Interview with Jane "Jenny" Toomey, 1984 February 8 [audio](part 1)
- Family history and birth in Charles' Banks, including peeling willows for DuPont Co. as a childKeywords: Breck's Lane; Charcoal; Charles' Banks; E.I. du Pont de Nemours & amp: Company; Genealogy; Gunpowder industry; Henry Clay (Del. : Village); Henry Clay (Del. : Village)--Working class families; Irish immigrantsTranscript: Toomey: Now, Daniel Toomey was my husband's father.
Johnson: Yes. I'm going to start with asking you your name. We're interested in learning what life was like in the small villages which were located near the DuPont Powder Mills on the Brandywine. In order to do this, we are asking people who have lived in these areas to help us complete this questionnaire. Could you please tell me your name.
Toomey: Jennie M. Toomey.
Johnson: Your maiden name...
Toomey: Was Thompson. T h o m p s o n
Johnson: And you live at 164 Breck's Lane?
Johnson: Your age is 88?
Toomey: I will be. No, 87 now. I will be 88 in July.
Johnson: I have your telephone number. 652— 7888. Now I wonder if you can tell me in which village or villages did you live?
Toomey: I was born in Charles' Banks, which is below where Chick Laird lives. There were two rows of stone houses there just like these over in Walker's Bank. They were built the same way. The front faced the Brandywine and the back faced another street like these do over here. That's where I was born and lived there until I was 8 years old.
Johnson: And after that where did you?
Toomey: Then we moved down here to Henry Clay. And I lived up there at Henry Clay across from Hagee's until I got married in 1920. Then I came here to live at 164 Breck's Lane, and I've been here ever since. My children were all born here in this house. We didn't go to the hospital in those days.
Toomey: They were all born...I had five children.
Johnson: Five children. Now, could you tell me your father's name?
Toomey: John Thompson. John J. Thompson.
Johnson: And where was he born?
Toomey: He was born in Dublin, Ireland.
Johnson: Do you know when he was born?
Toomey: No I do not. He was 88 when he died, but I don't remember what year.
Johnson: By any chance do you remember what year he came to this country?
Toomey: I had figured out they must have come about 18...Let's see... 1860 or something. Around that. I'm not sure. About 1865. Yes. I would think they came.
Johnson: And did he come to work in the powder yards?
Toomey: My father didn't work in the powder yards. He worked where they burnt the willows to make the charcoal.
Johnson: But he did work for the DuPont Company.
Toomey: Oh yes. It was the DuPont Company. They had these willows brought in, and every family got so many willows to peel. I did it too before I was 8 years old. All the families got extra money for the families, you know. Each family was allotted so many willows to peel. And the children, parents and everybody peeled willows. Then they burnt the willow wood to make the charcoal.
Johnson: Did you enjoy peeling the willows?
Toomey: I don't...I remember doing it, but I forget the details.
Johnson: I read one interview where they said they made a party of it. This one girl, probably her mother didn't let her peel willows, so she loved doing it. [laughter]
Toomey: No, I peeled them all right.
Johnson: Do you know if your father was recruited to work for the DuPont Company when he was in Ireland or did he know someone here when he came?
Toomey: I guess he knew someone here when he came. I don't know. I don't remember. My father never talked much about Ireland or anything about. He had no relatives that we knew of. He never talked much about it. I don't know, I guess they must have known somebody here when they came. He..they were married in Ireland and came here right away on their honeymoon and then they stayed here. My mother died when she was 40 years old. I was four at the time.
Johnson: Oh, that was hard.
Toomey: I had a sister who was 9 months old when she died.
Johnson: How many were in your family?
Toomey: Seven. I'm the only one left. I was next to the youngest, and I'm the only one left.
Johnson: Did your older sister have to take care of you then?
Toomey: Yes. She was only 15. My mother's sister took the youngest one for a little while and then, after we got organized...I don't remember much about it either, but I guess after they got organized and everything they took the baby back with the rest of us.
Johnson: Do you remember your mother's name?
Toomey: Jane Toomey. Of course I was Jane originally, but I guess because of her being Jane I guess I got Jenny. But I named my daughter Jane, and she named her daughter Jane.
Johnson: I've always liked the name. I guess your mother did, too.
Toomey: My daughter was Jane M. She died last year. My granddaughter is Jane M. And I'm Jenny M.
Johnson: Your mother was born in Ireland?
Toomey: Yes. She was born in Dublin, Ireland, too. I was over there in 1969 and visited relatives. I still have relatives there on my mother's side.
Johnson: You said you had seven brothers and sisters.
Toomey: I had two brothers and four sisters.
Johnson: Do you remember the names of your sisters and brothers?
Toomey: Yeah. Sally..
Johnson: Sally was the oldest?
Toomey: Mmm hmm. Mary, Katie, myself, and Josephine. My brothers were John and Jim...James.
Johnson: Were they all born in...that would be...
Toomey: They were all born up there in Charles Banks. Yeah.
Johnson: Now do you remember the name of your grandfather?
Toomey: No, I don't.
Johnson: Or grandmothers?
Toomey: No. [laughs] I don't remember those.
Johnson: Do you know other people who might be available for interviews that you did know?
Toomey: No I don't. I don't know anybody who's as old as I am. I guess I'm as old as the hills. I think I'm the oldest one in St. Joseph's parish that was born in the parish. There may be a few people older than me. I don't know their ages. I know one man that is older than I am. There's a Mrs. Kaiser that comes to our church. I don't know how old she is, but she looks older than I am because she's little and scrooched up. When I was in school, one of the nuns told me, "When you get old, you won't get stooped. You'll just keep shrinking and getting smaller all the time." [Laughs]
Johnson: I wonder how she knew that.
Toomey: I don't know. I guess from other people that she knew.
Johnson: Some people do get shorter.
Toomey: I guess I have, too. I was never very tall.
Johnson: Do you have pictures, letters, or objects from these days?
Toomey: Have what?
Johnson: Pictures or letters or objects from the olden days when you lived...
Toomey: No. I have only pictures that I took myself after I was grown up. I have a lot of those but I don't have any before.
Johnson: You wouldn't have anything of Charles Banks or....
Toomey: No. No. Nobody had cameras in those days. I still can't understand how I had a camera, because we didn't have anything. Nothing extra. I mean we had food in the house, but we never had any extras. And I still don't understand how I had a camera. But I did and I have a whole shoe box full of old pictures when I was young. When I was growing up, of course. Pictures of down at Atlantic City in the old— time bathing suits. I know you don't remember them. Used to wear long stockings.
Johnson: I have pictures of my mother in that.
Toomey: Yeah. High...tennis shoes up to about here. Long sleeves.
Johnson: Well it kept you from getting sunburned anyway. [laughter] Now everybody has to use sunburn lotion.
Toomey: You never got a suntan.
- The Toomey family and her marrying Timothy Toomey after he had been orphaned; death of two of her adult children; water supply near Charles' BankKeywords: Bathtubs; Brandywine Creek; Gunpowder industry; Industrial accidents; Iron Bridge; Orphans; Outhouses; Plumbing; Springs; Toomey familyTranscript: Johnson: Now I wanted to ask you about...Mrs. Anne Hudson in her interview told about a Mr. Toomey who rang the bell every day for lunch. She lived on the upper banks near the bell house. Now would that be...
Toomey: That must have been Daniel Toomey. I don't know anything about it, but it must have been him. Because they were the only Toomeys around.
Johnson: And that would have been your father-in— law.
Toomey: Yeah. Must have been my husband's father.
Johnson: Do you remember how many people were in the Toomey family?
Toomey: No. He had a brother, and that was all I knew of. That's all I ever knew. We have a headstone up there...an old headstone in the cemetery that has a lot of names, children that died young. So I guess they were his brothers and sisters. I don't know. Cause I didn't know him that well.
Johnson: What was his position in the powder yards? Was he the boss of the upper yards?
Toomey: I don't know. He must have been some kind of boss, because there were two big houses about where Hagley's greenhouse is now. They were up around that section. He lived in one of those big houses, so he must have been some kind of a boss or something when he lived in one of those big houses.
Johnson: Do you remember anything about his mother?
Johnson: Because in one of the interviews, Mrs. Hudson remembers her father taking Mrs. Toomey into Wilmington every Saturday when she was very little. He'd take one of the children, either her or her brother along.
Toomey: That was probably my husband's mother that he took in. Her name was Hannah Casey. She...that was probably her, because they had to go in town to do their shopping see. And I guess anybody that had a horse and buggy, they took anybody else with them that they could. I don't know. I'm just surmising that.
