We are honored once again to have another slice of history in via a guestblog piece by Middletown resident and veteran Jerry Augustine. Previous essays by Augustine can be read here:
Thank you Mr. Augustine and a belated Happy Father's day to all!
NATIVE OF MIDDLETOWN, MY DAD
Above, Dad in the garden,|
Author with his father.
by Jerry Augustine
As I was growing up on
Ridge Road here in Middletown, CT I was always eager to listen to my
dad tell his stories of growing up in the south end of Middletown. He
was born in 1910 and was raised in the area then known as “Duck
Hollow”. It was a predominately Polish neighborhood where East Main
Street crosses Union Street and south and east of that location. It
does not exist today as Personal Auto Care, Connecticut Rental and
the YMCA parking lot occupy some of that space today.
At eleven years of age my
father, Edward Augustine, became an orphan. His parents passed on due
to one of the many diseases that were prevalent at that time. From
then on various Polish families would take my dad in so he would have
a family to call his own. He attended St. Mary School on South Main
Street until the eighth grade when he found that he needed to make a
living at that time in his life. There were many factories and mills
in Middletown then and my dad worked in many of them. Some mentioned
to me were, Goodyear Rubber Company, Wilcox Lace Shop, Russell
Manufacturing, and he even helped build the Middletown-Portland
bridge. I will get into a little more detail later on in this story.
He even boxed at
Coleman's Carnival, and for a time was the high diver of Middletown.
On Sunday afternoons, in the summer, cars would line up along the
river, right about where Harbor Park is now.
My dad's friend at the
time, Nate Gilletti, would collect change and rarely some paper money
from the spectators. My dad had a skeleton key that gave access to
the coal chute tower that was there at the time that provided coal to
the many barges working on the Connecticut river.
When Mr. Gilletti
collected enough change he would give my dad the “high” sign so
he would begin his walk out to the end of the coal chute derrick to
accomplish his dive. My dad told me this activity went on weekly
until one day he caught his friend Nate with a rolled up five dollar
bill stuck in his ear. I believe that ended a long friendship and a
popular summer family attraction. In later years Mr. Gilletti
ran Gilletti's Service
Station which was located on Main Street Extension, where the new CVS
Pharmacy is now located. In the 1950's I hung around that service
station because there was also a “Dairy Queen” on the property.
It was also only a half mile from my house. At this time Mr. Gilletti
had had a tracheotomy and had to speak with a chrome speaking devise
up against his throat which had a small open hole. He had the
nickname of “The Whispering Bandit”. I believe that was derived
from the ordeal with my dad s' diving and Mr. Gilletti collecting the
|Dad working on the Portland Bridge construction|
Some of the jobs my dad
had while growing up included working at the Wilcox Lace Corporation,
which was located at the corner of Cooley Ave. and Main Street
Extension. In the late 1940's my mom also worked there. I was brought
there a few times by my dad when he would pick her up from work. I
remember all the women lined up at their work places in front of the
huge machines. It's when, for the first time, I heard these new
terms spoken. “Piece work, winding bobbins, bolts of lace,” etc.
I got to take home some cardboard cones for souvenirs. They were used
to wind pure silk threads on them. There were thousands of them in
use above the ladies at there stations.
Piece work was when the
employed would put out as much product as they so desired and would
get paid accordingly. I heard at the time my mother was very good at
her job and was one of the best producers.
My dad joined the Army in
1936 or 1937 and served in the Hawaiian Islands. I believe Ford Field
was mentioned when he discussed his home base there. When he was
discharged and came back to Middletown he was hired to work on the
new Middletown-Portland bridge that was being constructed.
He talked about going
into the diving “bells”, and that you couldn't stay under the
water too long or you would get the “bends”, a slang term for a
crippling condition. He also mentioned working on top of the arches
with no protection whatsoever. At one time he was painting the top of
the arches when he had to urinate badly. Instead of climbing all the
way down, he just went in the paint and stirred it up. One day his
foreman got angry at him for wearing leather soled shoes while
walking on top of the arches. Of course he had to change into soft
soled work boots from then on. I have a great photo of my dad as he
worked on the bridge. It is in the commemorative booklet that was
issued August 6, 1938, the grand opening and ceremony of the first
Around this time my dad
met my mom, Elizabeth Sebranski, who came to Middletown from Troy,
She grew up in Troy and
lost her mom when she was eleven years old. My grandfather William
had a tough time bringing up and supporting six daughters and one son
while working at a factory to make ends meet. My mom therefore moved
to Middletown to be with her aunt, Mrs. Warenda, to help take some of
the burden off my grandfather.
My mom and dad got
married in 1939. They told me they had a five dollar model “A”
ford and traveled to Baltimore, Maryland to get “hitched”. My
dad was 28 and my mom a mature 14.
