Thursday, March 26, 2015

My Grandma's Journey to becoming a City Mouse

         My grandma Minnie teaching her two oldest daughters how to be the best mom possible.

           When I was young my grandma used to read me "The Country Mouse and the City Mouse." While it is my dream to leave the city, she had to make a journey to the city in order to make a living. I never asked her all the details of her endeavor until today.  I went over to my grandma's house to set up a new digital tv box and put away some decorations in her garage. I knew if I didn't she would be climbing the ladder, she will also mow her lawn if you don't first. She insisted I climb the ladder and   she hand me these fairly dense boxes. I know if you have a blog that you are supposed to focus on one central theme and gain fame and followers; I've never been one to follow the herd. Any time I go to my grandma's, I hear a new story from the past. I lock in and ask questions, I imagine her rural upbringing and transition to the  city life in the 1940s.
       She is 90 years old and independent. She remembers street names, maiden/married names and dates. I could ask what town a friend was from or what year they were married. With that being said, if something is wrong I will take the blame. This conversation started by her handing me a typed letter in a frame. This letter was from Europe, congratulating my grandpa (Harold L. Turnbough) on his retirement in 1986. The letter from Allan Light and Bob Levison stated that his "influence has reached beyond the American continent." Thanking him for his invention of the "Zip-Sorter", only one of his contributions he received plaques for. He never showed me that letter and never bragged about his inventions. I remember somebody telling me, "a lot of people made money from his inventions and he could have been rich if he marketed them himself." He was the most humble man I've ever known and intelligent as well; my idol. When he was a boy, "he was always building or creating things", his sister Nadine always told me. He was born in 1921 and grew up on the highest point around, "Turnbough Hill". He had two sisters, Nadine and Hilma. As fate would have it, this "boy" was chopping firewood one December day in Quaker, MO. It was December 7th, 1941 to be exact. He had a small radio and heard men saying, "The Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor, America is going to war!".  He told me he had to run into the house and look on a map to find Pearl Harbor, in Hawaii. Soon after he was hand picked by Uncle Sam to go to Europe, Austria and Germany to be exact. His father fought in WWI, in the same location in Europe.

   So with my grandpa being trained to fight and shipped across the world to protect our freedom, my grandma was finishing high school at Dillard High. She grew up in Curtois, MO on an isolated farm with three older sisters (Eunice, Geraldine and Beatrice) and one older brother (Orville). My grandma Minnie Crabtree was born in 1925, four years before the great depression tragically struck America. Some pivotal things were happening in 1925, Adolf Hitler was released from Landsberg Jail and published his influential book: Mein Kampf.  He was given a five year sentence for treason, but only served nine months due to political pressure and popularity. Chrysler the automobile company was started, the famous gangster Al Capone was "promoted" to run the mob and The Great Gatsby was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Some other people born on this year were Paul Newman, B.B. King and Johnny Carson. She graduated high school in 1942. Without any hope of going to college, she needed to find a job!

                                    My grandma is on the right, a high school graduate in 1942.

     Her sister, Geraldine was five or six years older and also needed a job. Geraldine had different jobs back then, but my grandma remembers her making school lunches in the basement of a two room schoolhouse. This schoolhouse was up the creek from her family farm and would be where she met my grandpa in grade school. My grandpa bought this schoolhouse later in his life, which is where the majority of my favorite memories were made. Most people in rural Missouri either farmed or mined by the nearest town of Viburnum back then, which didn't leave her with many options. Her older brother Orville Crabtree worked on a farm to provide for his wife Lucille and family. Her sister Beatrice and husband Jake Adams lived and worked on a chicken farm to make ends meet, they finally came to St. Louis years later. My grandpa's sisters Nadine and Hilma eventually moved to St. Louis with their husbands, Winford and Paul. Not many people had the opportunity to live in the country where they grew up, they had to relocate to survive. Her older sister Eunice was living in St. Louis, with her husband Harry Woods. Eunice worked at a cleaning company and Harry worked making ammunition for our soldiers. Her parents didn't have electric on the farm, and sure didnt' have a telephone! People communicated by letters and just had to be patient to learn of any new developments with their loved ones. Recently I was texting friends in Europe, I'm still amazed that it only takes seconds to send a message across the Atlantic. She was told if she could get a ride to St. Louis, she could look for a job and stay with her sister and brother in law. Geraldine and grandma had one old case for luggage, and put everything they owned in it. It was rare for anyone to have a car back then, they managed to find a ride in the back of a guy's truck! If I were to drive to the Crabtree Farmhouse today, it would take me approximately 2 hours from St. Louis County. It was a normal thing to ride in the back of trucks then, "that's how groups of people got around back then."  They didn't have a job yet, but did have a place to live, on Delmar Blvd. in St. Louis City. 
         St. Louis in 1942 during the clearing for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Notice the Old Cathedral, built in 1834; the first cathedral West of the Mississippi River. Now you will see the St. Louis Arch here.

