Esther “Tootsie” (Holland) Alger Deletti

I was born in Milford, down in the Plains, by Sacred Heart Church. My dad was an iron molder in the Milford Foundry. Later he went to Framingham and worked in the Framingham Foundry. I have doorstops, ashtrays and bookends that he made. He did all the special jobs. When the big bosses wanted a personal job done they’d say, “Give me five of these, Mickey.” Mickey they used to call him. He was an Irishman. He’d make them, two for you and one for me. He’d always make one for himself. That was okay. The reason they went to him was that he was a top model maker.

Draper bought Framingham Foundry. My father took ill then. He was the first name on the list to go to Draper in Hopedale, after working in Framingham, I don’t know how many years. Thirty-five, forty. He never made it, though. He was taken to the hospital and had surgery. He never came home. He had kidney failure. Tony Allegrezza had worked with my father in Framingham and that’s how we knew he had been first on the list to go to Hopedale.

My maiden name was Holland. However, on old papers that we found in my grandfather’s house, we saw that it had originally been O’Holland. My mother’s name was Mongiat. She was from down the Plains also. She was one of eleven children. Grandfather Holland was a stonemason and he worked on the Irish Tower at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Milford. When he came to this country from Galway, evidently he had friends or family in Uxbridge, so that’s where he came to. My grandmother was from Galway also. My grandfather rocked her in the cradle and she was promised to him. He came over first and then she did. She was eighteen to twenty years younger than he was. They married here and then he bought the land. They had eighteen children. There were three sets of twins. About half of those eighteen didn’t live to adulthood. Some died shortly after birth. They’re all in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Uxbridge. We’ve got the biggest lot there.

I don’t know how long it was before my grandfather bought the land in Milford, but then he built the house. He also built a carriage house. My uncle, who took over the house, built a new house. That’s where I grew up, beside the old homestead. That was on Parkhurst Street, off of Haywood Street, behind Sacred Heart Church. When they were building the church, we used to go across the tracks and through the yard.

Grandpa Holland had his hands blown off. The dynamite hadn’t gone off so he had to go check it. When it went off, it left him with one stump and just his thumb and index finger left on the other hand. My grandmother knit black mitts that he wore. After he could no longer work, he had a huge garden where he truck gardened. My uncles took the produce and sold it to the grocers in Milford. The garden was where the oil tanks were. Standard Oil bought the land from my grandfather. At one point there was a leak, and the oil went into the acreage where he farmed. He had to sue them to get payment for that. I came across that in some old papers. They paid.

My mother was an amazing woman. She was deaf. She went to school as far as the fifth or sixth grade, but by that time she couldn’t hear anything and staying in school wasn’t getting her anywhere. She wasn’t deaf from birth. She could speak very well. She had two of the communicable diseases when she was young. In a family of eleven, when one got something, they all got it. She had scarlet fever and one of the other common childhood diseases. It left her deaf. She wasn’t totally deaf from the beginning, but it gradually got worse. Her parents took her to doctors. but they couldn’t help.

If you didn’t go to school, you had to contribute to the family somehow. My mother became what was called then a mother’s helper. She worked for the Higgiston family in Milford. Mr. Higgiston became the principal of Milford High School. After the children were old enough and they didn’t need her, she went to work for a Swedish woman who was a seamstress. There learned how to sew and bake. She was a terrific baker. For our daily meals we were meat and potato people, but she was very good at baking.

After my parents were married, almost every year my father would have the Beltone man come out, but they just couldn’t find anything that would suit her situation. She read lips and she felt vibrations. She danced. There was nothing that she didn’t do. Later when I was grown up I wondered when we were babies how she knew at night when we were crying. She said, “Your father touched my foot.”

When I was a youngster, I thought my mother was old, with gray hair. Nobody else in the family had hair like she had, other than gray-haired people. Her father was from northern Italy, up in the mountains, and they were lighter than people further south. The closest city to the town where he was from was Milan.

After she worked for the seamstress, my mother worked at the Lapworth Elastic Fabric mill in Milford. She was probably eighteen or nineteen then. Lots of Milford girls worked there in those days. They didn’t have OSHA or any safety regulations then. The girls had long hair, but most of them wore it in the Gibson or the coronet with a braid. However, there was one friend of my mother who wore her hair down. I met her once when we were uptown shopping on a Saturday. We stopped and chatted and I noticed the scar on her forehead. Her hair had gotten caught in one of the machines and it ripped her scalp. She wore a wig for the rest of her life. She was lucky that she didn’t lose her life.

