Glimpses of Family and Friends over 300 years
Diane Perrine Coon
Dedicated to Alison, the bright, loving daughter I’m so happy to claim is mine, to my brothers George, whose passing in 2013 is still a hole in my heart, and Bill who shared so much of my life, and to my wonderful sister in law, Jane Myers Perrine, a genuine author and inventor of memorable characters. In remembrance of Ollie Conway Perrine and George Bierce Perrine, M.D. whose lives shaped ours and encompassed so much of America when it was special.
To the Simpson cousins, Nancy and Judy, and to the Bauman cousins, Dorothy and Linda, as our lives intersected at Grandma’s, with Anne, Ollie, and Hope, the three Conway sisters keeping us all a family.
To the pirate Conway who walked a plank, to the Huguenot Perrines, to the patriots, preachers and poets, farmers and carpenters, and above all to Naomi, the Lena Lenape Delaware Indian, we found after many years of searching.
And to Connor and Colin Runser, my grandchildren, who have no idea their ancestors were so weird and wonderful.
Chapter One: People from My Earliest Memories
Grandma Conway and Ruth Lyons
1st Grade: Four Schools, Four States
Grandpa’s Ohio Farm
Aunt Emily and Ozma of Oz
Going to Sharon
Baby Brother or a Pet Dog
Before Oprah, Ruth Lyons Reigned
My grandmother Conway never missed the Ruth Lyons show. During the 1930s, the 1940s and until her death in 1952, Grandma put her dough to rise in the kitchen, finished churning her butter, pulled the quilt frame out away from the wall, and turned on the radio, readied her thimble and spent the next hour with her friends in downtown Cincinnati. There Ruth Lyons and Frazier Thomas hosted the Ohio Valley’s most influential talk radio show on WKRC and later WLW and its 50 watt clear channel station beamed the show all the way from Louisville to Indianapolis to Ashland to Chillicothe and Columbus.
She became the darling of Cincinnati when she broadcast non-stop during the 1937 flood, giving news and information and imploring citizens to give aid to those stricken by loss of homes and food and household goods and clothing during the great flood. And every year she hosted the Ruth Lyons Christmas Foundation gala to raise money to give toys to children in the area hospitals at Christmas time. When she was stricken with small strokes during the 1970s, her progress became front page news in the regional newspapers.
Ruth Lyons was the female version of Arthur Godfrey, and the toast of daytime television in the Ohio River Valley. Every entertainer who passed through Cincinnati or its nightclubs over in Northern Kentucky, came on the show. And once Ruth Lyons started the 50 club on television, all the headliners like Bob Hope, Pearl Bailey, Nelson Eddy, David Letterman and Phil Donahue appeared so that the show became more a variety entertainment show than a talk show.
Today the signature ending of the show would be considered hokey – all the 50 women dressed up in their finest dresses and hats with white gloves, waving to the television audience as they all sang “The Waving Song.” But my grandma did not think it was hokey; she might have been all alone in a farmhouse 30 miles from downtown Cincinnati, but these were her friends. And there was a three-year waiting period to become one of those 50 gals.
Grandma would not tolerate any crudeness on radio or television. When Grandpa was home, the radio and/or television were dedicated to the Cincinnati Reds games. On Sunday afternoon, she always listened to the Grand Opera program out of New York City and found it very educational; Grandpa found lots of things to do in the barn or out on the farm at those times. At her monthly Coffee Klatch meeting in Norwood with several Cincinnati German/American friends, they would discuss the operas and major singers that month as they imbibed Kuchen and coffee with lots of cream and sugar.
She and Grandpa enjoyed Fibber McGee and Molly, and Lum ‘n Abner’s Jot Em Down store, and they loved Bob Hope chiefly because of his service to the country during World War II. I suspect Grandma never saw one of his movies.
But one of their major entertainments, believe it or not, was to turn page after page in the new Sears Catalog, when it arrived in the mail. Grandpa’s section was toward the end of the catalog where men’s clothing, smoking stuffs, farm equipment and fencing and hunting/fishing supplies were located. Grandma’s section was ladies’ clothing, household implements and kitchen pots and pans, fabrics and chicken brooders. They never purchased an item on time, and they always discussed the purchase together.
