Sign Up For News And Updates

Your Name and E-mail
First Name:
Last Name:
E-mail Address:
Sign up for the following:

Your Address and Mobile
Mobile Phone:

Wheeling Spoken History Project: George H. Thomas

Date: June 28, 1994; Interview #: 96-018; Title: From 21st and Main on South ]

Unindexed Transcript
 ▼ Begin interview


▼ Interview with George H. Thomas

Title: From 21st and Main on South

Date: June 28, 1994; Interview #: 96-018 ]

GEORGE H. THOMAS: My name is George Thomas. I am a Wheeling resident, and I have lived in this city all of my life, 67 years.

MICHAEL KLINE: Could you tell me a little bit about your people and the neighborhood you grew up in?

GT: Well, the Lebanese people had been in Wheeling since the immigrations began, probably just before the turn of the century. The Maronite Church began just after the turn of the century. I don't remember the exact date. I think it was around 1906 or something like that. The present church, which stands at 2216 Eoff Street, was built in 1922 and was razed by fire in 1922 when I was 6. I remember my father holding my hand as we looked through the door and all that was left was the shell of the building. But the miraculous story about the Blessed Virgin's picture did not burn, even though everything around it burned--I did not see that. At that time, the picture was hanging on the left side of the church as you entered the door, over the altar that is now reserved for her statue. Presently, her picture hangs directly over the main altar in what you call the sanctuary. The Maronite religion begins almost before Christ, probably right after the beginning of Christ in Lebanon. It began by some monks who started it in the mountains of Lebanon, and it is based on the Syriac or the Old Arabic or Aramaic language. At one time they had a school in Wheeling. It was called, strangely enough, the Syrian School, but it wasn't Syrian. It was Lebanese really. The difference is that Lebanon is a small country which began as provinces. These five provinces became a mandate by the French in 1922. Later it was given its freedom and became a state in 1943, and in 1946 the last troops moved out. Since then, there has been in-fighting continuously. The language is predominantly Arabic. The religions are Maronite Catholic, Protestant, and a smattering of other religions. With the influx of the Palestinians, most of it is Muslim, or the Islamic faith. That is all I can tell you about what I know.

MK: So your family . . . ?

GT: Actually no. My father was Syrian. My mother was Lebanese. My mother was a Malachite Catholic, not Maronite; the difference being that the Malachite Catholic and the Orthodox religion, which is Greek Orthodox, Russian, and Syrian, are all part of what is called the Byzantine faith, or Byzantine Rite, and that is what my mother was, and my father also. But, he was an Orthodox, and she was Catholic. Unfortunately, that caused a little bit of a problem when I was younger. I was baptized in an Orthodox Church, but I have attended this church and school all of my life. I used to serve as an altar boy, only on a few occasions of course, but I did attend there for some time.

MK: So your parents both immigrated here?

GT: Both immigrated, yes.

MK: Do you remember stories about them?

GT: Not really. We were poor. We didn't know we were poor because everybody around us was poor. We lived in the poor section of the city on Main Street. There was a large Lebanese and Syrian community in those days. I don't remember very much. Large families were the rule, rather than the exception. My mother had eight children. Four of them died very young. Four of us are still living--my brother, who is older than I, my sister who is older than I, and my one sister who is younger than I. There really isn't much I can tell you about the Old World people because in those days I really didn't know much or care much about it. It wasn't until I matured a little bit that I . . . I do speak the language, which is fortunate for me, I suppose. I like the language. I take part in a lot of different affairs that happen at different churches around the area. I travel to what is called "hufflies". In fact, we are going to have one on August 13, the night before the regular Lebanese picnic, which takes place on the 14th of August at Site #1 at Oglebay Park. The average crowd for that picnic is around 3,500, so it is a big affair. It is an all day affair. There will be all kind of Lebanese foods, in fact, most all Lebanese foods. They will have some hot dogs and stuff like that, but generally it is Lebanese foods, sweets. Lebanese music--there is a band coming from Kentucky, all Arabic. They are from the Old Country. They will have dancing and a good time all around. It helps the church, because their expenses are around $35,000 a year. The picnics and bake sales and those kinds of activities all help. That's about all I can tell you about Maronites. (79)

MK: Can you tell me exactly how that neighborhood lay? You lived on Main Street?

