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PAUL RUSSELL ORAM

INTERVIEWS AND CONVERSATIONS

PRO:          Paul Russell Oram

NSO:          Nancy Susan Oram

DRO:          Dorothy Ruth Oram

DPO:          David Paul Oram

PAH:          Paul Allen Hoy

DSH:          David Scott Hoy

September 2000, Part B

SEPTEMBER 2000

[Talking about finding ancestors.]

PRO:          . . .go up and ask him personally and they'll tell me.

NSO:          There you go. Then you'll have to get the information to me somehow.

PRO:          I was thinking about that the other night, and I thought then, if I go up there I'm going to have to figure out some way, and I'm going to have to talk to Nancy about it, to arrange a time and place where I'll be right there, and she'll know I'm there trying to convey something to her, although it's a long --

NSO:          You'll spook me.

PRO:          All the wires are cut and everything else, but if we arrange a time and a place. Well, like that guy Houdini, he told his wife -- he was always curious about whether there was really a life after death. So they made a vow that certain times, like say the Monday at 10 o'clock every week, that she'd be receptive and he'd be trying to reach her. And I forget how the outcome was, but there was some communication.

NSO:          Well, I'll know if you have something to communicate with me because Grandpa Jack got his message to me and we didn't have any kind of arrangement, you know. Ron Talbott got his message to me. Big Grandma got her message to me. Those are three people that needed specific work done. And when I first felt prompted, I didn't know what it was, but through talking to Mom, I was able to find out what was undone, you know.

[Break in tape.]

[Conversation with just Mom transcribed as part of her oral history.]

PRO:          [Enters room.] Love you.

NSO:          Love you, too.

You may not have cooked gourmet meals, but you sure did three meals a day for all those years.

DRO:          Well, it just got to be a habit, more.

PRO:          Nobody set a better table than she could. Or her grandmother either, for that matter.

NSO:          Well, I would maintain that that kind of cooking is better than what people would consider a gourmet meal anyway, just home cooking.

But you always -- you always tried new recipes. You always made the dish nobody recognized.

DRO:          Right. [Laughing.]

PRO:          It's cooled off.

NSO:          Yeah. A little bit.

PRO:          I got the air conditioning off and opened the door. While I was sitting there, if they opened the front door a nice breeze would come through, and so I opened that front door when I got here.

DRO:          After the sun goes down these days it cools off.

PRO:          If they could only figure some way to make this stuff [genealogy] available on the TV -- on the computer.

NSO:          Yeah, they are, a little at a time.

PRO:          Yeah, but as long as they've got eggheads running it, they're going -- if you don't know the keys and the secret keyword, they ain't going to tell you. It's like all the people that like to belong to these secret clubs, and they've got a secret handshake. Masons Lodge and all that, you pay money to get into it.

[Break in tape.]

PRO:          . . .buildings in town there, and just did everything.

NSO:          Well, when you first went to New York --

PRO:          Around '32.

NSO:          Around '32. Where did you come directly from? Where had you been just before you went; Illinois?

PRO:          Well, I stopped in and saw my dad. It was the first time I'd seen him since I had run away from home. And then I took the bus from Taylorville, Illinois, all the way back through Pennsylvania and into New York to come back. And Fern and Iola were back there in New York, and they met me at the bus station.

NSO:          When I was little and you would tell that story, I didn't put it together that you had sisters there. It was sort of like this little boy just going to New York, like a homeless kid would go to San Francisco or, you know --

PRO:          No, it wasn't that bad.

NSO:          And it makes a difference that you had sisters there to go to, you know.

PRO:          Yeah, New York would have been tough to do that. But I was all over everywhere else. But that's different. You can hitchhike around through the countryside and find some place to sneak into a culvert and lay down and go to bed and sleep.

NSO:          So you first lived with Iola?

PRO:          Yeah. On 34th Street in New York in an upstairs apartment.

She'd send me for a loaf of bread, and I'd be coming back, and I'd be going -- walking around, looking up and down here, and stopping and looking at that. She'd stick her head out of that upstairs window and say, "Hey, get over here. We're waiting for that bread." You know, they're used to just running at top speed on do everything, you know. And hell, I didn't give a damn when I got there.

But I never will forget when we went in -- I had carried this money in my shoes, forty dollars, in my shoes. Two twenty-dollar bills I took out of my shoes. They just stunk, and they turned yellow. She took them in and handed them to the baker. And he took them like this, by the corners, and put them in an envelope and sealed them.

NSO:          That was done for.

