Thanks to the Great Depression, instead of studying the business course in her junior year in high school, Helen Geiszler was becoming a seasoned veteran of the workforce. By her late teens, she had worked as a house cleaner, a baked goods seller at a butcher shop, a grocery store cashier, and a cashier at G.C. Murphy’s. Some jobs were part-time; all were low paying. Essentially all wages went toward her family’s mortgage as was the case with her parents and oldest brother.
“And then one day I walked in Murphy’s on Market Street in Wilkinsburg.” A friend who was working there suggested that Helen speak to the manager on the spot. “I went up, and he said, ‘How would you like to start right now?’ Well, I said, ‘I’m due at East Liberty at 5:00. I couldn’t just not show up. I don’t do that sort of thing.’ He said, ‘I’ll take care of East Liberty. I’ll get in touch with them right away. You go downstairs, and they’ll show you what to do.’ He put me on men and boys’ counters, and I was in charge of two counters full time. $13 a week. I was really happy.”
This is a similar G.C. Murphy once located in downtown Pittsburgh. It was built between 1900 and 1930.
Edwin, nicknamed Bud, still harbored his building penchant. “My brother Bud made a row boat—an oversized row boat. He made the boat all by himself down in our basement; that’s after we built the new house. Dad went down one night and looked at it, and he said, ‘Yeah, but you’re not thinking how you’re going to get that out the door.’ Bud—he had the cutest grin—he looked at Dad with that grin and he said, ‘Oh, don’t worry. I’ll get it out the door. I haven’t forgotten that.’ He built it in pieces and then took them out the door and put it together out in the yard.”
Helen continued with a related story: “A girlfriend of mine lived with us for three years because she couldn’t get along with her dad. She was there at that time during the Depression. We wanted to go swimming, so I said, ‘Let’s go out, Bea, and swim for a while.’ We couldn’t afford a swimming pool, so we used to go to the island in the Allegheny River [near Tarentum, PA], and we called it ‘Depression Beach.’ I can’t remember how we got there because we didn’t have a car.”
“We were all sitting on the beach–the three boys [Helen’s brothers] and Bea and I. The guys had the boat out at times and then would bring it back, and they were all resting. They were all falling asleep, and Bea and I were sitting there talking. I said, ‘Let’s take the boat out.’ I can’t swim a stroke, and I had never rowed a boat before . . . and Bea hadn’t either. Bea said, ‘Helen, you’re going to get in trouble.’ And I said, ‘I know, but let’s take it out anyway.'”
Out of respect for their privacy, I have changed the names of those mentioned during the interview.
To read about Helen’s childhood years, check out the first four posts in the series: