Interview with Granny Joanne
The morning of Saturday, April 1st, I woke up with a nervous feeling. It wasn’t because I was afraid of any pranksters; I was nervous of what I would uncover that afternoon. I was driving into Atlanta, only an hour and a half away from Athens, by noon. I elected not to stop at home and went straight to Granny’s. I walked up her stone stairs and into her old Avondale Estates home where I was greeted by Uncle Mike. We exchanged greetings and he wished me a happy birthday, as it was three days prior. I walked into the sun room, in which the aroma of lavender wafted around, where I found Granny sitting on her couch, old documents sprawled around her. I walked over, said hello, gave her a hug, and sat down myself. I was finally going to find out everything I didn’t know about her, and my family’s past.
My oral history project was to learn about my paternal grandmother’s experiences growing up and about our family’s Slovenian heritage. Slovenian culture was never a huge influence on my life; it was an accepted facet that I never really gave thought to. This area of my family, however, always remained a lingering point of interest. I hope to learn about this culture as well as its effects on my Granny’s life.
Questions prepared for this interview were designed to peer into my grandmother’s past. They are meant to uncover details about daily life from her childhood to adulthood. I will ask her questions ranging from when and where she was born, to what moving away was like. Every question asked is intended to sharpen the dull understanding I have of my Granny’s, and family’s, past as well as the culture that influenced them.
Drew Derrico (DD): Alright so this is me with Granny Joanne B. Derrico. Say hello, Granny.
Joanne Derrico (JD): Hi! Hello!
DD: So, Granny, I have a list of questions for you that I would love your help answering. So the first question is when were you born?
JD: 1930, October 1st. 1930 at eleven am.
DD: Where were you born?
JD: Geneva, Ohio.
DD: So, Granny, your parents, Gary and Mildred, what were they like?
JD: Like mom’s and dad’s everywhere I guess, uh, both families lived on farms, uh, education was eighth grade, my mother was always ambitious and interested in things my dad was more laid back, fun to be with.
DD: What did they do for a living?
JD: At the time, I was born in the thirties was the great depression, uh my dad, work was hard to find He worked at the WPA, he worked at anything he could get, picking apples, whatever was available because jobs were just too scarce, and he didn’t get a job, really, until about 1938 then he worked for the American Fork and Hoe. He worked on the Pymatuning dam in Pennsylvania with the WPA and worked on the rail, yeah, I said that, and my mother, she went through eighth grade and then took a class for beauty, hair cutting, beauty shop salon work. She never worked in a salon. She did everybodys hair and cut everybodys hari and fixed everybodys hair or whatever, but she worked as a waitress and made good money and then she managed restaurant.
DD: How many people were in your household when you’re growing up?
JD: Three my mother father and me then.
DD: And what was family life like back then?
JD: Difficult, but I didn’t know any better because everybody is the same, you know nobody had a lot of toys and stuff like that but nobody had anything so you didn’t know you were that off, like you got candy for Christmas and Easter and on your birthday. My mother made a lot of things for my dolls, I had lot of dolls, I like to play with dolls. And my dad, It was difficult for him being a man not having a good job but he worked hard he worked whatever he could get and so eventually when he did work he was like Mister mom because my mom always had a job but dad had a hard time of it and, uh, when he did get work he put me with my grandmother who lived on a farm so that’s where I grew up knowing more about animals and things from living with my grandmother.
DD: Well that leads us into the next question, so you had relatives nearby?
DD: And you always interacted with them or hung out with them?
JD: Exactly well I didn’t have, I didn’t need friends essentially. I had, my mother had eight sisters and two brothers my dad had three brothers and four sisters and there were kids everywhere you know cousins everywhere. So really, I played more with the cousins than I did with any outside families, because we all lived nearby.
DD: When did your parents’ divorce and how old were you?
JD: That was a day that I for some reason I can’t remember but I was about sixteen. So would be about nineteen forty five or forty six.
DD: What was it like when they were when they divorced? Like was there any social disgust from the neighborhood or from Geneva? Like was that tolerable back then was that something people did?
JD: No. Divorce was not, it was looked down upon but besides that it was devastating for a teenager. Very difficult. I, you want your parents to be together and when they’re not there together you don’t feel like you belong somewhere. And I stayed a lot with my grandmother at that time. In fact I got, I was very difficult to get along with me and I got, haha, suspended from school for talking back to the teachers and stuff, but it was also I thought they were unfair but they were being because I was going to so many problems they don’t didn’t recognize things like that that I was just being insubordinate. So I got kicked out of school and I went to stay with my grandmother and I went to another school. And that was a world of difference nobody knew about anything and so I, I really, I made all the, I was always an A student. But I, I got failed and I missed out on a lot of stuff at the school that I grew up with. But the other school I was back to A’s again. Did very well. Go ahead.
DD: So, when did Gary remarry and do you remember it?
JD: Uh yeah, dad decided, when they got a divorce, as soon as he got the divorce final he was going to California. He had relatives, brothers and sisters there and they had been after him to move out to California. My mother went to Florida and my dad went to California. They registered me into a girl’s school in Painesville, Ohio that I was supposed to go to and I did not want to go to that school.
JD: When I got the letter in the mail that I had gotten accepted, I wrote back saying they had changed their minds on sending me to school. When my mother found out what I did, she went to go do it but they were already booked out at that point and didn’t have room for me so I got to go with my dad to California and that’s when he married Ellen.
DD: I was going to say, the next question is did you know Ellen Ruth Davis?
JD: I did not know her, I knew her sister really well but I never knew Ellen.
DD: What was her sisters name?
JD: Bernice. And she used to work in a grocery store that we always used all the time so I knew her well but I didn’t know her family.
DD: Did you know Rudolph previously?
JD: Oh yeah. Yeah he was uncle Rudy, everybody knew and everyone all the kids loved him when he would come to visit and I remember my cousins, this was on the other side of the family, they would always say he’s our uncle and I said well I can call him uncle Rudy. Oh yeah we all love uncle Rudy.
