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Albert Maywood Courtright II

Reminiscences of Maywood Courtright

School Year 1926-1927

The Heights had a new music director in high school at the beginning of the school year, a young man my own age by the name of Etzel Wilhoit. He was a violinist and had studied at the Institute of Musical Arts in New York. The Institute was connected with Columbia University, allowing him to get a certificate to teach in the public schools. We hit it off together right away and became very good friends. It wasn't long before we discovered an excellent pianist by the name of Clayton Horne and formed a trio; violin, cello and piano. From then on I seldom played my violin tho I remember playing the Bach double violin concerto with Etzel and Clayton at the Muskegon women's club for one of their Sunday afternoon musicales.

Besides the trio with Etzel and Clayton Horne, I was still playing cello within the trio formed by William Stuart and Horace Hollister and also playing in an orchestra directed by Charles Sutton, a trumpet player who was employed at Beerman's music store. I was getting more and more involved in musical activities and most of my evenings and spare time were devoted to rehearsing or practicing. On Thursdays I rehearsed with the choir in the Congregational church. Stuart and I both sang tenor and Mrs. Hollister was a soprano.

Clayton Horne had never finished high school but he had been determined to become a good pianist and had gone to Chicago for monthly lessons with a well-known teacher there after getting as much training as he thought he could with teachers in Muskegon. He worked hard at keeping up his technique; earned his living by giving lessons. Alan took a few piano lessons from him.

To keep up my piano technique I would go into the auditorium after school was over in the afternoon and practice on the piano on the stage. I was usually the last person out of the building. I could have become a much better pianist if had spent more of my time practicing scales and learning to read faster instead of learning by heart pieces that I enjoyed. I never became a very good sight reader at the piano.

Etzel Wilhoit suffered from some sort of sinus trouble and the damp climate of Muskegon would occasionally give him such headaches that he couldn't conduct his classes. When he had to stay at home, he would ask Mr. Bolt, the Principal, to have me take over. Mr. Bolt would then go to my drawing class and keep order. The orchestra met on the stage where there was a piano and I rather enjoyed conducting. About all I had to do was beat time. I only had a piano score to follow what was going on. Except for singing in a church choir I had had no experience with signing groups but I was able to read music and could catch mistakes. I don't believe I contributed anything to improving their performance, however. The class could just has well have been dismissed.

Etzel, like the music directors who had held his job before him, was expected to put on a musical play or operetta in the spring. It served as motivation for the year's practice for both the choral groups and the orchestra. He decided to put on something with a little more musical merit than the rather childish things that had been done before; scores written down to the level of high school groups. He picked Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado. The speech department helped with the dialogue and Etzel asked me if I would design the stage setting. I got a ten foot wide roll of bright yellow paper from the paper mill - they gave it to us as it was defective in some way - and covered the whole backdrop with it. Then I built trees out of 2 by 4s and covered the with cardboard, painted them and set them up in the wings. Using gym equipment, I built a platform at the back of the stage and hid the supports with a wood and cardboard fence. A Japanese Torii at the center allowed the actors and chorus to enter from the platform two steps down to the stage thru the arch of the Torii. Being built of paper and cardboard, of course, the scenery was quite fragile and the actors had to be cautioned. I had a little patching with scotch tape before the third night's performance. I played in the orchestra and also got a few adult musicians from Charlie Sutton's orchestra to play just for the fun of seeing the show. There was little attempt at regular classroom work the last couple of weeks before the performances. The actors and singers were quite good for high school. A boy by the name of Walter Anspach had the part of Poo Bah. He was a natural actor and went into show business after he graduated.

After we had been playing together for some time, Etzel, Clayton and I thought we should have our picture taken and make it look as professional as possible. Clayton already owned a dress suit with wing collar and tails but Etzel and I had to rent ours - or perhaps someone loaned them to us. Anyway, it was the only time in my life I ever wore one. We went to the women's club in Muskegon which had a grand piano, engaged a photographer to meet us there with his camera, and posed very solemnly with our instruments. I had the picture for a long time but it has disappeared with all the moving around we have done. It's possible that Yolande may have it.

Being with Etzel and Clayton made me realize how little I know about musical theory, harmony, counterpoint, ear training, etc. I had been trying to compose music by sitting down at the piano and improvising, then copying down on paper what I had played. When Etzel tested me on recognizing intervals, I was way off. I couldn't tell a second from a fourth or a diminished fifth from a diminished seventh. Etzel made fun of me then offered to lend me his textbooks on ear training. Our grade school music teacher in Paulding had made an attempt to teach us sofreggio (do-re-mi) but she hadn't been very successful and I was deficient in that department too. I realized that if I wanted to consider myself a trained musician I would have to do some studying. I was getting off to a late start.

