January, 1938 -- May, 1944

In January, 1938, the world was still fast in the grip of the Depression. Mr. Roosevelt was in the White House, rousing the ire of the conservatives--and the adulation of the liberals. His programs were in full swings. He was building roads all over the midwest and the far west, as well as up Burke Mountain and Mount Pisgah. Post offices were being built in every city and town, Des Plaines receiving both. Hitler was stomping his boots in Germany, Mussolini was stomping his in Italy. There were terrible reports from Germany and Austria about mistreatment of the Jews.

My mother, Lois and my grandmother were living in Des Plaines. Anne and Harry Tucker and their boys were in Wichita. Dick and Ruth Grimm and their boys were still in New York, while Charlie was still at the Sanitorium in Akron, which was doing so well at its job of getting rid of TB that the beautiful children's facilities were being closed down.

Teenie and the Taggart girls were in Chicago, where Evelyn had married Larry McGovern and Thelma had married Val Betterman.

On the morning of January 14,1938 I arrived at the Trenton, New Jersey railroad station to begin a new life.

Trenton, the capital of the Garden State, was set in what was naturally one of the loveliest of physical settings, on the shore of the Delaware River, just across from Bucks County, Pennsylvania, still a beauty spot. Irenton was an old city, formerly full of fine houses, mnny from the pre-revolutionary period, now destroyed or falling to pleces. Industrialized and neglected until it was a most depressing place to live. Its chief industries were the potteries, and Roeblings wire and steel Mills. Among the numerous potteries was Lenox, which produced the finest china made in America, and Trenton Pottery, where Nr. Bentley was superintendent. Trenton Pottery was owned by Crane Company and produced the finest of vitreous china plumbing fixtures. A large proportion of the population of Trenton was English -- potters brought over to work in the American potteries, and they lived in row houses of the most dismal kind.

Years later when Charles and I saw "The Homecoming," by Pinter on the screen we sat in stunned silence as shot after shot of English Industrial neighborhood unrolled during the showing of the titles and credits, and we realized how much Trenton was like an English city. These potters were no doubt good, honest, hardworking people, but to say that they were stodgy was an understatement.

The second large population group was Italian, brought in to work at Roeblings around the turn of the century. Both Roebling and the Lenox potteries had been hard hit by the depression, and a large number of the Italians were unemployed. The potteries turned to producing art china and knickknacks to keep its workers employed. Lenox began to produce a less expensive pottery line, and Trenton Potteries began to make vases and other art china.

I should explain here that the toilet bowls made by Trenton potteries is actually a superb example of pottery art, both in engineering design and as ceramic ware. It is so constructed internally that a small rush of water from the tank is carried by gravity through its channels in a swirling and cleaning manner, and thus out the bottom. It must be very strong, and it must have an absolutely perfect glaze so that years of use will not mark it or pit it. To a potter, a well made toilet bowl compares favorably with the finest ware produced by Lenox or Wedgewood.

Trenton had been hard hit by the depression, and in 1938 the down-town section was already beginning to decay, and only the State Capitol saved the west end of State Street from complete slum-hood. Trenton was my first glimpse of a really class structured city. In the minds of its inhabitants there was a tremendous difference between the potters and laborers, and the small professional and merchant class which lived on the north and west sides of town. This difference was accepted by both sides. The homes on the west side of Cadwallader Park were considered infinitely superior to those in other parts of town ---- a difference not apparent to the eyes of an outsider. To live up around Cadwallader Park was the dream of the descendants of the working class. To get out of Trenton entirely and live in Princeton or Hopewell or Lawrenceville was the hope of those who already lived on the proper side of the State House. The school system of Trenton was admirably geared to push those who could make the grade to college, and the competition was intense, but outside of that it offered little. The high school had no swimming pool, no gymnasium, and the small playing fields were some distance away.

