How did your family earn money? – Papa was an engineer with Shell Chemical Co. Mama was a stay-at-home housewife until after I left home. When Harriet and Betty were both in college at the same time, Mama got a part-time job with Visiting Homemakers as a supervisor. When Shell wanted Papa to move from Westfield (the Union, NJ Lab) to south Jersey, he retired with 30+ years, although he was only 56 years old.
He then went to work for a drug manufacturing company near Westfield, but he hated it. It was a completely new corporate culture and he never really fit in.
In 1970, Mama and Uncle Bill decided that Nannie and Gankie were not able to live by themselves in Texarkana. Nannie was getting forgetful and Gankie was having trouble driving, so Uncle Bill tried to get them to move to Richmond, VA, where he lived so he could take care of them. I was living in Westfield with Mama and Papa at the time, and I could see that Papa was really getting stressed out with the new job, so I suggested that they sell the house in New Jersey, and buy Nannie and Gankie’s house in Texarkana. Papa was already retired from Shell, and felt like they could live on his retirement until he got something else to do. The cost of living in Texarkana was significantly lower than in New Jersey. So in the summer of 1970, they sold 428 St. Marks Ave, and moved to 1924 Laurel in Texarkana.
Gankie was so thankful not to have to leave Texarkana that he sold them the house for what he had paid for it 5 years before. Nannie and Gankie moved into an apartment in Texarkana and Mama and Papa paid off the house with the money they got from the house in Westfield. Papa then took a couple of contract assignments as an insurance adjuster after hurricanes. Then he got a job with the Water Company in Texarkana. That saw them through until he turned 65 and Bill Greisser graduated from M.I.T.
How did your family compare to others in the neighborhood – richer, poorer, the same? – We always seemed to have about the same amount of money as anyone else in the neighborhood. We never had more than one car until after I was in college. When we moved to New Jersey, money was really tight because Mama and Papa had to buy a house and they had never owned one before, so they had to take out a personal loan for the down payment. I remember they got me to sign over some savings bonds that had been bought for my college as gifts when I was born. They used them for part of the down payment. The first five years we lived there were very tight while Papa paid off the personal loan. I learned a lot about doing without and not expecting “stuff” in those years. That was when I was in Junior High and High School, so I really felt it. I remember Mama had to wait until payday until to buy us school shoes every year, and I worked as a baby sitter and later at the public library for any pocket money I had. But I never had to contribute money to the family in order to buy groceries, or anything like that.
Between my junior and senior year in High School I went on a two-month trip to Europe with my Girl Scout troop. We had a rule that we had to earn at least half of the money ourselves – parents were not allowed to contribute the whole cost of the trip, so that helped me not feel like I had less than the other girls.
The total cost of the trip was a couple of thousand dollars – for everything – but in those days it was a lot of money. I worked and saved and asked for money as birthday and Christmas presents, and I saved it all myself. We spent one summer in Texarkana and I was my grandmother’s upstairs maid.
She had a cook year-round, but she usually hired another girl (usually a high school or college student) while we were there in the summers. That year it was me. She taught me about moving the furniture to dust/vaccuum under it, wiping out the window sills once a week, cleaning the bathrooms, making the beds, and dusting and polishing the furniture. I also earned money by doing the ironing for the Westfield Women’s Club. I could iron a mean tablecloth!
What kinds of things did your family spend money on? – We mostly spent money on the necessities of life. We always had decent clothes, but they were usually bought on sale. We had plenty to eat. We lived in decent houses. The furniture and appliances were seldom new – often “contemporary attic” or “relative’s basement”, but I wasn’t embarrassed to have friends over. I earned the money it took for special treats – for instance, I was almost 11 when my brother was born, and I earned to money to go to church camp that summer by doing his diapers. I washed them and hung them up to dry and folded them, three times a week.
We spent any extra money on travel, and vacations to see family.
Through the giant sequoias in California.
Half-way up Pike’s Peak.
At the Grand Canyon.
We rarely went to the movies, but we went to all the free concerts at church or in the town square. We would rather buy books than jewelry.
It wasn’t luxurious, but it was comfortable to live in my family growing up.