I was born in late November, 1932. By then, the worst of the Depression was behind us, but there was still that uncertainty that was hanging in the air. My parents were married in 1928, and my father had gone to work for a company which would later become Arvin Industries. My brother was born in Feb. 1929, and shortly afterward, the bottom fell out of the stock market. And my father lost his job to a factory lay off. As one of the first hired, he was one of the last laid off, but it made no difference.
There was no money to pay rent, and the furniture had been mortgaged to the hilt. There was nothing to do but for them to break up housekeeping, but even then, they ran into problems.Due to friction between my paternal grandmother and my mother, Grandma would not allow Mother to live in her house. My maternal grandparents would have taken them in, but they lived so far from town that it was impossible for my father to seek work. The deed was done. Mother and my brother went to her folks, my father went to his.
The worst part of his life was upon him. He had no job, no married life, and no prospects. And so he walked--from one end of this town to the other, stopping at every house, on every street, asking people, absolute strangers, if they had any job he could do, any work, anything that would bring in even a dime to put in his pocket. Whenever he saved enough to make the trip, he went to Mother's parents to see his child, and to try to make arrangements so that the family could become a unit again. This went on from late 1929 to late 1931, before the economy was such that he was called back to his job at the plant.
Somehow Pop got an old used car, rented a place and moved my mother and brother back into town. One of the demands he made, he told me, was that my brother was not to be raised an only child. And so I was conceived. My paternal grandfather had by this time opened a tiny grocery store near his home, and so we never actually went hungry, but he was forced to buy every pair of shoes we children wore until I was nearly four years old, because there wasn't enough money to go around. My parents were perpetually in debt--whenever things got tight, there was always the furniture that could be mortgaged to pay for bills.
In 1935, we were living in a tiny house in a nearby town, while Pop worked for the same company, but in another plant. By this time he had worked in just about every plant the factory opened, from beginnings in Indianapolis to the final large one here in town. One of the managers of the local plant wanted to branch out on his own, and had bought machinery in order to go into his own manufacturing business. When Mr. Noblitt was approached by this man for someone to set up his assembly lines, Mr. Noblitt recommended my father. He worked three weeks, staying late into the nights, after working for Noblitt's all day, to get those assembly lines up and running. Mr. Hamilton had bought used machinery, which came with no instructions. For this, Pop received 25$, and a sample of each of the three products the new company would make. He also was offered shares of stock in the company, and a job, only he was going to have to take a small cut in pay. Mother would not allow it--she was looking at the immediate circumstances--and wanted the money that was coming in now! So he didn't take the new job--and lived to regret it.
The factory he was working for was someday to be Arvin Industries, a world leader in its right, but he would never be more than an employee. The factory he set up was Hamilton, Inc--a manufacturing firm which would eventually change its name to Hamilton-Cosco Industries, and eventually simply to Cosco! If Pop had stood his ground, and stuck to his guns, he would have gotten in on the ground floor of one of the most prestigious businesses, one with little or no downturn in economics--the manufacturer of baby furniture!
(Pop died in 1980, a small frog in a big pond. He worked for Arvin Industries for 42 years, and had graduated to one of their best engineers, helping to develop their Arvinyl division, but he was never more to the company than a hired hand.)
When the war years came along, deprivations were more than during the depression, except most of them was voluntary. What had been unable to buy during the 30's became impossible to obtain due to rationing.
Rationing had caught up to the Hook family long before it hit most of the rest of us. Pop had rode the motorcycle back to Florida to settle his job and obtain his release from the base. On the way back, he had a flat tire on the cycle, 100 miles from home. He took that tire off, patched it (on the side of the road) pumped it up, and started off, only to have it go flat less than a mile later. He performed the same surgery again--only to have the tube go again.
He had seven flat tires on that rear tire before he got to Louisville, Kentucky, and matter of less than twenty miles. In Louisville, he tried to obtain a tire and tube, only to learn that nothing was available. He checked several stores, and tire shops, but was turned away at all of them. Finally, he was walking away in despair when he was stopped on the street by some grubby looking person who asked him what his problem was. When he said he needed a tire and tube, the fellow asked him how much money he had. Pop said enough---and the guy whisked him off to some isolated location, and he soon had tire and tube--courtesy of the local black market. It was something he was ashamed of, something he wouldn't talk about, but it had become a necessity of the times.
Our trip to Pensacola from Indiana in September, 1941, took two days. US 31 was finished from Indianapolis to the Florida line, but it was only two lanes.In Kentucky we passed a bunch of white concrete teepees, which passed for a high class motor court.Somewhee in Alabame, we stayed one night in a motor inn--just a one room cabin separate from the rest from the rest of the rooms. We cooked our supper (food purchased at a nearby grocery) over a grate outside in front of the cabin. It was definitely glorified camping out, but we had to pay for the privilege. I distinctly remember the musty smell of old mildew, and how absolutely clammy the sheets were in that cabin. I don't remember if there was a bathroom, but I don't believe there was.
Somewhere in Alabama, we stopped at a little roadside cafe, in a small town. Pop tied our dog to a sign post, where we had parked the car. The rest of us went in and ordered our supper. While we were eating (probably hamburgers), the proprietor came up to us and asked if that was our dog tied outside.
