I just inserted this into my current project — cousins might be interested in this family lore:
Bridget Dunne was my grandmother. At the age of 21, in 1914, she seized the opportunity to emigrate from a County Galway farm to St. Louis, Missouri. She reinvented herself from a flute-playing farm-girl who hated digging peat, to a live-in domestic for a wealthy young couple on Westminster Place, where she developed a fine idea of herself.
After six years of learning about linens, china, silverware, and trimming the crusts from cucumber sandwiches, she decided to marry her sister’s brother-in-law Walter, just home from his duties as a field engineer on the Western Front of World War I. In the language of S-curves,* she had graduated from her learning zone and was zooming up the steep slope of success.
Walter’s family owned a carpentry shop. While his mother Sarah ran the business, the father William and six sons applied their craft to large building projects in the Central West End of St. Louis. Walter and Bridget were able to buy a house and start a family.
When the Great Depression struck in 1929, the Prices were still cruising in the comfort zone, although the recent death of Walter’s mother deprived the business of its brains and the grand building projects had given way to repair work.
But comfort zones have a way of vanishing.
In the mid-Thirties, not long after Bridget had her fifth child, she began to wake up to the fact that maybe things weren’t going to be all right.
The economy was terrible, but the six Price brothers were still working. Every Saturday, they met at the shop on Aubert Avenue to make window frames and other standard parts for their jobs. Slowly, Bridget observed, the Saturdays became less about carpentry and more about bootleg whiskey and the horseshoe pit behind the shop. Not the good life she had in mind. Not her idea of Bridget Dunne. Poverty was not on her agenda.
My dad, Curly, was on hand for the Saturday evening show-down. Curly was the impressionable second child, a freshman in high school.
Walter came home after a day of drinking and horseshoes when he should have been working.
“This is it,” Bridget said. “You’re going into business for yourself. Pick a brother to join you.” He had no comeback.
On Monday morning, she dragged Walter to the bank with her, where they took out a second mortgage on the house to buy him a truck. He and his brother Tab were in business.
In the deepest Depression, with five children to feed and educate in Catholic schools, Bridget wasn’t about to witness the demise of her family due to disorganization and drinking. She tightened her jaw and marched them into the transition zone, with nothing but faith and a new truck.
Walter and Tab worked successfully together for decades to come, first on their own, then doing government work when World War II began.
My dad told me this story when he was eighty years old, the story about how his mother had put her foot down and saved the family.
*S-Curve: a business concept for the lifecycles of innovations that I’ve adapted for life phases — slow adoption (my “learning zone”), followed by rapid success (“progress”), followed by a leveling off (my “comfort zone”), followed by a decision point — either decline into obsolescence (falling apart, “out of business,” permanent couch potato) or take the leap to a new innovation/life phase (scary “transition zone”).