By William H Gieske
U.S. Legacies: April 2005Why?
I asked myself why are you writing this story of your life. I really do not have a definite answer to that question. The only justification I can think of is to give my grandchildren an idea of what life was like in the old days.
Have you ever tried to picture your parents as young people, much younger than you are now? Its difficult or impossible to get a clear picture of your mother or father as a young person let alone as a small child. If you can't picture someone you are as close to as your parents how could you ever imagine what it was like for your grandparents. Perhaps that is what I am trying to shed some light on.
Our grandchildren live a different world than we were raised in, some for the better but much of it must be improved. I believe that prior generations also had their great differences but my generation has probably seen more changes in their lives than any other generation. We lived through the great depression, WW2, Korea, Vietnam and the cold war plus living at a time of the greatest technological advances ever known.
I would hope that no one thinks that I am trying to make it sound like we were raised as deprived children living a life of poverty. On the contrary, I know that my childhood was a rich and rewarding experience that helped to prepare me for life.
The German Pennsylvania Deutsche heritage that I inherited and have, hopefully, passed on carries with it a strong work ethic and an ability to find one's way in the world. I did many jobs during my life and some times as I review them in my mind I think each prepared me for the one that followed.
Bethlehem, Pennsylvani,a and the surrounding areas have changed much since I was a young boy. The farm we lived on, that we knew as Gruver's place, is now the Lower Saucon Township Park and the school house is the township building. The old fire house has been expanded so much and changed from the days of the Model T Ford Fire truck of our youth. Much of the country side where I hunted has been built over with developtments.
Stabler field of Lehigh University occupies much of the old hunting grounds and farm land that I knew so well. No one swims in the old mine hole any more, as new swimming pools have taken the place of the old swimming hole.
The old circus grounds have been built over and Just Born Candy Factory has expanded tremendously. The original Born who started the company is gone and his son, Ira, whom I went to school with, has retired and the company has changed hands.
We listened to the radio and had to imagine what every thing looked like. Television today leaves little to the imagination. Something like a computer was not even thought about for the future, and look at where they have developed today. With all the changes I have seen there is no doubt in my mind there will be many more to come.
I started working formally while still in high school and retired at the age of sixty-two. I received my social security number by shoveling snow for the railroad when I was only seventeen years old and lied and said I was eighteen years old, the minimum age to work on the railroad. I was still in high school but was out looking for work shoveling snow. We had a heavy snow fall and Gil Schaefer and I were in town with our shovels. Charlie Forker, my cousin, saw us and took us along to the railroad station with him. Charlie and I were hired but Gil was told he looked too young.
In 1940-41, I worked as a butchers helper-delivery boy. In 1941, I was a waiter and counterman in a restaurant, a delivery boy-produce helper and a meter reader for the power company.
During 1942-43, I worked as a shipper for a steel company, and in 1945, as a meter reader for the gas company, a laborer digging sewer trenches, a laborer at a paint mill, a painter, salesman, painter again, salesman, delivery man for a laundry and finally with the telephone company.
Many of these jobs were of very short duration, some by my choice, others for other reasons. I did not list work I did on my own such as doing electrical work as my own business.
I also am a strong believer that each of us owes something to the community he or she lives in and we should help make that place a little better by some means. There are lots of volunteer jobs available and someone is needed to fill those jobs. It seems that today everyone wants to be reimbursed, in one way, or another, for their help.
Some time ago I listed some of the things I did during my life. I am listing them here not to brag about them but to inspire my grandchildren and their children to chart their course along these paths.
Before we moved to Moore Township I was scoutmaster at Salem Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. The following things were done after we moved to the farm.
I served as assistant Scoutmaster under Bill Nolf for three years. I assumed the responsibility for advanced training for the older scouts. I declined position of Scoutmaster when Bill Nolf retired.
I resigned due to lack of action of the scout council.
I served on PTA committees, worked on safety, obtained speakers and demonstrations for meetings, helped paint "School Slow" signs on road in front of the school, helped plant and water trees at the school and contacted the Joe Berg Foundation in Chicago and in Partnership with John Bensing organized Science Seminars for gifted students in our district. This idea spread to the greater Lehigh Valley and was sponsored by the engineer's club. We represented the Northern tier of the valley.
