Thursday, February 16, 2012

Joey's Mom: Barclay Street - The Beginning

Every Thursday, we're visiting with Joey's Mom. She tells many tales on Joey's Flickr stream, but our story will begin with her leaving the roominghouse she shared with Dotty (when Dotty married Joey's Mom's brother, Chet) and moving into the house on Barclay Street where she rented the maid's room. The house on Barclay Street was bought by Jerry with his Army savings in order to provide for his mother, Josephine, and his youngest brother Tony.

Joey's mom tells intriguing stories and her re-telling of moving into 119 Barclay Street and meeting Jerry for the first time is great. Read below and see more on Joey's Flickr stream.

Photo and commentary by Joey's mother

After graduating from high school in 1946, I worked and attended business school in Grand Rapids. A recent best friend, Dotty, became engaged in the fall to my brother, a returned serviceman. Since Dotty was my roommate, my brother Chet felt responsible for helping me locate a place to live on my own. He rented a room for me in this house in Heritage Hills, just blocks from Davenport College and the bus stop to my workplace. I had a private room and access to the bathroom and kitchen used by the Italian family that owned the building -- young landlord Jerry, his mother, and Jerry's teenage brother.

Entering the spooky, cold, and dark house at 2:30 a.m. on my first night in early December after the nightclub stint, and feeling my way from the front door all the way to the upper-rear maid's room, was an experience to remember. Fitting in with the family for my important use of the kitchen came next. But the young are adaptable. At 18 I was nearly a blank slate, and just took what came, and it became my life. Actually the family regarded me as a novelty and a good addition to their lives.

Mama didn't resent my presence in the kitchen, as I feared, which made me move cautiously in her realm at first. I asked the teenager to clear a half-shelf for me in the refrigerator, as no defined area was mine. The whole thing needed a good sanitizing. I did it gradually and no one complained. Emboldened, my Dutch Cleanser arm inched out, scouring teensie cupboard areas at first, then whole shelves, finally a whole cupboard, like a spreading plague of Clean. Then I attacked the indescribable range, temporarily setting to the side the simmering red sauce. Mama appeared briefly, smiled slightly, and disappeared.

Jerry purchased the Italianate style house with his Army savings after World War II. His father was about to divorce his mother, and helped Jerry turn the upstairs (except for my "maid's room") into an independent apartment. It was rented immediately due to the housing shortage. You can see the added wooden fire escape stairway required by law. Jerry then moved his mother and younger brother away from the Italian ghetto off South Division Street to this "new" house. There was ample room for the three of them on the main floor as the rooms were large. The living room on the front had a working fireplace with a white marble mantle above a graceful arched white marble fireplace opening. The dining room was large, with leaded-glass cabinets along one side. I remember inviting a date over for dinner one night, and I entertained him at the table under a huge chandelier with many lights. On each arm, just before the electric bulb, there was a jet operable by thumb and finger. We turned the valve. The jet hissed. My date struck a match. Voila! Gas light. We then lit 'em all. A yellow splendor and a fire hazard. Perhaps at the time the electric chandelier was added folks didn't believe that electricity was really here to stay and wanted a fallback.

Because of our busy schedules I lived in the house for about a week before ever meeting Jerry. He worked in the barbershop 8 to 6. I arose late, went to classes, worked a 90-minute lunch-hour job at the Mug 'n' Muffin, and headed by bus to the Southern for late-afternoon dinner set-up and arrived home at 2:30 a.m. The Southern couldn't be counted upon for enough work nights to get me by financially, so I worked the dinner hour on my “off” nights at the Bird and Bow on Division Avenue. It's no wonder Jerry and I seldom collided.

Our first meeting was brief. Seated at the kitchen table, Tony introduced us at dinnertime as Jerry hurried out for a bite to eat before dancing, his nightly routine. He told me later that what he remembered was my posture at the table. What I remembered was that one of his shirtsleeves was ironed and the other wasn't. A short time later we met again in the kitchen. He asked me if I danced, and I admitted not knowing how. He answered that we could take in a movie some time. Our first date! Then he began popping into the kitchen frequently. He proposed a modest restaurant downtown. Another movie. I began finding penciled notes on the kitchen table when I got home from work, hoping I'd done well on tips, did I have any call* customers. Sometimes the landlord himself was waiting, invigorated from a night of dancing.

And so it went. Tony and Mama were pleased about everything. One night, trying to study under the chandelier in the gloomy dining room, I watched Jerry out of the corner of my eye, polishing the dark wood floor for his mother. I thought, "This is a very nice man." Of course Tony led him up to my room one evening to show off the decor. Maybe Jerry thought "This is a very nice girl." In late March he produced a "Keepsake" diamond ring in a jeweler's box.

Joey here. I asked my mom what a "call" customer is. She emailed this explanation to me: "Call customers were those who specifically asked for a certain waitress. Management took heed of girls who were favored thus by customers, and it was a coup among the waitresses too. Sometimes it resulted in a better tip because you paid special attention to customers who asked for you. Further, you weren't waiting in rotation for a customer."

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1 comment:

  1. What a nice story! :) "call" customer had me wondering, so glad Joey cleared that up. I myself am a "call" customer at several of my favorite places.
    I really love this series! It's like a favorite show, I can't wait till the next episode.


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