PRO:          And gave us the change. And he had them destroyed, you know.

NSO:          Well, this says, "Having outdistanced the New York Yankees by seven games in the American League pennant race, Washington appeared too strong for the Giants." Could that have been the pennant race that you were thinking of?

PRO:          No, well, see what else it says there.

NSO:          Okay. I'm trying to get to the bottom line of the --

PRO:          What year are you in, now?

NSO:          '33.

PRO:          Okay, that would be '34, too.

NSO:          Lefty O'Doul.

PRO:          No, '34 is when the -- Lefty O'Doul, yeah.

NSO:          Okay. I'm trying to -- this is a narrative instead of saying what the end result was.

PRO:          Yeah, I wanted to know in the National League, the Detroit Tigers.

NSO:          "Three-three stalemate continued until the top of the tenth with two out." So it wasn't a seven-game --

PRO:          No.

NSO:          Okay. So, but it was a seven-game thing in the pennant race to get to that point, for the Yankees.

PRO:          Oh, yeah?

NSO:          Yeah. So it might have been the pennant race, you know, that had all the excitement.

PRO:          Yeah, I'm probably getting something mixed up.

NSO:          Could be. Lefty O'Doul's -- we found his grave marker in Colma.

PRO:          Oh, yeah?

NSO:          While we were looking for Charles Sedam Heermance. Lefty O'Doul is there with a statue or a baseball bat or something, you know. Nathan saw it.

PRO:          Yeah, it's been so long ago that I do get stuff mixed up sometimes.

NSO:          Yeah, but that's not too far.

PRO:          But I'm amazed you can bring that -- come right up that quick with that information.

NSO:          Yeah. Yeah.

[Break in tape.]

NSO:          Who were you talking about?

PRO:          This German kid, this German American [unintelligible] kid. He told me that Hitler had a navy that would whip our butt, you know, the navy was bigger than ours, more ships than ours, and all this. So I go home and I get the Encyclopedia Britannica and turn to it and show that we had the biggest navy in the world, and took it in and showed it to him. He said, "Just throw that away. That don't know nothing." He says, "We get that information straight from Germany. They've got more ships than they've ever thought about." And it turned out he was right.

NSO:          Oh.

PRO:          You know, and the war came on right after that. But anyway, we got into such an argument after that about that race, he got so mad when I beat him on the race, and then got another twenty dollars out of him that he said something -- he might have said, "Shut your mouth." And he started to swing at me, and I said, "Let's just go over to the gym and settle this." And we went over there. And all the way over there I was shaking in my boots. I was thinking, this son of a bitch is going to just kick my ass. Because he's twice the size of me. Big ham hock hands, you know, and everything. But I had been in the, what do you call it, the derby, you know, the boxing derby, the little league -- not little league. I can't think of the word now. But anyway I'd been practicing in there, and had a manager in there. And so we got in there, and we put the gloves on. And we turned around, and I just hauled off and smacked him in the jaw and knocked him right down, and just got all over him. Just beat the shit out of him right on the floor. And he was -- nose was bleeding, and his tooth was knocked out. And I mean I was scared, and I was just vicious.

NSO:          How old were you then?

PRO:          Oh, shoot. It was 1932.

NSO:          Thirteen.

DRO:          Thirteen.

PRO:          Thirteen years old. And so -- but I lied about that so much that I can't -- I thought I was 15 or 16 or something when I was there. I said I was 15 or 16 so much -- so long before I became it, that --

NSO:          You started to believe your own lie.

PRO:          Yeah. And I can't even remember what I said. But oh, those were strange days. But that turned out to be true that -- now all of Carl Strusz's relatives -- that's Iola's first husband -- were good people. They weren't German Bund members or anything like that. This kid was. He was anti-American. He actually was like a communist, you know, only in German. And all Carl's brother, Nick, and all of them, they were -- and his friends that were Germans there in Brooklyn, they didn't belong to the Bund at all. They were all -- were American. Straight for America, you know. But this kid, he sure was -- and he knew what he was talking about, too, because he was attending all those Bund meetings and getting the information first hand.

NSO:          When you say "Bund" how do you spell that?

PRO:          B-u-n-d. It was just a club, German club, Bundsmen. Yeah, there was a lot of them that were arrested when we finally went to war. When we ended up in the war, they just raided their headquarters, the FBI, and took all their leaders and put them in the jug. I think this kid went back to Germany before that happened to him, though. He went back there and fought us. He fought us in World War II, I'm sure. Of course, see, '32, it wasn't even -- you wouldn't even realize as an individual like us how much Hitler was -- way back then was planning for it.