When I was little, I thought Grandma liked Ruth Lyons because Grandma’s name was Ruth. When I became older, I realized that Ruth Lyons was Grandma’s best friend. In the days when farms were two or three miles from each other and city center required three transfers of trains, trolleys and streetcars, those radio shows and regional television shows made people feel part of something greater than their own family. America had come through the Depression and World War II, in large part because Grandma and Grandpa Conway and all those thousands of other farm families believed that our citizens were kind and honorable and neighborly and the country was worth saving. Thanks Ruth Lyons, wish there were more of you
First Grade, Four Schools, Three States
I started first grade in September 1943 in Cincinnati, Ohio, at Clifton Elementary School. We lived on Cornell Place in a rented house; Mom was a nurse at Cincinnati General Hospital, and Dad was overseas with the U.S. Navy as ship’s doctor on the U.S.S. Hobson, a hunter-killer destroyer. Because my birthday was in November, I started first grade at age five. I remember that beautiful school so well. It had a fountain in front that had developed a teal color patina, and when you entered the main doors a large lobby with a marble staircase that went up and then divided going both left and right. I think first graders did not go up the stairs. To get to school, we never had to cross a street because we walked through people’s yards. I distinctly remember the next door neighbor had a mulberry tree that had a lovely shape. I thought that the berries were good to eat when they turned from green/white to red. Not so. I had a tummy ache of major proportions. During World War II in Cincinnati, everyone looked out for each other, and walking to school was very safe. We must have had baby sitters because Mom worked as a nurse and my baby brother, George, was only two years old.
Then in the spring of 1944, Mom bundled us up and drove her old Chevy to her aunt’s house in North Carolina. Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Chub had purchased a motel in Henderson, North Carolina. It was one of those family style motels; each cabin had a tiny sitting area, a bathroom, and a bedroom but no kitchen, and an outdoor wooden bench. The motel cabins strung out along the ridge road so that every cabin had a view of the mountain valley below. The reason we were there was because Mom got word that Dad was being transferred to the U.S. Marines who needed experienced doctors for the Pacific theatre. While Dad was stationed at Camp LaJeune, I went to school for three weeks in Henderson, North Carolina. The only thing I remember about that school was coming home to teach my little brother his ABCs.
The third school was in Coral Gables, Florida, in spring 1944 where my Dad, as 2nd Lt. in the U.S. Navy was in the process of being transferred to the Marine Hospital in Hawaii. But first he had to go to take special courses in south sea island diseases and surgical procedures for badly wounded soldiers and sailors coming off the Pacific islands. Dad had been taken off the Hobson about three weeks before the ship was engaged in bombardment and rescue operations for the Normandy landing in June 1944. However, he had already undergone substantial naval
engagements at Casablanca landing, shepherding merchant ships carrying armaments and airplanes across the southern Atlantic route, going after the Quislings and Germans in Norway out of Scapa Flow, and running the Murmansk run more than once, so missing the big operation at Normandy was not something Dad regretted. How ironic, when many years later doing Dad’s genealogy, I discovered that the Perrine family were Normans and had originated in the Channel Islands of Guernsey and Jersey, just a short distance from where the Hobson was stationed at the famous assault.
I have only a faint memory of the Coral Gables school; as I recall it was one story and meandered among lush bushes. But I do recall very clearly the first day of my first grade at Coral Gables. I went to the corner of our street and I had my nice new satchel, a tablet with lines, and new pencils. No one told me that school buses were yellow; I got on the city bus instead and was a little surprised to find there were no other children aboard. Thank heavens the lady sitting next to me was inquisitive about a little first grader alone on a city bus. When she found out I was supposed to go to school at Coral Gables, she immediately got us off the bus and phoned the school, they in turn got a hold of my Mom, and I eventually got to school, but very late.
Then just a couple of weeks later, we headed for Key West, where Dad was taking yet more courses. I was in that school so few weeks that I can’t remember anything about the school. I just remember lush foliage and everyone watching a sunset.
All of my transcripts from the four schools in three states followed me back to Cincinnati, where in September 1944; my second grade started at yet another school, because we had moved to Union Street near Mom’s work as head operating nurse at Cincinnati General Hospital. There we made scatter paintings of fall leaves, made silhouettes of Washington and Lincoln, and pasted hundreds of war bond stamps into our stamp books. I guess we had a lot of reading, writing and arithmetic too.
By the time I had completed my MBA and was taking the second of a series of post graduate courses, I had attended 12 different schools. Thinking back on my education, I think four schools in the first grade is the reason why I am so comfortable with new situations and new adventures. But I can see where a shy person might have been traumatized by my early schooling. Of course career military families pick up and move all the time.
