Cables and Wires
I couldn't have been home for a week (sure it was less, though) when I went back to the Western Electric Company's Hawthorne Plant in Cicero/Chicago to see what they would offer. It was said they'd agreed to put any servicemen back to work on their return. And they did just that!
The old quartz crystal department was gone, but I was given the chance to work in the wire mill. It offered a better pay scale, a thing of great interest right about that time, so I took it.
Wire making is begun at the Cable Plant, the place where ingots of copper are heated to high degrees and then run through dies where it is gradually pressed to sizes called cable. It was from that point we at the wire drawing room began our process of drawing wire to various sizes from this cable.
The cable was rolled onto huge metal drums, looking like thick strands of wire which would normally not be used for much of anything around the house. Each operator in my department cut wire down as low as eighteen gauge, going as large as ten gauge perhaps. Beginning with the largest die the wire would be strung through a series of decreasingly smaller sizes until the desired gauge was reached.
Then the machine would be started to see if you had a good run going without any breaks in the wire, and from there it was merely a matter of constant checking with a micrometer to assure staying within so many thousandths of an inch within that tolerance of give or take allowed.
The dies were each fed a milky substance as a lubricant which also acted as a cooling agent. These machines were something like eight feet high, each man running anywhere from five to eight at a time.
Because of flaws in the wire itself, breaks occurred often. You'd see one snap over there, and soon another over here, etc. It was a constant restringing of the dies, making a kind of weld to mend the break and hoping it'd make it through the series of dies. Once begun and on its way, it'd be clear sailing again for a while. The weld made would then be filed smoothly to assure getting through the dies.
After a time certain dies had to be changed due to exceeding the tolerances allowed for under or oversize. So there was never a dull moment.
The properly cut wire was put onto metal spools, and these were then taken across the way to a department where they cut those sizes down to very small sizes, the kind you could hardly see, but had to feel almost to know they were there. This wasn't done with all our work, as sizes of ten to sixteen gauge wire could be used for much telephone company work as it was (Western Electric Company was the maker of the Bell Telephone). If much smaller wire was needed (in gauge) the sixteen gauge would be cut still further down by those crews across the way.
I liked my job and the pay it offered, but I didn't like the way the old timers were treated by supervisors. I was given my three years of navy service, making my service time now four years (was there one year before the war). And I was working toward my fifth year. These old timers had anywhere from thirty to forty-five years of service. It gave me the idea that once management knew you were stuck with the job and its benefits, they would take hold and squeeze for all they were worth. It even got embarrassing watching these men having to do things and being told things the average worker shouldn't have to put up withknowing all the while these guys weren't going to give them a hard time.
Girls from Church
While I was in the Pacific, my family had all joined a newly formed Lutheran church in Cicero, sort of a mission branch of the one in Berwyn we'd attended before going into the service. And my membership was also transferred, though by proxy. In that new group were two sisters, one of whom had written to me. Her name was Evelyn. She had sent me her picture, one taken while at a pier, maybe Navy Pier in Chicago. She was sitting on a stanchion with her legs crossed, and she was quite attractive. Her legs were on a scale of one to ten, ten being best, at least a twelve!
"How," I thought, "could this girl write to me?" Later I realized it was easy! She'd never seen me, and she most likely had been told by my sister how great I wasa nice sort of an untruth. So she had nothing to lose.
Well, when I got back and wanted to date her, I noticed she was always too busy. She'd already seen me at church and knew she wasn't interested, and when I called she just made up excuses for not being able to date. So "Sweet and Lovely" as the picture was titled, never became anything more than that. She did later on marry some guy she probably had her eye on before I met her.
When I thought about it, my 5' 10" wasn't very tall for her when she wore high heels. And I'd only had a two year high school educationnothing to offer there. "Why," I wondered, "did I ever think I could have dated her?"
Years later in reading some of the letters I'd written to my folks and others (saved by the folks), I felt strange about how poorly they had been written in spelling and grammar. I guess the two semesters of Rhetoric showed me how much improvement was needed.
