THE TROUBADOURS

   In my home life, we moved along quietly.  We joined Redemption Church in 1972, and Bessie joined the choir even before we became official members.  I bought a second-hand accordion, because I missed having a piano in the house, and I practiced it until I had, partially at least, mastered the art of finding notes without looking at the keys.  About 1972 or '73, a group of church men got together under the guidance of Jack Levy.  It started in a small way at a church picnic to New Jersey, and Jack produced three or four Harmonicas, which he gave to those who could play.  This small beginning grew, until at one period, we had 14 or 15 players and the Troubadours were born.  I played accordion, Dave Davidson on banjo, Roy Werner on guitar, Tom Lever on Xylophone, Bill Banks on percussion, Harry Kretmar and Ed Zabor on mandolin, and Bill Shetzline, Andy Martin, Ken Putt, George Muller, Pastor Tobaben, Rudy Schweisik, and Jack Levy played Harmonicas.    

At that time, those of us who were still working could only go to evening gigs when we played for social clubs, or retirement homes, and Jack Levy conducted for evening jobs.  The retirees in the group could do afternoon jobs led by Pastor Tobaben.  The first break in the Troubadours was probably the least likely.  Jack Levy very unexpectedly took ill and died, and since he had been the youngest of the group and still working, it was a great shock.  The Troubadours held a special memorial in the Social Hall for Jack and it was a sell-out.  Led by Pastor Tobaben, we played all the songs we knew Jack favored, and I'm sure there were a few misty eyes that night.  We did a lot of engagements around Northeast Philadelphia, and occasionally a bit further afield.  The Presbyterian Home on City Avenue was a regular job as was Williamson's in the GSB building.  We also played in Williamson's on Route 611 a few times.  The group always got a good reception; I suppose because we were catering to our own age group of older people and playing the good old standards from way back.  

   We played everything from Victorian Ballads through World War I, through the twenties, thirties, and World War II, and I think our audiences could relate to that.  In addition, we played Polish, German, Irish, Scots, and American songs such as Stephen Foster's great songs of the South.  I know we enjoyed playing as much as the audiences enjoyed singing along or dancing.  We always included some Mummers' music, which pleased the real Philadelphia natives.  All in all, it was a very pleasant time for all of us.     

Something I should have included in this narrative is Bessie and her singing.  She and her sister, Helen, had sung in the Renfrew Lyric Choir from an early age and while Bessie dropped out, her sister was a member into her seventies.  Bessie sang with Linnvale Church choir, and was one of my Women's Guild concert singers before we came to the U.S.  She had also done some duets in concert with my old friend, Bob Moohan.  But always it seemed, she sang around the house.  When the girls were babies, she sang them to sleep, and working around the house, she always had a song.  When she was younger, she had a real sweet lyric soprano voice.  In contrast to some singers who sacrifice articulation for tone, when she sang, you could hear all the words. She gave full value to the vowel sounds and put every consonant in its place.  Many singers have the sound, but haven't learned to articulate the lyrics, which to my mind is so important.  What good would an opera singer be, if the listeners could not hear the story?  Bessie's voice lost some power as she got older, but she always had a song in her voice.  I learned to do some of her accompaniments on the piano, and occasionally she would sing at a Masonic dance or a church concert.  Over the years, she had favorite songs which changed from time to time, such as "Bless this House" or the "Bells of St. Mary's," "Because," "One fine day" from Madame Butterfly, and a few others, including a Scots Ballad.  Her last favorite song was "The Sunshine of your Smile," and I can't bring myself to play it without getting a lump in my throat.  But once again, I'm jumping ahead of myself.

   We arrived in the U.S. and began to settle down.  We enjoyed watching our grandchildren grow up.  On February 18, 1972, we welcomed the arrival of a brand new grandson, Joel Benjamin Brouse.  After a short interval, Margaret went to work again and Joel became our "raison d'etre" for a good few years.  Margaret would drop him off in the morning and pick him up in the evening.  During the day, Bessie would take him out in the pram or if the weather was good, she would sit outside, doing her knitting, while Joel slept or played.  Later, when Joel was of school age, he went to Fox Chase School and could walk between school and our apartment on Rhawn Street.  In the meantime, the Fizells moved to Cinnaminson in New Jersey, so we did not see so much of them.  Stephen and Beth went to high school there and Wendy attended elementary school.  We got together on holidays or "occasions," but we didn't see a lot of them at that time.  As Joel got a little older, we went to McDonald's one day a week and I would drop him off on that day, which was Thursday (pay-day).    

