THREE HOMES IN TWO YEARS - AN ED & SUE FILBRUN FAMILY STORY
by Phyllis Filbrun McNelly
I've noticed that in all her family stories, my sister, Mildred ("Mil") Filbrun Heck, hadn't written at all about one place our family lived in 1930, albeit briefly. It was probably just as well as that home had to be the low point, housing-wise, of our lives!
I was only eight that year and probably have more memories of it as Mildred, age 16, was gone a lot. She worked full-time that summer for the Procuniar's at their Sulphur Grove store located then on the Southeast corner of Taylorsville Road and Brandt Pike in Wayne Township (now Huber Heights), Ohio. Our older brother, Bob, was doing the same at Dayton Blue Print and Bill was an infant, born earlier that same year.
A Homely Tenant House on the Old Canal
We had to leave Mr. French's farm on Taylorsville Road as the owner, a widower with whom we lived, had gotten married that spring. We moved to a tenant house (read "shack") behind the old inn further west on Taylorsville Road near the Miami River . We called it "Mrs. Davis's place" because we paid rent to her. She was a mystery to us, a youngish woman who lived with two young boys in a few rooms in the inn that was deserted after the nearby Miami-Erie Canal was abandoned.
Our place had two rooms down and one up. Mil and I slept up, Bob down in one room and Dad, Mom and Bill in the other. A sort of lean-to had been added to the rear and it served us as kitchen/living room. There was no heat, plumbing, electricity or phone. A pump and outhouse served. We had our own cook stove and an ice box and some furniture. Cousin Ray Brenner stored the rest for us in his barn. A muddy lane lead to the inn and then a better one from the inn to the road. Mil and I waited for the school bus there that spring with the two Davis boys.
The move was a huge come-down from the big, sturdy French farmhouse, but strangely I remember the new place rather fondly. It was summer after all, and there was a new baby to coo to, plus the two boys, the first playmates I had ever had near my age. There was also the grassy bank of the old waterless canal to run up and roll down, and Dad took me to wade occasionally in the nearby river. I was especially excited about playing with the boys in a big open area (was it the lobby, bar, dinning room?) in the inn that made a great play place. It was empty except for some left-over lumber, nails, paint, etc. The boys showed me how to make little planes from two pieces of wood tacked crossways and we made airports and lined them up to take off. I don't remember ever seeing their mother. We had the place to ourselves. Fun!
Dad's health seemed to have returned after his long bout with double pneumonia. He was back working at Frigidare and his evenings were free. (At French's farm he had cared for the cattle and did the milking as part payment for rent.) Mr. French had ploughed a big patch by the canal for us. It was rich, virgin soil and Dad must have been proud of his good garden as I recall him often calling me to come look at a big tomato, pickle or melon he had discovered. Bob, free at last of the farm work he had to do all the while Dad was ill, was gone most evenings with his motorcycle pals. Mil worked sometimes in evenings or was gone with her girl friends in an old grocery van, loaned to her by the Procuniars. It doesn't sound such a low-point, does it?
But wait -- someone's missing. Aye, there's the rub. It's Sue - our Mom.
Yes, Sue. Virtually alone, our mother previously had cared for a household and three children while nursing her husband through a long, serious illness. And now, not long after having a baby, she was living in a home such as that. Mom had grown up in the large home of her parents, Sam and Anna Smith, one of the best houses in Wayne Township. In the Davis place, the work of the laundry alone with water to be pumped, carried in, heated, then dumped in the washer, and later emptied was wearying enough. But then came the ironing, mending, cooking, cleaning and nursing the baby . And except for me, she was alone all week days that summer. I don't remember helping much.
Mom was a concerned mother, always conscientious about her children, especially since the death of her son, Dale, six years earlier. I doubt she trusted me with baby care. That was probably wise as I think I was off playing with the neighbor boys whenever I could. Once when she was at the clothes line, she noticed them come out of the outhouse and chase me with something on a stick. The older boy was yelling, "Eat it, eat it!" Naive kid that I was, I thought it just another of their fun games, but she ran at them furiously screaming to never come back again. There was no more playing or plane-making in the inn for me anymore. Alone again, I was angry with her for a long time after that.
Later that summer there were other episodes that still puzzle me. It seemed she did not like Dad walking over to pay Mrs. Davis the rent. There was always a fuss about Dad's not resting enough. And once I happened on her in the kitchen crying. Crying! I had never seen her do that before. I didn't even know adults could do that. I think I stood sort of frozen at the door not knowing what to do. She hadn't seen me, so I slipped away. I thought it might be about the kitchen floor. Actually the kitchen had no floor, just a covering of linoleum over bare ground. The rain that day had made puddles in it's low, cracked spots. Was that why she cried? She worried too about 18-year old Bob, who had a cycle wreck some time earlier and was brought home with a badly scrapped leg. And always she wondered about Mildred being near some of the general store's questionable customers . I puzzle over these things too and always will, I guess.
