We are very fortunate to have much of the story of Alvin’s life preserved for us in his own words. We present his memoirs in six segments:
- Youth and School Years
- Early Employment, Courtship, & Marriage
- War Declared
- Serving Overseas
- Back Home
Part 2 of 6 . . .
Working for Dad
At once I went to work for Caviggiola and my dad was my boss. It was time to start spraying the fruit for insects and all diseases. Then there was fertilizing and cultivating, etc. It was very hard and dirty work.
I soon decided that that wasn’t the life for me. I got friendly with a co-worker and we kind of hit it off pretty well. After working about three weeks, we decided we would strike out on a new adventure. Our first stop was Frankfort, Michigan, where we got a job in the canning factory raising our wages from about 20 cents per hour to 35 cents per hour working about 15 hours a day as the fruit was very perishable.
After about three weeks, the harvest came to an end – we had met another young fellow while working at the canning factory and he said he had an uncle in Muskegon and he had a car and said we could ride with him to Muskegon to see what we could find. Roy and I paid for the gas. We arrived and met his uncle, Charles Watson. There was a furnished house close by that the three of us rented for $5.00 a week. It wasn’t much of a house but it was cheap. The freeway runs over it now. I quite soon found a temporary job hooking wood pulp logs off a high conveyor at night at the paper mill. It was a hard, scary job and dangerous but it ended after about 10 days and I was without a job again. I started knocking on every door I could get in, without any luck. I did put in an application at Montgomery Ward and a few other places and Roy and I took off again for Frankfort, intending to pick apples for the fall and we were all ready to go to work when my folks came out and told me that Montgomery Ward had sent a note saying that they had a job for me. I decided to go back to Muskegon. Roy decided he didn’t want to go back as he had a brother that wasn’t too well.
I got back to Muskegon and went to work at Wards as a stock boy. I made arrangements to board with Charles Watson. He had a son Miles in the last year of high school and we hit it off pretty good. Charles was a tool and die maker and a very interesting person. After about two weeks the Wards job ended as they were stocking things up for the holidays and when that was done, that was it. I figured I would stick around for a couple of weeks looking for work. Charles was sympathetic and made it easy on my board and room that I shared with Miles.
After about ten days I was getting very discouraged. I was out looking one afternoon and I reluctantly stopped at the paper mill and asked if any openings were available. He said you worked here before, didn’t you? I said yes! He said I have an opening inside if you want it, and I jumped at it. That was the beginning of a five year stint at the paper mill.
I soon bought my second car – a “Model A” Ford roadster with rumble seat. I had bought a Model T Ford the summer of 1936 for $15.00 – also a roadster – I drove it around for awhile but it wasn’t much of a car and I wouldn’t have driven it as far as Muskegon. These cars were both used. Going back a bit, I was doing some driving of my dad’s Model T before I reached 14 when my dad was along. The day that I was 14 my grandfather Balitz took me to Beulah (county seat) to get my driver’s license. I believe it was $1.00. The examiner looked at me and then at my granddad and said, can this boy drive a car, and my granddad said yes and he handed me a license. From then on I usually drove mom into town for groceries and that saved my dad from going. My mother never did learn to drive and I don’t think she had any desire to do so.
Many years later I was able to take one of my own granddaughters, Joy Suderno, to get a driver’s license. It was a lot more complicated, but she passed on the first try. I didn’t have any say in it. I drove down and Joy drove home.
The job at the paper mill was shift work and a change of shifts every week from days to afternoons (2 to 10 p.m.) to nights. This was not to lead to a social life that would let you enjoy many evenings. It was also most of the time a lot of hard work but I wasn’t about to let it go.
No Place Like Home
I think I got up to Honor about every third week. That’s when I would have a longer weekend. Depending on the particular season, mom, dad, Allen, Laban and I would go fishing or mushroom hunting or whatever seemed to be the best thing to do at the time. I usually tried to write mom a note if I thought I was going to come but sometimes I would go on the spur of the moment due to an extra day off. There were no phones up there so no way to relay a message. I was always welcome. I think Allen and Laban were anxious to see how I was making out in the city. Mom always had a feast ready.
I had thought about taking some night classes in something but working a lot of nights made it impossible.
I got acquainted with a friend of Miles Watson (Ray Woods) and we became good friends and I later went to board with him and his mother. We ran around together a lot.
Late Night Donuts
I also worked with a fellow named Bud Thayer and we would quite often go out to the Muskegon pier and fish for perch. One night when we were working until 10:00, Bud said, my wife is making donuts tonight and her girlfriend is there and why don’t you come and meet her and we’ll eat donuts and play some games.
Charlotte and I hit it off pretty good. Due to our work schedules, we didn’t get together for another couple of weeks but I called her later after a couple of weeks and it was pretty much steady from then on, excepting when I worked the late shifts. Our interests were pretty much the same and we graduated in 1937, the same year, she from Shelby High School. We met the first part of April, 1939.