DD: So what was Rudolph like?
JD: Amiable, just great to get along with, he was always great with kids he was. He was an uncle he was a good uncle you know he was good to us, he played games with us and I’m talking about my cousins who the was, the other is the uh, my Dad’s brother’s family.
DD: Did you ever live with any of your half siblings when you were still in Geneva or no?
JD: Briefly they were, I, babysat the oldest for a while and, then I was glad to be away from there I didn’t. I was all of stay while with my mother while my father and that was back and forth and I wanted to get married I wanted to have my own family so when I said I’m going to get married when I’m twenty one and I did I was married and I was glad to be away we went to uh he was in the, his name was James Harris and he was in the Navy. He was from Kansas, Emporia, Kansas and he had six months to go in the Navy flew the P.B. wise out of Opa Locka Naval Air Station.
DD: Back to your childhood, what kind of food did you eat growing up?
JD: Everything, we were lucky we had butter and we had bread I mean homemade bread vegetables meat big chicken you know all that stuff. Dad would go fishing a lot in the river Grande river every fish and so we never did without food in the pressure we were very fortunate there because having the farm and milk grandma had a cow so that was we were very fortunate.
DD: Was there any cultural food that you usually ate? Like did you usually eat Slovenian food?
JD: Yeah usually stews one what they call a one dish meal that was just you know throw everything in a pot. Or baked chicken and pork Sausage all of that not too much beef because veal. I remember I remember once when grandmas cow had a calf. And they waited till it was old enough and then my uncle butchered it so that we had veal for a while but they didn’t have freezers back then so it was all distributed amongst the family.
DD: Was there anything in particular that you liked?
JD: A soup dish that my grandmother called sconza. It was chicken with vegetables and she’d make a roux to thicken it and it was one of my favorite. Potitza was another one that’s a walnut, like a walnut bread that you roll out the dough and you spread it with a walnut spread and you roll it back up and bake it, that was another favorite of mine.
DD: So what did you do as a kid?
JD: Played. Played house, played with the neighbor’s kids and. You know we didn’t have T.V. and I read a lot usually find me in the Apple, sitting in the apple tree reading a book eating apples.
DD: Did you have any best friends?
JD: No because I had all my cousins and we were close, we were close growing up. I never really did have a best friend. I had friends from school but not someone not a best friend.
DD: So what was going to school like back then?
JD: When I walked and one time I measured it after I was grown up in the car and it was a mile to the school mile, back for lunch, back to school, back after school and come home but and I always was almost late every morning I’d be running to school because I would be almost late because I slept too late but school was great I love school I loved learning and I had no problems until my parents got divorced.
DD: Do you remember any teachers in particular?
JD: Yes I had, the fact of the matter is an adult her name was Bush, Mrs. Bush. Yeah she was my second grade teacher and I had a sixth grade teacher that encouraged me with my English and I started the school, I found out my cousin Barney and Ted started the school newsletter called The Eagle So I started school, in sixth grade school letter it was called The Eaglette. And I wrote that through my sixth grade once a month and on a mimeograph. By hand.
DD: So what was Geneva like?
JD: She was a lovely small town just like Small Town USA anywhere. It was. It had the corner drugstore kids hang around you know and, and everybody had to do that joke where you call the drugstore and ask do you have Prince Albert in a can. And they better let him out. Oh that was, you know something they had to do.
DD: What is your favorite childhood memory from Geneva?
JD: Childhood memory? Everything. The ice cream store when they had nickel cones. Saturday was going to the movies in the morning and we’d have, I asked my dad for sixteen cents. A penny for a penny sucker before the movie and five cents, ten cents for the movie and five cents for cola after the movie. Dad belonged to the Fraternal Order of the Eagles a lot of times we went there on Saturday night. My dad did and they had a dance and mom always, she was never interested in going anywhere like that but I, kids always hung around. It was a nice place to go. The fun place, I mean, you know music. And, uh yeah.
DD: So were there any social customs for boys or girls back then in Geneva?
DD: Like girls would have to wear skirts all the time or have to be covered.
JD: No. Everybody was pretty generally always dressed normal you know? You were dressed I mean that was just the way it was.
DD: What about like for schooling or was work or something emphasized more for guys like school and work rather than girls where they more focused towards housework?
JD: Yes I think home ec was more, hahaha, oh yeah I got thrown out of that class to. I told the teacher how she was doing it wrong.
DD: That’s wonderful wow.
JD: Twice and I did that in the principal’s office. He would come in and say well what now did you do I said well I just told the teacher she did it wrong that’s all, my mother said do it this way and she said do it that way.
DD: Was it weird in retrospect growing up in such a high concentration of Slovenes?
JD: There was not a high concentration in a small town, most of the Slovenians lived on farms and the high concentration of the people were in the city. You had, uh, neighborhood. But not in a small town you had a mixture of everybody and everything there wasn’t any one group that stood out.
DD: Was there a storyteller in your life when you were a child?
JD: Yeah my grandmother would tell me the stories about Slovenia and she, and you know, girls grow up reading fairy tales and stuff like that so when she would talk about Slovenia about the castles and she told me said the water how clear the water was and then she told me about a church that was in the middle of a on an island the middle of a lake.
DD: Lake Bled
JD: Yeah Lake Bled and so and all these things I grew up with they had a magical meaning to me you know and so I was looking forward to a visit and I was glad when they separated from the Yugoslavia and the communist bloc and became a proper country of their own and I wanted to see it and I did I walked through all the areas where I thought my grandparents walked and did. That was enjoyable.
DD: So did you enjoy reading?
JD: Oh I loved to read.
DD: Do you remember any books in particular?
JD: Gosh, now you mean books I read as a kid? I don’t remember as many of those. I read everything, I think that, that’s why I guess I had good grades and. Well but I don’t really don’t remember the books I read. Oh Nancy Drew mysteries was one, one group of books that, that group and I’m trying to think of any specific book other than that. Probably not until I got in college as I read more classics and stuff but I just don’t remember all the books I read this as a kid.
