Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Grandma and the Prince - Part 9
Yes, that's the actual manifest from the Philadelphia, the ship that brought my grandmother and her family from Liverpool to New York. They left in disgrace but arrived in a style unlike the usual early 20th century immigrant. They brought trunks filled with finery, a yappy Pomeranian, and the memory of a life they'd never know again.
Which, in some ways, was probably a good thing even if it didn't seem that way at the time.
If you can't make it out, here's what I see on my screen, courtesy of Ancestry.com :
Manifest of the S.S. Philadelphia sailing from Liverpool 28th August 1916
Dimler, Charles Henry - age 43, English from Great Britain, butcher, other things I can't read
Dimler, Ellen Louise - age 38, wife
Dimler, Edith Barbara - age 18, daughter
Dimler, Charles Casson - age 17, son
Dimler, Elsie Isobel - age 16, daughter
Last month I promised I'd share the transcript of my grandmother's reminiscences. Fasten your seat belts!
Elsie: We came back to Liverpool when I was 14. They were broke and in disgrace. We stayed at Sea View for two years. Oh, Barbara, the things people thought! The Germans were the enemy and someone said my grandfather was signaling them with secret messages and people threw rocks at us and set fire to the house. We were hated by the town. You don't know what it was like . . . the bombs . . . the fires . . . the zeppelins overhead . . . terrible . . . terrible. Then he decided we were going to. It was 1916. The War was still on but he had to go. We made the trip on an American ship. We stopped in the middle of the Atlantic with our engines off on account of the submarines everywhere. I remember that only the American flags on the ship saved us.
I remember it was hot, so hot, when we reached New York. We didn't waste any time getting jobs. The second day our parents said, 'Find work," and we didn't know anything. I was brought up rich. I couldn't do anything. So I found a job as a nursemaid for a rich Jewish family on Central Park West. I took care of their little girl and the mother used to say to her, "Now you should learn to speak like Elsie" -- cahn't, tomahto -- and I would feel so good to be appreciated.
We used to go--I can see it now--to the swanky shops like B. Altman on Fifth Avenue. She had a chauffeur and a limousine and I would sit in the rear and I can still see him placing the fur robes over the madam and the girl. But not me. It wasn't done. I told them that I'd had servants too but who knows if they believed me. I was just a green kid.
One day I left them. I don't know why. I just left. I didn't know any better. [silence] You don't know what it was like to come here . . . everything so big . . . so much . . . all the food and stores and people. I loved it from the first.
I got another job with rich people. Their name was Hayes. The little girl was Bunny; she was 2 or 3 years old. I stayed there, lived there, and they treated me like their daughter. They were lovely people. I stayed with them quite awhile then next I knew I got a job at a store downtown on Broome Street where they sell picture frames and all. I had to measure pictures for frames and I didn't know how. We were living up in the Bronx on the beautiful Grand Concourse. I had to bring these frames home on the el (BB: elevated subway) and I didn't know where I was going. Even the dumbwaiter! I didn't know about garbage going down on the dumbwaiter. I didn't know what a deli was!
A kid comes here and sees all the food and everything . . . [silence]
Well, dearie, I got a job at National Outlet. I was a tabulator. National Outlet was like a Sears Roebuck catalog. [laughs] Can you imagine? I was a young girl. Seventeen? Kathryn was the supervisor. The girls used to get a great kick out of me. They'd get me to answer the phone: "Halloooo?" Cahn't and all that stuff. The Duchess of the Grand Concourse they called me. It was on 23rd Street. I'd take the el every day.
And then I met a boy. I had a crush on Louie. He was about 18 and I fell madly in love with him. "Would you fetch me a glass of water?" I'd say. And he'd laugh. "Oh, the Duchess again!" He liked me. Such a nice boy. I was very happy there, with the job and him. But he left and then I left. He took a job (he had a brother in show business, a comedian, and his father lived up in the Bronx.) I went to his house. I can see it now -- all slipcovered, even the desk, everything was covered. I liked his father. His mother was nice, but she didn't like me. His brother was on the road, so we went out. Louie got a job as assistant manager at the movie theater on 125st Street. I used to go to the movies at night and I'd sit in the box and he'd come up and talk to me and I'd get a thrill watching him rush down the aisles. Black hair! He had style. He wasn't good-looking, but he had style. Something about him fascinated me--his eyes?
But things happen. I don't remember what. My family and money. They needed my wages. We, all three children, would hand our pay envelope to our mother on Friday. Unopened. I was so proud. She would give each of us something for the week but no more. Every penny was accounted for. I had to move on to another job because Edith had trouble keeping work. We were going to work together. Our father would bang on the door in the morning. "Girls! Don't forget you have to get up and look at the paper. You need jobs!"
to be continued next month
PS: I'm Barbara Bretton, author of Girls of Summer (available now) and Laced With Magic (available in two weeks) and you can find me here and here and here.
To celebrate Girls of Summer's re-release as a trade paperback, I'm giving away five copies to five commenters. Just leave your message here and I'll post the winners here in the comments section on Saturday. Good luck!