Dad never got angry much, but once in a while he would. I came home one time from Confession. Boy, the priest really gave me heck for missing Mass and going to the Methodist Church. Dad said angrily, “Don’t you ever talk against your grandmother’s religion. She’s so good.”
“Grandmother Shank made all my dresses. She was a wonderful person.”
Grandmother Shank made all my dresses. She went to every First Communion and Confirmation. She was wonderful. And Aunt Nellie Riddle, too. Aunt Nellie was a dwarf. Everybody in Olean used to know her. She was dad’s half-sister. Grandma Shank was married before and widowed. Her name had been Riddle. Then she married Bill Shank. Nellie was part of her first marriage.
Marcia (r) with brother Bill, cousin Rose Binder and aunt Ethel Lilly, ca 1920
Dad was a painting contractor. He often worked for other people and was one of the best there was. He belonged to the Painters Union, although he never liked unions. He was a good, hard worker. Everybody liked him. When he died, there were so many at his funeral, it surprised me. He used to love to go to my grandfather Lilly’s farm near Bolivar, New York, on the Shawmut Railroad, which went near the farm.
We used to go to the farm in the summer. My grandfather Lilly was not a farmer by trade. He was a caretaker of an oil field…you know, those pumps that went up and down. He’d make his rounds looking after them. There were no farm animals, although they did raise a few crops. When dad was first hurt, he went up to the farm and grew gladiolas and sold them to florists.
My grandfather Shank was dead by then. He died of natural causes. He was an engineer on the railroad. He’d be gone on overnights, but I don’t know in what capacity. When he came home, he’d be swinging his lunchbox, and I’d run out to meet him when I was staying there. I believe I was the only one of us the three kids who knew him. He was the dearest man you’d ever want to know. He named me. I was born in March, and he liked the unusual name of Marcia.
Marcia in 7th grade class photo
“Dad wasn’t educated. He never went to high school, but he was one of the best painters.”
My dad loved kids and always had candy and the kids knew it and would flock to him. His problem was drinking. Friends would buy him a drink and one thing led to another and he’d come home drunk, which is terrible.
Dad wasn’t educated. He never went to high school, but he was one of the best painters, especially on those old homes.
He had a certain technique for painting delicate oak. The older women would appreciate his artistic painting so much that, in addition to his wages, they would give him heirlooms. I remember one time they gave him an oak desk to give to me. I wish I had kept it.
Dad loved hunting and things like that. He took up taxidermy as a hobby. He was so good at it that everybody wanted his stuffed pheasants. And, of course, we’d eat the meat and I got so sick of pheasant! We kids would always get the legs.
We couldn’t afford his medical care after his injury, so in later years mother divorced him so he would be eligible to be placed in the County Home. None of us could support him. He was so good hearted. I can remember when I was so little and mother wanted me to learn to spell my name. I’d get stuck on the “c” and dad would quietly help me out until mother found out and she’d scold him. He and my sister June were good pals. He’d teach her to play cards.
“I think I was 12 years old…we realized we all had to work. We had no money.”
What happened was that dad was at a union function or picnic near Allegany, and he was in charge of the food. All the men had been drinking, including dad I suppose, although not that much because he had to look after the food. From what we were told, he and a bunch of men were standing around and one of them starting mouthing off at dad. They got into it, and the coward clobbered dad on the head with a beer bottle. In those days, the bottles were heavy, heavy glass. It knocked him unconscious. Two of dad’s buddies brought him home and left him in the doorway without telling Mom what had happened.
In the morning, he was still unconscious. They called the hospital and had to operate. His skull was so severely crushed, that it took a long time to operate. By then, the damage had been done, and he lost the full use of his arm and some of his speech and memory. He was never able to work again. Then, to make things worse, when he tried to do little jobs for the neighbors…we were all poor…the union wouldn’t allow him to take less than union wages, so the neighbors couldn’t afford him. The union did nothing for us.
We pressed charges, and the man was brought to trial and we won. The judge awarded something like $3,800 and the man’s shack on the way to Rock City. We kids wanted her to take the shack and use it as a cottage, but we didn’t have the money to pay the taxes or fix it up or even travel to use it, so we never did. We also never saw any of the $3,800 because the bum never had any money. That’s when all of us went to work.
I worked in the dime store, Bill after school in the grocery, and Mother got a job. I think I was 12 years old when the event happened and a little older by the time we realized we all had to work. We had no money.
Bill had good grades, and he had a chance to go to college. My mother’s brother, Paul Lilly, saw that he was bright and wanted him to have a chance. So, he agreed to take him to Detroit with him to go to the Catholic school, the University of Detroit. Bill worked after school to help with his tuition. Paul had graduated from the University of Detroit.
I was working at the dime store in Olean. I had to get working papers because I was too young. The manager of McCrory’s was well-liked. He was a wonderful person. He was a higher caliber than most in Olean. He took me under his wing. I believe he saw that I was bright. “Miss Shank, I think there are other things for you to do.” He put me back in the office with older staff women doing bookwork. In high school, I had top honors. In the state regents, I could have had 100%, but I missed reading the second part of a question.
But no one told me that if I wanted to get into college, I had to take Latin. Back then women didn’t go to college, so the administration never encouraged me. It was only too late when I found out. Of course, I had to go to work immediately to help the family. I was always good at business and math.
Later, my uncle George Lilly in Indianapolis wanted me to apply to Butler University, but I was too scared because I didn’t have the Latin and I was afraid they’d turn me down. Uncle George and Aunt Kate came back to Olean to visit my grandfather Lilly, who was close to dying one time. They hadn’t seen him for a few years.
“Aunt Kate was wonderful to take me in, so kind. She would buy me clothes.”
Uncle George said, “that girl needs to get away from here.” And they arranged for me to leave Olean and come to the big city of Indianapolis. I was 18. I lived in the 2nd floor of their home on 49th Street. I went every Sunday to Catholic church. I’d walk from 49th to 42nd and Central to St. Joan of Arc.