DD: What role did religion have in your life as you were growing up.
JD: Being a Catholic, I really never, my dad taught me my prayers I remember that, as a small child my mother wasn’t too interested in that, and it wasn’t until my cousins made their first communion, they, we were all taking pictures around my grandmother’s grave, she had just died not long, my father’s mother the other grandmother, and I asked my Aunt Mary Jerman, “why are they wearing veils?” Regina Betty and Pat, why are they wearing veils and how come I don’t have one because we all had the same things. She says well they just made their first communion. I say well how do you do that? Well you’ve got to go to instruction, you gotta go to the church. So I said OK, so I was, I did it on my own. I went I think she made, she found out when and I went and walked every, which was even farther, I walked to church every Saturday morning. I only missed one class because it was snow. Very deep snow but and I made my first communion all on my own.
DD: Well congratulations
JD: and I was proud of that.
DD: Did people of other religions live in your community?
JD: Yes, I knew a Jewish, a couple of Jewish families and there was only one black family that lived in Geneva. I didn’t know them but they went to school like with my cousin Barney a lot earlier. Baptist, the Rainbow Girls, of course Catholics aren’t supposed to join the Rainbow but I knew a lot of the girls from them they were Baptist or Methodist or whatever.
DD: So, can you tell me about the farm growing up?
JD: The farm. Well, I think they had about forty acres and back part was all apple orchards and there was a couple apple trees on the side of the House and on the far side were planted grapes vines so that they, in the winter or the fall they would take the grapes and make wine. Grandma always had a kitchen garden close by the house that she would take care of and then next to the grapes there was rows of potatoes and turnips things like that. There was a small grape arbor it had a different kind of grape I remember they were tiny grapes it was something special and that was by the House that Grandpa had made years and years before. It was my job when I was there to feed the chickens and I’d like to feed the chickens. It was fun. Grandma had a cow, they had a barn that had a hay loft and we love sleeping in the hay loft and warm weather. My cousin sometimes would come too and we’d grab our penina’s as that’s like feathers feel comforter and drag them out to the barn and sleep in the hay loft. That was real special and below the hay loft on the underground was where she kept the cow. And on the far side was where she raised a pig every year and they butchered that pig every fall and my uncle laid off and did that. And sometimes my dad would come help grandma if she needed help because she always made sure I had milk when I was a baby and everything but dad always made sure if she needed help he would go out and fix a fence or do something like that. And then there’s cherry trees all along the front of the house several and see they’re sour cherries across the front of the road and then on the other side of the house were pear trees and there was a grove of dams and plants. So that was a lot of fruit and everything that they had planted. Trees, they were all planted way before I was born yeah probably when my mother was a kid.
DD: Can you tell me about Cousin Harold?
JD: Harold. God love him. He is my father’s sister’s oldest son and he, he and his brother Bernard were, were like my big brother almost. It’s like almost they felt sorry for me because I was always by myself. And. When they would come from college to visit my mother always made them a lemon meringue pie Barney and Harold loved mama’s lemon meringue pie they were about ten years older than I was and Harold was definitely. He loved his airplanes he built model airplanes when he was a kid and won awards for them and his dad used to put him in his shop window hang him in the shop window for people to see Bernard was more scholastic. He was, when he was in the military he ran a newspaper communication and he worked for the newspaper in Geneva when he was in high school and he was like a journalist you know what he was. Just more scholastic and he ended up being a professor of English at Ohio State and then he became, what Michael called Emeritus professor. Then he went to, when he and his wife got a divorce he went to Kent State and had the chair he also taught one year of English Lit literature in Ljubljana, the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia. And his dissertation for his doctor degree was Disraeli. I think he’s the only brain in our family he was. Really highly educated. Well no, I got one other one, I have another son who is the same thing. He’s a brain, he’s got so many years in college that I thought he was going to be make it his career [Referring to my father].
DD: So granny, when did you leave Geneva?
JD: Again, the date I don’t remember exactly. I think it was forty six. That’s, for some reason that’s a blanket that maybe because I was so, I had such anxieties when my parents got a divorce, but I would say somewhere in the fall of forty six we started driving to California.
DD: And you left to go with your dad because of their divorce?
DD: So, you went to California? Where in California?
JD: We, well, we drove across the Route sixty south to Route sixty six to Southern California and then he came up he talked to people, friends that he knew that they left work in Geneva to find work in Southern California because the airplane industry and dad went to see what was what and what was available and then we drove north to San Francisco where he had a brother and, two brothers, and two sisters. And we stayed in San Francisco through that winter and I loved it I thought it was really nice. But he didn’t like California. He didn’t like the weather. We had driven in different parts like tourists like driving around different parts of California but he didn’t like it and he ended up driving, drove back he went to Florida.
DD: So who is Richard A Neubert?
JD: Richard A?
JD: Oh, dear. Richard was a boy I dated when I lived with my grandmother. And when we moved to Florida, he wanted me to marry him and like again I said I wanted to have something of my own and I married him but we never stayed together. That was, I was too young.
DD: So the second question is Who is James B. Harris?
JD: Same thing. I met him in Florida when I was going to high school and I ran away eloped with him and I was too young. I did crazy things. I’m not ashamed I didn’t do anything wrong I just as an adult I look back at it, I know I was being headstrong but I think, I just, with them having the divorce I wanted something for myself but I was just too young to know any better.
DD: When did you meet grandpa Matt?
JD: I met grandpa when I was working for the attorney in Ogalee. Jim Harris. He left school I was going to school at the University of Florida and he was going to school and we were working our way through that and he, they came to recruit for R.C.A. at the base center. So he decided he didn’t want to finish school I think he didn’t feel he was up to it.
DD: Is this Jim or Matt?