Back when I was a kid, mothers had jobs for each day of the week. Monday was always wash day. My mother did the laundry with a scrub board at one time, but in my memory, she had an Easy Spindrier. It had a large tub for washing and a smaller tub for spin drying. There were three legs with big casters at the bottom so that you could roll it over to the sink and connect it to the faucet. It would also pump out the water at the end of the wash so that it could drain. She used Ivory Flakes for the delicate hand washed things and Duz for the rest. Each box of Duz would come with a little pudding or fruit dish. I still have a few of them. She didn’t use the machine’s spin dry feature. She preferred to use her wringer. Near the wringer she’d have two zinc tubs. One had rinse water and the other had water with bluing for the white clothes. We kids would help turn the crank of the wringer. We’d always put socks in open end first. That would cause the air to fill the closed end and then WHOOSH out.

After the clothes had been washed, rinsed and wrung out, my mother would hang them out, even on the coldest days. When they froze, She’d sometimes bite them to help get them off of the line. When she brought them in that way, we’d call them buckala which was what dried cod was called. Buckala was as stiff as a board. On days when the clothes hadn’t dried completely outside, she’d put lines up in the kitchen and they’d finish drying there.

Tuesday was ironing day. My aunt, who lived next door never had electricity in her house so she used the heavy old irons that had to be heated on the stove. You had to have several irons to do that. When one began to cool down you’d trade it for one that was on the stove. There was no such thing as permanent press in those days and pretty much everything had to be ironed. It was a big job. My mother had an electric iron, but of course it wasn’t a steam iron. She had a bottle with a sprinkler top. She’d lay the clothes out on the table and sprinkle them. Then she’d roll them up and cover them with a towel. That way the moisture would work its way evenly through the clothes before she ironed them. Everything was ironed; even underwear and sheets. When I learned to iron, I started with handkerchiefs and pillow cases.

Wednesday was mending day. Lots of things that would be thrown out now were mended then. People couldn’t afford to throw things out like they do now. Thursday and Friday were for housework – whatever had to be done, and there was always a lot to do.

When I was growing up, I thought potatoes took hours and hours to cook. We had a coal and wood stove and it seemed as though my mother put the potatoes on at noontime to be ready for dinner at five-thirty or six o’clock. But of course we didn’t have dinner; we had supper.

My mom and dad had four of us. Two of my sisters didn’t marry. Eddie and I got married and each of us had a boy and a girl. My son’s name is Richard and my daughter is Susan. They each had two children  a boy and a girl.

I went to school at the Plains School, which is now where the elderly housing is, across from Oliva’s Market. There was no kindergarten at that time. I started school when I was five, and went from first grade to sixth grade there. We had three school buildings – the new building, the middle building and the one out front. Corbett Concrete Pipe was next to the schoolyard. There were huge pipes in the yard and there wasn’t a fence. The pipes were all lined up side by side, and once in a while somebody would get daring, hop up on the pipes and skip along on top of them.

Of course we walked to school, and sometimes in the winters we walked in snow that was over our knees. Plowing then wasn’t like it is today. We all wore stockings. Later on when we were a little more “in the dough,” we had ski pants. Ski pants were a luxury.

We didn’t have central heating. I can remember waking up in the morning in the winter, wetting my finger and wiping a hole in the frost so that I could see what it was doing outside. To this day I cannot have heat in my bedroom. My bedroom is forty. It’s electric heat and I can shut it off.

During the Depression we saved everything. We saved string. We saved foil off of gum wrappers and cigarette packages. My mother even ironed wrapping paper so that she could reuse it. It was an era where everybody did with what they had. They made do. We had a big garden and she did lots of preserving. She did piccalilli, she made pepper relish, she preserved whole peppers in a crock. She preserved tomatoes. She made jams and jellies. There was a wire net that my father made that he hung on the backs of two old chairs. That’s where the mash from the grapes that she had cooked dripped to make the grape jelly. We could not pass by that bag without squeezing it. It was just the idea of touching it.

Our cellar had a dirt floor. At the end of the gardening season we’d put lettuce and celery down there. It would keep until January. The lettuce would be placed roots down on the floor. The carrots would in bushel baskets and covered with sand.

We’d go picking blueberries. We’d get them near my grandfather’s and my uncle’s houses that were on East Main Street, just before where the Stop & Shop plaza is now, if you’re going toward Holliston. There was a swamp down there. My uncle used to go down and burn the stumps in the swamp, so that when it froze we’d have a nice place to skate. There were high bush blueberries there, and in the summer we’d pick them. My mother would preserve them. It was a great thing to have blueberry pie at Christmas when the snow was on the ground.

After the coal and wood stove, we had an electric stove. Kerosene stoves were common then, but I don’t think my mother trusted them. She had a smaller stove that may have run on a gas bottle. It had an oven, but I don’t remember it having burners. When she made pies, she’d make nine or ten without blinking an eye. Of course if they were apple pies, we’d peel the apples. Then we’d deliver many of them to our aunts. We had an icebox, but eventually we got an electric refrigerator.