NSO:          Yeah, that it was coming.

PRO:          The war didn't happen till '41 or something like that.

NSO:          Yeah, ten years.

PRO:          But he -- well, he got -- he invaded all those other countries, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and all them before '41, but.

DRO:          '38 I think.

PRO:          '38, see.

NSO:          Well, then it wasn't that far off.

PRO:          No, it wasn't.

NSO:          He was just getting going.

PRO:          He was ready for it way back there. From the time he came into power -- and he had all the fanatics, you know. He was a real mad man. Well, he ended up killing millions of Jews. Just exterminated them. And those people now, the bleeding hearts that try to tell you that it didn't happen, and we should -- oh, we're the worst country in the world for dropping the bomb on Hiroshima. Why, that saved, not only my life and others here in America, but it saved at least a half million or three-quarters of a million Japanese lives that they would have had to sit there and get their butt bombed off, and every city in Japan would have been leveled down to worse than anything in Germany, and you saw what we did to Germany. They -- even in Dresden and some of those places where they made fine china, they were just leveled out and to this day there's a lot of bleeding hearts that say that was terrible, we should never have bombed Dresden. Well, we had some misinformation that there were ball bearing factories there, and so we leveled them. But there weren't. They were just making china. But anyway, it don't make any difference how many mistakes we made, we had a right to, after what they did. And as I say, not just for our own sake, but the Japanese that were spared by not having to fight on the ground our troops all the way through Japan, through all the cities in Japan, and slaughter them. We would have slaughtered them slowly, a few hundred at a time. But this way we got them, 670,000 at one whack. And one more like that, then -- Hiroshima, and what was the other one? Nagasaki, or some place. And when we did that, they quit. They quit. That was that. Oh, they knew what they had coming then.

NSO:          Well, there was Pearl Harbor, too.

PRO:          They started Pearl Harbor.

NSO:          Right, that's what I mean.

PRO:          Yeah.

NSO:          That's what got it set off.

PRO:          And people don't understand that nowadays. They say it's the only country in the world to ever drop the atomic bomb, and we shouldn't have done that. They weren't here when Pearl Harbor was attacked.

[Break in tape.]

PRO:          . . .man than I was in those days. When -- in fact, after I run away from home and got up to New York and everything. Even, like, I had a girlfriend, and I was real nice to her and good. Cecelia Brady and her sister, Kathleen Brady. And when I cut my finger in that place, why her sister Kathleen's boyfriend was an attorney. Just passed the bar, and one thing and another. Well, he sued the Hotel Governor Clinton, because that doctor was drunk that put a clamp on there, and he missed and I still got that finger, that nerve sticking out there. But like as friendly as I was with those kids, about a few months before I left there to come on here, I just crossed them all off my list. I can just turn it off like that and not have nothing to do with them anymore and just move on. I had got to where I could do that.

Of course, now I've lived with your mother so long that I'm the biggest softie in the world. But not in those days. I even told Fern one day, I said, "Just go home and forget you ever had a brother. I don't exist. As far as I'm concerned you don't exist anymore."

NSO:          Do you remember what caused that? Probably not, huh?

PRO:          No, I don't. I don't really remember what caused that. But I just -- she would always butt in, you know. She thought as my older sister she had a right to butt in.

NSO:          Older sisters are kind of like that.

DRO:          Yeah, but he figured out when they were home, and he called her up and apologized.

NSO:          Yeah, it blew over. Well, tell me how you cut your finger, because I always think about the episode with the axe.

PRO:          Well, that's where I cut it this way. And it slipped out from under there, and I cut it all the way around there. I almost chopped it off.

NSO:          Okay.

PRO:          The round part at the front of the axe come down on there and hit the bone, and it slid out from under it.

NSO:          And how old were you then?

PRO:          Just before I went to New York.

NSO:          So that was in Illinois at home?

PRO:          I sent the check to pay for the doctor that sewed that up from New York. I was in New York when that --

NSO:          And that was at your dad's home when that happened?

PRO:          No, it was actually at Leroy's house, which was down the road from the lane that Dad lived on, down a ways.

NSO:          Well, since we're talking about that, you -- the axe caught in the limb, in the tree above?

PRO:          I went up like this, and jerked. But it just jerked the handle right out of my hand, and it caught on a limb. And it spun, and I thought, oh-oh, I'm going to get it right in the head. And I leaned back like that, and I guess I put my hand on the block. And that damn axe come down and stuck right into the block.

