By: Joy Houser
This article is brought to you by: Mosher’s Jewlers
336 Huron Ave, Port Huron, 48060, Tel: 810-987-2768/ www.moshers.com
They met, then married in St. Louis, Missouri in 1942. Louie was 21 and Ruth 18. He had hoped to train in a skilled trade by enlisting in the army, but was honorably discharged when he broke an ear drum during an artillery exercise. Shortly after, when they heard about the great job opportunities and a good hourly wage with the auto industry, they packed up their modest two room apartment and eagerly moved to Detroit.
Two years of carefully watching every nickel and dime, they were thrilled to be able to afford a small two bedroom, one bath, frame bungalow nestled in a suburb known as East Detroit. Their monthly mortgage payment was $32, a big responsibility from a wage of $75 a week before deductions!
The years rolled by with Ruth being the CEO of the Donald Street tribe….a family of seven…cooking three meals a day starting at dawn; throwing laundry in the washer and dryer, which took turns continually filling and spinning on one wall of the kitchen next to the furnace and hot water heater. She was also the stylist for the three little girls – twins and one 18 months older – whose hair was shampooed in the kitchen sink (no bathroom shower back then). She patiently pin curled each head of her young girl’s hair, while they sat on the living room floor at her feet, handing up the bobby pins one by one.Tuesdays saw her at the ironing board with a basket full of rolled pre-starched clothes she put in the refrig the night before so they’d be nice and crisp when pressed. Thursdays, the mending box came out – anything with a missing button, rip, or hole – including socks were repaired. Fridays saw a trip to A&P with her best friend Lucille, who lived across the street and could drive (Ruth didn’t get her license until she was 42 years old and all the kids were out of the nest). Saturdays were a whirlwind of activity – it was THE super duper cleaning event! The girls, led by Ruth, scrambling from room to room with dust rags, pails and the vacuum. Everything was carried out, carefully wiped down, furniture buffed with Pledge, floors scrubbed on hands and knees, windows set to sparkling, then everything arranged to Ruth’s well thought out plan-o-gram…”a place for everything and everything in its place”.
Sunday found the girls dressed in their best and off to church with a neighbor while an aproned Ruth prepped dinner and the little boys ran in and out with the slam of the side screen door. It wasn’t long before the aroma of southern fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and homemade biscuits and gravy drifted through the air along with the big band sounds of Glen Miller.
Images of Louie – my dad, gliding the love of his life – Ruth – my mom, around the kitchen floor in his arms, still lives vividly in the corners of my mind.
My mom’s parents (Preller and Mattie) met and married in Kansas in 1918. They were third generation Irish immigrants, and soon started raising a family of five boys and three girls. Being a child of the Great Depression, Ruth lived during times of job scarcity and enough food to barely survive.
Grandpa worked crops on farms, helped herd cattle and was the go-to guy when a horse needed a set of shoes. One of our fondest Grandpa memories is the story he would tell every time one of his mezmerized grandchildren would run their fingers along the horseshoe shaped indention on his forehead that was left when he was blasted by a horse he was shoeing. Grandma would take in laundry leaving the oldest child, Jake, at home to watch over the others,
Grandpa came to Michigan in 1947 to find work and lived with my parents until he could send for our grandmother and the children. Mom often said she made it through bringing a set of twins (surprise!) home to one eighteen months older, because of Grandpa. He would get up through the night with her, because dad worked midnights, and changed, fed, and rocked one of us while mom tended to one of the other babies.worked on farms during planting and harvesting seasons.
Eventually grandpa began driving a cement truck for a small concrete company and was able to find a place above a shoe repair shop in Roseville. Grandma and the family soon arrived and settled in the flat just a couple of miles from mom and dad; a few years later they were able to get a house a couple blocks away and happily lived the rest of their days there. As life went on, grandma’s house was the place to run in, get a big hug, and have her scratch biscuits waiting on a plate along with the homemade jam she created from their peach trees. Sometimes Grandpa would drive the cement truck home for lunch and we’d get to ride with him to his next stop. We all thought we were really something!
Louie made a living at General Motors for their growing family, first on the assembly line, then eventually getting on at the Tech Center in Warren. As with mom, dad grew up in the Depression; thereby, his formal education ended in 5th grade in order to help out by bringing in $1.00 a week working on nearby farms. When he spoke about those days he would say, “it was good honest work that helped put food on the table”… that was Louie, it’s simple – “do what needs to be done”. That’s exactly how he approached getting his High School Diploma…always on his mind, and important – “learn from people, experiences, books, and life.” Remarkably, after working 10-12 hours a day, he went to night school and proudly graduated from high school at the age of 35. To him, that was a very long, winding, and at times, rugged road from where he came.
That small post World War II bungalow we grew up in was always spic and span while the one car garage that dad and grandpa proudly built was a do-it-yourselfer’s delight! It was also the place dad rolled out his barber chair whenever a relative or friend dropped by for a quick clip. Especially the two young boys who got the maintenance free, summer “onion head” buzz cut. He wasn’t a trained barber, but all his “customers” loved what they got and best of all, it was FREE…along, of course, with a bottle of hometown ice cold Stroh’s beer if they could hang around awhile sharing stories of small town life.
His mom and dad (Louis and Augustine) immigrated from France with four toddlers in 1915 and settled in Kansas City along with many other French family and friends, where he was grateful to have work as a coal miner. “Memere” kept the home fires burning while growing everything and anything a family of five ate. After my grandfather was killed in a coal mining accident when dad was just two, times were extremely hard. A welcomed treat was a bone, begged from the local butcher every few weeks to flavor soup made from dandelions picked from their mostly dirt yard. Memere re-married a family friend, Leon, with three children – he was the only “pepere” we knew and loved throughout our lives.
They eventually also moved to East Detroit, one block away from my parents, when dad was hired into G.M. Never owning a car, pepere rode along with a friend to and from work where he was a self taught master carpenter.
Furthermore, they never had a telephone, which didn’t seem to matter much. My dad or Uncle Henry would stop by every day to check on them, have a cup of French pressed coffee with a shot of Crown Royal, a slice of homemade bread, accompanied by a carving of hard cheese. Growing up hearing French spoken by my dad and his family was so natural, we never gave it a second thought – a memory my heart sings whenever I go back to those wonder years.
My siblings and I are all so grateful to attribute our values and work ethic to the golden standard our grandparents and parents exhibited around us. We never heard anyone ever complain about the long hours needed to get their respective jobs done, it was a fact of life – work hard while living, loving, laughing and helping each other along the way.
All for one, one for all was a way of life we came to depend on in our family, neighborhood, and community….it’s everything – it really matters.