It’s funny what a six year old remembers apart from family lore and legends. Of our time in Florida, I recall the ocean on both sides of the roadway going south from Miami towards Key West. And I remember the wonderful sunset at Key West, Cincinnati had too many hills for great sunsets. But then we had the great river running by.
Grandpa’s Ohio Farm
During my formative early years, we lived in the city of Cincinnati surrounded by brick and concrete and blacktop. Although we kids ran through the neighborhood playing all kinds of games, we were all pretty poor. It was not just a matter of coming out of the Great Depression, it was the coming of World War II in which Daddy was going to be gone for four years, and Mom was working as operating room nurse at Cincinnati General Hospital. For those who don’t remember, our daily lives were pretty much dominated by coupon books, school, pasting War Bond stamps, and playing noisy games outdoors. So few people had cars or gas to put in them that our streets were relatively safe to play stickball, but we were supposed to skate on the sidewalks. The skates fitted on the bottom of our shoes and you tightened them with a big key.
Although Cincinnati had a marvelous zoo and a lovely park near our house, Mom’s work meant that we had little opportunity to see much greenery. Mom’s father, William Conway, worked full time as a master carpenter building houses in the Cincinnati suburbs and during the War years he had a lot of work to do; however he had been raised on a farm in Uniontown, Indiana, about half way between Indianapolis and Louisville. Well before World War II started, Grandpa purchased a farm in Okeana, Butler County, Ohio, not too far from the Indiana border, and he worked that farm nights and weekends. He modernized the farmhouse for Grandma by putting in indoor plumbing and winterizing the exterior. But he refused to get a tractor. Instead the grandchildren were delighted with two big farm horses, Red and Blackie, who knew “Gee,” “Haw,” “Whoa,” and “Giddyup.” Smartest horses I ever knew. They lived in stalls in the back of the big hay barn, and their yokes and gear were mounted on large pegs on the side of the barn. Grandpa had a plow and harrow for the team, and he put in a corn field and a hay field in the bottom lands down by the creek. He always put in one row of popcorn for the grandchildren.
The reason I know so much about the horses and the barn is because every summer my brother George and I were sent out to Grandpa’s farm in Okeana. Mom came out on Sunday afternoons when she could get away from her nursing duties.
The hay barn was amazing. There was plenty of room for the two horses and a place for the sow and her piglets on the left side. Great bales of hay were stacked above the right side of the barn, and underneath the hay was a space for the cows to be milked and in the back area for his plow and harrow. Grandpa caught a huge black snake up in the hayloft and brought it out on a pitchfork. We kids were horrified, fascinated, terrified, and curious all at the same time. Grandpa said he did not want a snake near his pigs.
The other Grandpa Conway “kick in the bucket” concept of farming was his dairy cows. He had one of each kind. It’s almost as if William Conway liked all the types of dairy cows. He had a Swiss, a Jersey, a Guernsey, and a Holstein and they were named after the grandchildren – Nancy, Judy, Dorothy and Diane – in that order. My brother George, that we called Butch, didn’t get a cow named after himself, because they were all girl cows, and Grandpa didn’t have a bull.
Years later when I understood how much work was involved in milking four cows every morning and evening and working a full day I admired Grandpa for his total work ethic. As a child I was just thrilled when Grandma let me churn the butter or when I rode with Grandpa down the lane to where the creek went under the road. There he left the big milk can in a stone hut built over the creek. Grandpa said the creek would keep the milk cool until it was picked up by the Dairyman’s big truck. Grandpa would not let me milk the cows. He said he had to get to work and I would hold him up. I think he suspected I’d kick over the milk pail.
Speaking of the milk cows, Grandpa had a wonderful farm dog, an Airedale Terrier. I can’t remember his name, but I thought he was the smartest dog in the whole world, because he knew when it was time for milking and he would go down in the big field and bring those cows up to the barn. At the time I did not know that cows would have come up by themselves without the dog.
Grandpa’s horses liked the Airedale too. I imagined they thought he was a small pony. The only time he barked was if he found a groundhog up on the clay cliff. Then all you would see was his tail as he burrowed into the cliff side. Whenever Grandpa got his shotgun out to go get rabbits that were eating his garden, the dog would go too. And Grandma fixed rabbits the same way she fried chicken; dredged them in flour, browned them in her cast iron deep skillet, and then put the heavy cast iron lid on to smother them. “Chew carefully,” she’d say when eating rabbit or game bird that Grandpa had shot, “don’t bite down on a pellet.” I think it was an Ohio thing.
