Olga's Story

  Mom never knew what my father was going to do next so on advice from friends she went to the Catholic Charities for help. With their assistance we were all placed in a home called St. Agathas but we had to be baptized first.
It was a big affair for us and I still have the pictures that were taken.

  We were used to moving from place to place and I was well aware of the reason for moving. Nellie and Tommy were too young to understand. When mom told us that we were all going to live in a very nice place in the country,
it didn't bother us that much. I remember mom saying that they even had horses that we could ride. She dressed us all in new clothes and the Catholic Charities provided transportation to take us to St. Agathas Home in Nanuet,
upstate New York.

  When we got to St. Agathas we were placed in quarantine in a pleasant little cottage for four weeks, during which time we were given a complete physical and dental checkup. We assumed that this was the place that we were going
to live in. The grounds were very well kept and we were allowed to play and enjoy the short freedom before we were placed in the home. We weren't allowed visitors for the first month that we were there. Would we ever see
Mom again? There were times when I would hear the mournful sound of a train whistle at night and it would give me such a melancholy feeling. Why, I really don't know, because I had never been in a train.

  I had my first taste of what they meant by discipline when the dentist was filling a tooth and I cried out. He gave me a sound slap and told me to shut up and not to make another sound. I didn't remember ever being slapped so
that was a new experience for me.

  All of the new clothes, that we had arrived in, were taken from us and we were given clean used clothing. I remember that the shoes they gave me were old and far too big. In some of the old pictures that I have of us in St. Agatha I see those awful shoes and how I was always trying to hide my feet whenever we had pictures taken.

  After the fourth week, Nellie and I were taken to the girls section and poor little Tommy who was around two or three years old, was taken to the boys section. I could see how frightened he was when we were separated I didn't
realize until many tears later how my poor mother must have felt having to leave us there.

  I would like to ask you, when you have read this part, to put yourselves in the position that she was in and what exactly would you have done to protect your children.

  After the month long separation, mom was allowed to visit us. Visitors were allowed the first three Sundays of every month for two hours, Some of the children never had visitors but Mom seldom missed visiting days. There
were times in the winter when the snow was very deep but she still managed to come to visit us. She would always bring us a bag of fruit and candy

  While in the Home, my father murdered a man and he was sentenced to prison for twenty five years. Sure, it was safe to bring us home but by that time we were used to the place and we were well taken care of. It was hard to find a baby sitter that you could depend on plus she only had to pay twenty five dollars a month. As I said before, it was very hard on mom not to be able to be with us and take care of us, as parents do now. She worked ten hours a day six days a week. This way she could work from Monday thru Saturday and come and visit us on Sunday and not have to worry about us. I know that to the very end she always felt guilty for not being there for us but what else could she have done?

  Here is a strange coincidence. When I married, my children's father's mother had had an operation and had to put her sons in St. Agatha while she recuperated for several months.

  Our day started with the sound of a hand bell being rung by a nun at 5:00 AM. To this day I still get up at that hour. We were issued a night gown and a real woolen bathrobe. In those days there were no artificial materials such as nylon or polyester. There were many times, in winter, when I used to sleep with my bathrobe on. We would kneel on the cold floor and say our morning prayer. After we were dressed we would get in line and march to the wash room. From there we would get in line and go to mass. After services we would go to break fast, which consisted of two slices of bread and a cup of cocoa.

  Each child was assigned a job, such as making up to ten beds or cleaning the bathrooms, kitchen duties etc., Job assignments were changed on a monthly basis. In this way we learned all the duties that we would need to know about keeping a house clean and organized. At 7:30 we would line up to go to our classrooms.

  I'll always remember my teacher, Miss Clancy. She was one of three civilian teachers. All of the other teachers were nuns. We use to have the lift top desk and we were required to keep our desk neat. Occasionally, Miss Clancy would check all the desks and she used to put candy in the neatest one. One day she found some of my drawings and she liked them. From then on she would let me decorate the classroom for special occasions, such as Thanksgiving, Christ mas or Easter. It was the first time that anyone showed any interest in me. We remained in the same classroom with the same teacher who would teach all the subjects, including Bible History for the whole term.

  At 12:00 Noon we had our lunch which consisted of soup, meat, home grown vegetables, and milk from our own cows. Our dessert consisted of rice, choco late, bread or tapioca pudding. On Friday we got bananas for dessert. I was allergic to bananas so I didn't get any dessert on Friday. I do remember that the dining room was big, the tables were round, seating six at a table. There were white table cloths with white cloth napkins and napkin rings.

