Bridget Takes Charge
Another of my dad's contributions to the family lore of women being in charge of things. We sat talking over breakfast about his growing up during the Great Depression and began talking about his father’s business and his mother’s role in keeping everything afloat. I don’t know how much was first-hand knowledge, but my father was a close observer even as a small boy, when he prowled through his parents’ drawers looking for proof that he was adopted.
His father Walt was a carpenter, from a family of carpenters who’d emigrated from England in 1886. They had a family business: WJ Price & Sons - Walt being one of the five sons. According to my father, it was his grandmother Sarah who kept the business prospering and when she died in 1927 the business began circling the drain. It wasn’t that they didn’t have enough work; it was that they didn’t know how to collect the money. And – even though they were English, not Irish – the drinking began to escalate. The Great Depression didn't help.
On Saturdays the tradition was for father and sons to gather at the shop to make stock items like windows. But there was also a horseshoe pit and bottles of whiskey.
One Saturday in 1936 Walt came home smelling of whiskey and his wife Bridget had had enough. Bridget had emigrated from Ireland and had done enough domestic work for wealthy families that she had an appreciation for the finer things in life. She was no child bride, not marrying till she was 25. By the time of this incident, she had 5 children and wasn't putting up with any nonsense.
My father – about 14 – recalls much hell being raised. The conclusion: "Pick a brother," she said. "You're going into business with him." On the following Monday, Bridget marched Walt off to the bank and they got another mortgage on the house. They used the money to buy a truck and Walt had a conversation with his younger brother Tab. With Bridget cracking the whip, Walt and Tab were quickly in the black and the mortgage paid off.
It’s the way my father tells it, anyway. He’s biased toward strong, intelligent women… my good fortune.
12.29.00 (revised 12.14.05)