JD: Jim Derrico, ah, Jim Harris. So he left to go there and I stayed in school so we were separate and I didn’t like it. But he stayed there and I didn’t want to leave Gainesville, I didn’t want to leave school I had a great job, I had, I was doing real well. Then finally I thought well maybe I should go but it wasn’t working out. We weren’t getting along well and then we adopted Jimmy thinking that might hold us together but it didn’t work. So the job I had working for the attorney, he had two apartments over his office and when I found out that the marriage wasn’t working out. So I asked John who owned the building if I could have the apartment upstairs and I had could have Jimmy with me so I didn’t have any problem. I could work and keep him with me. He was good baby. So I worked and lived in the upstairs apartment and we couldn’t afford to get a divorce. Neither one of us had any money but one day I was. It was a Friday afternoon. And I had a rough day at the uh, taking uh, going to the courthouse and submitting stuff and doing work for John and I come back by the little coffee shop and I had a cup of tea and I was sitting in the coffee shop having a cup of tea and I said Well about three o’clock in the afternoon. I said well I gotta get back to work and there was this bunch of fellas who were in the bar who was at the far end of the coffee shop and had their martini lunch. We were sitting both but they had to come through the coffee shop to pay their bill and I was waiting in line to pay for my cashier and Grampa Matt was behind me and he kept talkin you know and, “oh I’ve never seen you before,” and all kinds and Oh God I don’t need this. So I left to go out to the car and he followed me and he put his, I had the door open and he put his arm on the door so I coudln’t shut it and I said, trying to say, “OK. How do I make this work. I gotta get back to work.” “All no no no c’mon let’s go out let’s have a drink” I said “OK let’s go.” I said, “I’ll follow you. Let you decide.” “Where do you want to go?” he said and I said, “I’ll follow you. You just go ahead.” So he did. He got his car and he started driving I was following him and when he turned I went straight back to the office, hahaha. Bout two hours later the phone rings. And I answered. He said, “Where did you go?” I said, “I guess, holy cow, you got the wrong number!” And I hung up. My phone rang again and John looked at me we’re going over all the stuff I did that morning and John said, he got up, that’s the attorney I worked for, and he says, “So. Right.” And he got up to go. And then I said, “Well how did you find me?” He said, “Well I called every attorney I didn’t know.” Because I think I said something like I worked for an attorney thinking that was going to turn him off. So he called every office and looking for me.
DD: So what was he like? What was Grandpa Matt like?
JD: Well he was Italian. Different. He was. He was a, worked hard, you know. Are you asking me what he was like or how I was when I met him how did I perceive him?
JD: Well being Italian he could be charming as hell. And I fell for him I really did I really liked him. And I said. He had his, he seemed to have always ducks quacking in a row. He knew what he was doing where he was going and anything about it. And it made, you know, it made me like him a lot. It was difficult to not know him, not know him better.
DD: When did you get married to Grandpa Matt?
JD: Let’s see. I met him February the tenth. Yeah it was the tenth of the month and we had just payed all his bills and we were married in April the tenth. We were, John married us. My attorney. The attorney I worked for. But what happened. We found out, we always had to wait for him to have everything right before he could take any take off so we’ve got, we applied for a license and we, John, didn’t even look at it, check it or anything. But when I came back he said the license had expired. So we weren’t really married when we came back from the honeymoon. So we had to get married again it was June thirteenth before we could do that again. Then it made it legal.
DD: So how long did you know grandpa before you married him?
JD: You got it. February the tenth.
DD: Well at least it lasted that long. So how old were you when you got married to Grandpa Matt that is?
JD: Sixty one. I would’ve been thirty one. Thirty, thirty, going to be thirty one, yeah.
DD: So what was meeting his family like?
JD: Well. They were. We only, we would get, the only time we got to meet them was either at a funeral or wedding but one time we did, the first time we did drive up there and visited his brother in law Joe and his sister Louise. And I loved them. They were just as wonderful as they could be. The rest the family were difficult. They were very… I wasn’t an Italian. Does that explain it?
DD: I remember Dad told me the story of how Grandpa Matt convinced you to say a curse word instead of hello.
JD: Hahaha. He was teaching me Italian and the words he taught me were all curse words. And one time I said something and everybody looked at me, do you know what you just said? And I looked at Matt he’s got this shit eating grin hahaha.
DD: So, were there any tensions between Italians and Slovenes back then?
JD: No, not really. I didn’t know of any country wise, but my parents, my mother and her sisters, all said Grandpa hated, Grandpa Lori hated Italians. And I said well why? Nobody seemed to know why, they didn’t have, they just hated. At one time, and Italian moved next door to them in Cleveland and that’s, they went out and bought this forty-acre farm so he wouldn’t have any neighbors. And I thought about it and thought about it but by the time I was old enough Grampa died when I was about ten and nobody seemed to have an answer because. Christ. About the Italians, the uh, Lorick’s hating the Italians but grandma when she met Dad, Dad when we went down there to meet my mother, and she knew, she was such a nervous wreck she fainted. We thought we had to call the ambulance. We thought it was her heart. She had worked herself in such a state because I had married an Italian and I couldn’t understand that but later in studying the World War One. The Italians were allies when they fought the war and they were given part of Austria as, for being an ally, and I think that would be the northern part of Italy and so essentially speaking, that maybe politically Grampa hated the Italians for taking. Who knows it’s a mystery to me because. There was never anybody that he knew there was never an Italian to fight with or anything like that it had to be something very political but they only remembered how he emphasized the fact that he hated Italians but that would be my guess.
DD: So what were the early years of your marriage like?
DD: Could you elaborate?
JD: Well we had kids and of course Joey was born and then less than a year later Michael was born and I had Jimmy and so it was just busy and he was always, he was a workaholic. He worked hard but when you take off from work and he would take time for family holiday we’d go somewhere I mean we traveled a good deal.
DD: If there was one thing you wanted for your children when they were growing up what was that?