Johnson: And this is the Dan Toomey that was killed in the explosion of 1914?
Toomey: Yes. Mmmm-hmmm. And they had five boys. Five boys in the Toomey family. My husband was the oldest of five.
Johnson: And what was his name?
Johnson: And what were the other boys named?
Toomey: Timothy, Daniel, and James and John and William. William was the second oldest.
Johnson: Was there a Davey Toomey? Somebody mentioned a Davey Toomey getting a job after his father was killed.
Toomey: No. Maybe it was...my husband was...his name was Timothy, but he was always called Jakey. Maybe that's where they got that from. But he was in high school when his father was killed. When he got out of high school, DuPont's gave him a job in the DuPont building. You know, as an errand boy or something. He got a better job later one So maybe that's where that name came from.
Johnson: It does sound like it could be, because she said he got a job as soon as his father was killed.
Toomey: Yeah. That's right. They gave him this house to live in and they gave him a job, because he was the oldest one of the five boys.
Johnson: That was this house right here?
Toomey: Yes. The father was killed in August or September, whatever it was, and the mother died the following April. So it left the five boys. My husband was 17. He was the oldest one in the family. He had to take over and look after the rest of them.
Johnson: Isn't that fine that he did?
Johnson: And when were you married?
Toomey: 1920. Then I took over [laughs].
Johnson: Yes. Did you have any young boys to mind?
Toomey: They were all here. The other four were still here. Then as my children were born, each one kept moving out until they all left eventually. Course only two of them got married. The other two never married. One died very young, and the other was a good bit older.
Johnson: But they all founded their own households?
Toomey: Mmmm-hmm. But they're all gone. All five boys are gone. All five Toomey boys are dead.
Johnson: And how many of your children are still alive?
Toomey: I still have two sons and a daughter left. I had five. My daughter died a year ago in December, and my son died in 1975. They both died of cancer. Jack, he died in February 1975. He'll be 9..l4 years...Let's see, '75...he'll be nine years dead this month. The last day of February. And Jane just died in December of '83..'82. She died of cancer too. They told her in May that she had cancer of the lungs. She was a very heavy smoker. And she died in December.
Johnson: That's very fast.
Toomey: Yeah. She really went fast. But her family are all grown. She had seven children, but they were all grown up. On their own. They're not babies or anything.
Johnson: Do they all live in this area?
Toomey: Yes they all live in this area. So do my children except the youngest son. He works for the government and he lives down near Washington. He really lives in Maryland that's right outside of Washington.
Johnson: I wondered too if you know of any stories about people who worked in the powder yards. I work at the Gibbons House sometime with Dr. Margaret Seitz who was a great-granddaughter of John Gibbons. She tells this story about Alexander Burns. It seems that he used to take his bath out in the back yard, and it was all fenced in so nobody could see anything. But it seems there was this dog that was able to jump that fence. And the boys used to throw a stone over that fence so the dog would jump, and once in a while he'd go right into Mr. Burns' bath water. [laughter] I wonder if you know any stories like that about people who used to live in the...
Toomey: We used to have an Italian man lived over in Walker's Banks. He used to go down every Saturday and take his bath in the crick, in the water of the Brandywine.
Johnson: Did he wear clothes?
Toomey: No he would have shorts or pants or something on. But he would go down and get washed. Course nobody had bathrooms in those days. You had to get washed in a tub or whatever way you could to keep clean. But he used to go down every Saturday to take his bath in the Brandywine [laughter].
Johnson: Did he do it in the winter?
Toomey: I guess just in the warm weather. I guess in the wintertime he didn't take any.
Johnson: Where did you take your baths when you were little?
Toomey: In a tub. We had a galvanized tub we used to put in the kitchen and fill it with water. I'd give the children their baths in there. Then after they'd go to bed, we'd have our baths in there.
Johnson: When you were a child do you remember how it was? Did they give you a bath in the house on Charles' Banks.
Toomey: No. I don't remember anything about that. I guess just the same way, I don't remember. Then we had the outside toilets.
Johnson: Do you remember just where the toilet was in Charles' Banks?
Toomey: My..ours was right here in the back yard. But I forget now. We got the bathroom..hopper..inside toilet here about '31..193l. Before that we had to use the outside toilet.
Johnson: Do you remember anything about getting water when you lived up on Charles Banks?
Toomey: No. I guess there were springs or pumps or something, I don't know. I know right inside the yard, the gate...the gate's still there on this side of Iron Bridge there's a gate there isn't there?
Toomey: Well inside that gate, we were allowed to go in there. There was a spring in there. We were allowed to go in there and get a drink of water. You didn't carry water from it. You'd go in there and get a drink of water at any time.
Johnson: Did you bring along a glass or did you just bend down?
Toomey: They had cups or something there, I don't remember. But I remember going in there; they allowed us children to go in, you know, in that far. We weren't allowed any further in the yard. Just inside to that spring. I don't know whether the spring is still there or not.
Johnson: You say that was just inside the gate?
Toomey: Yes. The gates by the iron bridge. I have a picture in there. I don't know if you ever saw it or not. The way this place used to look. Open up that drawer there. It's rolled up right inside there. Mr. Laird puts out a book every year. Did you ever see any of those books he puts out? All the houses that were around here, they're all gone.
Johnson: Would you see this house on here on this picture?
Toomey: It's there. You can see it in the distance.
Johnson: I see Breck's Mill here.
Toomey: Yes. You can see ours there too. Here it is. See this is our fence. We had a white picket fence around the house. This is the house that's over there now. It's remodeled. These are all gone up here. These were burnt down one time. This is where Coley du Pont owns those now. Has them all fixed up. This is the mill across the crick. See there's houses all up above that. See them all up there...all those houses up there, too.
Johnson: They're all gone now?
Toomey: All gone.
Johnson: Thank you. I'm going to tell them that you have this picture.
Toomey: Well that's not the original picture. Some woman had that and she loaned it to me. I had that taken off of it.
Johnson: It's very clear.
Toomey: Yes, it's good.
- Household chores including laundry; walking to school; sledding and other childhood pastimes; Dr. ChandlerKeywords: Baseball; Chores; Games; Henry Clay (Del. : Village); Housekeeping; Jacks (Game); Jump ropes; Laundry; Medical care; Physicians; Sledding; St. Joseph's SchoolTranscript: Johnson: Do you remember when you were little, if you had any weekly chores to do?
Toomey: Any what?
Johnson: Weekly chores. Did you have to help with the cleaning, do you remember?
Toomey: Oh sure. We all had to. With no mother we all had to pitch in and do what we had to do and even we had wood stoves, you know. Burn wood all the time. We used to have to help chop wood and carry the wood in. All that kind of stuff, too.
Johnson: Did you just go out in the back yard and get the wood or did they have a certain place?
Toomey: I don't remember. I guess you'd gather it in the woods. I'm sure we didn't buy it.
Johnson: Did you have a way of dividing up the work or did you just do what seemed to be needed?
Toomey: Oh I don't remember about that.
Johnson: How about lamps? Did you have to clean the lamps?
Toomey: Oh yes. And if anybody come in to visit and your lamp shade was smoky or anything, disgrace, that was a terrible thing. Or your stove wasn't shiny. Everybody had a kitchen stove, you know, and you kept it shined all the time.
Johnson: Did you have the special polish to do that?
Toomey: Oh yeah. Then your fingernails would be all black. Your hands would be all black.
Johnson: Did you just have the one stove in the kitchen?
Toomey: Yes, one stove. That had to heat the whole house. That's all the heat that was in the house. That's all that was here when I came here, too. We just had the big kitchen stove in there, in that room. We didn't have the kitchen then. The kitchen was built on later. That had to heat the whole house, upstairs and down. We didn't get much heat upstairs.
Johnson: It must have been pretty cold upstairs.
Toomey: It sure was. [laughter]
Johnson: Would you usually dress downstairs to go to bed?
Toomey: Oh yes. The children all changed down here, you know, and would run up and jump into bed as fast as they could.
Johnson: Did you have to wash your face and hands before you went to bed?
Toomey: Oh yes. And you had to heat all your water. We had no running water. And we had to carry the water from over the other side of this house. We had to carry all our water from over there to here. Even for the laundry. My husband used to, on Sunday nights he would go over and bring all the water over and put it in the tubs in the cellar to do the wash on Monday.
Johnson: And you washed in the cellar in this house?
Johnson: And how did you get rid of the water again? Did you have to bring it up?