Pop said yes, and the man cautioned him that someone would steal him, if we left him out there, because it was getting dark. He told Pop to bring the dog in, that he could sit under our table while we finished supper. That man carried water in a tin can lid to Tippy, and fed him patties of raw hamburger, until he was sure the dog was well fed, "at no charge."
He was just being friendly, he said--then a colored man made the mistake of coming up the front steps of his establishment and the facade slipped. All Heck broke loose!
The formerly congenial proprietor screamed at the cringing man, making swipes at him as he yelled how he KNEW he wasn't supposed to come in through the front door! He KNEW he was only allowed to eat in the kitchen!
And on and on and on! The old black man literally ran for the back of the room---. It was embarrassing to all when the proprietor was instantly his old sweet self. He kept grumbling that some people didn't know their place in the world. To us, all the old man had done was come into a restaurant and sit at the counter to order his meal. But the thing that stuck in my mind was that the proprietor didn't think he had done anything wrong! To him. blacks ranked lower than that little black dog at my feet.
When we got into Pensacola, we learned that the cottage Pop had rented was across what was billed as the longest bridge--4.5 miles long across the Bay. It was a typical summer cottage that he had rented, and we soon learned that we could not stay in it over the winter months. The only source of heat was a barrel stove on legs on the screened in porch. In a few weeks, the neighbors informed us that they were leaving for the winter, and would sublet us their house (furnished) for the same price we were paying for the cottage.
My brother and I played on the sand, and went swimming almost every day. There was a retaining wall at the back of the lot, with our own private beach reaching out into the bay. We kids loved it there, but our mother was becoming restless. She had nothing to do, for my father took the car each day, and she was missing her family. She began to petition for us to move back to Indiana. So far Pop had been adamant, we were here, he had a good job, and we were staying.
Then came the day I will never forget, a day that will remain burned in my brain until the day I die. A day that changed my life from the carefree little girl to the one who took care of the family while my parents worked long hours. A day that our president declared would live in infamy. Sunday night, December 7, 1941.
We were relaxing after supper when the radio broke into its programming to say that the Japanese were bombing Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and that most of our fleet was on the bottom of the harbor. Our tidy little world, as we kids knew it, had stopped in the blink of an eye. Our beach was no longer ours, but was being patrolled 24 hours a day by soldiers weating long, khaki woolen over coats, carrying guns. My brother and I used to sit atop that concrete retaining wall and watch them pace back and forth. Some of them fearfully told us that we shouldn't even be on the beach. We knew better, but after all they were just boys.
Just boys playing at war. Guarding the great Pensacola Bay, walking the beach, wearing every stitch of winter clothing they could get on, carrying rifles that weren't loaded. No one could issue the ammunition for the rifles, no one had authority to do so. Far across the bay, you could see the coming and goings of the ocean going ships. You could see whether the ship was loaded or not by how high in the water the ship rode, and how much of the red painted keel was visible. The dock workers would load the ship until the red paint disappeared under the water, hence the phrase "waterline".
Christmas that year was different, although Pop had done his best. Things were rationed, and we were considered transients.Then too, my brother and I weren't sure that Santa would know where to look for us. Mother was still pulling at my father; terrified by the storied the youthful soldiers had told us children, she wanted to go home to her family. Soon after the new year, Pop gave in. He contacted his old employer, and made arrangements for us to move back to Indiana. He moved us, took the motorcycle, and rode back to Florida to finish up his business with the Naval Air Base.
By 1943, we were reduced to raising a victory garden, rented from a neighbor up the street, and chickens in the back yard in order to survive. Milk wasn't rationed, for it couldn't really be saved for the war effort. But everything else was. Each person was issued a ration book, filled with points, to be turned in for the food you bought. Food was limited--flour, sugar, lard, butter, vegetables, were allotted so many units per person per month. If you were lucky, there was stuff on the shelf when you went in with your ration books. But some things were unobtainable. Kids went barefoot, and if the mother couldn't sew, most of us wore clothing until it became near rags. Soap was one of the things that we take for granted nowadays, but if you couldn't make your own, it was one of the deprivations. A lot of places, strips were saved from the best of the rags and made into quilt tops, and covered blankets made new covers for the beds.
One of the family sayings was "use it up, wear it out, make it do--or do without!"
I clearly remember the day the war ended. I was not yet 13, and had been doing the work of the housewife for three years, while my parents worked sometimes double shifts on the war effort. I had done the laundry, the cooking, the housekeeping, as well as the work in the garden. We had thrown a town celebration on V-E day, but it was nothing like what went on the day that the Japanese surrendered.
Church bells rang in the streets, every church had its bell going for hours. Factory whistles were tied down, and batteries on cars ran down while people laid on their horns. My grandmother gave me a cowbell, and I stood in the middle of the street in front of her house and rang it until my arms were too tired to hold it up, then we switched, my little cousin and I, and she rang until I rested, while I blew her whistle. The the downtown section filled up with cars--cars parked on the sides of the streets, and people milling up and down the sidewalks. Finally, they stopped traffic, while they danced in the main street.
The great war was over, as was the great Depression. A boom time was on its way, but the family unit had been shattered by distrust, arguments, and just plain adultery, on both parts. By 1947, my father had moved out, and we were on our own.[an error occurred while processing this directive]