GT: Do you know where the video shop is on Main Street? I think it is called Movie Madness or something like that. Do you know where the car wash is on Main Street?

MK: At what cross street?

GT: If you don't know the street . . . It is just south of 21st Street on Main. Actually I was born in the Nassif Building just slightly north. Actually, if you begin at 20th Street and go south on Main Street, there was a large Lebanese community in those days. I was born in Brice's Building which now houses a video store. Everything was trolleys. There were not very many buses. Most of them were trolleys. Those were the days of the electric truck, which the Railway Express Agency had. They had chain drive macks and electric trucks, in fact. They were trucks used to transport freight that came off the trains. There were exclusive handlers for all freight. They were called the Railway Express Agency, and they had terminals all over the country. Their trucks were dark green with a red diamond-shape in the middle and it said "Railway Express". They were a big thing. In fact, that building just on the other side of--I think there is a T-shirt shop that has just gone in there--that was the Railway Express. The trains used to come in on the second floor from 17th Street. In those days . . . Of course, until as late as 1960 the trains were running over that track, and the passenger service ran until almost 1960. There were two trains that ran out of that terminal that were exclusive, the Lord and Lady Baltimore. They were blue engines and streamliners for their time. They were steam of course. It was quite a time. They had the railroad station. It was a big thing. The building that sat next to it here was the Pythian Building, and they later razed that and took the arches and put it over this little enclave that they got here. In those days everything was railroad. It was nothing to see a 125-130 car freight train plow its way down 18th Street and across the bridge. Of course, the bridges that go to that viaduct, which still runs down there, were all torn down. It was quite a time. In fact, there used to be a little tower right outside this building, right on the corner here, that was a steel tower with a house on top of it. It was a switching building, and there was a narrow gauge railroad that used to run to Elm Grove, and it ran right up the street. It was steam driven. It looked like a trolley. In those days, at a later time . . . Of course the trolleys began just before the turn of the century. Electric trolleys ran through this town. They came up 16th, down Main, and up 16th. Then there was one that went south to Benwood and one to Moundsville. They were quite a thing in their time.

MK: They had an arm with a pulley that a spring would move against them?

