FALL RIVER HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Women at Work: An Oral History of
in Fall River, Massachusetts
Interview with Marita Frances Harnett, née Vokes
Interviewer: (JC) Joseph J. Conforti, Jr
Interviewee: (MH) Mrs. Thomas Edward Harnett, née Marita Frances Vokes
Additional Commentary: (GK) George D. Kelly, Fall River Historical Society
(AS) Ann Rockett-Sperling, Fall River Historical Society
(JR) Joyce B. Rodrigues, Fall River Historical Society
Date of Interview: December 3, 2014
Location: Catholic Memorial Home, Fall River, Massachusetts
Transcriber: Deborah Mello
Marita (Vokes) Harnett was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, on November 17, 1921.
Marita’s story is rooted in the textile centers of Lawrence and Fall River. Her father, Reginald Vokes, immigrated to the United States from England in 1904 with his parents and sister. The family settled in Lawrence. Her paternal grandfather was a car inspector for the Boston and Maine railroad.
Marita’s mother and maternal grandparents were born in New England of French-Canadian descent. The Latraverses lived in Lawrence and were operatives in a cotton mill. Her parents met and married while working in the mills in Lawrence.
Marita’s husband’s family, the Harnetts, emigrated from England to the United States in 1862. They lived in Fall River and occupied positions as weavers, mule spinners, doffers, loom fixers, and speeder-tenders in the city’s booming textile industry.
Marita’s father, as an enterprising young man, worked in retail, managing McLellan’s, a 20th-century chain of five-and-dime stores. His work took the family to Maine, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and finally to the two McLellan stores in Fall River. There were three children in the Vokes family: Marita the eldest, a younger brother, and a younger special-needs sister.
Marita’s narrative describes her teen and young adult years in Fall River from 1935 to her marriage in 1942, a period from the height of the Great Depression to World War II.
The impact of the New Deal. Reginald Vokes worked for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in Fall River. He had been a Republican until the enactment of Social Security in 1935. From then on he voted as a Democrat for the rest of his life. He tried the restaurant business and finally settled in the 1940s and 1950s on managing a Sacony gas station and later owned an auto parts business.
Life during the Great Depression. The Vokes family lived with both sets of grandparents in the same house. Marita recalls sharing meals with other families in their Orchard Street three-decker home, attending dish night at the Strand Theater, and competing for the title of Miss Fall River at the Empire Theatre in 1940.
Marita attended high school for two years (1935-37). She then worked alongside her mother operating a power stitching machine in the sewing factories of Fall River. Among the places her career took her to were: S & S Manufacturing Company, Har-Lee Manufacturing Company, Kerr Thread Mills (aka American Thread Company), and Firestone Rubber and Latex Products Company.
She married Thomas E. Harnett in 1942 and had one son and two daughters. After marriage, Marita worked as a waitress, as an office clerical, and a retail sales worker.
Note: This interview is unedited and transcribed verbatim from the original recording.
JC: This is an interview with Mrs. Marita Harnett. The interviewer is John Conforti at the Catholic Memorial Home, December 3, 2014. The purpose of this interview is to record and preserve the memories, reflections and thoughts of working women in Fall River during the time frame of 1920 and 1950. Mrs. Harnett, let’s begin. Your name, your first name, Marita, very unusual. Can you tell me about it?
MH: I’ve got a long story about that.
JC: You have? Tell us.
MH: I wondered too where I got that name. Because I had nothing to do with it. When I was born, I was born at home, in the old days you know? A featherbed, I think. My grandmother’s house, with my mother and father were living with their parents at the time. And the doctor’s name was Nevins. Dr. Nevins delivered me. And my grandmother and mother were debating what to name this new baby, you know, me. And she happened to say to the doctor, ‘What is your daughter called?’ He says, ‘Marita.’ They decided there and then. That is how I got that name. So they stole it from the doctor.
MH: I had to live with it, and I’ve got different pronunciations, but you said it correctly. I have had Maritta, Maratta, Marrita, all different versions of Marita.
JC: When and where were you born?
MH: I was born in Lawrence, Massachusetts. 238 Farnham Street in North Lawrence, at 238 Farnham Street. Second floor tenement house. The landlady’s name was Mrs. Svensco. I can’t spell that.
JC: That’s okay. What year was that?
