: Now what would Aunt Setta be doing all this time? How did she
Helene: Well, she was uh, uh…. she would sit around with the group
you know and have discussions. But she was mostly to herself as I said
she was a great reader. And she would spend a lot of time reading. She
wanted more time for herself because even when she worked out for someone
else, she wouldn’t work for anyone who wouldn’t give her
time for herself and for her reading.
Claire: Who was in charge of the garden?
Helene: The vegetable garden. Aunt Lissette was mostly uh… the
one who uh… took care of the garden and she also took care of
the pigeons. Now Aunt Birdie took care of the flower garden and the
chickens. And Aunt Rena took care of the house cleaning.
Claire: Well what did you kids do?
Helene: Whatever we wanted to do. I mean there really wasn’t that
much required of us. And uh… the only thing that was required
was when they had an order for squab. They had to have the feathers
removed and Al had to be the executioner. And Mildred and I were the
squabbers. We would argue about which ones because some had more pin
feathers than others. But we were paid two cents a piece and that is
how we got pin money picking pin feathers.
Claire: Now who did Mildred take after the most?
Helene: Well intellectually I think Aunt Lissette because uh…
she had a very good mind. And as far as I… the rest… my
father’s family were more intellectual. And my mother’s
family were physically fit. And she got her stamina and her physical
condition more from my mother’s side. And uh, intellectually she
was influenced more from my father’s side because of course there
were more of them there too. Naturally they would have the greater influence.
And my mother’s family we only saw on the (*).
Claire: Do you think uh, I was just thinking this the other day, do
you think maybe Peace Pilgrim heard about Scott marrying first from….
Helene: Aunt Lissette
Claire: Tell me about that?
Helene: Aunt Setta, well she had these books and all these books were
in our library and uh… so she uh, no doubt… got uh…
read the books there in our library. And then later on she… part
of this came from these publications… from Philadelphia.
Claire: Tell me about the library you had at home. What kind of books
did you have?
Helene: Well, Aunt Lissette subscribed to uh… there was a publishing
house, I believe in St. Louis (*). And they put out these little booklets,
called blue books, little blue books. And they were on a vast variety
of subjects. We as children could look at these publications. And she
would send off an order of whatever she had an interest in. So we had
a variety of information from those. And uh, we had uh….books
of course by uh… we had some of course that were in German but
tha uh…from my grandfather. But they uh,… had uh books that
they bought evidently. I mean because we had quite a few. And my Aunt
Birdie wanted Dicken’s books so Dicken’s books were on our
Claire: Was anybody in charge of the library?
Helene: No, just uh….uh… it just accumulated in the space
you know. Uh, it wasn’t really that extensive but uh…those
little blue books don’t take up a lot of room you know. They were
small. But I can remember my interest in bird watching stimulated by
a book we had…uh “What Bird is That” by Chapman. And
that was my introduction to bird watching.
Claire: How would Scott Nearing’s books had gotten there?
Helene: Well, it was Aunt Sita’s really. Uh evidently this uh…the
books were in the library. They got there because whoever had a book
put it there. You know I really don’t know who bought the book.
I do know that my father, he liked the western novels. I mean because
he you know, he was, he had a lot of responsibility in the business
and so forth and he needed something to relax. And he didn’t want
it to be too deep. So uh, every year for his birthday my mother got
him a different novel, a western novel you know. And of course they
had Upton Sinclair and Sinclair Lewis. We had all of those books.
Claire: Would you say that there was a lot of, um, social history kind
of books? Philosophy, sociology?
Helene: Well no, not really. Uh I don’t think so… that we
had a lot of books along those lines. I mean we have many in our library
now which were, which we accumulated. My husband went through college
and so forth.
Claire: Well, did Aunt Setta have a particular interest or just wide
interest?Helene: She had wide interest. She would go around. And she
was very accepting of the modern trends too you know. I mean…
although she was very serious an all, still she or course no doubt she
was well read. She was more accepting of those trends.
Claire: Did you have any kind of religious upbringing?
Helene: No, we had no religious upbringing generally. But, I feel that
our upbringing was equivalent to it because we uh, uh… were taught
the ten commandments. And we were taught to live them. It was uh…
we felt that to be accepted by our family we had to follow these precepts.
