Happy 89th Birthday Grandma

A Lovely Delight

Oral History of Dorothy Reardon

The scene:

I am sitting directly ahead of my Grandmother, Dorothy Reardon. My Grandmother smiles and she is so happy to see me. I look around her huge house, with the open layout to the kitchen and the sitting area. To the left, is a curio cabinet with numerous pictures of my cousins and me. In the center, is a picture of her and my Grandfather on his 80th birthday. He’s sitting on the couch, with his Irish ball-cap, and my Grandmother is sitting there in her nicest dress, with the biggest smile I have ever seen. They were so happy. To the right, is a window overlooking her perfectly maintained garden. The only problem is that it’s not spring yet so the tulips and daisies have not bloomed. The one thing that does catch my eye is the nicest combination of bonsai plants, compliments of my father. The sun from the window catches her face and a slight twinkle in her eye, and I know she is ready to begin the interview.

KR: What was your father’s name?
GR:
Edward Dicke

KR: What was your mother’s name?
GR:
Magdalena (Lana)

KR: So what did your dad do?
GR:
He made furniture. He was known as the finisher. When the wood came out he would hand sand it and stain it. He was actually very talented. All the people at the tenement were immigrants mostly from Czechoslovakia. I do not have a lot of memories of my Father.
(slight pause)
My mother was a very proud loving woman. She was a cleaner at the Guggenheim Dental Clinic, and she cleaned the tenement building so that we could have free rent. We lived in three rooms with my mother, father, brother and me. We had the bathroom outside. We had the kitchen, pallor, and bedroom.

KR: How would you describe her?
GR:
So was a lovely delight. 
She worked hard, and was always there. She gave us great manners. We loved her so much. So, we knew we could never do anything wrong. She instilled good principles in us. She always used her words never used physical punishment. Cleanliness next to godliness (laugh). We always had fresh vegetables, loved to make stew, fresh everything. As far as everyone else goes, everybody in the tenement did things like my father and my mother. The men were handymen and the women were housekeepers. My mother knew a friend that worked at another Jewish family over by Park Avenue, and I started working there after school. I think I was about 12 or 13 somewhere around there. It’s been so long you know.

KR: So how long did you work there?
GR:
Until I graduated from high school. So from 1939 to 1945.

KR: What did you do after High School?
GR:
During my day, the different companies would come to the high schools and tell the students about the businesses, and if you wanted to go work for them you would take their test. I decided I wanted to go for Metropolitan Life Insurance. I remember the day I went to go take that test. It was one of the nastiest day of the year it was raining so hard. I missed the bus. So, I had to walk all the way there in the pouring rain. When I finally got there, the test was just about to begin. I had never been this nervous in my life KR. It wasn’t easy, it was like a SAT. Then during the test I had to blow my nose almost every ten seconds. When I got out of there I felt like I had failed the test for sure, but in a couple of weeks I got the call back from them saying I was hired.

KR: So what was your job?
GR:
The first job I had was in the mail room. The first day I had someone help me, but the second day I was all alone, and I felt like Lucy. I was messing things up here and there. I was so befuddled. After I got my feet under me, I did well in the mailroom. I was than promoted to be a typist. So, I had to go to their typing school, to learn all of the formats. Then I did really well there, they promoted me to stenographer.

KR: So what is a stenographer?
GR:
It’s a person who takes dictation during meetings or for an important person in the company. So I worked with the law division. Then I meet your grandfather.

KR: So when was this?
GR:
I was 19. 1946–47. He was over at LIU, Long Island University. We got married in January 29, 1949. Your grandfather had just finished his schooling for Journalism, and he was going back to the military, again. He went to officer training school at Fort Brag. We lived in a basement apartment there. It was so small. Then he went to Fort Benning GA. because Eugene was doing tank training. This is when your Uncle Bob was born. After I had the baby, we were off to Germany. When he told me we were going to Germany, I read almost every book I could get my hands on. We were given the most beautiful apartment. Two big bathrooms, can you imagine the change from a three room apartment with an outhouse, to having a giant apartment in Germany. It had 4 bedrooms, a kitchen, living room, and a study area. This was quite a changed and I fell in love with it immediately. At that time I did not work, I was a military wife. We would do volunteer work. We would bring cookies and music to the nursing homes. Than the commanders wife was part of the Red Cross and if the commander’s wife was a part of something we all had to a part of it during that time. We were called the Grey ladies because of our uniforms. We had to learn all the rules and regulations than we took a test. So many tests. When we passed we had a graduation ceremony with the General and the Coronel. Grandpa stayed with us in Germany for about 6 months then he was off to Korea in the 73th tank battalion. While I stayed in Germany with Bob, I had Pat. It was a great experience. I loved Germany.

