Red Headed Stepchild
(The Barrett family memoir of Navy Life)
by Sophie Ruth Meranski with photos


Aunt Mollie Barrett visits Bala Cynwyd suburb of Philadelphia p 1 photo 7 {S}}C{M} PHILADELPHIA CHAPTER TEXT at RIGHT
Sophie Barrett is wearing l931 coat of sea otter furs from Manchuria. The fur buyers escaped to Tientsin by rail with first report of Japanese aggression and capture of Mukden, September l9, l931. Sophie telephoned news to Captain Paul Rice on TULSA at Taku Bar. He telegraphed the report to Asiatic Fleet headquarters at Shanghai. Shore Duty in Philadelphia Chapter XX twenty P-H-I-L-A-D-E-L-P-H-I-A C-Y-N-W-Y-D . 209 In August, l936 Jack received orders to report for shore duty in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in October.Very late in August he took leave so we could go to my sister Bee Pollack's home in Overbrook outside Philadelphia to stay while we hunted for a place to live.Jack considered the crowded district of South Philadelphia near the Navy Yard unfit for a baby,so we searched mainly in the suburbs. We learned there would be a house vacant in the Bala Cynwyd Estates about October first.We asked the manager to show it to us,but he couldn't,because the occupants had paid their rent until October first & refused to have anyone impair their privacy by going through their house. We looked at the outside of the house at 7l2 Stradone Road & looked at the inside of an identical house next door where the Hellerman family were sympathetic to a Navy couple with an infant who needed a place to live. The childless Hellermans were ideal neighbors as Jack & Mr.Hellerman were interested in growing tomatoes.On the return trip to Norfolk I kept telling Jack that we couldn't possibly make the ferry to Newport News on time & that he should plan to drive all the way to Norfolk by road.But he told me he had heard on the radio in Philadelphia that there was to be a hurricane in Norfolk & vicinity the next day,& that ferry if we could make it,would cut many hours off our trip.Hours after it was scheduled to leave,- that ferry was still at the dock.As we bought our tickets we were told that the ferry had been very late arriving there owing to the choppy waters.But it started immediately on what turned out to be its last trip for two days.When we reached our apartment,our next door neighbor, the French consul was busily putting his car up on blocks to guard against the expected flooding, & Jack 210 left me at the house & drove off to look after the ship.Although we had a hurricane,it was not as severe as anticipated,& the CLAXTON experienced only slight damage from a ship that grazed it. Jack reported for duty at the District Staff Headquarters, Building #1,Navy Yard Philadelphia on 4 November l936 to the chief of staff & aide, H.E.Shoemaker.His regular & additional duties in Philadelphia: Assistant District (War) Plans Officer from ll/4/36 to 1/4/37; Acting District Plans Officer beginning 1/4/37; Operations Officer,Instructor First Battalion USNaval Reserve; Member & Recorder Local Joint Army & Navy Planning committee. Captain Pamperin was one of Jack's commanding officers, and Jack again had much contact with Reserve training, as in New York 1927-9 and Boston 1932-1933. These experiences contributed to his outspokenness later when assigned to War Plans July-October 1941 at Pearl Harbor Fourteenth Naval District, along with his experience 1918-19 as Instructor at Officer Material School Hampton Roads, Virginia under wartime conditions. Jack was detached from the CLAXTON Sept. 30, l936. When we took the sleeper from Norfolk to Philadelphia with our six-month-old infant,we had with us Nora Jackson, our black maid who had asked to continue to work for us & live with us in Philadelphia, although she had been just a part-time cleaner for us in Portsmouth & Norfolk, Virginia.She asked for the change of a change & steady employment.She had spent a night in a Portsmouth jail -wanted to get away from a companion.We arrived at the house early in the morning- it was absolutely bare except for the Kiddie Koop (bed) for John that came on the train with us- & a new refrigerator which we had purchased through the Ships Service in Philadelphia - it had been installed before our arrival.We started to look for the truck from the Boston D.W.Dunn Storage Company., where our furniture had been in storage for two years. The company had promised delivery at ten o'clock the next morning. Jack went to a store, which delivered two beds & matresses late that afternoon.He had to buy sheets, pillow cases, & two blankets, also dishes, & pots to be used for dinner.He had to buy food also in Bala Cynwyd as there were no stores near the Cynwyd Estates where we lived.Our home in Cynwyd was really isolated- the only exit from the estates being by an exit bus,which ran infrequently.We got a radio for Nora Jackson, & she got acquainted with the maid who worked across the street for an Editor of the Saturday Evening Post, Eventually Nora found work in the city of Philadelphia & later telephoned to say she was married.We advertised for a maid who would "live in" do housework & plain cooking.We hired Ellen "Nellie" Kelly a hard-working young Irish woman of about thirty-five years who had been working in a hospital in New Jersey.She lived alone on our third floor where she had a room & private bath- & although she had no clock or watch, she was always in the kitchen early in the morning getting breakfast & sterilizing John's bottles even though those winter mornings were very dark.After I called down to her from the second