With winter coming, it was decided that we had to move again. It would be the fifth time that we moved since the bank foreclosed on our Old Troy Pike farm in 1925. Even if we bought another stove, there was no way that shack of a home could see us through a winter. Also there was no fit area for baby Bill to learn to crawl. And our lone cow had no shelter. Rentals weren't easy to find, but Mil heard at the store about an available cottage on Brandt Pike. The rent was higher and it wasn't really big enough, but it was a 'real' house. So with no sorrow we said "good-bye" to the old Erie Canal-Miami River area.
Decades later, I learned that the family, who owned that river-bottom land and had built both that long-gone inn and the very small house, likely included an ancestor of ours. A large parcel in that area had been purchased from the Federal Land Bank Office at Cincinnati when the Northwest Territory was first sold. The buyer was George Smith, Sr. The property, including the area where the inn stood, was later divided among of his several sons. It is recorded that a George Smith, Jr, operated the inn. Since our maternal grandfather was Samuel Smith and since Smith was not a common name in Wayne Township, it is likely that our grandfather was a descendant of George. More research would need to be done in Montgomery County court records, but a family relationship seems more than a likely coincidence.
A Cottage on the Brandt Pike
Our house was pleasant enough. (What wouldn't have been after the hovel we just came from?) It was the first one story Mom had ever lived in and she liked it in spite of it's small size. It had four spacious rooms. No bath, but the pump and sink right in the kitchen were a big help. I can't remember how it was heated but we had electricity. In back were a chicken house, small barn and, of course, the essential outhouse.
My main chore at this new home was baby-sitting Billy, a pleasant task for me. We were often in the backyard on a blanket after school, he crawling about exploring while I attempted to study. One evening a Bantam rooster mistook Billy for a small animal, I think, and flew at him, the claws leaving a bloody scrape near his eye. I was scolded, of course, and felt guilty for a long time worrying whether a scar would remain.
Mom still worried about Bob's cycling, but by now both she and Dad were concerned more about Mildred. She told them much about the unsavory happenings she heard of at the Sulphur Grove store where she had worked since age 16. At first she did mostly child care and housework for the owner's wife (our cousin, Mable Procuniar). But more and more she had been needed to clerk in the store, sometimes alone. Our parents weren't too happy about that. Also by then, Mil was pretty, popular and dating. She went mostly with older boys who were out of school, working, and had their own cars. "Nice enough fellows, but too old for her", the folks felt.
Finally, A Permanent Home on the Family Farm
That same year, 1931, we moved once again - this time to our last home where Mom and Dad would remain for more than 30 years. It was the seventh home in my nine years of life, but this time it seemed more like a real home. Mom and Dad were taking over our Grandmother Smith's farm to prevent foreclosure. The farm was 90 acres on Brandt Pike, one-quarter mile north of Sulphur Grove. (The farm land is now at the Southwest corner of I-70 and Brandt Pike (State Route 201) and is densely occupied by Huber Homes and commercial businesses.)
Dad was done with the long drives in our old car to Moraine City for factory work and was now doing the work he loved, farming. Mom was back in the well-built house she knew so well, having grown up there. This last home had 10 rooms plus a summer kitchen and pantry, four porches, a pump with sink in the kitchen, a dumb waiter (that raised and lowered food and dishes from the basement to the eating area), a basement with a central furnace, a cold cellar (for out-of-season food storage) and a smoke house (for curing meats.)
I'm not sure where Bob was working then, but I know he helped Dad farm and did a lot of night hunting and trapping. He sold the hides for extra money. Mil was finishing school and captaining the basketball team. Bill was going on two years old and thriving - a happy, curly-haired kid who brightened everyone's day.
I overheard my parents, when discussing Mil, use terms like "strong-headed", "willful", and "has a mind of her own". Many teens are like that, but as time went by, I wondered if an event she had witnessed at school hadn't changed her. (The superintendent beat a boy. Mildred had witnessed it but at the trial her testimony was outweighed by that of a teacher who, in order to save his job, swore it didn't happen.) After that, Mildred seemed to me to be a bit cynical and distrustful of authority all her life. She graduated the next spring (1932) and her grades were good, but we were in the Great Depression and there was no money for the nursing school that she wanted to attend. Instead Mildred worked as a live-in nanny in Fairborn, then at Delco Products in Dayton winding armatures. She hated factory work and tried waitressing, including at the Seville Tavern (forerunner of the King Cole). Mildred lived first at the Dayton YWCA and then the Grey Manor, a downtown mansion converted to housing during the Depression. Then she got word of waitress jobs in Miami Beach hotels. Mildred always had lots of courage, energy and drive, so she boarded a Greyhound Bus and was gone.
Though I had more homework and farm chores to do now (keeping chickens fed and watered, eggs gathered, garden weeded, cooking), I enjoyed the big roomy house and barn, the creek, the animals and fields to explore. It was also interesting to have Grandma Smith living with us in the front rooms of the house and often Uncle Ora Smith as well. It may have been the time of the Great Depression, but at last things were looking up for our family. Tobacco Road no more!
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