GT: Yes. There was an overhead cable, and we used to run by and pull that cable down. To change direction, they would just pull one down and hook it, and go to the other end and raise it up, and it would go the other way. Change the polarity, you see? Then they could go in the other direction instead of having to turn around. The seats were all made so that the backs slid back to face the other direction. It was funny. In 1936, when I was 10, they had a Centennial here in Wheeling when Wheeling was 100 years old, and on the other side of the terminal where there is ECS Contractors, Electrical Contractors Supply--that was later built as a bus terminal in the 50s, and abandoned-- but before that, in 1936, that was a wooden building, and Wheeling and Lake Erie had their terminal there. On the other side of the viaduct that goes up the highway--the highway ramp that comes off of 18th Street--on the other side was Nickel Plate. All of (141) those railroads came in here in 1936. They brought their big engines in. There must have been 50 or 60 engines from different companies: Frisco, Hartford, New Haven, Norfolk and Western, Wheeling and Lake Erie, B&O, C&O, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania was big. Right now, if you go up along the river on that bike path, that walking path, you look at the bottom there, at the first building you come to--they have kind of a monument set up for the different wars (we glorify war in this country) but they have those monuments set up, right next to that is a building with bars on the windows that was a baggage and ticket place for the Pennsylvania Railroad; and where the path is, that was the road bed, and the trains ran to and from Pittsburgh. In fact, the first real streamliner came into West Virginia, into Wheeling, on that track. It was a huge black engine, steam driven, but the cowlings were all shiny black with gold edging. There are pictures of that around somewhere. I am sure if you look in the library . . . But, also in those days, right near the railroad track was a park that ran down to the river. By the time I was grown up a(159) little bit, it was called Hobo Park, but it wasn't really. It was a very pretty park, and there was a large cobblestone apron, probably 50-60 meters wide, from front to back, and 200 meters long, and it was all cobblestones with a brick path that ran down the middle of it where the boats came in because there was a lot of steamboat traffic in those days. It continued . . . Of course, it was in its last days by that time.(169) In 1936 they had a race with those small boats on the river, Dixie, The Stormy, The Virginia, The Costanza, The Merriweather, The Paragon, and they were all racing up and down the river--on those boats in those big stern-wheeler. It was quite a sight. They had fireworks, of course, on the barges. It was an easier time too, because people didn't have a lot of money, but there was nothing to compare it with. It was as if we lived in kind of a microcosm. What we were was what we were, and everything outside of it was remote and distant; we didn't have any idea what it was. We were happy. Our parents had the WPA, and earlier even, they had the National Recovery Act or National Rehabilitation Act, which was the NRA, the Blue Eagle, that was in Roosevelt's's time. He began in 1932. Of course, in those days, the average person thought Roosevelt was a god, but they weren't educated at all, so how could they determine? Wheeling has come a long way, except its population has declined. In 1950 the census here was 65,000. Today it is like 38,000, and you can't believe that it has declined that much. Right across the street, here, where the City/County Building is, Nickel Plate used to have a terminal there with ramps, and they fueled those big, huge buggies up those wooden ramps and over to load them in the cars by hand. Everything was done by hand. (195) The old City/County Building, which they tore down and built this square monstrosity, was a monstrosity in itself, but it was a beautiful monstrosity. It looked like . . . It reminded you of the Hare Krishna Temple. It was gaudy and ornamental. It had pinnacles and minarets and towers. It was quite an affair.

MK: Like Disney World almost?

GT: Oh, my goodness. And then they painted it one year, and they painted it red and beige, and it was ugly. It was atrocious, but it was of the Old World. It was probably built before the turn of the century, I wouldn't be a bit surprised. (206) You see Wheeling was not always Wheeling, West Virginia. When Wheeling became a city in 1836, it was Wheeling, Virginia, and the first newspaper that came out was "The Wheeling Register" of Wheeling, Virginia. If you look in their archives, they have pictures and copies. Then, in 1936, when the 100 year celebration took place, this was quite an affair. They had wooden nickels, which was a piece of balsa wood with a--it appeared like a dollar bill, a bill, only it said wooden nickel on it. I had one for a long time, but it got misplaced. It would probably be worth a lot of money now I imagine. What can I say? That is as much as I know about Wheeling. I have lived here, and I have liked it. I have traveled, and I always come home. The river has changed too. They used to have these little flood control dams every so often, but these dams now that they have are a far cry . . . (231) The river is much better, and it is cleaner, believe it or not. Even though there may be more PCBs and lead in there than there used to be, the water, in appearance, is cleaner, because of the sewage systems that are built along the river, the treatment plants that are built along the river. They have helped it some. If you took a close look at that water, it would make you a little sick, because it is pretty bad. The dams, now . . . There used to be 200 dams. They have been replaced by 50. It is a beautiful river. (232) They used to have, on the Island, there is a building there that belongs to the race track, it is a roller rink--they used to have exposition dancing, marathon dancing. I don't remember that, marathon dancing, just on the tip of my mind that I do remember it vaguely. They used to dance for days on end. A couple would dance, and drink and eat while they were dancing to get a minimal prize of money, of course. They had the energy. There weren't the crowd diseases that there are now. Ten bucks was a lot of money in those days. That's about all I can tell you.

MK: That is a beautiful description of the city.