So we just uh, couldn’t deviate from them because uh, uh…
the… that was expected of us and uh…we sort of developed
a consciousness, a conscience that if we did something wrong our conscience
would bother us. We were just taught to live a good Christian life although
we were not affiliated with any church.
Claire: What was Walter, Uncle Walter like?
Helene: Well Uncle Walter was uh, like bachelors, he was a little uh…
you know… it wasn’t that he was antisocial. He was the one
who went to all the funerals and represented the family at any function
like that. He wasn’t antisocial… But uh, he wasn’t,
it wasn’t that he was against families but he uh… he wasn’t,
he didn’t have the ambition and drive that the family man would
have to have to support a family. He had no one to support. So of course,
uh, he was uh… a little on the dreamer side.
Claire: Did he do any work around the house?
Helene: Well yes, I mean he uh… you know he had his duties around
the home. You know when you are living in the country you have wood
to chop and there is always something to do. But he wasn’t a go-getter.
He wasn’t… he would deliver the eggs you know. We had a
poultry business. Basically it was an egg business because we…
he sold the eggs. They weren’t meat chickens. They were egg chickens.
But he would deliver the eggs to customers and things like that.
Claire: Hold on one second. David? Can you see? (Pause)
Claire: Now I want to ask you about your sister, your big sister. Do
you have uh… she was how much older?
Helene: She was six and a half years older than myself and two years
older than Al.
Claire: And so when did you start kind of noticing her around the house?
Do you have an earliest memory of her?
Helene: Well, uh, I really don’t know what the earliest memory
was but the,… uh when I was small we…we weren’t too
much together because of the age difference. She was far advanced. And
she looked upon me as a little brat sister as she wrote in some of her
papers that I had seen later. But I was closer to my brother because
he was closer in age and then I had only boys to play with when I was
a kid. So I was with the boys more.
Claire: Were you a tomboy?
Helene: I guess so. I climbed trees and things girls might not, and
things that boys do.
Claire: And what about Peace Pilgrim? Was she a tomboy too?
Helene: Well she was very active physically. I mean she was an excellent
swimmer. And she could outswim me. I mean this is where I uh…
could never have held a candle to her. I mean I would get out of breath.
I couldn’t, I couldn’t swim as she did. And she would dive.
We had a swimming… our city bath we called it… which was
uh… was a dammed up creek that ran through our property. And it
was about a block away. And so of course it was like having our own
private swimming pool. We went down there every day in the summer. And
uh…they uh… uh… all the people from Egg Harbor would
come there. So I…
Claire: Was she a dare? Was she kind of a daredevil?
Helene: Well that’s it. I mean I, while I was just swimming around
with the rest of them, she would be out there perfecting her swan dive
or her jack knife. She was always at the diving hole and uh, doing things
that uh… the others weren’t doing. She was, she was always
at the diving hole and doing things that the others weren’t doing.
She was a very (*) because not only did she do these things in our swimming
hole but she would go down to the river, Mullica River seven miles away,
and she would dive off of the bridge. And uh… this was very dangerous
because you don’t know what’s down there. But she would
do that. She wasn’t afraid.
Claire: And was she always very stylish with her bathing suits?
Helene: Well she was the first to come out with a one-piece bathing
suit. Uh… it was uh, or course her auntie’s always wore
these little cotton skirts and so forth. But uh, she wanted a one-piece
bathing suit. That was what was being worn. Of course the Aunties, Birdie
and Aunt Rena didn’t approve. But Aunt Setta, like I say, she
was more liberal. She said “Why not? This is what they are wearing
and it doesn’t do any harm so she got her one-piece bathing suit.
Claire: Do you remember what color it was?
Claire: So already she was in blue.
Helene: Yes, it was a lighter blue than she wore in her tunic.
Claire: Did Peace Pilgrim have a favorite color at this time?
Helene: I really don’t know what her favorite colors were. She
uh, wore a variety. She did wear, I can remember her wearing, she had
a pink outfit. And she had shoes dyed to match which she would go to
Atlantic City to have dyed and uh… pocket book and hat and gloves
to match. I remember she had a pink outfit like that. But she had other
colors too and I guess the pink one stands out in my mind for some reason
but… I don’t know whether it was her favorite color.
Claire: Did she love clothes?
Helene: Oh yes, clothes and make up. She was always… spent hours,
it seemed to me, in front of the mirror. She used to bring the mirror
down on the dining room table where she had better light and she would
be putting on her, uh lip stick and make up, uh and then she would go
out on a date. So she was always dressed and uh.