Their first apartment was
called Hoberman's and the buildiing is still situated on South Main
Street a few doors toward Main Street from St. Mary School.
|Mom and Dad.|
Being dirt poor during
their early years together, they would sell christmas trees on Main
My dad learned this from
working at Millane's Nurseries in Cromwell. Working at Millane's was
not a pleasant experience for my dad and his friends. As it was told
to me by my dad, he and his buddies would be driven in Millane's old
antique trucks, in the beginning of December, up to New Hampshire to
cut and collect hundreds of Christmas trees. The trucks were 1930's
vintage and had no heat whatsoever. My dad talked about how freezing
cold it was as if it were yesterday. He never forgot it.
After those harrowing
experiences my dad found a way to get heated trucks with his buddies
to get his own trees to sell.
I think back to these
“old” days and realize that my dad was a real entrepreneur.
During the 1950's I remember my dad bringing home the lunch counter
stool seats from various diners and coffee shops on Main Street.
Through the night our family became an assembly line in our kitchen.
We would reupholster hundreds of seats and have them ready for early
morning the following day when my dad returned them to the shops. I
remember that he received $3 apiece for the reupholstered seats and
he used discarded remnants from a large upholstery factory in town.
It was good money at the time as my parents mortgage was only $21 a
month. They were able to purchase their first home for $5000 in 1951 on Ridge Road. My dad was
working for a council member at the town hall at the time and the
house was offered to him. It even included a double lot where we
raised many animals and had great vegetable gardens.
1951 was also the year my
dad was overcome by tuberculosis. The family was quarantined as my
dad spent one full year in Newington and an Uncasville sanitarium. He
had two major operations that lasted 7 and 8 hours respectively that
resulted in the removal of his right lung. He was advised to never go
back to the strenuous roofing work or to smoke again. He went into
the hospital Thanksgiving week in 1951 and returned home Thanksgiving
week 1952. During this time my mother took driving lessons and got a
job in Deep River at another garment factory. She had been my dad's
secretary for our family roofing business. Sad to say when my dad
returned home from the hospital he took up smoking again that lasted
the rest of his life but he did return to his roofing vocation and
fortunately worked until he retired at 65 years of age.
In the summer of 1941 my
dad happened to be working at the Russell Manufacturing Co. This was
where asbestos clutch, belting, and brake linings were made. Stop &
Shop supermarket on East Main Street occupies the land now. It was
during World War II, parachute webbing, shoulder harnesses, and
belting was also contracted for the U.S. Government there.
|Dad working the hot rat kettle.That is the hot tar kettle behind |
my dad with Stanley Piantek from Navadon Parkway and
"Shorty" Simolek from Butternut Street as his workers
One hot afternoon while
working at the “Russell”, the sky literally opened up to a
torrential down pore. The roof began to leak over the machinery so my
dad's foreman asked my dad to go up on the roof to patch the leaks.
My dad was very handy, the foreman knew this, as he had worked at
various factories and venues throughout town so he was trusted to
take on just about any task at hand.
My dad went to the local
hardware store to purchase a five gallon pail of roof cement to patch
the leaks. As he was purchasing the cement he asked the clerk for a
discount. The clerk responded with,“what is your company
name?” My dad, in a subdued manner, glanced down at the pail of
roof cement and read the label, “No Leak Roof Cement.” So my dad
responded to the clerk, “No Leak Roofing Company.” He got his
discount and returned to the “sweat shop,” as he called it, and
told his co-workers that he was going into the roofing business. He
left the “Russell”, purchased some tools and an old beat up
truck and he was on his way. After working on roofs doing mostly
shingling and repairs, an employee of his, John Kulmatz, suggested
for him to buy a “hot tar kettle”. My dad did just that and his
business took off. I remember the weekends while in high school
running that kettle and learning the trade. I used the same kettle
throughout my roofing career and still have it in my barn. I could
fire it up anytime. There are many, many roofing stories that go
along with that hot tar kettle, chapters could be written about it.
“No Leak Roofing Co.”
still exists to this day as my son Marc is still carrying on the name
of my dads' business in Durham, NC. I ran this small family business
that I bought from my dad in 1975 when he retired. I ran “No Leak
Roofing Co.” from 1975 until 2008 when I retired.
My dad passed on in 1983
of complications of leukemia at the age of 73. God bless a wonderful
Wonderful story of your Father's life in Middletown. Thank you for sharing it with the rest of us.ReplyDelete
Man, that is a great story. Thank you for sharing it with us.ReplyDelete
What story does YOUR family have to tell?ReplyDelete
This is great Jerry, love to see your stories! I love the Insider for the capturing the old and new of MiddletownReplyDelete