Toomey: We had to throw it out in the yard, throw it outside. He would empty them at night then when he come home.
Johnson: Do you remember what kind of soap you used?
Toomey: No. Yellow cake soap, I know that. Octagon or Fels Naptha or something. One of those soaps. There was no soap powder in those days.
Johnson: You wrang it all out by hand?
Toomey: Yes. As we got a little more affluent we got a power..water power washer. After we got the water installed, you know, we got a water— power washer. And we used that.
Johnson: What was that like?
Toomey: You had to attach...I kinda forget now. You had to attach it to the spigot, and you turned the cold water on and the hot water. And the hot...I don't know, it made it turn anyhow. Wash, you know. I kind of forget it's been so long.
Johnson: They've had all different kinds of washing machines over the years. Did you ever have one of those hand wringers with rollers in?
Toomey: Oh yeah. Oh yes. It fastened on the side of the tub, you know, and you had to wring it by hand.
Johnson: Did you have that when you first lived in this house?
Johnson: They have one of those at the Gibs House.
Toomey: We had...you had to do...well everybody had the same thing, and nobody had any better you know. Everybody was in the same boat. [laughter]
Johnson: Do you remember what a typical day was like when you were a child? Where did you go to school?
Toomey: St. Joseph's. That's as far as I went, through eighth grade at St. Joseph's. I did start to go to commercial school at St. Paul's down Fourth and Jackson, and my father sent me in there so I could get some work, I guess. But after I had gone there for three months, I fell and broke a ligament in my knee, so I never did get back. My sister that was keeping house at the time, she got sick. I was only 15, so I had to take over the housekeeping then for my father and myself and the rest of the family that were home.
Johnson: Did it take a long time for a ligament like that to heal?
Toomey: Yes. Took it eight weeks. I had the plaster cast for eight weeks.
Johnson: Do you remember what a typical day would be like on a school day. Who would get up first? Did someone wake you up in the morning? Did you have an alarm clock?
Toomey: I imagine my father was up and got us up. I don't know whether we had an alarm clock. I don't suppose we had an alarm clock. But we walked up over that hill to St. Joseph's church...school you know. And church and everything else. You went up through here. That used to be called Miss Mary's then. That house up on the hill. We went up this hill and up through that woods and out onto Barley Mill you know, and on up the rest of the way.
Johnson: Did you usually take your lunch to school?
Toomey: Oh yeah.
Johnson: Easier than coming home.
Toomey: Oh yeah. We wouldn't have had time to come home and go back.
Johnson: About how many of you would walk to school together, do you remember?
Toomey: Well it was always a couple stuck together, you know. A group that went together. I just don't remember that either. I don't remember a lot of things. [laughter]
Johnson: It's better to remember what's going on today than what happened years ago, I guess. Do you remember playing after school?
Toomey: Oh I guess we'd jump rope and play jacks. Those kind of things. I used to be an expert at playing jacks. I guess from practice.
Johnson: My mother played jacks, too.
Toomey: Oh yeah. I used to love to play jacks. I wonder if anybody does that any more?
Johnson: I saw some for sale the other day when I was looking for children's toys. So maybe it's coming back.
Toomey: I don't know.
Johnson: It's the first time I've seen them for years.
Toomey: I haven't seen any for years. I don't know if children play them or not anymore. They're so tied up with television and their tape recorders and all that kind of stuff. They don't have time for simple things like jacks and jumping rope. That was another thing we loved to do. Jump rope.
Johnson: Did you have a lot of sayings when you jumped rope? I can remember..
Johnson: Do you remember any of those?
Toomey: No. [laughs] I don't remember any of them now.
Johnson: I remember M.I..crooked letter, crooked letter...until you spelled Mississippi.
Toomey: We had sayings too, but I don't remember any of them now.
Johnson: Did you play baseball?
Johnson: Do you know where you played it?
Toomey: Out on the street. Course there was no traffic then, in those days. You could...like sledding, coming down this hill, somebody would stand at the bottom of the hill, you know, and say, "Come ahead, there's nothing coming either way." You couldn't do that now because there's constant traffic. But we used to sled up on Barley Mill. We used to start all the way up where that little house is on Barley Mill. We'd go all the way down to the wall at Hagley where Hagley gate is.
Johnson: That must have been fun. That's a great hill.
Toomey: Come home soaking wet.
Johnson: Did you ever get a cold or anything from doing this?
Toomey: Never seemed to bother us.
Johnson: Do you remember anything about doctors when you were little? Did you ever have to get the doctor?
Toomey: No. I guess we doctored ourselves. I don't remember. Was an old Dr. Chandler that was for years and years around. Took care of my mother, I know that. I heard them talk about him, but I don't remember him or anything. Like my children, people didn't rush to the hospital in those days. Didn't have cars to go with, to begin with. If the children fell and cut themselves, you doctored it up yourself. Did the best you could with it. Cleaned it and put something on it. But now everybody rushes to the hospital.
Johnson: Do you remember any stories you told? Did you tell stories to the other children?
Johnson: This is still going.
Toomey: I'll wear it out talking (laughs).
- Music and gramophone; learning embroidery from a nun; storing meat in the cellar; taking her children on the boat to Philadelphia; First Communion and finishing the eighth gradeKeywords: Boats and boating; Confirmation--Catholic Church; day trips; Embroidery; Families--Religious life; Families--Social life and customs; family outings; First communion; Henry Clay (Del. : Village)--Working class families; Phonograph; refrigeration; Saint Joseph on the Brandywine Roman Catholic ChurchTranscript: Johnson: Did you ever play a musical instrument?
Toomey: No I never did. No.
Johnson: Do you remember listening to a gramophone?
Toomey: Oh yes. We were just talking about it the other day. We used to have a great big one here. Then we put records. We used to play records on it. We used to have one of those with a great big horn at one time to play the records on. Then we got this more, you know, up to date one with the big cabinet. We were wondering the other day what I ever did with it. I guess I gave it to the Sunday Breakfast Mission or somebody.
Johnson: Do you remember any songs that you liked?
Toomey: Any what?
Johnson: Songs. That were popular or that you might have been singing?
Johnson: Did you sing in school?
Toomey: I guess we did. I don't remember. We still have a lot of old records here that we had when my children...as soon as they got to work they started buying records, you know, for this machine. We still have a lot of them there in the bottom of the bookcase that are very old.
Johnson: Did you learn to sew at school? Did you have sewing lessons there?
Toomey: Did I what?
Johnson: Did you have sewing lessons?
Toomey: Yes. We used to have a nun that taught us to do embroidery work.
Toomey: We had a nun. She used to take her time on Saturday, and we went up, and she would teach us to embroidery. We never had regular sewing lessons, but she used to teach us embroidery. Then at the end of the school year, we'd have an exhibition of all our work. Some people made pillows and some made pin cushions. Different things.
Johnson: Do you have any that you made?
Toomey: [laughs] No. I don't have anything now. Not after all these years. If I had them they'd be rotted, I guess.
Johnson: Winterthur has many old things where they've saved them, and they know how to preserve them.
Toomey: I lived here by myself for about 18 years. My children all were married and gone. And I just kept giving things away to get rid of them, because I didn't want to have to take care of them. Then my son was married and divorced, and he came back here to live with me. Now he says, "Whatever become of such and such a thing?" It's gone.
Johnson: Do you remember anything about what you cooked or ate when you were little? What you'd have for breakfast?
Toomey: No. No I don't. Well, my father was a great meat and potatoes man. I know that. At dinner we mostly had meat and potatoes.
Johnson: Where did you buy the meat? Was it at a store?
Toomey: No. There used to be a man come around with a wagon. No ice or anything in it. Just the meat in there. We bought our meat — enough to do the week. He used to come every Saturday. We had a place in our cellar. A deep well, like, but no water in it. Dry. And that was our refrigerator. It was underground, you know. We had a lid went on top of it. We kept butter and milk and meat and things in there. That was the only refrigerator we had.
Johnson: But they kept all right in there?
Toomey: Yes, They kept well.
Johnson: Where did you get the butter?
Toomey: I guess we got that from the store. I don't remember about it. We got all our meat from this man that came around with the wagon.
Johnson: And what about potatoes? Did you grow your own potatoes in a garden?
Toomey: No. We never had a garden up here. I guess we just bought them all. We never had a place for a garden up here.
Johnson: Do you remember any of the stores where you would have gone to buy the potatoes? Did you ever do the shopping?