JD: You know I didn’t learn to think about that while they were growing up. We lived in the neighborhood where I learned through dad because I come from, what, a blue collar family it was good if you finished high school. But, with, with the neighborhood there it wasn’t if you were going to college it was what college you were going to. And grandpa made that possible to make sure kids all that went to college, but he tried to teach him work ethics they spent summers working for him in the yard doing things. Mike I think worked with a surveyor and Joey worked in the motor pool shop with Slim. And Jim worked out in the field I mean he would be on the job. So they all had jobs that they had, that they did, so they said well you find out you don’t want to work at this kind of thing you want to get something better.
DD: So can you tell me about Joel [My father] before y’all moved to Atlanta? What was he like as a kid?
JD: Well, he was pretty much like his dad. He was quiet, he worked hard at his school work. We were, they were on, we had the kids on the swimming team. It was, Florida’s hot, and I didn’t believe kids should play things like football wearing all that heavy gear because of the heat. I probably would have, Jimmy was on his baseball team for a while but it ended up that the kids all swam. And swim for swim team and that was through my babysitter she says, she got, she was a coach on one of the teams. She said she had put the kids on the swimming team, so I said well you know, I don’t know there was a swim team or if they could swim and they learned. And they did and so we spent a lot of time at swimming meets during the season. And we did a lot with the school and church. Festivals or whatever because we were, the whole area was, we had all these families moving in and working at the Space Center but with the churches and schools were needed to be built, we were building a hospital too. Everybody had projects they were working on to earn money for these like our church and our school and ascension as well as our hospital.
DD: So what did the boys, Mike, Joel, and Jim, what did they usually do as kids down in Florida. Just swim, school, and church and stuff?
JD: Yeah swim team and school always had things going on. But you know it’s a warm country and when he used, this state you know, you didn’t do a lot of running around outside and but that’s why I thought swimming was a great thing to do and they were all good at it. Your dad wanted to be like the horse that doesn’t like another horse in front of him and he swear and he wanted to be in front. Michael was a long-distance swimmer more that way than where Joe was more for shorter ones. But, he excelled in long distance swimming.
DD: So did you ever tell stories to your children?
JD: Yes. When they were small. Then they were starting reading for themselves yeah there were stories. Gosh now I don’t you know that was a long time ago. I don’t remember everything.
DD: Do you know where you got the ideas for your stories?
JD: Things that happened to me as a kid.
DD: Were any of them Slovenian stories?
JD: I don’t think so. I really didn’t know any stories by background. I thought that, I would love to have learned that, to talk with my cousins in Slovenia but I forgot that they don’t speak English and I don’t speak Slovenian. My grandfather was big on that. He said you’re an American now you speak American.
DD: So do you have any stories about your ancestors?
JD: You know I wished I knew more.
DD: Do you enjoy telling stories?
JD: You know I think I’m more for reading. My dad used to tell me some Mickey Mouse stories I remember that is a kid but I don’t think I passed that on to my kids because we had so much available. You know going to Disney. That was another thing we lived close to Disney we went about once a month to Disney World and we had television. Not that they spent that much time in television but because we did a lot more we did stuff we were always doing stuff.
DD: So when did you move to Atlanta?
JD: Nineteen seventy. We came up to look for a place to live and bought a condo across from Paideia.
DD: What was the move like?
JD: Not bad. I don’t think there were any problems. When we bought the place and then we put half of the stuff in storage in Florida the rest when we bought new furniture when we got that condo.
DD: Is that when Grandpa Matt donated the construction company to the workers?
JD: No that was when he. He sold it. He didn’t donate it. He sold it to, but the way it sounds, its like it was donated this was when he got sick. He knew that, he didn’t want me to have anything to, I didn’t know anything about the about company. He did not bring his work home so I wouldn’t have known what to do. He asked me one time what would I do if I had to take the company I said I probably hire a lawyer and have him come. And he had a good lawyer. I would have him come there and help me, rather tell me what to do because he was also. One third, one, one tenth or something like that partner. The insurance for him was quite high. See, he couldn’t borrow on the company insurance he and Bill each had an insurance policy and the amount of the insurance was the amount of, they would get because he couldn’t tell, he couldn’t, he couldn’t touch it. It would go to the company so for what they did, he signed, they had them sign, I forget what they call it. The D2 secure debt. And with that they got control of the company. And they gave, they would pay me like so much a month but essentially it was paid for because of the insurance. Four hundred seventy five thousand.
DD: What was different about living in Atlanta?
JD: Well it was a city. Lot of things to do. Love the, been to the Fox Theater to see. Broadway shows. I like the church downtown Sacred Heart. Baseball. We had no baseball in Florida at that time so first thing I wanted to do is when Hank Aaron was going to hit that home run seven fifteen I wanted to go. And there was tornado warnings we had hail in the backyard and it was raining and you couldn’t get tickets because this was such a major thing I said Golly you know people here. You should be able to get somebody to get, get us tickets. Well we had tickets way up in the nosebleeds but we also had a roof other people didn’t have it so I got to see Hank Aaron hit that seven fifteen. He had a partner he picked up that was supposed to be, he was from Georgia Tech he says graduate from Georgia Tech he was a football player there and so he was an athlete and I said you know these people you should be able to get him he should be able to get us tickets but like there was a last minute thing so tickets were only those up in the bleachers but in a sense we were kind of lucky.
DD: What did you do when all the boys went off to college?
JD: Well I was always busy with projects. I belonged to a garden club. And I was a flower I was one of the flowers ministry they call it a ministry, doing the flowers at Sacred Heart. I still went to, went as well back and forth Gramma was sick for a while and my dad was sick and I go down to Florida and come back and then. What did I do? I did a lot. I was never busy besides flowers. Garden Club and the flowers at the church. Or something else. Always taking, I was taking a class at Agnes Scott I was going to school there, return to college student. I was taking Spanish and then a counselor said you have to take more classes so I did. And I signed up for a full semester of classes and that was the year grandpa got sick so I had to leave I couldn’t do both.
DD: When did you meet Rachel [My mother]?
