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NORFOLK WOMEN'S ORAL HISTORY PROJECT

JEAN E. FRIEDMAN, COORDINATOR
INTERVIEW # 9

Discussion with a 66-year-old Catholic woman from a Baptist background.
(Some portions inaudible due to background noise).

Interviewer: Project Volunteer

Transcribed: 18 September 1984
ODU ARCHIVES


Interviewer: Have you been married?

Catholic Woman: Twice.

Interviewer: How old were you when you were married the first time?

Catholic Woman: Twenty.

Interviewer: And did you go to High School?

Catholic Woman: No, didn't finish, just went two years.

Interviewer: Did you go to work?

Catholic Woman: I went to work. During those years - Depression -- those years I had to go to work-our family was poor. I had a sick brother. I had to go to work.

Interviewer: What did you do?

Catholic Woman: Well, I took a course in office work but when I went to California, I became a waitress and became manager of a restaurant. I worked twenty years in California and I stayed out there and worked and was married and to help my family here during the Depression years. And so, I took a job as a waitress, then I worked a few years, then I became manager and from there I went to the nightclub business, made more money than doing that. I was married.

Interviewer: And you were married at the time?

Catholic Woman: I was married. I lived in San Diego. And that was in the Depression years when They didn't make much money working. In later years, I joined the union, AFL CIO waitress union and I made more money. After those years, my husband made officer and living was better. He was in the Navy. But it was better living in California with the cheap way of living than anyplace else. Things were so cheap because the Navy paid you a usurer (?) and I was working, didn't make much money, but after I became manager, and then went into the nightclub business, living was better. I had to help people. They lived here in Norfolk. I'm a Norfolk person. But the attitudes I think is wonderful. I think it's helped a person in life to work young and help people because I think the attitude is entirely different. People who don't ever do anything for anyone else has a bad attitude toward everything. I'm happier now; than when I was young because at my age I've got so much for me to do and teach and I can teach most anything to be known. I give my time freely because my husband has been dead over four years and my first husband is dead and my second husband is dead, both husbands are dead. And I married again after the war. I was divorced in the war but four years after we were married. He died. Then my husband just died. Both of them died about the same time. But I find life better now then when I was young. 'Course, living is harder for me. I mean it's for money. My money is so limited because my pensions don't really take care of this high cost of living. And I have my own home and I'm paying for it. But it's a little struggle. But going every day to the center and helping other people, your attitude is entirely different. You have no troubles. But it's not too much. You do have a thought of it. Can you make it? Can you keep up with this high cost of living? But there's always something. Pensions don't really -- if I had $50 a month more I could say I lived better. I'm not really complaining and I'm not bitter or disappointed because I'm happier at my age than I ever was at my life. I get more out of life.

Interviewer: Do you think you would have like to have gone to college and maybe into --

Catholic Woman: Not when I was young. Now, my brother -- I have a brother --(inaudible) -- and educated boy --(inaudible) --two of them graduated. My niece, she just gota job. A probation officer. That is a good job. She just graduated in December. She's smart. But I never ever wanted to go to college. No. Because we were too poor. We never thought of it in those days. See, I'm 66 now. I'll be 67 this year. And there was no money and whoever thought of it? Living in California I could have gone to city colleges for nothing. Virginia -- No! So, we never thought of it. We went to school then. I went to work and all of us kids had to go to work. I had one brother who was sick for ten years and he never went to school or college and he's one of the most successful businessmen in Norfolk. He owns E.H. Lawrence Motor Company and he never had a days -- (inaudible) -- he went to school, to junior high, got sick and when he got out of bed he was to old to go to school. He got married and has had nothing but success. He has a brilliant mind and he never went to school. Now that happens once in a while. And he's insisted his children get the best college education but to him he didn't need it. I'm not college material, you know. He's got one son he went to Harvard. (Inaudible)… High school and he didn't go anyplace else and he's manager of Lawrence Motor Co. and he has been and he is thirty and he's a successful businessman and he has a brilliant mind and he knows the car business and he learned the hard way. The other was graduated PPI with high honors and he took mechanical engineering and business administration and it took 5½ years to get it. He is a very poor manager of money and he can't live on his fabulous salary. And that's college! But everybody is not like that. And he has another boy -- this is just to tell you how families are -- and he graduated ODU with high marks and he taught distributive education at Kempsville. He didn't like it.