While Grandpa was responsible for the barn and the farm, Grandma took care of the chickens and the vegetable garden. She had about a dozen laying hens, a number of chickens for eating and one beautiful rooster with a very loud voice. Her henhouse provided lots of fresh eggs. Grandma loved little Bantam chickens that would run loose, but it was too hard collecting the eggs, so she raised Leghorns inside the chicken coop that Grandpa built. I was allowed to gather the eggs, but Butch was too small and too afraid of the rooster. I had to promise Grandma I’d latch the gate and carry the egg basket very carefully. When Grandma needed more chickens she would get the brooder out and place a dozen eggs under the heater lamp. I was thrilled when the eggs cracked and the tiny little yellow chicks popped out. But Butch wasn’t so interested in chickens.
Every Sunday, Grandma made fried (smothered) chicken. That meant on Saturday I was seated on the back porch plucking feathers off the newly killed chickens. Grandma’s technique was to wring their neck then place them in a bucket of hot water. Then I’d have to pluck the feathers. Ick! I don’t remember her ever using a hatchet or an axe.
There was a huge vegetable garden on the farm. Grandpa would plow a large space up by the house on the side away from the barn when the chicken coop and the old outhouse were located. The garden had all kinds of lettuce and peas and squash and onions and tomatoes and pole beans and lima beans, Grandma canned everything. She had quart jars of vegetables all standing up properly inside the jar. And Grandpa put in some fruit trees so she canned applesauce and peaches. Somewhere she got pecks of berries because she made jams and jellies in enormous quantities. The colors of Grandma’s pantry were spectacular to a five year old. But I was not allowed to get anywhere close to the boiling pots of produce and jars and lids. And Grandma had a big wooden spoon that would rap you across the knuckles if you got too close to something dangerous.
Butch was too young to appreciate the garden, the barn and the farm workings, but he loved one thing that we did each day in the summer – making a swimming hole down in the creek by the cornfield. The Airedale went down with us but soon disappeared looking for critters while we worked. The creek did not have any natural swimming holes, so we would have to use the loose rock to make a dam. The two of us would work and work carrying rocks and looking for small ones to plug the spots where the water poured through. Finally, we would get enough water behind the dam to sit in it and splash. Then we would hear the cow bell ringing, and that meant it was time for lunch (usually peanut butter and Grandma’s own jelly). So the two of us would trudge up the hill with the Airedale dog panting from his long exertions, and Grandma would towel us off before we could come in the kitchen. Usually we had nap times, so our swimming adventures were normally in the late mornings. Of course the next day we would have to start all over again, because the water had pushed aside our feeble dam and scattered the loose rock.
Grandma’s sayings still run around inside my head — “I always plant holly-hocks around the privy,” “cut the asparagus down below the soil,” “the best beans are Kentucky Wonders,” (But I thought the runners on those bean pods were too strong) “The bread dough rises twice.”
And Grandpa said “the corn must be knee high by the Fourth of July.” The funny thing is that I don’t remember ever making pop corn with the corn Grandpa planted just for us. I think that was the corn on the cob we loved eating.
When you opened the refrigerator at Grandma’s house, there was always a large jar of milk left to separate with the cream rising to the top. That’s how we made butter on the farm. At first she had a wooden butter churn, but I remember the year that the glass jar butter churn arrived from Sears Roebuck, and I was allowed to make sweet, sweet fresh butter.
One morning I made a mistake. Not watching what I was doing, I poured the wrong milk on my Cheerios, it was full of cream, not milk. I started to throw it away in the sink when Grandma saw what I was doing. She sat me down and made me sit there all morning, because I was too stubborn to eat the cereal with heavy cream on it, and she was equally stubborn to teach a grandchild not to use the cream she needed for butter. It was not exactly a Mexican standoff, because when she was distracted by a telephone call (party line), I gave the cereal to the dog. But I always made sure I got the milk, not the cream after that.
My cousin Dorothy who was my same age would visit on the farm and bring her miniature metal kitchen appliances, a cook stove and oven and tea cups. We would go out in the meadow and gather burdock’s dark brown seeds and pretend that it was coffee. She was as horse crazy as I was, but interestingly enough we did not consider Grandpa’s work horses as interesting to us. She liked Palominos and I liked Misty of Chincoteague, my favorite book at the time.
