Rosemary Montgomery, the sixth of John and Emma Montgomery’s eight children, entered life on October 2, 1920. She was born into a world where cars were referred to “machines,” most people didn’t have indoor plumbing or electricity, and American children died of blood poisoning and diphtheria. Women were a month away from voting in their first U.S. Presidential election and people with vivid memories of the Civil War were still alive to talk about it. Primitive radios went on the market just a month before Rosemary was born and a month later, radio station KDKA broadcast the election of President Warren G. Harding with a signal so strong that my Father swore some people picked up the broadcast in their dental work. Remember, this was before the F.C.C.
On July 15, 2010, Rosemary Aleo died in a different world. She had seen the development of antibiotics, the birth of commercial aviation, the rise of the Internet, and had traveled to places as diverse as the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids of Egypt. She also lived through the Depression and World War II while five of her six brothers served in the armed forces, and endured 42 years of marriage to my Father without killing him. The latter was a bigger accomplishment than you’ll ever know.
After my Father died, Rosemary was never quite the same. She isolated herself, but she looked forward to my visits. My Mother loved to talk and a little wine made her talk more. She talked so much that she ended up telling me the story of her life, or at least the parts she thought I should hear. I’m glad had the presence of mind to record her. Now you can get to know Rosemary as you read some of the highlights in mostly her own words, with pictures.
“ When did my parents get married? My sister was born in 1907 so they probably got married in 1906. This was around the time Dad tried out for the Cincinnati Reds. My father played semipro ball. He was a catcher. He wanted to be a pro ball player but things didn’t work out because he was married and had a child or two and things were too uncertain. He had to make a living.”
“They thought it would be a good idea to move to an industrial town because there would be more work. Dad went to work at the National Cash Register Company in Dayton, Ohio. It was a great place to work. I don’t know what he did there. They lived in downtown Dayton next door to a Jewish family named Thal. The Thals were orthodox and they wanted someone to light their candles on the holy day (Sabbath) so my mother used to do it for them.”
“This was Hillside Cottage where I was born. My brother Jim was born there too. I remember when Uncle Jim was born. He was born in that house and I could remember my Aunt Birdie coming to take care of my mother because babies were born at home in those days. She was very stern and I didn’t like her. She frightened me but she was a wonderful woman. I didn’t know what was going on. I was only two years old. He was born in January, 1922. And I can remember wetting my pants and it was cold and I can remember going into this room and there was my mother in bed with a little baby and she told Aunt Birdie, ‘Put her in bed with me.’ She put me in bed with my Mother and that was really nice.”
“After that we moved the Beck house on Salem Pike in Ft. McKinley which was closer to town, but this was not Dayton. This was still country. I started first grade at Fort McKinley school. I was 6 years old. Miss Castle was my teacher. My mother used to make me little dresses and pants to match with little cuffs and one was up and one was down. She said, ‘ Do they go up or down,’ and I said, ‘ I don’t know,’ and she put me out in the hall. I didn’t like her.”
“We went to Sunday school every week almost. My mother made us go. What kind of clothes did we wear? Oh, we were dressed up. My brothers had their knickers on and their knee socks Johnny and Jim and Dick. I probably wore a dress with a collar and a bow tied in the back and shoes like Mary Janes. I probably wore it in a Dutch Bob with bangs at that time. My father cut my hair. He was a good barber.”
“When I was a little girl in grade school, I used to have to wear ankle shoes laced up. They looked ugly to me they looked like boys shoes. Why did we have to wear them? Because that’s what the kids wore. They wore long underwear and stockings over the underwear. The clothes were comfortable but I just didn’t like them. I used to get out of the house on the way to school and take the long underwear and roll it clear up to here (knee). I didn’t like to wear long underwear.”
“My mother used to bake bread in a coal stove. We kept the coal outside and a chicken coop, too. Mom put the coal in the stove with a little shovel and lit paper with a match and got the coals hot. We had a Franklin stove in the living room-a great big iron stove. Once the stove got good and hot, all you did was add a little coal. They banked it at night. During the winter we got dressed around the stove. The bedroom was cold and if you had to go in the middle of the night it was cold. I have used an outhouse on a cold winter night. You had to put your coat on and it was too dark to read. You didn’t have street lights in the country. When it got dark, it was black.”