  We would return to our classrooms at 1:00. At 3:00 we were dismissed, changed our uniforms and went to the playground until supper time, which was at 5:00 PM. It consisted of two slices of bread and a cup of cocoa. Believe it or not we were so accustomed to this diet that we never felt hungry.

  Food was not the obsession that it is today. At 5:30 we returned to our class rooms to do homework until 6:30, then back to the playground. It didn't matter how cold it got, if it wasn't raining or snowing, we had to go out to the play-
ground. Otherwise we would go to the preventorium or better known as an auditorium. At 7:30, if weather permitted, we would line up out in the play ground to say the rosary. After the rosary we would march up to our dorma tories.

  I had gone back to visit St. Agathas in 1965 and had taken a picture of me standing in front of the building, where the dorm in which I slept in was. The place seemed so small but it still was beautiful.

  We wore uniforms for school, mass and whenever we had visitors on Sunday. The uniform was a pleated navy blue skirt and a white long sleeve middy blouse with a red scarf. We were responsible for keeping the skirts neat for
the entire year. We were given clean blouses once a month. I use to arrange the pleats on my skirt so that they lay nice and flat and place it beneath my mattress in my bed. That way the skirt always looked as if it were freshly pressed. Once a year, as we grew, we would get uniforms to fit. We wore this style until we reached the seventh grade. Then we were given navy blue jumpers with a white middy blouse and a red scarf.

  Once a month we had to have our hair cut. The little old man who did it use to cut it very short and of course, my hair the shorter it is the kinkier it got. He would always cut it just above my ears. Once we got into the 8th grade we didn't have hair cuts unless we wanted to.

  When you felt that your shoes needed to be changed, because they were worn out or you had outgrown them, you would line up on Saturday morning and the sister in charge would determine if you really did need them. Shoes
were seldom new and you would be very lucky to get a pair that really fit. The old ones had been resoled so many times you felt like Carmen Miranda walking on platforms. You were always given shoes that were one or two sizes
too big.

  Every Thursday we were all required to take a shower. This was done in an orderly fashion and according to classes. First and second grades, third and fourth, fifth and sixth, and seventh and eight. It was a big room with lots of
shower heads. We were required to wear a long white gown to bathe in. By simply putting our gowns on without putting our arms through the sleeves we were ably to wash our bodies with a wash cloth. The following day we were
issued clean clothes. I remember that we had to line up and march to a room where there were rows of 10" by 10" boxes.

  Each box would have a label with our names that contained our clean clothes. I will never forget the lady who worked in the clothes room. She was in charge of giving out the clean underwear and dresses, Her name was Helen, not a nun, and she was crippled. She was not a very nice person and would slap you for the slightest infraction.

  Everyone had to figure out the best way to stay fairly clean. L use to go to the washroom whenever I could and wash myself. The wash room was a huge room with large circular washing basins that required you to step on a peddle on the floor to turn the water on. I remember that on visitors day everyone would be so excited. We would gather in the wash room to wash. By taking turns, one would step on the peddle that turns the water on while allowing the other one to wash and make ourselves presentable.

  I remember the excitement, as we would all gather in a designated area, and waited for our names to be called out to let us know that we had visitors. Some children would wait for their names to be called and you could see the sad looks on their faces as each name was called and theirs was passed over. Then there were those children that knew they would never have anyone visit them. They would go to the furthest corner of the yard to play and not have to hear the names being called for the lucky ones.

  On visitors day pillows were placed on our beds. That was in the event that visitors wanted to visit our dormitories would assume that we slept with pillows, which we didn't.

  St. Agatha was located in a very beautiful setting and it always amazed me how they kept the grounds so beautiful because you never saw anyone working on them. It was surrounded by hills and forest. We very seldom saw cars or people unless it was Sunday, visitors day.

  I will always remember the forest that surrounded us. The sisters would take us to the edge of the forest and we would try to identify the different animals prints in the snow. I still remember the natural setting and how beautiful it was.

  In the spring we would go a little further into the woods. It was so quiet when you first entered the forest. Then the birds would realize that we weren't there to destroy or harm them and they would start tuning up again. I love to listen to the birds sing their pure and beautiful tunes, Can you really compare GOD's music such as the sounds of soft breezes, the waves hitting the shore or a babbling brook to the music man composes today?

  We were always cautioned to behave and act as if we were visiting a very special place and to learn to enjoy the natural beauty, the trees and scents that were created by GOD. Can you really compare the artificial perfumes that man has created and are so costly to the one that GOD has given us and is free? Man can never reproduce the natural scents of a man or woman. I didn't realize then that, as I grew older, man was going to destroy most of this GOD given beauty that was absolutely free to every human being and every living creature.