During the war you had to have your ration stamps for butter and meats. That’s when my mother introduced us to oleo. The margarine came in blocks like butter, but not the four quarters. It was white, and in it came the little packets of coloring. She’d take it and put it in one of the crock bowls, and when we’d come home from school she’d say, “Use the fingernail brush and scrub your hands. You can mix the margarine.” God help you if you had a little cut on your finger. Oh, did that sting. Really sting. Now I don’t use margarine. I use unsalted butter.

When we did get butter, we’d go to Kennedy’s Butter and Eggs on Main Street. During the war, butter was hard to get and we’d have to stand in line to get it when they had it. It came in big round blocks like cheese. They knew their cuts. If you wanted a pound, snip, snip would go the knife. Flip the paper, take it and put it on the scale. If it was a little over, they’d shave it a bit. It was wonderful to walk in there and smell the coffee. There were three kinds of coffee that we used. I remember two of them; Eight O’Clock and Boker. Of course when we were children, we didn’t drink coffee. We had Instant Postum.

I remember that when I was working at the drug store during the day, men would come by after work with towels slung over their shoulders and soap in their pockets. They’d go over to the Community House where they could take showers.They’d do that so that they wouldn’t dirty the shower at home. Some would have valises with them in which they’d bring their clean clothes.

Shortly after my uncle bought the building, I had a tour of it. I thought it was amazing to see the Murphy beds in the apartments upstairs. Other than in the movies, I’d never seen one. The cellar was divided. On one side there were storage units for the apartment dwellers. In the back there were garages. If they didn’t have a car, they used them for storage. Before my uncle’s time, there had been a shoe store where the luncheonette was.

Three or four of us started walking to Hopedale every Wednesday night for the band concert. Well, really not for  the band concert. I’d say, “See him? His name is …” It got to be such a habit that even when band concerts were called off because of rain, we’d walk over. We’d walk over Adin Street and stop at the drug store. We’d get an ice cream or a drink and we’d walk back. That was our thing, and that’s how I met my husband, Richard Alger. He lived on the corner of Freedom and Hopedale streets. The house isn’t there anymore. During a storm the house was shaking so much that it was decided by Drapers, who owned it, to tear it down. Richard’s family was moved to the old Westcott house next to the mill on Mill Street. He was one of the drug store cowboys.

After we were married, Richard and I lived for a while on North Bow Street in Milford in a house that Arnold Nealley owned. Richard’s father was a fireman in Hopedale and worked with Arnold. That’s how we got the apartment. When Richard took ill, we moved in with my mother-in-law on Mill Street in Hopedale for probably a year as we waited for an apartment to be available at the veterans’ project on Luby Ave. We lived up there almost two years. I remember my daughter Susan roller skating there when she wasn’t even three years old. She would really fly.  

Richard died young. He was 42. Later I married Al. I’d known him and his wife when we lived on Luby Ave. I’d also known Al from when he’d worked on the night shift. Sometimes he and a couple of buddies would come into the store for a cup of coffee. He’d lived near me when we were growing up. He was on Main Street near the Hearts of Ben Club.

When I lived at Luby Ave, there was a girl I was friendly with. She was a Farrar from Hopedale. Mary Farrar. She was the oldest of the Farrar children. They lived on Hopedale Street right next to where Cumberland Farm is now. John and Mildred Farrar were her parents. She was a wagon girl in the shop. The wagon girls at Drapers had wagons with sandwiches, coffee and whatever and they’d wheel them all over the shop. Crotty brothers ran the cafeteria and they also managed The Larches which was run as a Draper inn.

Several times Mary had done waitressing at parties at The Larches. The time came when I wanted, and probably needed, a little income. Mary said, ,”Go see Peg Sweeney.” Peg was managing The Larches and also the Draper cafeteria so I went to see her. I got a job at the Larches and worked there for about fifteen years.

I only worked nights when my children were little, and days when they got older. The Larches was an interesting place to work. I met people from India and various other places. The same groups used to come annually, more or less. There was one couple who came from India. The wife wore the jewel and saris. Beautiful colors. She’d come into the kitchen and cook her husband’s meals. We had a group of five or six that came from Japan. They wore a gray uniform with caps with the sunrise on the face of the caps. They’d come for about a month at a time. They were a nice group of boys. They spoke English. They had learned enough English to get along in the business world, but it was very difficult to carry on an ordinary conversation, but they were great.

Eben Draper would be at The Larches frequently. He was a huge man. He entertained there quite often. For such a large man, the thing that has always stuck with me is that he had such small feet, and he always wore black patent leather, almost like a ballerina, shoes.

