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Monday, January 14, 2013

Connecticut, "The Land of Steady Habits"

 Before I share how Dad ended up a Montford Point Marine, I will give you more background on  Connecticut, "The Land of Steady Habits". Connecticut is a small state but an extremely productive state. Dutch navigator Adrien Block explored the Connecticut River in 1614. Then English settlers made the state a colony. The Charter Oak became a symbol of independence from England. The Connecticut Charter was written in 1687  but was revoked by English King James II. Joseph Wadsworth prevented Royal Governor Sir Edmund Andros from obtaining it by hiding it in the hollow of a Charter Oak tree. (Information derived from

Source: CT-State-tree-2-web
Charter Oak

CT is known for its manufacturing methods developed by inventors such as Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin. It is known for its production of helicopters; Sirkorsky, and jet aircraft engines; Pratt and Whitney. Some of my relatives from Florida came up north during summers or for an extended time for work after my dad settled in New England. One relocated from Florida permantly.


Furthermore, CT is also is known for small firearms, the Colt .45 and Colt's factory is now designated as a historical building. Small firearms are no longer made here, but like many abandoned factories it is used for housing and office space. I lived in one of its gigantic lofts for awhile. The famous Colt dome can be seen from Interstate 91 today.

The first American Cigars were made in CT. Tobacco farms figured prominently in CT and it was a "rite of passage" to work at either Thrall or Brown Tobacco, since they hired young teenagers. I was a "leafer", meaning I would set up large leaves on the tables for the sewers to sew on a rack. The racks would be sent elsewhere. The tobacco bus would arrive at 4 a.m. to pick teenagers up. We would leave in the mornings with our lunches and helmets and return later tired and dirty from tobacco dust. My brother picked tobacco leaves outside in the hot sun with the rest of the males.

Oh, and a young, personable young man from Atlanta, GA picked tobacco in Connecticut during his summers from a Black College. He attended church here and the experience forever changed him. His name was Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., a major Civil Rights Leader and activist who used peaceful demonstrations and marches to protest the treatment of African Americans in the United States. Dr. Martin Luther King is the only African American to have a federal holiday in his honor, during the month of January. He also received the Nobel Peace Prize. It would be three years later (1984) that I would be at an Atlanta College myself, and I would see Dr. King's sister as a professor and hear his cadence in the voice of his daughter, Dr. Bernice King who was two years ahead of me in school and became a minister like her father. Tragically, Dr. King was assassinated  April 4, 1968 at the age of 42 while standing on a balcony in Memphis, TN.


Whenever I would mention to former students that I picked tobacco, they would collectively gasp. Smoking did not have the stigma in the early 1980s as it does now. Anti-smoking campaigns were not launched until much later. Despite cigarette warnings detailing the dangers of smoking cigarettes, back then so many people smoked. It was addictive and unfortunately health problems developed. Smoking was permitted everywhere and the dangers of secondhand smoke were just starting to circulate.


Marines and other members of armed forces were routinely given cigarettes such as Lucky Strikes and Marlborough. My dad's cigarette brand was Pall Mall and he would smoke at least a pack a day. I remember filled ashtrays with cigarette butts all over the house. It was my job to empty the ashtrays and clean them. Dad tried real hard to quit smoking. One evening he vowed to quit smoking cigarettes and threw an entire pack in the fireplace. What allowed him to quit smoking for good? Acupuncture. His alternative medicine doctor recommended it and my skeptical dad gave it a try. Dad decided to test the effectiveness of the acupuncture by trying to smoke. He started coughing violently and tears streamed down his face. That was the last time he lit a cigarette, and that was over thirty years ago. The acupuncture saved him money for his costly cigarette habit and more importantly, his life.