“Ulrich Avenue off of Hillcrest was the first house I lived in that had plumbing and electric lights. That was quite a treat. We had our first telephone. I was about nine or ten. I can remember going to Hawthorne Elementary School and I was a city kid then. It was close to town. You could walk to downtown Dayton. The day we moved in, my brother Johnny got up in the bathroom and ran water in the tub because he’d never seen a bath tub. He was going to take a bath. The water was cold but he was going to take a bath anyway. He splashed around in the bath. That was funny. We weren’t used to that because we always had a bath once a week in a great big bathtub in the kitchen and I think each kid got bathed in the same water because you had to heat it on the stove. The four younger kids would get a bath on Saturday night- Johnny, me, Jim and Dick.”
“Later, we moved to Riverdale, which is a neighborhood a little bit north of downtown Dayton between the Stillwater and Great Miami Rivers. Our house was a big double house and the levee was right in back . It was a short walk from downtown Dayton. You crossed the Main Street Bridge and you were at the Monument which is the beginning of downtown Dayton. We moved there when I was thirteen in the eighth grade. This was the worst part of the Depression. My father worked as a machinist for General Motors and was out of work for six months while we lived on Stillwater. Don had that job with a radio store driving a truck and delivering radios and if he had a radio he didn’t deliver that day, he’d bring it in the house. No one had radio before; it was all new. It was heaven. We listened to the music and the programs. Finally Mom and Dad were able to afford one. What I liked best was the music.
“I started Steele High School when I lived on Stillwater Avenue and I lived there until I got married. Wanda Witherspoon was my good friend in high school and we were going to the library to get some schoolwork done one night. Early evening, It was dark. And we were coming down Third Street by the Home Store and we were walking along and this man came up to us. He had a black overcoat on. Now, Wanda Witherspoon would scream at anything and she screamed at him and we took off and we ran like deer to get to our trolley home. I’ll never forget that, What did the man do? I don’t know what he did. We didn’t look back to see. That was terrible. We were about 16 or 17. I told my mother, She said, ‘There are fools out there like that.’ I didn’t tell my father. I’d be ashamed to tell him anything like that. But that was funny.”
“My first job out of high school was working as a clerk in a neighborhood dime store. During the war, I went to work for General Motors on an assembly line winding stators for motors. I hated the place. I volunteered for the Red Cross during the war. A lot of people volunteered. I wrapped bandages for wounded soldiers once or twice a week. I did it whenever I could. Everybody did everything they could to help. I wanted to join the service and become a nurse, but my parents didn’t want me to. They had five sons in the war already and they said that was enough. Jim joined the Navy. Dick was the youngest and enlisted right out of high school and was stationed in the Pacific. He was disappointed that he never saw any action, but my other brothers told him he was lucky.”
“What was it like going food shopping? You went in and you had ration stamps. They were probably mailed to us, And you got so many a month and if they didn’t last you were out of luck. Coffee and sugar and butter were rationed and there was a scarcity of a lot of things, I can’t remember what they were. Meat was rationed, too.”
“Bob was intelligent, probably the most intelligent brother I have. He was going to Officers Candidate school for a while but he thought what am I doing this for and he quit and went to Cooks and Bakers school. He was in the African theater and he was in the European theater. He was in Germany the same time as Johnny who was in the infantry. Bob rode for several days right up to the front where Johnny was fighting, and found him in a house. Bob walked in and my brother Johnny was sitting there eating out of a quart of cherries a woman in the household had canned. I guess Johnny thought he was seeing a ghost. His brother was standing there in front of him. Bob was in it for five years and thought he’d never get out. They were both sent to hospitals for nerves. John was a lot worse. He was first wounded April 12, 1942 or 1943. April 12 was his birthday. It was awful. You have a knock on the door. And you open up the door. And there’s a military man standing at the door. He handed a letter to my mother, ‘We regret to inform you.’ She didn’t know whether he was dead or wounded. He told me about when he got hit the first time. He was in the infantry. I guess the Germans were chasing them and he got hit in the head. And he came to a stream of water — like a little creek running. He took his helmet off and put his head in the water and he said the water was running red with blood.”