JC: 1921. Okay. Um. Your father worked in the Lawrence Mills? I’m asking.
MH: Well, as a young man I suppose he did. But, after he was married, he got into the retail as a manager. He worked from stock boy up to manager. I guess you must remember the five-and-ten-cent stores. Woolworth’s, Newberry. Well, he was in charge of McLellen’s in Fall River. And we traveled quite a bit because he must have been good with figures, my father, because when a chain store was in the red, they would say, ‘Send Vokes,’ my father’s name. ‘Send Vokes, he will get us in the black.’ So we moved quite a bit. And the way I came to Fall River was through moving to Fall River from Gloversville, New York, 32 Spool Street, Gloversville New York. He was sent to govern a store on Main Street, at that time, called McLellen’s. It was a five-and-ten. And we stayed here. My mother said, ‘I’m sick of moving every few years. I’ve lived in Maine, New Jersey, New York.’ I went to different schools so many times, but I always got by and passed. And uh, she said, ‘I am sick of it, you know?’ My mother, moving, ‘I just get the window treatments all set in one house and then I have to go to another one, get all new drapes and curtains.’ So we stayed in Fall River. And he started to try a business of his own. And that little menu I brought was one of the businesses he had. The date is on it. It’s a menu of what they served. And they used to have a three-piece band Friday night, dancing, you know? And they served food, not big food, but French fries and pitchers of beer.
JC: In what year did he begin this?
MH: Let me see, that’s ‘41. It must have been in ‘39. There’s no. I know it’s his.
JC: ‘39. Okay.
MH: I think.
JC: The Depression was still on? Yes?
JC: So did the five-and …
MH: Yes. I think I had just come out of high school, and uh, okay. My father said, ‘Now, you have to help me out the weekend, it’s a holiday, you know? And I need a girl to serve table.’ I said, ‘Oh, no, I can’t do that, I want to go to Lincoln Park.’ If you wanted any news about Lincoln Park, I could stay here for a month talking. But we will forget about that right now. I said, ‘No I don’t.’ He said, ‘You can keep your tips and I will pay you the same as the other girls get.’ ‘Oh, well. Alright.’ Well, I wasn’t of the age to put down a pitcher of beer. So, I had to put down the food like French fries or potato chips or something like that. So, who do you think go the tips? The other girls, they were of age. And I would say, ‘Oh,’ and he said, ‘You go home and make out the payroll and give yourself the same pay as the other girls. No tips though.’
JC: So was this successful?
MH: He had that for a few years and then he branched out. I’m talking about my father, not myself.
JC: We would like to hear about your father.
MH: He had two, do you remember the Socony Gas, the flying red horse? You remember that, huh? He opened up, and leased two gas stations. One in the north and one of the east of Fall River. And my grand … and everyone took their grandparents in in those days, there was no Social Security. I can remember two sets of grandparents in the house with us. So, my mother went to work, she had two people to cook and two grandmas there to look after us. So, he opened two gas stations, leased two gas stations and, remember Socony red horse? Flying red horse. And he kept it open twenty-four hours. There was no other stations in Fall River that did that. So my grandfather worked the night shift, my father went in during the day. That was pretty good. And then he tried that. And that was pretty good, too. As I’ve already told you about that.
JC: Did he, did he?
MH: And at the end, you may remember, I don’t think you do, maybe you are too young. Before he retired, he, when the war came, my brother went to war, got the Purple Heart, by the way. My brother went to war and my father went to work at, was it Camp Devens? He worked nights as a bartender and days painting the barracks at Fort Devens. So, he was working two jobs. So I was free to work, so I worked two jobs. And we both, I did like my father. The second job just gave me enough money to pay room and board at home, and buy what I needed, and my first, the job at Firestone, paid bigger. My father and I didn’t take our pay, we took it in War Bonds. So, when the war was over, we had a few bucks, you know? To start off, because there was a big Depression. So my father used his money and the G.I. Loan when my brother got out to start another business. And that was in Tiverton, Vokes Auto Parts.
JC: So that was the last business venture?
MH: Yes, he retired from that. They did very well with that; they both went to Florida, except me. That’s okay, I went down when they needed me.
JC: Your mother was a stay-at-home mom?
MH: Yes, but she worked in the sweat shops. The power machines when we were younger and the grandmas were home. And I did, too.
JC: In Fall River?