And he's connected with Lawrence Motor Company through his father. But some children don't need college. I don't think I needed it 'cause I got along well. I mean -- good money. I became manager of a restaurant then I went into the nightclub business and I made very good money and I went to South American and traveled all over the world. And I worked in Panama and places like that and I don't really think I needed the college.

Interviewer: Did you visit all these places while your husband was in the service?

Catholic Woman: In the service. And I educated myself traveling.

Interviewer: Did you have children?

Catholic Woman: No, I never had children.

Interviewer: Did you want any children?

Catholic Woman: I never discussed it and I never had any and I got married the last time and I was to old. But no.

Interviewer: Did you use any kind of contraceptives?

Catholic Woman: No. You didn't even know what it was in those days. You never heard of those pills. I never did when I was young. I got married-20. You never thought about it. I guess I never meant to have any. The only person in my family who has any is my youngest brother and he has four children. My sister was married. She never had any and I had another brother and he never married. And none of us had any but one. But I think my attitude is very good for a woman my age. I've seen some people become very bitter at my age. They think that life is cheating them. That life has done everything to them. I think its been wonderful to me and I've had a lot of hardships. And I've had to struggle with working to help my people but I think when you sacrifice and help Other people you're made.

Interviewer: What did your father do?

Catholic Woman: My father never -- we moved to North Carolina when I was eleven. My father was a farmer then he went with the American Express Company and he wasn't satisfied, went back to farming, got a place in Smithfield and moved there. But we still kept out house in Norfolk and then I had an older brother who helped take care of all of us. So, I guess he never married. He's still living. My brothers and sisters are still living. My brothers are still living and I have a sister - 70 -- very active. And then my oldest brother never married, and they two lived together by themselves. He liked farming better than anything.

Interviewer: How did the Depression affect farming?

Catholic Woman: Terrible. We had plenty to eat but we didn't have any money. But he worked in the American Express Company but you know, salaries were very bad. My mother was a marvelous woman. We sold the farm too, but the house my brother and sister are living in. My mother is a marvelous manager. I never heard her complain. I never heard my mother and father say we couldn't afford this, we couldn't afford that. Never. We lived on what we had. We accepted it. And we didn't make our mother and father miserable. And my brother worked in a CC store. I think it was $15 a week but money went farther. It don't go no place today. In those days, we ate just as good as we ate today. My mother was a good manager and food was cheap. We lived in San Diego when hamburger was a nickel. The hamburger I ate today was $1.25. I think we lived in those periods or those times, I think that we've learned something. See, the younger people today like you and all haven't been through those periods. You're living in high living and you haven't lived through your Depression. And I think it makes people to live through that. Don't you think?

Interviewer: Well, I don't know. I'm afraid I might --

Catholic Woman: I hope you never have to live through a Depression. But you know what? I've heard my husband say, gee, I'll be glad of the time when we can go to the beach and buy a hot dog, hamburger or a soda. See, he made $96.50. Then I worked, but I sent my money home. I've heard him say I 'd love to have those. He became an officer in the Navy and he came from no schooling and he went high - ranking Navy and was retired after thirty years when I was divorced from him. And I was awfully glad. And when we were young and we didn't notice it and we had a car and gasoline was a nickel a gallon. We'd go all over California.

Interviewer: Where did you meet your husband? Was he from California?

Catholic Woman: Here. In the Navy. We went to a dance at Oceanview where they used to have dances. We loved to dance and met at Oceanview dancing. And I married him and went to California. And I was married twenty years to him.

Interviewer: What was dating like?

Catholic Woman: Dating then? It didn't take any money to go out. We'd go to Oceanview and it was 10 cents to get in and go to the dance and you didn't have to worry about streets you can go out all times of the night. And we'd have hot dogs and hamburgers and chip in 15 - 10 cents a piece. You know, nobody had any money. And my sister and I used to sing. And we had these parties that didn't cost much. I still say the roaring twenties was the best time of my life as good times. Now, I'm happy with my old friends and I do more now with hobbies.

