28 Nov – 4 Dec 64 : Toy store mayhem : Philadelphia 

Sunday 29th November

Dear Mum, Dad, Nigel and Carol,

Well yesterday, I started on the toy counter at Lit’s <Lit Brothers> and you can never imagine such chaos. The Christmas season has really started here with Christmas music, the opening of Toyland, and the appearance of Father Christmas.

All this unfortunately brings in thousands of horrible little kids whose main ambition seems to be breaking as many things as possible. Although, to be perfectly honest, the first day was quite good fun. I spent a few hours on the demonstration counter winding up toys for the kids (and the fathers too) and quite enjoyed myself.

Some of the toys here are amazing – the military section of the toy department haven’t even been released to the army yet I shouldn’t think. They have got guns which shoot bullets which really explode, and numerous gadgets far too complicated to explain. Herb and Vi came in at about 7 o’clock and we sold her a toy for her grandson. She was out shopping to look for a mink coat, and then out to dinner with Herb.

We left the store and went for a meal at 9 o’clock, and went home absolutely exhausted, and slept like logs.


At 11.15 Herb and Vi called for us and we went out into the country for some eggs with them. We passed through some really beautiful countryside and after getting the eggs I drove the car to Bristol in Pennsylvania, and took some photographs of us with a Bristol sign behind us as a keepsake of our visit. <NOTE: Dad’s family lived in Bristol, UK>

We then had a wonderful drive along the bank of the River Delaware to a place called New Hope, which we had been told is a really old-fashioned American town. When we got there it didn’t seem a bit old fashioned to us at all, but we realised that by American standards it is. It was a lovely place with white houses and shops called trading posts.

The drive home was on the New Jersey side of the river, and we once again went through some wonderful scenery. We passed beautiful houses with swimming pools and barbecue stoves in the gardens. These Americans really know how to live.

Nearly everyone has two cars (two new ones at that) and very plush houses.

They have no fences or boundaries but instead have plain grass between the houses, and each house is well away from the next, which give the whole thing an appearance of spaciousness. Also they are not in rows but scattered all over the place and usually all different designs, which I think is very nice.

You can buy nearly everything here for no deposit and when I say everything, I mean it. Nearly all the toys I sold were on credit. It’s amazing how much these parents care about their children. I am really impressed as to how some parents will go to fantastic lengths to get what their children want. They come into the store with grubby little bits of paper on which little Alvin has written the name of something he has seen advertised on TV, and they will move heaven and earth to get it.

We stopped for the inevitable coffee on the way home, and then were dropped at our place and Vi and Herb went off for dinner.

We then got collared by the landlady, and while we were talking to her, in came some neighbours who said they would throw  a ‘weenie roast’ in our honour – if we would go into their place. So in we went and had a weenie roast which was really a barbecue party. The drinks started to flow and everyone got a bit merry, and they all started laughing at us and taking the mickey, because of our English accents.

At first it was a novelty, but now I’m thoroughly sick to death with it. Everyone says ‘Jolly good show’ with a stupid grin on their faces. At this party, they insisted that we said words like ‘radiator’ and when we did, they all went into loud hoots of laughter. We began to think we were some kind of talking freaks.

The hostess, a small loudmouthed woman (who soon got very sloshed) kept slapping her thigh and screaming ‘Holy mackerel did ya hear that?’ or ‘Come on fellas, let’s go!!’ We are both convinced she’s mad (and we are not joking). This country is full of nuts. Loads of people shout and yell in the streets.

The host of the party is an engineer at the local Navy Shipyards, and was almost on his knees for me to go down and apply for a job, as he said they would take me immediately. It seems in my line of business I could make a very good wage here (when I was at SKF the assistant general manager said that if ever I wanted a permanent job there to contact him  I haven’t reached that stage yet, but it’s a nice thought that the offer is there).

The party ended about 10 o’clock and our landlady (who had come in her car and she only lives 5 houses away) took us home in her V8 Oldsmobile which was enormous. We went on a high-speed tour of the park. She is a scream and very kind. Her husband has a Buick. He is a waiter and makes $190 a week plus the rents from the house.

Monday 30th November

The weather has taken a severe turn for the worse, and we are again below freezing with some snow today. The weather forecaster has just announced that it is ’27 cuddle up and hug me degrees.’

Today in the store was most enjoyable – people who had been shopping on Saturday had come back today without the kids to buy, and I sold a lot. People are very interested to speak when they hear I am English, and it makes the day very interesting.

It’s a bit complicated this week as we both get different days off, and also work different shifts, but as it’s only for a week or so it doesn’t really matter.

Oh – by the way on Sunday I had a letter from you off  Vi, so you had the right address. I’m sorry to hear that Nigel has been ill. I hope he is better and will be able to attend the interview. How is Linda these days?

By the time you get this letter Mam will be up with you for Christmas. I’m sorry I haven’t been able to drop her a line, but quite honestly it’s all I can do to keep up my letters to you as life is so hectic. I haven’t written to anyone else yet.

Herb has a cine camera and takes colour movie films. He will be taking it to Florida with us, and says we can borrow the film to send home for you to see. So if Dad could make some enquiries perhaps you could borrow or hire a projector for an 8mm film of approximately half hour, and you will be able to see us in Florida in glorious Technicolour.

