Lindy's sister

Adam Makalusky

Adam ("Lindy") Makalusky, Ransom PA.

"Don't change," said my brother Adam. I was seventeen, just out of high school, and leaving West Pittston for the first time. An older sister's surprise visit and an unexpected question: "do you want to come back with me" had brought forth this request from my brother. What should I not change from? Certainly the journey from West Pittston to Detroit was change enough. The change from the "garden village" (the sobriquet by which West Pittston was known) in northeastern Pennsylvania's anthracite coal region to the metropolis of Detroit was change indeed of location and association. My world up until this day of opportunity had been circumscribed by school, church, and family within the square mile limits of the garden village. Across the Susquehanna River "over town" to Pittston had been my farthest adventure. I went "over town" to babysit for my oldest sister, Anna. From grade school into high school I had been as much a part of her family as of my own.

Now, however, was the big step, away from the protection of older brother, the brother who was both hero and comrade. There was a nine year difference in our ages. By the time he was in his teens, I had attached myself to him, read his copy of Ernest Thompson Seton, tried on his boxing gloves, watched as he stretched the muskrat pelts, cheered his touchdowns, followed in his steps, and tried to match stride for stride. With the corner gang he was known as Lindy, after Charles Lindbergh whom he was thought to resemble. And I was Lindy's sister.

To please Adam I joined the choir, joined the Sodality, even though I, tomboy that I was, had little in common with the other young women. When the question came, "Do you want to come back with me?" there was no doubt. Lindy's sister would step out into the world.

After a few years in Detroit, jobs as a maid of all work for a family who had no books in the house, and for another that gave me free rein in the kitchen as long as dinner was on the table at six o'clock. It was the year [1936] Hervey Allen's Anthony Adverse was published. My boss asked me to borrow it from the library, and we both read it. And Gone with the Wind. My best friend Helen and I went to the Michigan Theatre to the first showing on the first day of release of the movie [in 1939].

Book interests aside, Mrs. Phillips and I parted when I declined to help her with a cocktail party, after my normal working day. Instead, I found a job as a waitress at Marco's Chop House, in the same block on Adams Avenue as the Doubleday Book Store. One day, while I was bicycling outside the city and had stopped to rest, a red Mercury drove by, stopped, backed up, and out stepped a certain bookseller whose looks I had liked. He offered me a ride back to the city. Honor bound to continue on my bicycle, I refused, but we would see one another again.

Our acquaintance progressed and developed into a decision to marry. First, though, John would have to undergo instruction and make certain promises about not dissuading me from my religion, about bringing up children in the Catholic faith. My faith had by this time become of very little importance to me. I didn't really lose it. It, or I, just fell away. For his part, John refused to make promises he knew he wouldn't keep. We decided to do the simplest thing: find a Justice of the Peace who would marry us. We did, with best friend Helen as witness.

Driving home from the Justice of the Peace, I made a sharp turn into a low retaining wall. There was no real damage, still it was not a good beginning to married life. We still had to face the family. We had not counted on a family gathering, with brother and sister-in-law from West Pittston, brother and sisters in Detroit. Plans were afoot for a shower, and where was the wedding going to take place? And other matters of import.

The silence that greeted our announcement was matched in intensity by the outburst of talk, everyone talking at once. I was not prepared for the emotional attack from my brother Adam. "From now on, for me, you're dead!"

Lindy's sister no more.

The shock of my brother’s rejection abated. After six or seven months, Adam gradually accepted the fait accompli. We were again on the old footing. Strangely enough, my parents had no reservations about the marriage. My father said it didn't really matter where the marriage took place, as long as John and I loved one another. John’s parents were welcoming and loving, although they did question the wisdom of our starting our married life with next to nothing, unfinished education, unpromising jobs and looming problems under the cloud of the recently enacted Selective Service Act.

Then came December 7, 1941.

John was drafted but claimed classification as a conscientious objector. This was denied by his draft board. When he refused to appear for induction, he was arrested for violation of the Selective Service Act. At trial, he was sentenced to five years in prison. Shortly thereafter, the sentence was commuted to three years. After he had served fourteen months in the Federal Correctional Institution at Milan, Michigan, John was paroled to “do work of national importance" at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

In September, 1943, after a twenty-four hour bus trip, we arrived in a city under blackout conditions. We stayed at the Avery Hotel, downtown on Avery Street, only long enough to register for new ration books, for John to check in with his parole officer and find his assigned work place at the hospital. We found a small two- room apartment on the top floor of 42 West Cedar Street. We shared the kitchen and bathroom with a marine Lieutenant who was between postings. He occupied the other room on our floor. From a corner window of our living/bedroom we had a view of the Charles river. We rarely saw our landlord, Walter P. Kilham, an architect who lived on the first two floors ["an advocate for the end of tenement housing and for the construction of suitable housing for working men" - Wikipedia]. We did see his housekeeper, who referred to herself as an “accomodater”, a term we understood to be more acceptable to her than “housekeeper".