Grandpa Conway’s brother, Charles who was called Cecil, purchased a much larger farm at Okeana. His children were Rupert, who inherited the farm, John Thomas, and Virginia who married and lived with her husband on a farm across the main road. One afternoon, Mom was visiting and brought us over to meet her cousins on Cecil’s farm. The boys took me up to their huge barn and in the loft was a gigantic door on the upper floor which was wide open. A crane was used to bring bales of hay up to the loft. But even more interesting was an iron contraption that took the kernels off dried corn leaving just the husk. The boys showed me how to put the corn into the machine and turn the handle. We were making feed for horses and cows.
Then they took me over to the open door in the loft and when I looked down I saw the biggest haystack ever in the whole, whole, world, at least to a six year old. One boy jumped down from the loft onto the haystack shouting with glee. Then the other boy jumped. Then I jumped too. Everything was great until I landed off the haystack into the smelliest gunk, probably made by pigs, cows, and whatever other animal peed and pooped in that barnyard. The aunts and uncles hosed us off before they let us come in the house. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that smell.
Many, many years later, in 1997, I drove my mother up to see her childhood places in North College Hill outside of Cincinnati, and we went out to Okeana. We pulled up to the farm across from Rupert’s farm, and Virginia Conway and Ollie Conway saw each other for the first time in more than 50 years. What a great celebration that was with the two of them chatting away as if it had just been a few months passing, not many long years.
As much as I loved, loved, loved Grandpa’s farm, I’m pretty sure my little brother was not enchanted by farm life. He actually did not like the big horses or the cows that switched their tails unexpectedly or the rooster that rushed toward you and Grandma would not let him do any of the kitchen stuff. I just remember him tagging along and trying hard not to get left behind. Grandpa was pretty tired at night and just wanted to read his paper and listen to the Cincinnati Reds play baseball and did not make time for a very small boy. And Grandma, who raised three girls, had no idea what little boys liked to do. So George really looked forward to the end of summer when he could get back to his house in the city. Since that meant school started, I was happy to go home too. But I, on the other hand, looked forward to next summer on Grandpa’s farm.
Aunt Emily and
Ozma of Oz
Aunt Emily Buchanan was not my real aunt, she was my Mom’s best friend. The two of them attended Medical School in Cincinnati in 1936 at a time when girls rarely made that choice. It was in that first year of Med School that my Mom met my Dad, the dashing young lab instructor, and Emily met and subsequently married Richard Buchanan, a fellow Medical student. For more than 40 years the Perrines and the Buchanans visited at Wilmington, Ohio, or Pewee Valley, Kentucky, once every year or two.
It was Aunt Emily who opened my young eyes and eager mind to the magical world of books. Through her I learned there were many more characters in OZ than Dorothy and the Wizard. There was Ozma and Toby and Tik Tok, and Glenda and the Scarecrow had more adventures than in the first book. Even on into Middle School, it was Aunt Emily who each year for birthdays and Christmas would send a special package, the next book by Marguerite Henry, Misty, Stormy Misty’s Foal, King of the Wind, Black Gold, and so on. By the time I was in second grade, I had become an avaricious reader. Thank heavens Cincinnati and later Cleveland had just great library systems, because we were devouring dozens of books a week. And I had learned a great lesson, that once you find a wonderful author, look for more books by the same person.
But books were not the only thing interesting about Aunt Emily. She came from a German-American family who lived in Norwood. And they had the most fantastic house on Oak Street in Norwood. The William Behrman family had been early German immigrants to Newport, Campbell County, Kentucky, (before 1835) and moved across the Ohio River into Norwood sometime in the late 1920s. They dwelt in a huge, rambling and tall frame house a little like the one in the photograph. It seemed to have porches all over the place, and everyone in the family had their own bedroom.
Donald Behrman, Emily’s brother, had an enormous collection of classical records and a grand piano. He was a full-tine artist. Emily’s sister Marjorie Behrman was a school teacher of some renown. Neither of them ever married, and when their parents died, Donald and Marjorie just kept living where they had always lived. They went to concerts and the opera and both read widely. For our family who seemed to move every two years, it was incredible to live and die in the same house. To my young eyes, the Behrmans appeared to be the most cultured family I knew.
