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This week I share more about my favorite aunt, my mother's sister, who passed last year and here we are in PA in 1986 (not at all Sepia) during one of our visits home from CA. Me on the left, Virginia on the right. She was more than a 2nd mother to me and to this day I don't know what would have become of me if it were not for her and my grandmother Rose, her mother. Her name was Virginia but in Polish it is , 'scuse my spelling here, Vierczinka, which led to the name her family and friends called her, Jinx. In 2005 when I went to PA to stay with her through some surgery she got very annoyed at the nurse who refused to call her"Jinx" because the nurse thought that was demeaning and this little lady was not a Jinx. I had to explain that it was from Polish and that my aunt did not consider it demeaning.
Virginia was born March 1, 1922 to Teofil and Rose (Ostrowski) Kochanowski. I have mentioned that Uncle Carl, her brother changed the family name to Konesky and she used that too. Today I am featuring a few of her photos at work including one of my favorites where she is driving a forklift. Jinx always encouraged me to do unusual things, she might have been one of the first feminists in the family though there was not a name for it back in her time. She was always one to strive for the unusual jobs, was quite mechanically inclined all her life unlike myself and that is just one reason why she admired Jerry, my husband, he's mechanical and handy too. In this photo from 1996 when she and Mom visited us in CA you can see them both with Jerry; Jinx in one of my sweaters with her arms around Jerry, me standing and Mom on the right. At times I think they liked him more than they did me! If there was ever a disagreement within their earshot, they would both side with Jerry immediately. My aunt always said, "You got a good man there, Patty, one of the best." That made me proud too. Jinx was never one to sit still though and even on a visit took it upon herself to clean my house, for which I was grateful. Mom would have been just as happy to not work, but with Jinx around no one could be idlel. This was the trip where they made 10 apple pies and put them in the freezer for Jerry because I was too "busy" at work to bake for him!
Here are two of her earliest photos in high school, where she took secretarial classes and told me once that she wanted to take an industrial class but of course back in PA in the 30's that was not to be. She said she had figured that she would be working in a factory if she could get hired and she knew right away that there was more money to be made on the factory floor than in an office. The photo to the left is in 1939 one year before she graduated. She was always proud to have graduated from high school because she was the 2nd girl in the family to do so, her sister Francie the first. She lived in the same valley area all her life and was still proud when they had their 50th reunion. She had kept her 1940 senior yearbook which I donated it to the People's Library for their reference collection when we cleared her home; 1940 was one volume they were missing and so it is available today to researchers. She'd like that because she did not waste anything. This photo to the right is her senior year 1940 and she looks so very serious, likely thinking about so many things and what was to be ahead. You will notice how thin she is, a life long trait, despite a huge appetite. No one could believe how Jinx could eat because she always remained thin. Her mother said she took after her Grandfather, Rose's father, Frank Ostrowski whom I've shared in other Sepia weeks.
But since I decided this theme would be her at work, let's get on to what she considered the ultimate, a job at the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, known as PPG! Wow, she thought she could make a fortune; she and her girl cousins all landed employment in the Glass Company, though Jinx would continue to work there over the years and the cousins would quit to stay home once they married. Here she is in 1943 standing down the railroad tracks from the plant in Creighton. She worked many different shifts there and as the family had no vehicle she took the bus to work. After she made friends at work it was a real treat to be picked up by coworkers who had an automobile for 50 cents a week, avoiding the bus route. She said some people wanted the ride but the bus was cheaper, so they didn't want to spend the money. She thought they were cheapskates because if someone gave them a ride for free they took it but she did not begrudge spending 50 cents for the door to door service. I learned early on from her that sometimes "you have to spend money when you are working"; she called it "working expense" and was ahead of her time in that consideration. They worked in the factory but they wore these dress uniforms of chambray, I know that she sewed her own and also sewed uniforms for other women who would pay her for her labor.