Claire: Would you sit and watch her?
Helene: Oh yeah, it fascinated me to see all this. Of course I was too
young for that sort of thing. I never cared for it really. I just wasn’t
that type. I never, never cared for make up.
Claire: What, were there any outfits of hers that were your favorites?
Helene: Well, I mean I did inherit many of her clothes because our auntie’s
being dressmakers and money being scarce we made over clothes so I inherited
many of her clothing. But I guess uh, I did sort of, uh, like to walk
in her shoes so to speak. I suppose I was a little thorn in her side
at times because I would like to go in her bedroom when she wasn’t
there and look at all her make up and her clothing. I was just a little
bratty sister and it was only later on when we got older that we really
became close because then we were more of an age to do things together.
Claire: What was your impression of her when she was in school? Was
Helene: She was popular and she was very uh… a very good student.
She had uh, an excellent mind and she was always popular there.
Claire: What school did she go to?
Helene: A very small school really, Egg Harbor High School. I mean really
it is interesting, I believe it may be only a few years before she entered
high school was the first that they had a school four-year program.
Before that it had been only two years. So it was a small school and
she had only about a dozen or so in her class. And even when I graduated
six and a half years later we were only about thirty. It was a small
Claire: Did she have any close girlfriends?
Helene: Uh, yes she did but uh, there weren’t that many in her
class, you see….. And the girls that were in her class weren’t
really her best girlfriends, I don’t think… uh, because
I don’t think they were on the same basis. But she did have friends
after she left high school. But uh, she uh traveled around.
Claire: Did you ever go hear her debate?
Helene: Well unfortunately I didn’t get to hear the debates because
I was younger and I was left at home. My brother Al, he went but he
was in high school at the same time as she was. She was a Senior and
he was a Freshman. But I was still in grade school. And I had to go
to bed early. I guess I wasn’t allowed to go. And I remember them
going to these debates but uh… and all the discussions about it.
Claire: What did they say about it?
Helene: Well one thing they thought was an unfair decision because of
the subject. It was something to do with coalmines and uh, uh, I think
one of the judges was a little prejudiced. I think it was quite a socialistic
issue, which of course (*). He was anti-socialist. (*) ownership of
the coal mines. I was just a child and I really don’t remember
that much about it. But I do know there was a lot of discussion about
that because they thought an unfair decision had been handed down on
the basis of the subject.
Claire: Uh, was Peace Pilgrim a good loser or a sore loser?
Helene: Oh no she wasn’t a sore loser but she uh felt uh…
of course that there had been some bias in their decision.
Claire: What did the family think of Mildred?
Helene: Well, I don’t know really what to say about that because
the uh, I mean we were all accepted in our own way. I don’t think
that there was any.
Claire: Well it’s like you say Lissette was the odd one. Was Mildred
Helene: Well I don’t know that she was really considered odd.
I mean we were all different in our own ways. I don’t know that
they considered her as being odd. She was a… uh, just herself.
You know we each had our own personalities.
Claire: Did she ever talk to you about what she wanted to do when she
Helene: Well uh there was a problem there. Due to the lack of finances
she uh, really had limited possibilities. She took the commercial course
in high school because it would fit her for a job as a secretary. She
really could have been a schoolteacher or something that required a
higher education but uh… it was not affordable. College was not
in the picture for us. So uh, the possibilities were limited. There
was no use discussing what you’d like to be. It was what you had
to be. So she became a secretary which stood her in good stead because
she used her secretarial skills in her later life. And so uh I guess
it really didn’t go for naught. But I knew right away that that
was what I would like to be to. So she just didn’t have the choice.
Claire: Did she ever privately confide in you that there was something
she really wanted… that she wished she could have done?
Helene: Well, no not really. I mean we didn’t have too many private
discussions among us as children. I mean, when you’re younger
you are not that serious about things. I mean you know we were into
having a good time, into having a social life and getting our education
as much as we could. And that was it.
Claire: What did your social life consist of?
Helene: Well we belonged to the Grange in Egg Harbor. And there Mildred
was very active. She uh, she was uh, in charge of the programs. And
she put on some excellent shows. She would get us all involved. She
was in charge of the lighting, the stage and my father was in the skits.
