Autobiography of Mary E Wilson (6) – Arriving in New York City – 1925

Mary E. Wilson, her father and brothers Jim and Arthur

Mary E. Wilson, her father and brothers Jim and Arthur

At last Mary sees the Statue of Liberty but she still had the ordeal of Ellis Island.

ARRIVAL IN NEW YORK

ELLIS ISLAND – 1925

After nine days, we arrived in New York City. I could see the Statue of Liberty. We had traveled in “steerage” and, being below deck with no windows in our room, coupled with the vivid recollection of being pushed under a beer barrel as a child during World War I, I would suffer from claustrophobia for the rest of my life.

I really thought that now that we had arrived it would be routine getting off the boat and being with my Mother but another nightmare was just beginning. We were taken to Ellis Island where my brothers and father were taken to one building and I to another. I was terrified because I was told to strip. They tagged and tied our clothing and it was put on a conveyor to be sterilized.

I remember crying and a lady, who I think was Polish, took me into her arms and hugged me. She was a large woman and spoke no English but her kindness reassured me and made me feel less frightened. I stayed with her during my whole stay on Ellis Island. We were on the Island for seven hours because, as I later found out, my father had spent the $100 “landing money” while we were on the ship.

My Mother was in New York City waiting for us and when she found out what was causing the delay, she was able to borrow the money from her friend Bert Harbor, who was also a friend of the Greenhill family. He had accompanied her to New York to get us.

When we were finally allowed to leave Ellis Island, a ferry took us to New York City. I saw my Mother from the boat as we were landing and she really had changed during her years in America. The reunion was very strange for all of us. She seemed to be so stylish and different and I felt like a waif.

We drove to Bridgeport, Connecticut, where my mother had rented a flat on Hallet Street. Mother had put a couch for me on the sun porch and my brothers had their own room. I thought it was a lovely apartment but I heard my parents quarreling in their room and I truly felt miserable and uneasy.

My Mother insisted I have my hair “bobbed” because that was the style in America but I hated it and let my hair grow long again.

Tomorrow I’ll begin letters describing Dan’s Wedding to Paulette, from several different perspectives.

Judy Guion

 

Autobiography of Mary E Wilson (5) – Leaving England – 1925

Mary's Mom and Dad

Mary’s Mother and Father

Mary’s mother had sent money from America to their father to pay for passage for her children but Mary’s father had spent the money on other things. Mary’s mother, Hezabinda, tries again, but this time she sends the money directly to a Travel Agency. It looks like Mary and her brothers, Jim and Arthur, might actually make it to America this time.

DEPARTING ENGLAND

Meanwhile, my Mother had accumulated more money for our passage again but she sent it to a travel agency this time. My father was furious and very angry because my mother had not trusted him with the money. He seemed willing to go to America but my Mother had tried to get us to America without him. We had our passport pictures taken again and we were vaccinated. My brothers were so excited but I had mixed feelings because I was so hurt. Our Mother had left us and would not return home. I felt she did not love me and she had been away so long.

My wardrobe was awful and my brothers had only the English type of clothing. When the time came for us to embark for America, I was really frightened. Grand-da went with us to the railroad station and he quietly gave me some money for myself before we got on the train.

En route we stopped at Uncle Dick and Aunt Isabel’s house. She was such a beautiful woman and what thrilled me was that she had been a dancer and actress before she married Uncle Dick. They had three children but I was so envious of them because they all seemed so happy together. Aunt Isabel danced for us and I thought she was so pretty and dainty – so unlike the average mother.

Why were Uncle Dick and Uncle George so different from my father? I did not know that they were not in the war like my father.

We proceeded to Southhampton where we took a room near where the boat was docked. My father decided he wanted to go out for a while and I think I started to yell bloody murder. All I could think of was my father had in his possession my Mother’s $100 “lending money”. The landlord came and wanted to speak to my father because we were too noisy. I got a slap across the face but he did stay in the room until morning.

The next day, we boarded the President Harding, which was an American ship and finally we were on our way to America. The second day of our voyage, our father left us and “camped in” with a large Irish family and we did not see him until the day we landed in New York.

It was November and it sure was cold and we did not have the right kind of clothing. The sea was so rough that I was so seasick I felt I wanted to die. There was a stewardess who evidently felt sorry for me. She washed my hair and really cared for me and brought me food that I could keep down.

