What Was the Name of the Cigar Factory?
When my mother was 13 and finished the 8th grade, she left her education behind to work in a cigar factory in Philadelphia. She was the next to youngest of six children and her father died when she was 9. I do not know what kind of job her father had, but when he died, the kids had to pick up the slack. I do not believe her mother, Grand Mom Christine, had any discernible skills to bring in any income. But, Grand Mom Christine, my mother and her brothers and sisters would leave Philadelphia to spend the summer in New Jersey “picking peppers” as one way of producing income. Today, it is known as farm labor.
There was no insurance money to collect, even though there was a life insurance policy on my grandfather. The policy was not owned by my grandmother, but by someone in the neighborhood. I was told this was a source of income for people, because they would take out life insurance policies on other people, and when that person died, they collected the money.
Another interesting tidbit my mother told me was that when my grandfather was “laid out,” he was laid out in their home and people would come to the house to pay their respects. Part of the scene was for there always to be professional mourners. These were the ladies in the neighborhood who were dressed head to toe in black and whose job it was to sit, weep and sob throughout the day and into the evening.
A little side trip down memory lane on my remembrances of my Grand Mom Christine. She died at the age of 90 something when I was 13. My grandmother lived in an upstairs apartment in my Aunt Eleanor’s house. When you walked up the steps to enter into her apartment, you entered into the kitchen. I never ate anything she cooked, and the only thing I remember about her food is that there was always a pot of gravy (tomato sauce) cooking. The meat in the pot was not meatballs, or sausage, or pork, it was chicken legs (gross).
The lights were never on in the kitchen. There was no table to dine at, but in the corner was a huge round table that was set up as a shrine. It had at least a dozen small and large statues of saints and church-type candles burning all the time.
The only other room in the apartment was her bedroom. It had a bed, and I am guessing furniture for her clothes. The stand-out piece of furniture in her room was a big wood rocking chair by a window, where she sat, ate and slept. Yes, slept – for the last 20 years of her life, she never slept in a bed. I was told that she was afraid to go to sleep in the bed for fear she would not wake up.
Grand Mom Christine spoke no English, but she was a known fixture in the neighborhood with an ability to communicate to passers-by. The house that my Aunt Eleanor lived in was at a busy intersection and the living room part of the house was a former storefront. So when my Grand Mom was put outside, it was at a very busy corner.
Grand Mom Christine sat on a beach chair all day long (weather permitting). This was her single form of entertainment for years, and years, and years. When the sun was hot, she sat with an umbrella held up for protection. She always had money in the pocket of her dress and the communication with the passers-by was in the form of giving them money and getting them to understand that she needed them to go to the local liquor store to pick up a bottle. Yes, Grand Mom Christine dressed all in black, on a beach chair at a busy intersection in South Philadelphia, with her umbrella up, drinking her daily dose out of a brown bag.
Coming back to the present, as I was strolling through a local antique shop, I spotted the most colorful vintage looking poster. The colors were a vibrant red and green and as I got closer I saw that it was an advertisement for a cigar factory in Philadelphia. I believed the name of the factory was the same one where my mother worked as a young girl of 13, but I wanted to have it confirmed. My brother Frank was at home when I called, and the question to him was: “What was the name of the cigar factory where Mommy worked?” It was the name that was on the poster – Bayuk.
I bought it and it is stored safely in my home. It is my intent to have it framed, but not now. I need to save up for the cost of framing. The cost to have it framed will probably run into the thousands. At this time, I have no real place in my home that fits with the style of the poster. Therefore, I have decided that the perfect place to hang it will be in the family room, but that will mean a complete overhaul of the room, and that will take more money than my husband is willing to spend.
A Mid-Twentieth Century Girl Doing Business in a 21st Century World