The dislocations caused by America entering the first world war were beginning to dissipate by 1927 and the country was becoming more and more prosperous. A church organist and choir director didn't earn a very high salary but Horace and Elsa Hollister decided to buy a small car, a Willys-Knight "Whippet." Tho most highways were still gravel - there were no interstate highways - horse-drawn vehicles were rapidly disappearing as the ordinary citizen, not merely the well-to-do, was able to put enough money aside to purchase an automobile. Aside from a Ford "Tin Lizzie," the Whippet, named for a small dog used in dog racing, was probably the cheapest car on the market and also the smallest. I don't believe they were on the market for long as the Willys-Knight Motor Company went out of business, or were bought out by General Motors.

Horace's parents were dead but he had a brother who was a doctor on Long Island, a sister living in a small town in Connecticut just out of New York City, and Carol, the brother who was a professional pianist and lived in the City itself with his wife. He also had a few cousins and aunts and uncles scattered around in the same area. The acquisition of the Whippet started the Hollister's discussing the possibility of taking a couple of months vacation and driving back to New York. They discussed it after trio practice with Stewie and me on numerous occasions. They wanted to go but were afraid it would be too expensive. Then Stewie came up with a suggestion. He had been thinking of going to New York for the summer to take courses in education at Teacher's College, Columbia University. If they went at the right time he would be glad to go in the Whippet and could help pay the expenses of the trip. That suggestion put ideas in my head. Perhaps now was the time to make up my mind to stay in the teaching profession. I could go to New York with Stewie and the Hollister's and also enter Teacher's College where I could take courses which would permit me to get my teacher's certificate. I couldn't continue teaching indefinitely without it. So I became the fourth passenger in the Whippet, which was a five passenger car.

After my stop-over in Toronto to see Yvette Côté on my way back from Europe, we corresponded much more regularly than we had before and I began to think seriously about marriage. I wrote to her on an impulse telling her of our plans to drive east and asked her if she would consider going along to New York. To my delight, the answer was yes. I was surprised that she would be able to get off work. I found out later than she had just quit her job. I didn't consider her to be particularly beautiful. She was freckled and her nose was too short but she was attractive and lively and it was very evident that she was above average in intelligence. As Marlene Dietrich or of the other movie stars has said, "Any man is more interested in a woman who is interested in him than in one who is merely beautiful, especially if she knows it." Yvette gave every indication that she was interested in me. I was already twenty nine years old, already past the age when most young fellows had two or three children. I have always loved children and I hoped I would have some of my own some day. If I married Yvette, any children we might have would grow up knowing both French and English. I didn't mention these ideas to anyone. They just show how my mind was running in 1927.

It didn't take much argument to persuade the Hollisters to change their travel route and go north thru Canada to Ottawa where Yvette planned to wait for us. She went to stay with a friend by the name of Yvonne Lee. They would have gone thru Ontario in any case, as it's the shortest route between Muskegon and New York, but they hadn't thought of going as far north as Ottawa.

We were all of us ready to depart for the east as soon as school was out in the spring. Like all other cars of 1927, the Whippet had no trunk. Our baggage had to be stored under our feet or fastened to the running board. After Yvette joined us, I believe, we put two of the suitcases between the front fenders and the hood. All I took along was a small bag I had used the previous three summers but the others needed more clothes. Neither Stewie nor I took our instruments along. A cello would have been too big anyway. The best country roads were gravel and kept quite smooth by scrapers. The only paved roads were in towns, where you had to slow down. There was never any way to avoid going thru the center of each town you came to. It was many years later that thru traffic was looped around centers of population to avoid the congestion of too many cars in too little space. We probably averaged 30 or 35 miles per hour going thru Grand Rapids and Lansing.

We spent the first night a little west of Detroit, at the home of a man who had been a member of Horace's choir. His first name was John and he was an undertaker by profession. It was about eight in the evening. John had his undertaking business in a store on the main street of the small town and his house was attached to the rear of the store. John only had one extra bedroom and a cot that he could set up in the living room. The Hollisters slept in the bedroom, of course, and Stewie got the cot. "I have a good place for Maywood to sleep," John said to Horace, "Come on, I'll show you." He took us all down to his shop and pointed to a coffin with sofa cushions in it covered with a sheet. "You'll be just as comfortable as in a good bed," he told me. Now I'm not superstitious but the idea of sleeping in a coffin and with a dozen or so other coffins in the room, containing I didn't know what or who, made me just a little uneasy. The rest of them thought it was good joke. After they went back into the house I turned out the lights so I could undress. With the lights on I was in full view of anyone passing on the street. A streetlight a short distance away, however, lit up the room enough so I could just make out things in the room. Tho I was good and tired after riding all day, I lay awake for a long time trying to think of something else besides the other coffins and what might be in them. It was maybe midnight when I heard a chain rattle. I raised my head over the edge of the coffin and saw what looked like a head moving at the end of one of the coffins across the room. I watched it for about five minutes and saw it move slightly now and then. I don't think I was scared exactly but I certainly was puzzled, and maybe a little uneasy. I was in no mood to try to sleep. Then, suddenly, the object fell off the coffin onto the floor and I realized it was a cat that had been sleeping in the coffin and been awakened by the noise of the chain rattling. The noise of a chain rattling, however, remained a mystery until the next morning at breakfast. Everyone was curious to know how I had slept in a mortuary surrounded by coffins. I told them how the cat had made me think one of John's clients was trying to get up out of his coffin and about the noise of the chain rattling. "Oh, I can explain that," John said, chuckling. "The night policeman makes his rounds in the downtown area about eleven thirty and tries all of the doors to make sure they are locked. When he tried mine he rattled the safety chain. It wasn't a ghost."