GT: It is a great town. I love Wheeling. I mean, I have lived everywhere. I have been all over the world, I have traveled. I speak a couple of languages besides English. I have been in Japan. I have been in Germany. I have been all over Europe. I drove a staff car. I have been in Lebanon, Egypt. I went to Greece. I saw the Pyramids in Egypt. I spent 35 days in Lebanon. I have lived a nice life, and I have enjoyed every bit of it. Although I don't think I can take another winter here; that I may not be able to put up with. I am planning on going south for the winter. (257)

MK: You've gone into some elaborate detail talking about the trains and the sense of downtown. We've got a beautiful description from you. Do you think you could go into the same sort of detail talking about the neighborhood where you grew up, in terms of describing what some of the local businesses were? If you looked down the street, for example if you looked south on Main Street where you grew up, what were the businesses you would be likely to see? Can you recreate the community a little bit?

GT: There were a lot of coffee houses in those days. The coffee houses are described by who was looking. If you walked into the coffee house, most of them were just older men playing cards and drinking coffee, but not much coffee. When they began, they were drinking Turkish coffee, which we call demitasse, but it is really Turkish coffee, a very rich, very strong coffee. There was one next door to where I lived. I remember looking when I was a very small boy--the building I lived in, there was a cut-rate dime-a-dance, and I stood at the window with my palms on the window looking at the people dancing, and they were playing "It's A Sin To Tell A Lie". Remember the old snare drum? The guys with the straw hats? I have a picture of my father in a straw hat. He was a good looking gentleman, blue eyes. That is how they dressed. He was holding a cigar, and he didn't even smoke very much. Later he quit. I had two wonderful parents. My mother was the salt of the earth. My father was strength, the Rock of Gibraltar. (279)

MK: What were their names?

GT: His name was Thomieh Habeeb. When he came to this country, he got off the boat at Ellis Island, and he couldn't speak English. They asked him his name, and he said "Tom". So they put a tag on him, and he hated it all his life, "John Thomas". They named him "John". They gave him that name on the boat, "John Thomas", but that wasn't his name, his name was "Tom Habeeb", spelled HABEEB, that is my middle name. My name in Arabic is Julius Habeeb Thomieh or George H. Thomas. There used to be an Italian man, Alphonzo Toppeto. He had a little store. Do you know where the Lebanon Bakery used to be on the corner of 22nd Street? They just moved recently to their new location. Anyway, in there, everything was in bins. The old Nabisco Company used to have these bins that they gave to the stores. They were a square metal frame with a glass, and you could look and see what you were buying, beans, rice, all that stuff came in bins. You weighed it out by the pound. It was all brown paper bag. We had an account with that store. I remember in 1936 when we had a flood, I helped him move that stuff upstairs, and the water got upstairs. We had it on tables, and it didn't get anything, but it was all damp from the . . So, he had a fire sale afterward. He was selling all of that stuff real cheap until he got new stuff in. We had some people living across the street from him on the third floor. These buildings were all old, old buildings. There was a coffee shop, a barber shop, the dime-a-dance place. (311)

MK: Give me the names of some of those places.