The State of Connecticut formerly requested the countries of Puerto Rico and Jamaica for seasonal migrant tobacco workers during the 1940s and 1950s. Hartford has the second highest concentration of Puerto Ricans in the Northeast per 2010 US Census. Part of the large population of Puerto Ricans in Hartford is a result of this; Current mayor Pedro Segarra is of Puerto Rican descent. Moreover, Hartford also has the distinction of having the first African American female mayor of a major city, Carrie Saxon Perry (1987). Excuse me, the Honorable Carrie Saxon Perry as she graciously informed me, as I had included her character in a school play and had invited her for the performance.

Hartford has the third largest West Indian Population in the US after New York and Miami. Whenever I visited a Caribbean nation, I would always run into someone who had a relative from Hartford. The West Indians that I grew up with were very studious and hard-working. These children of immigrants used the strict British-Jamaican education from their country and dominated the honor rolls. Home ownership and additional property was highly valued, and if a student did not attend college they made sure they had a trade or two. The early nineties comedy show "In Living Color", depicted this best with a family that worked so many jobs and criticized people with only two jobs as being "lazy". The comic bit was a bit excessive, but yes, I had friends who worked their tails off like this.

Getting a job for my mom was a snap. I loved hearing her talk about the old days when she used to work at Hartford Fire, now known as The Hartford, or Connecticut General (CIGNA). She regaled us often with pleasant tales of the outspoken "The Wig Wearin' Woman". It was decades later when I learned the actual name of the "WWW"! She would begin with, "And the Wig Wearin' Women said...." Mom's last and major job was at the Department of Motor Vehicles. She would always state it without abbreviating it, never shortening it to DMV. ( Dad did something similar with AAA, sounding out every letter; it was never called Triple A.) She was known as a key-puncher. As an eight year old little girl, I had no idea what that was. What did that mean, she punched keys at work all day?


In the older days of computers, cards were used to read information and data. Computer operators fed cards into machines to punch holes into them. The punched holes represented computer language codes. Key punching machines were used before data entry terminals were introduced. Later, until mom retired, her job title became data entry operator. As an aside, computer bugs, were named after the actual computer bugs that became trapped in the large computers. Early computers were very large and occupied entire rooms. The computer operators would be cloaked in special gear because the machine was very temperamental.

My high school job besides working at McDonald's Playland as a birthday party hostess, was a summer internship Aetna Life and Casualty. Each summer, the various Insurance companies would recruit at Black Colleges in the south, and house the interns in Hartford. These interns were bored out of their minds and would ask me, "How do you stand it being from there?" I would acknowledged their collective pain but Hartford/Windsor was my home.

Hartford was once known as The Insurance Capital of The World and EVERYBODY knew someone that worked at an insurance company. Despite being a conservative type of industry, it gave Downtown Hartford " bustle", with men in tailored business suits and power ties and later women in business suits and heels (sneakers on lunch hour or for the commute). I also was employed at Traveler's Insurance Company, answering phone calls for auto and property claims. If it was a serious, major claim or accident, it was my job to contact an insurance adjuster to get to the scene immediately. I always had a problem contacting adjusters in New York. They seemed very bothered and would  ask, "What do you want me to do about it?", or "I am in the middle of something". I loved hearing their expressive, thick New Yawk  accents, knowing that they would end up arriving at the scene because that was their job. The logo for The Traveler's, the Red Umbrella, was everywhere. During rainy days, huge official Traveler's Red Umbrellas dotted Main Street and it was so uniquely Hartford.

Hence, the small, conservative city of Hartford was the place to be if you wanted employment. Additionally,  you could gather skills, obtain a college education, intern at the various insurance company headquarters in high school or college. Still, prospective job seekers could work at Electric Boat in Groton where they built submarines, Stanley Tools in New Britain or any of the various factories that existed in the state. People could quit work one day and have another job shortly thereafter. Finally, the southernmost part of the state is a suburb of New York City. Connecticut is a state that ranks among the top in  highest per capita income. This is where Clifford Primus spent the majority of his life. Connecticut was also the place where he received notification of his Congressional Medal of Honor as a Montford Point Marine, one winter day in February, 2012.

Now, let's travel back to the 1940s and away from civilian life to military life.

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