There was another tall, thin girl from a Lutheran Church in Cicero (northeast sideours was on the southwest side) I took downtown to a ritzy place, but she didn't drink and I had no nerve without it. So that didn't go well. It's one of those of which I spoke before the service, "The interview by the future father-in-law deals." She also let him deal with me and was willing to accept whatever her father's opinion was. I didn't admire her for that, and I let that one go, too.
Shady Part of Town
From the switching of all three shifts at the Western, we guys would often go out after work to look for girls and to drinkthey seemed to go hand in hand, unfortunately. And making this new, "big money" now, I was a good spender and one who treated freely. It got a lot of friends for me, mostly moochers, frankly!
The area around work, the main intersection being Cicero Avenue and Cermak Road (4800 West and 2200 South) was speckled with illegal gambling places run by the mobs and sanctioned by the City Fathers of Cicero most evidently, for they seemed to work well together. I knew a cop on the force who told me they were advised of where something was going on so they could go in the opposite direction to avoid it; which sounded like payoff something or other.
Anyway, we guys who went out after work would end up in those places, many times unaware that the hoods who ran them were carefully scrutinizing those of us who went in and out of there and with which women. Some of these were the gang's girls. Only one time did I take one home in a cab, being dropped off first myself, as she lived farther away. She told me that she appreciated my generosity but then she revealed to me the way it was and who knew what about whom. Even the cab driver was a man of the mob who watched everything.
It was along in this time frame somewhere that I and a guy who worked in my department dated a couple of women from a bowling alley/pool hall setup. The date was merely taking them home after playing some pool. The one who was "mine" was OK, but there was something I didn't like. She (I learned later when seeing her in daylight) had black heads about her face and ears which turned me off, and I did tell her that one day when she met me at the Western as I was leaving work. She told me she'd try to take care of that problem, and I really think she liked me for more than my spending.
I felt sorry for her and did agree I'd date her once more... the third big mistake of my life I began telling about way back while in Boston a few years before.
The date eventually led to a hotel room in the gangland area where we registered as Mr. and Mrs. When we got up to the room, I knew she was after sex, and though it turned me on physically, when it did what usually happened to me on such occasions, I became cold as a weak, old turkey. I told her I was not able to nor was I interested in seeking to fulfill any such desires she held and that we should march out of there and tell the desk clerk we were going out to eat somewhere. Of course, we never returned!
That girl, I think, might have been OK, for she took it well and was still interested in me later on. But as I thought of how we met, and how many others she might have gone the same route with, I said "No way! That's the end!" And it was.
My sister Marie had for a few years been going on vacations with a group of girls, sisters and friends of sisters who worked together, etc. My one day to be wife was one of those girls of that group.
It was now June of 1946, and my vacation was coming due from the Western in July, though I had no particular plans in mind. Marie was planning on her usual vacation with those girls, though I knew nothing about themjust the one, her girlfriend Grace who I met but wasn't interested in (a very nice girl, too). But I was hoping to find a girl I could really love and who could love me.
I was either already home for a few days of my vacation or just beginning it when I got a postcard from a girl who explained she was one of the girls in Marie's vacation gang who wondered if I might not want to stop and see them up at Paw Paw Lake (just a couple miles northeast of Coloma, Michigan). She also suggested it'd be nice if I'd bring "John" along for Marie's sake.
There was only one John I knew, a Slovak guy whose family and mine had become kind of close while I was in the service. His name was John Mednansky.
So I phoned John (who was unemployed at the time) and asked if he'd care to join me for a bus ride up to visit the girls, saying I'd take care of the expenses, as I didn't really want to go that far alone and uncertain as to what I'd find when I got there. So off we went.
Arriving at Coloma, John and I (two John's now) found our way to a terminal building and I think found a note on the bulletin board giving us directions on how to reach the girls at their camp [by the lake]. It was OK [back then] to leave notes on the bulletin board for others to look for.