GT: Well, Saseen's Pool Room used to be on Main Street. Armand's's Restaurant, that was across the street. Brice's Dime-A-Dance. The Oasis Cafe. They're gone. I don't remember the names very much. There used to be a lot of factories down there, Warwick China. In fact, my wife has a set of china which was made by Warwick China. It is a full service for 12. I have no idea what it is worth, but I would bet it is worth a lot of money because it says "Warwick China, Wheeling, West Virginia", and they have been out of business since God knows how long. Then there was the Wheeling Tile Works, and the Wheeling Stamping. All of those buildings were on that side of the street. They employed a lot of people. A lot of people worked in those places. There were a lot of produce stores down there. Jebbia Salina used to be on the corner of 21st and Main, and the entrance was on the corner of the building. Then there was Jebbia Metz. CA Robrecht wasn't where their building is now that the city is trying to buy. It wasn't in there. There was a smaller, wooden building there. They tore it down and built that building later. There was White and Staubbs, Krogler and Topp--they were all produce companies along there. There were Salina Brothers. You could go along there any morning, and all of that stuff would be out on the sidewalk. The hucksters would come by in their wagons; and of course the lower Market House, all retail produce. They used to be there from 3 o'clock in the morning until 3 o'clock in the morning on Saturday. It was two days. Friday, they would get ready, and Saturday was the big day. It was strange. They had a bell which is still on top of the Market House over Coleman's Fish Market, and when . . . Let's see, the bell was on the upper building, but when the Market was going toward late evening, the first bell would be at 9 o'clock, and the second bell was at 10; and they would probably sell until 10:30 or 11. By 11 o'clock they were pretty well packed up, and by 12 and 1 o'clock, you were out of there. By the time you got back to the warehouse and took everything down, it was about 3 o'clock in the morning. I was only a kid. I was only about 12 or 13 years old. I worked there all day for a buck or something like that. When you are that small, that is a lot of money; shelling lima beans. It was a good life. I was happy. (363)

MK: When you were a kid on the street there on Main Street and in the Market place, were you likely to hear different languages spoken?

GT: Oh, yes. It was common to hear Italian and Greek. It was very common. There were a lot of restaurants on lower Market Street. Do you know where the trucking garage is down there? Do you know where the Market House is? Just below the Market House, that street that runs down that way, well from there to 26th Street, of course 26th Street is gone, from 24th to 26th is the Post Office now; but that used to be a street there, that ran down there on Market Street; and there used to be some of the best restaurants in the country--Mike's, Pete's, Nosey's, Harry's--all good restaurants. Nosey's was the South Side Restaurant. His name was George Marakapopolus, or something like that. He had an immense bulbous nose, but he was a good person. He was the salt of the earth. We used to give him a bad time, but of course, we were young. That is what you do when you are young--give the older people a hard time. We would go in there and ask him what he had to eat, and he would tell us, and we would ask him to repeat it. "Come on boy, don't play around here." But, he was funny. "Next time you come here, stay out", he used to say. On Main Street, farther down, there was the Ghaphery Brothers' Restaurant, not restaurant, Ghaphery Brothers' Grocery Store and Confectionery. Then there was the Blue Moon, it was a black place, for black people. The Loop was in Wheeling for years. Billy's Pirate Cafe, that was exclusive, gambling and excellent steaks. There were a lot of good places to eat in those days. Those were later of course, you are talking 1950. As a boy, I remember there was a man by the name of Cecil Moses. His father had a grocery store, an old Lebanese. He had it right on the corner of 24th and Market, right around the corner. It was a very poor little store. They had potatoes and stuff sitting outside in bushels, and you bought everything