My brothers were natural sailors and explored every inch of the ship and had a marvelous time. For once they were getting enough to eat. We had what we called Thanksgiving dinner and I did not know what it meant because I did not know anything about American history and customs.

Next Sunday, Mary tells us of her experience landing at Ellis Island . It is quite a story.

Autobiography of Mary E Wilson (4) My Father Returns – 1925

Mary E. Wilson

Mary Ellum 

The story of Mary Ellum Wilson continues in her own words. She has written her memories of her childhood in England during the first quarter of the last century.

1925

GRANTHAM

There was no news of my father’s whereabouts so my Grandmother arranged to have my brothers live with other family members and I lived with her.

So, another phase in my life started. I was now fourteen and my cousin Qweenie lived with my grandparents who had brought her up. She was the pianist for the London Symphony Orchestra. She had never married and she made me feel like Cinderella, as she was very spiteful and resented me living with them. She practiced on the piano daily and my Grandma adored her. Qweenie was the lady. She played the piano and was the one who made my life miserable. I hated her.

My Grandmother ran a little food store from her house and across the street there was a business which chopped wood into “faggots” for burning in fireplaces. They also sold bags of coal. My Grandmother taught me how to prepare food for the workers in the mill.

I still attended school and loved it. I saw my brothers and they seemed very happy with their living arrangements. My mother sent money regularly but would not return to England. I remember she sent money for shoes for me. Grandma used most of the money and bought Qweenie a beautiful pair of high button shoes and I had to wear ugly black ankle shoes bought with what was left of my mother’s money.

My father finally returned to Grantham. Only God knew where he had been all that time. My Grandmother welcomed him like a prodigal son and did not even question him as to where he had been. He did not even ask me how we have managed when he disappeared. My Grandmother put all the blame on my mother for our problems. Uncle Bill came to the store and had a fight with my father about his desertion of us. The aftermath of the fight was that my Grandma had a stroke and almost died.

My Aunt Sarah Jane came down from London and immediately sent me to live with Aunt Ruth and my cousin, Phyllis. I really loved living with them and they were so kind to me but they all hated my mother over the desertion of her three children. My Aunt Ruth worked in a hospital and with an extra mouth to feed, it must have been hard for her but she never complained. Phyllis was a few years older than I but she was my friend and I could confide in her. I was just beginning to feel a little secure when Aunt Ruth had a man come live with her so I was sent back to my Grandparent’s house to live.

After school I would work in the store. My Grandma had recovered from the stroke but was partially paralyzed from the waist down. She had a couch in the store and I sure got used to ducking because anything I did that displeased her would cause her to throw anything within her reach.

Looking back, I realized how unhealthy it was to have an old lady lying in a food store, who did not trust anyone and was angry all the time. She adored my father and blamed my mother for all his weaknesses and misery.

Tomorrow, we’ll begin reading the reactions to their engagement from those closest to Lad and Marian. This will continue throughout the week.

Judy Guion

Autobiography of Mary E Wilson (3) – Difficult Years – 1920 – 1924

This is the next installment of the Autobiography of Mary E. Wilson, the mother of a friend since childhood. She was born in England and spent many tumultuous years during the First World War. Those stories are told in previous posts. In 1923, her mother sails for America and the children led a difficult life.

Mary E. Wilson with

Arthur, Mary and Jim Ellum

1920-1924

BISHOP AUCKLAND

During 1920, my Grandmother Greenhill and Uncle Ernest came to stay with us. Uncle Ernest was a very spoiled teenager and planned to stay with us prior to going to America to join other family members.

We were very crowded in our row house on Blue Row but we had more to eat because Grandma gave my mother money for their room and board. It did not last long because Ernest was caught trying to “caress” me and mother really beat him up and told them to leave. They went back to Leeds to wait for their sailing date for America.

I was now nine years old and doing very well in school. I was obsessed at that early age with the idea of becoming a nurse when I grew up. I think in my young life I had seen so much of death, illness and miserable poverty that I really wanted to help people.

In 1922, my mother received a letter from Uncle Ernest. My Grandmother Greenhill was dying of cancer and she wanted to see my mother before she died. They all donated money for her fare to America and she was thrilled to be able to get away from the drudgery of her life in England.