I obtained and installed the first siren for the fire department, influenced newspapers to provide positive publicity to the township at a period when most was negative, planned, supervised and installed all electrical work at the firehouse when it was built and after the first enlargement. The work crew consisted of Civil Defense Radio Operators from the township.
Moore Township Civil Defense Communications.:
I recruited and trained a group of radio operators from Moore and Bushkill Townships. We operated a radio net in conjunction with the county for about two years. During this period we had more trained operators on the air than all the rest of the county combined. I also served on the building committee for the present township building.
I contacted R. Church, the county agent, and volunteered as a leader. Then I led an electrical club for two years, plus I assisted Mrs. Coleman in forming a dog training club and became their leader the second year. I was the leader of the dog training club for about ten years with membership running from 10 members to initial turnouts of 75 children.
I also served on 4H development committee and was the chairman for 7 of the 8 years I served. I was chairman of the 4H fair the first five years it was started. I wired 100 amp service at the old barn for the first electrical service at the center. This service was later extended through other areas in the center.
I organized a work party and obtained the use of equipment and used poles from Bell Telephone Co. and wire from Metropolitan Edison Co. and wired the 4H center for lights around the horse ring. I also wired the new metal building using conduit and sufficient outlets and lights for the 4H roundups.
Bob Coleman and I wired a new power panel for 400 amp service with most of the material donated and had Bell Telephone personnel place two poles and mount the new service. We also changed all the existing buildings to heavier service and changed the ring lights to quartz style for increased light and did other miscellaneous wiring at this site.
I served as president and trainer of Northampton Dog Training club in excess of five years. We incorporated during this time. I was also a member of Lehigh Valley Kennel Club where I served on the show committee.
Because of my interest in animals, I was the first new member appointed to the SPCA board in years. This came about because of legal action taken by the dog clubs against the SPCA. I designed the present kennel and was in charge of its construction. I was President for two years during which period I restructured the entire operation, increased the number of personnel and obtained a director to run the shelter. I resigned after the shelter was built and operating more efficiently.
After I retired I renewed my interest in politics and made it my job to follow the business of the township. I am not afraid to voice my opinion and I speak out when ever I find something I believe is not correct. I am not much into volunteer work these days but I have done some indexing for the Berks County Genealogical Society. I did install the telephone system for the township.
Before I was born my parents, William H. Gieske Sr and Gertrude Rose Zettlemoyer, lived on the west side of Bethlehem near Prospect and Third Avenue. Uncle John Zettlemoyer, Mom's youngest brother told me that he boarded with them at this time. Sometime after I was born they moved to Florida. My father worked at the Bethlehem Steel company having started there when he was twelve years old.
This was a big sacrifice to make giving up all that time but he had a desire to start a construction company or at least build some homes. I later found three of the four homes he built. At times he said he was a lather, a trade that is gone today. A lather nailed strips of wood to the framework of the house so the base coat of plaster could be troweled on. At that time drywall had not been invented. From the appearance of the homes he built and remembrance of other work he did, he was more than a lather. It is hard to conceive of someone leaving school when they are twelve years old and attaining the position of responsibility he did. At his retirement from the steel company he was a melter, in charge of five large open hearth furnaces and supervisor of a large number of men.
This job paid according to how well you did and I know he did better than many others as I saw the production records. After a little over one year in Florida they returned home, spurned on by Mom's Mother's `supposed' sickness. For a time we lived out in a rural section known as Wassergas, since Pop's mother was a Wasser I always said it was named after our relation. I talked to people in the area who told me that he had hopes of buying land and building some homes there. He returned to the steel company working a total of fifty-two years when the earlier time was included, thanks to Pat Pazetti, who was the last of the old time steel makers.
In the Wassergas area we had relation named Banks. He was related to my father in some way. His wife was Lou, and they were referred to as Uncle Harry and Aunt Lou. I was told that when Mom came after me for some reason I would run to her and holler "save me Aunt Lou." Mammy Johnson and Mahlon lived across the street from us and her water supply came from the Bank's springs. It was interesting to go into the basement and see the water flowing into a large sink, clear and cold spring water. Mahlon kept bees and also had a large cider press. This was later sold and moved away. We visited them for years after we moved away and even after I married. I remember our whole family walking up from the trolley line in Hellertown, a three mile walk.