in bags. He had one of those scales and it was all rusty. You had to hit it to get it to start. I never thought of it . . ., but when I got older I thought to myself, "Boy, I bet you never got a real measure.", because you had to hit the scale. It was rusty. Unless you put a lot on it, then it would really push it down. We used to tell Cecil, "Cecil, leave them alone, don't touch them." He couldn't speak really good English. He is gone, God rest his soul. There were beautiful places. There was a bar down there for years called The Roosevelt's, and it was only a narrow little place. As a boy I remember they used to have poker games upstairs. In that area there were a lot of houses of ill-fame, if you will, brothels, it was a big thing to go up and look in the windows and have them chase us. We were just kids, crazy kids. I remember helping someone deliver papers one time, I was like 10, and we went up the steps over The Roosevelt's, it was real narrow pair of steps, and when you opened the door, it was a nightclub; but it wasn't a nightclub, it was New Orleans style. There was a poker game in one corner, and a three-piece band playing and people were dancing. The women wore slightly longer dresses in those days, but very little undergarments. Women were generally slimmer in those days, as I remember, that is recollection, not fact. I remember carrying those papers in there, and I . . . A woman sat down and she had a split in her skirt, and I saw the end of her knee, and I thought, "How can this be?" It was a sign of the times. Now, nothing is left to the imagination, or very little. It was a good life. I was happy. I didn't have a bicycle like most kids do today. Now, it is nothing for a parent to go out and spend $100 for a toy for a kid. In those days if you spent $1 . . . I remember one time my folks bought me an electric train, a Marx electric train, and it cost $2.98; and they couldn't afford it, but they bought it for me anyway for Christmas. I was seven or eight. My brother, who was older and wiser at the time, I remember saying, "George, you should thank Mom and Dad." But I was seven, what did I know from thanks? When I went to school at the Syrian School or Lebanese School, they had three rooms and eight grades. They had one room that had the 1st and 2nd grade in it, and the downstairs had 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades, and the upstairs had 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. Two rows were one grade. It was Our Lady Of Lebanon School, and it was run by nuns. They were stern. I remember on one occasion when I was unruly, the nun held the bell by the clapper and hit me on the head with the handle. It was nothing for them, of course they didn't bash your head in with it, they just popped you on the noggin, and you didn't die from it. It just kind of got your attention. You know, it is like hitting a mule with a sledge hammer, it is the only way you can get his attention. It was beautiful really. They taught us a certain morality. They weren't paid much. In fact, strangely enough, I quit school in the 7th grade, when I was 16; I went on to get one of those GED things, and I went on to West Liberty to get a few hours, although most of my education comes from reading; but I ran into this one nun one day, and I was driving a taxi. I had a family, of course, and I told her that I was attending West Liberty's downtown center, and she said, "How would you like to come to Weirton to teach?" She was the principal of Weirton Madonna Grade School. That was really a paradox. There she was, the woman who had taught me when I was a child, asking me to come and work for her as a teacher. Of course, I would have had to have been attending classes to be eligible to teach as a student teacher, and the pay would have been very small. I didn't accept, but sometime I kind of reflect and wish I had. I don't know. I guess they are all gone now. They were the strength of the church, the nuns were, because they taught you discipline, they taught you decency, they taught you how to behave, which is important. I know they are teaching now in the new schools--they are going to be teaching, classes on manners, which I think is a wonderful thing, because young people today, their values are out of sync. They just don't have any moral base to work from.

