“Seventh Heaven!”

Hughs Wordquilts

IMG_4736

Salesman, Hubert Harris, 1935

(Remembering Mary Ellen Townsend Harris, 1911-2016)

A few days before her twenty-third birthday, in May of 1934, Mary Ellen’s grandpa John Townsend died.  She went to the Big House where she and Grandma Mary comforted each other, and recalled those childhood days when Grandma’s house was Mary Ellen’s favorite place to be.  So much had changed for each of them, yet in their souls they were closer than ever.  Mary Ellen had no idea that just six months later a whole new chapter would begin to open in her life.

Salesmen came and went at the Cincinnati office of the Smokeless Coal Company.  Mary Ellen enjoyed talking with them, so nothing seemed noticeable on a November day when a young man came in selling office supplies.  Somehow he seemed different from the others–neat, pleasant, polite–not just talkative or flirty.  He said his name was Hubert Harris.  They…

View original post 1,347 more words

“Seventh Heaven!”

IMG_4736

Salesman, Hubert Harris, 1935

(Remembering Mary Ellen Townsend Harris, 1911-2016)

A few days before her twenty-third birthday, in May of 1934, Mary Ellen’s grandpa John Townsend died.  She went to the Big House where she and Grandma Mary comforted each other, and recalled those childhood days when Grandma’s house was Mary Ellen’s favorite place to be.  So much had changed for each of them, yet in their souls they were closer than ever.  Mary Ellen had no idea that just six months later a whole new chapter would begin to open in her life.

Salesmen came and went at the Cincinnati office of the Smokeless Coal Company.  Mary Ellen enjoyed talking with them, so nothing seemed noticeable on a November day when a young man came in selling office supplies.  Somehow he seemed different from the others–neat, pleasant, polite–not just talkative or flirty.  He said his name was Hubert Harris.  They really didn’t need supplies in the office, but she liked this guy and hoped he’d come back again.

“I’ll tell you what,” she said as he got ready to leave.  “I’ll talk to my boss.  Maybe we can give you an order.  Can you come back next week?”

“Sure!”

After he left she went in and told Mister Gillespie about him.  “Do you think we could buy a couple of things from him?”

Gillespie leaned back in his chair.  “Well, you know all you have to do is pick up the phone and order what you need from the office supply store on Fourth Street.”

She detected a slight twinkle in his eye.  Leaning toward him she cocked her head to one side and said, “I know, but he’s such a nice guy…he’s just getting started.  It would help him to get an order from us.”

Mr. Gillespie gave her a dismissive look as he turned his attention back to his work. “Well…okay.”

Mary didn’t see Hubert for several days, and then ran into him on the elevator.  “I talked to my boss, and he said we could give you an order.  Just come on by and I’ll tell you what we need.”

He looked surprised.  “Okay, I’ll do that.”  The elevator stopped and the attendant opened the door.  “Right now I have to be somewhere else.  I’ll be in touch.”

Mary continued to her floor feeling excited.  He didn’t come that day, or for several thereafter.  Then one afternoon he walked in.  It was close to quitting time and after she gave him the order they got to talking.  He was easy-going and their conversation flowed easily.

“By the way,” he said.  “You don’t have to call me Hubert.  Just make it Hugh.  That’s what I prefer!”  That settled, they talked a bit more and then he asked, “By the way, when were you born?”

Sneaky way to find out my age, she thought.  “1911–May 21st.”

A puzzled look briefly crossed Hugh’s face, then he lightened up.  “That’s okay.  My mom’s a year older than my dad.”

Wow!  Not so fast there, buddy.  “Is that so?”

That was the beginning.  Hugh made frequent visits to the office after that, and not to sell office supplies.  Mary told him about growing up on the farm and then moving to Price Hill, and about the dairy her dad managed.  She learned that he was from Norwood, a city within the City of Cincinnati, and had lived for a time in Boston, where he went to high school.  His parents lived in a rural community fifty miles east of Cincinnati.  He was living downtown at the WMCA.  She didn’t imagine he got many home-cooked meals.

“Come on home with me for supper,” she said, tucking her arm under his.  “My mom’s a great cook and I want you to meet my family.”