Mom said that when she and Emily were in Med School they used to take the streetcar from the University of Cincinnati over to Norwood, munching a package of crackers and cheese and a small coke for a nickel. At the Behrman home there was quiet and a place to spread out their books and study. It is strange that both women gave up their dreams of becoming a doctor and, instead, became wives and mothers so their doctor husbands could set up practices. Both men served in World War II so there were many similarities. However, Emily and Mom were quite different personalities. Emily was intense and talked a mile a minute without taking a breath; she was a person who needed causes. Mom was a more humble person, a quiet listener. Her causes were usually one little old lady or one orphan at a time.
I’m certainly glad they became such good friends, because Aunt Emily clearly enriched my life.
Dick Buchanan was a marvelous photographer. Each year at Christmas Mom would receive an updated photo of the family as the children grew up and the Buchanan family took interesting vacations.
I can’t recall why I was in Cincinnati, but Marjorie Buchanan drove me to Louisville. I must have been in the 7th or 8th grade. The old Route 42 from Cincinnati to Louisville had heavy truck traffic, so I told Marjorie to get off and go down to take Route 22 and it would take us directly home, well at least to Crestwood. I was correct on that end of the road. What I didn’t know, because I’d never been on that part of the road at that time, was that Route 22 wound through some of the most treacherous, winding, part of Kentucky – through the ravines of Grant and Owen and Henry counties before it ever reached Oldham County, and that road from Ballardsville to Crestwood wasn’t much better. It was just more familiar. We reached Pewee Valley about three hours late. “Why you ever paid any attention to a pre-teen’s driving instructions, I’ll never understand,” Mom said shaking her head at Marjorie. “She seemed to know what she was talking about,” Marjorie said.
All the Buchanans thought I was smart, even after the Route 22 episode. However, Marjorie went back to Cincinnati along Route 42.
Going to Sharon, Pennsylvania
The other grand parents lived in Sharon, Pennsylvania, within “spltting distance” of the Ohio border where Dad was born in Hartford, Trumbull County Ohio. Although my Dad’s grandfather, George Bierce Perrine and wife Ella had stayed on the farm at Hartford, his father, Lewis Bierce Perrine, left farming at Harford and worked his way up to become a cost accountant at Westinghouse’s main plant at Sharon, Pennsylvania. Dad’s mother, Katherine Lucretia Hawk Perrine came from a long line of early settlers in Westmoreland and Allegheny counties in Pennsylvania. She had attended a two-year teachers college and taught high school in Farrell, adjacent to Sharon.
Both my grandmas were substantial women, heavy in build and stern looking and very determined. While Grandma Conway’s home in Ohio was a plain rural farmhouse, and her kitchen always smelled of rising dough or something baking or cooking, Grandma Perrine’s home in Sharon was citified with lots of dark wood and thick drapes, and her kitchen was decorated with several sweet-potato plants in the window. Their vines seemed like ferns below a dazzling glass crystal that flashed sunlight beams. Later when I learned the old children’s hymn about being a little sunbeam, I thought of Grandma Perrine’s kitchen window.
Grandma Conway’s farmhouse had a back stoop, but no porch front or back. Grandma Perrine’s city house had a large front porch overlooking the entire valley toward the Westinghouse plant with a double swing. The contrast continued in the back of the two houses – at the Conway farm there was a large vegetable garden, privy, and chicken coop, at the Perrine back yard there was a formal lawn and flowering bushes. Half way down the little path, Grandma Perrine had installed a gracious Victorian rose trellis that you walked through toward the lawn beyond that structure. The white of the trellis and the deep red of the climbing roses were enchanting to a small girl.
Another big difference was that at the Conway farm, Butch and I slept on folding cots under quilts. At Grandma Perrine’s house I had a whole bedroom to myself with a big Victorian bed, a chenille bedspread, and two dark walnut dressers, one a Tallboy, the other a normal dresser. Both had heavy crocheted runners on top. I’d never seen anything so fancy. When I caught a cold while we were in Sharon, Grandma Perrine gave me some milk with bread crumbled in it and lots of sugar. My Mom would have given me cod liver oil in a spoon with some orange juice to camouflage the taste. Grandma Conway would give chicken noodle soup. See what you learn about adults as you grow up.