Not only were the roads not paved but they were not marked or numbered in any way except for an occasional arrow or sign at the entrance to a town. I don't remember that we had a road map but Horace had bought a tour book put out, I think, by the AAA, which served the same purpose as the maps later distributed free at all gasoline stations. Free maps are also gone since the oil crunch and double-digit inflation. Without a tour book, travelers taking long trips by car across country would be lost most of the time. Mrs. Hollister was usually our navigator tho we took turns reading directions to the driver to keep him headed in the right direction. A typical section would read like this:

After passing white church on the left, make a right turn at the next corner. Go two blocks to bridge. Cross bridge and follow river six miles to fork in road. Take right-hand fork. ½ mile beyond fork pass log farm-house with large barn at rear, close to right side of the road…etc.

It worked fine except that sometimes we would become involved in an argument and forget to follow the book. If the sun was shining we could tell which direction we were going from the position of the sun, but with an overcast sky we could get several miles off our route in the wrong direction without knowing it. In addition to [the] speedometer to indicate your velocity and the odometer, which showed the distance the car had travelled since it was manufactured, a third counter next to the odometer was marked "trip" and could be set back to zero by pressing a button. When the book said to go six miles from a certain point, the driver pressed the button and the trip meter showed when we reached that distance. It was a handy counter to have.

We crossed the southwestern part of Ontario from Windsor to Toronto, then followed the northern shore of Lake Ontario to Kingston where the St. Lawrence River begins. From Kingston we headed north, catching occasional glimpses of the Rideau Canal. We reached Ottawa in late afternoon and drove immediately to the house where Yvette was staying. She had written me that she would take care of getting us rooms in the same part of town. I think the Hollisters had a room in the same house while Stewie and I were lodged across the street. She must have been waiting for us as she came out to greet us as soon as we drove up. I hopped out of the car first, kissed her and then introduced her to the others.

It was entirely by chance that our visit to Ottawa coincided with the arrival there of Charles Lindbergh who had suddenly become a world hero by making his historical solo flight from New York (Long Island) to Paris. Radio broadcasting had developed by 1927 to the point that people all over the world had been able to follow his progress and everyone wanted to see him. After touring the United States on his return to this side of the Atlantic, he was being sent on a good-will tour to the capitals of various countries by the U.S. government. I believe the capital of Canada was his first stop. When he visited Mexico City, he met the daughter of the American ambassador, Anne Morrow, and she became his wife. Lindbergh was front page news for a long time. We would have visited the parliament buildings in any case but Lindbergh's official visit enabled us to see them as a backdrop for an exciting pageant. We went early and got good seats on the steps and balustrades of the central block while we watched various military organizations, bands, bagpipers, etc. get into formation for a welcoming parade. I remember very little of the ceremonies except that Lindbergh arrived in a big black limousine escorted by a squadron of motorcycle police. The parliament grounds and the neighboring streets were well-filled with crowds curious to see him.

We drove from Ottawa to Montreal along the south shore of the Ottawa River. Yvette had written to her uncle Alexis Côté there to ask him to get rooms for us as we wanted to look over Montreal while we were there. Yvette stayed with her uncle and his family. It was dark before we located the house where Uncle Alexis lived so we didn't go up to meet the family that night; Uncle Alexis came down to the street (their apartment was on the second floor), directed Horace to a garage where he could leave the car, then walked with us to the apartment where he had rented the rooms where he left us. It was my first meeting with him. We later became very good friends tho he took every opportunity that came long to try to convert me to communism. He liked to discuss philosophy and religion. He was an un-believer but he didn't want his family to know it. His business was selling insurance and savings plans to the farmers in the small towns around Montreal.

