4255 Virginia Ave.
by Ruth Elizabeth Jones-Armstrong
This is the autobiography of a little girl who grew up during the years of the Great Depression and the Second World War.
I am that little girl and I thought I would write this book for a couple of reasons. When you browse through the book department of the various stores, it seems like everybody is writing a book these days so why shouldn't I.
The other reason is that before I get old and forgetful I would write down some of the events in my life that I remember.
This book will probably never be published but I can always say I wrote a book.
Ruth Elizabeth Jones Armstrong
|This autobiography begins with my birth which took
place in a house on the south side of Chicago, Illinois. I'm told the
day was Wednesday June 8, in the year 1921. There was a doctor and nurse
in attendance. The doctor must of not recorded my birth because a
certificate cannot be found. There is a letter among my keepsakes that
says I was born in 1918. Later in the book I will tell more about this
My mother, brother and I must of left Chicago shortly after I was born. We came to St. Louis and lived for a short while with my Nenna and Uncle Ed Kaiser. They lived in the 6200 block of Virginia Ave.
It was on Washington's birthday in the year 1922 that the three of us made our next move. Mother told me that she put me in a baby buggy and pushed me up the sidewalk to 4255 Virginia Ave with my brother walking along side.
|This house at 4255 Virginia Ave. was a three story
brick. It had a side and rear porch on the first and second floors. Now
the people that lived there were Joseph L. and Louise Shaw Hornsby and
their daughter, Marie Louise. There was also a niece and her name was
My mother knew this family before she married our father. She was the nurse maid for Marie Louise. Mother was now in need of a job and Mrs. Hornsby was in need of a cook and a housekeeper. We lived on the third floor of this house which was to become our home for eighteen years. The third floor consisted of two rooms and bath, also two attics. I always made sure those doors to the attics were locked. Then if there was anyone in there they couldn't get me. As I became older and braver, I ventured into those attics and found many interesting things.
The second floor was the living quarters for Mr. & Mrs. Hornsby, their daughter and niece. The back bedroom belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Hornsby, the middle bedroom was Marie Louise and the niece had the hall bedroom. The front room on the second floor was the upstairs living room. There were three baths, one in the basement, second floor and third floor.
The yard was one big bouquet of flowers as close as I can remember I will draw a picture of where each flower bed was and the kind of flower. The flagstone walk from the back door to the gate leading to our neighbor's yard was lined with Hollyhocks. We had a grape arbor. On a summer day, I could be found on the bench in this grape arbor reading a book and sipping lemonade. They had a gardener. His name was ?? Casper. He would cut the grass and I would help him by riding in his wheelbarrow. I also kept him supplied with lemonade.
The first floor consisted of a living room, dining room, butler's pantry, kitchen and hall the length of the house. There was a wide staircase leading to the second floor that had a slight curve at the top. I often used the banister instead of the stairs to go from the second to the first floor. The basement was half finished. The part that wasn't dug out had a stairway and a passage way to the finished part of the basement. We put our flower bulbs for the winter in the part of the basement not finished during the winter. In the finished part of the basement we had a 21/3 bath, furnace oil tank and various other things. To get to the finished part of the basement you needed to go through the unfinished part. This was another part of the house that scared me. To get to the basement during the day, I would go by way of the cellar door. At night, I would count the 13 steps down and run through the passageway.
Bob & Ruth
|The first day of school was in September 1926 at St. Anthony's Catholic school I attended kindergarten, first and second grade. Don't remember much of the time I spent in kindergarten, first and second grade. In kindergarten we had two Nuns. Sister Theresa was one of the teachers. One day some of us had been bad so she sent everyone to the cloak room. She said she was going to lock the room and leave us there. You can imagine the crying and of course we weren't left in the cloak room. Every one went home with tear stained faces.|
| Some of
the mothers were angry. We behaved for quite a while after that
incident. One of the boys thought he would play a joke on me. When I
went to sit on my chair he pulled the chair and I landed on the floor
and he ended up in the corner with a spanking. (Good) First and second
grades were busy ones. Learned my ABC's, some reading, arithmetic and Catechism. Learning the ways of the Catholic Church became a problem.