We had a place to live, the conditions of John's work were defined: he was to work as an orderly in the operating room of Baker Memorial Hospital. His monthly salary was to be fifty dollars, with a five dollar allowance toward lodging His meals would be supplied at the hospital. Now all that was needed was a job for me. My experience until now had been limited to domestic work and restaurant jobs. However, I had had a short period of office work as a statistical clerk for the Detroit Ordnance District while John was serving his sentence. I rose from Under Clerk, to Assistant Clerk, to Junior Clerk, to Clerk. Furthermore, shortly before coming to Boston, I had very briefly worked in the office of Local 2 of the United Auto Workers Union. My duties in the union office were of such little significance that I have completely forgotten what they were.

In Boston, an ad in the Boston Globe led me to the Personal Book Shop. in my fantasy, I began to think of building a career in the world of books. I went to 95 St. James Avenue in Boston to apply for the advertised job of bookkeeper. To my surprise, I was hired. The job required no bookkeeping skills (“willing to learn”), only an attention to detail and an ability to use a keyboard.

The Personal Book Shop was a wholesale, retail and lending library business established by brothers Bushrod and John Campbell and their partner Ada Hall. They supplied public libraries and retail book stores throughout the United States. in each of their retail stores, some sixteen or seventeen in Boston and Cambridge and the suburbs, there was a lending library from which current fiction and non fiction titles could be borrowed at five cents a day. Once these books had “earned back" their cost, they were removed from stock and offered to public libraries at discounts of up to forty per cent. Sales activity on the library accounts was posted daily on Burroughs bookkeeping machines, and I was hired as one of two other operators. I was responsible for library accounts in New England; my co-workers, for the rest of the United States.

The other stall consisted of Mr. Spear, the office manager who hired me, Waldo Carter, head bookkeeper, Mrs. Whldden, his assistant. They had a long standing friendship, many acquaintances in common, and they gossiped continuously. Mr. Carter was responsible for Accounts Receivable. Alice Arakeilan, Mr. Spear’s secretary, did publishers’ returns, in addition to her secretarial duties. Peg Floyd was Accounts Payable. My ear was becoming adjusted to the New England, read Boston, accent which today, translates In my ear, to “normal speech": or “standard speech": Mlstah Caatah is Mister Carter.

It soon became obvious to me that working in the bookkeeping office was not really working in a book store. For real books, I could take advantage of the proximity of the Boston Public Library where I spent most lunch hours, in the courtyard, reading French novels. When the opportunity to work in the stock room arose, I asked to be transferred there, downtown, on Columbus Avenue. I became one of the stock pickers. Library orders received in the office were checked for publisher, whether the order was for new or used books, then sent to the stockroom to be filled from bins arranged by publisher. Individual Personal Book Shop orders were also filled here, the books gathered in bins to be trucked to the shops: this was “The Trip". The stockroom work was interesting and educational. I became familiar with Publishers Weekly, Books in Print, Publishers Trade List Annual, and the jargon of the book trade.

Then came another change. This time to the Personal Book Shop at 1354 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge. There, the shop manager, Margaret Kain needed another staff member and I applied. Mrs. Kain, a Chicagoan and former Brentano‘s bookseller, brilliant, untidy, and unpretentious, was a change from the Bostonians I had been working with. A mldwest accent was a welcome sound to my ears. She was not the nervous manager of Mr. Spear's type, nor so cool as John Reed of the stockroom. The other booksellers in addition to myself, were Caro Grace, taking a break from teaching, Betty Diver, wife of a graduate student, Elizabeth Van Hoorne, wife of a graduate student, Mary Davenport, more mature, wife of an engineer, Bernice Freeman, single, and Helen McCormick, another graduate student wife. Of these, only Bernice Freeman and Caro Grace were native New Englanders. The others were all mldwesterners. I however, still considered myself a Pennsylvanian, in spite of my recent midwestern-ness.

My memories of 1354 Massachusetts Avenue are mainly positive. Only one negative feeling remains from that period. In 1949, Margaret Kain would leave, and before leaving, she recommended one of the staff to succeed her as manager. Her choice was the least popular among the staff. I felt so strongly that I told Mrs. Kain that if this woman became manager, I would quit. By what right I could say that, with what little reflection (I needed the lob), is still inexplicable to me. As a co-worker, this woman was efficient and cooperative. Still, I could not bear the idea of her being in charge. Nor did I want the job for myself. She later opened her own book store in another location In the Square, and even offered me a job. I declined.

Whether I knew it or not, I had arrived where I wanted to be. I was in Harvard Square, across the street from Wadsworth House in Harvard Yard, mingling with students and faculty, and who knew, I might just step across the street.

[This is one of a series of autobiographical essays that Lenore wrote for a course at the Radcliffe Institute given by Prof. Jane Rabb in 2001. Click HERE to return to the list of essays (more to come!)]

Text © Lenore M. Dickinson 2017. [scanned and OCRed by TAD using ViewScan 9.95.9; OCR text corrected by M. Shaik and Dreamweaver CS4 Spelling Checker]