That soon became a regular routine, as did strolls around Price Hill and Mt. Echo Park. Hugh like to sing and had a little notebook with the words to all the popular songs of the time.  He would sing them to Mary in a soft voice.  Her favorite was, “They’ll Never Believe Me.”  She knew her daddy approved of him when he offer to let them use his car.

Several weeks later Hugh asked Mary to go with him on the train to meet his parents at their home in Mowrystown.  He explained that his dad had been the art director for Gibson Greeting Cards there in Cincinnati, then they had moved to Boston where he worked for a different company.  The stress had gotten to him so he’d moved back to Ohio and bought the sixteen acre farm where he and his wife, Toy, lived in retirement.  Mary looked forward to meeting them.

As it happened, her picture appeared in the Sunday newspaper a week before they were to go.  She was chair of a business woman’s sorority called Beta Sigma Phi.  The picture accompanied a story about a card party they were giving for someone.  In the same paper was the picture of another woman who was also named Mary Townsend.  When they got off the train at Mowrystown they discovered his parents had been trying to figure out which of the two “Mary’s” their son was bringing home!  She was the one they’d hoped for.

Mary and Hugh had a whirlwind courtship.  They were together as often as possible and after three months decided to get married.  With the depression in full swing, jobs were scarce.  When his office supply job was terminated, Hugh found another at a Cincinnati department store called Shillito’s.  They were installing a grocery and meat department and hired him to draw peoples’ attention.  Dressed as a butcher with a butcher block, knives and all the trappings, he stood in a store window on Seventh Street.  He was statuesque, with cleaver raised, standing perfectly still.  A crowd would gather as people tried to figure out whether he was a real person or a manikin.  That’s when he would suddenly swing into action demonstrating several cuts of meat.

It was little wonder when Mary told her dad they planned to get married that he replied, “Well, if you marry that guy you’ll never have a dull moment, nor will you ever have a million dollars.”

The job at Shillito’s was temporary.  When it ended, just before the wedding, Hugh was hired as an office boy by a Buick agency.  They would start their life together with his salary of $14.00 per week, combined with her $25.00 weekly pay.  It wasn’t much, but many people had no work at all.  Elmer told Mary he didn’t want them to get married until Hugh had a steady job–but love and romance overpowered his opinion.

On Hugh’s birthday, May 5, 1935, at four-thirty in the afternoon, Mary stood with Hugh in her parents’ transformed living room.  She wore a navy blue dress trimmed in white with a gardenia corsage amidst a setting of palms, candelabra, a kneeling bench and flowers. Standing with her was a close friend, Helen Crawford, who was Matron of Honor.  Opposite her stood Hugh, dressed in a light tan suit with a rose in his lapel, and flanked by his friend, Jack Flory, who was the Best Man.  The room was filled with relatives and friends of each family.

A ninety-year-old pastor, Reverend Roughton, officiated.  He had married several people in the Harris family over the years.  They took their vows and pledged their troth to each other, exchanged rings, and then he prayed over them.  The ceremony was followed by a reception with cake and punch.  The room reverberated with excitement, mingled with a measure of anxiety, for this depression-era couple.  It would be a few years later that they would realize one thing had been overlooked…no one took any pictures!

After the wedding, instead of a honeymoon, Mary and Hugh borrowed Jack’s car and visited his parents in Mowrystown for a few days.  They drove all around the countryside and bought a few things for the kitchen.  Then it was home to a furnished three-room apartment on the seventh floor of the oldest building in the Walnut Hills section of the city.

In the aura of their wedding and new life together, if felt like they were going into a castle, instead of an inexpensive flat.  She caught her breath as he picked her up and carried her into the rickety, self-operated cargo elevator with folding grill-like doors.  Next came the threshold of the apartment.  He stepped inside, held her for a moment, then put her back on her feet.  They stood in the middle of the room and kissed.

In that moment they were in what they called “Seventh Heaven”–from the title of a popular movie they had seen.  They were home!  Life was brand new.  They could face anything–they had each other!

IMG_4762

Mary Ellen Townsend Harris, 1935 in Mowrystown, Ohio

(Excerpt from “Dairyman’s Daughter” by Hugh Harris, based on “Remembering!” by Mary Ellen Townsend Harris)

 

Life was Good!

Hughs Wordquilts

IMG_4655

Mary Ellen with brother Bud at a family picnic.

