Amanuensis: A person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another.
I continue my project to transcribe family letters, journals, audiotapes, and other historical artifacts. Not only do the documents contain genealogical information, the words breathe life into kin - some I never met - others I see a time in their life before I knew them. If you choose to join me in Amanuensis Monday and post your transcriptions, feel free to add a link to your post in the comments.
This week I continue a transcription of a family history tape recorded in 1987 between my grandmother, "Sissie" (Feinstein) Newmark, and a professional oral historian. This section begins with my grandmother talking about moving to Clayton, a suburb of St. Louis City. [After the transcription I include several notes, researching a few of the things she mentions, as well as questioning a few of her statements.]
Interviewer: Did you move out there before high school?
Sissie: Oh yes.
Interviewer: what age?
Sissie: I was 9.
Interviewer: Nine, that’s right, you just told me. So, you were a Claytonian. And, you remember what Clayton looked like when there was just the little Courthouse.
Sissie: Oh, we used to take the 04 all the time. You too?
Interviewer: Yeah. The 04 was a real great institution.
Sissie: Oh, it was wonderful.
Interviewer: Did you walk over to Wydown to get it?
Sissie: No, I caught it right on the corner at that time on Demun and San Bonita.
Interviewer: Oh, that’s right, you could get it in.
Sissie: At that time you could get it right there. Gosh I don’t know whether…I did take it to the high school I think, but usually my mother drove us and picked us up. Or, I hate to tell you this, we used to take cabs.
Interviewer: Oh, no.
Sissie: A group of us, we’d take a cab to and from school.
Interviewer: That would be fun. Now, tell us where the school was then.
Sissie: It was, the high school was on Forsyth right where Famous and Barr is now.
Interviewer: I think your grandchildren would be interested to know that.
Sissie: And we had a fountain across the street, the Pevely Fountain for the ice cream.
Interviewer: Describe that place
Sissie: Describe the ice cream or the fountain
Interviewer: The fountain.
Sissie: Oh the fountain was gorgeous, we’d all go there and sit and watch the different colors, it would be an exciting evening.
Interviewer: You could park in front there
Sissie: Oh, of course
Interviewer: And get cool, because of the water
Sissie: Uh huh, it was a big evening, and with those gorgeous hot fudge sundaes
Interviewer: Too bad they tore it down
Sissie: Did you go to Clayton High?
Interviewer: No, my husband did. But I lived in Clayton and went to Burroughs.
Sissie: I remember when they tore the high school down it broke my heart.
Interviewer: His too. Alright, so you lived in Clayton and you knew a lot of people there. And tell me how you met your husband, just that date with your brother?
Sissie: Well we go back to a pajama party when I was 12, and he crashed it . He was a very wild kid. You’d never know it now. He really was. And then of course I didn’t see him again until I was about fifteen. And that’s how I met him. And then we started going to parties together, and it’s just been Mel and I all our lives basically. And our folks were as close I guess as Mel and I were.
Interviewer: And so that was a special arrangement one might say.
Interviewer: Everybody was happy.
Sissie: Until the day Mel’s folks died, really. In fact, when his father died, Mel's mother practically moved in with my mother while he was in the hospital. They used to travel together; they’d go to Florida together twice a year. My father drove. They’d just pick up and go; they’d stay there in Florida together. Mel’s father of course, he could work and do what he wanted. He was a tailor.
Interviewer: He could pick up.
Sissie: Just pick up and go. My father could do anything he wanted because he’d retired years and years ago.
Interviewer: But there was enough money for him to retire that young. Because when we think of the forties.
Sissie: No, my father made big money.
Interviewer: But, I mean, to be able to retire at such a young age.
Sissie: Yes, and there wasn’t Social Security then.
Interviewer: Alright. You and your husband decide to get married.
Sissie: Well, yeah, we decided one day. We’d been going together so long. And we moved in with my mother, my mother and father, and we were there until I had Michael.
Interviewer: Alright, let’s not go so fast. First -- You’re out of high school when you started dating him?
Sissie: No, I was just barely in high school; I was a sophomore.
Interviewer: So, let’s talk about high school a little bit. You’re dating this older man.
Sissie: Yeah, two years older.
Interviewer: Well, that’s a lot in high school.
Interviewer: And do you love high school; you’re a good student?
Sissie: No, I was a terrible student. I really was.
Interviewer: What were your favorite courses?
Sissie: Algebra. That was it. It still is.
Interviewer: And you were social?
Interviewer: Did you belong to clubs?
Sissie: We were a clique really, the girls, there were about five or six of us who always did the same things together.
Interviewer: What did you do after school?
Sissie: After school I’d probably come home, and maybe go to sleep. No.
Sissie: No, I was never one who liked to study.
Interviewer: What about sports?
Sissie: I liked sports. I played school things.
Interviewer: Did you play on the school teams?
Sissie: Oh yes.
Interviewer: Well that was after school.
Sissie: Most of the time it was during school. We’d have games during school. There really were never really any after school sports as far as I can remember.
Interviewer: It wasn’t as organized then.