There was always something going on at the Grange. And of course that
was our big social time because dancing was the order of the day. After
every meeting there was always dancing. And uh… we went there
to the dancing. Mildred was a very avid dancer. She uh, did a lot of
Claire: Now this was the roaring twenties. Do you consider that you
Helene: Well there was a period when Mildred was… I can remember
one picture of her in particular that stands out very much in my mind
where she was very much the flapper. It was a, of course… she
would be dressing more or less with the styles at the time. As far as
I’m concerned, I am not that type. I mean I never… I’m
not the type that goes into the latest styles. So I never thought about
being a flapper. I mean the only time that I thought about wearing something
that was currently popular was when Lindberg flew over the Atlantic.
And I was very air minded and I had to buy a hat that had… that
looked like an aviators hat you know. But other than I don’t recall
thinking about style that much.
Claire: Describe the picture where she is a flapper.
Helene: Well the one I am thinking of that stands in my mind is where
she had her hair cut short and uh… had it short straight down,
you know. It was very uh, very much … very different from the
way styles had been. And that was in the twenties at that time. But
I don’t remember.
Claire: Remember the color of the dress?
Helene: It was a white dress with red trim. But uh… I just remember
the color coordination, things like that because that was what was important
to me. And I just don’t remember too much about the style.
Claire: Well tell me about her color coordination.
Helene: That was uh… something that she did which a lot of people
didn’t do. She had to always have everything coordinated. She
would have an outfit. She wouldn’t just have dresses and shoes.
It would be a coordinated outfit. And everything had to match. She had
her shoes dyed to match with the color of the dress. And uh, then she
would have gloves which not everybody wore. But she had gloves and a
hat to match. It was… it made her stand out more from the crowd
because in a small town like Egg Harbor not everybody was into that
sort of thing. You know they weren’t as fashionable. I think she
was more fashionable than average for a small town.
Claire: Did she ever wear furs?
Helene: Yes she did. She wore furs. Of course she wouldn’t have
done that later on because they were in those days made from real animals.
I think the white fur she had was artificial. But she did have some
furs that were real furs.
Claire: Did she ever make her own clothing?
Helene: Uh, she did make… an outfit for herself before she embarked
on her… I guess the Appalachian Trail before the pilgrimage. Actually
we never had to do much sewing because we had a couple of auntie’s
who did it all for us. But she was the type of person who could put
her mind to do something and she would do it. I mean I took sewing in
school. But she never did. But if she wanted to do something she would
do it. She made herself an outfit that was sort of unique because it
was reversible. It was plaid on one side and plain brown on the other
so it actually was two outfits. She could reverse the whole thing. And
she had shorts I think, and skirts and a blouse and uh, a scarf whatever
to go with it. I mean they weren’t wearing slacks then but she
had shorts. And uh, I think she made these before her Appalachian Trail.
I’m not sure but I know she made it for some purpose. Maybe when
she was hiking with a group in Philadelphia she used to go hiking with.
She belonged to a hiking club there. So she made this outfit.
Claire: As a young girl, while she was still in school, what would you
say her strongest interests were?
Helene: Well as far as I can remember… I can’t remember
the earlier years, but… uh when she was a pre teen or an early
teen age I can remember her being very interested in writing. And uh,
she was interested in writing movie scripts. She had a little trouble.
I don’t think she got very far with it but she did make a few
tries at submitting scripts for movies.
Claire: Was she popular with the boys?
Helene: Yeah, she had many dates. She knew a lot in the Grange and at
work later on.
Claire: Would she, would you say that she exhibited qualities of leadership
Helene: Well I would say that she was always a strong personality and
that uh, … that she did exhibit early signs of leadership.
Claire: Did she start, when she was a baby you told me that it took
her a while to learn how to walk.
Helene: Yes she was really was a bundle of contradictions. Her early
life, uh, why basically she may have had a lot of uh… early traits
that were similar. But there were many differences in her life style.
Uh, besides her uh... her being, uh… into clothing and into make-up
and all that sort of thing and went directly opposite Peace Pilgrim
style. She also was different in other ways. She uh, well for one thing
she was basically a meat eater as a child. She was always asking for
more meat. About the only vegetable that she ate was green beans. And
then she became a vegetarian. So there you have quite a opposite way
of life. And also…she was not as accepting of people in every
walk of life in her early days as she was later on. She was more uh,
you know critical of my friends perhaps when she didn’t think
that they were the type of people I should be friends with. Not that
there was something wrong with them basically but she thought maybe
intellectually I should not be with them. She was just maybe a little
critical at that time of people’s lifestyles which they were not
so bad at all. Later she accepted all regardless of race, color, creed
Claire: So how old was she? Tell me about when she learned to walk.