MH: In Fall River. Now, you want to talk about where I worked?
JC: Before we get there, let’s talk about your family. How many children in the family?
MH: Myself, my brother, and sister. Three. And my mother and father.
JC: Where was your place?
MH: I was the eldest of three.
JC: Okay. Can you tell us a little bit about your family origins?
MH: Yes. My descent: my father was born in England and my mother was of a French descent. My grandparents on my mother’s side were Canadian French. But my father was really English. He came over with his mother and father when he was four years old.
MH: And I don’t think he went more than the eighth grade. But he evidently was good with figures.
JC: Your mom and dad came from different religious backgrounds?
MH: Yes, they did.
JC: Tell me about it.
MH: Well, my mother was a Catholic, brought up Catholic, staunch Catholic, I would say. My father was brought up Episcopalian. But when they went to be married, in the old days, the priest said, ‘Well, you have to convert. Become a Catholic.’ He said, ‘No.’ He says, ‘Well, you can’t be married in the church. I can marry you in the rectory. But you can have a nice church wedding if you convert,’ in the old days. And my father said, ‘No, I won’t do that, because if something happens to my wife, and there’s children, I would be forced to bring them up my way, that is all I know.’ So that was his excuse. So they were married, not at the church, but in the rectory. It never caused any trouble in any way. But my mother became a luke warm Catholic.
JC: I see, okay. So, it was never a problem in the home?
MH: Not until I got married and had children.
JC: You want to tell us about that?
MH: Sure. In the old days, there was prejudice between the Catholics and the Episcopal. And I married a Catholic fella, his mother and father were Catholic, they were sort of staunch Catholics, never miss Mass, go to confession and all that. And I had two children, my boy and girl. And it came time to enter them into school; my mother in-law was whispering in my husband’s ear, ‘Make sure they go to St. Peter and Paul. You know they may end up at St. Luke’s.’ And I said, ‘Well, I got to please them all, I have got to live in this house with all the Catholics, well, all right, and it won’t do no harm.’ I told the kids that if they ever say anything, those nuns say anything about the Episcopal faith, they are black Catholics or something, or black Christians. You don’t take notice of that. I brought them up in the Catholic school, high school and all. It’s come in handy. It’s come in handy.
JC: Yes. And you have been an Episcopalian? Or, you were brought up as a Catholic as well?
MH: Luke warm, I went to both churches. I used to like to go to the evening Mass at the Episcopal Church because they all used to sing and I could sing. And the Catholic Church, I liked that too, because I had friends there. I was broadminded in that way.
JC: Did you father have any political convictions?
MH: He was a staunch Republican until Roosevelt brought in that Social Security. And he thought that was the best idea that ever happened. He turned and he voted Democrat the rest of his life.
JC: Okay. You have any stories you would like to share with us about your brothers and sister?
MH: They were good kids. My brother went to war. He was a gunner. You know the planes that take off from the ships, and underneath there is a ball; he rode that turret, I think they call it, a turret. And he used, he used to shoot down the Japs. He got the Purple Heart though. And, uh …
JC: He survived the war?
MH: Yes, thank God. His ship got hit one time. My father was down. I never saw my father down on his knees at his bed praying for his son. You know? It was the first time. My father was a good man. And the first time I actually saw him on his knees praying for his son. I remember those things so well, indelible in my mind.
JC: You were born in Lawrence. How long did you live in Lawrence?
MH: I went to the first grade in Lawrence because my father had to been transferred to Maine for a chain store. And I was already enrolled in the school, so to finish out the year, I stayed with my grandparents. And my mother had a little boy, my brother; they took the baby because he needed more care. And I was safe with my grandparents. So, then we went, several places we lived. But I do remember when I came to Fall River, it was on Locust Street. You know Locust Street in Fall River?
MH: We lived in a tenement, I think it was 37. I could walk to the Dubuque School. I could walk from that down Locust Street.
JR: That’s my neighborhood.
MH: Oh really? I can’t remember the number on the house, but if I went on the street I could point it right out. I could see it all. So I went to the Dubuque School. At recess the kids liked to get me in the corner, because I still spoke with that New York accent. And they thought it was funny. They would say, ‘Talk, talk.’ Kids. Fourth grade.
JC: Your father was very enterprising, so I imagine the family never suffered any real economic hardships.