Grandpa Perrine was very inventive when thinking up things young children might like to do. Firstly he had a Buick sedan that had velour curtains that pulled down against the back seat windows. Those were the days before car seats or seat belts, and the back seat was soft and made for jumping up and down and then pulling the cords to let the window curtains snap up and down. Secondly, although Grandpa worked as a cost accountant in the main Westinghouse plant at Sharon, he must have known the men that worked in the switching yard, because he took me down to the site and the switcher engineer let me sit in the engine compartment. I don’t think he let the switcher move, but it was thrilling to be lifted up into that huge train engine. We were not supposed to tell Grandma or Mom. It was a secret. So that’s another thing that Grandpa Perrine knew about small children. They loved secrets, especially if they were part of the secret.
I didn’t know that Grandma Perrine had been diagnosed with a terminal cancer. She died in 1942 while Dad was in the Navy. My Mom went up to Sharon to help nurse her mother-in-law leaving Butch and me in Cincinnati with Grandma Conway. Another nurse named Charlotte tended Grandma and eventually married my Grandpa Perrine and when he retired they moved to Florida. They would come to Kentucky every year or so in their camper trailer. Actually no one told me Grandma Perrine had died until I was much older and happened to run across her photograph. Then the memories of those early days in Sharon came flooding back. And I remembered the sweet potato vines and the shimmering crystal .
Baby Brother or
A Pet Dog
I had three years to grow up as the only child, and then a baby brother arrived in October 1941. We were living in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, because it was cheaper than living in Cincinnati, and then Dad received an internship in Louisville, Kentucky, at the old St. Joseph Hospital on Eastern Parkway near the University of Louisville. So off we moved to a rented shotgun house on the railroad tracks between U of L and St. Joseph Hospital. Then Dad was called up by the Navy to serve as physician on the U.S.S. Hobson.
George Bierce Perrine III was an incredibly beautiful baby, and I liked the idea of being a big sister, but he would not run and play. He just drank milk and cooed or cried. I had long outgrown the crib and now George, or Butch as he was called, inhabited the crib. Because we were moving around so much, and because of potential sibling rivalry, my Mom decided to bribe me with a dog of my very own, the most lively little terrier. I can’t remember the name of that little dog, but I loved it and held it and squeezed it and took it everywhere I went. The strategy must have worked, because I never felt any sibling rivalry at all
A small row of shotgun houses near the railroad tracks within a couple blocks of the main University of Louisville was our home for a few months while Dad was dong an internship while awaiting his orders from the U.S. Navy. It’s funny now, but I don’t remember any of our houses having any paint on them. Our homes in Cincinnati and the Perrine house in Sharon, PA were brick. The Buchanan house in Norwood was a large frame house but not painted. Our rental houses in Fort Thomas and Louisville were unpainted. Grandma’s farmhouse had paint, white, but the barn red paint was peeling off so you could hardly tell the underlying color.
I remember two very significant events from Louisville. First I followed the neighborhood children when they went to school, and crossed the tracks with my little terrier dog on a leash. Mom was beside herself with panic, so she got a dog harness that would go around my body and used the dog leash to tie me to the front of the house. The leash snapped in the back so I could not untie it. Sadly I watched the children go to the school that I longed so much to attend.
Secondly I remember Mom washing the clothes in a large copper pot. Those were the days when most women washed clothes by hand. I’m pretty sure that Mom’s copper wash pot was the one that Grandma Conway used to make lye soap and boil her sheets and towels. It wasn’t until the 1950s that people started to put washing machines, the big round ones with a wringer on top, in their basements. They still used clothes pins and clothes lines and hung their wash outside to dry in the sunshine. Or sometimes rush like crazy to bring in the clothes before the rain came down, although sometimes one just left them out there.
George became more of a person to me when he was three. We had returned to Cincinnati and Mom was head operating room nurse at Cincinnati General Hospital. We lived in a rented house on Union Street, and it was about a third of the way down one of Cincinnati’s famous seven hills. She rented rooms to young women who were either nurses or doing war work in the city. Because they all had different shifts, there was always one adult there to watch Butch and me when I came home from school.
Everyone in our neighborhood was poor, so we only got one Christmas present and in our stocking we got fruit, like an orange or nuts. When I was seven I received the best present ever, Tom Mix cap pistols with a holster and extra caps. I then organized all the neighborhood children to play Cowboys and Indians. Butch, who was like an appendage to his big sister, invariably became the Indian that we tied with clothesline to the clothesline pole in the back yard. Unfortunately, George was pretty much a cry baby, and within a few minutes one of those adults would come out of the house and rescue him from the cap shooting cowboys. I can’t tell you how many times I got spanked growing up. It’s a good thing I wore overalls with good sturdy denim or corduroy.