NSO:          Probably catching your balance as you were trying to get out of the way.

PRO:          Yeah. And I must have put that finger up, because I missed -- this finger didn't get cut at all. It should have been cut off when it cut that far into that one.

NSO:          So it's at the base of your ring finger on your left hand.

PRO:          Yeah. It's way down there.

NSO:          Yeah, so it almost cut it off.

PRO:          I just have -- this must have got stuck on something, or pushed away, to hold it out of the way like that. And then when I went up to New York, when I was going through -- I had a water bottle in my hand, and was going to go through the swinging doors that went from the kitchen to the dining room. And I slipped and fell down and busted one.

NSO:          And that's at the hotel.

PRO:          And it didn't cut my hand at all.

NSO:          Oh.

PRO:          And I went back and I said, "Oh boy." Anything you broke like that comes out of your salary. And your salary was eight dollars a week. And the thing cost probably fifteen dollars. I don't know. A big water thing, carafe or whatever it was. And so I went back in there, and I had to get one from the stores and sign for it so they could take it out of my salary. Filled it up, and then started back in. And I went through the door and it come down again and slipped in the damn water from where I did it before. And it just cut the hell out of that finger. And then I was sitting around there bleeding for about an hour while they found the doctor. And he was having some party. This was I think like either Christmas or New Year's holiday when this happened. And he was at a party. And he come in there so drunk he could hardly stand up. And he went to put the clamp on there and he missed. And I didn't care, as long as I got it stopped bleeding and got out of there. And this Kathleen Brady's boyfriend sued him, and they -- we went into court and he represented me. And they put a -- held matches under it, burned it --

[Break in tape.]

NSO:          Okay. Matches.

PRO:          Yeah, they burned matches under my finger like that, because it just, it laid there dead. I could move these, but that finger just stayed like that, about that -- it wouldn't go up here, and it wouldn't go down there. It just stayed like that. So they burnt matches under it, stuck pins through it, you know, there in front of the judge --

NSO:          Just to test -- to show -- to prove --

PRO:          Yeah. So they decided it was definitely permanently damaged. In fact, the doctor wanted to take it off. And so they said, well, you would have to wait six months and appear before the court again, and then they'd pay it. They were going to pay -- sued them for a thousand dollars, I believe it was. And so this kid was going to get about forty percent, or four hundred dollars, you know. It's his first case or something. And hell, I left New York before that happened.

NSO:          Before that happened.

PRO:          Yeah. And he was so mad, he wanted me to come back there --

NSO:          So he could get his money.

PRO:          So he could get the money, because he went to all that trouble representing me and didn't get a dime.

NSO:          So your finger has movement now, doesn't it?

PRO:          Well, years and years later, after I was out here, it started to itch on the left side, just right here. And I'd scratch it, and that would make the circulation, and that blood got in there and it come to life right down the middle. One side of it was alive, and the other side was still dead. You couldn't feel a thing. But gradually the circulation just moved on through, and finally that finger -- except for that nerve sticking out, that's just as good as any finger. It just goes to show you how persistent the body you've been given by the good Lord is, and it will revive itself any way it can.

NSO:          True. If you'd gone to a hospital they probably would have taken it off.

PRO:          Oh, they would have taken it off. Yeah, I wouldn't have had that finger. It was on the left hand, so it wouldn't have mattered so much. But still you use it.

NSO:          You use it for a lot of things.

PRO:          Yeah, I can still scratch my head with it.

NSO:          Tear telephone books.

PRO:          But it ain't any good for picking your nose, cause that's this one.

NSO:          Your character's going to come through on this tape, that's for sure.

PRO:          Oh, well. Yeah, those are the good old days.

On July 4, 1935 is when I got here in California.

NSO:          What's your best memory of New York?

PRO:          Working for Walgreen's, and going up and getting the pastry of the -- up in the -- way the hell and gone out towards Long Island. I'd go an hour early. Take off from Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, and go all the way up to the other end of the line, the IRT line, and pick up these pastries. There would be boxes of rolls, sweet rolls and stuff. There would be about six or seven boxes, one on each hand. And I'd get back on the subway for a nickel, and come back down to 42nd and Broadway, and bring them in the pastry, and set it down there and they'd sell out for breakfast.

NSO:          Did you have to get up real early to do that?

PRO:          Yeah. It didn't matter to me. I didn't care.

NSO:          How early did you have to have them out for breakfast?