Helene: Well learning to walk, that’s another thing. After all
the miles she walked as Peace Pilgrim she had a very late start. She
was nearly two years old before she would walk too well. A year and
a half I think she started. She was a very late starter at walking but
she made up for it in later years.
Claire: Now you also said that she, you told about her health as a young
Helene: Well her health, she had very good resistance to disease. She
didn’t get uh, a lot of the communicable diseases that my brother
and I got. But she did have headaches occasionally and tonsillitis also,
things like that. But that’s about all I can remember.
Claire: She did O.D. on ice cream once.
Helene: Oh yes, yes she did. When she was working at the Liberty Glass
Company they went out every day at lunchtime. And she would have a big
ice cream sundae and all this rich food and she did get sick from it.
Of course she never binged in later life. She ate very conservatively.
She could eat a lot at a time. And she had the ability to store food
like a camel. You know she could eat a lot and then fast a lot. But
she ate healthful food later on that she didn’t do when she was
Claire: You also said that she would go to the bathroom out in the woods
or something. What did she….
Helene: We had, of course we had outdoor facilities for our bathroom.
I mean we lived in the country. There was no plumbing. There was no
running water. You had a pump and uh… so of course there was the
outdoor privy. And uh, we (*) like my brother-in-law wanted indoor facilities.
So they had the chemical things at that time for people without running
water, which we had in our basement. And of course we… but she
objected to that. She would always use the primitive one and whether
there was snow on the ground, or rain it didn’t matter. She would
rather go there and walk out in that to get out there.
Claire: Did she love animals?
Helene: Yeah, she did. She loved animals. We had innumerable animals
around us and I mean cats galore…
Claire: Hold on a second. Plane. (sound of plane overhead)
Claire: Where was I?
Helene: About the animals.
Claire: You had cats galore.
Helene: Yes we had cats galore… of course to keep down the population
of rodents in chickens and pigeon houses. And we had dogs. And she…
when she had her first job and was working, she went to the pet shop
and bought a pedigree German Shepherd. And uh of course uh, later on
he became more or less my dog. They say they are a one man dog but she
just didn’t have the time. She was too involved socially.
Claire: Was she good with animals?
Helene: Yes, she got along fine with animals. I mean I never heard of
her having a problem.(*)
Claire: And how about flowers. Did she like flowers?
Helene: Flowers. She was really very artistic. She would make flower
arrangements. She would make fish gardens… would go out in the
woods and gather moss and lichens and uh, she was acquainted with all
these things. I don’t know how. She must have read up on it somewhere.
And uh, it was fun to go on a nature walk with her because she could
tell you what many of the things were which I have lived with all my
life and never… still don’t know now. But she made uh, a
fish garden and raised flowers. And at one time when she was uh, after
she uh, uh…. had been married and separated from her husband,
she had a little roadside stand which her brother Al put up for her.
And she sold her fish garden and her flowers.
Claire: Did you use to wander in the woods with her?
Helene: Well walking in the woods was part of our lifestyle. I mean,
we felt as though we lived in the woods. As children we went to school
through the woods. We had what we call the cut road. We didn’t
go on the highway. We went through the woods. And uh, of course they
built a bridge across the creek that was on our property. So that was
a good walk across the bridge. One of the things that Uncle Walter did
was… you know he would brush out the path and so forth. That’s
the way we went to school, through the woods. It was a little way from
our property and of course we had to take the road. So we were accustomed
to walking through the woods a lot and uh, uh… she did do a lot
of walking in the woods.
Claire: And did you notice that she would like go off by herself.
Helene: Uh, well later on when she was contemplating her lifestyle she
did a lot of walking in the woods . When you live with a family with
a lot of people there is always a lot of talking and disturbances going
on. And if you would want to meditate and think about things, you are
better off going off by yourself. And what better place than the woods?
Claire: So what was the first job she got?