MK: Little wonder. Could you give us some more images of playing--the friends you had, the places you went to play?

GT: We didn't have the toys like they have today. When I was a boy, they had a game they called "caddy". You took a block of wood about three or four inches long, and it had to be square, and you whittled the ends to a point. Then you notched a one, Roman numeral I, on one side, then the next side, Roman numeral II, then Roman numeral III, and on the fourth side you put an X. You rolled it on the ground in a circle, and the X was one out. If you rolled another X, it was two outs. If you rolled another X, it was three outs. When you rolled a number, you could hit it with the edge of a paddle, and it would cause it to flip up in the air and you would hit it with the paddle, and it would go away from the circle, and you would give the combatant so many steps to get back to the circle. It was called baseball. It was a kind of a take-off on baseball, of course, but it was a lot of fun, because if you hit it up on the roof, you could give him ten steps to get back and it would take eight steps to get down off the roof. It was fun, and it was a popular game, a very popular game. "Caddy" it was called.

MK: You could play it anywhere?

GT: Oh, yes, and you made it. You couldn't buy one. You would make it. You would draw a circle on the ground. We didn't have chalk. You would use the piece of a street brick. Brick is made of clay, and it would leave a mark on the ground. Then you would roll the caddy in the circle, and if it came up three, you could hit it three times. Wham, whap, and you could go over to where it was and hit it again, away from the circle. When you finally got it far enough away, you could say, "I'll give you 30 steps to get back". If it is halfway down the alley, 30 steps wouldn't get it, but it used to be funny--they would try. Then we played the old games like "run sheep run". But you know one thing that we made that they don't have today, is, you know these roller skates--now they have roller blades--we used to take old skates and make skate scooters. They were really a thing. We would take a piece of 2 X 4, and take one skate and take it apart, and nail one end on one end of the board--the part with the heel on it, the metal heel, we would nail it flush against there--the other one, the flat part, you would nail on the back. Then you got a wooden box and you would (in those days, wooden boxes were common) put that wooden box on there and put handles on it, and you pumped it like a scooter. When we used to put, get cans, and put candles in them to make lights. Of course, it was just show, but it was a lot of fun. You could have a lot of fun with a skate scooter. Some of them were pretty elaborate. Your imagination could go . . . If your Dad was making it for you, he could make you a great one, cause he would make you an angle, a 90 degree angle of 2 X 4s, and use flat pieces to nail the angle together and put your skates on the bottom and put a handle on it, and you didn't need a box; but if you did have a box, you could put stuff in the box. It was a place to store, to keep things like your hammer and your screwdriver--you know, that kids do. We were more constructive. There wasn't the vicious anger that there is in children today. We weren't bombarded by television. We weren't bombarded by blood and plastic masks of horrible faces. It seems today that the uglier a movie is, the more the kids like it. It is a sad epitaph to what ultimately will be the end of us. It is a little frightening really. Even if you go to a movie, or if you deal with children, they don't have any--there is no limit to what they will do.

MK: But the thing that you had going for you in those days that seems to be missing now and you were describing the scooters, it was imagination.

GT: It was necessity. The mother of necessity is invention. I heard that some place. The mother of invention is necessity, really. Whatever it is, in any event, you had to do it because you didn't have the money to buy that stuff. See what I mean? Your parents couldn't buy a scooter for you; so, if the kid that lived up the street came down the street with a nice balloon tire or rubber tire scooter, and you couldn't afford to buy one, you went and made one out of skates, and they were a lot of fun. Those skate scooters were really something. The wooden wagon was common then, with wooden wheels and steel rims, not like today. In fact the wagon has become obsolete. Kids don't buy wagons any more. They want something that they can sit on and ride. In fact, we have reached the ultimate lazy, lazy--the electric car for kids. You see them going down the street in these little cars that are electric, electrically driven. No exercise. I mean, we rode scooter, you pumped on the scooter. If you were lucky enough to have a bicycle--I remember, I helped, when I was about 12 or 13 I guess, I helped May Willows. They had the Wheeling Cycle Works, and I helped them in the shop, and she gave me an old bike, and she helped me fix it up. We rode to Weirton, me and five other people. My bike broke down in Short Creek going up. We fixed it and went on to Weirton and came back, and it had a flat tire in Short Creek, and they left me. I was pushing that bike down the highway at 9 o'clock in the evening by myself, and I was only just a kid, and here came a highway repair truck, State Road Commission--they were yellow in those days, it was an old truck too--and he said, "What are you doing out here, son?" I said, "My bike got a flat tire." He said, "Where do you live?" I said, "I live in Wheeling." He said, "Well, throw that damn thing in the truck and come on." So, I threw it in the truck, and he took me on home. My mother was at all ends. They had all come home a long time ago, and I wasn't there. I survived. Everything you needed in those days, we made. There was no football. If you wanted a football, you took the newspaper and you rolled it up in a roll, and tied string around it, or rubber band, and you would make one; maybe that big around, and possibly that long, and that was a football. You could stand it on its end and kick it, or you could throw it and make it spiral. We didn't have footballs in those days--paper footballs. You made everything, because you didn't have the money to buy it. We were class poor. Everybody lived in that same group of people. Most of us came from a family of immigrants. Shipley, that has the Sportsman, his family came from the Old Country. Johnny Johns, the attorney's brother, the attorney, in fact, his parents came from the Old Country. We gathered together out of a consequence and stayed together out of, not necessity necessarily, because of incidence. Because, there we were together--we were the same nationality. We were the same social class. We were the same economic class. Our religion was the same, and our attitudes towards each other were good. Many of us were related. Many of us came from the same place in the Old Country. I went back to visit my mother's village, a little place outside of Beirut.