Queena Draper used to come out from the city. I’m not sure if it was Boston or New York. She wasn’t living in Hopedale at that time. She was very nice. She’d come there when there was some occasion; something to do with the Drapers. She’d call down and I’d bring something up to her room. I’d be there fifteen or twenty minutes talking with her. I never saw her husband with her. She was always alone. (Her husband, Bristow, had died in 1944. Queena died in 1949.)

My grandfather, Antonio Mongiat, corresponded with General Draper‘s daughter, Princess Boncompagni when she was in Italy. He read and wrote in both English and Italian. He would show me colorful postcards that she’d send. He’d tease me because she’d write in Italian and I couldn’t tell what they said. I thought that was really something. I don’t know what the connection was, but he’d done a lot of landscaping in Hopedale so maybe he had met her while working on her family’s estate.

Those of us in Milford were always in awe of Hopedale. They all had houses that were maintained by Draper Corporation, and the kids had futures. They were all able to go to college. When we went to a band concert, we were looked at askance, because we didn’t belong in town. We couldn’t go to the pond. That was for Hopedale people only. It was a closed community. They segregated. All the Italians were housed up here in White City. That’s where they belonged was the thinking. I remember that some were afraid to go by certain areas so they went down by the railroad tracks to get to school. There were no colored people in town. Even though it was a dry town, the upper crust could get what they needed for their entertaining. At the Larches, we didn’t exchange money for alcohol. They bought chits.

I also worked for Mr. and Mrs. West. (Tom West was president of Draper Corporation after the death of Bristow Draper in 1944, and into the 1960s.) I also worked for John and Nancy Gannett and the Hutchinsons. At the Wests’ they’d often serve venison. On one occasion there, on a Friday night, I noticed that George Harlow was only eating the vegetables. I went into the kitchen and got a can of tuna fish to put on his plate. Everything went fine. After dinner, Mrs. West came to me and said, “Oh, thank you. I never gave it a thought. That man is Catholic and today is Friday.” She was a sweetheart. They were very nice to work for. She remembered my children every Christmas.

Mr. Demeco used to come into The Larches. He was from Milford. He was the owner of the Milford Cabinet Company, I think it was. He specialized in cabinetry on a business level, like for the drug store. He was a gentleman to the hilt. He was always alone. His wife had been in an institution for many years. He was very generous. He’d order a bottle of wine. He’d have a half a glass and then say, “Take this, take this. Have it later.” When he was through he’d say, “Thank you very much. I’ve had an excellent sufficiency.”

Mr. Demeco’s wife eventually died. There was a woman who worked as his secretary in the office with him. She’d also acted as his hostess when he entertained business people. She was pretty rough, but she was good-hearted. She was a sweetheart. She didn’t care if the four letter words came out, but she didn’t overly do it. She’d say, “Oh, John, never mind that. Get off that.” Or whatever. He eventually married her.

Every time Mr. Demeco bought a new car, before he signed off on it, he’d take it to his garage. They would take it apart literally piece by piece to see that every bolt was tightened; every  screw was in there. He was something. There was a man named Dillon who was president of one of the Milford banks. He lived with his sister. He was a dapper little guy. He always wore a derby…on top of his toupee. Mr. Demeco came one day for lunch when Mr. Dillon was there. He cornered him and said, “You’re riding around with bald tires. Don’t you know that’s dangerous?” The next time Mr. Dillon came in, he had a set of new tires on his car.

The chief operator at the New England Telephone Company in Milford used to stay at the Larches when the weather was bad, so I got to know her. When Rockwell bought Drapers, I got a job through her at the phone company. I had worked there as an operator for a couple of years after I got out of high school. The business office was downstairs and the operators were upstairs. For air conditioning, we had a fan that would blow past a block of ice. I ran the phone company cafeteria on Water Street in the morning, and in the afternoon I’d work as an operator. When they closed that and moved to Framingham, I went there and worked in customer service. I retired after twenty-five years with the company. Then I worked at the Senior Center in Hopedale for fourteen years.

I’ve been here on Oakwood for about forty years. Al built it when both of our families were living at Luby Ave. His father-in law was a carpenter and he lived across the street. That’s how he happened to get this land. Al contracted some of the work and had his father-in-law’s help, but he did most of it himself. He would come up here after work in the winter when the cellar was dug and the foundation had cured. The house was already framed. He painted all of the cedar shingles before they were put on the house. He drew the plans up and he built it. On the first floor there’s the kitchen, the living room, the dining room, the den, the master bedroom and a full bath. Upstairs there are two big dormer rooms. The dormer is in the back. They’re big square rooms. He had two boys and two girls. The half-bath is upstairs. I love it. I love looking out the windows. This is my bird room where I can look out at the birds coming to the feeders. When I looked out yesterday a beautiful hawk was perched on a limb. Sometimes I can see the animals over at Angelo’s. There were burros there this winter, and sometimes there are cows. It’s quiet. It’s nice. I love it here. Tootsie Deletti, April 2014

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