We met the rest of Uncle Alexis' family the next day before we went sight-seeing, Tante Artemise, who had been born in Maine, across the border but never learned to speak English, the oldest son Maurice, who was 17 or 18 and Roger, who was about 10. Come to think of it, we didn't meet Florence, the 15 year old daughter, as she was away at school in a convent in Quebec City. It was a common custom for French-speaking families to send their teenage daughters to boarding school where nuns were the teachers. I didn't meet Florence until several years later when we returned to French Canada for a visit.

We only took one full day to visit the city of Montreal - I was already familiar with it from my stay there two years before - then headed south along the Richelieu River toward the U.S., the gap in the mountains which had been the invasion route between Canada and the U.S. (British Colonies) in the early days, and is still the most travelled route between the two countries. We crossed the border at Rouses Point then continued on south along the New York side of Lake Champlain and Lake George, stopping off for a visit to Fort Ticonderoga. Knickerbockers were in style for men in 1927 and I can still picture Horace and Stewie in their knickers wandering among the old cannons at the parapets on the hill overlooking the stream connecting Lake Champlain to Lake George. It is beautiful country with its mountains and lakes.

We must have crossed the Hudson a little south of Lake George but I don't remember where. I do remember that we stopped to visit a gorge called Watkins Glen where we took a tour in a boat which traversed the bottom of the gorge until brought to a halt by rapids, then returned to the starting point. The boat wouldn't hold all of us at once so Yvette and I sat on a high cliff at the side of the gorge and watched the boat on the swift water below.

There were no motels along the highways yet but a few enterprising people had begun to put out signs, "Tourists" or "Rooms for Tourists," etc. to earn a few extra dollars from a spare room or two. The universal price was $1 per room. All of us much preferred them to rooms in the hotels of the towns we passed thru, the only other accommodation available, tho it bothered me to have to be thrown in with a strange family. In a few places, we were able to get rooms which were separated from the rest of the families' sleeping quarters and separate toilet and bathroom, tho these were rare. It was not long after 1927 that separate buildings began to be erected, usually one room with an attached bathroom. They were called cabins and the usual rental was $1 a night. The next step, of course, was several cabins in a group and these gradually turned into the motels of today.

Horace had a sister living in Wilton, Connecticut, a small town not far north of New York City, whose husband was a writer for one of the liberal magazines, "The New Republic," I think. An uncle also lived close by and his brother Carol's wife was there on a vacation. She and Carol had been married with the understanding that if either of them found someone else they liked better they would be free to get a divorce and remarry. A few years later, Carol did just that. It really upset his wife although she had insisted on using her maiden name after she married Carol. Horace and Elsa were very much displeased about the whole affair. Horace's sister made room for all of us to sleep in their house which was on several acres of land in the country. It was our last stop before New York City. That evening, before we went to bed, Carol's wife - think her name was Ruth - telephoned a friend who was to leave for a two week vacation and made arrangements for Yvette to use her room while she was out of town. The girl lived on the third floor (no elevator) of a block of apartments not far from the Grand Central RR Station. She was to leave her key with a neighbor where we could pick it up.

Horace and Elsa planned to go on to Valley Field, Long Island the next day where they were to spend a week or so with his brother, Jim, who was a doctor there, before returning for a longer visit with his sister in Wilton. Therefore we had transportation on in to the city. Horace parked on a street near the Columbia University library and he and Elsa showed Yvette around while Stewie and I registered for our classes and located a room. Leaving Stewie at the room, the rest of us drove south to locate the place where Yvette was to stay. New York is a very easy place to get around in as the streets are at right angles and are numbered from south to north. The Hollisters left us there and I took Yvette's baggage up and waited for her to clean up and change clothes, then we went out to explore a little on Broadway and Fifth Avenue to find a place to eat.

Yvette was not much interested in exploring New York. There was too much noise and confusion to suit her. She preferred to discuss plans for our future - we had definitely decided to get married but had set no date or place. There were other problems too that had to be settled, the most important in my opinion was the matter of religion. She had been a Roman Catholic all her life and had even taken her first vows and entered a convent in Quebec City with the intention of becoming a nun. Her mother had encouraged her in that. According to the belief of most French Canadians in 1927, having a member of the family in one of the religious orders gave a great boost to the family's chances of going to Heaven. Nearly every family in Quebec had one or more members who was a priest or a nun or belonged to one of the teaching orders. Yvette, however, had been much too independent and had managed, after some difficulty, to leave the convent. She had been a virtual prisoner there and had been forced to slip out at night to mail a letter. All mail entering and leaving the convent was censored. She was afraid she would not be permitted to send out a letter saying she was dissatisfied and wanted to leave. She was still a practicing Catholic, however, and regularly attended mass tho she was becoming lax in observing other rituals of the church, such as confession. She had been the Mother Superior's secretary and had heard her and the priest who came in to hear confessions laughing about the confessions of some of the nuns. 'Til then, she believed what she had been told, that the priest was unable to remember anything about them after he left the confession box.