“They didn’t send him home after he was wounded the first time. He went back in the infantry. It was not as bad as the second time. I don’t know what happened the second time. I can remember when he first came home he’d wake us up in the middle of the night having nightmares and moving the furniture across the floor. He fell down the stairs one night and broke the window out at the end of the stair case. It was terrible, you know, it was awful. What could we do? Couldn’t do anything. They did all they could to help him in the hospital. He worked during the day. It seemed that on the weekends he had to get away. He had a boat. and he went up on lake Erie alone one weekend in 1959-1960 and got caught in a storm and drowned. I know the war was responsible. He did drink I guess maybe too much. None of my other brothers drank, but no one ever held it against him. That was the thing that calmed him down.”
“What effect did the war have on my family? You’ll never know. My father was not a thin man but during the war he couldn’t eat. He weighed 130 pounds and was about 5’8. My poor mother. It was a constant worry. It just never left. You don’t know. You knew that they were over there somewhere. Are they going to come home or not? So many didn’t. We were lucky. We were very lucky. I had close friends who lost sons and brothers. My friend Margery who lived down the street her youngest brother Donny, and he was such a sweetheart, such a handsome guy. He was so young. He was in the Navy and his ship was bombed and he was on it with many other Navy men. I forget the name of the ship. It was sad. Yeah, those were awful days.”
“I got a job at Rike’s and after the War, I worked my way up to the fine jewelry department. I sold diamonds and watches. I loved it. What did I do for fun? Well, I bowled and I went with my friends to different places, my friends at Rike’s. We traveled some. We went out to Indianapolis one time to see Sonja Henie which was nice. We used to go to movies and we used to coffee klatch every Monday night at my friend Edith ‘s, the floor supervisor. We worked on Monday night until nine o’clock and then we all met at her house and had coffee and dessert and sat around and talked. It was nice. We were a close-knit group in the fine jewelry department. Just fine jewelry no costume jewelry! That was great. I liked movies. There were some good movies too I think with Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire and things like that, and Merle Oberon and whose the English actor? Lawrence Oliver, Wuthering Heights. And Gone with the Wind. I never got enough of ‘Gone with the Wind.’ I think I saw it three or four times at the first showing. Then there was Jeannette McDonald and Nelson Eddy in musicals. ‘Maytime, especially.’ I forget the story. Anyway, it’s about a girl and the movie traces her life from her youth to old age and when the time comes for her to die, she just sits under a tree and just fades away. And I thought wouldn’t that be a lovely way to go, just arrange yourself under a blooming tree and fade away like Jeannette McDonald in ‘Maytime.’ “
“You want me to tell you the story of how I met Dad? There was a girl who lived next door to my brother Johnny and his wife Jean. Anne was a very nice girl. So Johnny wanted me to go with her to Bott’s Dancing School. People went there to take dancing lessons.We went there one evening and I felt like a fool. It reminded me of girls who went to bars and hung out. Oh they did! I didn’t. Maybe I went into one once with friends, but I didn’t like it. Anyway, it was nice at Bott’s, because there was no smoking and no drinking. It was strictly dancing. Did I like to dance? Oh yeah, I liked to dance. Was I a good dancer? No not very good, but I liked it. So we were standing there and I was feeling, well not very good, and your Dad came over with a guy I went to high school with named Owen. I kind of liked him in high school. But I never dated him and was shocked because I hadn’t seen him for quite a long time. I don’t know whether he knew Dad or what, but they were together.”
