In the early 1950’s, Ontario from Toronto west was home to thousands of refugees and immigrants escaping post-war Europe. There were family units, of course, but also lots of young single people: all working to establish themselves, and some also working to bring other family members to Canada.
Dad was the last of his family to emigrate; mom was the first of hers. Dad made friends easily and was comfortable in just about any setting; his smile and charm more than made up for his lack of formal education. Mom was well-educated but introverted; she was happiest in her work environment where her skills gave her credibility, but she had few friends. Both were looking for someone with whom to build a future.
Dad socialized readily with other immigrants, whether relatives or co-workers, and could often be found after work having a few beers with the guys, and on Friday and Saturday nights dressed up to go dancing at one of the German or Polish clubs in Hamilton. The Schwaben Club was Hamilton’s biggest German club in the 50’s and 60’s.
Mom apparently had to be cajoled into going to the club “to meet people”, but she loved to dance, and would agree to go with a co-worker to keep them company. By 1954, my grandmother was also living with my mom, and encouraged her to go out. It may have been that grandma wanted some social time of her own; she was seeing a Hungarian man to whom she had been introduced (and who she married later that year – a very brief abusive marriage that was annulled within a month).
The legend says that on Saturday, February 27, 1954, mom’s 27th birthday, she and a girlfriend went dancing at the Schwaben Club. Mom wore a vibrant flower-printed satin dress that she had made herself. At the dance, she was introduced to a handsome young man in a tan double-breasted suit, who danced like a dream.
Dad and mom courted throughout the spring and before long were engaged. It happened pretty fast, and might have been even faster had dad not needed to divest himself of a couple of other girlfriends first. Have I mentioned what a charmer he was? Not that he was mom’s first love either; she had been engaged a couple of years before, to a man named Philip Neidert (no relation, or at best a very distant one), but his mother objected to him marrying an immigrant girl with “no family”, so the wedding was called off. Talking about it years later, mom was glad that she had escaped a potentially horrid mother-in-law, even though she had already paid for her wedding dress. With dad, mom was getting no in-laws except aunt Martha, since everyone else was still in Germany.
Dad, on the other hand, was getting a mother-in-law AND a grandmother-in-law, since 1954 was the year when mom finally had the funds to sponsor her grandmother’s immigration.
My Oma (great-grandmother) left her home in Vilshofen (Pleinting, Germany) on 24 June 1954 at 76 yrs old and departed Bremerhafen on August 14, 1954 on a ship quite different from the Beaverbrae on which mom had sailed 5 years earlier. The Seven Seas started life as one-time U.S. aircraft carrier USS Long Island, which was completely remodelled, first as a freighter, then as a migrant ship (the MS Nelly) able to accommodate up to 1,300 in the most basic of accommodations, being mostly dormitories with only a few two bedded cabins that could be also be sold as three or four berth cabins. Apparently there were two dining rooms with long tables with multiple sittings, and several lounges, a bar and several other public venues (description taken from the website ssmaritime.com). At the end of 1953, the ship was again refitted, in Bremen, as a two-class cruise ship renamed the MS Seven Seas, to carry 20 first class and 987 tourist-class passengers, but still occasionally used as a migrant ship by the Europe Canada Line.
Oma arrived in Hamilton late summer 1954, and moved in with my mom and grandmother. It seems that my dad immediately bonded with my great-grandmother (their birthdays were only one day apart: May 15 and May 16), including her and my grandma on car drives and outings. When I was little, I often remember my mom complaining that her grandmother always took dad’s side in any argument.
Mom and dad married on November 27, 1954, nine months to the day from their first meeting.
The ceremony was officiated by Pastor Fred Mueller at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Hamilton and, unfortunately, included the first event to cast a shadow over what would be a sometimes stormy 56-year marriage. Early in their relationship, mom must have told dad that she would never marry a younger man. She was 27. Dad volunteered that he, too, was 27, but saying it to a woman you want and lying about it in a legal document like a marriage certificate are two different things: Dad was 25 when they married. Mom was not impressed and, unfortunately, continued to be unimpressed with dad for much of their life together.
Their wedding was beautiful though. For years, I listened to relatives talking about it; apparently there had been nothing like it in their circle up to that point. These two newcomers to Canada sure knew how to throw a party! They did all their own wedding planning, and paid for everything themselves. The chicken for about 150 people was all cooked by the cooks from the Croatian National Home, a community centre then located at 173 Beach Road (http://www.cnhome.ca/pages/history/1928.html) , but the tortes for the midnight dessert table came from my grandmother, oma, and female relatives and friends originally from their Nagyszekeky Hungary community. Mom’s wedding dress was one of the few things she did not sew herself (although she did her own dyeing and alterations to convert it afterward: first into a royal blue cocktail-length dancing dress, and later into a form-fitting navy blue sheath). Her “something new” and “something blue” were the sterling silver and aquamarine necklace and earrings that were her wedding gift from dad (that she wore at their 50th anniversary party, and that her eldest granddaughter Shannon wore on her wedding day). Dad’s brand new suit was midnight blue. The bridesmaids and groomsmen simply wore their best formal clothes, resulting in yellow, blue, and pink on the women (and in the flowers), and various shades of blue on the men.
They splurged on a professional photographer … and dad bought a new car shortly before the wedding !
After their wedding, mom and dad went to their new home, a third floor cold water walk-up flat in a house owned by William and Helene Feldner , on Nelson Avenue in Burlington. Having splurged on their wedding, there was no honeymoon until the following July, when they spent 4 days at a B&B in Gananoque, near the Thousand Islands. It must have been a good honeymoon, because I arrived 9 months later.
That’s another story though.