Articles, activities for boomers & seniors
Editor’s Note: I met Mark Zimmerman, the author’s son, who told me of a short biography that his dad, Robert, wrote with the help of Mark’s sister, Gloria. Gloria and Mark have graciously agreed to allow us to print excerpts from his book in his memory. This is the first installment. I hope that you will enjoy this looking back in time.
I was born February 1, 1923, in a narrow, two-story gray frame house at 438 Birch Street in South Scranton. Seeing the house today, it appears to be exceptionally small, wedged between two homes on this busy street which still carries U.S. Route 11 — in those days a major north-south artery in the national transportation network. This home, which I dearly loved, was my mother’s Hartman family residence in which she was raised. To the best of my knowledge, it came to my parents because my mother was the last to marry, and her mother, Christine, lived with us, which was quite customary then. My mother’s brother, Julius, had married Ethel Kirchoff, sister Tillie had married William Yoost and moved to Tompkins Cove, N.Y., and sister Christine (Cissy) had married a man named Gardner.
First-born to William Fuchs Zimmerman and Mollie Hartman, I only learned in later years from Aunt Ethel, the painful screams which accompanied my birth in the tiny upstairs bedroom. Recalling the intensity of my mother’s labor, Aunt Ethel admitted her cowardice sent her down into the street to escape the pain-scarred incident. I am quite certain that a midwife attended my mother and a neighborhood doctor was finally summoned. Thinking back on it now, it is inconceivable that I never discussed the manner of my birth with my mother.
Mollie’s parents were both born in Germany: Julius in 1853 and Christine Matthias in 1850. My grandfather on my father’s side, Julius Zimmerman, was born near Basel, Switzerland, in 1866 and my grandmother Catherina Fuchs was born in Scranton in 1869 of German parentage. Dad was orphaned at 17 when his father followed his mother in death within a year of each other. Dad helped a stern grandmother, Gertrude Massiner Fuchs, of Hamburg, Germany, raise the younger flock — sisters Gertrude, Anna and Carrie, and brothers Harold, Clarence and Arthur.
During my infancy the lot next door on one side stood vacant, but in a short time a grand house was erected there by Dr. Jacob Lonsdorf and his family. This permitted but a very narrow walkway at the side of our house to reach its rear entrance — the door used by our family on most occasions. One entered the property through a black iron gate, part of a fence bordering the front sidewalk.
The backyard was my world. The small, roofed and latticed enclosed area would today be known as a patio, a word unfamiliar in our vocabulary. A very small wooden porch with a few stairs led up to the kitchen door, adjacent to a slanted cellar door which must have been placed there with a small boy’s propensity to slide in mind. A wooden seated swing suspended by ropes provided entertainment on the sheltered patio on rainy days.
The kitchen would have to be described as cramped and probably was an early add-on, a summer kitchen, since our cellar did not extend beneath it. Instead, a dark, cool crawl space beneath the kitchen provided a storage area for kindling wood for the coal-fired furnace in the cellar and the wood and coal cooking range in the kitchen. In the backyard my father tended a meticulous, colorful flower garden which limited our freedom to play. However, the magic kingdom for boys lay at the rear of this miniature yard. We called it the “barn,” but the structure was little more than an unpainted wooden shed which, I suppose, was quite ugly. Until I reached the age of three or four, a small chicken coop was attached where Dad raised bantam chickens. This venture was abandoned, much to the relief of the Lonsdorf family whose bedrooms absorbed the roosters’ crowing at dawn. More about the wonderful “barn” later.
On April 20, 1925, my brother William (Bill) was born, blonde and blue-eyed, in one of the city’s hospitals. Shortly afterward, Mom had to return to the hospital for “repair work,” as the story was passed on to me in subsequent years.
There was a time during this period when Mom’s weakness and illness prompted Dad to hire a young high school girl to come to our home on a regular basis to help with the housekeeping chores and to care for Bill and me. I am hazy on just when this occurred, but I am clear on the girl. Cleone was a frizzy blonde, vibrant and outgoing, resplendent in gobs of makeup, projecting the look of the flapper of the day. She came from the family of a distant relative or friend. I looked forward to her coming, and I believe Mom did also. Cleone developed a good relationship with us and stopped to visit for several years after her employment ceased, always exuding her remarkable energy and love of life.
Future installments to be featured over the next several issues.