JD: When did I meet Rachel. Well I know that Joel and Rachel had a blind date. They went to something at Georgia Tech was it or was it Agnes Scott. I don’t remember.
DD: OK. What was it like when Dad got married?
JD: Your dad, Joel, yeah that well it was two-fold. They were supposed to be married in January I believe and because Dad was sick they decided to change. They were gonna be married in the middle of November so he would be able to be there and that was exciting well with your grandma Jan and your mom and we’d go look for flowers we’d go this and that. Look one thing I had trouble was finding a dress but. Anything Rachel wanted dad said, “She’s going to have it.” And it was, your mother was very conscious of not being too flamboyant. But I bet you if that’s what you want that’s what you’re going to get. You know we wanted her to have, her to have that was important to dad because he loved Rachel he was real fond of Rachel and I was too. Don’t misunderstand me but we had boys you know and having a girl and I didn’t want to step on Gramma Jan. And it’s her daughter you know, you know want to push your way in and away the mother in law. But anything Rachel wanted we tried to have it so she would have it.
DD: Can you tell me what it was like when Grandpa Matt died?
JD: We didn’t have too much time to think about it. It seemed like it happened so fast and it was the first of October when he came he was. I know the doctor called me and he said he was telling me before he told me that he had cancer. And I said well tell him that whatever he wants to do I’ll do it. If he wants to stay and get treatment in Lakeland which was where his doctor was, if you want to go to Melbourne if he was to come here whatever he wants to do we’ll do it. Not to worry about it. We could be rent an apartment in Gainesville of course we had him and Annie’s house in Florida if whatever he wanted to do we’ll do it and so he did. He elected to come here (Atlanta) and it was on my birthday. I remember saying that I got you for my birthday. I picked him up at the airport and we talked about it and he said he wasn’t going to take any treatment and I said OK I think that’s whatever you want that’s what we’ll do. But then somewhere along the line, he changed his mind he decided to go have treatment and I’m not sure if it was after the wedding or before the wedding.
Michael Derrico: It was because of the wedding. It was because of the wedding that he chose to get treatment and without treatment he would not have lived to make the wedding even the move up date it wouldn’t have the happened. So he chose to take treatment for Joel and Rachel and that’s why.
JD: You knew that, I didn’t. I must been under a lot of anxiety I didn’t remember that.
MD: He wanted to make that but. Like mom said, your dad and your mom and your mom especially. Pop loved her and no doubt about it whatever she wanted she got because it was important and why that’s important, that you understand why it was important, not your other grandparents Jan or Frank stepping on them. But it was why it’s important probably for you is that your dad your grandpa there are very few people in the world he thought highly of. His list of people he respected and he loved and he cared about was very very very short. And Rachel was on it no doubt about it. It was a big deal. Yeah so after the wedding he went to one more chemo and he said he was done that was it. He wanted to make the wedding and be there and by God he was.
JD: that was the other part of the wedding. So many people from Florida, everywhere they came to the wedding that probably wouldn’t have come. But they came from that, they came for your dad yeah and grampa and he was so very sick from the, from the treatments, he was very very sick, and he said that’s it no more.
MD: You know how, can I comment on that? I had a couple of things I’d tell you. You know while not trying to interrupt your grandma, but, yeah. Grown up as a kid though, the Y.M.C.A. was big and that’s where the swim team was based was at the Y.M.C.A. but in a small town like Melbourne that really was a focal point more than it is in a big city or in smaller towns in the Y.M.C.A. was there of course it was for our swim team and we held swim meets and it was also focal of other things like day camps and summer camps and then of course with Ascension as well as St Joseph’s where we were kids and school and the associations you made there and the events that they did which were always something raised by the The Sisters of Mercy. St. Michael’s comment. Sisters of Mercy and the Irish in their missionary work which was Melbourne and Palm Bay, that was considered missionary work for them that’s how remote it really was back then, and they, that church had been there, well the St Joseph side not the ascension side, but that had been there since the late eighteen hundred when that was founded but it was really remote even for them. But the point I’m getting at is, the events we did, everything were lot, were based around buildings of the church and fundraisers and things like that. And as we were kids, so events and things we did as kids work tied into that, the Y.M.C.A. events and things, and, and that type of thing. And talking about your grampa and Gramma. Mom’s grandparents probably more so than her parents, although they valued, but probably stressed it, as did your grampa Matt’s parents which would have been their generation even so much. They really were big on education. And they said that growing up in a small town, we lived in the in Dad’s house in a nice neighborhood, and of course you know small town then, but both Gramma’s, your grandma’s parents, and your grandpa’s parents were huge on education. So that was the goal of a lot of the their level in generations was not only like Gramma said, her grandma said, you you’re an American now you speak American. I mean they literally knew it that way, not as English but as American. And a lot of the roots of the culture of Slovenia were the Italian was lost because they were forbade to speak the native language in the households they were taught to speak English so that they advanced themselves and that was the beginning of their quote unquote “education” and then further through education. Education meant advancement and to live in the American dream and both the families were huge on that hence your grandfather and your grandmother ensured that we were the same that we got educated and that was the way you lived the American dream and you move forward, that you had a better life than both of them. And both your grandma and grandpa were big on that, as were their ancestors I describe. You know the other thing about the company, Grampa’s company, I’ll tell you, Mom, Grandma is right that, you know, we did, so I worked in the trenches I dug quite a few ditches in the goo in the crap of Florida let me tell you it was not pleasant jobs but the idea, other business associates of your grandfather would come to him when they had a kid that didn’t want to go to school because they were affluent people and then the kids would not want to go to college and the parents of those kids would be distraught you know in the sense of, “boy they had this great opportunity to go to university or something,” which, you know, was not so common as it is today. It was a lot more remote and, and, so it was a big deal to be even have the opportunity and your grandpa would say, “Send them to me for the summer. They don’t want to go to school, you send them to me.” and sure enough that was it and he did that and they do. Those kids would work for Grandpa, “first summer that’s it yeah.” to their parents, “can I please go back to school?” because it was a hell of a lot easier than the work. But the idea was, that was what their future would be would be. That type of unskilled uneducated labor and that was the point and that was again a reinforcement and huge with your grandfather that anybody having such an opportunity, it shouldn’t be wasted.