Toomey: I don't know. There used to be a store over top...at the foot of Rising Sun Hill that sold all stuff. Everything. I guess we bought some stuff there. That's the only one I remember.
Johnson: What about birthdays? Did you have a special meal on your birthday?
Toomey: Not us. [laughs] I had for my children, but we didn't.
Johnson: Without a mother...
Toomey: Without a mother you don't get those things.
Johnson: Did your dad ever take you anywhere like away for a day... like to Riverview Park or to any place like that.
Toomey: Did we what?
Johnson: Did you ever go away for a day with your father?
Toomey: Oh yes. We had one trip every summer. Not myself, but my children. My sister was having children the same time I was, and one day every summer we went up to Philadelphia on the boat. We all took our lunches. We took enough lunch, and we took the boat ride up to Philadelphia. We didn't get off the boat. We had our lunch there and came right back again. That was our one outing for the summer. The whole gang of us. She only had three children. I had the five. But that was our outing for the summer.
Johnson: Well it couldn't have been easy with all those children.
Toomey: Well the first year we thought of going, we had children across the street. Of course everybody is in and out of everybody's house. The first year we were going, I told the children we were going. Of course they went out to tell the other kids. Every once in a while some kid would say, "My mother said I can go with you, too. We'll bring our own lunch." So after that we never told them until the night before we were ready to go. Our own were enough responsibility without neighbors. Of course, neighbors were neighbors. You were running in and out of each other's houses all the time. We had the only big yard here, and all the neighbors' kids came here to play in our yard. We used to have a garden in the middle of this yard one time.
Johnson: Do you remember when you were a child, did your father ever take you out on an excursion?
Toomey: No, I don't think he ever did. He had enough responsibility trying to feed us, I guess, without taking us any place.
Johnson: And it was harder to get around in those days.
Toomey: Yes. Nobody had a car. Nobody had a horse and buggy. Even the well— to— do only had a horse and buggy. Nobody had a car. We used to walk...I remember when I was - I was only eight when we moved down here - so before that I walked from the other side of the iron bridge up through that woods and up to St. Joseph's to school when I started school. To church on Sunday, too.
Johnson: Did you usually go to church as a family?
Toomey: Well, the bigger ones went themselves, and my father took the smaller ones with him. Myself and my sister, we went together.
Johnson: Do you remember what your first communion dress was like?
Toomey: Yes I do. I still have a picture of that.
Johnson: Oh. That would be nice to see.
Toomey: My sister made it for me. It was like embroidery - needle - I don't know what you call it now. But like embroidery material anyhow. I had long black stockings on and high-top shoes. And a white dress.
Johnson: Did most of the children wear black stockings?
Toomey: Oh yes. That was the thing to do in those days.
Johnson: So everybody was the same?
Toomey: Oh yes. Everybody was the same. Everybody had a white dress on and a veil. White. And high black shoes and long black stockings.
Johnson: How old were you at that time?
Toomey: I was eleven, I think, when I made my first communion. Now, they make it six and seven years old.
Johnson: Yes. That's what I remembered.
Toomey: Yeah. But when I was young it was eleven. You had to be eleven before April to get in to the first communion class. I would have been twelve in July when I made my first communion. Then, I don't remember, but I think we were confirmed the Sunday after that.
Johnson: Oh they were close together.
Toomey: Yes. While you still had the dresses and things to go get dressed up for it [laughs]. I guess that was the idea. I don't know.
Johnson: When you graduated from the eighth grade, would you have another white dress?
Toomey: We didn't graduate. We just finished. There was no graduation or anything about it. When I finished the eighth grade there was only four of us in the class. We just finished with no to— do about it at all. No celebration of any kind. We just got finished.
Johnson: I guess you missed school after that, too?
Toomey: No graduation exercises or anything. Once a year we had an entertainment. The sisters would...we'd put on a show or something before the school year would be over. But that included the whole school in that. Just for the parents and people. Anyone who was interested.
Johnson: Would the children write a skit or a play?
Toomey: I can't remember that part of it, either. But I know everybody was trying to get into it, you know. To be on stage, of course.
Johnson: Do you remember if they wore costumes?
Toomey: I don't know. I don't remember that either, what we wore. I guess we did wear some kind of costumes. I don't remember.
- Fourth of July picnic; shopping in Wilmington; her father burning charcoal at DuPont Co.; Breck's Mill showers and ice skating on the BrandywineKeywords: Alfred I. du Pont boat rides; Ancient Order of Hibernians; Breck's Mill; Charcoal burners; Christmas trees; Farmers' markets; Fourth of July celebrations; Hagley Community House; King Street (Wilmington, Del.); Pipe smokers; Showers (Plumbing fixtures); SkatingTranscript: Johnson: Do you remember the Fourth Of July? Would you have a celebration for that?
Toomey: Oh yes. We had a big picnics every Fourth Of July. The Hibernians gave it. You know where Hallock du Pont's house is now?
Toomey: That's where the picnic was. Right in that woods. That was a woods there then.
Johnson: And this was the St. Joseph's?
Toomey: Everybody. It wasn't just St. Joseph's. But the Hibernians run it. It was for everybody that wanted to go and had the money to go with. You had to have money to spend to buy stuff, you know. They used to put up a big platform and have musicians on it, you know. Platform for dancing. Oh, that was the highlight of the year. The Fourth of July picnic.
Johnson: Do you remember dancing there?
Toomey: No, I was too young to dance. But I remember going. And I had to have a new dress for it.
Johnson: Now where would you get that dress? Would you buy it?
Toomey: My sister was a dressmaker, and I imagine she made it. Oh, we never had a bought dress. No. Our dresses were all made. Or hand-me-downs. [laughs]
Johnson: Would your everyday dresses be old dresses that had been...
Toomey: Well Mary would...sometimes she'd buy material to make us things. But she made my first communion dress, I know that.
Johnson: Where would she buy the material? Would she have to go downtown to get it?
Toomey: I guess she'd have to go downtown to get it. I don't remember where they bought the material. I imagine they had to go downtown to get it. Course the cars came...well the bus still comes to the top of Rising Sun Hill, but there used to be a trolley run through here. Run right across the foot of Breck's Lane. And you could get that and go into town for a nickel.
Johnson: Oh. About how often would you go into town when you moved?
Toomey: About once a week at least. I used to go in on Saturdays. When my children were growing up, I used to go in on Saturdays and go to the Farmers' Market. Do my shopping on King Street.
Johnson: That was really nice.
Toomey: Have you been to the Farmer's Market that they have now on Market Street?
Johnson: Not since they moved it.
Toomey: Well there's one between...right below 7th Street between Market and King. Just runs the block, you know, between Market and King. They're there every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, too. Course it don't have much this time of the year, but the summer they have lots of things. My son loves it. He goes there every day on his lunch hour. He goes and gets things for me there from the farmers.
Johnson: And you get them nice and fresh.
Toomey: Yeah. When you get the things from them, they're always nice and fresh.
Johnson: Do you remember anything about Christmas?
Toomey: Well now, nothing much. We never had a Christmas tree when we were kids. Until I got married. I had one then, but at home we never had one.
Johnson: What about your neighbors or your friends? Do you remember visiting them...were they likely to have a tree, too?
Toomey: I guess some of them did. I don't remember. But I know we never did have one.
Johnson: They probably didn't make this much of it...
Johnson: They probably didn't make so much of it as we do now.
Toomey: My father didn't go in for extras, you know. I guess he couldn't afford to. By the time he bought food and clothes and things for us, he didn't have much left over for extras.
Johnson: It takes a lot of energy, too, to go out...
Toomey: Yes. A lot of responsibility with seven children.
Johnson: Yes. And they used to just have candles, so you'd have not only do the work of putting up the tree but the worry about it going on fire with that many children, I suppose.
Toomey: Yeah. But he lived to be 88, my father.
Johnson: Where did he live when he died?
Toomey: He lived over in that stone block on the other side - Walker's Banks. He lived over there.
Johnson: Did he live all by himself or did...
Toomey: No, I had a brother who was never married. He lived there with him. They made out all right. Well the first few weeks....well, two or three months I guess...before he died, he went to live with my younger sister up on 18th Street, and that's where he died. But he had lived over there for a good while. Over on the the other side. That stone block. They have remodeled that house.
Johnson: Do you remember if your father smoked?
Toomey: Smoked a pipe always. Yeah.
Johnson: When he went to work in the powder yards, I suppose he had to...
Toomey: Oh I guess he didn't take...I don't know what he did with it then. But at home he always smoked a pipe.