After a short time I got to meet her mother and dad and sisters and brothers. We visited them often and kept in touch. Come to find out two of the brothers in law (George Heckathorn and John Chase) worked at the paper mill also and I had seen and talked some to George before I met Charlotte, although he didn’t work in the same department. Charlotte’s Uncle Andy got them jobs there as he was a foreman. I kidded that I was the only one getting in there on my own.
Early on, Charlotte had gone to live with her sister Lucille Young and her husband Walter in Whitehall, so I spent quite a lot of time in Whitehall and vicinity. We took in some shows and fairs, etc. On my limited budget there weren’t any fancy dining and candlelight dinners but we had some good times. It wasn’t too long till the subject of marriage came up. I was struggling to make ends meet and it seemed almost impossible that it could happen. Also it was almost certain even at this time in 1939 that there was going to be a war. In fact Charlotte’s dad had told her that if we married that I would probably end up in the war.
Surprise, No Surprise
I believe it was some time in October that we decided that we were for each other and announced our surprise engagement to no one’s surprise, and set the wedding date for November 11, 1939. That was on a Saturday so I didn’t have to miss any work. I believe Charlotte’s mother and dad were happy about it and for us. As I said, Charlotte was staying with her sister Lucille in Whitehall and she may have been the most happy of all. She was so nice to both of us and to let me visit there any time and eat, etc. We both also enjoyed their two young ones, Kenneth and Donna.
Charlotte was working at a ceramics shop close by so I think she was able to walk to work. I had informed my mother and dad and I think they were happy to think they might have a daughter-in-law in the family.
Finally the day came. We were married in the parsonage of a church in Whitehall. Charlotte had her cousin Phyllis Wilder stood up with her and I had my friend Ray Woods as my best man. It was pretty much immediate family. Charlotte’s sister and husband Walter had planned the reception for us at Walter’s parent’s house where we were going to stay (live) for awhile. Walt’s parents had passed on and Walter offered it for us to stay there, sort of caretakers I guess.
They put on a beautiful dinner for us and invited a lot of friends and of course all the relatives that were able to come. The minute that Charlotte and I arrived I’m sure it was Walter and George that tied my car to a big tree with a big chain. I don’t know if I ever forgave them for that!!! Later in the day they did unchain my car and we left with Ray and Phyllis for awhile, then came back to join the party.
We lived on this place for about a month and then the weather started getting bad and Charlotte didn’t like staying alone at night while I was working the night shifts. It was out in the country and about 10-12 miles from the paper mill.
It happened that Charlotte’s Uncle Andy Burrington had an apartment for rent in Lakeside so we made arrangements to move in. it was small but it was furnished and within walking distance of my work.
We stayed in Uncle Andy’s apartments for about a year. One day Charlotte was looking around while I was at work and found an apartment that she liked for $15.00 a month but it was bare (no furniture or anything). We scrambled around the used furniture stores and bought the bare things to get by including an ice box. Then every pay day we would try to buy something, even if it was small.
Stay in School
Going back a bit, I was sad when I heard that Allen had dropped out of school and further saddened when Laban dropped out. I don’t think my parents knew the value of education so they were not encouraged to continue. I felt bad because I had a hard time having to milk cows, etc., and walk to the bus and all they had to do was get up and meet the bus at the door. I probably wouldn’t have been able to change their minds even if I had been there.
Allen had come to Muskegon to work shortly after we moved into our new apartment and he stayed with us for awhile till he got a room of his own. He got a job at J.C. Penney.
Fun With Laban
There was times when Allen and I would be up home at the folks at deer hunting and other times. Laban was glad to see us and I know he was lonely. Allen and I would stretch out on a couch and try to get a little nap and Laban would get a feather and tickle us awake (he didn’t want us to sleep). Finally after a bit Allen and I would take him and tie up his hands and legs and then he would beg mom or Charlotte to let him loose. It was all in fun. He didn’t weigh 200 at that time.
Friends and Family
Our new landlords, Ron and Liz Mountain were nice and we became very good friends. We would go fishing and hunting with them and they often went up to my folks with us to hunt and fish.
The apartment was a large old house and we lived upstairs and Mountains lived downstairs.
To me there was a miracle took place sometime in 1939 – Robert Heckathorn, first born to Margaret and George Heckathorn, developed the flu or pneumonia or both and was very ill. Even the doctor didn’t expect him to make it. I believe the sulfa drug was just being tried. They started him on this drug and he started to recover almost at once. We were very happy and thankful for this.
My brother Allen married his first wife, Doris Johnson, around this time and we met at the folks’ place on several weekends for hunting and fishing.
Charlotte and I were enjoying each other and buying a stick of furniture now and then as our budget allowed (some of those things are now antiques and worth more than they were then). We did a lot of visiting with relatives on both sides.
Continued . . .
- Youth and School Years
- Early Employment, Courtship, & Marriage
- War Declared
- Serving Overseas
- Back Home