You see we went to the Baptist Church on Sunday. The reason we went to
St. Anthony's was because the public school was too far away. Mother
couldn't take us because of her work. The Catholic School was only a
block away and mother could see us across the street. We tried to keep
from going to the Catholic Church but the teachers insisted.
The picnics at St. Anthony's were held at Triangle Park at Meremac & Broadway. We would parade down Meremac to the park. I missed my first picnic because I had the measles. I remember the other 2 picnics at St. Anthony's. There were all kind of games including the fish pond, rides and food.
I went to Scruggs school for the remainder of my 8 grades. Scruggs was a big red brick building. Had separate play yards for boys and girls with a big circular flower bed in the middle. This was considered the dividing line. The teachers were all nice. There were some happy times and there were some bad times. Let's start with the happy times. The year I got to carry the banner for for room in the picnic parade. this was 8th grade and the picnic was held at Forest Park Highlands. We paraded from school over to the car barns on Virginia Ave. Once there we boarded the street cars and off to the picnic. The other picnics at Scruggs were held in Carondelet Park. We paraded down Grand to the park and through the park to the lake. Mother would get to the park early to get a picnic table right by the road and watch us come parading up. We didn't have many field trips but I remember three. They were to a coffee tea and spice company downtown. We were given samples. Also went through the Taystee Bakery and the Pevely Dairy.
Bob in a parade!
As a child, I spent some of my summer days in Calvary Cemetery. There was a section of Calvary Cemetery that was used for what was called the Catholic Outing Home. This home was run by the Archdiocese of St. Louis. It was open in the summer and the underprivileged children of the catholic churches were welcomed. The girls would come and stay for two weeks then the boys would get their turn and so on 'til the end of the summer.
Some of kids would get homesick and try to go home. That meant they couldn't get another chance to come back. It wasn't bad. I stayed out there a week. Mrs. Hornsby helped run the place is the reason I was able to go. Mother was surprised that I wanted to be away from home. I told her don't worry, I'll be home in a week. They supplied dresses for the girls. These dresses were made at Hadley Vocational School. I attended this school later on and had a hand in making some of these dresses also shirts for the boys. There was a very large home on the grounds which had belonged to Mr. Henry Clay. Since the fire department wouldn't let them use the third floor for sleeping quarters for the children, they built what I called large permanent tents. They were all wood built off the ground with screening on the sides. They ate at picnic tables under the trees except when it rained. There was a large front and back porch that was used when it rained. There was a swimming pool and a bath house. This was where I learned to swim. The pool wasn't fancy. The concrete was rough in places but the kids sure did enjoy the pool.
Besides that week I spent out at the home, I also went with Mrs. Hornsby on Fridays. We would stop by College Church and pick up a priest for Vespers and usually arrive just before lunch. Lunch was always fish. It came in big pans and cut in squares. I think it was salmon. After Vespers we would gather on the front porch where they would hand out the treats. We would head for home shortly afterwards taking the priest back to the College Church. One Friday, I was on the swings and Father Godfrey thought he would help me. I must of not been holding on too good for as he was pushing, he pushed me right out of the swing. I landed in a clump of grass unhurt. That priest sure was scared.
My young years at the Hornsby's during Christmas time was always exciting.
We would have a tree in the kitchen. One year we put candles on the tree. When Mr. Hornsby saw this he went right out and bought us a string of electric lights. After breakfast on Christmas morning we would go upstairs to the second floor living room. They had a tree and we would exchange gifts. The preparations before Christmas were exciting. There was always homemade cookies, fruit cake, candy, preserves and the house was decorated. The evergreens in front were decorated. Sometimes the boys would steal the lights but we caught them and that stopped.
One year I put out of cup of coffee, some cookies and a cigar for Santa. Mother later said she drank the coffee and ate the cookies. i don't know what she did with the cigar. the Christmas evenings were usually spent at the relatives. We would exchange gifts. Us kids would play with our gifts. If we were at the Kaiser's we would listen to the radio. They would
usually have Dickens' Christmas Carol on the radio Christmas night. About nine we would head for home.