(Remembering Mary Ellen Townsend Harris 1911-2016)

For a while after she quit school Mary Ellen felt relieved, unstressed, and happy.  Sleeping late was a luxury she felt she could get quite used to.  Her mother had other ideas.  She tolerated a few weeks of “Met,” as she called her when she was mad or being sarcastic, lazing around, shopping, and running off to Columbus with Artie.

Merle wasn’t sure about this young man.  He was a good student, had a lot of promise, but he was a socialite.  Mary Ellen and Artie grew closer and by summer she was wearing his engagement ring.  He still had another year until he would graduate from college, and then he had to get a job.  He believed that would be no problem.  Merle Townsend wasn’t so sure.

One morning in June when Mary Ellen came…

View original post 1,428 more words

Life was Good!

Mary Ellen with brother Bud at a family picnic. (Remembering Mary Ellen Townsend Harris 1911-2016) For a while after she quit school Mary Ellen felt relieved, unstressed, and happy.  Sleeping late …

Source: Life was Good!

Life was Good!

IMG_4655

Mary Ellen with brother Bud at a family picnic.

(Remembering Mary Ellen Townsend Harris 1911-2016)

For a while after she quit school Mary Ellen felt relieved, unstressed, and happy.  Sleeping late was a luxury she felt she could get quite used to.  Her mother had other ideas.  She tolerated a few weeks of “Met,” as she called her when she was mad or being sarcastic, lazing around, shopping, and running off to Columbus with Artie.

Merle wasn’t sure about this young man.  He was a good student, had a lot of promise, but he was a socialite.  Mary Ellen and Artie grew closer and by summer she was wearing his engagement ring.  He still had another year until he would graduate from college, and then he had to get a job.  He believed that would be no problem.  Merle Townsend wasn’t so sure.

One morning in June when Mary Ellen came down to breakfast her mother announced, “Met, I’m leaving in a few minutes for my Eastern Star meeting and I want you to come with me.  You’re eighteen now.  It’s time you got involved in some worthwhile activities.”

Boom!  Just like that!  Her mother had been through all the Eastern Star chairs and had said many times that she wanted Mary Ellen to join when she was old enough.  It wasn’t that she was disinterested, it just wasn’t something she wanted to do right then. She knew better than to get into an argument over it, so she went.  In high school she’d belonged to a sorority.  The Eastern Star felt a little like that, but it was focused on biblical teachings, and had a lot of very rigid rules and practices.

Joining the Eastern Star opened a door her mother used to get her into more organizations and activities.  Mary Ellen decided enough was enough.  One Saturday morning when she and her dad were in the kitchen by themselves she decided to have a talk with him.  Elmer Townsend was a wise and patient man.  Though he and the family were now attending the Methodist Church, his Quaker roots of quiet contemplation were still present.  He had not been happy with her decision to quit school, but had not pressed her about it.

For her part, Mary Ellen had done some research.  She had checked into the Littleford Nelson Business School’s offerings and decided she wanted to go there.  It was expensive and she had to ask her dad for the money.

“Daddy, I think it’s time for me to have a job…some way to support myself if I should need to.  I can’t go on living here forever, and it will be awhile before Artie and I can get married.”

He looked at her with his characteristic expression, one eyebrow raised higher than the other.  “You know jobs are hard to find these days.  You didn’t finish high school….”

She knew even a high school diploma was no guarantee of a job.  At Western Hills she had made Home Economics her course of study.  She had learned skills in cooking and sewing that she knew would serve her well throughout her life, but a job in those areas?  Probably not easy to find.  The country was in the Great Depression.  She’d been in the classroom when news of the stock market crash devastated everyone.  Her teacher had invested in stocks for retirement and lost everything.  The school had been closed down for the day.

Elmer looked intensely at his daughter.  “Mary Ellen, I understand what you’re saying, and I’m impressed that you’ve looked into this.”  She had told him the cost.  “I could afford to send you there, but how do I know you’ll stay?  What if your young man wants you to be with him when you need to be in class…what will you do?”

“He won’t do that.  Artie knows I need to take care of myself until we can get married.  And what if something happened to him later?  I’d need some skills to fall back on.  I don’t have my head in the sand about this.”