                                            This is a streetcar in Forest Park, St. Louis.

                          The St. Louis Cardinals beat the dominant New York Yankees in 1942!

      After their truck ride into the city, they were immersed into a the new bustling world of St. Louis, Missouri. They had never seen a town of this magnitude. The population being just over 800,000 was quite the contrast from living in the Missouri Ozarks with nobody within miles. The St. Louis streetcar and train system was started in the 1890's. She said the streetcars were so packed with people, you had to hang on the edge and squeeze in between everyone while riding anywhere. She said she remembers. "everyone was watching the street signs like a hawk, making sure they didn't miss their stop." Since almost nobody owned a vehicle then, most people still lived in the city limits and "suburbanization" didn't start yet. One could drive just minutes from the city and be in the woods or on a cattle farm, which is now considered "South City."  The most technological advancement she came in contact with daily was electricity in their rental house! She said when she was back home, they "went to sleep soon after the sun went down or lit candles." One time I believe it was her parents that rearranged her brother's room by moving his bed, when he was told to go to sleep he ran through the door and jumped in the air thinking he would land on a soft bed; instead he landed on the floor. Having electricity in every room was an amazing feature not yet commonly seen in rural America. Once they got settled, they put an application in where Eunice worked, Lundstrom Cleaners. They were asked to come in and were hired! This place was near Tower Grove Avenue and South Vandeventer Avenue. Her commute included a streetcar ride to the bus station and then waited for a bus to get closer to work; it wasnt' fast but it was a paycheck. Her starting wage was a hefty .38 cents an hour, eight hours a day. She pressed men's slacks and made sure the creases were perfect, then people could look professional and put together for church or work.

      She learned this job quickly, she said she remembers her sister burning her arms on the industrial presses. She heard someone mention that a factory down the street named Prince Gardner Billfolds, offered .42 cents an hour. She applied and was quickly hired, gluing seams on wallets. She said she didn't really like it that much but was happy to have a job. She also skipped most "extra expenses", such as the movies or a banana split from Walgreens. She said that sometimes she would walk by The FOX Theatre, but "we never really went in ." She shared a room with Geraldine and they had a stove. The house she was living in had a wooden ice box. You would place a card outside the window saying what size block you wanted; 5, 10 or 25lbs. There was a metal tray below that would catch the melting water. When my grandpa was in college his roommates and him forgot to empty a similar tray, dripping water all over his neighbor's clothes in the closet below him. She moved from a house off Delmar Blvd to an apartment on Westminster Pl. Eventually she was told about a "government job", closer to home and contributing to the war. She was hired at Mine Equipment Company, off Clayton Rd. Her job was to inspect huge communication cables being spooled up. She would wear gloves and all the cable would run through her hands, if there was a knot in the line, it was repaired. I remember her showing me her picture there with her sisters/co-workers. It was a good job and paid .65-.80 cents per hour. With Germany surrendering in May and Japan surrendering in August, the demand for communication cable stopped.

     Her next job in 1945 was at the American Can Company off Kingshighway Blvd. She inspected cans that did not yet have a top or bottom, for any flaws. She didn't like the job much and said she was looking for a new one soon after. She worked until midnight sometimes. She applied for a job with the American Thermometer Company and was hired in 1946. I love how everyone was proud to put "Made in America" on their product, or put America in their company name.  She installed thermostats on ovens, it was new technology to control the temperature for the best cooking results. She said her hands and fingers were callused from the work. It was a union job and very sought after at the time. During that time my grandpa finished college, they were married and my grandpa was looking for steady work. He went through multiple hiring agencies and eventually found a great 30+ yr career with Alvey Conveyors. They bought a house in the early 50s off Union Rd, south of the city. She stayed with the thermometer company from 1946 until months before her first daughter was born in 1954. She had three daughters and then committed her life to her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. She is the sweetest lady I have ever met and has always had the strongest will to stay active and independent. Although many people that lived in the hills of southern Missouri became familiar with the city life, this is how my grandma went from being a country mouse to a city mouse.
Opening a wedding gift with my grandpa at her parent's farm in Curtois, MO.
My grandpa grabbing a picture with his daughters in 62'. From left to right: My mom Brenda, my aunt Jan and my aunt Sandy.

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