Saturday, January 14, 2017

Eugene Gochenour's Memoirs: Life Goes On: Moving to Royal Oak

Dad continued his memoirs to include his new life in Royal Oak, MI. It is a story of the American Dream of the 1960s, a time when we believed that hard work and short-term sacrifice would lead to financial security.

Dad a few years after we moved
My Ramer grandparents and Mom's brother and sister were already living in Metro Detroit. Mom wanted to be near her family; Dad dreamt of a job in the auto industry. Dad was 34 years old and without retirement, life insurance, or health care. Working for the auto industry meant benefits, especially health insurance for Mom's psoriatic arthritis that was destroying her joints. 

Here is Dad's story.

Life goes on.

During the early 50s Joyce's family moved to Detroit where her father went to work for General Motors. Her sister Nancy was married and her husband Joe moved there also. Joyce's brothers Don and Dave were still living at home so they went, too. Her only relative living in the area was her grandmother, Delia Greenwood, who lived on Englewood Avenue in Kenmore.

We made a few short trips to Detroit, but I really did not like big cities. Occasionally, Joyce and Nancy would take a train to Detroit to visit Joyce's parents. Joyce had a serious skin disease called psoriasis and while she was there she would go to the Henry Ford Hospital in hope of finding a cure.

In 1959 our son Tom was born, so now there was Joyce, Nancy, Tom, my mother and I living together. Running the garage was a hard life, and I thought I had better make a change before I grew too old. I knew the mental and physical stress was wearing me down. Even with all the hard work and time spent at the station all we ever did was barely make a living. So, Joyce, Mother, and I started talking about selling the hose and business. We talked about buying a motel in the Adirondacks, or my going to work at a factory, or working as a mechanic at a car dealership, but I really didn't like any of those options.  I knew I did not want to go into another business.

Joyce wanted to be near her family and since my mother was living with us we decided we would move to Detroit where I would get a job with one of the major car companies. I hoped to get work at General Motors where my father-in-law and brother-in-law Don worked.

We put the property on the market but real estate sales were slow and we did not get any offers. When it was found out we were selling the business we lost some customers because they decided to find another place to service their cars. it took many months before we got the first offer and it was much lower than the price we were asking, but we decided to take it. The man who bought the house and business was named Harper and he used the station to run his gutter business.

Mother continued living in the same part of the house after my father died. Joyce and Nancy and I lived in the same upstairs apartment but we all agreed it would be better for Mom to have company and we moved to her apartment. At the time we sold the business Mom had lived with us for six years, and Joyce and Nancy and Tom loved her dearly, so we planned to all move to Detroit together. After the offer on the station was accepted I had to sell and give away many things to get ready for the move.

it was decided with Joyce's family in Detroit that we would move our things in and live with them until we got our own home.

My Grandparent Ramer's home on Gardenia in Royal Oak
I made several trips to Detroit, hauling my boat and other things, but our furniture and appliances were hauled there by a moving company we hired. I remember the day they loaded the van. All our furniture and possessions only filled about a quarter of it. It cost four hundred and fifty dollars for the mover.

When we finally moved in with Joyce's parents, their basement, attic, and garage was packed full. They were probably surprised by how much we had brought. It was a pretty big house, but we sure did fill it up!
Grandpa and Grandma Ramer with a relative
in back of their home on Gardenia, RO.
While we lived with them I slept in the second story
screened porch off the master bedroom.
My mother did not come with us when we moved in with Joyce's family. We planned to bring her when we bought our own home. In the meantime she lived with my sister Alice and her family in Tonawanda.

One day I went to General Motors employment office and had an interview for a job, then went back to Joyce's family's house, expecting to get a call saying I was hired, but it didn't happen. After about a week or so I decided I should look elsewhere for a job.Then my brother-in-law Don Ramer told me of a shop that needed a mechanic. Louis Scott worked with Don at the General Motors Tech Center and his father Paul owned Scott's Garage which was located on Hudson Street in Royal Oak. So I went there, talked with Paul, and was hired.

The building looked like a garage from the thirties. It was deep and dimly lit. I remember that we had a radio there and I was listening to it on the day John Kennedy was assassinated. I was the only mechanic, and Paul did not have many customers. I knew only Joyce's family in Michigan and since it was not very busy, I had lots of time to think. One day I was sort of depressed and thought to myself, "What am I doing here, away from all my relatives and friends?" Back home I had dozens of relatives, many friends, and hundreds of customers. Here I knew almost no one.

But the feeling soon passed and when I would meet new people I would think, "that person reminds me of someone I knew back home." It was like a game, and many of the people I met did remind me of customers or friends form the past.