I don't have the actual date on this photo but here she is on the forklift, I think it was about 1950. Someone previously posted about the preservation of union and shop cards and my aunt had hers as well. The story with the forklift is another about her tenacity. She told me that they needed volunteers to learn to operate this thing and that no one wanted to do so, least of all the women. So she stepped right up because she was always one for things mechanical and thought whatever she could learn would put her that much farther ahead of the next person. Well, she got the job operating the forklift, a task much easier than other work with a promotion and a higher salary and then all the women got mad at her. She told me about this when I was in elementary school and worried when friends would not talk to me when I made straight A's. She said that sometimes in life, when you get successful people get jealous and that I just as well learn that early. This is one of my favorite photos because of the life lessons involved while I never aspired to work in a factory I learned from her to not be afraid to try new things to get ahead. I see the equipment is Hyster, still in business today. Researching I learned " Hyster started as a small manufacturer of winches and lifting machines used in the logging and timber industry of the United States’ Pacific Northwest. The name originated from the call of the laborers who would shout “Hoist’er!” when a log was ready to be lifted. A few years later the first forklift trucks were invented and Hyster quickly gained its reputation for rugged quality. Over eight decades Hyster has continuously developed its product offering and service network to become the leading international player it is today."
I became her "job" she always said. Here we are in 1945 when I had begun to take my first steps. She would stand me up against a tree or fence outside on a lawn and be close enough to catch me, calling me to walk to her. For some reason I was more willing to walk to her than to my Mom, so she and Mom decided that Jinx would get me to walk. I also seemed to do better outside than inside on a safe flooring, as my curiosity became rampant. When Mom stood me somewhere and stepped back I'd cry royally and just sit down insisting Mom come back to get me, but I didn't do that with Jinx. Who knows why but then I turned the corner and they said real trouble began, I insisted on toddling everywhere and you can see she is restraining me here, there is no place I wouldn't toddle off. Even with Mom when I would fuss if picked up because I wanted to be loosed upon the world.
In 1951 she became engaged to someone whose name I never did write down, here she is at an engagement party notice the red roses corsage. She said they announced their engagement following the wedding of her friends. Up until this time everyone was sure that she would remain an "old maid" living with her parents and to tell the truth she was quite satisfied that way, working and being at home. I tell you she was career oriented. Whoever this first man was is lost for all time now, but I do know that he was killed in a tragic accident before they married. Jinx was insisting on a proper waiting period and she said she did not want to give up her job at PPG while he though she should. So she was not going to jump right into anything. She always liked working and making money and was not convinced she should give that up to get married. How different she was from the other women of the day who were more than willing to be out of the workforce at home and raise their families. Many years back, she gave me his diamond ring that I sized down to wear on my middle finger. I should have gotten the name back then but didn't and she didn't want to discuss it anymore.
Here she is in 1966 with Grandma Rose and my mother ,Helen who is holding her small dog, Poncho. This was after a weekend picnic gathering after she and Uncle John whom she married in 1956 were living in Freeport PA. By the way, John had no objection to her working and so she continued to do so. I have written elsewhere on this blog about her and Uncle John Irwin. Just last week I shared the spinning wheel on of the many treasures from the Irwin family.
I close with this last photo of her at a dinner sponsored by PPG for 104 employees for 40 years at the Creighton plant. Holding her recognition award, her clock, is plant manager Russel Crane while Chairman of the Board, L. Stanton Williams shakes her hand. There was a time in the 1950's when the women were laid off and sent home as the men returned from the war and needed the jobs. My aunt went to work as a supervising seamstress at a blouse factory then for several years, but she wanted to go back to PPG. In the 1960's there was a need and when they recalled her she had turmoil. She hated to leave the blouse factory where she was doing so well, but PPG would pay more and offered better benefits, so she bid Ship N' Shore farewell and went back to PPG. I have this Seth Thomas clock today, which she proudly received and as she warned me so long ago, I keep my fingers off it, only Jerry winds it. She knew that I never inherited the mechanical ability she had and it was best to keep me away from anything that relied on adeptness.
In her memory, my Aunt Jinx, Virginia Irwin, 1922-2009. I would say rest in peace now, but I know she is busy somehow stirring the clouds above and still working!