So I wrote a post a few weeks ago about what I know of my parents’ lives, hoping my mom would swoop in and fill in the blanks. Wellllll she totally did. It’s a work in progress (apparently it takes some time to chronicle an entire life at the whims of one’s daughter, who knew?), but I can parcel out some of what she told me today. I asked about a lot of stuff, including my grandparents, so we’ll start with them.
My maternal grandfather, Russell Borus (“Pop”), was born in 1912 in Chicago. His mom (Helen) divorced his dad (Arthur) and moved with Russell and his brother Frank to Jersey City, NJ.
“That part is really murky, because no one knows and no one would ever talk about it. His mom remarried, and Richard Bennewitz (“Dickie”) worked for Bethlehem Steel in Newark.
“Pop graduated from high school in Jersey City. He used to drive the ice wagon, which was pulled by a white horse named Babe. He later had a sales job of some sort in Manhattan. He spent a year working on a boat, swabbing decks and whatever else, some trader marine vessel. Traveled all over the world on that boat.
“Pop enlisted in the Army in the early 40s and trained in the signal corps at Fort Pendleton in California. There were always stories about how people gave him their gas rations to go check on their homes near Yosemite and other places in the winter. He had a girlfriend that is in some old family movies. Nancy [Ed.: my aunt, my mom's older sister] would remember more details and have names, dates. Pop served in Tinian [Ed.: one of the Northern Marianas, along with Saipan, very near Guam. In the middle of the Pacific] in the signal corps and always had stories about diving for cats eyes (I have some in my jewelry box) and he had a small sail boat. He never saw combat and always said he had a good war.” [Ed.: I hope we can find out more about all this - that chain of islands was the site of a lot of critical occurrences in the Pacific campaign of WWII. Tinian was where the Enola Gay took off from, and there were big battles on Saipan, Guam, and Tinian.]
My maternal grandmother, Viola Babcock, was born in 1916 in Jersey City, NJ.
“Viola grew up in Jersey City, an only child. I really know nothing about her childhood although I learned as an adult that she considered herself abused (locked in closets and hit with a hairbrush. I don’t know of anything else along that line). Viola had one year of art college (Beaver College) in NY somewhere. Her mom was ill and she had to quit and help care for her, I think. Her mom was in a wheelchair and had MS. Her parents lived in Rumson, NJ, and her Aunt Lillie and Uncle Harry lived in a house right next door. Viola’s mom died in 1951 [Ed.: the year before my mother was born]. That was also the year that Viola’s Uncle Harry and Pop’s brother Frank died in a commuter train crash, on the line that went from Red Bank, NJ to NYC every day.”
Viola worked as a secretary and a portrait artist, though I’ve only seen the landscape paintings that are hanging in our house and my Aunt’s house.
“Her paintings were oils of landscapes, portraits (some done in a chalk kind of medium?), and watercolors of roses, mostly. I like the snow scenes best.”
I never knew my grandmother – she passed away when I was little, in 1986 – but I have heard that she was sort of a difficult woman, stern, had a lot of rules.
“Viola had an awful temper and didn’t like Pop’s parents, and begrudged him visiting his mom on Sunday afternoons, when she lived five minutes away. Viola would throw things when she was angry. After an argument with Pop about his mom, she threw a cooking pot at Pop and it made a circular dent in the kitchen cabinet. Holidays were never a nice family affair, as Viola complained a lot about having the relatives over at Thanksgiving or Christmas.” [Ed.: I am SO THANKFUL that Kevin and I both get on well with each other's parents, and even more so that our parents get along with each other. We are so lucky.]
“I realize I don’t know how my folks met, or how long they went out before being married in a small ceremony at home, Oct 2, 1947. My folks were a lot older than the folks of my friends. It always seemed like they were ten years older somehow. Maybe they met after the War; I don’t know. They did grow up in the same city, but I don’t know what high school Viola went to. Pop went to Dickinson HS.”
Pop had a sales job by then, selling insurance in Rumson, NJ. My Aunt Nancy was born in 1949, a couple years after my grandparents married.
In 1951 (apparently a watershed year for my grandparents),
“Pop opened his own real estate and insurance business in Fair Haven at 600 River Road, right in the center of the business area. He worked at that business all while I grew up and eventually sold off the insurance side to his partner, just keeping the real estate business (The Borus Agency).”
I’ll stop there, before getting into my mom’s childhood.