The girl who wrote to me was Eleanor Edgren, a nice looking, lanky girl with dark brown hair and eyes. Eleanor's best girlfriend was the sister of Marie's best girlfriendAnne and Grace were the sisters (Hoeksema's then). They had a cabin, a large one, in which they stayed. John and I had rented one down the street a way as I recall.
First Time We Met
The first night Eleanor and I talked and swung on the swing in the back yard, and I was oblivious of anyone or anything else. I stared into those dark brown eyes and listened and asked questions. We seemed to be hitting it off pretty well, though nothing serious had happened. I did ask about the next day, AND HERE IS WHERE THE STORY GETS FUZZY, EVEN ARGUMENTATIVE (between us these days).
I say Eleanor told me she had made a date with a guy she and my sister had met before we got there (a second date) and couldn't break it (like making a liar of her if she broke the date). I resented that very much, but who was I to tell her what to do?
Her story is that this happened before we got there and there was no date with other guys while we were there. I think John (who went along with me) recalls it as I do, since I remember John and I having to go to town to kill some time, having nothing else to do that day. I know God knows what really happened!
It wasn't until years later I was informed I'd brought the wrong John along with me. The one I was supposedly to bring, I didn't even know! How's that for putting your foot into it?
Since two years later Marie and John did marry, I know I've been both blessed and cursed for the miscue. As I told them both, "I didn't force either of you to marry the other; you did that on your own!"
The guys they dated turned out to be of the same nationality I'd had trouble with on a job and one I'd worked with on board ship. A little squirt who had big ideas (not the one on the ship, the dating one), and I was angry!
For a guy with my background you'd think I'd think nothing of what had transpired in the past between my wife and other "dates." Well, you'd be 100% wrong! It made me ferocious, questioning, pumping for information, etc. And this never ended.
Sounds strange? Sounds un-Christian? Sounds unreal? Sounds impractical? You could go to many other such questions, and they'd all come out the same! I never changed on that subject. I wanted my wife to be only mine and no one else's, not on loan, not a trial offernew and unused! Not even tarnished! I knew I was!
I had written a lot more which will never go into print on that subject. It's gone farther than it should have right now. So I'm going to continue the story from that "date" and afterward.
The next night John and Marie and Eleanor and I went to the beach to watch a moonlit night streaming its beams over the lake, a perfect night for romance of the lasting variety. A fire had been made to take the evening chill off, and it only added to the enchantment of the night as we talked and talked and talked.
Just before we left the beach, I remember finding myself embracing Eleanor as I'd never before embraced a woman. No, I didn't initiate it then, either. And it surprised me and kind of "shocked" me at the same time. It gave me the feeling "This girl needs to be protected from herself." And I had just that in mind!
The next day John and I had to leave, the girls having yet that week to finish off as their vacation. I told Eleanor I wanted to buy a ring for my kid sister Dorothy and that she probably would have the same ring size as Eleanor's and to let me know what that ring size would be. She gave it to me... unsuspecting.
Hope to Marry Her!
When I got home, I was floating on cloud nine. I talked to Mom and told her my intentions. She thought I was nuts! I explained I'd decided that was the girl I was going to marry, and I was off to buy a ring which I intended to give to her when she got back from the vacation. Knowing I'd only go the financing route if having little money to buy it, she gave me a couple hundred dollars I'd sent to her while in the Pacific, thinking I'd never get back to use it. She warned me I was again jumping the gun as usual and I should take a hard, long look at what I was thinking of doing.
Money in hand and fluttering heart, away I went to Sears, Roebuck & Company on Homan and Arthington (where I worked before the war). I spent very little time on questions, just telling what amount I had to spend and that I wanted the best engagement ring my money could buy. I got a beauty (for those days, at least).
When the girls returned to the bus station downtown I was on hand waiting. I knew I had something which was going to either please Eleanor or it was going to kill me to learn she wouldn't accept it. So it was a rather traumatic time for me in a way.