The Bentleys lived in a large semi-detached house on Greenwood Avenue, once one of the finest streets leading south out of Trenton. It was still a decent street, but was rapidly being commercialized, and the big old houses were becoming run-down and cut up into apartments. The house was three stories tall, and had a large front porch and a smaller glassed-in porch on the side. There was a large living room, dining room and kitchen, complete with butler's pantry on the first floor, with still another porch on the side of the kitchen. Upstairs there were four bedrooms and a bath, and above that three or four rooms which had once been servants' quarters and were now attics.

Fred Bentley had been born in Tunstall, Staffordshire, England in 1883, and was the eldest of seven children -- four boys and three girls: Fred, Alfred, Bill, Polly, Emily, Gladys and Harold. I know nothing about Alfred except that as a young man he hated policemen. Bill married and produced three daughters, one of whom, Emily, came to the United States just after the second World War with the help of her Uncle Fred, and soon married William Lester Johnson and still lives in Trenton. I know nothing about Polly.

Emily married a man named Amos and produced at least one son, Reginald, whom Charles and I twice visited in England. Gladys also had one son, of whom I knew only his name, Norman Brown. Harold lived in Kent in 1968 when we there in England, and we visited him there. He had just retired after 25 years as a coal miner in Aylesham, and had two children, Alf, and Lil who is married to William Devine.

Fred was the only one who left England. He came to the United States in 1905 when he was 22 years old and already an accomplished potter. By the time I knew him he was Superintendent of Trenton Pottery. Mr. B. was extremely silent and heavy-in-hand around his own house, but I was told on good authority that he was a known raconteur and speaker at the various men's groups he belonged to. He was unfailingly pleasant to me. He kept up an active correspondence with friends in England, and the year that Charles entered Princeton he and Mrs. Bentley, with Charlotte and Marion, took a trip to England. As the sole member of a large family who had gone to America and made good, he did it up properly. They went first class, rented a car and a driver and drove around England visiting various members of the family and friends. Even today I stand in awe of such luxury. In 1907 he married Charlotte Mahala Jones.

Charlotte Jones had had a strange life. Her father, Harry Jones, had come to this country as a young man and had married Sarah Walklett. They had two children: Charlotte, born in 1886, and Harry, Jr., whose age I do not know. Their marriage was not a satisfactory one. At some time Sarah took both children and went back to England, but she did not stay, and brought the children back with her. She did not go back to Harry Jones, however, but put little Charlotte in a State Home, keeping the little boy with her.

When Harry Jones learned where Charlotte was he married a woman who already had two little boys and they took Charlotte into their home. They soon had another daughter, Emma. Charlotte went to work when she finished high school, and before she was 20 married Fred Bentley. I do not know what happened to young Harry Jones, but his son later lived in Trenton, as did several Aunts on Harry's side.

Fred and Charlotte Bentley had five children: Frederick, Gladys, Charles, Marion and Charlotte. In 1938 the only child still at 1111 Greenwood Avenue was Charlotte, who was Junior in High School. Frederick was married to Elsie Leaming and lived a few blocks from his father and mother. He walked to the pottery every morning and walked home each night, stopping off to visit his mother every evening. He was a silent fellow who worked as a brick layer at the Trenton Pottery. His wife was a very shy thin woman, much interested in her church groups and popular there, but overwhelmed by the Bentleys.

Gladys was a graduate librarian and worked in the Trenton Library. She had married over the opposition of her family, and sometime during the first spring of our marriage they were divorced.

Charles, or Harry as he was known in Trenton, was his mother's favorite child. He had been bugler at Camp Wilson, the local YMCA camp, where he also received the Order of the Wapiti. He was editor of the High School year book, The Bobasheela, and President of the National Honor Society at Trenton High School, as a result of which he had been Governor for a day. He was joint recipient of a scholarship to Princeton University given by the Trenton Times newspaper. He had entered Princeton just before his 18th birthday, and found his financial problems, plus the work, quite a struggle. Marion had graduated from Teacher's College and was teaching school up in Butler, New Jersey, and was being courted by Bill Ball, whom she married the following December.