“Dad told me later Owen said, ‘I want that one with the dark hair’ and Dad said ‘No, I’m going to ask her to dance you take the other one,’ and that was Anne. So Dad danced with me to ‘Some Enchanted Evening.’ I didn’t think he was very nice. I thought God, he smells like garlic. Wisecracking and making corny jokes. He couldn’t dance very well. Well enough but not too great. He had taken dancing lessons I found out later. But anyway, we danced and after we danced Vance and Dad asked Anne and I to go out. That was right before Christmas and they asked us for a date for New Years because Dad was going home to home to Wilkes Barre for Christmas. This was 1952.”
“But I think we went out once before that to Suttmiller’s nightclub in Dayton. I think Anne and Vance were with us. Anyway Dad met a guy there who was from Wilkes Barre. Danny Martino who changed his name to Danny Martin, and he happened to be with a girl I went to high school with and she was a singer. Audrey was her first name. They came to our table and sat down with us. And had a drink or something. Danny was someone Dad knew from his musician days in Wilkes Barre. He was playing at Suttmillers and Audrey was singing ‘I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus. ‘ That song had just come out.”
“What did I think of Dad at that point? I didn’t think anything of him, I really didn’t. We made a date for New Years Eve. Why did I make a date with him if I don’t think anything of him? Well, I though it would be better than sitting at home. Ha Ha Ha! I didn’t dislike him. So anyway, Dad wanted to go to Cincinnati, to Castle Farms which is a famous nightclub. But my Mother said, ‘No, I don’t think you should go out of town.’ So we went to the Graystone Ballroom in downtown Dayton and had a good time on New Year’s Eve with Ann and Vance. Vance had a convertible. I may have worn a black dress with white sequins. Nothing real fancy. We danced and then I guess we went out or eat or something. Did Dad and I talk? Yes we talked. How was his dancing? Not good. They had a live band. What were some of the songs that they played? Of course that was after the war. I remember ‘Begin the Beguine. ‘ Dad came on pretty strong. He liked me. He did. How could I tell? I don’t know. I just don’t know. It just seemed like he did. So anyway, Mom and Dad invited him to our house for dinner.”
“This was about 2 months later. I’d had several dates. My father didn’t say too much. My mother talked to him, and she asked him, ‘Do you drink?’ He said, ‘Yes, my mother drinks, my father drinks, my sister drinks, we all drink.’ My mother was a member of the WTCU, you know, I don’t know what she said, whether she just laughed or what. Then he said we don’t drink and get drunk, but it’s in our culture. Dad was funny, I drink, my mother drinks, my father drinks and my sister drinks Ha Ha Ha!”
“Dad had given me a diamond engagement ring. It was a short time from the time we met to the time we got engaged. Maybe a couple of months. We met in December of 1952 and I had my ring in February 1953. I had a fight with him before he asked me to marry him. It wasn’t a fight; it was a disagreement and I thought, ‘The hell with this guy, he’s nuts.’ We were dancing at the Civilian Club at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. And I thought, well he’s ,you know I couldn’t dance with him because he had two left feet. Your father danced the suede right off of my shoes. I got mad and he got mad too and that’s when I first learned that he had a temper, and I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to see him anymore. But then we sort of ironed that out. I don’t remember how we did it, but we did and we danced and we got so we could dance together pretty good. Probably ironed out that night. I think we agreed to take dancing lessons together.”
“It was strange to travel from Dayton to Wilkes Barre to meet his family but I could tell that they was a nice family and that they were good people. In fact, Dad’s Mother sat me down and talked to me, and I’ll never forget this, she said there are a lot of Italian people who are very very bad. She says that there are a lot of Italian people who are good and she was telling me that they were good. And I appreciated that. I thought that was very nice of her. She wanted me to have a good impression. I think of that, I’ll never forget that. There was a lot of prejudice, but my brothers and my sister all liked your Dad. They liked him.”