Helene: Her first job was with the Liberty Cut Glass Works. And unfortunately
the night before she was to start work the fire siren blew and we saw
the blaze in the sky in the direction of the Liberty Glass Works. So
of course we went rushing down there and she says, “There goes
my job.” But fortunately they uh, set up temporary quarters and
she did get her job. They rebuilt. She worked there for I don’t
know how many years exactly. But then they were calling for help at
the Renault Winery. Well I can tell you probably how many years because
she graduated from high school in 1926 and went immediately to work
at Liberty Glass Works. And uh, then, the repeal of prohibition was
in December of 33 and she had just gone to the Renault Winery a year
or so prior to that. So they uh, she was working there prior to uh the
repeal of prohibition.
Claire: So her second job was?
Helene: The Renault Winery. And there is another… difference in
her lifestyle. She never drank alcoholic beverages, never smoked, but
she worked for a winery. Uh, well you couldn’t be picky in those
days. Jobs were scarce and you worked where you had to go. And that
was an industry that was thriving actually when they repealed prohibition
especially. They were working around the clock. Everybody in Egg Harbor
worked there at one time or another if they were able to work.
Claire: What was your first job?
Helene: My first job was as her helper. She was secretary to the sales
manager. And uh, business was thriving so that they needed more help.
So that’s how I lucked out. I mean, I became her assistant. I
mean there were long lines waiting outside for jobs. But if you knew
somebody, it’s still true, you have your foot in the door. And
I got my job.
Claire: Somewhere around here she meets Stanley Ryder.
Helene: Well now I don’t know exactly when she met him at first.
From the way I understand she had been meeting him for a while before
she brought him home. And uh, the first time that I was aware of it
was when we had our annual fair. It was the county agricultural fair
which was a big thing in this area. People came from all around, even
from Philadelphia to this fair. And uh, she was there at the fair with
him… was the first that I had seen him.
Claire: What did you think of him?
Helene: Well, he was tall and handsome you know and uh… uh…
I got along fine with him. He looked fine but he wasn’t my type.
I mean I uh… I thought that he a handsome young man.
Claire: Well what type was he?
Helene: Well I mean he was more of a male chauvinist type I feel. I
mean I uh… I could get along better with people who weren’t
as assertive. I guess I’m a little assertive myself.
Claire: And so was Mildred?
Helene: Right I think that is probably why they didn’t get along,
because the uh… she was not the type that would get pushed around.
And he was the type that liked to do the pushing. So they had a lot
of little arguments. I mean they didn’t always see eye to eye.
But basically there was a physical attraction. I think that’s
what you would stay so as long as she did I think she was attracted
to him and him to her you know. But their personalities clashed and
their ideologies were different. He was raised to believe that you went
off to war for your country right the wrong. This was your duty. And
she didn’t feel that way. And they had very different views and
their backgrounds were so different.
Claire: How did they end up marrying?
Helene: Well, they uh….uh…
Claire: You told the story, you know that great story.
Helene: Well the story was that they went, that she told they went out
uh… it was a cold wintry day. It was in February, February the
17th, the day before my birthday. That’s how I remember. They
went out on a ride and in those days there was no heat in cars you know
and it was cold and she was complaining about her feet being cold. And
she was cold and all. And he said, “you know he could keep them
warm for her and why not get married.” So they went to (*) in
Maryland where you didn’t need a birth certificate or prior certification.
That was a place for marriage there. And so they went there and were
married and first thing you know we got a phone call. Eugene and I were
not married yet at that time. But uh, uh… we went and picked them
up. They had some car trouble and were up along route 30 near Philadelphia.
We went up there and picked them up and brought them home. So that was,
that was it you know.
Claire: Were you shocked?
Helene: No I really don’t remember just how shocked I was. Of
course they were going together at the time. But of course we were surprised
you know, no doubt about that. Because uh… but they, I could understand
why it was done that way because I had kind of thought about doing the
same thing myself. Because being raised by three maiden auntie’s
uh, marriage and anything was just something that was sort of, we just
thought we shouldn’t do it. And uh, we sort of felt ashamed in
fact that we had emotions that would lead us into something like that
because uh, you know, we just thought they wouldn’t approve. Well
may Aunt Lissette would have. She may have approved but we sort of thought
the others would be critical. We were very uh… we very much wanted
to live the life that was respected by our peers. So it was difficult
for us to do something that we felt they wouldn’t approve of.
David: Tape Change
Continued on Interview