Life was not so easy in the beginning for my 5 year old mother. No one at school spoke her language and many children made fun of her, “Speak English, Josie” her parents said. Even her cousins who lived here teased her because of her language. She told me she felt awkward, uncomfortable and out of place. As so many immigrant children do, she eventually learned the language and adjusted to life in America. But she always longed for her family so far away in Belgium…..because she was so young, she didn’t understand the danger in Europe and that coming here was a gift her parents gave her.
My mother loved the movies. There was usually a newsreel, a double feature and prizes. As mom became more and more Americanized she loved the movie stars, too. She had a collection of autographed pictures of movie stars she kept in a scrap book. In fact, she wanted to be a movie star. So much so, that when she was in high school one of the nuns used to practice public speaking, primarily elocution, with her in the cafeteria, trying to get her to speak more loudly and clearly. Mom would stand on one side of the cafeteria and the nun would stand on the other side. “Speak out, Josie.” Alas, the life of a movie star was not in the cards for Josie.
When she was in high school she wanted to work and her mother didn’t want her to work. They argued and finally, her father convinced her mother that it was a good thing to work and so she was allowed to get a job. Unfortunately, the only work related story I recall is that she was working at a Dry Cleaners and she got fired because her and her friend were drinking beer at the store. Of course, it was not a crime in the Belgian community for young people to drink beer…..but drinking on the job, in America, not such a good idea.
Her life as an avid coupon cutter and discount seeker also started in High School when a nun handed her a magazine that had discount coupons in the back. With those coupons you could get free things, what, she couldn’t recall when I asked her about it recently. She graduated to S&S Green Stamps and eventually became the queen of the deal.
Just like so many American girls of the time she was boy crazy and thought of herself as being a “pussy cat” (her words, not mine!). One of my friends, back in the early 70’s, and I found a diary of hers in the attic and one of the entries was, “I met a new boy at the movies today, Hubba, Hubba.” She loved going to the Belgian American Club with her parents to go dancing with all the Belgian boys. Sometimes at night she would sneak out the window to go meet up with her friends, when her mom specifically told her she had to stay in. I think it was between her Junior year and Senior year in High School that they went back to Belgium for three months and you can bet she had Belgian boyfriend(s) then. Her mother wanted her to marry a nice Belgian boy. When she met my father, Eugene Frank DeYonker, her mom was very unhappy to discover that he wasn’t really Belgian. But, my mother married him anyway—at the ripe young age of 19!