  They have been replaced with man's idea of entertainment and beauty, Disney Land, theaters, TV, computers, cell phones, heavy metal music. These are definitely not free but at times loud, ugly, violent, and cruel, It is so shocking to see how they degrade love, sex and innocence. Their idea of art has become so wild and crazy that you have to study it to make out what the artist was trying to paint. They have even made it dangerous to hike through the woods and enjoy its beauty or even walk the streets. I truly believe that mankind is far more destructive than the termites. We know that termites were doing what they were created to do.

  I like to remember the summer months in St. Agathas. There was a natural pool a mile from the home. It was owned by a couple who allowed us to use it every Saturday morning in the summer. The sisters in charge would dump a large bag on the floor with donated bathing suits of every size and we would pick the one that would fit us. Just walking to the pool was an exciting adventure and so much fun. The only problem we had was the blood suckers in the water that would get in between our toes. It was a very natural setting with lots of trees and a running brook.

  We stayed from nine to eleven in the morning and there would always be two sisters watching over us. In the afternoon, after lunch, we would march up to our classrooms and study bible history until three and we would return to the playground until five.

  Christmas in St. Agatha was always an event to be remembered. The snow, the scents and the preparations for this most important event. Especially getting up at eleven PM to attend midnight mass. We would get to dress up in our uniforms and our veils. Of course what made it extra special was the fact that it was one of the few times that the boys were allowed to attend mass with the girls.

  When we reached the eight grade we would consider ourselves very special because the whole class would sing in the choir, whether they could carry a tune or not. Somehow Miss Hamilton, our music teacher, managed to get us all to keep in tune and give a beautiful presentation.

  I will always remember Miss Hamilton. She was old in our eyes, Iguess now I would say she was in her late forties or early fifty. She wore long dresses from the early 1900 hundreds. I will always remember the curly haired blond wig that she wore. Whenever she had to go to church she wore a wide brim lacy hat from her past life. She lived in a tiny room off the top of the stairs where the classrooms were. That area was dark in the evening with only the light from her room. I use to wonder what had happened in her life that made her turn to the life she was now living, so alone.

  Was it a lost love? She would play such beautiful classical music on the organ while waiting for the mass to begin. She also taught piano lessons for kids whose parents could afford a dollar a week. A few weeks before Christmas women from a charity club would donate presents to the children. We would write our names on a slip of paper and we were allowed to ask for just one present.

  I remembered asking for a pair of silk stockings and that is exactly what I was given. I got to wear them just twice before they had runs and I had to throw them away. Not only were they a useless and foolish thing to ask for, but I didn't have garters to hold them up. I should have asked for something that was useful. Some of the girls had asked for snow suits, roller skates or dolls. Just preparing for the Holidays was so exciting.

  There were so many beautiful memories of Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter holidays and then spring and summer. The dance around the May pole to welcome in the spring. We always had something to look forward to. The preparations for our first Holy Communion, our Confirmation and becoming a Child of Mary.

  When Sister Thomasina became the Mother Superior she converted a fairly large room into a parlor or living room as they are called today. She was able to get a radio, living room furniture and even a carpet, for the eight graders. We were taught how to dance and we were allowed to read in comfort. It made us feel very special and so grown up. We didn't have to hear the awful noise that we had become so accustomed to from all the small children in the preventorium. I remember sitting by a window and watching it snow in the evening while I listened to beautiful music from the radio. Some of my favorite songs were, Black Magic, Begin The Beguine, Temptation, Two Cigarettes In The Dark. etc.

 Sister Thomasina allowed us to go home for two days on Christmas. My grandmother still lived in that walkup cold water flat. During the depression there were so many that had so little and were so desperately poor. Of course in those days television was unheard of and few people owned radios. Music was the main entertainment with very few commercials. In this day and age they break in every ten minutes with at least ten different commercials during the five minute they are allowed. To add insult to injury, they will break in during the commercials to remind you of what program you are watching. Just in case you forgot, so that you wouldn't change channels.

  I remember my aunts Angie and Maria, my sister Ayxa, my cousin Chi Chi, my grandmother and Mom sitting around the kitchen table telling stories about the past. There was an advantage in those stories because you would remember and learn more about your own family history. Such as names of ancestors, dates of birth and places where they were born etc.. These days families barely communicate with each other unless it's by phone which can be costly. They end up having to pay to have their family history traced. And then it's doubtful that the information that is provide and you pay for is reliable.