MH: Yeah, when he was out of work. He worked for the WPA. Sure, he dug ditches.
MH: We were poor.
MH: When the Depression was on. But that is what made him save all his money when he worked, knowing his son was going to come home from the war and there would be another Depression. We were on what they called food stamps today. But everyone was on stamps, if you remember, during that war. And you could only, I think three eggs a week. Something like that. And we used to stand in line on Main Street, Fall River, to get the butter from Kennedy’s. It used to be in a bucket, and they used to cut the butter. And we stand in line. Do you remember that?
JR: My mom told me a lot of that. You are saying exactly what she experienced.
MH: And we had stamps. We had lots of money, mind you. But you couldn’t buy anything. Everything, cigarettes, oh God, and everybody, all the guys smoked in those days. The women too. But I can remember that one cigarette you could buy, not that I did, Raleighs. You act as though you had them.
MH: Yeah, and they sent all the good cigarettes; good cigarettes, there are none that are good. But the Chesterfields, Lucky Strikes all went over to our boys overseas. They got the best of everything and we had to, we didn’t starve, but we had a lot of money. When the people didn’t rob you, but you couldn’t buy anything. And it, well, we didn’t starve. Everything was rationed.
JC: What work was your father doing when the Depression began? 1929.
MH: Oh, twenty-nine, he’d be, 1929. I remember when he was a kid, and everybody went in the way back then. They went to work in the mills at fourteen, you know.
JC: So he wasn’t working for the Five-and-Ten?
JC: Not then.
MH: No, he must have been, what did you say, ‘29?
MH: I would be eight years old, that must be when he was starting and went to Maine. So I saw the first grade. You go to school about seven or eight.
JR: Six and seven.
MH: I’m trying to clear that up in my mind.
JC: Yes, did he lose his job with the Five-and-Ten?
MH: No, he left of his own accord.
JC: He left of his own accord?
MH: My mother badgered him, I bet.
MH: That was when he started his own, trying to get going in his own business. He was his own boss.
JC: What brought him to the WPA? He must have lost work?
MH: Let me see. We were on Orchard Street, off Pleasant Street, Fall River.
JR: Yes, I know where that is.
MH: You know where that is?
JR: Yes, I know exactly where that is.
MH: Orchard Street, off Quarry. He worked for the WPA. It must have been before he got into that, before the Red Mill and before the gas stations. He worked, it was hard times then.
JC: Yes, how long was he on the WPA?
MH: I don’t know, it wasn’t a long time. I don’t remember really.
JC: Do you remember what he did? On the WPA
MH: He dug ditches.
JC: He dug ditches?
MH: A lot of the men did. And remember we were keeping the old folks, too. Everybody had grandparents in their home.
JC: So you had to scrimp and save at home? Yes?
MH: Yes, but we never felt hungry. I remember we used to, the neighbors were always brining in food. My grandmother sending food when she made a bunch she would send it upstairs. When the Italian lady would make her spaghetti, she would send a big bowl down to us. It was a different kind of life back then. You know? People were generous to each other. Everyone was in the same boat. And that was the way it was.
JC: Fall River in those days was a collection of ethnic groups. And in some cases they didn’t get along. But you are telling me in the Depression they pulled together.
MH: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I can remember neighbors, Italian upstairs, French over there, oh yeah, they all pulled together.
MH: It was a different world than it is now.
JC: So you have mentioned a few neighborhoods, Orchard Street. Is that where you were living during the Depression?
MH: I was in the fifth grade. You know, that was when it was, my father was working on the WPA. Now I’m trying to remember, was he out of work? Because I hadn’t graduated from eighth grade yet. I went in the fifth grade. There is a Watson School up there? I think it’s for handicap kids now? Is it?
AS: It’s regular now.
JR: Yeah, it is regular now.
AS: We used to go there for shop.
JR: Actually, yeah, that’s right. I went there to learn cooking and sewing.
MH: So it is there.
AS: It’s on Eastern Avenue. We used to be near the Kerr Mill.
MH: Absolutely, we had, we made our graduation gowns. Dotted white muslin. Yeah. And we would bake cupcakes. One day a week. And I would have to walk from Bedford Street to that school and be on time. You know? One day a week.
AS: I remember that.
JC: Can you tell us what you saw on your walk to the Watson School?