I, on the other hand, had been brought up in a fundamentalist Protestant sect, the Church of Christ, but had by now practically become a non-believer in any organized religion. I certain couldn't be accepted as a member of the Catholic Church with its belief in miracles, saints and all the rest and I knew that we could not be married in a Catholic ceremony unless I promised to bring up any children we might have as Catholics. I balked at that as I felt it would be teaching them things that were not true, things that were mere tall tales and superstitions. We didn't settle everything but after two or three days, Yvette went back to Montreal to stay with her uncle and aunt until I stopped for her on my way home after the summer session was over. She had decided that she would leave the Catholic Church.

I took four two-hour courses that summer, a history of education, principles of religious education, Educational Sociology and one course in the theory of music (harmony etc.) The history course was very interesting and I took the course in religious education because I was still groping for answers to my loss of belief but I was only interested in the sociology course because it gave me credit toward my teaching certificate. If I had known that we would be required to write a term paper and hand it in typed, I would have chosen something else. For the term paper, I chose the process of Americanization tho I knew very little about it. Fortunately the young Chinese I paid to type my production had taken the course and he made some corrections in the manuscript which improved it considerably. The course in religious education was taught by a middle-aged Protestant minister and there were several ministers in the class. I remember one very black Negro minister with a strong southern accent and a strong faith in God's ability to influence events, especially events that concerned him. As an example, he told of a narrow escape the day before. He had been hurrying to cross the street when he stumbled over a broken paving brick and fell headlong just as a car swung around the corner at a high speed and passed within a foot of his head. He insisted that it was God who had put that paving block there. If it hadn't been where it was he would have been killed.

I had no idea in 1927 of going back to school to get a masters degree in music. I took the course in music theory just for my own satisfaction. It was of no value to me in getting my teacher's certificate. Besides going to class and studying, Stuart and I explored New York and took in as many shows, concerts and plays as we could afford, especially concerts of the New York Symphony. There was a symphony concert nearly every night at Lewisohn Stadium, a large outdoor arena just north of the university. To get there we had to walk thru Harlem which was even then mostly inhabited by blacks. It probably wouldn't be safe for white students to walk thru there now at night but in 1927 we didn't think of there being any danger. The cheapest seats, of course, were high in the concrete bleachers away from the stage - 25¢, I believe. At the first intermission, there was a possibility of moving up into the more expensive seats if the crowd was not too big. We would scan the seating in front of us before the concert began to pick out places that were unoccupied. Toscanini was the nominal conductor but during the summer there was usually a series of guest conductors, men who were on vacation from their jobs with other orchestras. We got to watch many of the well-known orchestra conductors of Europe and America. The character of the audience varied according to the program. If an all-Wagner program was being offered, the stadium was full of Germans. If it was Verdi or there was an Italian singer as soloist, the majority of the crowd would be Italian. There were always a great many Jewish people no matter what was on the program. The place was full to over-flowing on the nights when George Gershwin appeared to play his "Rhapsody in Blue" and when the orchestra premiered his Concerto in F and he appeared on stage to acknowledge the applause.

I didn't care so much for band music, I missed the strings, but our theory instructor urged us to go to Central Park on Saturday evenings to listen to the Goldman band, next to Sousa's band, the most famous in America. Goldman, as well as Sousa, wrote a lot of band music, principally marches, whose melodies everyone knows.

Altho we were both more interested in music than anything else we found time occasionally to see a movie or go to the theater. The Roxy Theater was in its heyday; not only did they show the latest films but staged an elaborate revue on the largest stage in the city. The Roxy chorus line of precision dancers was already famous and the whole show, stage setting, choreography, costumes and all, was changed each week. It must have kept an army of people busy behind the scenes. The order of events was predictable, however. First was a newsreel as the audience got settled, then the garish big movie organ rose up out of the pit before the stage and the organist, spotlighted as he played a souped up version of a recent hit was featured. After he had finished and taken his bow it was the turn of a complete 100-man symphony orchestra to rise to stage level while the organ sank back down. Next came the movie - sometimes a double feature - then finally the stage show, vaudeville acts, short skits, humorists and the grand finale, the Rockettes. The whole thing took three or four hours and as soon as one show was over the next one started. Few visitors to New York failed to attend a show at the Roxy.