Interviewer: What about drinking? Was there much drinking?

Catholic Woman: No. But if we had a ½ pint for ten or fifteen people to take a drink we would take a drink, yes. My father always kept it in his house and wouldn't deny it. And wanted it. They thought if they put a restriction on things you may do it. I'm used to it. I don't much remember drinking on our beach parties. But when we went to the dance at Oceanview we'd have a pint or a ½ pint. Then the Ghent Club, that's a nice club but they tore it down. We'd go there if we had a date. We'd never have to worry about the boys mistreating us. We didn't have it. Nobody ever thought of those things. Today you speak of sex and all like its nothing. I don't ever remembering ever hearing it. We didn't ever discuss it. And the boys liked to dance like we did. We'd go downstairs and have a Coke and put a little drink in it. I did more drinking when I was married to an officer because my husband and I had to entertain. My second husband was a violinist in a New York band and we traveled till I bought this house and we played at the best places in the World. Near Canada in the summer. We traveled with New York bands. His brother owned a band and we traveled and naturally we drank. We had parties and we met millionaires. We lived in New York. In Florida, we lived every place. So, I say my life has been very colorful. I have nice memories and no regrets. I've lived in many different areas in hard times, good times. We were married in 1949. He had never been married before. So, we traveled with the band. This was entirely different than the Navy. We lived very good. At the best hotels. In the summer, we'd be up at Lake Champlain, in Florida, Ohio, six weeks in the Poconos. I didn't really feel like I'd marry again. When I first was divorced I felt a little bitter because my husband and I had planned a lot -- buy a home in California and settle. And he met a millionaire he wanted to marry and I didn't stand in the way. I didn't stand in the way. I gave him his freedom and he married her. And after he died she called me up and it brought back -- I thought twenty-nine years ago you really wrecked my life. And she said,"I really want to meet you." And I said,"No. I don't ever want to meet you. I think it's best we never see each other." She said;' I'd like you to visit. I'd love to meet you." I said, "No. You almost wrecked my life 29 years ago and I can't imagine whoever gave you my name and address and I didn't want him to know even who I was married to." I didn't want no connection and she said, my sister-in-law and I said,"I didn't appreciate that. I don't appreciate you calling me." She broke up my marriage. For four years I didn't marry. I lived with my mother and father.

Interviewer: Did you work then?

Catholic Woman: No. With the money I received from him -- was pretty good and he gave me a savings account. My mother and father both had they're Social Security and they owned the house and we've never been big spenders. We never have lived to high. A medium life is good for me. I have a brother though who is a millionaire. Of course, the one with the Lawrence Motor Company. He has a beautiful house on the water. He travels and goes to Vegas. He lived high but he was sick all his life and I guess he's entitled to it. But, he lived different than we do. But I lived through all those periods and its better to have lived and learned something. Because when you get my age you can look back at travels through many countries and I've lived in poor and medium. Right now, I have to watch my money more than I did during the Depression.

Interviewer: Did you think that when you became a manager there were men working with you that resented that?

Catholic Woman: No. They didn't. The business people I connected with never resented it. I never find any men that resented it. I don't know why the attitude is today. But they didn't at that time. Do you think they do today? I never met any that seemed to resent it. But most of my married friends in the Navy did not work but I did. But I can tell you who did resent me doing it--my husband. He did. I'll tell you why. My first husband felt like I had sacrificed so much working and given it all away that I could do without shoes and clothing and other girls my age would dress nice. Well -- I couldn't go to it--and he didn't make to much himself. But as for expense -- my brother was ill for awhile. And it took everything. He got on his feet and started Lawrence Motors and paid off my mother's house. He was good to her. I took her to California for seven months and then I brought her back. She loved it out there. He had a brilliant mind. I guess you heard of the Casey Foundation. Well, Mr. Casey and us were good personal friends and that's the way my brother ever became to walk -- throught Mr. Casey. John Hopkins - every hospital & doctor, couldn't help him. So, my cousin was a psychology teacher. She worked with the foundation and asked us to let Mr. Casey give him a reading. Mr. Casey did and told us what was the trouble and he started treatments from Mr. Casey: Medicine that doctors hadn't heard of, but we found it in different places and he hadn't of walked, he'd be paralyzed if it wasn't for Mr. Casey. There's a book out that my brother's life is in. Mr. Casey's -- one of his new books -- came out last year. They sent me one. Mr. Casey's secretary sent it. My brother's history is in that--D.H. Lawrence. But you have to keep an open mind with that. Mr. Casey came to our house. He's a personal friend of ours. We knew him well. He was a good friend of our family. He was very poor. The medical doctors from all over the world come there to get his readings. I didn't get a medical reading because I wasn't sick. But I wanted to know who I was, you know. They said I lived in the Gold-Rush days because I was always striving for something gold. And it's true. I'm always searching to make something. And I went places that I felt like I'd been there before. It's a long drawn out affair with these readings but they are very interesting. You feel like you've been there. He said, that I can make people believe things that I didn't even believe myself. He said, you'll tell people things, exactly what is right and wrong but you don't even believe it. In the Gold-Rush days, my names were different things at those times. But see you have to keep an open mind. That's reincarnation, you know.

