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Mumbly peg, street lamps and maple trees
SOUTH PARIS — 86-year-old Leonora McGall, better known as Lee, grew up in New Jersey and moved to Maine to be near her dearest friend, Lois. As a veteran of WWII, she now resides at the Maine Veteran’s Home.
She recently took time to tell us about her life.
Q: When were you born and where were you brought up?
A: I was born on February 4, 1925 in the state of New Jersey, and lived there my whole childhood.
Due to the depression era, we moved around a lot. Finances were tight, but most everyplace was in the state of New Jersey; mostly in South Orange.
Q: Did you have many siblings?
A: I had one brother, but he passed away at the age of seven. I was only five so I was pretty much an only child.
I can remember that day he died like it was yesterday. My brother was concerned because he was still wetting the bed, and he was given some medications by a young doctor. They didn't have the knowledge they do in these days and it was a perfectly fine medication, but somebody made a mistake and the prescription was wrong somehow. My mom gave him the required dosage when he went to bed and he never woke up.
It is a bit blurry, because it happened in the night, but I knew something was going on as the linen room was in my room. There was just so much activity, I knew something had happened. They told me that brother had gone on a trip and I became quite cross because he never went anywhere without me.
I was very young and they had to ship me off to my aunts to ‘visit’ with my cousins, and I ended up there for quite a while.
I was told later and it was handled beautifully. I think of my poor mom and how marvelous she was to be able to go on with such strength and character. My dad, however had fallen apart and I remember spending quite a few years trying to be my brother.
Q: What did your parents do?
A: Dad worked in the family business for a very long time. He was never happy there. He was a frustrated scientist, but his dad expected him to work there. The company was the Lane Paper Company and they made jacquards and twine for the old mills. Jacquards looked like piano rolls with patterns on them. They were sold blank and companies that bought them would punch in their own patterns for fabric. During WWII, he went to Edison Storage Battery and worked there in West Orange.
Mother was in the Red Cross. She was an adjutant and transported veterans. The vets would be shipped home and the Red Cross was who would take them wherever they had to go. They would have a convoy of big trucks, go to New York, pick up the young men and take them to area hospitals. That was a big job.
Q: What was it like growing up?
A: It was an adventure for me. I went from school to school and home to home.
My best part was in South Orange and found my best friend Lois. We've been best friends through life.
We were always outside.
We would play around the railroad tracks where the trains were all held. We would play games around the trains. We had a ball.
We played Mumbly Peg too. We would draw a circle; any size, it didn't matter. You would flick a jackknife off your finger or thumb and wherever it landed in the circle, you could draw a line to the outer ring and that was your territory. You took turns and tried to take territories from each other. It was a fun game. I don’t think they play that at school today!
Marbles was the other game and Lois always won all my marbles!
We used to take long bike rides into other towns and we had to be home by a specific time. Often we would take these rides, find a clock and we'd have to ride like heck to get home in time. We were just adventurous.
There used to be flat bubble gum that came with cards, and card trading was a big thing. We would pitch the card and who got nearest to the wall would keep the cards. Lois didn’t get those!
We went camping here in the state of Maine from Center Lovell to Lake Cesar. Loie was in Maine camping also at Toddy Pond.
Q: Was there anything you wanted to be when you grew up?
A: Probably a nurse or at least something in the medical field. I was always the doctor or the nurse. When I was at my cousins', one cousin was the doctor and I was the nurse. My other cousin was the victim, or the dolls were.
Q: Where did you go to school?
A: I went to school in Maplewood, South Orange and Orange. My last two years of high school I went to Miss Baird’s School in Orange. It was a private school for girls. My grandmother wanted me to go there, so she paid for it.
Q: Did you get into mischief or play pranks?
A: The naughtiest thing we did was turn off the gas lights on the street. They were old-fashioned gas, street lights that had a little lever. I think there was some type of timer in the unit of the lamp. It would click on, so with our calculating minds, we figured it would be fun to turn ‘em all off. Everyone wondered why the light was dark, but Loie's dad figured us out. I do remember getting sent home and we had to spend an entire weekend separated!
Q: What have you had for jobs?
A: I got out of school and I did get a job in a department store and a lot of times I worked just for the Christmas rush.
Q: Did you and Lois remain friends?
A: Yes! Loie went to Syracuse for nursing and I went into the Marine Corp. She went there to work and lived in Chicago and Nevada, but we always remained close and connected.