Interviewer: But did you belong to any English Club, or Latin Club, or Drama?
Interviewer: That wasn’t your interest.
Sissie: My only interest was Melvin. Most of the time he’d pick me up after school.
Interviewer: Did you go to movies, and all that? Was that a big thing in those days?
Sissie: While I was going with Mel it might have been a big thing, but we couldn’t afford it. The only time we went to movies was when my folks took us.
Interviewer: Well, that was nice.
Sissie: But we really never went to movies. He’d usually. Well, it was never after school, anyway, it was either in the evening or Saturday or Sunday.
Interviewer: What did you do in the summers in your high school years. Did you ever get a job?
Sissie: No. I worked once for two Saturdays. It was during the winter, though, right before Xmas. For a Lipson (?) shop. Selling hose. And that’s about as far
Interviewer: But all summer long what did you do, when school was out.
Sissie: I guess we went swimming.
Interviewer: You were a playgirl?
Interviewer: But I mean your mother or father never said, what about going to work?
Sissie: No. I don’t think that either one of my brothers worked during the summer.
Interviewer: Where did they go to school?
Interviewer: Both of them?
Interviewer: And they didn’t have to work in the summer either?
Interviewer: Really unusual
Sissie: We didn’t work.
Interviewer: Did your mother do anything but housekeep.
Sissie: She’d play cards.
Interviewer: Did she do volunteer work? Or club work?
Sissie: No. She played. The only thing I know she played cards. They used to travel. She and I took a few trips together.
Sissie: To California.
Interviewer: To see family?
Sissie: Well, to see my friends really. Once we took the train out there.
Interviewer: Just the two of you?
Sissie: Uh huh. And we stayed with a friend of mine. This Eleanor Kauffman. My mother wanted to look up an old girlfriend of hers, that she said she went to school with. Now see that’s where I’m – I couldn’t believe she was going out to see someone she went to school with, I said “she won’t even remember you.” And here I’m talking about people I went to school with, and I still see.
Interviewer: Nothing changes. All right, so the two girls took trips together.
Interviewer: Did you all go to Chicago?
Sissie: No, we only went to California, she and I.
Interviewer: What about the whole family?
Sissie: The whole family. We went to California. My father, two brothers and myself.
Interviewer: Did you ever drive on the weekends to places in Missouri?
Sissie: No. Not that I can remember.
Interviewer: Go to Florida ever? In those days. Was it developed yet?
Sissie: No, I didn’t go.
Interviewer: Did you love California?
Sissie: Uh huh, but not enough to live there. In fact we moved there at one time. We went out to see whether or not we wanted to stay. But I was going with Mel at the time.
Interviewer: Your whole family moved there?
Sissie: Well we didn’t move. We lived there for three months.
Interviewer: And thought about it.
Sissie: My father thought about it until I talked him into coming back because Mel was graduating college at the time, and my brother was going with someone here at the time. So we came back.
Interviewer: Over the summer you moved there?
Sissie: I guess you wouldn’t say moved. We just went out to explore.
Interviewer: Sounds great.
Sissie: Does it really? It was all right. I worked when I was out there.
Interviewer: Did you?
Sissie: I worked for Warner Brothers, for three months.
Interviewer: Well, see.
Sissie: Just, it’s crazy, but I did. While there I worked.
Interviewer: All right. Clayton, what year did you graduate?
Sissie:’32 I think.
Interviewer: Did you plan to go to college?
Sissie: I did, and I was as far as enrolling, then I changed my mind.
Interviewer: At Washington U?
Interviewer: What changed your mind?
Sissie: I didn’t think I’d make it.
Interviewer: You didn’t give yourself a chance.
Sissie: I didn’t. I was on the verge. I was going with Mel at the time. I just, didn’t explore it any further.
1) My grandmother had previously stated that when her father 'retired' from managing a laundry, due to a heart attack, he was given a 'consulting job' at the laundry owned by a friend. (He was at least 50 years old by this time.) It may not have been as strenuous, but he was on somebody's payroll.
I'm also not going to take her word that her brothers didn't have summer jobs.
2) The fountain and the hot fudge sundaes were both 'gorgeous.' That was most definitely my grandmother's favorite adjective, and the fourth and fifth time she has used it so far in this tape.
According to the minutes from a 2007 meeting (pdf) of the Clayton Art Commission, the actual fountain still exists, and 'is available' for a place large enough. I'm not sure what's happened in the past 3 years.
The 04-street car disappeared in 1949. Here are some photographs.
3) Earlier in the tape my grandmother mentioned that she first met my grandfather when she was 12, but she provided no details. I'm glad the interviewer returned to the subject, as the idea of my grandfather crashing the pajama party of his friend's younger sister is excellent. He would have been 14.
4) My grandmother graduated from Clayton High in 1933. Here's her Sophomore class photo.
I think she may be confusing the sports she played in the equivalent of 'gym class.' In 1935 her younger brother, Seymour, was on the Clayton Football Team. I also seem to recall 'homecoming' memorabilia in her scrapbook.