floor-where I had no clock- & where I rarely wore my wrist watch when I was bathing & dressing John- "Nellie, what time is it?" Our only clock was in the kitchen. Her answer usually was,"It is about ... o'clock" or "It is about noon." She never gave the exact time.One morning soon after I had inquired the time,she told me that she wanted to leave the job to go back to the hospital but would stay until we got another maid.I questioned her about her reasons & found she was distressed because she couldn't tell time.In a very short time I taught her to tell time- to her great relief as she liked working for us & was fond of young John.When I asked her if the third floor was warm enough & if she enjoyed the radio & was getting enough to eat, she replied, "I hope I always get as good." (In later years Jack would quote this line when he liked food or service - often Sunday roast beef).Every evening as Jack carried John in his arms toward the stairs leading to the second floor, Nellie would take him in her arms, sing an Irish tune,& dance a jig with him, & when it was over John would invariably pull Nellie's hair.I authorized her to slap his hand, but she never did & always danced with him.As spring approached, Nellie told us she had a five year old son boarding with a private family in New Jersey, & since she could neither read nor write she couldn't send the money for his board & room. She had not heard from the family since she came to work for us.This was a real problem. I sent a check for the child's board & room & asked the family to write to Nellie saying I would read the letter to her & write her replies. Then weather permitting, we often drove Nellie to see her son on Sunday afternoons.She became a contented worker who spent half a week's wages to buy John a toy stuffed cat for his second birthday.It was a lovely gray cat bought at Schwartz's Toy Store in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. We insisted on returning the full week's wages of ten dollars which she had given to John on his birthday.We usually drove to Ardmore near Cynwyd on Saturday to shop & took Nellie along for an outing as she never took a day off.When we left Philadelphia for Coronado in August l938 we gave Nellie the radio & placed her in the home of a Marine officer who promised to pass her on eventually to another Service family.For years we sent Christmas cards to Nellie, who could not read or write, but eventually we lost track of her.Housekeeping in Cynwyd was a trying task.There were no stores of any kind in the Cynwyd Estates,& Jack had to have the car for the long drive to the Navy Yard...One afternoon as I was pushing the big heavy baby carriage up the steep hill where we lived at 712 Stradone Road, I saw a tremendous black car in front of my house & I thought it was a funeral coach.Jack greeted me with the news that he was planning to buy the used Lincoln car as our Buick was no longer reliable for the daily commute in all weather.I refused to agree to the purchase of the big car, so Jack took it away & finally returned with a new l937 Lincoln Zephyr car, which served us until the fall of l954.We used it in Waikiki & in Pearl Harbor during World War II & for our l947 trip to the Western National Parks & acrosss the country to the east coast.At Pearl Harbor, driving to & from work,Jack had authority to stop & arrest servicemen who were driving carelessly or breaking traffic laws.One time he asked a young sailor why he was drving very fast - the answer -:"I was low on gas-I wanted to get to a service station before the gasoline gave out." We bought a car seat for John,& with Nellie Kelly sitting in the back seat we took many rides, especially on Saturday afternoon - up & down steep roads we described as "roller coaster" roads. Our neighbor,Mr. Hellerman, was an editor of the Saturday Evening Post. He and his wife lived across from us at the top of the very steep hill- a large house with spacious lawns.One time I set John down on the grass so I could rest.Although he had not previous walked, I was amazed to see him take his first steps at a running pace to go over & pick a dandelion.From then on he walked well without going through a crawling stage. The twenty-three months at Bala Cynwyd October 1936-August 1938 are well represented in photos. Jack Barrett entered dates of many in a large photograph album that escaped 1993 thefts, and many negatives have survived. Besides numerous photos of Sophie, Jack, and John during this period, this website contains photos of our Ireland-born Cynwyd maid Nellie Kelly - photos of Mollie Barrett in Cynwyd kitchen November 1936, shortly after our arrival, photos of Bill Barrett and his Philadelphia friend Anita Douredoure summer 1937, and a group of "Grandpa" John Robert Barrett outdoors spring 1938. From March to August 1938 Jack was Executive Officer of the tanker TRINITY, which was being reconditioned. Bill Barrett was concerned that Jack was scheduled to travel to the Philippines and Dutch East Indies at a time when their eighty-three year old father - recently a widower- was very attached to the Philadelphia family. Bill contacted some friends in Congress, but Jack told him the Navy strongly disapproved of outside influence, and Jack was prepared to undertake the difficult oversea assignment cheerfully. The story of the TRINITY forms the next chapter with letters of Captain Haskell C. Todd from Belfast, Maine recounting the colorful skipper Captain Fred Holmes and a contact with young Hyman Rickover at Cavite.
Subject: Aunt Mollie visits the Barretts at Bala Cynwyd
Year: 1937_