We made our way back to Cicero where the girls went their separate ways, while I stayed to meet Eleanor's folks and kid brother Robert. I was pretty scared by now thinking about the ring and meeting her folks. I'd not had any success in that department for several tries before, and I wondered if this'd be any different. I was actually basing my hope in Eleanor's sticking with me rather than letting her father or parents leading her as to what to do. It turned out pretty well.
But I don't think I told her about the ringat least not showing it to her until later. And when I did, she said she'd treasure it, but she'd not be able to wear it until she saw how her folks handled it. "It is rather sudden," she let me know. Even that caused my heart to sink, the thought this could turn out to be another experience similar to those of the past where it was OK with the girl if it was OK with the parents.
It was almost three miles from Eleanor's house to where my folks now lived, and the buses quit running at midnight. I'd spent the evening getting acquainted with her folks, had dinner with them, and I'd spent a lot of time trying to learn who it was I'd bought an engagement ring for. The hour meant a walk homenot a bad idea for a guy who probably needed to cool off and to do some thinking.
I really didn't think Eleanor's folks were very impressed with me from what I can recall of that evening. My hope remained that this girl would somehow be different and would stick with me and for me.
When I joined the navy my folks still lived (and I with them) in that country setting [on the land owned by] the Sanitary District of Chicago, no running water or inside plumbing. Just before I got out of the navy, they found a place on 31st Street and Austin
Back Porch Boarder
In the days which closely followed my "engagement" to Eleanor, the trips to and from her house got to be trying. I was working shifts around the clock at Western [Electric], oftentimes finding she'd be getting home from work when I'd be going to work, or the other way around. I even went to downtown Chicago to meet Eleanor a number of times so I could see her at her lunch hour, taking the elevated system out there to see her. Then after lunch I'd head back so I could go to work.
As this went on for a time, my mother became rather instructive about how bad it looked for me to be spending those kinds of hours at Eleanor's house, the trips all over, etc. Soon the instruction turned to "lecturing" which came down heavy on me. A bit of harshness began to take place conversationally between us.
The ring cost, my intentions, hers, the future, all these and other subjects took over all conversation (not to mention the religious aspectshe was not a Lutheran!).
I explained the situation to my Honey (I rarely used the name Eleanor, except in this bookalmost never in person) and asked what she thought. She said she'd speak to her folks about the matter and see if they thought it workable for me to board there on the back porch where an extra daybed was located. It turned out they agreedwith resolution.
As raunchy as that setup may sound, it didn't mean anything more than had we not lived under the same roof. We knew we were to marry, and as soon as we'd be able to do it where it was an acceptable time from both sidesthe one side now in need of healing. We treated ours as a romance which had to have limitations to preserve the dignity of that wedding day which would soon come. It's easily said, "This is not one of the easiest times of a young couple's lives!" For those who have no fear of God or a desire to live by His statutes, there may be "no problem" here; but less we kid ourselves, there's always a price to pay for any infractions from doing things God's way!
It wasn't long before Mom and I made up our differences. Maybe it was because she knew this marriage was going to take place no matter what; and since planning stages had already begun, she may as well be a part of it all. So I made the move back home to everyone's relief.
Eleanor and Anne
Eleanor was working at Dietz Publishing in the downtown area of Chicago, and I still made a number of trips there to see her for lunches or just to talk. The swings, graveyards and day shifts changed every thirty days, so one of those three months meant we both worked days. And that was a treat.
Anne Hoeksema was Eleanor's best friend, one who had been in that group of girls who vacationed together each year. She was visited there on that last vacation by her boyfriend Bob Buer either while I was there or after I'd left. They had also been working on wedding plans at the same time Eleanor and I were. As a matter of fact, there was a time we'd considered a double wedding. But when lists of names for wedding invitations and the reception were considered, it became obvious there would just be too many people to try handling. So that idea went the way of many, down the drain.
That double wedding had been planned for November of 1946, the month Bob and Anne eventually did marry. Eleanor and I didn't marry until December 27, 1946. So it wasn't that far apart.