Paul did not always have a full weeks work for me, so I decided that I had better look for another job. One day Joyce saw an ad in the newspaper for a job as a mechanic at a Shell station that was located at Lincoln and Main Streets in Royal Oak. I went there and was interviewed by the manager whose nae was Bob Cupp. Bob was a fine and likable person and he told the owner about me, and I was hired.

I had worked for Paul for about a month when I told him that I had to have a full weeks work to live on and would have to quit. There were no bad feelings, because Paul understood.

I started at the Shell station at a weekly pay of 60% of the labor on the jobs I did with a guarantee of $126 a week. Harvel Akins was the name of the owner, and he was a fine person, and a good and honest boss. Harvel had served in the US Navy and the station was always spic and span.

He and all the station attendants were from Kentucky or Tennessee. They all had a Southern accent and the station attendants told many redneck and hillbilly jokes. This is one of the jokes they told:

Mother had a cat and every day when she walked into the bedroom she would see the cat sleeping on the bed next to a pile of cat poop. She told a friend about her problem and the friend said she knew how to cure the cat. She said the next time that happened to grab the cat by the neck, push its head into the poop, and throw it out the window. Well, the next day when she went into the bedroom the cat was again sleeping next to a fresh pile, so she grabbed it by the neck, stuck its head into the pile, and threw it out the window. Then on the following day when she went into the bedroom, the cat saw her, stuck its head into the poop, and jumped out the window.

She sure solved that problem!

I was the only mechanic and repaired any problem on any vehicle that came into the station. I overhauled engines, did wheel alignments, brake work, exhaust systems, tune ups, etc., on all makes and models. Even though I had power tools it was hard physical labor.

I had told Harvel when I started that I felt I had to go to work for a major car company because at 34 years old I needed to find a job with a good retirement plan.

All during this time Joyce and I were talking to real estate agents trying to find a house we liked and could afford.

Since I had never heard from General Motors about a job I decided to try Chrysler. One morning I went to Highland Park to their employment office and was interviewed for a mechanic job. They gave me many tests and when they finished they told me the would hire me for $113 a week. I accepted the offer that Monday and they told me to start on the following Monday. So, I went back and told Harvel that I had the job and had to quit. I told him I was sorry for the short notice.

But then on Wednesday, Chrysler called me and told me they could not hire me because one of their union members wanted the job. So, I told Harvel that the job had fallen through and he was happy and gave me a raise. But I told that sooner or later I would have to leave.
Photo of 211 W Houstonia from realtor
After checking out many houses we finally found one we thought liked and could afford. It was on Houstonia Street in Royal Oak. So we moved all out things from Joyce's parents' house after we cleaned and painted the inside of our new home.
Houstonia house, 1963
Since my mother was to live with us we wanted a house that could accommodate us all. The house we chose had two bedrooms downstairs and two upstairs. It had a two-and-a-half car garage and a large backyard. We paid $12,000 for it and put $3,000 down.

Then we called Mother to tell her about the house and I drove to Tonawanda to bring her and her belongings back to our new home to live with us. Joyce and the kids were very happy to see her. Moving out of Joyce's family's house must have been a happy day for them! While Mother lived with us she was very homesick.
Me, Tom, and Grandma Gochenour. Christmas 1963, Houstonia,
You can just see part of the remodeled kitchen on the right side.
This photo shows Nancy, Tom and Mother. It was taken at the dining room of our house on Houstonia Street in Royal Oak, Michigan. Not long after, Mother went back to Tonawanda, New York, to live with my sister Alice. This broke Joyce's heart, because Mom had lived with us for six years and she and Joyce were very close. She was closer to my mother than to her own.

Houstonia was a very nice street to live on, and we soon got to know most of the neighbors. At the house west of us lived John and Jerry Voight. At the home east of ours lived Mr and Mrs. Reynolds, an older retired couple. Next to them lived Laura and Irv Beaupied and their six children. Then came Jean and Gordon McNab with their two boys. On the corner of Houstonia and Main Streets lived Ruth and Bud Brehm and their two children. Across the street from them on Houstonia lived Edna and Art Lentner and their two children. So, because of the children, we all got to know each other.
Dad painting the Houstonia house
After we moved in we put in new cupboards, kitchen counter tops, a new oven, and remodeled the kitchen. I painted the outside, put shutters on the windows, and a wrought iron railing on the front steps. We also put in an above ground pool in the backyard.
Grandma Gochenour in the kitchen during remodeling

Here I am in the kitchen Dad was remodeling.
It had light orange painted walls and the Formica
countertops included an orange boomerang motif.
I worked five and a half days at the Shell station, on the house during the evening, and repaired cars in my garage on the weekends. That did not leave much time for play.

Here are photographs of our first Christmas in our new home. Mom painted the walls light turquoise, still a trendy color in 1963.

Dad trying on a new robe while Tom checks out what Santa left him

Dad, me on the couch

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