Johnson: What was it you said he did in the powder yards?
Toomey: He burnt the charcoal. He burnt the willows to make the charcoal. That's how they made the charcoal to put into the powder. I guess the charcoal went into the powder. I don't know the details of that. But I know that they burnt the willows to make it.
Johnson: Did any of your brothers go to work in the powder yards?
Johnson: How about your husband? Did he work in the powder yards? [Cuts out while tape is switched]
Toomey: ....well the DuPont employees. First year he run it was just for the men. Then after that the women. But I never got to go on one of them. My husband went. Because whenever they were going I was either having a baby or nursing one. [laughs] So I never did get to go on one of those picnics. But I have the pictures of them from the Alfred I. boat rides. My father was on them and my husband was on them. But I never got there.
Johnson: Do you remember going to any parties at Breck's Mill?
Toomey: When I was very little I vaguely remember, before we moved down here being at a party at Breck's Mill. The only thing I can remember about it is that I got a doll baby. I guess it was the first one I ever had, I don't know, because my father couldn't afford to buy us toys. But I remember coming out of Breck's Mill with a doll baby so thrilled over it. But I don't remember anything about the party. What went on inside or anything. All I remember is having that doll baby. So I...I don't know what year that was or when it was, but they had them. That's the only time I ever remember about it. And that was before we moved down here, before I was eight years old.
Johnson: Do you remember taking a shower in Breck's Mill?
Toomey: Taking what?
Johnson: A shower. I believe Breck's Mill was the first place that had running water.
Toomey: Yeah. I never did, but my children did. They used to have showers in the back end of it over there. There was a framework over the race there and they used to have showers in there. Yes. My children used to go over there and take showers.
Johnson: Would that have been outdoors?
Johnson: What about ice skating? Did you ever go skating?
Toomey: Any what?
Johnson: Ice skating on the Brandywine.
Toomey: Oh yes, yes. We loved to skate on the Brandywine. I did too when I was young. I loved it.
Johnson: Do you remember where you got your first skates and what they were like?
Toomey: No. I remember trying to skate the first...when I first trying to skate. I never did get expert enough to cut figure eights or anything, but I had enough fun. Lots of fun just skating up and down, up and down. But I remember the first time I put them on. I was down on the ice more than I was up, of course. So two young men that went to school with me, my own age of course, one got on each side of me and they walked me up and down the ice 'til I got able to do it myself. But it was a lot of fun skating. Yeah. And my children loved it, too. They used to skate all the time.
Johnson: Was it colder then than it is now in the winter?
Toomey: I don't think so. I imagine it was about the same. Course nobody had thermometers or anything to tell how cold it was. You didn't have radios tell us the time, the temperature or anything. You just guessed at how cold it was.
- Newspapers; discussion of current flowers; explosions at the powder yards; childhood hair style; local tavernsKeywords: Bars (Drinking establishments); Explosions; Flower gardening; Forsythia; Gunpowder industry; Haircutting; Hairstyles; Industrial accidents; NewspapersTranscript: Johnson: Did you get a newspaper?
Toomey: I guess...yes. We must have got...my father always got a paper.
Johnson: Would you read it at night?
Toomey: Yes. After my father got through with it we were allowed to have it. But he read it first.
Johnson: Did he ever discuss anything that was in the paper with you?
Toomey: No. [laughs]
Johnson: Do you remember ever reading anything that startled you?
Toomey: No. I just remember that we got a paper. He read it first and after he was through with it we were allowed to have it.
Johnson: Do you remember anything you might have read in it?
Toomey: No. Uh-uh. Did you see our forsythia?
Johnson: Did you make that bloom by bringing it in?
Toomey: Joe brought it in out of the yard last Saturday.
Johnson: Was it blooming like that?
Toomey: No. It was just dead looking. But...it was Saturday a week he brought it in. He put it over there because the heat's over there, and it brought it right out. Do they have any up at Hagley yet?
Johnson: They haven't got any out if they have it.
Toomey: It's a wonder they haven't brought some in. There's plenty of it up there. I'm surprised they haven't gotten it in up there.
Johnson: I could check. I haven't been up to the main museum building lately. They might have it in up there. That woman is amazing, though. Is it Jane [Handwritten note in transcript: "I meant Sue - Sue McKinley. DJ"], she does all the flower work.
Toomey: I don't know her, but I know every time up there the arrangements have been beautiful.
Johnson: She can go out and it looks like just plain woods to me, and she'll find little cones and little berries growing and make a bouquet out of it. She's amazing. Even in the dead of winter she'll go out there and find all sorts of things.
Toomey: Some people have the knack for it. All I do is stick them in a vase [laughs].
Johnson: I cut some forsythia. Mine didn't even open. I guess I just have it in the wrong place.
Toomey: I do arrange them some. We grow so many flowers in the yard. I like to put them in a flat dish and arrange them. I have the frogs to put in them. I do fix them during the summer when we have plenty of flowers. My son loves flowers too, so he takes care of them for me. Keeps me supplied with them all summer.
Johnson: Do you remember if they had any flowers in the house up on Charles' Bank?
Toomey: We had...when we lived up the road here before I was married we had beautiful rose bushes in the yard. My father used to hand them out like they were gold almost. You had to be such a special person to get one of those roses.
Johnson: Well, I think roses are hard to grow in Delaware.
Toomey: I don't know. We have some that are doing pretty well. We did have some that didn't do well. Now we have two or three bushes this past year that did very well. Some people have lots of luck with them. But Joe does well with all the other flowers...all the annual flowers that's up every year. That he plants every year.
Johnson: Delaware's a nice place. Almost everything will grow. It's never so cold.
Toomey: We planted some bulbs outside the fence this spring. In the fall, Joe planted them. I'm anxious now to see. I saw them in a flower book. In Parks, or Brecks, some of those books, you know. They were called wind flowers. In the advertisement it says they came up before the crocuses, and they lasted longer than the crocuses and they're all different colors. So I bought three dozen bulbs, and he planted them outside. So I'm anxious to see what they do. If they come up. [laughs]
Johnson: The colors of the bulbs in the pictures are just lovely.
Johnson: I should walk by and see them. As a child, do you remember if you were allowed in the powder mills if they were working?
Toomey: Oh no. You weren't allowed in the yard, even. Did I tell you we were allowed right inside that gate to get a drink of water and that was all. We were never allowed past that.
Johnson: Did your father ever tell you about anything that went on at the mills?
Toomey: No. He never talked much about it. No.
Johnson: Do you remember any explosions? Did you ever see anything...
Toomey: I remember one time I was laying on the couch up the road here, and the explosion threw me right off on the floor. There was, I think, three or four people killed at that time. Oh, they shook the whole place, the explosions. Shook every house and broke the windows and everything in the house.
Johnson: Did it break windows in your house when you fell off the sofa?
Toomey: No, there was nothing broken that time, but there were people killed. Of course, as soon as one went off, everybody run out, because everybody around the place had somebody in there...somebody working for DuPont's you know. No one knew which mill went off. Whether it was a mill their relatives were in. Of course everybody run to see.
Johnson: Of course I guess at a time like that they let you into the powder mills?
Toomey: No, they didn't let you in. Inside.
Johnson: Just to the gate?
Toomey: Yes, to find out which mill went off. Because everybody knew which mill their relatives were working in, you know. They found out, well, it wasn't this mill or it wasn't that mill. You knew your people were safe. Course we never had anybody working right in the mill. My father wasn't near the powder when he was in the charcoal...where they burnt the willows. I guess they had a name for it. I don't know what it was.
Johnson: Is it the charcoal house?
Toomey: The charcoal house, I guess. I don't know.
Johnson: I've heard that term. Do you remember how you wore your hair when you were young?
Toomey: Yes. I had my hair in two long plaits down my back. My hair was down to my waist and I used to plait it. Sometimes I'd wrap it up this way and pin it round. Sometimes we had great big bows. The bigger the better. Everybody tried to get bigger bows than anybody else.
Johnson: Did you have an age where you put your hair up?
Toomey: I wore it in plaits all the time. You didn't wear it loose. Just plaits all the time. I had long hair until 1924, I guess. I was the first person around here to ever have short hair, to get their hair cut. I consulted my husband about it and he said, "It's your hair, you do what you want with it." My father said, "You're foolish. Don't cut it. Your hair's beautiful. Don't cut it." But I had it cut. [laughs]
Johnson: Do you remember the Brandywine Manufacturers Sunday School? That closed before the Civil War. Have you ever been up to the Gibbons House up there on Blacksmith Hill? They only opened that, I think, in 1975.