  There was a couch in the living room that converted into a bed. I had to sleep with Nellie, Tommy and Chi Chi. Needless to say it was very uncomfortable. There was only one bathroom to be used by all the tenants on that floor. The kitchen was more or less the gathering place for just about everything because the other two rooms were used for sleeping quarters.

  When we were returned to St. Agatha we really appreciated our own beds, the food and the things we had grown so use to. We didn't receive gifts for Christmas from our families nor did we expect any. We were just happy for whatever attention we got and we considered ourselves fortunate that we had a family. So many of the other children in the home didn't have anyone at all. We felt safe in the home and we weren't accustomed to the noises in the city.

  I'll always remember one of my children saying to me that they would never have placed their children in a home. I often wonder what would they have done if they had the misfortune to have a husband like my mom had.

  We were safer in the home than in the city. I Know that GOD, knowing her desperation, was guiding her when she put us in St. Agathas thus assuring safety for her and her children from my father.

  I don't see how she would have ever had time for us, especially when her main concern was to make enough money to pay for all the expenses of maintaining a place to live in, baby sitting and food.. You have to remember that in those days there seldom was any such thing as anybody owning or having more than one change of clothing. Women wore aprons to keep their dresses halfway clean.

  Lack of bonding, that is the excuse that is given these days when a teenager goes wrong. They blame their parents if they are not able to cope with life. In my days we learned about life the hard way. Parents didn't have the time to bond with anyone much less their children. They had to dedicate all of their time on making enough money to feed and cloth their families and the children understood and tried to help. Strange as it seems parents are now able to give their children more of the material things of life and yet they still can't manage or bond with them.

  They even have books that give them instructions on how to bring up their children. Most of the children of today are able to, not only finish high school, but even get a college education.

  The memories from my time in the home are far better than if I had been brought up in the city. Sure there were hard times and we had to tolerate and contend with the bullies. I'm sure we would have had even harder times in the city. We survived and it made us stronger and able to take care of ourselves when we got out into the real world. We were taught good manners, how to take care of our clothes and ourselves which seems to be a thing of the past. The children of today go out and buy new clothes rather than take care of what they have.

  In the winter, no matter how cold it was outside, we were made to go out for our play time and yet we seldom suffered from colds. I was always a loner and a dreamer. I would plan my future and how I would meet the man of my dreams. We would be so in love and he would build us a beautiful home where we would live happily ever after. Since my favorite past time was reading books I would get many of my ideas from them.

  We also learned to use food as it was meant for. In this day and age food has to be made very attractive for the children so that they will eat more and more and more. Then they wonder why their children are fat, lazy and so unhappy because of their appearance. I still think that parents who allow their children to get so fat that they suffer, both in health and their social life, should be charged with child abuse.

  I have never believed in pills unless its is absolutely necessary. I don't believe that a healthy child has to depend on vitamins for extra energy. If they are normal well fed and cared for they should allow the body to learn to function on it's own. Vitamins should be introduced only if there is a real need for them. There are always side affects when you take any kind of pill. As adults they will feel that that is the only way to exist. They are given pills for depression or because they are overactive. Pills for birth control, PMS, diet, high or low cholesterol, to calm their nerves and even pills to stop smoking. I never got my children accustomed to vitamins and they have all grown up to be healthy. The time to take vitamins is when the body ages and needs help.

  In my days such conditions were unheard of because we always had too much to do and never enough time or money to sit around watching TV or just doing nothing. With the garbage they show on TV it's no wonder children are depressed and afraid to face life. They turn to drugs in pill forms or powder or liquor. Then they have to take pills to lose the pounds that they have put on due to inactivity which usually gives them headaches or it upsets their nervous system. Again, another pill to take care of both conditions.

  GOD gives us a healthy body with the conscience to know the difference between right and wrong. HE trusts us to take care of that body. HE is not the one who punishes us when we abuse ourselves. The punishment comes as a result of overindulging in taking any substance or doing activities that are not good for us. Everyone knows the result or punishment for smoking, doing drugs or overdrinking and yet some never learn.

  If I have a headache I try to remember what I have done, that was out of the ordinary, that caused it. Then common sense would tell me to be more careful in the future. Of course, there were times when I was young that I failed to listen to my common sense but as I grew older I got the message. In other words go to the source and correct it, that way it wouldn't happen again. I know that if I drink liquor or sodas I will either get a headache or an upset stomach.