My future father-in-law was an entrepreneur in the wholesale auto parts business. He'd been in it for years on his own, and had finally come to the point of considering buying his own property in the next couple years. In conversations we had prior to the marriage, he'd asked how I felt about working with him (actually "for him"), knowing how I felt about the "robots" being produced at the Western Electric. I must have told him I was interested and that after the marriage we'd see what we could work out in a livable wage.
Just before I'd met Eleanor I took an interest in the daughter of our pastor at the Lutheran Church (no longer considered a mission church). Her name was Lois Fricke. She actually was living one block north of where Eleanor livedthis before I knew who Eleanor was. I know I was up at her house a few times where a lot of hand-holding while walking took place. But most of our time was spent in conversation about the future. She had completed two years of college, so she knew she'd be attending school for at least another two years. That didn't set well with me, as I didn't want to wait two years for a girl to get out of school; and I don't recall she would have done it any other way. So when Eleanor came into my life, it got complicated.
Here I'd be going a block from the place I once saw Lois. We'd be going to the same church, and Eleanor would on occasion join me in visiting my church, while I'd do the same at hersthe West side Reformed Church, Cicero, Illinois (near to the north side of town where they both lived). I could see blushing skin when we were all together, a fact that made me uneasy; as I knew I was the cause of it. Yet, I didn't know how else to handle it. I felt a certain amount of loyalty to Eleanor; yet I felt guilty in Lois' presence, as I really had cared for her in the very recent past. Dilemma!
Well, it got a little more complicated before it was finally resolved!
Eleanor's folks took us on many long car rides (I didn't own one yet), one in particular I remember was to Wyalusing State Park, the highest elevation in Illinois. From a vantage point there one could see four different states at a glance (Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota). It was beautifully landscaped by nature with pine trees, hills, valleys, and rivers everywhere one looked.
A second cousin of Eleanor's, Marsha, had lived on a huge estate in the far north, northwest suburbs of Chicago, and we made a trip there with her folks. The place had something like 18 to 20 rooms (I think it was). Their coal heating bill alone for a season was probably more than I'd earn in a year.
They had a "throne room" (I called it that, anyway) which was probably a formal dining room. It reminded me of the old movies where a royal family dined, the high back seats, long table, and all!
The bathrooms had mirrors of all sorts all over, the commodes or johns looked like chairs on which to rest rather than for something more specific. And paintings, very large in size, were everywhere. It was really a museum to me, not a warm, lived-in house.
The greenhouse was of the variety you'd expect to find where plants are grown for commercial purposes. It was massive!
My future father-in-law let me know he was paying for this coming wedding, so Eleanor and I had to go over our plans to stay within the limits set down.
When all was hashed out with the families, the wedding plans took most of our time. I'd have to make a suggested list of relatives for the "must" list as would Eleanor. From there we'd have to decide where to draw the lines in order to keep the reception down to a bearable number (both for the size of the church and the size of my father-in-law's bankroll). The list was hashed and rehashed and the invitations were sent.
A date of December 27th had been chosen, and the place of the wedding was to be the Reformed church Eleanor attended. It was larger and easier to accommodate the number of people we planned to invite. My Lutheran church was still holding services in a small storefront of a building they'd purchased.
2[Return to Text] The address was: 3146 Austin Blvd. in Berwyn, IL. But this whole block is almost completely new business buildings now. The author's parents moved into an apartment here after a small fire in their home in Stickney, and because it was difficult living there in the winter with no running water inside the house! They eventually did move back to that same house in Stickney after their son Edward and others connected pipes from the MacArthur school to their house.
3[Return to Text] Wyalusing State Park is located in Wisconsin; not Illinois, being about 40 miles north-west of Dubuque, Iowa (where Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois share borders). Neither is Wyalusing Park the highest point in that state. There's a lookout 500 feet above the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers, but Timm's Hill, 5 miles east of Ogema, WI, boasts an elevation of 1,951.5 feet.