I stepped off the train at 7:30 AM arnd was met by Charles, bearing the message that his mother was eager to have us come to their house and be married from there. I could sympathize with her, but I knew how crushed my mother would be if I were married from the Bentley's house, so I refused to do this. Aftcr breakfast at Child's we went shopping for a wedding ring. I wanted a wide wedding band, but no store in Trenton, New Jersey, sold such a thing, so rather than spend any of our precious few dollars on a ring I did not really want, we went into Woolworth's 5 & 10 Cent Store on State Street and bought a ring to be married with, fully planning to get a wide band when we went up to New York some time.

We set out in Mr. Bentley's car, borrowed for the occasion, for Elkton, Maryland. Elkton was the Gretna Green of the east coast. You could get married there without any bothersome blood tests, and there was no waiting period. There were plenty of hangers-on at the city hall only too willing to help prospective brides and bridegrooms get their licenses and to lead them to clergymen ready and waiting to perform the wedding ceremony. By noon we were man and wife and were on our way to a two day honeymoon at the Hay-Adams House in Washington, D. C.

We returned from Washington to Trenton, gave the car back to Mr. Bentley, and Charles went back to work. We were living in a veritable flea-bag of a hotel while I tried to find an apartment. Trenton was full of old houses which were being cut up into most unsuitable apartments,but it had very few small, inexpensive apartments for rent. At last I found what I was looking for -- something we could afford which was within walking distance of the State House. It was an apartment with one large room, big enough to be both living room and bedroom, with an inadoor [sic] bed in a large closet. It had what was then called a pullman kitchen along one wall, a dining table and two benches separating the kitchen from the livingroom, and a nice modern bathroom --- cost, $35.00 per month.

The sole drawback to this apartment was the fact that it was on the third floor of an old building which had been remodeled into some 10 or 12 of these little apartments. The first floor was occupied by a second-hand stove store, and we were next to the Essex County Court House, with the County jail just behind us. It was on South Broad Street in an area which no longer even exists, being now part of the new interstate. We were the last apartment on the third floor, and so had windows on two sides. One looked out over a small dingy back yard and the fire escape, and the other looked out over a small court to the jail. Since we were on the top floor it was possible to push up a trap door in the ceiling of the hall and climb a steep flight of stairs and emerge on the roof, which was an ideal spot to spend a hot evening.

We had absolutely nothing except the inadoor bed, kitchen table, stove and refrigerator with which the apartment was furnished. We had very little money, and didn't want to spend what we had. So we appealed to the Bentleys and to my mother and were soon furnished with discards from two attics. Mrs. Bentley contributed an overstuffed chair, several end-tables, two or three lamps, a radio and some pots and pans. In addition she bought a set of dishes for us as their wedding present.

She and I went shopping at the corner of Broad and State Streets, where I also bought my sheets for the inadoor bed (I absolutely cannot remember what we did for blankets, although I would not be surprised that they and curtains also came from the Bentley attic.) My mother sent on a rug which had come from her N. Y. apartment, two small book-cases, a large armchair which had been my Grandmother Opper's, and a drop-leaf table which had been Anne Tucker's very first table. In addition she sent the Chippendale sideboard which we have carefully shipped from place to place.

We bought ourselves a studio couch, which we preferred to the inadoor bed, and a large screen to shut off the kitchen from the living room.

Handy as this apartment was, it was filthy dirty, a thing I had not noticed in my euphoria over finding it. I tried to clean it up, but by the end of a day or two I was in deep despair, having not the slightest idea of how to tackle the problem. I went to lunch with Charles at Child's restaurant, and was sitting there finishing my coffee after he had left, when in walked in Esther Swaffield, a Wellesley classmate.

She and I greeted each other joyfully. She was working for the YWCA in Trenton, had been there only a short time and was even more lonely than I. She was sure she had the solution to my problem. There were many women who came into the Y for help who were looking for housework to do.

