My shattered memory recalls a blustery, snow-banked middle-of-the night interruption of sleep at our house. Men came pounding on the front door calling, "Arch.....Arch.....Mr. Hanna.....come..... your store is burning!"
Dad had been in bed for a day or two suffering from painful shingles. Mom scrambled to get up, had jumped into her clothes, and helped Dad. They donned heavy coats, hats, boots, scarves, and gloves. Mom draped a woolen shawl around Dad's shoulders as, together, they went out the front door.
Five-year old me was sleeping with Grandma Hanna. We were jerked awake, put blankets around our shoulders, and went to the window in Mom and Dad's room so we could see the road in front of our house. A raft of black tires were rolling down the hill into the piles of snow. People were shouting and there was a great flare in the sky from the conflagration in the middle of our small town.
We watched for a long time......there was nothing else we could do. We worried about my folks and waited for word about the devastation. Finally, Mom and Dad came home......hugely bowed by their loss. The fire had swallowed our two-story Keystone gas station, the Chevrolet auto sales and repair shop, and what had been our first home.....the upstairs apartment. The building was gutted..... everything except for a few odds and ends people had rescued was burned, exploded, or otherwise destroyed. Now what?
My three-year younger brother, Ernie, and I were shielded from Dad's feelings of desperation. I don't remember seeing his suffering.....but now I know he must have been in agony. He would pick up the pieces and go on.....but how?
When I graduated from eighth grade, Dad and Mom allowed me to order an outfit from the Spiegel catalog......a blue crepe dress with an accordion-pleated skirt, blue shoes, and a three-quarter length sky-blue soft nylon coat. It was my very first store-bought outfit and I loved it. I felt special all dressed up..... I didn't think about how Dad pinched funds to pay for it.....it wasn't mentioned.
Every spare moment I had I helped Dad at the garage he built on one-half of the original foundation. His mechanic, my Uncle Harold, repaired vehicles, but Dad no longer sold Chevrolet cars. Now he sold farm supplies mostly stored in the basement that had been dug out underneath one-half of the new garage building. We sold tires and auto parts.....and there was a candy and tobacco section..... my domain. Dad allowed a lot of people to run charge accounts.....it was my job to enter all the slips in his ledgers. I cleaned shelves and floors.....I loved just being involved in the business "with my Dad."
In 1942, I graduated from Townville High School as the Valedictorian of my class. I won an American Legion Scholarship, but it was to Universities I had never considered and did not intend to investigate. Even with the award, I knew we couldn't afford any of them.....and..... I had always planned to attend Edinboro State College.....my Mon's college.....to prepare to be a teacher. When Dad received notice of the scholarship, he brought the telegram down to the house. In the kitchen, he read the announcement to me and Mom.....it was the only time I remember him hugging me as tears ran down his cheeks.
In September, I enrolled in College. The Townville banker's daughter, Margaret, was the only student there that I knew..... and she had nothing to do with a garage-girl. When my name was put up for the Sorority, she black-balled me. After she graduated, I was invited to become a member; I did.....but I was more identified by membership in the music group.....We performed a Gilbert and Sullivan Operetta in which I was "poor little Buttercup".....my only dramatic experience at ESTC.
By Christmas my freshman year at Edinboro, all but two young men rated 4-F had been called up for the services in World War II. The College went on a fast track to get teachers out in the field in three years. When I graduated in June, 1945, Dad had a mortgage-burning event at our house.....finally the loan he obtained from his brother-in-law, Ernest Prather, to rebuild after the 1932 fire was PAID. It was then that I realized the magnitude of his loss and how he had struggled to re-establish his business and pay for me to go to college. I knew I had to repay him by being successful in my chosen profession. I owed him.
I wonder how many parents could accomplish the same for their children now.....in this time of pinching their budgets? There aren't many people as determined as my Dad.....not many who would work eighteen hours a day – seven days a week - for their family.....not many. Today, too many expect the government to take care of them. If we are on the verge of another "GREAT DEPRESSION" can we survive?