In December of 1923, my mother sailed for America and I was left to care for my two younger brothers and a bad tempered, drunken father. I was frightened.

We had no Christmas in 1923, I guess I had no access to any money. After my mother left, my father started to drink more and we learned very quickly to keep out of his way.

My mother had been in America for a few months when she took out her naturalization papers to become a citizen of the United States. She was commended by the judge for loyalty. She had borrowed money for our fares to America. She refused to return to England to what you referred to as “a life of drudgery and hopeless ambitions”. I have often wondered about her loyalty to her children when the judge was admiring her loyalty to her new country.

My Grandmother had died and my mother was working in the Stratfield Hotel in Bridgeport, Connecticut. She finally sent money to my father for our passage but he immediately deserted us and disappeared. My mother sent money to a local food store to pay for our food and rent. I was so frightened and often very hungry and felt so sorry for my little brothers. I remember vividly my brothers and I eating raw turnips from the farmer’s field because we were so hungry.

The school board finally notified my Grandma Ellum in Grantham about our problem and she came to Bishop Auckland, sold all our home furnishings and we all went to Grantham to live with her and Grandfather Ellum. He was a kind, gentle man and used to be a Baptist minister but was completely dominated by my Grandma.

We’ll continue the story tomorrow with the next installment and still more moves for young Mary and her brothers, Jim and Arthur.

Autobiography of Mary E Wilson (2) Early Memories – 1917 – 1918

This is the second installment of Mary E. Wilson’s Autobiography. She is still quite young and not sure exactly what is going on in her family and is quite confused.

ellum 008

1917-1918

RETURN TO BISHOP AUCKLAND

My first heartbreak was when my adored Grand-da was killed driving an ammunition train. This happened in 1917 and I do remember the elegant funeral that was given for my Grand-da. After the funeral, we returned to 29 Blue Row in Bishop Auckland, England. My mother was able to get a job at Doggart’s which was a department store in the village.

We were enrolled in church schools. Mine was St. Anne’s, a school for girls. My brothers were in Barrington School for Boys. The education was very good but the teachers were very strict. We spent long hours in school, because, due to the war, our mothers were all working. The teachers were very quick to ”cane” us for any minor problem, which meant being hit very hard on the hand with a ruler.

I suppose life was difficult but everyone lived the same way; so if food was scarce and life hard, we really did not dwell on it, as every family who had their men fighting in the war, were in the same predicament.

The men were still away and the casualties were enormous. My father spent most of his four years in the Far East so he had no leaves at all.

The flu epidemic broke out and between 1917 and 1918 it was awful. Every day, it seemed, there was a funeral taking place and my mother worked very hard with Dr. Wardell, the village doctor. He made his rounds on a three-wheeled bicycle with a sidecar. There seemed to be illness in every home. My brothers and I constantly wore camphor cubes around our necks because it was supposed to ward off the flu germs.

The death toll was awful and because so many people died, they were buried in mass graves in St. Anne’s Church Cemetery. When the flu epidemic finally ended, my mother was given recognition because of her endless work with old Dr. Wardell. It was a miracle that our family escaped the deadly flu germs.

In 1918 my father came home and that was the beginning of a very unhappy time in my life.

The return of the man should have been a joyous event but the men had been changed by the horrible war and the local pub was filled every night, as they like to congregate with each other. They seemed to resent restrictions of family ties and were cruel and insensitive to their wives and children.

I was the oldest and now I was seven years old. My mother depended on me to help. My father started to drink very heavily but he did get a job with a local brewery. I remember he drove a huge brewery wagon pulled by four, large, Clydesdale horses. He had been a horse soldier in the Army so he was familiar with them.

My father did not like my two brothers and me as we got on his nerves. I learned later that he had been shell-shocked and gassed while he was fighting in France trying to get a gas mask on his horse. The Army orders were that you put the mask on the horse first and then you put on your own. At that time, mustard gas was used and it was lethal.

The population started to increase. It was so good to see “new babies” on Blue Row. Poor Dr. Wardell was again very busy delivering babies.

My mother never had any more children because after her delivery of my youngest brother, Arthur, the doctor told her she would not be able to conceive, as she was so badly torn during delivery. Frankly, I think my mother was relieved she could not have any more children. My father had developed into a very bad tempered man with a violent disposition.

