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My First Days In Emmitsburg

Ruth 0. Richards

Originally published in the Emmitsburg Dispatch
Republished in the Emmitsburg News-Journal

And the rains came and covered all the earth-No, this wasnít the flood of the Biblical Genesis, nor was it the flood of June 20th this year. It was Labor Day weekend, 1940. Actually, it was August 31, the day I first saw Emmitsburg.

We crossed the bridge at Flat Run, water up to our hub caps, the last car over the bridge, we were told. We were hungry, and we began looking for a place to eat our first meal in Emmitsburg. Initially we were directed to Tokarís Tavern. That didnít suit us, so we went to the next recommended place, The Palms. No one suggested The Green Parrot, a "fancy place," on the corner of the VFW building. We probably couldnít have afforded it any-way, having had only $200 when we left South Dakota on the day we were married. (One hundred dollars was a wedding gift; the other hundred we borrowed, to be paid back after John got his first check at the Mount.)

After our meal we went to our "new home," rented furnished from Mrs. Bruce Patterson in June before John came home to be married. John had said from the beginning, "Honey, it isnít very nice. Itís all I could find." He was right. It wasnít very nice. I called it a string house; one room right town was similar, but smaller. after another, from the sidewalk to the alley. No electric refrigerator, only an ice box, pretty though, painted red. No automatic furnace, only a hand stoked coal one, with a little side stove yielding a very limited amount of hot water. No vacuum cleaner to keep the floors clean, no washing machine, not even a radio to keep up with the news. I was less than pleased. Here I was, rain coming down in torrents, in a town where I didnít know a soul except the man I had been married to for a week. I wanted to go back to South Dakota.

It rained all night and into the morning. Feeling confined, and with nothing to do Sunday evening, we set out to find a theater. We didnít know about the Maryland Blue Laws prohibiting Sunday movies. We drove and drove, splashing along until we came to a bridge covered with water. We timidly crossed it, and then didnít know the way back to town. Later we decided that bridge was probably the one at Tomís Creek, at Four Points. What did we know about flooding, having come from the drought stricken Midwest?

I have a lot of memories of our early days in Emmitsburg. The town itself was a curiosity. I had come from a small, sprawling Midwest city with lots of public facilities, parks, golf courses, swimming pools, many schools, and a big commercial center. Johnís home town was similar, but smaller.

The layout of Emmitsburg interested me. I could hardly believe that in the vastness of America people would choose to build their houses touching one another: no side lawns, no front lawns. I was also surprised to learn that many of the shop owners lived in the same building or adjacent to their shops. I finally came to realize that Emmitsburg was a very old town compared to my home town in South Dakota, which in 1940 was only about 50 years old.

A different part of America and a different kind of town-how would we ever get to know anyone? We soon learned that it wasnít going to be difficult. We began to have callers. First, other Mount professors and their families, then people who lived nearby called. We met people in the stores where we shopped, and by walking down and up the streets. In nice weather there were those who sat outside their houses in lawn chairs on the sidewalk, and we passed the time of day with them.

Actually, we ourselves were somewhat of a curiosity. Those we met were interested in knowing about the dust storms, a horrifying phenomenon. Our listeners were also interested in the drought, another horrifying experience that still gives me pangs of fright. And of course we had our common experience of the Great Depression. Everyone had and still has a story of those days to relate. Anecdotes and stories are a good way to get to know people.

Father Gordon had made it very clear to me that women were not welcome on the Mount Campus except on special occasions. I therefore had to find friends in town. That was not difficult. I still feel grateful to those women who helped me both in social adjustment and in other friendly gestures.

I learned that Emmitsburg women played bridge, and John, who was a master player, took it upon himself to be my teacher. I was an apt pupil and soon found myself invited to bridge parties. It is hard to believe that, on an afternoon of bridge and luncheon, the women dressed in their prettiest frocks and hats and with pocketbooks on their arms strolled down Main Street to eat outrageously rich desserts followed by a competitive game of bridge. I was a good player and won more prizes than I probably should have!

Johnís social life outside the Mount was an occasional game of bridge at home with other faculty members and a few town couples, and, on afternoons off, going to Chick Rosensteelís pool hall to shoot a game of pool. That way he got to know the male side of Emmitsburg.

As one month slid into another and we began to be a part of Emmitsburg, a year passed quickly and the war that had been lurking on the sidelines became a reality involving all walks of life. But that's another story.

Have your own memories of Emmitsburg of Old? 
Send them to us at history@emmitsburg.net

Read other stories by Ruth Richards