By Jeff Kagan and Sebastian Rizzo
“What do you want to interview me for? I’m nobody important,” Dorothy “Dot” Hauser said while coaxing Coal, her black Labrador retriever, to settle down now that he’d finished his friendly sniff inspection of the two visitors.
Although in her mind she has had a rather normal life, no one reaches the age of 87 without having had experiences that younger folks have not. We are grateful to Dot for inviting us into her home and sharing her experiences of growing up in bygone times with us.
Like everyone else during the Great Depression, her family was poor, but unlike the less fortunate, her family owned a farm and always had enough to eat. Her father was an overseer of the poor and distributed articles like blankets and food to those in need. Many people couldn’t find a job while farmers had to work very hard for little money. Crops had to be shipped to New York and by the time her father paid for the truck that transported them, the fees for the commission house and a fee for dumping unsold produce into the river, there was little left for the poor farmer.
In addition to the crops, they raised pigs and chickens for their own use. Everyone contributed, even the children.
“My mother canned everything there was. In the winter, we would make sausage and can that. You always had to work,” Dot said. “My father would pay me one-half cent to pick a pint of raspberries and two cents for a quart of strawberries.”
It wasn’t all work though. Sometimes the local families would get together for dances in the apple houses like the one on the Kirshman farm. Apple houses were the buildings where the apples were stored.
Her grandfather first came to the United States in 1886, went back to Germany and returned in 1888 with a wife and child. Like others from the same German community, he settled in rural Madison Township (now Old Bridge). He and a number of other relatives are buried in the Rose Hill Cemetery in Matawan. Dot grew up in the house inside the sharp bend on Disbrow Road. Her father changed the family name from Marz to Martz.
On the east side of narrow Disbrow Road at the bend lived her aunt Cornelia “Nelie” Lambertson. Everyone knew Aunt Nelie as the lady in the sunbonnet and long pioneer-style dress who sold raspberries on the corner. Aunt Nelie’s house was a Sears Roebuck home. At one time, she owned properties on all four corners of Disbrow Road and Route 34 (where the sports club, the Market Place shopping village and the town homes now sit). She also owned the property where the Old Bridge Municipal Complex is now located.
Just a couple hundred feet to the west, her Aunt Maud Lambertson, who also wore a sunbonnet and long dress, lived in an old home that had heat but no inside plumbing. Outside, she had a Dutch brick oven that she used to bake bread and such. Maud was a wonderful and generous woman who never married. She made beautiful quilts and earned a living by taking care of others like nursing people who were sick and serving as a midwife to deliver babies.
Dot’s family did most of their shopping in Matawan. There was Sandford’s Pharmacy and right on the other corner of Sandford’s was an ice cream shop. There were butcher shops. There was a bakery. There were grocery stores: Bell’s Market, Dells Market, an A&P … “but that’s when you went into the store and they picked the things off of the shelf for you. ShopRite was the thing. They had the wagons in a circle and you could pick what you wanted.”
There was Hostetter’s Five and Ten, and Ryan Brothers for paper and office supplies. Matawan had most things you might need, but on occasion her mother would drive to the city of Perth Amboy. “That was the place to go.”
There was a movie theater in Matawan where the therapy place is now. “One of the first movies I ever went to see — Aunt Maud took me — was “Gone with the Wind” in Keyport. That was the big movie theater.”
Growing up, she remembers one night in particular. “On a Sunday night around five o’clock, I remember it came over the radio the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I was only 10 years old, so I didn’t know much about it, but I remember it coming over the radio and so forth.” During World War II, her father would load produce into his pickup truck and drive over to the Genoa neighborhood and sell to the families there.
Young Dottie walked through the fields of the Arrowsmith farm to Morristown School which was located on School House Lane, about 0.9 miles away. The building, which is no longer standing, had two rooms. Grades 1-5 were taught in one room by Mrs. Irish. Miss McGee, who became Mrs. Carhar, taught grades 6-8 and walked to school from Matawan every morning. She taught civics, geography, spelling, and introduced her students to classics like the Bronte sisters’ “Wuthering Heights” and “Jane Eyre”. There were seven kids in Dot’s eighth grade graduating class.
Matawan High School was very different from the two-room Morristown School. There were about 100 students in her grade and they changed classes for different subjects. One of her teachers was Mrs. Gittens who also owned the ice cream shop in Matawan. Dot fondly remembered another teacher, Mrs. Rhoda Ryan, because she used to let her and Paul – her future husband – sit together. There were also the football games, especially the Thanksgiving Day rivalry between Matawan and Keyport. They’d all get dressed up and wear the school colors of maroon and grey. Girls would pin on a big maroon chrysanthemum.
When she was old enough, she would catch the train at the Matawan station and ride up to Newark to see the singers and big bands: Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Glenn Miller, Helen Forest, Gene Krupa. Was she a Frank Sinatra fan? “Oh yeah!” she said with schoolgirl enthusiasm.
She lived in Madison Township all her life except for about a year-and-a-half while her Weyerhaeuser prefab home was being built on a lot subdivided from her father’s farm. This is the home where she and Paul raised their three boys, and it is the home she lives in to this day.
They bought their first television set from Ten Eyk Ronson’s store right on the corner. It had a tiny screen. Some of her favorite programs were “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “Carol Burnett” and “Bonanza.” She remembers how excited everyone was when the Beatles first appeared on Ed Sullivan in 1964.
When asked what she remembers about the township changing its name, she frowned. “We thought it was ridiculous. Most of the people on this side of town didn’t even bother to go vote. They told us we would have one zip code. The village of Old Bridge isn’t even in our town.”
Before we left, Dot proudly showed us pictures of her family, her three boys, their wives, her grandchildren, great grandchildren, and nieces and nephews. She also showed us some family heirlooms: a mortar and pestle that she believes came over on a boat, a powder horn from the Civil War, and a long-barreled gun that’s “just always been in the family.”
For someone who believed herself not important enough to be interviewed, we hope Dot learned just how precious her memories are and how important they are to this community.
Oral History recordings are preserved in the Madison-Old Bridge Township Historical Society archives located at the Thomas Warne Museum on Route 516 in Old Bridge. For more information on how to share memories, contact the Madison-Old Bridge Township Historical Society, 4216 Route 516, Matawan, or visit www.thomas-warne-museum.com.