At that time the going rate for such work was $.50 an hour (or less. ) and, she promised to send we a worker the very next morning. Sure enough, Geneva was at my door bright and early the next morning --- and remained my helper and friend as long as I lived in Trenton. She was large and fat and black, and came front one of the Carolinas. She was desperate for work and knowledgeable about just what I knew nothing about. She told me what she would need and ordered me out while she tackled the apartment.

Over a year later, when we were talking over a cup of coffee, I told her how desperate I had felt, and she said, "Well, miz Bentley, when I walked in and looked at them walls and floors I felt kind of des'prate, but I decided that the way to do was to begin somewhere and keep on going, and that is what I did, and it all worked out." Which is an admiralble way to treat any difficult Job. Geneva added to our vocabulary words such as "swift-broom." "You goi_- LA litilf- Ii,ift-broom, Niz Bentley, to scootch. this duss into the duss-pan?" .

Another friend we acquired within a very short time was Ozzie, a littlc black kittcn, who was the smartest cat ever born. He not only trained himself to a box in the bathroom in no time at all, but by the time he was full grown he had abandoned his box to squat over the toilet. He was so tiny that we took a picture of hin sitting in a Princeton mug with only his head showing, and he was a fine big cat when we had to give him to Aunt Mahala when we went to California.

We were barely established in this magnificence when my Grandmother Grimm died. Charles was unable to get away to go to Chicago since he had just taken time off to get married, so I went alone. The usual get-together after the funeral enabled us to announce my marriage to the assembled Grimm Clan.

While in Chicago my mother and I went shopping at Fields and bought towels and chose my sterling silver pattern. (Such was our demented state that we were going to live on hand-me-downs in an apartment over a second-hand stove store, but we felt that sterling silver flatware was an essential.) My Uncle Dick had given me a check for $500.00 as a wedding present -- an astonishing amount, so my mother and I decided that we should get something which we would always have, and we chose a sterling silver teapot, sugar bowl and creamer, and a beautiful rosewood tray, banded in sterling. It is still a thing of beauty, although I have seldom used it, and is probably worth ten times what we paid for it. Come to think of it, I do not know what we could have bought that would have remained with us for 45 years, so perhaps it was a good buy. After the funeral I went back to my new life in Trenton.

Charles was working for the New Jersey Civil Service Commission, with offices in the State House, well within walking distance of our apartment. You must realize that on our return to Trenton Charles again became Harry. I was perfectly willing for him to be Harry --- it was Charles who did not want to be Harry, so I called him Charles when we were at home, and Harry when we were out, but inevitably I forgot at times, and his family always believed that it was I who changed his name from Harry to Charles.

There were a congenial bunch of young men who were working in the Civil Service Commission at that time, and we made a number of friends. A very short time after our marriage Charles got a raise to $125.00 per month --- retroactive for something like six months, so we felt very rich and began to pay off the money he had borrowed from Princeton University.

The examiners from Trenton, including Charles, went all over the state of New Jersey to hold Civil Service exams, and on a number of occasions I went along just for the ride. For some now obscure reason a group of them went all the way to Boston for a convention, and I rode along and went back to visit at Wellesley. Charles enjoyed his office, but did not see much future in Trenton, so he was looking for an opportunity to change.

That first spring we ran into a Princeton classmate of Charles who was also living in Trenton with his young wife. Al Campbell had graduated in 1935, gotten a job with a New York City bank for the munificent salary of $75.00 per month, and had promptly married a childhood sweetheart, who had graduated from high school when he graduated from college.

Betty was a jolly, bouncy little thing, and had survived 2@ years of living in New York on $75.00, and was delighted to be moving to Trenton where Al had found a new job with Thermoid, Corp. at the huge salary of $100.00 per month. They found an apartment on the third floor of an old house on Hamilton Avenue, and we all had fun decorating and furnishing it. A good deal of the furniture was of the orange crate variety, and all shelves were of bare boards supported by bricks or cement blocks.