Tuesday 1st December

Well it’s even colder today and the temperature for tonight will be 18 degrees (which is 14 degrees below freezing). The strange thing is that it doesn’t feel that cold, as it is a dry crisp cold. They don’t have frost here which I think is an indication that the air is dryer.

It was Colin’s day off today and he stayed in all day.

We had the good news today. I phoned Mr Brobyn at SKF, and we start on January 4th. We do a week’s training in Philadelphia, and then start travelling. He wants us to work for a minimum of six months and the maximum is up to us. The whole thing is ideal as far as we’re concerned, as it gives us 6 months of steady security.

We certainly won’t make a fortune at the job we are doing now. We were making more money in New York than we are here. Still, as there isn’t much to see here, we stay in most nights so it doesn’t really matter. We are saving every cent we can for our holiday in Florida.

Had another good day in the store today, although it’s very tiring. We meet lots of interesting and amusing people. I was chatting to one woman, when Colin came up and asked me where something was. When he left the woman said ‘Why didn’t ya sock him?’ When I asked why, she said ‘Because he was making fun of your accent!’ It took a long time to convince her he was genuine and not taking the mickey.

Today I helped a woman who was almost in tears, and told me her little boy had found all his Christmas presents, and she now had to start all over again. The mothers go to fantastic lengths to keep the Santa Claus myth going, and I am dragged in to say my bit quite often.

We have met a coloured girl in the store who is a writer. She mainly writes poetry and has recently published a poem about the Civil Rights Bill, and she tells us it is selling quite well. She has given us each an autographed copy. She is also in the process of writing a novel and a play. Who knows, one day she may be famous. There are lots of opera singers, actors, writers and artists, etc working in departmental stores at Christmas time. <NOTE: We are hoping to find this poem as we are dying to find out who she was!>

The apartment we are in now has no stove, so after a quick discussion with Herb last week, we decided to buy one. So we went out and bought a very nice two ring hotplate for $6. It’s a beautiful thing, very small and neat, and really efficient so now we are really well equipped. Certain things here are very cheap.

Friday 4th December

Well, nothing much has happened since Tuesday. The weather has become warmer, and it has changed to rain for the last two days.

Work at the store is very enjoyable, and passes quite quickly. Today I was talking to a customer who had been to England, and was very impressed by the English. She had some connection with the Rotary Club, and so we had something in common to talk about.

An hour later she came in and handed me an envelope. I opened it, and inside was a Christmas card and $2, with a little message saying ‘May I be the first to wish you, and your friend, Seasonal Greetings’. Some of the people here, as you can see, are extremely nice.

Tonight we were invited down to the landlady’s apartment, to a party which consisted of more sloshed women, all trying to make us dance. It was all women (all married) and they did everything to try to make us dance. It was terribly embarrassing, especially when they started taunting, us and calling us names.

At this point I got very annoyed, and told them precisely what I thought of them,  which had the unfortunate effect of breaking up the party (although much to my relief). It was almost an exact copy of what had happened at the other party we went to.

It’s the same in the store – the girls there are almost as bad. They have even asked us for photographs!!! A man at the bus stop told us that Collingswood is like ‘Peyton Place,’ and quite honestly I am beginning to believe him. It certainly looks like it.

I may try to phone you on Christmas Day at Mrs Hince’s house. I spoke to her before I left, and she said she would give you a key. This is only a slight chance, as we don’t know where were we will be on Christmas Day and you have to book in advance, and you have to have a private telephone – so as you can see it’s almost impossible. However if there is a chance I will. So, to be on the safe side, send me Mrs Hince’s number. But please don’t expect too much, as you can see so much is against it.

I had a long typewritten letter today from Dad which was great. Have you bought a typewriter or something?

I am delighted to hear that you have accepted Carol’s and Chris’s decision, and have given your blessing. I have said all along that it’s what they feel, not what they have, that counts. I’m sure she feels a lot happier about it all now.

New lino in the hall too. I shan’t recognise the old homestead on my return. The next thing is to extend the kitchen. The coloured photographs turned out very well, and I saw them the other night. The garden looked great, and everyone looked very suntanned.

There is one photo of  Vi at the seaside in a swimming costume and believe me she isn’t as ‘strapped up’ as Mum imagines. She does exercises to the TV early every morning before going to work. Oh by the way, tonight we learnt that the ‘hostess’ at the first party I mentioned in this letter, is an alcoholic, which explains her strange behaviour.

I hope Nigel got on alright at his interview, assuming he didn’t catch pneumonia after having his haircut!! I have shown my photographs of you all to various people, and everyone says what a nice family, which makes me feel very good. One fellow thought you were my sister, Mum!!

We have decided to go on down to Florida by ourselves, as Herb still doesn’t know when he’s going. There are lots of firms who advertise for drivers to drive cars down to Florida (the owners having flown). They give you three days to get there, and pay all the bills, so you travel free – 1250 miles.

So we will take one of these cars down next week, and look for a job for a week or two, and start our holiday when Herb and Vi arrive. Vi says she will look for a suitable restaurant to buy, and really means it.

We will return to start at SKF on Jan 4th. However keep writing to Vi’s until you hear from us. Well must end now to catch the post.

Hope you are all fit and well,

All my love,

Tone xxxx 

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