October 12, 2016

The rest of Matilda

So now Matilda is pregnant (and married) and in NYC and it is 1911. Ruth, her only daughter, was born in August of 1911.  Matilda would have only one child.  Perhaps the difficulty of being one of 11 had had an effect on her.  The next year her older sister, Alma, with whom she immigrated, would get pregnant with her daughter Beatrice and unfortunately die in 1912.

Well so much for the glamour of the big city but at least Matilda is away from the islands and married to a good steady provider.  Wait.  She’s living on an island, so not exactly away from the water.  Except for a slight interruption in her life when she lived 50 miles from the sea in Plainfield NJ and raised her daughter, Ruth Walborg Johnson, Matilda never lived far from the sea. 

Swen and Matilda were good providers.  Never one to sit still for long, Matilda worked as a seamstress and it leaves me wondering if she ever took on work in her home while she lived in NYC where home work for the sweatshops was prevalent in her time. 

Here Ruth’s memories of her childhood take over which memories included living in grand houses in Plainfield.  What was she doing there?  Well besides Swen's job as a carpenter (usually for the railroad), Swen and Matilda were insurance caretakers for several well-to-do families living in and around Plainfield, the Malis the DeForests and the Hydes. 

The Hyde Mansion
The Deforest Mansion

Hydewood Hall was a grand house at the base of the Watchung Mountains. Due to insurance regulations, someone had to live in the spectacular mansions when the family and servants were away.  These mansions were the fabric of Plainfield and the wonderful task of baby sitting the mansions fell to the reliable Johnson family.  Swen worked at his job of the CRRNJ or at the flooring trade and Matilda kept house and sewed new drapery and slipcovers for their employers.  Their introverted egghead daughter read.

Ruth wasn’t very forthcoming about her life in these houses except for the vastness of the libraries and one other anecdote.  Every time Route 22 flooded by Terrill Road she said glumly, “Well, what do you expect? It used to be the Mali pond.”

In 1939 Ruth, after graduating from college and working for awhile (more on that in another post), married William Walter Christian Kirchner and settled down to watch the war pass by.  Swen and Matilda moved to Staten Island two blocks from the water where Swen could fish in his spare time and Matilda could take in sewing.
When Swen retired they moved to a bungalow in Stuart Florida where Swen could fish off the piers to his heart’s content and Matilda took in sewing. 
The handsome Swen died at age 73 in 1960 shortly after the above photo (front: Ruth, Tina, Walter and back: Matilda and Swen) and the hearty Matilda lived on until 1983 when she died at age 96, infamous for her heckling phone calls berating her son in law and her granddaughter to do her bidding.  Neither would give in.

Next time.  Matilda, Ruth and Christina.

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