PRO:          Well, I think I went to work at 7 o'clock, and so I was up about 5:30, and go all the way up there, and then come back down and be back down there by 7, and bring them the pastry so they could open up and serve right away.

NSO:          And was that one of your first jobs, or later?

PRO:          Well, that was long before the Hotel Governor Clinton. Yeah, that was about the -- well, no the first jobs I had in New York I was just selling five items of soap for 25 cents. You know, just selling it on the street. And I made a nickel every time I sold one package of stuff, you know, 25-cent package. That's the way I made a living for a long time.

And then Carl, that's Iola's husband, worked in the 42nd Broadway -- Times Square, they call that -- store, and he got me a job in there. There I -- I went and got those pastry. And then I guess about the most favorite part of that job, though, was I started out like that, going up and getting the pastry and stuff, but I delivered upstairs into the various office buildings up around there.

And backstage there's Rockefeller Center, the girls that they call the -- what do you call them now, the --

NSO:          Rockettes?

PRO:          Rockettes. They weren't Rockettes, then. They were just the chorus line. And they hadn't named them the Rockettes yet. But they appeared on the 42nd Street Times Square Theater, there. But off of 44th Street, which is two blocks over and upstairs, is where they practiced. They practiced their routine this week that they were going to do next week. And they were doing the routine this week, a different one that they were actually on stage doing.

And I got in there and got -- I took a paper bag and blew it up, you know, and come there to the doorman. And the doorman says -- what's her name, the movie star, Dot?

DRO:          Gloria Swanson?

PRO:          Gloria Swanson. I said, "I have a delivery for Gloria Swanson." And he said, "Well, give it to me." And I said, "Never mind. I've got to give it to her personally." And so I handed him a cigar. Carl's boss -- I can't think of his name right now. But he said -- I told him what I was going to do, and he said, "Well, here, take a cigar and give it to the doorman." So I took out a cigar and handed him a cigar and said, "The manager over there at Walgreen's said give you that." "Okay," he said, "Go on back there. She's there in the dressing room back there." There was a star on the door. And so I go back there and knock on the door, and go in and say, "Miss Swanson." She says, "Yes." I said, "Would you like something from our -- I represent the Walgreen Drugstore. We could bring you lunch, a nice -- " She says, "Oh, how lovely." She said, "Well, that's nice." She read an order -- I handed her a menu, and she gave me an order. And then I went back and got it, and came back with a tray on my hand --

NSO:          Now your foot was in the door.

PRO:          And then I got to sit there and talk to her. But that got me in. And once I got in, when them girls would come off stage, there was about 25 of them, and they were -- they were -- backstage they were altogether different than they were when you stood out front and saw those beautiful girls dancing so faultlessly together, you know. But when you're standing backstage -- and I'd put their drinks and stuff on the two-by-fours where they come out. Unfinished walls there. Set them there with their names: Mary, Joan, Joann, Sheila, and so on down the line. They'd grab those, and take a sip and put them back and dance right back out there again, because they had to go on two or three times before they'd actually come off and stay off. And the sweat would be running down their legs, just streams. I mean they worked. They didn't -- there was no -- it wasn't what it looked like to the audience. It was just hard, hard work. And I got to know those women. And some of them were putting kids through college. They had kids in college already.

NSO:          Wow.

PRO:          And yet they were still dancing on stage there. And beautiful gals. Long-legged, tall. They ended up calling them the Rockettes, and they became famous and all that. But they were sure working their fannies off.

But then Walgreen gave me a -- I've got a picture around here somewhere of it -- a white tuxedo jacket with black tie and a winged collar, and put an article in their magazine for that one, because I got all that backstage business. The whole store -- the overhead was all being paid for, and everything in the store was being paid for just from the business I was bringing in there.

NSO:          So your beginnings as a salesman. Really. Yeah, you showed the talent for that.

PRO:          Well, before that I had sold -- when I was, way back after I run away from home I got up into Alton, Illinois where Leroy was, and Leroy and his wife, and her sister and her husband and five kids, and me and Leroy and Rosebud -- all of us were living off of -- I was selling the pastry out of that bakery shop. Take the bakery's day-old and get about a basketful for a quarter, and then I'd end up selling them, and I'd get ten cents apiece, and so I'd end up with like two or three dollars for the quarter. And then I'd go back down and get another one and sell it again, until when I come -- quit selling them, I'd have two or three or four dollars. And that was a lot of money in those days. We all ate off of that. And the damn --

[End of tape.]

 

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