KR: So what did Grandpa do after Korea?
GR:
When he got back from Korea he stayed with us in Germany for a little while then we went back to Fort Benning, GA. He went back to training to be a tank commander. He was going to be a Captain now. Then they moved him to Vietnam around 1960’s. He was there as an assistant, not a tank driver. I went over there a couple of months later. I got a job as an English as a second language teacher. KR it was a very interesting job because I was teaching all the military personnel how to speak and read English. It was my first taste at teaching English, and I loved it. I taught there from 1962–1965. Then one day, the Vietnamese military overthrow the government near us and they took us captive. We finally were let go during that night. They immediately sent me back to the states. Your Grandfather stay in Vietnam, and was part of the 69th Tank Battalion. Then in 1970 they moved me to Thailand were I taught at the International Language Institute in Thailand. Grandpa was still in Vietnam after the war working for AID, The Agency of International Development. During that time, your father was born. Then after 1978 we moved to Saudi Arabia for two years. Then we finally came back to the states around 1980. At that time, your grandfather was ready to retire. So we moved back to Georgia because Eugene loved it so much. We lived just outside of Atlanta for years. Than it got to crowded so we moved to the house we are in today. When we got back to the states our lives became a little boring compared to being world travelers, but we were able to see our kids grow up, and there grandchildren turn into great young men and women.

KR: What is one memory of Grandpa? 
GR:
My favorite memory of your Grandfather was seeing him wake up every morning raising the American Flag. It was his ritual. He would wake up at 6:30 am, make his coffee, than at 6:55 am head outside. On the last chime of the clock, at 7:00 am, the flag would be up. He would stand at attention and sing the national anthem. Afterwards, he would come back into the house, give me a morning kiss, and that would be the start of my day.

Your grandfather had great pride for this country, even days before he pasted he was still raising the flag and saluting his country that he had so courageously fought for.

KR: What are some important heirlooms?
GR:
We do not have any heirlooms that I know of. Our family was really poor, and we did not keep a lot of things. I think that is why I have so many things. Since, I was a military wife I accumulated a lot of what you could call heirlooms over the years. I want to be able to pass something on to my kids and grandkids KR. I want to be able to give you something that in the future you will treasure. The only thing I have from my mother is a small pamphlet with prayers in it. When I hold it in my hand I always think of my mother. That is the only thing I have. I want you and the rest of the family to have more.

KR: Can you continue on that?
GR:
My family never really had anything expensive, but my mother taught me a lot of valuable lesson. My mother was able to give me so much, and that is a lot more important than any heirloom you could ever give me. I have great respect for her. She was able to enter this country from Europe and mold two young kids, my brother and I, into great citizens of this country.

KR: What was a great memory that you have of Germany?
GR:
That is a very difficult question to ask because during that time I gave birth to your Aunt Pat, but other than that when Grandpa was presented with a lot medals I always felt very proud of him. I remember one time when Grandpa was getting a medal from the Colonel. The Colonel, can you believe it the Colonel, called me at 11:00 pm to tell me that he was receiving a medal. I was so excited for Eugene, that I woke him up in my excitement. The best part was that he did not even know he was getting the award. I kind of ruined the surprise, but I was so proud of him. I have so many memories, but the greatest memory has to be Pat.

KR: What was a great memory from Thailand?
GR:
From the stand point of a teacher, you don’t know the feeling that you get when you see the progress that your class has taken. You have put in so much time to develop these young boys to help them speak English. So, they could make a difference in the world. The greatest memory I have from Thailand was my 8 years at the International Institution in Bangkok. I remember one student, Ikio. This student was quite different, he was a little odd, but that is what makes him memorable. When lunch would come he took it upon himself to eat with me. I did not have the heart to tell him that it was my lunch, too. We tried our best to converse. We would have a great time talking about class, and what was going on in the day. Ikio is a name that I will always remember.

KR: What was a great memory from Saudi Arabia?
GR:
I taught a Saudi Princess. Her name was Al-Jahora. I helped her with her British literature class. During that time, the Saudi women were not allowed to go to class, but they were able to take the tests. It was practically like taking an online class today. This was the 70s, they did not mix the classes. They did allow the women to study at home and take the exam. While I lived in Saudi Arabia, I lived very close to Al-Jahora. We both lived in Riyadh. Then I had to move to Jeddah, due to the military and your grandfather. This really hurt Al-Jahora and her studies. She actually got so desperate that she flew her cousin to Jeddah to pick me up so that we could finish studying for her exam. Needless to say, it worked and she passed her class with flying colors.

KR: That is absolutely amazing why have you never mentioned that before?
GR:
I don’t know. It just doesn’t come up in a conversation a lot I guess.

KR: Well, I think I will end it with that. I don’t think I will be able top Saudi Princess with any other questions. Thank you again. Love you grandma.
 
I did my interview on my Grandmother, Dorothy Reardon. I chose her as my oral history focus because of how close she was to my Grandfather, who was one of my focusses in my Reardon research. It also helped that she has had the most exciting life of all of my relatives. My Grandmother, will by 90 years old this year. She has experienced so much in those years. She grow up in New York, was a housekeeper, mailroom clerk, and a stenographer. She loved New York. There was so much to do and see. Every day was an adventure. When she was 19 she married my Grandfather, Eugene Reardon. She thought that marriage would bring an end to her adventure, but it was only the beginning. During my Grandfather’s time in the Army, she lived in Vietnam, Thailand, Germany, and Saudi Arabia. Having been exposed to a variety of cultures I knew she would be the best to interview to get the facts about my Grandfather and her life as an Army wife.