Interviewer: Yeah? But what religious affiliation did you have?

Catholic Woman: I'm Catholic.

Interviewer: Are you?

Catholic Woman: Uh-huh! I'm a Catholic. I go to St. Pius's Church. But nobody in my family besides me is Catholic. They're Baptist.

Interviewer: What about your parents were they--

Catholic Woman: Methodist and Baptist.

Interviewer: Is it because of your husbands were Catholic?

Catholic Woman: Thats right! When I was young I wanted to become a Catholic. My last husband was Catholic and my first husband was but he came out of the religion.

Interviewer: Did you get married in the church?

Catholic Woman: No. Uh-uh. But see, I could not become a Catholic till my last husband died four years ago. See, when I was divorced and both husbands were dead I became a Catholic. See how many years I had to wait? I could go to church but I couldn't take the sacraments. See, I had to wait a long time. We have a senior citizen in our church that--(inaudible) So, you see my life today is fuller than when I was young. I was tied down to jobs. I always searched a city when I went and see what I can find to learn.

Interviewer: What did you think of Eleanor Roosevelt?

Catholic Woman: Well, I saw her husband on the West Coast when we were in San Diego.

Interviewer: What about Mrs. Roosevelt?

Catholic Woman: I never thought too much about her but I liked the Roosevelts. I really did like the whole family. I really liked them. I think that books come out about the life Mr. Roosevelt and her lived. I'm sure that was true. That he lived a double life and had someone else. At the beginning of his career it was rumored that you know, they weren't very much to each other. But I think they both were bri11iant people. Don't you think so? I think they raised brilliant children. I think it was a brilliant family, I really do.

Interviewer: Do you think C?) the work that she did?

Catholic Woman: I think she did a lot of good work. I liked her. You know, now, Mr. Truman's wife didn't do very much. She was a very stay-to-yourself person. But Mrs. Roosevelt wasn't. She was out with the people. She got out with the people and learned what was going on. Now, Mr. Truman had a wonderful wife but she wasn't, she wasn't really material for the White House. You know, I think you have to be material.

Interviewer: She wasn't any more than a housewife.

Catholic Woman: She was more of a housewife than of an executive or presidents wife. There's a lot of difference. But yes, I thought Mrs. Roosevelt was a brilliant woman. She didn't miss nothing. Got after everything. She helped with the colored people. And bringing them into living. She helped bring them into places they could never go before. Yeah, I liked the Roosevelt family. Regardless of how he --his love life with someone else -- it happens in the best. Exclusive people always got somebody on the side that they later love and its nature. My grandmother, she was 95 when she died, she said, "the sweetest love was never loved." And I believe her. I remember the things she used to tell me but let me say the young people today like my niece have a lot to look forward to. And I hope they never have to go through a Depression. But I think the young people today will be strong enough to be able to take it.

Interviewer: What about attitudes toward sex in the Depression? Did many people perhaps not get married because of lack of money?

Catholic Woman: I saw more people not getting married in later years than I did at younger years?

Interviewer: Why do you think they were getting married? Why do you think they didn't put it off?