MH: There was, it depends on what route you took. But Mark You.
JR: Oh, Yes.
JC: Mmm mmm.
AS: Oh, yes.
JR: Very good.
MH: And if you had a nickel you could go in there and get a, they wrap it in paper, French fries and take them out and eat them on the way.
JR: On the way to the Watson School?
MH: Or on the way back.
MH: I remember.
JC: Any other?
MH: Yes, I can remember the Strand Theatre, where they would give you a dish if you go on a Wednesday with your girlfriend and your mother would say, ‘Don’t come home without the dish.’ I still have pieces of that stoneware. Oh, I could give that to the Smithsonian. And I have other antiques, too. But, they end up in the trash.
JC: Do you have any other memories of your school days in Fall River?
MH: Oh sure. Sure.
JC: Something you would like to share with us?
MH: I’m thinking, I’m thinking. I remember in the eighth grade, making our own dresses, going up to the uh, the uh, what is that school I said, Watson?
MH: I remember it took all year to make the dress. But you only had an hour a day and you were learning. I remember that and uh …
JC: How about your friends?
MH: I had friends, yeah.
JC: When you weren’t in school, what did you do together?
MH: Jump rope—French style—hide-and-seek. I liked to play. You know Potterville at all, in Somerset? You know that school? It’s a day care center now, I think. Potterville School in Somerset. I think the handbars are still in the yard. I used to swing from them when I was in the fourth and fifth grade. See, we lived in Somerset for a short while, too. Center Street. You know? It’s down the hill a little bit.
JC: You moved?
MH: There used to be a post office way down, you had to walk for your mail when I was a kid. Yeah. Maybe. I am wracking my brain, trying to think. Some memories, most memories are very vivid.
JC: Your school days ended with …
MH: High school.
JC: You graduated from high school?
MH: No, I didn’t. I went to work.
JC: After how many years of high school?
JC: Okay. That was the norm in those days?
MH: Oh yeah. Well, yeah, a lot of the girls had more than I had as far as dressing up. You know when you are that age, nice sweaters, and we weren’t that poor. It was just teenagers got to want nice things. I went to work. That is when I started working on the power machines. With my mother. When they came within the working age, what was it, sixteen back then? You don’t know. I don’t know.
JC: I think so.
JR: I think it was sixteen.
MH: Well, summer vacations from school, Durfee, I used that vacation and go with my mother and we worked on the power machines. Side by side. And then I would go back to school. And the first power machine I ever, or the first job I ever had was in the summer vacation in the Five-and-Ten. All the girls worked the Five-and-Ten, right? Weekends, nights, and whatever in high school. And Woolworth’s was one of them. Summer, and I was in the, first power machine I ran was in S & S Manufacturing, power machine. I was a side joiner on ladies’ dresses. Women didn’t wear slacks in those days. They wore dresses. And I used to, the faster you go, the more money you could make. And you would have a wooden horse here and a wooden horse here. And the floor lady would put a pile to be done on this side. They had to be joined on the side. Tops were together. And then when you finish and throw them on there. When I think of it. That was the first power machine. Then the Har-Lee. Those buildings are still standing on Pleasant Street.
JC: Is that the Durfee Mills?
MH: Har-Lee, on Pleasant Street, I think they still stand. I did piecework, the collar and the hems. Had to be fast.
JR: That was a big place. I heard that was a really big.
MH: Har-Lee was big. Bigger than S & S.
JR: I heard that. I heard it was two thousand employees there.
MH: Probably so. There was a lot. Yeah.
JC: Now, your mother was working side by side with you.
MH: Not in the Har-Lee, in the S & S, the first one.
JC: Yes. She went to work because of the Depression?
MH: No, we needed the money.
MH: She always wanted to help.
JC: She wanted to?
MH: She had two grandmas in the house. It wasn’t like she was neglecting us.
JC: She hadn’t worked before then?
MH: Of course she worked when she was younger in the mills. In fact, she said…
JC: Yes. Before she married?
MH: Yes, before she married, she worked in the mills.
