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

 

#974 p 43 Mount Holyoke Students
. NEW YORK chapter HYDROGRAPHIC OFFICE September 1939 to June 1941 and departure for Hawaii about July 10, 1941. [follows TRINITY chapter] TEXT: SEPTEMBER 1939 We had a three week visit in South Boston with Jack's eighty-four year old father and his sister Mollie in very hot August weather. [p. 259 Notebook Four]--Plagued by the heat and fatigue, Jack reported to Captain Baggaley at the Naval Hydrographic Office, then in New York Customs House, and found a temporary furnished aprtment for himself in Brooklyn. We remained at 640 East Seventh Street [South Boston] as the guests of Grandpa and Aunt Mollie, who did all they could for our comfort that stifling hot summer. Mollie even brought down from the attic some of the kindergarten supplies used by Catherine Miley Barrett in her teaching days. [Catherine married Bill Barrett in 1923, died of cancer February 1931 while we were in Tientsin.]= Finally with the help of his Fordham Law School friend John Papp, Jack found an unfurnished apartment at 9615 Shore Road in Brooklyn,-Apartment 2A on the second floor - arranged the furniture which had arrived from storage in San Diego,-found a garage where he left his car,came to Boston for us, - and Jack, John and I traveled by train to the Grand Central Station, then took a taxi to the apartment in Brooklyn. John loved that apartment and vicinity. His crib was in our bedroom, but John had his own play room, and had his father with him every evening and weekend.The play room faced on New York Harbor- we could see the ships coming and going in and out of New York. Jack raised and photographed flowers in pots in the room- flowers that John liked very much, - amaryllis, ranunculus, tuberous begonias, anemones and other ptten plants. Jack had no luck with freesias. He used three toothpicks in a triangle to suspend the stones from avocadoes over water in glass milk bottles, and the avocadoes would sprout several feet with big leaves. There was a large Chinese ancient kassu rug on the play room floor, - building blocks, Tinkertoys,a small and a large rocking chair, and a blackboard on the wall. There was also a solidly built writing table, on which Jack had cut off the legs to make the writing surface about two feet from the floor, and a small straight chair to fit the table. The room had many child's books including a Koala book from Australia- all the Beatrix Potter Peter Rabbit series books - Uncle Bill's gift of French Becassine books he purchased in Europe on his 1938 honeymoon- - "he Little Engine That Could" and many paper books about animals. One book about a dog and a cat "Sniffy and Mitzi" provided a name for a favorite toy cat, Mitzi. I used to read to John by the hour, pointing to the words as I -p. 260- read, and by the time John was three and a half years old, I was amazed to find that he could read although I had made no effort to teach him. As a matter of fact I thought he was correcting me from memory, until he actually read something to me =Not long after Billy Barrett was born August 26, 1939, Bill & Virginia had trouble getting help & were glad to get Miss Caffey's name from Jack as a nurse for Billy. OCTOBER She was working for them in Darien Connecticut when we visited them at suppertime one day in October l939.Since Virginia expected us early in the afternoon & didn't expect us to have dinner there, I am afraid we ate Miss Caffey's hamburger- but she was most gracious & happy to see John again.If she happens to read this, I hope she'll send her address.In l940 Bill called up to give me my first news of Jack's promotion to Commander.He also had been the first one to read the news when Jack made Lieutenant Commander early in l932. NOVEMBER At Thanksgiving we drove to Overbrook Pennsylvania near Philadelphia to see my sister Bee. Sam Pollack worked for LaRoux liquers making cordials, & their two children Jason & Thalia were somewhat older than John.Jen & Pete Meranski drove up from Baltimore for a fine Thanksgiving dinner. we met the Pollacks at Atlantic City New Jersey in 1940, where Jack said John dog-paddled without instruction and was ready to "head for Europe." Members of my family visited us many times in Brooklyn, especially my brother Harry's wife's sister Marion Taylor, who was then a nurse in Brooklyn at Greenpoint hospital. My sister-in-law Ethyle Meranski and her son Ted and daughter Carol Jane were among the visitors, and my sister Esther, and several times we saw my sister Bertha Pollack and her children Jason and Thalia. Other frequent vistors were my 1927-1930 landlady social worker Ann Taylor McCormack, and Helen Miller of the Commonwealth Fund, Sometimes we took guests to Jones Beach on Long Island, where once Jack Barrett had to take a deep breath before being rolled