Catholic Woman: The Depression years you saw more marriage than you do today. I think they loved together, they shared together, they worked together. Make enough for the two of them. A lot of them had to go to work when they got married in the Depression.

Interviewer: Do you think a lot of these people who were getting married had planned not to have children and since they both worked--

Catholic Woman: Now, a lot of them did I think. They'd think, now if we get married! Now my nephew got married while he was going to PPI. Both went through college. He said to my brother -- this was 13 years ago, 14 years ago -- excuse me -- he'd say, Now, Dad, don't worry about it, they'll be no children. And one year later they have a little boy. See? I said, what'd you do forget? They said no and they had another child. She divorced my nephew and wanted to marry a boy she went to school with and took the kids to California. So, there's been tragedy in our house for the last two years with the divorce. But where there is children involved its terrible. As for myself I don't believe in this living together and having children out of wedlock. I'm not old fashioned. It's two people wanting to live together. I don't think they should have children and bring them into this world. I don't think that's really right for the child. I think a child won't get over it if he finds out he was born out of wedlock. The movie stars do it. Well, the stars on the West Coast they live together. I met many in the nightclub business. But people like that live together and it doesn't hurt anybody but them two people. But if they're going to have children it does. Don't you think so? I don't say they shouldn't live together. I've seen people love somebody else that's married and make living miserable because they ouldn't have that partner. There's nothing worse than loving someone you can't have. I've been through that. That's another long story. Because you never get over that. But you can really love somebody, never have them, and never get over it. But that's why I say they go ahead and live together until they're in love with each other. I don't condemn that. But I can't see having children. Two or three children out of wedlock. Its a hardship and the child has no security. Some states recognize it and some state don't.

Interviewer: In the thirties, do you think there were people that went ahead and lived together?

Catholic Woman: I didn't see it and I was in the public during the Depression and I didn't see too much of that. You didn't see or hear about rape ever.

Interviewer: What about abortion?

Catholic Woman: Well, I lived in Panama.:. (inaudible) I never had any. There were women and men who worked at the canal zone. 90% of them had abortions. They were Americans. They worked on the ditch. They called it a ditch. And I lived with a canal zone family till we got our apartment. And they had two daughters and two sons. And she told me, she said,"Pearl, you know what? Down here they've settled since 1907 in this canal." You know, its funny. I can find out what's going on. I'm a person that digs into things. "Why is it Mrs. Curtis, that you see all of these beautiful government homes down here and you never see any children?" You never see any children. I mean they're all elderly people, much older than I was. And they'd maybe have one. Once in a -while you'd see a canal zone person with one child. Now, the navy comes down. They're poor. They're First Class, Second Class. They have a load of little kids to come down with the Navy. The Navy moves them. She said, you know, there's a rich doctor here -- colored. He has given every woman on this Isthmus an abortion. So, her daughter was married and she wanted an abortion. And she said, "Pearl, will you go with her" and I said, "Yeah, I'll go with her." Her husband was in the Navy. He got in trouble and they sent him to prison. And she was not going to have a child. So, we made an appointment with this doctor. This doctor, when he saw me, said, "I know you!" I said,"you've never seen me before." He said, "I see you every day passing by my office going to the commissary." Well, he said, "I went to college in South Carolina in the South and I went to college in Medical School with one that looks exactly like you." I said," Really!" He was educated in the South. And he said, everytime he saw me he wanted to stop me and ask me if I was this party. I said," No, I never went to college. So he talked her out of it. He said, listen you're married. I've given you mother abortions. And he did, she had two. They didn't want no children in the canal. I don't know why. Yes, plenty of Navy families and Army but you didn't see civilians. Well, their civil servants. She told me and he told me the women down there just don't want children. And he talked to her. He said, Alice, don't have an abortion. I'll give you one if you insist but don't have it. Well, she said, he's going to prison and I'll never see him. I want an abortion. She kept the child. She divorced him and the child never saw her father. That child was grown and she married Johnnie and they moved to Carter and they've been living there for years. But five years ago, that daughter (she's grown and married), she discovered that this man her mother married wasn't her father. They had never told her that. And she has caused more trouble. She wants to find her father and I said Alice, I don't know why you didn't wait for Burt. I don't know why you didn't wait for Burt. I don't think he did over three or four years. Whatever, the Navy got him on some stealing on a ship. And I said (we write to each other). I said, Judy will really hate you some day because you didn't tell her the facts of her father. And I knew it was going to happen. And Johnnie always said to Judy that she was his daughter. They got married even before they had the baby. She didn't change her name. She told the child her real father died. But somebody come to Carter and told her her real father was living. That's what happened. That's the troubles. I don't know how it worked out because she really caused some trouble. 'Cause she searched to find him, Children don't forget. You try to raise them and hide things from them but they find out when they get older and they'll make it tough for you. But I've seen so much of everything. In Panama, that's the only place I've seen so much abortion.