MH: I can remember the stories they used to say. I would say, ‘How did you meet dad?’ She said, ‘I hit him with a bobbin in the mill.’ They were young. She must have thrown a bobbin at him. That’s what I grew up with. And then, the Har-Lee piecework, a collar and hem maker. Then the Kerr Mill. Remember the Kerr Mill? It’s down now, it’s gone. Kerr Mill. I was a yarn inspector. And, uh, I worked in The Boston Store on Main Street. If you remember, coats and dresses? You are too young, you are all too young. It’s nice to be young. The Boston, Mell’s Jewelry on the corner. I worked in the office there. And I left that office job, to go to work for the War Effort. That was when I went to Firestone and left my pay into War Bonds and took my second job waiting tables for necessary things. Just necessary things. I lived at home with my mother and father, I wasn’t married. And then, one of those pictures after my daughters were growing up, one was in Mt. St. Mary’s, and one was in UMass Dartmouth. I was working to help out with the tuition. I worked as a waitress at White’s. Aime LaFrance and Rita LaFrance. Yeah. I worked there for twelve years. I kept my tips.
JC: Which job did you enjoy doing the most?
MH: I liked retail. I loved waiting on people, I worked at Edgar’s, the last job I had. Edgar’s, everyone, you know, went to Edgar’s. I could work in any department. Because I loved selling stuff. I don’t like buying. I like saving.
JC: The power machines in the mill, were fun or not so much fun?
MH: They were all right. I knew nothing else at the time. They were all right. But I couldn’t go as fast as some of those people.
JC: The supervisors treated you well?
MH: Oh yes. I was friends with them.
JC: Yes, okay. Now, you were an attractive young lady then. And so the young men must have been, had their eye on you.
MH: Oh, come on. I used to like to go dancing.
MH: Lincoln Park. The Grand Ball Room. I liked to go dancing.
JC: Were there sailors there?
JC: Were there sailors there?
JC: Sailors, from Newport.
MH: You’re too young. No, they weren’t in uniform when I was going to Lincoln Park.
JC: Okay. So you would take a street car to Lincoln Park?
MH: Sometimes the trolley. The tracks are still there under the tar.
JC: Yes, they are.
MH: And the bus. You would have to walk down from the Lafayette Street and Barnes Street. Does anyone know that area? Lafayette and Barn Street? We used to walk down to get the bus or the trolley, way down.
JR: To take you to Westport?
MH: To Lincoln Park. And then when I married, we always took the children there all the time. And then my daughter worked there when she was in college, in the summer break. She worked there.
MH: If you ever want to hear a story about Lincoln Park I have a book on it.
JC: How did you meet your husband?
MH: I’m trying to remember now. Oh I think there were four of us, I was introduced to him by another girl.
JC: What did you find attractive about him?
MH: I don’t have to tell you that.
JC: No, you don’t.
MH: He was a redhead. An Irish redhead. But it wasn’t that carrot red. It was gold and blond hair. Tall. Good looking.
JC: I didn’t get your maiden name. What was it?
JC: Vokes spelled how?
MH: A lot of people say it’s German, but I don’t know about that.
JC: Gee, it’s close.
MH: It’s close?
JC: Hm, have you looked into your ancestry? Do you have any Germans in your family tree?
MH: I never looked into that. I never looked into that, my dear.
JC: Okay, alright. How long did you date your husband before you got married?
MH: I don’t think about those things. I don’t know. Not years and years. But I don’t remember exactly. During the war.
JR: Marita, we are going to just stop for a minute. Because this young man wants to take your picture.
JC: The lunches at the mill. When you worked at the mill, what did you do for lunch? You carried it?
MH: From home. On Friday, when you got paid, sandwich, piece of fruit. You know, you could buy a drink. I remember with my mother, way back, she used to buy me a bottle of coffee milk. Both of us have a coffee milk with our lunch. We would bring it from home. And on Friday when you get paid. If you had time you would sneak out to buy something, and sit in a restaurant and eat. When you had a bit of money. We used to bring our pays home, too. And hand them over to Daddy. You remember that?
JC: You were given spending money?
MH: Oh, yeah.
JC: Yes, what did you do with the spending money?
MH: Saved it.
JC: That’s not what girls today do.
MH: I know.
JC: What year were you married?
MH: Oh, I don’t know.
JC: Was it before the war?
JC: During the war?
MH: Just after when the war was ending.
MH: Around, maybe a little later. I don’t remember that one exactly.
JC: Okay. Do you remember when your first child was born?
