Friday, May 18, 2012

Where I Got My Strength By Norma Stephens Bruscani

Norma and her mother, Wylma

One of the things that I love about this blog is that I get to find new cousins, make new friends, hear family stories I had never known. One such ‘new cousin’ is Norma Stephens Bruscani. She and I are third cousins, but who’s keeping track? Her great grandfather was Edwin Youngs, brother to our Kate Youngs Baker. Here is a story she wrote for a local newspaper:

One half century ago, my mom and I moved to the Rochester area. My sister and brother-in-law, and their young family had moved here, a short time earlier. So, when things got too tough living with my father, my mother made an emergency decision to leave him. Who would know that so many lessons would be learned from such an experience?

Mom had only worked part-time at a small delicatessen for a few years, and as a light duty janitor for a few months. She brought twenty-one silver dollars with her; we had nothing. We stayed with my sister's family for a month, or so. Mom took a sales position at Edwards Department Store and earned $37 per week take home pay. We found a furnished studio apartment in the old refurbished school on Elmgrove Road; our rent was $28 per week. We had no car, so Mom paid Aggie (a neighbor and fellow Edwards employee) $2 per week for rides to and from work. With the $7 remaining, we made life work. My uncle gave us an old TV, but what a blessing, especially to me. My mom was a proud woman and didn't accept help easily. Only recently, I was given a letter that she had sent to one of her cousins who had sent her $20 to help us. Her letter stated that she was returning the $20 and that she loved him and knew that he was there for her, if she needed him, but that we were doing fine. (Editorial note: The readers of this family blog will not be surprised to hear that the letter was from Uncle Adin, once again trying to help whoever needed help).

Norma's home, 1961

We had no dishes, utensils, pans, or even clothes. We ate peanut butter sandwiches and potpies (5 for $1) every day, and the tins from them were our cereal bowls. At Woolworth's, Mom bought 2 spoons, 2 forks, 2 knives, and 2 plates; total cost was $1.10. I don't recall when we might have gotten a pan, or so, for cooking. Aggie gave Mom an olive green wool skirt for me. We bought a shirt to match for $ .88. That outfit was my clothing to start my junior year at Spencerport. Sometime later, I sent a letter to my father, asking for money to buy some clothes; he sent $20, and he only sent money one other time, but at least, he did that much.

One day while working at Edwards, Mom found a change purse with about $30 in it. She turned it in to the "lost and found" and never thought about it again, until she was called to the office thirty days later and was told that no one had claimed it, and it was now HERS. This happened just before Thanksgiving; we had another blessing, just in time.

During apple season, we would walk to the Elmgrove Fruit Farm on Ridgeway Avenue to buy a quarter's worth of apples, each week. After several weeks, the owner (Mrs. Irwin, I believe) asked where we came from that we would, always, walk there. She told us that their orchard backed right up to our apartment building and that "this is our livelihood, so please don't pick apples off the trees, but good apples fall off the trees every day, and you can have as many as you want, off the ground." We NEVER disrespected that privilege. We had apple pan dowdy, apple sauce, apple pie, and apple everything. Their business lost a quarter each week, but she gave us such a blessing.

About one year later, in 1962 at 10 o'clock in the evening, a neighbor from the back apartment, knocked on our door. He asked my mother if she would be insulted to be given a 1953 Ford, as his friend had just bought a new Cadillac. Another blessing! It had no floorboard on the passenger side, which my brother remedied with some tin sheets and 2X4's, when he came home on leave from the Marines. It wouldn't have passed any safety inspection of today, but, at least, I couldn't see the road under my feet, anymore. YES, WE HAD WHEELS! Mom had been "saving" and she, actually, had enough money for car insurance. We loved that car and all the freedom it gave us, and it was so dependable.

March of 1964, I was personally blessed, and was hired by Eastman Kodak, starting pay was $77 per week. Mom and I were "on the gain". One year later, Mom, too, was hired by Kodak. LIFE WAS GOING TO BE O.K.!

The importance of my story is that we never needed Welfare, we didn't rely on others to take care of us, and there were many, many people whose kindness gave us a boost, without diminishing our strength. Appreciate your blessings; some may seem small, but, they can be huge influences in your life.


Pat said...


Thank you so much for sharing this bunch of tough but life-strengthening memories!

And, I too remember well those pot pies--cheap, but so good!

So glad my parents and I have gotten to know you over these past months!


CB/Lucille said...

Norma offers us a lesson here! Each one of us meets hard times and how we meet them depends on us alone! It CAN be a growing experience for us if we do our share and keep "hanging in" I'll bet there are others on this blog who have stories!! Tell us, we all need encouragement!
And let me say that each time Norma and I meet, our tongues are never silent!!

Susan Kinsella said...

Great to meet a new cousin! Fascinating to read this story - especially thinking about the prices, and the possibility of "making life work" on $7/week! Even back then, it's hard to imagine.

CB/Lucille said...

I forgot to mention that Norma's grandmother is Mable Dean, Ethel and Lil's favorite cousin!!

Julie (Lochner) Riber said...

Norma!! I remember as a young girl visiting you and your mother with my mother, Esther Lochner. I can still see your mother's face face and hear her voice. I've often thought of you but had no idea your whereabouts. I always looked forward to the visits. If it's any consolation, I never realized how much you both struggled. You were always so "rich" in spirit and never, ever seemed anything but happy. Perhaps you really were.

Tom K. said...

What a story! Thank you for this.

Norma Bruscani said...

I'm trying, again, to leave a comment.
Thanks for all the nice comments. To Julie, I'm in the Rochester phone book, so if you'd like to meet somewhere, sometime, just let me know. And, you're right, I think we were happy. It really doesn't pay to wallow, anyway.
To Lucille, I have loved our incessant chats. I think there would be no end, if we didn't have to stop from exhaustion!
To Pat, thanks for entering my story on your Blog. I love your Blog; so newsy, and full of fun and information.

lisa linton/ciancone said...

This is so wonderful I love reading all of these ....