As I grew older things changed. On Christmas Eve the young people of Third would go caroling. We started at the Chase Hotel and going west on Lindell, we would stop at all the homes. Some would be having parties. One house Santa was at the front door. He told us to go on in and then he would come in. We would continue on 'til we finished at Skinker.
As close as I can remember the date was June 10, 1930. The ceremony took place in the downstairs living room. The piano was moved to the rear of the first floor hall. It had to be tuned for the pianist to play the wedding march.
Preparations were many for this festive occasion. The yard had to be gone over completely because that was where the reception was held. Now I was only nine and I don't remember all the details but there are some things that stand out real good in my memory.
To start the day off I didn't have to go to school. My first job was to pick up any paper that might have blown into the yard. The grass had been cut and all the flower beds neatly trimmed. Another one of my jobs was to watch the presents after the wedding. Presents had been coming in for quite some time. You see the front door was open and anyone could come in. The presents were displayed in the upstairs living room and flowed over into Marie Louise's bedroom. There were sliding doors in between these two rooms. They used the hall bedroom for a check room for coats and hats. It was a beautiful day but just in case it rained any awning was put up from the front door to the sidewalk. Quite a few of the guests had chauffeurs so they didn't worry about parking. They just called the chauffer when they were ready to go home and he came and picked them up.
Every one was in their places as the pianist played the Wedding March. I was standing in the dining room. Since I was only nine and rather short, I couldn't see. Sam Forder picked me up and put me on his shoulders. The bride (Marie Louise) came down the staircase on her father's arm. She joined Mac (George McManus) in the living room and the wedding began. The bride looked over at me sitting on Mr. Forder's shoulder and winked. They had the wedding breakfast in the back bedroom on the second floor. The caterers brought in all the food. The movers had taken all the furniture out of the bedroom to the third floor. The reception followed in the yard. There were many tables with big umbrellas. The getaway car had been parked on Louisiana Ave. This was so no one would try any tricks. They made it to Union Station and on to their honeymoon. Mac being an Army man I believe their first place to live was in Ft. Benning, Georgia.
The reason they were married at home being that Mac was not Catholic. So the priest came to the house for the wedding.
My brother missed all the festivities because he was sick in bed on the third floor. When the Caterers heard this, they fixed him a special tray.
There was always something to do on Saturdays. The day started with going to Hendricks grocery store. This store was on the corner of Meremac and Louisiana. With the basket and a list I would be off to the store. If there was too much, he would deliver and sometimes I would ride the wagon as he made deliveries.
With the grocery shopping out of the way the next thing would be to help Miss Russell clean house. One thing I did was hold her knees while she sat on the window sill and cleaned the windows. By noon I was ready for play. After lunch you could find me roller skating all over south St. Louis. Wore out a pair of wheels in a week. If I had saved any money it would go for wheels, candy and a movie. If the weather was bad we would play in the basement or on the kitchen floor. By late afternoon mother would of have baked some coffee cake. Before Miss Russell went home, we would all have a piece of mother's cake. Miss Russell lived on the third floor across from St. Anthony's church. Bob and I would walk her home.
The evenings were usually spent in someone's kitchen playing cards or if the weather was nice we would play hide and go seek. We used the big tree as home base. I had my favorite hiding spots. One was the rose bush at the end of the grape arbor. After one night I found a different spot. The vestibule was a good spot. When 9 o'clock rolled around it was inside and off to bed.
I was either 5 or 6 years old the year I caught the German measles. It was right at the time our school had the picnic. I had to stay in our living quarters on the 3rd floor of 4255 Virginia.
My brother, Bob, was sent to my Aunt Nenna and Uncle Ed's house. They lived in a two story house further down on Virginia. The doctor said I would have to stay in for 2 weeks but Mrs. Hornsby wanted to be sure I was over the measles so I stayed 3 weeks.
When I was 4, I spent my summer in Salem, Mo. I stayed at the Plank's which was just across the road from the Schiffler house. The Schifflers raised mother. Her mother left her there and didn't return. We called him Uncle Dick.
