Buzz Weir: I was born in Manchester on August 26, 1922. I was named after my Uncle Frank – I was born on his 40th
Both my parents were born in 1891. My mother’s name was Alice Josephine Lieberg. Her family was Swedish, living then in Patterson, New Jersey, like Manchester a silk-industry town. My father’s family came from Northern Ireland and lived in Manchester.
I grew up in the west end – we lived at 117 Summer Street, near McKee Street. It was a two-family, up-and-down. My aunt and uncle lived upstairs; mother and dad and we three kids lived downstairs. My sister was born 14 years after I was, so then there were four kids.
During the Depression, we survived pretty well. So many people got laid off. But my father worked at Cheney Brothers, as Supervisor of General Stores. He had charge of the inventory of all their furniture, anything that they owned and had to keep track of – the things in the mills. He wasn’t laid off, but he took quite a few cuts in pay. And he didn’t get back to his old salary until the early 1940s. He worked for Cheneys for 50 years.
He worked another job at night, over at the West Side Recreation Center, supervising the building for the sports and games, and the showers. It was a big treat for us on Saturday nights when he’d bring us all over there, and we’d all have a shower. At home, all we had was a bathtub, and you were getting into somebody else’s hot water. Down there at the West Side Rec’ they had hot showers. The Rec had a lot of facilities, including a couple of bowling alleys.
So we struggled. We cut wood for the furnace, instead of buying coal. My brother and I had the job of keeping the fire going in the basement. When we did get a ton of coal, we’d shovel it into the furnace.
To get hot water, you had to go down into the basement to light a coil to start heating the water. My uncle, upstairs, would holler down, “I’ve got some hot water up here, if anybody needs it.” And we’d go up the back steps, and get a hot bath at that time.
We always had pretty good clothing. I got hand-me-downs from my brother. I remember getting my first suit, with knickers, and one pair of long pants. That was in eighth grade, which would be about 1936. We went to G. Fox & Company. Sometimes when we shopped there, we’d go to the lunchroom and sit at the counter and have lunch. We also shopped in Manchester, at Hultman’s, that became Clifford’s Men’s Shop.
During the Depression, my uncle, Ed Noren, owned Anderson & Noren Grocery Store, on the corner of Center and Lilac. People had so little money, they “put it on the books,” because they couldn’t pay for food, and some never did pay. But, a lot of them did pay. He’d say to my mother, “I’ve got to have something, pretty soon.” The bill would be around $125, and my mother would send him a check for what she could pay him. But he gave us credit for quite a bit. $125 sound like nothing today, but at that time, it was big money.
Mr. Moore, who lived across the street, got laid off. He had three children: Lois, Norman and Richard. Somewhere he got a whole bunch of railroad ties, put them in his backyard, and he cut that for the heat. He would do odd jobs for people, like landscaping and tree cutting.
There was some relief for people during the Depression. The town had the “Poor Farm,” which is now where the Police Station is. It looked like a long red barn.
In 1938 the terrible Hurricane hit. It came right through Manchester. It took down a lot of beautiful trees. We were out of school about a week, and we kids went door-to-door offering to help the people cut up their wood, for about ten cents an hour. I had the dullest axe around.
The Depression seemed to go on forever. My grandfather got laid off, in Hartford, but he was a pretty handy guy, and he started doing upholstery work in his garage. He used Cheney Brothers material, but at that time, you know, he couldn’t waste a yard. It cost about $4.99 a yard. My grandfather was very good with his hands.
At that time my mother’s parents lived on Griswold Street. They had a big garden alongside the house. My parents had a garden too. We had tomato plants, and lettuce. And my uncle upstairs had a garden, too.
Even though we had to pull in our belts quite a bit, we never lacked for things. We didn’t have as hard a time as an awful lot of people.
Sometimes we’d go the movies – we’d get out of school at 3:30 or 4, and race into the Palace Theatre in Hartford, before the rates changed at night. My father had a car at that time, although it was usually in the garage, up on blocks. The car was just a luxury we couldn’t afford at that time. My father was always “going to run it again,” but it never left the garage until it was towed away. It had little vases on the inside – you put artificial flowers in them. There were some great times then. My friend Elmer Duffy – he’s out in California now – we agree that Manchester was the greatest town to be brought up in. Plenty of sports, plenty of fathers participating with their sons. Everything that you needed was right here. We’d make the trek all the way up to Globe Hollow and go swimming. We’d walk home, too, and by the time we got home, we were sweating again!
In August, we would rent a cottage at White Sands, next to Sound View, on Long Island Sound. We rented with the Norens – they had two kids, and we had three. Sometimes there were three or four of us sleeping in one bed. We stayed the whole month. It was a big treat. The fathers would drive down every weekend, and we’d be alone with our mothers during the week.