MK: Called?

GT: It is called Rhomieh. The reason for that is the Arabic a matter of a lot of inflection in the voice, so you would pronounce that "Roomy", not ROOMY, as you might think it would be. My father's name was "Thomieh", in Arabic. We were of a mutual social and economic compliance. We were there together. We were doing what we all did together, what we knew to do together. Our parents were the connection between us, and we were an extension of that connection, of that social connection. My mother used to have people at her house every Saturday and Sunday morning. It was a ritual. They would come for coffee. In the evenings they would all sit outside. I remember my Dad taking me out to a garden, he didn't own the ground, he just farmed it. He used to raise a garden on the flats out in Fulton, and he had a wooden wheelbarrow. He used to put a bushel basket, and I would hold the handle, and I was like eight or ten, and I would go out there with him, and he would work on that all day. We would take a sack of boiled eggs and Syrian bread. My mother was an excellent baker, and my sister is now an excellent baker in lieu of my mother's absence, God rest her soul. Everything was there, tomatoes, cucumbers, green onions, lettuce and spring water. The spring water came down and fed into a pool that he had built stones around, and it fed into that pool, and that water was sweet and cold, no pollutants. It came right off the hill. That garden was a pretty fair-sized garden. Everything he got out of the garden he had to share with the owner of the land, which was okay with him, but it represented a lot of work. He would bring that bushel basket back with all of that produce in there with me ultimately riding on the barrow with the produce. He was a wonderful man. He had such patience, and I was such a rat when I was a kid. I was bad. I was really bad, but fortunately I made it through without going to prison. (768)

MK: What was your father's line of work?

GT: He was a mill worker. He worked in the steel mill here.

MK: Do you recall much about what he did in the mill?

GT: He was what is called a "catcher". He was 80 when he died, and everyone in his family died very young, from coronary, it was a hereditary trait. It is in me; it becomes apparent in a cholesterol that is constantly 280 and no way to get it down. My brother takes Mevacor. I will ultimately have to take it. It has to do with heredity I am sure, but they all died when they were young. His father died when he was 50 working in the field. His father used to beat the hell out of him. I mean, his father was a very severe, stern man. I think it made my father cognizant, even though he had a violent temper, but he was very patient. He was a wonderful, wonderful man. He never went to bed in his life, that I can remember, ever, without standing in front of an icon and praying every night that I can remember, all of my life. When I was very small, I remember that. This icon was on the mantle, and he would stand and pray every night.

MK: Did your mother stand with him?

GT: No. My mother and he . . . It was strange. She was Catholic, and he was Orthodox. They were both of the Byzantine Rite, of course, but not of the same religion. You see what I mean? The Orthodox do not adhere to the Pope. The Catholics do. The Byzantine Catholic are sometimes referred to as Greek Catholic, but that is not correct. Actually it is Catholic . . . In Arabic my father was from the "Room", and my mother was from "Cuicly" or Catholic, those are Arabic expressions. In any event they were like this individually. She was a wise woman, and in fact she could read and write English, and she had not been to school. She taught herself. He wanted to learn badly, but it was difficult for him. I've got to go. It is 2 o'clock.

[ ATTENTION: I was unable to verify the spelling of "hufflies". This was not in any of my references, and no one was at the church when I called. I spelled "Cuickly", the Arabic "Catholic" phonetically. I was also unable to determine if the spellings of the following were the ones used by the people who lived then: Nassif, Toppeto, Armands, Krogler, and Brice's. Again, people I talked to had either never heard of those businesses, or were uncertain of the spellings. Thanks. -jcs D: 6/28/94 T: 8/8/94 js ]

Return to Top ]


Wheeling Spoken History Project Index  |  People of Wheeling  |  Wheeling History Home  |  OCPL Home 

alt : OCPL Disclaimer

Services and Locations