“We got married in April 1952 in Dayton by a justice of the peace. I don’t remember where, Some private office. Just Dad and I were there, and a couple of the people who worked there were witnesses. We did not want to have a big thing. We lived in his apartment after we got married. Dad said that my name was Horowitz, that I was Jewish. I’ve been asked already if I was Jewish and Dad introduced me as Horowitz or Lipschutz, something like that! For a long time you know I was Jewish — I didn’t let on! But anyway, that was funny. You know, I’ve never been sorry. Dad was, you know, he was a character at times I could have killed him. In the long run I knew that Dad was stable and I could count on him. He was like a rock. But Dad was all business and we talked a lot before we got married. We talked about what we wanted out of a marriage. We wanted children, we wanted a home. we wanted to save and get ahead money wise. We both agreed on that. We got started on the children right away and we didn’t care. We were glad and we was happy. A scant 8 months later, your brother John was born. “
“We lived in a section of Dayton called Splinter City. It was very hard that first year because I lost my Mother. When did I learn that she had cancer? I’ll never forget it. I’ll never forget that day. The next day the day after Thanksgiving 1953. My family, my brothers and my sister and a couple of my brothers came to my house and they told me. They knew, but they didn’t want to tell me because I was pregnant, you know. When John was born, we stopped at my parent’s house on the way home from the hospital so she could see him. I didn’t live too far from my mother. Well, you had to drive, but anyway they had just moved into this new house. And it was nice and my mother never got to enjoy it. She only lived there six months.”
“What my last dance with Dad? Our last dance was in Little Rock in October 1993 at 8th Air Force Reunion. We sat there and I didn’t think Dad would ask me to dance and I wouldn’t ask him because I knew he was sick with lung cancer. But when they started playing “Begin the Beguine” he asked me to dance. We only danced one dance that night. It was the last time we danced together.”
The above are excerpts from conversations that took place in 1995 and 1996.
14 Years Later
I am sitting with Rosemary in the Alzheimer’s Ward of the Watermark in Philadelphia. She knows she has a daughter named Martha, but she does not know that I am Martha. I ask her, “What were John and Martha Like when they were little?”
She answers, “John was good, but oh, that Martha!”
“Was she bad?”
“No, but she got into everything.”
“Why, was she curious?”
“Yes! About everything!”
“She still is.”
“Who was your father?” she asks me.
“John- Giovanni,” I reply.
“And your brother?”
“John Vincent. He’s married to Barb and Domini is their daughter. Your granddaughter.”
“Do you have any children?”
“None of my own, but Ken has a son named Maxwell, my stepson.”
“How did you know I was here?”
“A little birdy told me.”
“Was he blue or red?”
“What was his name?”
“That sounds familiar.”
“He’s my cat. Do you remember a cat you had when you were little named Monty? A gray striped tabby?”
“Snowball,” she answers, “Fluffy white dog. My brothers were always bringing dogs home. They would bring them into the kitchen and My mother would throw up her hands. Did you know my Mother?”
“No, I answer, “She died before I was born.”
“Did you know any of my brothers?”
I tell Rosemary about her parents, her brothers and sisters, and her life before she came to the Watermark.
“Do you have a license?” she asks when I am done, “Do you do this for other people? How do you know all this?”
“You told me.”
“I told you?” She sounds astonished.
“You are my Mother. Here. Let’s look at our hands.” I hold my right hand next to hers so she can see how much they resemble each other. She looks. A light goes on behind her eyes then shuts off. She takes another look. The light goes on again and shuts off again. I put my hand in my lap.
“I have to go soon Mom,” I tell her.
“You be good,” she cautions me.
“See?” I point out, ” Only a Mother would say something like that. That means I have to be your daughter.”
She looks startled. The light goes on again.
“Does this scare you?” she asks.
“No,” I reply, “You can’t remember things, but there’s a good side to it. You can’t remember the bad stuff that used to eat at you. It’s gone.”
She stares ahead as if thinking and then looks at me.
“What will I dream about tonight?” she asks. I wonder if she thinks I know the answer.
“You’ll have wonderful, happy dreams,” I respond. I don’t know why, but it seems like the right thing to say.
“Wonderful, happy dreams.”
Several friends and family members have asked how they can contribute make a contribution in Rosemary’s memory. For information, press here.
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