  I trust my GOD. HE seldom gives you damaged goods to start your life with. HE puts all the right parts in the body and it's up to the individual to use it properly. The one that really blows my mind, are pills to improve your sex performance. Gee I wonder why they can't have a normal sex life, could it be that it's due to all the pills that they have taken in their lifetime.

  Or, and here is a good one, could it be all the books and television shows that are constantly demonstrating how to perform. So now they have to take pills to do it right. It's no wonder that pills cost so much when everyone has become so addicted to them. That is one stock in the market that will never go down.

  Anyway enough of that. Let me continue with my life in St. Agathas.

  We looked forward to a better life when we left the home. Poor little Tommy had it hard. I found out later on in life that one of the men who supervised the boys abused him. Later on he told me that the abuse was a terrible beating and that it was not sexual abuse. In April of the year 2002 the media disclosed that many little boys had been abused in Catholic schools. Mom use to give one of the bigger boys, named Joe McCoy, a dollar a week to watch over him. Tommy told me later on that he didn't even know who he was.

  One of my favorite memories in the home was when I graduated from the 8th grade on June 25, 1939. Mom promised that she would make my graduation dress. When the graduation dresses were distributed I was so glad that I wouldn't have to wear one of them. They were ankle length and yellow with age. The style was from the 1900 `s . On the very morning of graduation my dress arrived. I'll never forget that day. I was so anxious and so afraid that the dress would not get there in time.

  When Sister Gertrude Mary called me to her office and I saw that big box I knew exactly what was in it. When I opened the box, there was, not only the most beautiful dress I ever saw in my life, but also a lovely slip, silk panties, my first bra, silk stockings and a hand made draw string bag made from the same material as the dress, and a lovely hanky. Mom and my aunt Maria had made the dress, My aunt Angie made the bag.

  My sister Ayxa bought the panties and bra. There was also a beautiful plaid dress from my grandma. I was the most envied and best dressed graduate. The shoes were the only item that came from the school. When it came time to distribute the shoes to the girls that were graduating they didn't have my size so they had to put in for a special order. When they arrived they were more beautiful than the ones the other girls got. I was so proud of my mom and the whole family for coming to the graduation ceremonies.

  The graduation was held on June 25, 1939. Oh how grand I felt walking down the isle in church to receive my diploma, in my beautiful white dress, my wide brim hat and prayer beads and white prayer book. Again I liken this time in my life to that old movie, "A tree grows in Brooklyn". I had mixed emotions about leaving St. Agathas. I felt so safe and protected and yet I was anxious to find out what it was all about.

  Two weeks after the graduation we were transferred to another home for older girls in New York City. We went to a high school in the city and were also allowed to go home on weekends. It was the first time I had ever been on a trolley car by myself since I was grown up. Around 1940 my mom was able to rent a nice apartment on 135th St. between Riverside Drive and Broadway and I was allowed to come home to a room of my own. I had to transfer to another school downtown which was my first experience taking the subway. The school was coed and I wasn't comfortable being around boys. So I dropped out of school and got a job. Of course my mom wasn't too happy about that. I also found that what was being taught at that school I had already had at St. Agathas. When Nellie graduated mom felt that she was now able to have us all together.

Synopsize of my life

  I left St. Agathas got married, had five of my children in New York and moved to Hialeah Florida with only sixty five dollars. Hialeah was in it's infancy then and we managed to find jobs. Due to my husbands service in the army we managed to buy a brand new house under the VA. I brought up my children in the only way that I knew how and had been brought up in St. Agathas. They use to tell me, later on in years, that I had been too strict with them and that they would be more lenient with their children and go by the books that had been published in how to bring up children.

  After all my children left the nest we moved to Cape Coral Florida bought a beautiful house and I am now retired from State employment . In 2001 I started to write my book on my life and I guess I will continue untill I am no longer able. My children have read it and now understand why I was so strict with them but what is so interesting is that they all agree that my way of bringing them up was right and they all wish that they had used that method with their children..

  I had told my daughter, Olga, that one of my last wishes was to find out if St. Agathas was still out there. She pulled it up on my computer, I'll never know why I never thought of doing it, and we spent hours with it. She then sent for the three books on the HOME KIDS. Every time that my family come to visit they want to see what else I had added to the book. Of course I am now writting about you and Nancy and how happy you have made me. I have had more phone calls from the family telling me how proud they are of me. I don't think they placed much interest in my life before I started writting the book and now with what you and Nancy are doing they are all so PROUD of me.

Olga [Pelliser] Bell

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