Q: You were in the Marine Corp?
A: Oh yes! I went into the Marine Corp in 1945. The war was just about over.
I was stationed in Cherry Point, North Carolina and I was an aviation mechanic and also worked in motor transport. I drove buses and half-ton trucks and staff cars.
Q: Any good stories?
A: I was 36 hours over leave one time. I was up in New Jersey. I had gotten engaged to this guy ... and didn’t want to leave. I wanted to break the engagement off and was having a hard time.
I ended up pretty lucky. There was a major picking up a plane in New Jersey and so I hitched a ride back with him. I had to sit in the gunner’s seat and I had my Class A skirt on. I had to wear a parachute and that looked real cute with the skirt. Here I was with that skirt and straps wrapped around my legs! We had a blast wave jumping and that major had no idea I was 36 hours over leave.
I retired as a corporal.
Q: Did you marry that man?
A: No, but I have been married twice. I met Bob when he was going with a sister of a friend of mine. It was just after the service and he was a very handsome and desired man. He had his heart set on going to the American Academy of the Arts; he was a great singer. The next thing I know he told his mother he was going to marry me. I was pretty naïve and of course we married, partly because we were both in the same social circles. I had a huge ring and we had a lot of fun going to the club and tea dances, but that wasn’t me. We divorced in two years.
I met Charlie McGall 10 years later. He was wonderful; down to earth and a real gentle man. I loved him to death, but it was more like a best friend. It was not superficial and that made all the difference in the world.
We had two wonderful children, Margaret and James. Margaret lives in West Virginia and has two children. James lives in Livermore Falls and gave me one grandson.
Q: How did you end up in Maine?
A: Loie came to Maine to care for her parents and when they passed, she stayed here on Toddy Pond.
Charlie had passed away and I came up here in November of ’97 to live with her. It was just before the ‘98 ice storm.
She became ill and is now at the Deer Isle Nursing Home. I don't get to see Loie now, but she would have no idea who I am anyway. I miss her terribly; we share a soul.
Q: Any special memories of Lois?
A: When I came up to Maine to be with her, she gave me a little box and there was a little black bag inside. It was full of marbles and she had added a note saying she was sorry she had lost all the others.
Q: What do you do now?
A: I have my trusty computer and that is my world; it is my connection to my grandchildren.
I cross stitch and needlepoint. I play Bingo here on Monday and I love to play Spit in the Ocean, which is a card game I can play on the computer.
Q: Anyone said you look like someone famous?
A: People never said that of me, but they used to think my mother looked like Bette Davis.
Q: Did you do much traveling?
A: Other than the service, I went to England when I was eight years-old. Actually the only traveling I did in the service was from New Jersey to Cherry Point.
Some friends and I hitchhiked to Indiana on a 30 day leave once. It was the middle of February and it took us eight rides. That was a wonderful adventure. One particular gentleman even wrote a letter to my mother to tell her we were wonderful girls.
Q: What is the last book you read?
A: I don't read much. I never have. I am a big TCM movie watcher.
Q: What is your favorite movie?
A: The original Philadelphia Story. It was in 1940 and it had Jimmy Stewart, Catherine Hepburn and Cary Grant. The remake was a musical with Frank Sinatra, Grace Kelly and Bing Cosby. It was superb as well.
Q: What is the one thing you could not give up?
A: Chocolate and my computer!
Q: What is the one thing you would happily do over again?
A: It would have to be the day my daughter was born. I was so excited to find out she was a little girl. I was scared to death though. I was so afraid I would break her, so my mom stayed with me for a while. Charlie just adored that baby!
Q: What was the best memory that this interview brought back?
A: Loie and I going ice skating in the winter. Another would be when my daughter had her horses.
Q: What would you like people to know about you?
A: I'd like to be remembered as a kind person who helped anyone at their beck and call.
Q: If anyone could walk in right now, who would you most want to see?
A: I would love to see my daughter as she lives far away. I would tell my daughter that I love her.
I’d also love to see Loie walk in, in her right mind. Dear Loie; I just love her with all my heart and she is my dearest friend. We grew up together and promised to grow old together.
We agreed to be buried next to each other. We both have trees planted at Toddy Pond; hers is a flowering tree and mine is a maple that turns yellow in the fall. Our ashes will be mixed together.