MH: No. I don’t. He died at fifty. Heart attack. My son. He went like that. He was with me the night before, he had a good job with the state. He had married, a home in Somerset, Chace Street. You know Chace Street? Had two children. I’m a great grandmother you know, twice. And he came, he used to come. He worked for the state, a correction officer. And he had a heart attack. I’m getting twisted. He was in the service. I’m trying to think. He was in the service. Then he got married. They had the family. I think he had his first heart attack and he had, the state didn’t want him back because he was afraid it would fall back on them. You know how it is. So he retired from the state and he got a job in Taunton at GTE. You know what I’m talking about? GTE, Corrections Guard, I guess you would call it there. And he worked there and he used to, on his, they would call me up at night. He was on second shift, I guess. Just to say, ‘It’s just me,’ I say, ‘What? Is it very important, I wait for this call?’ He says, ‘I will stop by before I go to Somerset.’ I said, ‘Sure,’ and I always had something ready for him to eat. In the summer, we would sit outside on the swing, and he would have his sandwich, drink of tea or something, and then give me a big kiss and smile and say, ‘See you tomorrow night, Ma.’ And he would head off. He’d head off to Somerset. The next morning I got up and I was sitting at the table having my cup of tea, and my young Christine was there. And my other daughter, Katherine Mary, was there. And I said, ‘What are you two doing? What are you all dolled up for?’ The window was open, and Katherine Mary had a boyfriend, he was sitting outside, the windows were open, on the swing. I said, ‘Aren’t you in school?’ She was a teacher in Warren. And I said, ‘Chris, why are you here? What are you all dolled up for?’ And they didn’t answer me. You know? I said, ‘Bob has had another heart attack.’ They didn’t answer me. I said, ‘Oh my God, he’s dead.’ They had been to St Anne’s, the ticket on his toe.
JC: No matter what the age, you never get over losing a child.
MH: That is what the priest said to me. He put his hands like that, said, ‘No mother should bury her child.’ I lost my other girl, too. I lost Katherine Mary, the teacher. Katherine Mary, she taught school for thirty-five years in Rhode Island. She retired. And she didn’t like retirement. She had an apartment over there. She has a boyfriend in Bristol. Just a few minutes away. But they never lived together. But they went together for a long time. They kept company. In fact, to this day, he is my best friend. She’s been gone three years. He handles my affairs. But anyway, uh, she retired and she didn’t like it. She got a phone call one day over there in Warren, and she said, ‘This is Ms. Burke, principal of St. Peter and Paul School in Fall River.’ She says, ‘I had a look at your resume. I know you retired, but do you think, it’s the first day of school and all the kids have come in, and the first graders are all here, but the teacher that signed the contract didn’t show. My Katherine says, ‘You are in a pickle.’ She says she wonders if you will come over for one day while I get on the phone and get someone. ‘Oh,’ she says, ‘I’ll be right over,’ tickled to death to go. She stayed for ten years. At St. Peter and Paul’s. She got two pensions.
JR: Good for her.
MH: Yes, she loved it. And it’s right near where I lived. My house up there in the Maplewood area. St. Paul’s wasn’t that far. So I said, ‘You know, why go back and forth to the apartment? Bring some clothes here and live here five days and go home on the weekend to go out with your friends.’ She had a lot of friends in Rhode Island. And her boyfriend was in Bristol. So she did that. Now today, some of her clothes I am wearing because my other daughter has had a stroke. Kathy died. Bob died. My husband died. Bob died. Katherine Mary died. And I have Christine at home. She has had a stroke. And when I tell her to bring me some clothes, she just opens the closet and takes anything. And it’s Kathy’s scarf. And it’s got children in the school bus on it. It’s Kathy’s. I never would have worn it. They told me to put something bright on. It’s got kids. And school bus. Look. Children.
JC: When your children were young. Were you a working mother?
MH: I worked part-time most of the time. Because I had an eight room house, and the three kids, and a husband. You know, I was kind of particular about my home, too.
JC: What would you say was most satisfying and most difficult about those years?
MH: Oh. You won’t print it? No, I won’t say it.
JC: Okay. Alright. Your children were well behaved? They didn’t give you much trouble?
MH: Absolutely, not a bit. Once my son hid a six pack of beer under the lilac bush in the yard. He was only a teenager. And I found it. And I said to my husband, ‘Look at this. That darn kid. Him and the boys must have got it somehow. And hid it under the lilac bush.’ He said, ‘That’s good, I like that, bring it in. Put it in the fridge.’ And he enjoyed it.