The Union Street house was just two blocks downhill to the elementary school where I spent the second half of second grade through fourth grade. I loved, loved, loved school. It was so exciting to learn stuff. We made scatter paintings of fall leaves and silhouettes of Presidents Washington and Lincoln. We pasted war bond stamps in our books that we kept in our desks. We had ink
wells on the upper right corner of our desks. We took cardboard and made a large salt and flour paste map of North America and painted the countries with bright colors.
And we read lots of books, I completed the entire Dick and Jane series in one weekend, and headed for the library to pick up dozens of books. Meanwhile George started kindergarten. He went a half day in the afternoon. The teacher asked Mom to transfer him to a morning class, because when the children lay down for a nap, George fell so soundly asleep they had trouble waking him for the rest of the class.
The Lone Ranger and Tonto
The best thing about the Union Street house was that near the school was a neighborhood movie house that showed serials on Saturday morning. We were totally immersed into Tom Mix, Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers and Trigger, Green Hornet, and many other exciting adventures. For a dime each, George and I could see a news reel (not so exciting), three comics, and three cowboy serials. You didn’t dare miss a Saturday or you would get mixed up on the story lines. The movie theater was always packed with neighborhood children.
Our only problem was earning two dimes for Saturday. I finally hit on a great idea. George and I took Mom’s folding card table, and lots of that thin white wrapping paper. Spending a couple of hours, we would gather and wrap all kinds of outgrown toys and rolled up comic books and some of Mom’s doo-dads. We set up our grab-bag store on the sidewalk in front of the house in the middle of the sidewalk so people would have to stop and see what we had. Once we had our two dimes, we would close up shop, waiting for the next week to sell our wares. If we ran out of items to sell, we would set up a lemonade stand and sell a glass of lemonade for a nickel. Mom’s card table saw a lot of use, and we saw a lot of movies.
One of the girls in my class had a doll house with furniture and I wanted to see it very badly. So I went home with her after school and was delighted to play with her beautiful tin doll house. Back home on Union Street, my mother was frantic. She had no idea where I was and had just called the cops when I came in the house just before dark. Needless to say I got spanked and was not allowed to go to the movies that week. Poor George, he missed the movies and he didn’t even do anything, but he could not go alone.
A black Cocker Spaniel named Scamper came to live with us on Union Street. He was a very determined dog; he chewed the bottom rung of Mom’s maple dining room table and he did not tolerate children grabbing him around the neck very well. Both George and I had several bite marks on our arms. But the story about Scamper that I remember best was when we took him in the car out to Okeana to Grandpa Conway’s farm. I got to sit in the front seat with Mom, and George and Scamper sat in the back. It was summer, and the back windows were open, because cars did not have air conditioning in those days. As we turned the corner where Grandpa’s road came into the main highway, there was a large turkey farm, and the next thing we knew Scamper had jumped out of the window and was barking furiously at those turkeys. Mom had quite a time getting a grip on that dog and putting him back in the car. Needless to say he was not the best farm dog. Scamper barked at the cows, he barked at the pigs, he barked at the chickens, he barked at Grandpa which was not such a good idea. Grandpa quickly tied that dog up and spoke in a commanding language that Scamper seemed to understand. We did not hear any more barking the rest of the day.
When we moved to Cleveland after World War II, we stayed overnight at a hotel in downtown Cleveland, and Scamper stayed in a dog hotel in its basement.
Union Street was a wonderful experience. It was close enough to take a street car to the Cincinnati Zoo, and there was a park at the top of the hill. One of the most exciting adventures was taking the incline up Mount Eden to the Botanical Gardens. From the incline’s car you could see the entire city of Cincinnati spread out below you. And the gardens at the top were a riotous display of colors and greenery and an exotic sense of faraway places. Mom said that when she was in high school, they lived on the top of Price Hill on the western side of Cincinnati. It had an incline too, and Mom said that the boys in her high school used to throw rocks at the people riding the incline. They had to be careful, however, because the men who rode the incline coming home from work did not tolerate any rock throwing.
The viaducts of Cincinnati were very exciting to a child, especially if there was a flood in the valley below. But I did not like crossing the Ohio River on the old iron bridge. The river was too big and I was afraid of Mom’s driving. She always clenched the wheel so tightly I thought it was going to come off in her hands just as we crossed the river.