Mrs. Plank took Bob and I to a Baptist church. When the summer was over we returned to St. Louis. We told mother we wanted to go to church. There was a Baptist Church a block away called Jewel Baptist. We went there until we moved; it was about 13 years. During those 13 years they built a new church on Grand Ave. It was in this church on Grand Ave. that I went forward. Even though mother said no, I always felt that at the age of 9, I became a believer. Bob and I attended regularly until we moved away.
We moved too far north to keep going to Jewel. We checked the neighborhood for a church. We found a congregational church but there weren't any young people. We found a Nazarene church but we weren't happy there.
We then went to an Easter Sunrise Service in Tower Grove Park. Someone invited Bob to Third Baptist Church so after the sunrise service he went to Third and Mother and I went home. This was in 1942. He came home and told me all about Third. I went with Bob to the evening service. In May of '42 I went forward to be baptized. I could finally make it complete. The night I was baptized Bob went forward.
I went to Third until a few months after Ray and I were married. We went to St. Mathew Lutheran Church until I returned to Third in 1981. We only went to the morning services.
Since Ray died, I now go to the Women's Society and Prayer meeting. I didn't want to leave Ray at home by himself.
Since it's almost time to retire, let's reflect on some of my various jobs. At the age of eighteen, I left school. Having taken a course in sewing at Hadley Technical High School, I thought I would make my life work sewing. There were four jobs not lasting very long that had to do with sewing. No. 1 was downtown ripping hems out of skirts for an Alterations Company. No. 2 was a sweat shop on St. Louis Ave. No. 3 was Ed Walker which lasted a week. No. 3 was Beltex Corp. on Washington Ave. this one lasted 6 months. There were different reasons for leaving each one.
Then the war came along and I had to get a job. Tried War work but I was too small. Only weighed 98 lbs. and 5'1". Wanted to join the WACs but stayed home and looked after Mother. One day I clipped two ads out of the paper. The one I didn't answer was delivering telegrams. The other one was downtown at 315 North 10th. It turned out to be Welch's Fabrics and they needed a stock girl. My knowledge of materials and the love for sewing landed me the job.
I have some sadness to relay. Ruth passed away this evening at 4:30 Central time. I have been in contact with hospice all day. She left this world with many around her that cared for her for years, she was in no pain and very comfortable. I did not have any powers legally with her, her grandson Jim was named executor of her will and he has been involved with her and I am confident all will be taken care. She had preplanned and paid for her funeral up front and was very proud of that. The funeral home is Lupton Chapel in St. Louis. Her home Church was Third Baptist Church in St. Louis.
Please let me know if there is anything thing I can do or help you with information.
Liz Hille06-06-05 Note from Nita... Ruth is doing good. She is even wanting to get back on the computer and try sending out emails. We'll see if we can help. Liz is great to keep me informed. Ruth's birthday is coming up so I did a hurry up to get it in the mail. I included dad saying it was from all of us.
04-01-05 Note from Nita... There are a few short pages of notes left but I want to go through Aunt Ruth's personal effects to look for other notes before I consider this finished. I am in shock right now to realize Grandma Clara was abandoned as a baby. One story of her life had been that she was living in Germany when she met and married George W. Jones. That doesn't seem to be true at all. The story that the Kaiser's were her parents wasn't true either. I don't know yet who they were at all. They are called Aunt Nenna and Uncle Ed. I had not heard back from Liz Hille, Ruth's friend. I called the center where Ruth is living now and first asked about her condition which was said to be "the same." But then I was able to talk to Aunt Ruth. I am not real sure she knew who I was or understood much of what I said. She could barely talk so I kept it light and easy. She did seem to understand when I told her that her 4255 Virginia Ave. was now published and read worldwide. I told her I loved her and said bye-bye. Just after the call, I got a message from Ruth's friend Liz. She relayed that when she told Ruth that I sent best wishes and love from Dorothy Tweedt and dad, she really perked up and talked about have wonderful relatives, the Tweedts.