JD: They were all families and they were working hard to send their kids to college, some didn’t want to go, so he’d say come here to work for me. They’ll want to get going to school.
MD: Matter of fact, that all of the workers who worked for your grandfather, that your grandfather hired one by one, his original crew, after that he never hired or fired anybody. His men did. He never hired, your grandfather never hired or fired anybody after his original crew. And the point was, he knew the value of you take care of your men, your employees, and they will take care of you by default. It happens. And he respected and treated them as equals and every one of those men, there was two representatives that came to your grandpa’s wake in Florida and one was one of the original men of the crew he was ninety-four years old at your grandpa’s wake, and he stood up. And he had a fourth-grade education and that was it. And that was better than some of them that worked on the initial crews of your grandfather’s. But he said amongst all those people that he, at your grandpa’s wake, was about three hundred people, and he stood up in a pretty affluent environment and said I have to speak for all the workers, because there weren’t really any of the other workers there you know, I have to speak for all the workers current and past that, no matter where, and they called him Mr. Matt, no matter where Mr Matt was, whether it was in Atlanta, because by that point of course he was up here sometimes and trying to reach, semi retire, or down another job, or in some other part of the state, or wherever come Friday, they got a paycheck. Which meant the world to them. That no matter what, even if your grandfather didn’t get paid that month, or week, his men always did, from the first day he opened the doors, to the day he sold the company. Not one of his men, ever, did not collect the pay check or women in the gals at work in the office, he worked hard to make sure payroll was met. Because those men depended on it, and a lot of them of lesser means, and your gramma just mentioned about black workers. That’s important because back then in a small town, there was the other side of the tracks and there was a great division of black and white. That’s why that was so critical, very few white people worked for your grandpa and your Grandpa took a lot of heat from the local community because of that. And he said, “I’ll be damned.” He will stand up to that kind of prejudice, because he always taught us, and everybody else he encountered, that he learned from his father. You merit or you demerit an individual on who they are, not the color of their skin, their age, their race, that their background, their education, nothing. You just merit or demerit them on who they are and how they present themselves to and with you but all of those philosophies went into how he ran the company and that’s how he did. But I’ll tell you what that was, that was, you could have heard a pin drop. Wow. When Mr Porter stood up and said that in that room you could have heard a pin drop there was the first guy that ever-graduated high school in his crews. Was a fellow by the name of Preacher. I met him when he was fifty-five. He was, Mr Porter was there at the age ninety-four with his wife of ungodly amount of years and he could barely stand. Let me tell you and Preacher who was there to help him, Preacher. They, everybody, called him Preacher because he carried a Bible to work when he worked for dad. And, and in school as well, he was the first one of all the men that ever worked for Dad to graduate high school and Dad had a picture of him in the house, his high school graduation robe and gown and business men would come over. “Who’s that?” “Well that’s my son.” And he loved tellin that, and you know leave people dumbfounded and didn’t know what to say because there was this black gentleman is in his high school garb and it was a big deal, that was a big deal to dad and it was also a big deal to the men. But he would do anything to help educate the men who worked for him or their children as well as keep them out of harm’s way. And he did that and he took a lot of heat for it in the in the community because of it, but your grandpa stood up for right and wrong and there was no gray area with him. It was black or white period right and wrong. I’ll say one other thing about the work and grandma was talking about the company and giving it to the men and here’s the reason why. So this goes in case with that if you allow me to augment that was that. Your grandfather looked at the company as an instrument. It was a means, it was a thing to raise a family by. It was not a great legacy, he didn’t want a legacy, that wasn’t important to him. He didn’t seek it. He didn’t ask for it. He’s got it, but he didn’t want it. That was not important to him. What was important to him was a way to fundamentally feed his family and raise a and raise a family, and educate them, and do right by them, and thereby, he felt he had fulfilled, you know, life’s expectations from God. However you want to look at it. But the business was so traumatic, and Gramma will tell you, there were ups and downs ups and downs it’s a very very very tough business and the reason your grandfather was successful at it is he knew how to read people. And he knew he had the brains to do the mechanics of the work. He figured it out on his own by the way, you know what, he had no school for it but he knew how to read people, negotiate contracts, and keep work coming down the pipeline. And that is a tremendous combination of things which his quote unquote “partner” Bill, never had the capability to do. He was a good field man, but he couldn’t run a business, nor do the things I just mentioned. But the importance of why I’m saying that, is this. That, your grandpa looked at that as an instrument and he didn’t want any of us, Jimmy, Joel, or me to go into the business. He didn’t want that for our future. The point was not keeping a business and hand it down. Again it was an instrument, an entity to do this other thing. He didn’t want us to go in the business he wanted us to have better than that. One, it was extremely tough like I said, and, and to, to Topsy-Turvy and, and unpredictable. To many question marks. Go away get educated and do better than this was his philosophy if you will. But, and this is the crux of that, but that company and all its years of reputation which he upheld. There’s a long story behind that, but the reputation of it was it, and the company itself, continuing to run was infinitely more important to all of his employees. They, again, like I mentioned earlier, they depended on that paycheck come Friday even, even the salary office level workers and it could have been construed that he gave it back to the workers but in essence he did. It was important, for us, his kids, not to go into business and it was important to him that the company continue to fulfil, and take care, of the men and women that he respected so much and work for him and the only way to do that then, was OK I’m going to sell it to you two, and he sold it to his head engineer and the head secretary which he put through accounting school and she did all the books and she was a C.P.A. and basically the company manager, if you will, and the head engineer and said you keep it alive. Taking the last X amount of years as your reference, but you keep it alive for these workers, because they were with him a long time, and you keep it alive, and keep it running for their sake, and your own sake. And of course, by then that meant they had a vested interest when they became the owners of the company, but that was what was important to your grandfather and thereby he gave it back to the workers, in essence, he continued to keep them, even though he was gone.