In 1976, Elizabeth and John came on a visit from the U.K., bringing Margot and Andrew.  They spent part of their time with us and part with Helen and Joe, and for the first time since 1957, we were able to have the entire family all together. I would have liked to have them all keep in touch and stay friends, but I'm afraid that didn't happen.  There always seemed to be a schism which I couldn't heal, and although I don't think I was part of it at the beginning, the split eventually widened.  In spite of a lot of pleas on my part for a reconciliation, as I write this in 1994, it has been 14 years at least and sadly, I don't think it will ever heal.  I have little time left.

   After John and Elizabeth's visit in 1976, I thought I could afford to send Bessie over in 1977 to go around and visit our two families in the U.K.   Her brother, Eddie, who looked the fittest and healthiest of them all, had died in 1972, and his widow, Anne, and son, Eddie, Jr. visited the U.S. in 1973.  George, her oldest brother who had remarried after his divorce from Cathy, also visited the U.S. later in '73, in September.  So I figured Bessie should go over and do the rounds.  I made the travel arrangements for her, so that she could get round the family as hassle-free as possible and it worked out very well.  She went over for the month of September and had a very successful trip.  Then out of the blue, the nightmare struck -- again.  A week before Bessie was due back, on the second last Friday of September, I got a telephone call at home at 7 p.m.  It was Bunting's personnel manager to tell me that the plant was being forced to shut down and there would be no more work.  Apparently, the bank had rejected their application for a loan to get working capital for their next year's production, which was due to start in October.  In spite of having advance orders of over $3 million and a downtown warehouse with nearly $7 million worth of completed work, the bank reneged and forced closure.   

Needless to say, we were all devastated, and when I went down on the Monday morning to collect my tools and other belongings from my office, I had to go through a gauntlet of special security men hired for the occasion, and prove that my tools were indeed mine.  Luckily, I had my initials etched on most of them, and at last I had them released to me.  Many staff people and workers were milling around, not wanting to believe the worst, but it was only too real.  They owed me three weeks' vacation, because I'd worked through the factory vacation in July, but I didn't get either vacation nor payment for it.  It was just one more reason for wondering if I'd have been better off if I'd stayed in Scotland.  I certainly wouldn't have been cheated out of nearly $1,000 in vacation pay. 

   There I was, out of a job again, and Bessie due home the following Friday.  I didn't tell her right away, because she was so happy after her trip and had so much to tell us.  I waited till the last thing Sunday night, before I broke the news.  I went on unemployment then and looked kind of half-heartedly for something else, but at 62, I was not holding my breath.  However, I did find a place down in Westmoreland Street who were in the business of making aluminium tables and some kinds of garden furniture.  

I started there as a floor inspector and proceeded to find out what I had got into.  The works manager was the owner's son, and he wasn't much over age 30.  Father and son were constantly at each other's throat, and the fire was kept going by the shop foreman, who was a member of the same parish.  He constantly played one against the other by carrying stories about one to the other.  The sales manager, who incidentally was an ex-Bunting salesman, took me aside the first day and told me the set-up.  He said, "You'll be caught in the middle of that bunch and you're the third inspector in as many months."  However, I persevered and managed to hang in for nearly nine months, before it became too much for me.  The shop foreman, who thought he was God's gift to industry, sent a batch of bunk beds -- made from steel tubing -- out of the factory to a customer.  I had previously told him there was a fault in all of them and they could not be assembled without some modification.  When I looked around and found they were gone, I went straight to the old man, and told him he would have to give me the authority to over-rule this foreman or else I would have to re-consider my position.  He said he would deal with it, but the next day, his son came into my office, shut the door and started a diatribe on me for letting the merchandise out when they were faulty.  I told him what I'd told his father, but he said the foreman denied sending them out.  The implication was I'd sent them out myself.  I told him that I could not work with this situation, so to ensure I would get unemployment benefits, he'd better lay me off.  After a lot of hemming and hawing, he agreed to do that, and I left.  Getting up to age 63, and on unemployment pay, I looked into the possibility of early retirement and Social Security.  Weighing it all up, I decided then to retire and get out of the rat race.

   So at 63 and a bit, I retired, and between Social Security and my U.K. disability pension, we got by.  Joel was still at Fox Chase School and doing well as a student.  Bessie and I arranged our day so that we were home when school came out.  Joel was a good child and never gave us any problems, so it wasn't a real hardship.  The fact that he was the only grandchild we'd seen grow from a baby made him a bit special.  I know my other grandchildren won't mind this aspect of Joel's upbringing or hold it against me.  

Being retired meant I could go out on these afternoon gigs with the Troubadours, and for quite a long time after that, we were out at least twice a week and occasionally three times.  Bessie was a stalwart in Redemption choir, which at that period numbered 14 to 16 singers.  Paul gave up the organ, but sang with the choir under Charles Hackenyos, whose wife, Joyce, also sang in the choir.  I think the choir was at its peak of performance and in numbers at this period.  And so time went rushing on into 1980.