It was exciting just to take the subway downtown (south) to Times Square to mingle with the crowds heading for the theaters and the night spots. The subway was the simplest and the quickest way to get around but it was pleasanter to take a double-decker bus on Riverside Avenue near Grant Park and ride downtown that way. We would often get off the bus at Washington Square in Greenwich Village and scout the streets for exotic restaurants run by foreigners from every part of the world. They were mostly small eating places patronized by the artists, musicians and poets living in areas around Washington Square, the so-called "artists" quarter. On the Fourth of July we took the subway under the East River to Coney Island, a beach on the south shore of Long Island about a half hours ride from Times Square. It is - or was - the typical amusement park with all of the rides, games, shows, eating places to take the money of the uneducated lower classes plus a wide beach extending for miles, of white sand. The Sunday we went was hot and the beach was so crowded there was hardly room to sit down. I didn't enjoy it much.

Harry Emerson Fosdick was minister of the Riverside Church near Grant's Tomb in 1927. It was close to the university and, of course, I went over to hear him preach once or twice. I could easily walk over there but to get to the Metropolitan Art Museum in Central Park I had to take a Fifth Avenue bus. That is where I liked to spend a good part of my Sunday afternoons, either there or strolling along Riverside Drive near Grant's Tomb from where you get a magnificent view of the Hudson River.

When the summer session ended in late August I took the New York Central north to Montreal where Yvette was waiting for me. I took the night train, I remember, because I have a picture in my mind of stopping in front of Grand Central Station to buy a toy for Yvette's small cousin, Roger, from a man who was demonstrating them under the lights of the station marquee. One detail of our engagement I had neglected, in fact I hadn't thought of it at all, was an engagement ring. It must have caused Yvette considerable embarrassment not to be able to show friends and relatives a ring when they were told she was engaged to be married. It was "tante" Artemise tho who put the pressure on. She didn't feel it would be proper for a girl to go alone with a man unless the girl had a ring on her finger. Unfortunately I had barely enough cash left to get us both to Muskegon. If I bought an engagement ring we might have to do without a meal or two. The only solution was for Yvette to lend me about fifty dollars. We went to a jewelers and Yvette selected a modest ring with three small diamonds in it for about $35. She still has it but doesn't wear it because she lost one of the diamonds.

The trip from Montreal to Muskegon took longer than I had anticipated. It was nearly midnight when the train reached Detroit where we had to change trains and there was no train leaving for Grand Rapids until six in the morning. I didn't think I ought to ask Yvette to sit up in the waiting room all night so I went to one of the taxi drivers waiting for passengers and asked him where we could get a decent hotel at not too great a cost. He took us to an old rundown hotel near the Detroit River and I asked the clerk there for two rooms on the same floor close together. Yvette might have preferred to sleep in the same room with me but I didn't ask her tho I didn't feel right about leaving her alone. The place was clean and quiet, however, and we got a good night's rest.

The Pere Marquette went only as far as Grand Rapids before turning south toward Chicago so we took the interurban electric car on to Muskegon. They were cheaper and ran more frequently than the trains. Muskegon is a little off the main travel routes. Yvette's travel trunk, in which she had packed all of her possessions except a few we carried, had been checked thru from Montreal to Muskegon and didn't arrive until a day or two later.

Mrs. Dick had an extra room upstairs, across the hall from mine, so I rented it for Yvette while we started looking for a place to live. We found one right away, a small apartment at the Nielson's, upstairs with a rear entrance. It was on Sanford Street and the living room looked down onto the streetcar tracks. The kitchen was at the rear with dining area next to it. Bedroom and bath were on opposite sides of the hall leading to the living room. Mr. Nielson owned a lumber yard and also sold coal and cement. Neither the Nielsons nor the Dicks had any children. The apartment was completely furnished for housekeeping but there was no toaster. We went to Muskegon and bought one, our first purchase. When, years later, we bought a pop-up toaster, Yolande claimed the old one and still had it in 1980.

I left the decision on who would perform the marriage ceremony up to Yvette tho I suggested Reverend Prince, who was at that time the Congregational minister, or the justice of the peace. A Catholic ceremony was, of course, out of the question. Yvette was a little distrustful of Protestant ministers but she didn't much like being married by the justice of the peace either as the person who held the office at that time was a woman, Judge Ruth Thompson, and that didn't seem quite right to her. The Hollisters offered to let us use their living room when Yvette seemed reluctant to be married in the church. She finally decided on Judge Thompson who agreed to perform the ceremony in the Hollister's home. We set the date for September first in the afternoon, just a few days before the first day of school. Besides Horace and Elsa Hollister, the only other person present was Mrs. Dick, my landlady.

The evening of our wedding, the Hollisters invited all of the members of the Congregational Church choir to a shower for us. There were thirty or forty people and each one brought us a gift, an article useful in the kitchen or dining room. We played parlor games until eleven o'clock and after the crowd left, Horace took us to our new home in his Whippet. We took no wedding trip, as we had done plenty of traveling together on the trip to New York and on the train from Montreal to Muskegon before we were married. A few of Yvette's friends and relatives in Montreal knew she was to be married and gave her small wedding gifts that she brought along in her trunk. We sent out no invitation and I told no one beforehand except the Hollisters and Mrs. Dick. I had written to my parents from New York but to no one else.