DD: So, Granny, I have just two or three more questions. What happened to Jim?
JD: I don’t really know, Jim just seemed like he changed. He went into the Coast Guard. Well he worked for Dad for a while and he worked in the field for a while but evidently there’s something inside him that was doing I wasn’t even aware of even, Dad wasn’t aware, my mother, Jim would spend time to see my mother. When I had to come visit with her she let me know a few things but. He went to the Coast Guard. He got general discharged. Not an honorable discharge, a general discharge, and it seemed to come down to drugs. We don’t know exactly, he just seemed to change. And nothing, everything, he would tell people that when he was a kid that Dad would beat him and everything else. He told bad things, my mother hated, didn’t like Matt because she said, even somebody else said they didn’t like Matt and what’s he ever done to you? Jenny his wife, Jimmy’s wife, says she didn’t like Matt and I said well why? What has he ever done to you? And then nobody would ever say anything. And then my mother, she was saying he was telling him some stuff but. He just he just kind of would come out and say anything until he one day wrote a note to me and said that in the email that I did all these bad things to him as a kid and I said what did I ever do to him? Whether, I, that, he lived he was like. I don’t know I can’t tell you exactly, just that we did, I can’t remember. I think I was so upset by reading that email I couldn’t believe it. I think I was having a heart attack. I called your Grandma Jan but it was an anxiety or panic attack because when I read it, I couldn’t believe what he had written. He just up and everything. We were trying to do the help and it was just like it was all our fault if he got problems but he was in trouble all the time. Trouble in school, he would change, he was thrown out of school, drugs at Druid Hills then at Berry. I have no idea.
MD: Your father and I, you know your father was kind of, just washed his hands of it, and you know Jim’s Jim. Whatever. But we’ve talked about it since, but I always tended to be the peace keeper trying to figure out, you know, and Jim kind of being departed emotionally and physically away from us and, and, but then it seemed like he was coming back. But he did, he spun the best web of lies about anything that suited his ends. And that’s just kind of how he became, or as I saw him later. And this is again all in hindsight. At the time, none of us really knew it and, and this all of us as adults you know.
DD: You know I’ve only met him once and it was in the kitchen for five minutes.
MD: So it’s like your, your, your dad and I have talked about it and your dad and I fervently believe that he probably has some, some level of mental distress. Either genetic or whatever who knows. Well, he’s, you know, that he just, his, he’s. I don’t know. I wouldn’t know the term or whatever but that he does have something mentally wrong in his way his brain synopses fire. And it causes him to do certain things or he’s delusional and some ideas. But ever since we were even kids, even Joel and I would notice that Jim never really took responsibility for anything. And I mean literally anything that was awry and most of it and not most of time but at times you know, knowing that he was the instigator and knowing that he didn’t take responsibility always clicked wrong with me. I remember of the, I can remember that as a kid, but in hindsight now as the adult level that I was talking about where this incident occurred with Gramma. You know Joel, your dad and I talked about it furthered that yeah we believe he’s just got some delusional things in his head. I talked to Sister Gabriel, one of the Irish nuns, and a couple other older family friends that, people I confided in, that to ask their opinion about this because they knew Jimmy as a kid when I was a kid so what was their perspective from then until today but and have known them their whole lives as well. So they were, you know, excellent resources and they all feel the same way and that Jimmy had every opportunity and there was nothing to stray. And Grandma had really kept a little quiet, remember when I talked about your grandpa feeling about education? Even as, even as back handed it is, as Jim became with your grandfather, and he exercised the best love as did grandma of course a mother’s love but sometimes you’ve got to exercise tough love because there were no other options. It was a struggle just to get him graduated from high school. Grandma was right but didn’t express to you the extent your grandfather donated and by virtue, your grandmother donated more money to more private schools in the last two years of his high school education just get him graduated because he kept getting kicked out of every place that they got him into and they did more just to get him graduated from high school it was, and it was, a monumental task. And that is all credited to your grandma and your grandpa for sticking it through and I know that she would tell you that it was ugly and long and tough so no great surprise with Jim at that. But at this day and age no news is good news but your, your father and I fervently believe that there is probably a mental disconnect in his synopsis somewhere and like Gramma said he would turn everybody against us. So once he believes that, he believes it to be true. I don’t know if that’s what you call, what’s the split thing the schizo phrenic skits or frantic or bipolar but maybe a mild level of that because he believes it to be true. You can tell but, unfortunately, it’s not and he has poisoned his son. Jonathan is my God son, who is your cousin, that even Asher and he used to play together in our house and we haven’t heard from him and although I’ve had other friends try and connect with him on Facebook I don’t know if you do but he’s out there but he has never responded to requests and things to call his grandma alone and just say hello. So Jim I guess poisoned him enough or he just doesn’t give a shit but either way there’s that. Jim would turn everybody against gramma and grampa. Your grampa and Jenny was a good example who had never met your grandfather. “I never liked the man.” I was there, I was present when she said all those words and grandma asking her, “What did you ever do to you?” And then she got to thinking, “Well gee I don’t know,” because she realized she didn’t even know, but it was all for feed from Jim there was that.
DD: So, Granny, I have one last question. Is there anything in particular that you want to share with me?
JD: How much I love you!
JD: Well I don’t know. Oh I could probably talk for the rest of the night. I did like to share, I’d like to see more of you, but that’s, that’s a personal thing. Sharing as far as my life is concerned, I forgot to mention my horses. I really loved my horses and I had Tennessee Walkers in Florida I raised the walkers, we had, Grampa Matt had, an agricultural pop property he was using as a tax write off thing and he had black angus on it and I says to him one time if I could have a horse and he said sure so I had started having few horses I really love my horses much as I love my cats. And music. I love my music or whatever. I love my heritage, whatever I have, I love, I’m happy I am who am.
DD: Thank you, Granny. That’s it.