The Campbells and the Bentleys joined forces in enjoying such entertainment as went on at no cost in Trenton, such as ethnic street fairs. We frequently entertained each other with the least expensive meals we could devise. I well remember that Woman's Day touted a meal of baked beans on a bed of shredded cabbage, which was pretty terrible, but edible, and no doubt nourishing. Such a meal and a quart of beer split four ways was our idea of a riotous evening. I had found a very old Fannie Farmer cook book in a second hand store, and Fannie at that time told you how to kill and cut up a cow, as well as how to cook it, and she also told you a good deal about how to make nourishing meals out of very little.

We had no car, but we were great walkers. We would cross the bridge into Pennsylvania and take long walks along the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware, which was lovely and rural. We took a couple of trips into New York to the World's Fair, and to visit Helen Brown and her fiance, who were going to be married in June, and in June we went up to Bronxviille for the wedding. The Browns had money, which went far in those days, and Helen was their only child, so they planned a posh wedding. All five of Helena, attendants were financially unable to pay for their bridesmaids' gowns, so the Browns simply outfitted all of us. The groom's mother was a not-very-well-off widow in New Jcrsey, so the Browns gave the rehearsal dinner as well as the wedding reception. The rehearsal dinner, to which the hubbands and wives of all 18 attendants were invited, was held in the newly opened Rainbow Room at the top of the brand-new, Rockefeller Center on 5th Avenue. The view was terrific, the place was magnificent, the food was excellent, and we all had a marvelous time.

The wedding at the Dutch Reformed Church in Bronxville, N. Y., was followed by a huge reception at the Bronxville Country Club. Altogether several days to be long remembered by most of the wedding attendants.

Esther Swaffield and I had joined the College Club, which was a disappointment since most of the other members were school teachers and considerably older than we. What I remember about the College Club was the fact that the teachers were so amazed and distressed at finding illiterates coming into high school for the first time in their memories, and even at that time they began to blame the new see-and-say method of reading being used in the lower grades to the exclusion of phonics.

At the College Club we discovered another Wellesley College classmate, Olga Tomec. There were several more Wellesley Alumnae in Trenton, and more in the surrounding area around Princeton, but the only New Jersey Wellesley Club was in north Jersey. Accordingly, we contacted the college, got the names of alumnae in our area and arranged for a meeting of all of those who might be interested in forming a Central Jersey Wellesley Club. We received a number of responses and set to work organizing. Now that I look back on it, I am overwhelmed by our audacity.

I well remember that one meeting was held in our living room --- three flights up, over a second hand stove store, in an atrocious neighborhood, and I saw nothing ludicrous about having five or six middle-aged and well-to-do Wellesley Alumnae come to a meeting in such a place. By early 1938 the Central Jersey Wellesley Club was formed, and is still a functioning club.

My mother came to visit us for a few days in the spring of 1938, and then we had the whole long summer to take walks, make new friends and get acquainted with each other. We went up to New York once or twice, once visiting the New York World's Fair, and once managing to get tickets to the Lunts' hit show"Amphytrion 33" just as the curtain was going up. We walked over to the Bentleys every Sunday afternoon, and often had supper there, At the time I thought we were doing the old folks a favor by paying them a visit each Sunday, but I am no longer sure about that.

We saw little of Frederick and his wife, nor of Gladys, whose marriage was falling to pieces. Marion was busy up in Butler planning a wedding in the winter, and Charlotte was still at home. She was active in the High School Glee Club, and we all went to see her in"Pirates of Penzance, " but she was also getting herself into trouble which made her mother almost glad to have my shoulder to cry on. What she did, which was to write mash notes to the music teacher, and steal silk stockings from the houses where she baby-sat, was not so terrible, but alas, it portended an inability to separate fantasy from reality that was to bother Charlotte for the rest of her life.