The high school in Muskegon Heights is on Jefferson Street, a block west of Sanford where the streetcar tracks were. All I had to do to get to school was cross the alley to Henry Morton's driveway. I could be in my room in three minutes after leaving home. Henry Morton and family were one of the first to move into the Heights after the town was laid out next to the city of Muskegon. He had invented a device in which horses walking on a slanting ramp provided horsepower to operate machinery where no stream or gasoline engines were available. That was, of course, before the turn of the century. When his device became obsolete with the appearance of steam and oil powered engines he switched his factory to making large machine tools for machining propellers for boats and moved the factory to Muskegon Heights at the same time that a number of other factories were induced to move there by a group of Muskegon business men, the Cannon, Wyant and Cannon Foundry, Norge Refrigerator, Sealed Power Piston Rings, Walker School Furniture, among others. The Morton house was a big one, three stories high with a lot of gingerbread on it in the style of the 1890s. Henry Morton, his wife and all of their children were much too much overweight. The youngest of the family was Alice, who was known as Honey by all of her intimate friends. She was about Yvette's age and one day soon after our wedding she appeared at our door while I was in school and introduced herself to Yvette. Alice was a very friendly person and she and Yvette became life-long friends.

Alice had finished normal school and completed the requirements to teach elementary school but had met a young engineer who was working in the engineering department as a tool designer in the Morton plant and they were married about the same time we were. His name was Owen Premo which, I think, must have originally been Primeau as he came from northern Michigan where many French Canadians had settled. He was a graduate of Houghton in the northern peninsula and was a member of Tau Beta Pi as I was. Owen had a brilliant mind but he was always changing jobs because of squabbles with his bosses over patent rights. He and Alice bought a small house next door to the big, old Morton house, across the alley behind us but at the time Alice introduced herself to Yvette they were living in an apartment on the second floor of Alice's parent's home. The other Morton children were all married by that time and the boys worked at the Morton plant, Earl, the oldest being the chief engineer.

Except for the course in pattern making I took during my first year at Ann Arbor I had never done any woodworking. Never-the-less when we found we needed a table lamp I decided to make one in the wood shop in high school after school hours. Compared to working with metals in a machine shop, working in wood is fairly simple. Mr. Strand was the woodworking teacher and he told me it would be alright if I cleaned up my mess afterwards so I turned out a post out of walnut and a base from a block of pine. Then I decorated the upright piece by carving a vine twining around it. Yvette lacquered it to bring out the natural color of the wood but some years later she painted the low parts in black leaving the carved vines natural. I believe Yolande still has it. It was the first piece of furniture I made. The second was an upright folding screen which she wanted to hide the dining area from the kitchen. I made it of 1x2s and she covered it with black cloth on one side and yellow on the other. The next year I used some thick paint to paint a design on the black side. Part of the design was a heron which Alice Premo always insisted was a stork.

I used the woodshop a lot to make furniture, especially after I started teaching music and was given a key so I had access to the building any time and also had a master key which would let me into any of the rooms. After we started building houses, however, I bought a table saw and was able to work at home in the basement or garage. At first I bought my wood from the supply Mr. Strand ordered each year to sell to his students for their projects. Later I bought it from the Heights lumber yard. While we were living in the first house we built, the concrete house on Maffett Street, I bought some very nice pieces of hardwood gum and made a whole set of furniture to line one wall of the living room, shelves, a desk, sets of drawers, all the same height and matching each other in style. We took most of the pieces to Trois Pistoles with us when we retired and went there to spend our summers in our cottage on the St. Lawrence. I think we sold them with the cottage but we may have given one or two of them to Jeanne or Jos. We also took along to Canada an adjustable table which I made out of a six foot eight inch high flush birch door. I designed it so that it could be adjusted to either dinner table height or lowered to be used as a coffee table. We used it as dining table only when we had several guests for dinner. I have a transparency of it covered with a colorful tablecloth that Yvette bought in Mexico on our first trip there about 1940. It was sold with the cottage but Yvette's niece, Berthe, liked it so much she asked me to make her a similar one to use in her cottage near Rivière-du-Loup. I worked at it on the north porch of our cottage where I kept my table saw. One of the first things I did at the cottage was to make a new stand for the saw so I could get to work on the interior of the house.