Toomey: No. I have not been up to that yet. I been up there once... I went up to see the daffodils, I think. But we didn't get off the bus. We just rode up and down, because I don't walk that well or too much any more.
Johnson: Do you remember going there as a child? Did you ever see that same house that would be the Gibbons House when you were a child, or wouldn't that stand out in your mind?
Johnson: Because they're wondering what it really looked like when they had houses all around it. Now it stands there by itself.
Toomey: No, I don't remember anything about it.
Johnson: They ask what stores you remember. Do you remember Sam Frizzell's grocery store?
Toomey: Sam Frizzell's was right over here across from Breck's Mill.
Johnson: Do you remember Tim McCarthy's Blazing Rag Tavern?
Johnson: Tom Toy's.
Toomey: Tom Toy's was right up the road here. In that building that Coley du Pont [P. Coleman du Pont?] owns now. That's where Tom Toys was. It's a garage now. That was Tom...At one time there were three saloons...four saloons around here. There was Tom Toy's was there, Jeff Blakely's was up on Rising Sun Hill. Somebody named Dougherty had one up at the top of Rising Sun Hill. And there was one up at the corner near St. Joseph's Church. Tom Lawless owned it. So there was four saloons around here at one time. Course there were a lot of people around here in those days too. Lot of houses and lot of people.
Johnson: I guess you never went in a saloon?
Toomey: Oh no. Never. My father never went in them either.
Johnson: He had his hands full with seven children. Do you remember any other picnics or affairs you might have gone to?
Toomey: No. The only thing I can remember is the Fourth of July picnic and those boat rides of Alfred I's.
- Halloween traditions; hearing the radio for the first time; raising chickens; she and her sisters running the household for their fatherKeywords: apple cider; Chickens; chopping wood; Chores; Dinners and dining; Halloween costumes; Housekeeping; Radio; Working class familiesTranscript: Johnson: What did you do on Halloween?
Toomey: Oh we got dressed up and went around, yes.
Johnson: You did get dressed up?
Toomey: Oh, we always got dressed up, yes.
Johnson: And did you go around the neighbors?
Toomey: Go around the neighbors, yes, and up at Breck's Lane. Up Barley Mill. There were houses up there then. Up Rising Sun Hill. We weren't out of the neighborhood, really. We never went any further than that.
Johnson: Do you remember any of the costumes you made or wore?
Toomey: No, I guess we just wore old dresses or something. I remember one time that I wore somebody's pants. I guess one of my brother's long pants. I had them tied on with a necktie and somebody pulled the necktie open [laughter]. I guess we had no regular costume. Whatever we could find to wear.
Johnson: Well I guess dressing up as a boy...
Toomey: Yeah, I was supposed to be a boy. I had a cap of some kind.
Johnson: Did the neighbors give you candy the way they do now?
Toomey: Oh yes. They always gave you apples and candy and things. Sometimes it was a big treat if we found out that one person was giving cider. They'd give ginger cakes — ginger snaps - and cider. If anybody found out where they were giving cider, everybody went there. That was a big treat to get cider.
Johnson: Do you think they made their own cider or did you...
Toomey: I guess they did. I don't know. There used to be one or two families that had cider. Everybody tried to find out who had the cider...where to go for the cider. We didn't have any money, but we had our own ways of entertaining ourselves and having a good time. We didn't have money to go to the movies or anything like that, either. But we always had a good time.
Johnson: Do you remember your first movie?
Toomey: Oh I guess I was grown up and somebody took me there. I don't remember. No. I remember I first heard the radio. The radio started and I couldn't believe...The man up here, he built his own. My husband went up to hear it. I said, "Do you mean you could sit in the room and hear that voice coming out." Yes he could. Then I would be out there in the kitchen. I was working and I had the radio on. I'd think, "I wonder how they got those people in the studio this early in the morning to sing." I don't know about records or anything. I thought they had to bring those people into the studio to sing this early in the morning. We had radio then, of course, then television come along. Nobody pays much attention to the radio. I never turn the radio on myself. I have one in the kitchen and sitting on the floor in back of the little table where I have flowers in the kitchen. I never turn it on. I had one beside my bed on the bedside table, and I was always knocking it off. So I put it in a plastic bag and stuck it in the closet, because I never turned it on either. Some people have the radio on all the time. I never think of turning it on.
Johnson: I think you don't really listen to it when you have it on all day.
Toomey: No, you don't hear what's going on. You might hear the weather once in a while.
Johnson: I do like to hear the weather.
Toomey: Well, I imagine you can turn the television on for the weather.
Johnson: I imagine it's better; they have the pictures. Do you remember if you had chickens when you were little?
Toomey: Oh yes. We had chickens here out in the back yard. Yes. My father always had chickens.
Johnson: Did you have to prepare them yourself and kill them if you wanted...
Toomey: Yeah. My father would kill them, and we'd prepare and eat them. We had the eggs from them, of course. We had chickens here when I was first married. We had chickens out in the back yard.
Johnson: Did you take the feathers off yourself?
Toomey: Oh yeah. Save the feathers and put them in pillows.
Johnson: What were your beds like? Did you have feather beds?
Toomey: Oh yeah. Everybody had feather beds. I don't remember when we first got mattresses or anything, but everybody had feather beds.
Johnson: Would you say they were more comfortable than a mattress?
Toomey: Oh, yes. Feather pillows you would make and save the... chicken feathers, you know, to make pillows.
Johnson: Would you keep the chickens in a shed?
Toomey: Yes, we had a shed out back for the chickens. Mmmm-hmmm.
Johnson: Would they stay in there? Did you have to fence them in?
Toomey: We had a fence all around the yard. We had the back separated from the front of the yard. So they stayed there in back of the house always.
Johnson: Did you ever make pets of the chickens?
Toomey: I don't know what we did about them. I don't know whether they told us we had to get rid of them, I think. Mrs. Laird didn't want them around any more. Mrs. Laird owned these houses then, and she didn't want them around any more.
Johnson: Did you have to feed them when you were little?
Toomey: No I didn't. My husband took care of them or some of the children.
Johnson: Do you remember paying rent or anything?
Toomey: Oh yes.
Johnson: Do you remember having to pay rent? The company didn't supply the home?
Toomey: Oh yes, we had to pay rent. Always. Still am. Mrs. Ross owns this house now. These two houses.
Johnson: Did you remember if anyone in your family had a paper route or did any...
Toomey: We didn't. My own sisters and brothers didn't have. But my children did when they were growing up. All three of the boys had paper routes.
Johnson: Did you know of anything else your father might have done...probably didn't have time?
Toomey: He didn't do anything. You'd work and go to church. That was it.
Johnson: Was he good at fixing things around the house?
Toomey: No. No, he wasn't. We had to do a lot of things. I remember having to chop wood even for the stove. He'd chop some wood, then when it was all burned it was "Well, what you'd do with it? How did it all go?“ We'd chop our own.
Johnson: Did he supervise the way you made your beds and things?
Toomey: No. He never bothered us. He left it up to us to take care of the house. Just so he got his meals and he was taken care of, he didn't bother about anything else. He left it up to...there was enough girls around to do it. There was five of us see, and he thought there was enough of us to do it.
Johnson: Did you have to make his breakfast?
Toomey: Oh yes. And you had to have his meals on the table when he wanted them. Even after he retired, he had to have his supper every night at 5 o'clock. And if you weren't ready, he'd sit down at the table and he'd take his knife and he'd bang on the plate [laughter].
Johnson: My father-in-law did the same thing.
Toomey: We all...somebody does that now, say "All right grandpop."
Johnson: Did he used to take his lunch, or did you have a big meal at noontime? Some people said they rang that bell and everyone went home for dinner.
Toomey: I don't remember. I guess when we lived up there he did, because it was close enough that he went home for the meal in the middle of the day. I don't remember about that.
Johnson: Then later you must have had dinner in the evening if you took your lunch to school?
Toomey: Well I think in those days they had their main meal in the middle of the day. There was just a light supper. I don't remember what we had.
Johnson: How about on Sunday?
Toomey: Oh, we had a regular Sunday dinner. In the middle of the day. You picked up something at supper time if you wanted something. Everybody did for themselves after that.
- Going to Rockford Park; ice cream man and ice delivery; current use of Breck's Mill; hats and accessories; going to Sunday SchoolKeywords: Baltimore and Ohio Railroad trains; Baseball; Children--Social life and customs; derby hats; Hats; Ice cream, ices, etc.; notion departments; Rockford Tower; Sunday SchoolTranscript: Johnson: What would you do on Sunday nights?
