Saturday, June 18, 2011

How Mom and Dad Met

Dad, me, in 1967 on Grandpa Nota's riding lawn mower
Spring, 2007, one of the last times I saw him before he died,   I asked Dad how he and Mom met. We were sitting in the kitchen at 1 Pitt Street. While he talked, I took some notes.  This is the story he told me (as well as I could reconstruct it):

Dad's parents in front of their home  in Neffs, Ohio      
My father, Robert James Williams, was born May 10, 1920 in south-east Ohio.  I am not sure what town he was born in, but his family settled in Neffs, Ohio, a small, rural coal mining town.  At an early age, Dad exhibited one of his major character traits; he was a hard worker who never liked to sit still.  To help out with family expenses, money being short during the Depression, he grew vegetables and raised rabbits to sell.  Between 1936 and1939, Dad would work second shift in the mines, after going to to school during the day. During the summers, he and his brother Jack traveled around the country, getting free train rides by hiding in empty box cars with other men looking for work.  One summer he traveled as far as Texas, finding work herding sheep.  

In 1939, he quit school to work full time in the mines. He told me about the Willow Grove Mine explosion, which happened on March 19, 1940.  He was off that day, but  heard the explosions at home.  He spent days clearing the rubble and removing the remains of those trapped in the mine, including close friends he had known his entire life.  

He came home and slept for three days.  When he woke up, he told his mother he would never go back the coal mines. He left the hills of south-east Ohio for the north, eventually finding work in Akron, Ohio. I am sure he could not stay at home without doing something to bring in money during this time.

Dad met Mom, Rose Nota, born November 19th, 1921, over the 4th of July Weekend, 1941.  It was at a cabin she and some other girlfriends had rented for the Fourth of July. It must have been quite a party, a bunch of teenagers in a cabin in the woods, stocked with bootleg liquor.  She used to tell me that she met Dad while he was pouring the liquor down the drain after a girl had gotten sick.  They were married that November and he went to work in his father-in-law's garage. I had heard that Grandpa Nota didn’t go to their wedding, possibly because of religious reasons, he was a strict Seventh Day Adventists and Dad was Methodist.Or maybe he didn't approve of the wedding because they only dated for four months.

Summer of 1941, I think this is the weekend they met.
But Grandpa Nota came to love his new son-in-law. It probably helped ease the heart ache from the death of his only son, by motorcycle accident in the early 1930s.  Besides being a mechanic, Dad also collected payment from customers who tried to take advantage of John Nota's trusting nature.  My grandmother, Verona, kept the records for her husband’s business.

Despite a heart defect, Dad was drafted in 1943, after the birth of their first child, daughter Veronica. He was sent to Europe, where he fought as a private, manning a machine gun in a foxhole.  He was captured in Belgium at The Battle of the Bulge in December, 1944.

I found a letter that Mom wrote to Dad while he was away.  She told Dad how lucky  she was "to have great a guy like him"  and to come home safely.  While he was away, she, like many other women worked while their men were overseas.  She worked in aircraft factory in Akron.  

Dad was rescued by the English in 1945. He was always reluctant to talk about World War II, the memories were so vivid that he was haunted by them the rest of his life.  He told me once that he was imprisoned at Bergen-Belsen, and saw the atrocities the Jewish prisoners were subjected too. 

Adjusting to civilian life was difficult.  He often had nightmares about being in combat and would attack Mom in his sleep, believing she was a Nazi soldier in his fox hole. The children sometimes had to pry his fingers from her throat.  

They were married for sixty six years, settling in Norwalk, Ohio and raising five exceptional children.  

204 West Main Street, Norwalk, Ohio, judging by my power mullet, 1987

Dad in the screened in porch he built.  He spent hours out there,
 surrounded by his plants, reading Zane Gray novels about the West.
Dad in the 1970s, while he was Norwalk City Councilman.  

 Dad's life ended in the fall of 2008 when he tripped over a bump in the sidewalk near the house he and Mom had lived in since 1988 on Pitt Street.  Despite being frail, blind from a long term illness, suffering hearing loss from a grendade that landed in his fox hole, and the weak heart that carried him through the Depression, being a prisoner of war, and raising a family, his death was the result of his restlessness and unwillingness to stay in side on a beautiful, Sunday afternoon.

I think about him every day.  He was a real hero.  


  1. This really touched me, I dropped everything I was doing to focus on this story. I feel like I know your parents so well now thanks to your lovely writing. It was really touching. Your dad sounded like a truly wonderful man. I'm sure he'd be very proud of you now.

  2. I found your blog while searching for information on Neffs, Ohio--the birthplace of my late mother, Mary Elizabeth Curran (nee Brilsky). Your account of your father's life is a wonderful tribute to him. I am gratified you believed his life story was worth sharing. It certainly is--and I feel I have also gained some insight into my mother's early life also (they were nearly the same age). Thank you!