A good percentage the man in Bishop Auckland worked in the coal mines and they would all congregate around the water pump on Blue Row to clean up. They seemed to be more relaxed with each other than with their own families.

My father was still with the brewery and we tried to keep out of his way when he was home. My mother still did the laundry for “Durham School for Young Ladies”.

Tomorrow, I’ll begin posting letters from 1941. Lad is in Trumbull, working a Producto, in Bridgeport, where 100 % of their production was war-related. He is concerned about his Draft Status. Dan, Ced and Dick are all in Fairbanks, Alaska, worrying about their Draft Status also. Grandpa and Dave are keeping the home fires burning.

Judy Guion

Autobiography of Mary E Wilson (1) – Early School Education – 1915 – 1916

Every weekend I’ll be posting the autobiography of Mary E. Wilson, the mother of a childhood friend, who was born in England about the same time as my Father and Uncles, and didn’t come to this country until 1925. It gives us a totally different perspective, that of a female living in England about the same time that my Grandfather’s family was growing in Mt. Vernon, NY and Trumbull, CT.

Mary, Jim and Arthur Ellum @ 1915

Mary, Jim and Arthur Ellum @ 1915

1915 – BISHOP AUCKLAND

DURHAM, ENGLAND

I recall the panic I felt when I was dragged out of my bed and pushed under a large beer barrel. I was told by my mother, Hezabinda Greenhill Ellum, as she pushed my younger brother Jim in with me, to be a brave girl and to put my arms around my brother to keep him quiet. I found out later that the village of Doncaster had been bombed by a Zeppelin and it was en route to Bishop Auckland in the County of Durham where we lived.

It was the year 1915, and although I did not understand, we were at war with Germany. The beer barrels were my mother’s idea of an air raid shelter, as she held my baby brother, Arthur, under another barrel.

Bishop Auckland was bombed that night but the Zeppelin was brought down by a single R.A.F. pilot who was later cited for bravery and given a medal of honor. I remember my horror when daylight came and I saw that the graveyard had been bombed.

Bishop Auckland in 1915 was populated with old man, women and children because all able-bodied men were in Europe fighting in the war. My father was with the British Territorial’s in the far east and he wrote to us about the “big heads in the sand”, which I later realized referred to the Sphinx in Egypt.

Food was very scarce and I remember as a five-year-old going to the marketplace to buy “specked” fruit which was actually overripe fruit. My mother did all the “fine” laundry for the teachers in a private girl’s school. The headmistress was called Elexadria Fisher and I used to deliver the packages of laundry in a baby pram to the school, returning home with more soiled laundry and the money for the laundry I had delivered.

Army pay was very small and the money my mother made helped a little. She used to take us into town twice a month to pick up my father’s military pay and that was the day we ate pea soup and bread cubes in a soup kitchen. My mother thought she was giving us a treat but I looked longingly at the delicious smelling meat pies in a stall in the marketplace in Bishop Auckland. To this day I hate and despise pea soup.

1916 – LEEDS

YORKSHIRE, ENGLAND

In 1916, we all moved to Leeds in Yorkshire and lived with our grandparents, my mother’s parents. My grandfather, Adam Greenhill, was such a kind, gentle man and I adored him. My own father was very vague in my mind and I scarcely remember him.

My brother Arthur, was born after my father went away to war and he did not see his son until Arthur was four years old.

My Grand-da worked as an engineer for the railroad and he was able to get my mother a job on the railroad as a conductor. My grandmother took care of us while my mother worked. We were enrolled in school in Leeds and one thing I vividly remember is the awful noise made by the children because we all wore wooden clogs in school – the same kind used in Holland. We had to remove them when we were in our classroom.

Life was difficult. I think my grandmother resented us. Food was scarce and we saw  little of my mother. I was responsible for keeping my two little brothers quiet and out of mischief. I was young myself and there was only three years and four months between myself and my youngest brother.

Tomorrow, the next segment of Mary E. Wilson’s Autobiography.

Next week I’ll be posting letters from 1941. Lad has returned from Venezuela, Dan, Ced and Dick are all in Alaska and Dave is home with Grandpa in the Trumbull House. Elizabeth (Biss) is married with two sons and living in another town close to Trumbull.

Judy Guion