Toomey: Go out for a walk. Go up the park and such things as that.
Johnson: Which park would that be?
Toomey: Up by the tower. We always went up there and walked around. We'd sit around, play ball and things.
Johnson: Do you remember climbing up the tower?
Toomey: Oh yes, many a time.
Johnson: And what would they do when they got up there. Just look around.
Toomey: Just walk around up there and look out over the countryside. Just to say you walked up the steps was the main thing. Course they stopped all that.
Johnson: What other games did they play in the park? Baseball?
Toomey: Baseball or chase each other around. Play hide and seek or something. People...we didn't have things to play with like they have now. We had an old board or something for a bat. We never had a regular bat or gloves or anything.
Johnson: But the game could be a lot of fun.
Toomey: Yeah, everybody enjoyed...and nobody ever thought of complaining because they didn't have...everybody had about the same things, you know. So nobody complained about not having cars or not having places to go. Everybody made the best of what they had.
Johnson: You didn't have pressure like nowadays, in the organized little leagues there's a pressure to do well and get your turn.
Toomey: No. Everybody just played together and had a good time. Of course it was group stuff together. Different groups went together and had a good time without a lot of expense. We never had any money to spend. If you got a nickel for an ice cream cone, that was a big treat.
Johnson: And where would you buy the ice cream cone?
Toomey: There used to be a man come around with a wagon and ring a bell. Everybody would try to get a nickel together, or a penny, or two pennies, whatever it was for...
Johnson: Would that be a horse and wagon?
Toomey: In those days it was, uh-huh. And we'd hear him, you know. He'd have a bell he'd ring, and we'd hear him coming. Everybody would run in. I think it was two pennies you had to have to get a cup of ice with juice over it or something, whatever you call it.
Johnson: Oh it wasn't regular ice cream?
Toomey: Some of them had regular ice cream. But that was the big treat, to get that.
Johnson: What about the horse, would you make a pet of those horses?
Toomey: Oh, they were all old nags, you know. Everybody could go up and pet those horses. Yeah.
Johnson: What about ice? Did you have a man come around and bring ice?
Toomey: Yes, the ice man came around. But we never had a refrigerator up home. Before I was married, we never had a refrigerator. We had stuff in that thing...a vault like. There's one in this house too. Underneath that porch there's a cellar like. There's one of those wells in there. Course we've never used it, but it's in there.
Johnson: Would the cellars have floors in them or just dirt?
Toomey: This one had a board floor...the cellar. That one underneath the porch is just a dirt floor. But the cellar underneath the house here was boarded. It's been cemented since then. But the boards got worn, so they put — Mr. Laird owned the house then - after Mrs. Laird died, Mr. Laird, Chick Laird, owned these houses. Then he sold them all individually. I worked for Mrs. Donald P. Ross for about 41 years, and he wrote to her and asked her to buy this house so that I would never have to move out of it. I worked for his mother too. So, she bought this house and the one next door.
Johnson: It seems like a very comfortable house.
Johnson: How old would you say this house is?
Toomey: I have no idea. I came here in 1920 and it certainly wasn't a new house then. I imagine most of these houses were built around the time the powder mills got going, early 18005. I would imagine.
Johnson: Do you remember any sounds in the neighborhood? Any sounds? Do you remember if the mills made a noise? Were you conscious of being near the mills?
Johnson: I'm sure you heard children playing, though. [laughter] Did you have train noises?
Toomey: Have what?
Johnson: Train noises. Did you hear the train going by?
Toomey: Oh yeah. It run up through this woods down into Bancroft's, you know. You could always hear that. Yeah.
Johnson: About how often did you hear that, did the train go by?
Toomey: I don't remember. Course it stopped all together now. It doesn't go down there anymore. There's no Bancroft Mill there anymore. But yes it used to go back and forth there. B& amp; O. And there was a big trestle here you know. That used to run over into the DuPont powder mills. Yeah. I don't know whether it shows in that picture or not, that trestle.
Johnson: No, but I've seen another picture. Have you been to Breck's Mill lately since they put up a big picture...I think I see it...
Toomey: Did you see this picture up here?
Johnson: That's a painting of Breck's Mill.
Toomey: Yeah. Jim McLaine, do you know Jim McLaine's painting? Well, he's done a lot of pictures around here. My children gave me that last year for my birthday.
Johnson: It's very nice. It looks just like it.
Johnson: Those falls over there are beautiful.
Toomey: He what?
Johnson: Those falls are beautiful. It's a nice view.
Johnson: Can you see it from here?
Toomey: No, I can't see it from here. But when Mr. Laird had charge of that mill over there, he had floodlights put on the back of the mill. Whenever there was a party or anything over there they would put those lights on. It was beautiful. But I don't think they use them anymore. Course the mill is used now...I don't know what they do with that lower part.
Johnson: They have offices in there. I've forgotten what kind of company it is.
Toomey: Somebody told me it was restoring antique furniture or something. They moved a lot of stuff in there when they moved in.
Johnson: Oh, in Walker's Mill?
Toomey: No, Breck's Mill.
Johnson: I think there's an office on the second floor.
Toomey: It's the second floor I'm talking about. They moved a lot of things in. A van full. And they have five or six cars there every day. But the top of it is Andre.
Johnson: Andre Harvey. Do you know him?
Toomey: Oh yeah, he's been here. Joe got acquainted with him. Whenever they have cocktail parties they always invite us, but we've never gone. I was over to his studio to see his stuff, you know.
Johnson: He's very good, isn't he?
Johnson: I saw one thing he made like an old jalopy that looks like a Norman Rockwell thing. It's beautiful.
Toomey: I was over there when he first came over there, but I haven't seen it lately.
Johnson: He's so gracious. I know the museum still uses the very bottom floor. They use that for - when they have a museum tour - they're encouraging tour groups to come by bus and if they come from far away they provide lunch for the tour, and they've been using the bottom floor for these tours. For a while they used both floors...
Toomey: There's a group of women come there on Mondays - they haven't been there all winter, but they were here this past Monday. It was the first time since fall. I don't know what it is, but they're mostly women.
Johnson: Do you think, in general, that inventions have improved this area?
Toomey: That what?
Johnson: That inventions have improved the area?
Toomey: Oh yeah, I would think so, yeah.
Johnson: Do you remember anything about your father's hat? Did he wear a hat?
Toomey: Oh yes. He always wore a hat. He wore a derby hat for years until we talked him into buying a soft fedora, I guess you'd call it. Yeah, he always wore a derby hat.
Johnson: That would be for dress?
Toomey: For work too. Yeah, he wore a hat to work. He never went without a hat. Smoked his pipe and had his derby hat.
Johnson: He wore the derby hat to work?
Toomey: Yes. [laughs]
Johnson: You wouldn't still have it?
Toomey: Oh no.
Johnson: Did women wear hats and scarves?
Toomey: Yes. You never went any place without a hat--to church or anyplace else--you never went without a hat. Even if you were going to the store you'd put a hat on. You wouldn't go out without a hat. Now you don't wear them any place.
Johnson: Did you know anyone who made hats, or would everybody buy their hat.
Toomey: I guess everybody bought them. I don't remember anybody making... I think they used to buy the frames and decorate them themselves. Put flowers and roses...flowers and ribbons and things on them. You could buy the bare hat, you know, and decorate it yourself. They did that. I remember people doing that.
Johnson: Do you remember if women used lipstick or things like that?
Toomey: Oh no.
Johnson: Did they use anything at all?
Toomey: Powder. Powder was about the only thing I ever knew anybody used. Rouge. Some people used a little coloring on their cheeks?
Johnson: Where would they buy it?
Toomey: In the 10 cent store. I guess the grocery store. Most grocery stores had a notion department. You could buy those kind of things like ribbons and things like that. Not materials, but ribbons and pins, things like that.
Johnson: And would they wear any jewelry at all, the women?
Toomey: Would they what?
Johnson: Would they wear jewelry? Would they have pins and watches and rings?
Toomey: I don't know. I don't remember that. Nobody could afford to buy them anyhow. [laughs]
Johnson: Would they buy things from catalogs?
Toomey: Oh yeah, everybody had a Sears and Roebuck catalog.
Johnson: And if you did buy from the catalog, would it be delivered to your house?
Toomey: It would come by mail.
Johnson: Can you remember buying anything that way?