around the beach under a ten-foot high breaking ocean wave.Jones Beach was much cleaner and less crowded than Coney Island where we went once or twice.It did have high waves, however, and rather cold water.Sometimes we would take guests to New York World's Fair at Flushing,where Jack photographed the Perisphere and Trilon. Visitors to West Roxbury in 1950s admired the light and dark contrasts in Jack's nighttime photo of the illuminated Perisphere, where Worlds Fair visitors watched movies inside. DECEMBER 1939 John was quite interested in the snow in the back courtyard at 96l5 Shore Road after the mild winter the year before in the San Diego area.The paved courtyard used to have curious little whirlwinds producedby the shape of the building- his father would point them out& talk about low pressure systems.Jack explained the terms "transparent, translucent, opaque" as we has a translucent frosted bathroom window. There was a small patch of poison ivy on our back fence downstairs, & Jack would tell how his father once in autumn met some tourists who ignored his advice & collected bright-red bunches of three-leaved poison ivy, with a little stem on the middle leaf. Both Christmases at Brooklyn l939-40 we devoted considerable energy to decorating small Christmas trees.One year there was a considerable problem with a leak in a tub of water that was used to prevent the tree from drying out. We have photos from both Christmases, & Joan Rooney age five from downstairs appears in the l940 Christmas photos.We still have l970 much of the Chinese furniture which appears in pictures in the Brooklyn apartment.Jack fashioned clothesline swings on the roof for John. The stores in Brooklyn on Third, Fourth & Fifth Streets were about five blocks walk up 97th Street from Shore Road.This was also the route to the subway Jack rode to work at the Custom House tower.There was a good meat market on Third Avenue where we bought rib roasts & chopped sirloin.We soon made the acquaintance of the George Rooney family on the first floor & became very good friends.For recreation we would walk to Fort Hamilton, drive to Prospect Park or Owls Head park to see the squirrels.Later on we made more ambitious trips to Jones Beach, Coney Island,& the l939-40 World's Fair at Flushing. FEBRUARY 1940 After dinner every evening John enjoyed a very leisurely bath, playing with a transparent plastic ball which contained a few toy fish, - and with a large red, celluloid fish.Then his father put on his own pajamas, and John wore his,and the two of them would study the stars at the bedroom window, which faced Shore Road and the Ocean near the Narrows.John continued his interest in astronomy.-In February l940 there was a spectacular display of the five planets Mercury,Venus,Mars,Jupiter & Saturn all visible shortly after sunset in the western sky over the Narrows, where on the New Jersey side west of us there was a big red illuminated Wrigley's chewing gum advertising neon sign.We used to say we hoped Venus wouldn't get stuck in the chewing gum.Sometimes whenJack was tired he would say he "wouldn't go across the street to see the Statue of Liberty do a dance."We began to accumulate the Beatrix Potter series of illustrated books Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny,the Flopsy Bunnies, Mrs. Tittlemouse, the Tailor of Gloucester,Timmy Tiptoes, Squirrel Nutkin, Pigling Bland, Tom Kitten, the Roly-Poly Pudding, Jeremy Fisher, the Two Bad Mice, Johnny Townmouse, and the rest.Jack began to invent his own sequels to these stories.[A little child's story ??] AUGUST 1940 Wednesday, August 28, 1940 was Jack's fifty-second birthday, and it happened that his 1912 shipmate Chester Swanner from the Lighthouse Tender ZIZANIA came to visit that day and accompanied Jack to Macy's Stores at 34th Street, where Jack bought a Baldwin spinet piano, of which we were very fond. John learned to play "Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been?" and other melodies. The piano remained in storage during our six years in Hawaii but was unpacked after we moved into our West Roxbury home on Thanksgiving Day 1947, where both Jack and John and our music teacher Giuseppe deLellis used it extensively. Chester Swanner was a native of Mississippi who was many years at sea. He went with us to the New York World's Fair that day but wanted to study the cattle in detail while we toured many exhibits. MAY 1941 Not long before we left New York, we spent an afternoon visiting Virginia, Bill, and Billy in Darien, where our former nursemaid Miss Blanche Caffey from Norfolk was helping look after young Billy.John, Jack, and Billy went swimming at the Darien Country Club. Jack took a photo of five year old John kneeling on the grass next to his twenty-month-old cousin Billy. We had it in our West Roxbury bedroom in 1950s and 1960s.
Year: 1922