JC: We seem to have passed over the Miss Fall River story.
MH: Oh, that is so long ago, who is going to believe that baloney. I was second runner-up. My daughters always said don’t talk about it. I’m an old lady with two great-grandchildren. Don’t say that. It spreads like wild fire up here. They have nothing else to talk about anyway.
JC: Who persuaded you to?
MH: Nobody. Did you know Rose Boulas?
MH: She was in it with me.
JR: She is dynamic.
MH: Oh, absolutely, she brought all these east end up on Pleasant Street, Quequechan Street. She brought the whole gang with her.
AS: She used to ride her bike to work.
JR: Yes, she did and then she …
MH: Very vivacious. Very vivacious.
JR: Remember her, uh, her shop on Main Street?
MH: Klose For Rose. Spelt with a K. Klose For Rose. Or something like that.
JR: She pushed you into the competition?
MH: Oh, no, but she was in there. I thought she would come out first. I don’t remember who came out first. But every time I went to the movie way back then, you guys are too young, there was a William Canning. The Avenue. William Canning Boulevard is named for that man. Well, he was in charge of the Empire Theatre. Remember the Empire Theatre?
JR: Yes, I do, I do.
MH: We had the Durfee, the Empire, and the Capitol, the Plaza, and the big Bijou way down and the Strand up the Flint. Where they gave the dishes. Yeah, well he was in charge at that time. And he wanted me to go to Atlantic City. And my father said … Of course, way back then, you don’t know William Canning was. He was mad at something to do with the theatres, and my father said, ‘Oh, no, no, no, the wolves will get you.’ Imagine that. The silly things you do and say when you are young like that.
JC: He was very protective of his little girl.
JR: So what was the competition like?
MH: Well, it was in the Empire Theatre, and the seats were like they were for the movies. But they run a walkway over the seats around to up the aisle. The stage was here, and they had a runway that way. Yeah. But I didn’t tell anybody. Only my father said to my mother, ‘You and her friend, you go. Be in the audience. At least she will have someone.’ Because I didn’t tell anybody.
JR: What did you wear?
MH: I wore a bathing suit.
AS: You had a bathing suit?
MH: Not a bikini. I remember I bought it at McWhirr’s. It was a Black Jantzen. The one that had the red swimmer on the logo. They were good. I think I got it in Cherry’s or McWhirr’s. High heels, black patent leather high heels. No makeup, and I had brown hair.
AS: Did they have a talent competition?
MH: Good thing they didn’t.
JC: Do you have any other memories that you would like to share with us about those years?
MH: No. When I got married, I had three children. I raised them best I knew how. They all turned out good, only I lost them young. I have one girl, well she is a woman now, and she’s had a stroke, that’s a worry. But she comes to visit me. She can’t drive anymore. That is a killer. You know? And she can’t work. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts. And uh, she doesn’t pursue her art anymore. But she is coming for Christmas here. For dinner. I had to plan early here, you know? And uh, she said, ‘Yes, I will.’ I asked her for Thanksgiving, and then I found out she had an invitation from her. Do you remember Lincoln Park? Everybody does. Well, some cousins on my husband’s side used to manage that park, it’s gone now, I know. The McConnell family. Slim and Shirley McConnell used to manage Lincoln Park. Of course when Chris was in high school she worked there on summer vacation, and college too, I think. Yeah, she won a scholarship from that. I haven’t shut up.
Unidentified female: Oh good.
MH: I never had such an audience. That’s why I have to talk to myself when I’m in my room.
JC: I hope we are not tiring you.
MH: I must be tiring you.
JC: You are not tiring me at all. This interview, you have had an interesting life.
MH: Well, I never thought of it that way. But it’s normal.
JC: What would you say was the most satisfying thing you’ve done in life?
MH: I’m not finished yet!
JC: So there is something yet to come?
MH: Yes, but I can’t tell you.
JC: Do you have any regrets?
MH: No, I haven’t. I wonder about a lot of thing: why, how, how come?
JC: Unless the ladies have another question, I think we may be through.
JR: Very interesting
MH: Any more questions?
JC: Mrs. Harnett, we thank you very much for sharing your stories, your life story with us.