Bonnie Shell's Life Stories

How is life different today compared to when you were a child?

Life is much different now than when I was a child. I was an only child until I was five years old. I was not doted on except by my Grandpa Kania. We lived in two-bedroom apartments until I was thirteen. I never wanted for anything.

I always had enough food, and my mom sewed most of my clothes. My dad would read the funnies in the newspaper to me on Sundays. In the evenings, we would listen to radio programs. There was no TV or computers, or cell phones. I don't remember if we had a phone while living on Fairfield Ave. My mother's family had a pay phone in their house because they were one of the few families on the block that had a phone. When calls came in for neighbors, one of the family members ran to the neighbor's house, and they would come running to get their call. They would have to put a nickel in the box if they needed to make a call.

I only got gifts for Christmas. I don't remember having birthday parties. The only things I remember getting other than for Christmas were when I was sick. My dad caught the streetcar from work on a corner with a newsstand, and he would bring me a dot-to-dot book to make me feel better. We didn't have a car until I was about twelve. My dad needed a car for work, so the company gave him a company car, and he was able to drive it for personal use.

Because we only had two bedrooms, the three of us slept in one bed. When my brother got bigger, we got a sofa bed, and that's where he slept.

On Saturdays or Sundays, we would visit my grandparents. Sundays always started with going to church and then Sunday dinner. If we had nothing else to do, dad would take us for a ride in the country and follow up with stopping for ice cream.

My Uncle Frank and Aunt Estelle (my father's brother) were the first ones in the family to have a TV. We would go to their house on Sunday evenings to watch Ed Sullivan. That was a treat.

Christmas Eve was always celebrated at my maternal grandparent's house. The Rejczyks were a wild bunch. It was a traditional Polish Christmas Eve. At first, we shared Oplatki. (a Polish wafer) Everyone got a piece and then shared a little piece with all that were there and wished good wishes and blessings for the new year. We then ate pierogis and fish and a special Christmas soup. There were about 50 people, and we had to eat in shifts. Grandma and Grandpa only had a four-room house. After dinner, Santa would come to give the kids their gifts. We sang Christmas carols and had a lot of fun.

Christmas Day was spent with my fraternal grandparents. The Kanias were very reserved. My sister, brother, and I were the only children in the family. We never got toys from the Kania family. We always got clothes.

I was happy with whatever I had and never wanted anything except a sister or a brother. I remember going to see Santa one year and asking Santa for a bathrobe for my mom. He made a big deal about that.

When I was about twelve, my mom went to work so we could save for a house. I was left in charge of my sister, who was seven, and my brother, who was five and a half. I had to help my sister and brother with their homework and have dinner ready when my parents got home from work. I went to Catholic School, and we had a lot of homework. Most of the year, we had to attend some church service every evening, so my homework didn't start until after 8 o'clock. Most nights, I didn't go to bed until eleven o'clock or later. I had no social life.

We were very excited when my parents bought us a house. Before we moved in, my dad painted the house by himself, so on the weekends, my sister, brother, and I would take the bus to our new house and bring dad his lunch.

Life was much simpler then. Family and friends would visit whenever. No one needed an invitation.

I'm glad that we were able to give our children more material things than we had. We tried not to spoil them. I liked the life we had. It was more simple. Families were closer, and everyone lived close, sometimes within walking distance or a short bus ride. We eventually have to adjust to change.