Late in the spring of 1938 Bob Mouk, who worked in Charles' office had been offered a research and editorial job with the New Jersey Taxpayers Association, in which he was not interested. He said, however, that he knew a young woman who had done that kind of work and who might be interested in working for the Taxpayers, and lo, I had a job. I have no idea of what I was paid, but it certainly was not more than $75.00 per month.

I did the research for the speeches which the two men in the office gave, and researched and wrote the little magazine they put out each month. I heartily despised the New Jersey Taxpayers Association, which was actually financed by a number of large corporations in north Jersey who were chiefly interested in defeatiri,@, any charicc-- of an income or corporation tax becoming law in New Jersey. The only tax being collected in New Jersey was the property tax, and the entire cost of the state was riding on the shoulders of the little property owners. At that time a great wany industries were incorporated in New Jersey entirely because of the lack of any corporation tax. They gave no return to the state, they hired no workers since their factories, etc. were elsewhere --- even their executive offices were elsewhere. New Jersey ranked 46 in the amount of public money spent on education, and 48 in money spent on higher education.

There was no state college or university. The Taxpayers' Association job was to persuade the little taxpayer that things were all right as they were, and that he too would be hurt by the imposition of an income or corporation tax. To say that I did not put my heart into "my work" is an understatement, but I enjoyed having something to do, I enjoyed my research work over at the State House, although often what I was discovering actually disproved what we said it proved. And we needed the money.

At Christmas time, 1938, Charles and I went to Chicago to spend Christmas with my mother and Lois who were living in an apartment on Kenwood Avenue, between 63rd and 64th. Why my mother decided to come into the city to live I really do not know, except that she was in a very unsettled state of mind. Lois was going to the Goodman School of Dramatic Art at the Art Institute, but my mother was incensed at their treatment of Lois. She felt that Lois should be doing something more dramatic than painting scenery and sewing costumes. I think she pictured Lois as entering the class and getting a leading role in some play. In vain did we tell her that drudgery was how everyone started at Goodman, that it was a 3 year course, and that Lois might get on the stage in a year or two. By the summer of 1939 Lois had left Goodman, and had found a job through the Masonic organization, and for the first time she was happy with what she was doing, and her employers were happy with her.

In the spring of 1939 we moved from our little apartment on Broad Street to a larger apartment on East State Street, which had a separate bedroom, and for which we bought the nicest furniture we have had from that day to this. We were very happy there, and since we had paid off our Princeton debt we decided that the time had come to have a baby. No sooner said than done, and by the end of the month I was sure that I was pregnant and resigned from the Taxpayers Association just before they were ready to fire me.

Charles enjoyed his work at the Civil Service Agency, but was anxious to get away from Trenton. As the result of a big and scandalous shake-up in the Los Angeles City Administration their Civil service Department was being reorganized. An examination for new examiners was announced on a country-wide basis, and some time in the spring Charles took that examination and was later interviewed by an administrator from Los Angeles, and we sat back to wait for results.

Ny mother, still restless, decided that she had to get rid of her car since it was going to cost her garage fees in the city. She offered it to us, and we leaped at the offer. We took the train to Chicago In August, picked up the car, and drove back through Canada and New England.

We had no sooner arrived back in Trenton than we got a letter from Los Angeles offering Charles a job in the Los Angeles City Civil Service Administration, we he at once accepted. The slight snag was the fact that we had to be there by September 15, it was now August, and we had to dispose of our furniture, resign from the New Jersey Clivil Service Department and get out to Los Angeles.

We sold our lovely new bedroom furniture to Bud and Marion Messic, put everything else back into Bentley's attic, gave our kitty to Charles' Aunt Nahale, had a tearful farewell with all of our friends and set out in the car, packed to the gunwales with our worldly belongings.

We got to Ferrisburg, Pennsylvania, the first night, where we were only slightly subdued to hear on the radio that Hitler had invaded Poland that very day and that England had declared war on Germany.