The discussion went on and finally her dad softened his concerns.  “Okay, I’m going to trust you.  I believe you really do want this and that you’ll stick with it no matter what.  Is that a promise?”

‘Yes, I promise,” she said, hugging him.  “Thanks, Daddy.  I’ll make sure you won’t ever regret this.”

At Littleford Nelson secretarial students had to choose between learning shorthand, or stenography, which was a code system using a special machine that was faster than shorthand.  Mary Ellen chose stenography and did well with it.  She felt deep satisfaction and pride when she had completed everything and was ready for a job.

Her joy was tempered, however, by a change in her relationship with Artie.  That’s when he developed a new romance at college and broke off the engagement.  Her spirit was torn between the joy of achievement and the pain of a broken heart.

Her dad offered her a job at the dairy.  She accepted it, suspecting that he did it to keep an eye on her.  Every day she checked out the newspaper classified ads.  One day a secretarial position was offered with a coal company in Bluefield, West Virginia.  She read the ad.  “Must be willing to travel.”  Oh!  This is perfect.  I’ve always wantd to travel.

 It was a dream job that she knew was meant for her!  She went for an interview but felt intimidated when she found a room full of people filling out applications.  Still, she filled out hers, was interviewed, and then left to keep an appointment to have her hair done.

When she got home her mom said, “Did you apply for a job today?  Someone has been calling you–they want you to go back to the hotel this evening for another interview.  Oh, they said to bring your machine with you.”

Mary Ellen was elated.  She went back and got the job with the Virginia Smokeless Coal Company.  The position was as secretary to the manager of a branch they were opening in Cincinnati.  Travel arrangements were made for her to go by train to Bluefield where she would work in the home office for about six weeks.  When the train pulled in she was met by the the vice president, Dr. Houston St. Clair.  He took her to his home for breakfast and then to a room with a private bath he had rented for her.

 A lasting memory of that arrival in Bluefield would always be Dr. St. Clair’s small son who gave her a big hug and then announced, “My, you smell pretty!”

Her landlady, Mrs. Stringfellow, was a single parent with a little girl, and her mother also lived with her.  To supplement her income she had a small home business making cakes, candy and pastries.  They made Mary Ellen feel right at home by designating her the “official taster.”

“The air here is a little different than Cincinnati,” Dr. St. Clair told her.  “Take a few days to get adjusted before you come to work.  You’ll probably want to sleep a lot at first.”  He was right.

When she did report for work, Mary Ellen found the office staff cordial and welcoming.  Dr. St. Clair’s father was the president of the company.  One day he called her into his office to take dictation for some letters.  While transcribing her notes she was startled to read the words, “chicken ridge.”  Chicken ridge?  I must have made a horrible mistake.  If I type this I’ll be fired.   Her training kicked in, however, and she typed the letter exactly as she had transcribed it.  She took the typed letters in to President St. Clair with great apprehension. He read each one carefully, then signed all of them.  “Be sure to get these in the mail today.”  He handed them back to her.

The next day she asked Dr. St. Clair what “chicken ridge” meant.

“Oh, that,” he said, breaking into laughter.  “So he tried that little trick on you!”

It seemed that Dr. St. Clair’s father was dubious about stenography and the fact his son had hired such a young, inexperienced girl.  She continued to learn about the coal businss and about people, and how to get along with them working in a large office.

The coal mines were located in Jewel Ridge, Virginia.  The coal was called Jewel Pocahontas.  They gave Mary Ellen a tour of the mines, and showed her how coal was separated into different sizes.  She learned about gondolas, freight cars, tippies, and how coal was shipped to various parts of the country.

At the end of her training she returned to Cincinnati where she went to work for the branch manager, Mr. Victor Gillespie.  The office was located downtown in the Mercantile Library Building on Walnut Street.  Mr. Gillespie was out of the office almost three weeks every month.  Her job was to be there, answer the phone, write letters, and be ready to really work hard when he returned.

Mary Ellen soon found this gave her a lot of spare time.  She would sometimes cut out and baste a dress or a blouse.  She had time to do a lot of reading.  And there were always salesmen coming by to give her a diversion and conversation.

Life was good!

(Excerpt from “Dairyman’s Daughter” by Hugh Harris, based on “Remembering!” by Mary Ellen Townsend Harris)