The education Yvette had received at the convent in Trois Pistoles - it had nuns for teachers - was much more practical than what grade and high school students received in the U.S., as I soon learned. Girls were taught to design and make their own clothes, refinish and upholster furniture, paint and wallpaper rooms, cook and clean house and a dozen other things that are extremely useful for a woman to know. I didn't know that when I married her, of course, but it has been the principal element in our ability to survive the depression and live comfortably all our lives on the small salary I received as a high school teacher. One of the first purchases she made was a secondhand portable sewing machine, one of the first electric portables to come on the market. To make it easier to use I designed and built a small table for it out of redwood. It looked nice at first but redwood is too soft and it soon got badly beaten up and I had to keep repairing it. She made all of her own clothes, my shirts and pajamas and Yolande and Alan's clothes while they were small. She also taught Yolande to make her own clothes almost from the beginning. She still does. During the last few years she has event tackled the job of making my trousers and an overcoat. She has kept the whole family supplied with sweaters of all types and colors. She always had her knitting along on the long trips we took and could knit automatically while carrying on a conversation.

We had been married on the first of September and about two weeks later Yvette announced that there were going to be three in our family. Two or three months later Alice also became pregnant so the two women teamed up. Old Dr. Gerber had been the Mortons' doctor for many years so both Alice and Yvette went to see him regularly for check-ups. In June, however, when Yvette's time came, old Dr. Gerber was away on vacation and his son Frank, not very long out of medical school, took over. He came in his car and took Yvette to Hackley Hospital while I was at school working on something in the woodworking department. It was sometime after midnight when Yolande arrived in the world and as soon as Yvette was installed in a bed in the maternity department I was permitted to see her. She told me we had a little girl and she was tired and wanted to sleep and I should go home and get some rest too. The nurse came in just then and asked me if I wanted to see the baby and I said I did so she brought it in, but only for a moment as it hadn't been washed yet. It was about one in the morning when I got back to the Heights and I didn't expect to meet anyone I knew but I met Etzel Wilhoit coming out of his girl's house across the street from the Nielson's. Even tho it was much later than I was used to being up I wasn't sleepy. I needed to calm my nerves before I went to bed so the two of us walked about the streets for another hour or so. It was hard for me to realize that another human had come into the world who hadn't been there before and my life had jumped another notch - I was a father. Luckily, the next day was Saturday and I didn't have to be in school. It is fortunate also that I am not superstitious as our daughter arrived on Friday, the 13th of June.

Shortly before Yolande was due to come on the scene, Yvette went house hunting without telling me anything about it. The Nielson's apartment was adequate for Yvette though she would like it better if she didn't have to climb stairs after the baby was born. She located a small house with a screened-in porch in front four blocks east of the high school on Maffett Street, then told me what she had done and took me over to see it. The result was that, when she was ready to come home from the hospital the new place was ready to move into, tho it still lacked furniture. We hired a woman to help Yvette take care of the baby and do the housework during the day but she went home at night. The first few days were rather hectic as our daughter hadn't yet learned the difference between day and night and persisted in demanding attention at any hour of the day or night. I thought I could stop her crying by rigging up a swing in one of the doorways using the clothes basket we had fixed for a cradle but I found my theories were wrong. Yolande insisted on being held in somebody's arms.

Aunt Irene's step-son, Reuben, was working in one of the auto factories in Detroit at the time and made frequent trips back to Paulding. I took advantage of the situation and wrote Aunt Irene to have Reuben drop her off at our house the next time he drove to Michigan. They arrived shortly after we were in our new house. Reuben stayed overnight and then drove on to Detroit in his Model T Ford while Aunt Irene remained with us until the next time Reuben went home to Paulding. She tried her best to help Yvette but she was becoming old and forgetful. Yolande's middle name, Irene, is in honor of my aunt.

Yvette first met my family when we went to Peoria for the holidays in December of 1927. Raymond and Leeta were still in London and Evalyn was married and living in a small down where Henry had a job, I think in a chemical plant. Brooks, Florence and Bill were still in college at Bradley or in high school and John was working somewhere and painting on the side. My mind is a little hazy about all of this, however; Brooks may already have been working and Bill in college. My father was still taking the streetcar to his office in the Board of Trade Building in downtown Peoria.

Yvette still wore her hair bobbed as she had when I first met her and she had worn her muskrat fur coat which descended to below her knees. She was putting on weight around the middle, of course, which made her look a little dumpy when she wore the thick fur coat but nobody minded that. We all went to church on Sunday and it bothered me to take communion as the Baptists and Church of Christ congregations do by passing the bread and wine around as part of the ceremonies. In the Catholic Church only the priest is allowed to touch them. I whispered to her that it was only grape juice and bits of bread but she still felt uncomfortable. Attitudes we learn as children are hard to eliminate.

Table of Contents
Oxford and Stratford-on-Avon
Yvette's Parents

Last modified on 15 April 2021 17:59