Summer or winter, we walked everywhere. We liked to stop at Rogers Paper Mill, on Hartford Road, to watch the men working there. They had the windows open, so we’d sit on the windowsill. The men would take big sheets of paper, and keep moving them through the machine, just a little bit at a time. This big arm was spreading out the paper, thinning it down. If you ever fell asleep when one of these arms hit you, it would kill you. And they just had a little seat to sit on, and they had to keep their head up. That building is still there – down on the corner of Prospect and Hartford Road, near the brook, where the gas station blew up – that little building next to it.
We used to take the trolley to Laurel Park, near East Hartford. The trolley cost five cents to Laurel Park, and 15 cents to Hartford. We went to Laurel Park as a family, although I was quite young – it closed just about the time I was old enough to appreciate it.
Our Sunday school class from St. Mary’s church used to get on an open-air trolley, and go all the way down to Lake Compounce – on the trolley. We’d go through the city of Hartford. I remember all the kids would yell at the police – “Brass-button blue coat, couldn’t catch a nanny-goat.” They’d just wave.
We walked to school, rain or shine or snow. We all had sleds. If it was a bad winter, they used to close off Summer Street hill, so we could go sliding. There were more sleds than cars in those days.
Sometimes we went to the spring at Highland Park to get water. The water bubbled up continuously – you could drink right from the iron pipe. They called it “iron water,” because it was coming right out of the rocks. We used to go to dances there, Swedish dances, at the “clubhouse,” the building that used to be Case Brothers’ water-bottling plant.
My dad had a grocery store, “Thomas Weir,” on Center Street, right at the top of Trotter Street. This became the Patterson Market, near East Center. His Aunt Martha sent him to school in Hartford to learn the business. His aunt had quite a bit of money. She owned three or four houses on Trotter Street.
I graduated from Manchester High School in 1940. I was only 17, and I worked for Independent Cloak Company for six months or a year, until I turned 18. Then I went to work for Pratt & Whitney, in the blueprint room. I stayed there until December 8, 1942, a year and a day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when I was drafted into the service. I had an accident during training that left me with a crooked finger, and I was sent to Augusta National Hospital for six months or so. Then I rejoined my unit at Fort Bragg, and we went overseas in September of 1943. I served in Germany until 1945. I was in the 325th Engineers.
There were quite a few other guys from Manchester – Jimmy Savello, who was transferred to another group. He got killed in Sicily. Pauli Ott and Smokey Breen were from Manchester, and a former boss of mine from Pratt & Whitney, Frank Porzio, from Glastonbury, ended up in the same company as me. He never went overseas with us, because he was exempt to go home and run his father’s farm. I stayed overseas – I didn’t have enough points to come home. I was short five points. So I stayed over there for what they called “De-Nazi-fying.” We went around and blew up bunkers and pillboxes. Some of our truck drivers had to drive in to the concentration camps, to get some of the people out that were still living. They told us you could smell the camps from ten miles away. But I never had to go there. I was transferred up to Bramerhaven, and I came home from there in 1945.
After I got out of the service, I went to watch-making school in Kansas City, and then to Western Pennsylvania Horological Institute. When I came back to Manchester, I worked for Phillip Stevens, and around 1954, I opened my own shop on Pratt Street, up on the fifth floor. My wife, Bea, and I had two daughters, Melody and Robin. I wasn’t making enough money in the watch-making business, and I went to work for a small Aerospace company in South Windsor, Aero-Kinetics. It was precision work, very small. We did quite a bit of work for Pratt & Whitney. I also worked for Burr Nurseries. But I came down with psittacosis, parrot fever, from an un-banded bird that a friend of ours brought up from Staten Island. I was out of work for over a year. That was around 1956, when Bea was pregnant with our third child, Jill. We scraped by, a little here, a little there. Bea’s brother owned White Glass, and he helped us. And Bea worked.
Today, I’m restricted to 50 feet from this oxygen tank, so I can’t go down cellar, where I have my watch-making bench. But, I’m glad I’m walking on the grass, and not looking up at it. Just being able to put one foot in front of the other is good enough nowadays. I did what I was supposed to do. I wasn’t the best student in school, but I graduated in 1940. I served my country. Bea has kept me going. It’s been a wonderful life with Bea. She’s never asked for a lot. We’ve done a lot together. We’ve had some good times. We’re not wealthy, but she was game for whatever we wanted to do.
I’d say to young married people – Be honest with each other, and don’t stay mad for a long period of time. That eats away at everybody.
All photos courtesy Buzz Weir, digitally restored by John Spaulding, of the Manchester Historical Society.
Reproduced 2011 from www.mhs1955.com with permission of its webmaster Dick Jenkins.
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