Toomey: I don't remember now doing it, but I'm sure everybody did it at the time.
Johnson: Was that the only catalog?
Johnson: Did men wear rings at that time? Wedding rings?
Johnson: I should think it would be dangerous around machinery.
Toomey: No. No man ever wore a wedding ring in those days.
Johnson: Did you have Sunday school pins or medals?
Toomey: Yes. We used to be furious because we'd go to mass in the morning and would have to go back for Sunday school in the afternoon. It would break up your whole day. You wanted to take a walk or go up the park or someplace, but you had to go to Sunday School first.
Johnson: Or you didn't get your medal.
Toomey: And you had religion all week in school, but you still had to go to Sunday School. [laughs]
Johnson: What would happen if you didn't go?
Toomey: Oh, you wouldn't think of not going [laughter]. My father told us to do something, and we'd never think of saying "Wait a minute," or "I'll do it when I'm ready." You did it right then and there. When he told you to do a thing, you did it. There was no question about it.
- Men carrying pen knives and tobacco in their pockets; family pets; eyeglasses; walking barefoot and buying shoes; weddings on WednesdaysKeywords: bare feet; cats and dogs; Eyeglasses; high-top shoes; Matilda Monaghan shoes; Pocketknives; Pockets; tobacco cansTranscript: Johnson: Do you know what a man would be likely to carry in his pockets.
Toomey: A pen knife. He'd sure have a pen knife. Not a wallet. He'd have loose money maybe in his pocket. Everybody carried a pen knife.
Johnson: Probably a handkerchief.
Toomey: Yeah. And his pipe and his tobacco.
Johnson: What would he use a pen knife for?
Toomey: I don't know. Mr. Ross — he's dead about five or six years — he always carried a pen knife in his pocket. Always. I don't know if from the old days he remembered his father carrying it or what.
Johnson: Maybe for the tobacco?
Toomey: For what?
Johnson: Did they have to cut the tobacco to put it in the pipe?
Toomey: No. I think they bought it in cans. My father used to buy it in a can. Then he had a tobacco pouch, you know, that you put it into. Carry enough with him for the day. But we always had tobacco cans around the house.
Johnson: Did you like the smell of the tobacco pipe?
Toomey: We were so used to it we never even noticed it, I guess. I never minded it. I do now. I don't smoke and my son don't smoke. Now when anybody comes in here and smokes, I can't wait until they get out to get rid of those stumps. My other son, he came Saturday. He and his wife came Saturday. They both smoke. So I said, "Joe...." You know...I don't know whether Carol smoked or not, but I said there was five cigarette stumps in that ashtray when I went to empty them. I got rid of them as soon as they got out.
Johnson: Get the smell out of the house.
Toomey: I hate the smell anymore.
Johnson: And I don't think a pipe smelled as bad.
Toomey: No. And the pipe smoke never seemed to linger like the cigarette smoke does.
Johnson: Do you remember if your mother had curtains...or your father had curtains on the windows?
Toomey: No. We had window shades. We never had curtains. We never had anything fancy. We just had the necessities.
Johnson: Course that would be easier than if you had to wash them.
Toomey: No, I don't remember us ever having curtains on the windows at home.
Johnson: What made me remember it was that my mother used to say smoke got in the curtains.
Johnson: Do you know what a woman might carry in her handbag. Did women carry handbags the way they do today?
Toomey: Oh yes. I think everybody carried a handbag.
Johnson: What would they carry?
Toomey: Dear knows [laughs] Family jewels maybe.
Johnson: Did you have any pets?
Toomey: Oh, we always had cats and dogs. Yes. Always. We had them at home and we had them after I got married. But after my husband died we didn't have them. I got rid of them all.
Johnson: Do you remember what the cats were like. Somebody said they didn't ever remember cats around the powder yards families.
Toomey: Oh we always had a cat. My father couldn't run a house without a cat in it. We always had a cat here, too. We always...you know, put them out, so they didn't mess or anything in the house. We always had a cat; we always had a dog.
Johnson: Do you remember what the dogs were like?
Toomey: Oh yeah. We had beagles for hunting. My husband was a great hunter. We always had a beagle dog. Then after I was here by myself, my oldest son said to me one day, "I have a parakeet I'm going to bring over. Cage and everything." I said, "You are not." I said, "When I want to go out of this house, I want to close the door and go out. I don't want anything to be taken care of." In those days I used to go a bit more than I go now. After Jimmy was married and went down to Washington to live, I used to go down once in a while on the train. I didn't want anything in the house that I had to have somebody take care of.
Johnson: That's the hardest thing about a pet.
Toomey: Somebody has to take care of them.
Johnson: Do you remember if other people had cats?
Toomey: Oh, everybody had a cat.
Johnson: Then they'd be easy to come by.
Toomey: Yeah. [laughs] You know they never run out. When you got kittens, everybody would be trying to get rid of them. Everybody had their own.
Johnson: Did you have to feed it or did it pretty well find its own food?
Toomey: Oh you had to feed the cat and the dog. But we never bought canned food or anything. We fed them whatever was left over from the table. You fixed bread and milk or something for the cat, and the dog got scraps left from the table.
Johnson: It seems like there's always enough.
Toomey: Yeah. There was always enough left over for one of them.
Johnson: Did many people wear glasses when you were going to school?
Toomey: No. It was the exception. Very few. They didn't test children's eyes then like they do now. Unless you were up in the high...you know, ten and twelve, things like that. People very seldom had glasses. No young kids. You never saw a child with glasses like you do now. You see them two years old with glasses on. One of my great-grandchildren had a crossed eye. And she's been wearing glasses since she was less than two years old, I think. She had an operation, but she still had to wear glasses. She's nearsighted and had to wear glasses. Still wears them. I have thirteen great-grandchildren. Another one next month. I have nineteen grandchildren and thirteen great-grandchildren.
Johnson: I'm going to have my third grandchild next month.
Toomey: Oh are you?
Johnson: They're more fun in some ways. You don't have to worry about them. You just enjoy them.
Toomey: They're good fun. It's fun when you don't have to take care of them.
Johnson: Did you go barefoot when you were a child?
Toomey: Oh yeah. We never wore shoes in the summertime. Only when you went to church. You had to put shoes on when you went to church. But we never wore shoes in the summertime. I remember walking down the railroad track...my sister worked down at Bancroft...I used to walk down the railroad track in my bare feet to take her lunch down to her. In the hot weather, hot summer days.
Johnson: Did you just get used to it?
Toomey: Yeah. Your feet got hardened to it. No one ever wore shoes in summertime.
Johnson: Did you wear those high shoes?
Toomey: Oh yeah. High shoes.
Johnson: Where did you buy your shoes?
Toomey: Buy what?
Johnson: Your shoes. Where did you buy them?
Toomey: The shoes? There was a place at 4th and Madison, I think it was. My father used to take us to buy our shoes. The place was named Monaghan's. That's the only place we ever got shoes from. Even after we grew up, we still went to...'til they went out of business...we went to them to get shoes.
Johnson: About how much did the shoes cost?
Toomey: I haven't any idea what they cost. My father bought us good shoes. He believed in buying good shoes. When he bought them, he bought good ones. We didn't get them...only when we needed them of course. He did buy us good shoes.
Johnson: Do you remember what your father's shoes were like?
Toomey: He bought his in the same place. Black, high— top shoes. No men wore low shoes in those days. All men wore high-top shoes.
Johnson: Do you remember anything about people getting married?
Toomey: I was just saying the other day, we were talking about it, everybody got married on Wednesdays. When I got married, I got married on a Wednesday. Everybody did then.
Toomey: I don't know. I have no idea. Or when it changed or anything. But everybody got married on a Wednesday. I got married on a Wednesday. I'll be married 64 years next Saturday. It will be the 11th of February.
Johnson: Would you go away on a honeymoon trip?
Toomey: Yes. We went to Atlantic City on the bus. On our honeymoon. [laughs]
Johnson: Well, your parents weren't married here. They were married in Ireland?
Johnson: Did they ever talk about that at all? What they did?
Toomey: My father never talked much. He never talked about my mother either. We didn't know anything about my mother. I guess he felt too bad about it. He never talked about her.
Johnson: I've noticed that both my fathers...both our fathers live with us, and they never talk about their wives.
Toomey: No. My father never mentioned. I never knew what my mother looked like until about 5 or 6 years ago. A cousin of mine found that picture and gave it to me. I never had any idea. I was only 4 when she died. I hadn't any idea what she looked like.