From Wassergas we must have moved to Hanover Avenue, probably brought on by the depression. The earliest part of my life that I can remember starts on Hanover Avenue. We lived in a house where Annie Rose Zettlemoyer nee Kutz, my mother's mother and her brother also lived.
Mom's family lived in the same area so we always had something going on. Uncle Hearp (Herbert Aurthur Zettlemoyer) and Aunt Marian Catherine Woerner lived across the street and Uncle Bill Zettlemoyer and Aunt Helen Werkheiser lived down the alley above the sand pit. Our Uncle Ervy (Erwin Samuel Zettlemoyer) and Aunt Helen Viola Ruth lived a couple of blocks away on Liberty Street
Pop's sister Bella also lived a few blocks away. She was married to Aunt Marian's brother and Hearp was Mom's brother so it made for confusion when the three were together and were asked what their relation to each other was. Each one would point and say "I'm married to her brother."
Pop and all of Mom's brothers spoke and understood Pennsylvania Dutch, the form of German that was spoken by the early settlers around here. This was the language of the schools in the rural area up to the early thirties.
When I growing up this was how most of the adults communicated without the children understanding. It was never taught to us and its use started to fade out until the recent revival of it. In some of the surrounding rural areas it was in use in the schools in the early thirties. Many of the rural area people still have a strong accent, and certain sections retained the use of the language longer than others. Lancaster County and areas where there are Amish or Mennonites still hold onto the Mother Tongue.
We had cousins to play with in the same neighborhood. Mom also had a cousin living on Franklin Street. He had been in the army in WWI and had a son name Farley who had a bad heart and died when he was about twelve.
It had to be in the early thirties, because I remember Lindberg crossing the Ocean and Shirley Temple, she was all the rage then. There was also wrong way Corrigan whom we hear little about today but he was big news then. There are certain things that always remain clear to you no matter how time goes by.
Uncle Bill and Aunt Helen lived above the sand pit that is now a ball field. It is located off Second Avenue behind the armory. At this time it was a rough area with paths running up and down the hill where short cuts were taken. The area was covered with brush and rocks where young boys could play cowboys and Indians and catch snakes and make bows and arrows, all the things young boys did back then.
Summer time was kite flying time and the lot above the sand pit was a good area to fly kites. There were good breezes which today we know as thermals and being high above second street gave you a head start. Most of the time the kites flew toward St. Luke's Hospital, which put them above the "hole", as Vineyard Street was known then. At that time this area was not as bad a slum as it became later but was subject to the periodic flooding of the Lehigh River. There were a lot of businesses located down there. Morris Black, Coca Cola, Seven Up, General Supply to mention a few. The city also had a fire station there plus there were some clubs and the usual bars. There was a flight of stairs going down from Spring Street and several homes hung on the hill along the way.
It was not unusual to see 10 or more kites up on a good summer evening. Very few kites were store bought as it was too easy to make our own. We would go up to Kliene's store on Spring Street and buy the sticks for three cents each and string for five cents a ball. Even the Woolworth store was not cheaper although they did sell store kites.
Paper was newspaper, or wrapping paper, unless you splurged and bought light weight paper that was the best. Glue was no problem because all kitchens had flour and water that made paste and mothers didn't mind as long as there was no mess left behind.
Bill Gieski on left and his brother Neal Donald Gieski
Summer evenings we would play in the street, hide and seek or kick the can. Harvey Sterner was allowed out some times but the Kauffman boys were always around and usually Uncle Ervy's kids were there, Robert, Paul and Ervin.
One rare occasions our cousin from Stroudsberg visited and he would also play. Nelson was divorced and his son lived in Stroudsberg with his mother Lila. Earl later became a waist gunner on B17's and served in England in the early days of the war. He was on his way home as I was going over, having served more than his quota of missions. He was killed in an accident shortly after WW2 was over. I never met his wife and daughter.
The house had a covered back porch divided in half with our side opening on the alley. My parents got a large white rat and put a box up on the rafters so he could run around above your head but couldn't get down. It was a shock when some visitor glanced up and saw the rat for the first time. It was supposed to be my pet, but I don't recall ever petting him.Copyright © William H. Gieske 2005
Watch for chapter 2 of Bill's life story in next months issue.