Interviewer: Were there -- you may not know -- but do you think many women came down there from the United States to have abortions?

Catholic Woman: No. Uh-uh! You couldn't do that. I doubt very much. Like in San Diego, I don't even remember an abortion case. We worked in the public and we knew the Navy people. I knew a family that had nine.

Interviewer: During the Depression?

Catholic Woman: Yes, during the Depression. And I'd say to her how in the world do you live? She said, there is always enough for another one. And their attitude was better than mine would have been with nine children. First Class didn't make much money. The Navy would move them and in those days rents was cheap and of course, your salary was nothing. They say we make -- I have to laugh at some of them -- they'd say we'd make a big pot of something and all of us ate the same thing. And the children don't complain. And people at that time during the Depression did not complain as much as they complain today. You hear more complaints today at the senior citizens club about prices and living than I ever heard in the Depression. We used to laugh and joke and we didn't know enough to mix. And we weren't used to nothing no way. Everybody got together and somebody make a pie. And we'd have cakes and coffee. That's all. And you didn't hear anybody complain. But you hear more complaints today than you did then. But I guess us older ones can accept it better. You have more facilities today but you don't have the money. It takes everything I make. I have two pensions: a social security and a veteran's. And I'm paying on my house and I keep a car. It takes everything. But I'm grateful because I have good health.

Interviewer: What about the people you knew in California-the Hollywood stars? What kind of image was projected for the stars?

Catholic Woman: We didn't like any of them. We thought they were cheap. We thought they were cheap and they lived bad.

Interviewer: What were some of the women stars during the Depression?

Catholic Woman: I've seen Jean Harlow and I've seen Virginia Rodgers and Walter Pidgeon, Dick Tracy -- all the old stars. But you know what? People that lived out there like me, we wouldn't walk across the street to see them because we knew the life they lived and we didn't care for them. And people over there would say oh, my goodness, oh Earl's playing. And one night he was in the club and a girl said, Earl Quentin's over there at you station. And I said, I could care less.

Interviewer: Why was that? Because it was a pretense they were putting on?

Catholic Woman: At that time -- who was living with what director and who was doing what to get Ahead -- today they don't do that. Like Joan Crawford. Now she had lived with practically every one of them to get them to give her a part. It was known to everyone. And Marion Davies that lived all those years with William Randolph Hearst at San Simeon. Its a million, billion dollar place. When I lived out there, she lived with him and we thought that was tragic. We'd ignore them.

Interviewer: Do you think the women stars were just doing this to get ahead? They weren't really living with someone because they loved him?

Catholic Woman: No. It was to get prestige. Marion Davies lived with him up until the time he died. Of course, he never divorced his wife. The daughter and son own San Simeon. (Inaudible) When Mr. Hearst died they gave it to California 'cause the taxes during the Depression were more than they were willing to pay. We thought of movie stars as trash. You see, I had friends - Navy -- that were housekeepers at these swanky hotels where the stars lived. And they knew more -- (Laughter) -- the stories! You could write a book! The stories

Catholic Woman: you would here about what those stars would do in those days. A young person today if she's got the talent and she can make it, she can be an actress without sleeping with a director. But in those days couldn't. (Inaudible) We'd see a star get ahead like Joan Crawford but behind it was some other big name. That's why we didn't care for stars then. Look at Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy together all those years. Today it doesn't happen. I think if they're together and they love each other they'll stay because they both can make it without each other. Like Sonny & Cher. She's going with a director and he's going with someone else. They outgrow each other -or one of them gets better than the other.

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