Unhappy and Happy Times




Life was ordinary until 1941.  My grandfather, Thomas Fagan, died in April.  Then, while I was on vacation with co-workers in Falmouth at Cape Cod, while resting on the beach after a dip in the Atlantic Ocean, I spotted my father coming my way. When he saw me, he told that my brother Thomas was killed while riding a bike.  Returned home from Ocean Grove with brother Leo. Not a word was spoken on the way home.  We were both in shock. Thomas was only 12 years old and a very good and intelligent student.  That was in July.



Then, in September, my mother’s mother, Delphine Poirier, passed away.  She was probably in her 80’s and had been in poor health.  But the week after that, my mother’s brother, Louis, died.  My poor mother took it very well for a while.  Probably the only good thing that happened that year was that I met my future husband and he brought a bit of sunshine back into the house.  Tommy was really missed by everyone.  I took a long time getting over it.  My mother insisted that I not wear black, but continue to wear my regular clothes, no matter what people said.  Right after the funeral, the Navy ordered my brother, John, to report for duty immediately.


And it was in 1941 that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States went to war with both Germany and Japan.  December 7, l941 is a day no one seems to forget.  So many changes in our way of life began that fateful day.



After my brother John left for the Navy, it didn’t seem so terrible to date a Navy man.  One October night, in 1941, I went to the Roller Rink with my cousin Lillian and some of her friends.  While there, I was skating with one of my cousin’s friends when I noticed this young sailor walk in the building.  One look and I knew!  He put on his skates, the music began and you guessed it.  I was the one he chose for his skating partner.  He told me his name and I wasn’t sure, so I asked for his ID card.  His name was really Jacque E. Van Cleef.  Such a fancy name and such a good-looking sailor! He said that he was always called by his middle name “Eddie”.  I told him that I liked Jacque better and I would call him that.  We hit it off right from the beginning and he asked if we could go on a date.  He knew how people felt about sailors and wanted to know where I could meet him.  I told him at my home, of course.  So we started dating.  He would hitch a ride from the Naval Station at Newport.  He was stationed in the fire department there.  People picked up sailors hitching a ride especially since we were now at war.


His income was only $36 a month, so we dated by going to the USO in Fall River and Newport.  My friend Rita Ryan had a car and Maureen and I used to go everywhere with her.  So Jacque just joined the group and we four went everywhere together. Also, at home, we had a player piano and we spent evenings listening to the music that was on the rollers that we installed and someone had to pump the pedals.  The music came through the holes in the paper on the rolls.  It was very enjoyable and fun.


I was still working at Newberrys and he would come in and wait until I finished work and go home with me.  My folks never objected to him being there for supper every night he was off duty.  They enjoyed his company too. He was brought up in New York City, but he was born in Holland.  His mother was divorced and he had a younger brother.  Jacque graduated from high school in agriculture.  After working on a farm for two summers, he changed his mind.  He went to work at Radio City Music Hall in New York City for a while until he decided to join the Navy in the spring of l941.  He did his boot camp training in Newport RI and then stayed at the Naval Station to work in the Fire House. In October 1941, Fall River had a huge fire at the Firestone Mills and the Navy came to help out for two weeks. 


It was about two weeks after the fire that we met at the Roller Skating Rink.   We had dated only a short time when he asked me if I wanted to get married.  I was quite surprised, knowing him for so short a time.  I just told him that I wasn’t ready for marriage.  I was having too much fun at present, but I would think about it. He also knew that I was Catholic.  He never went to church.  So without telling me about it or asking any questions, he went to see the Base Chaplain and received instructions and became a Catholic.  My family was very surprised as was I.  He said he was baptized and made his First Communion.  I realized then that he was serious about getting married.


However, after we were together for ten months, my mother questioned me about getting married.  I was so surprised by her asking and suggesting that we marry on her 25th anniversary.  I said no to that.  That was my Mom and Pop’s special day.  I would have to think about it, especially since I would have to get another job since Newberrys didn’t employ married women.




Van and Ellen with Ellen's parents

In the meantime, I received a notice to work at the Newport Torpedo Station. So I left Newberrys and went to work in the Supply Office at the Torpedo Station, which was on an island about ˝ mile off the coast of Newport.  Rita Ryan also worked there and she and another fellow took turns driving us to work.  It seemed that every time Rita drove, someone was always late and we had to catch a ferry to get to the island.  She would drop us off at the ferry and we would stand on the lift until Rita returned from parking the car. After I worked at the Supply Depot for several months, I was eligible for time off.  Jacque could get some leave, so we decided to get married on the day before my birthday, which was a Monday. He had a duty weekend and he could get the whole week off.  So when the time came, my uncle from New York arrived for the wedding, and on the morning of the wedding, my father and Uncle Leo went to Newport to get him.  They came back about an hour later, asking if he arrived yet because they were told at the station that he had left.  My uncle and father were trying to play a trick on me, but Jacque came rushing in the house saying.” I’m here, I’m here”.  So we were married at Sacred Heart Church in Fall River on August 31, 1942 with my brother John, best man, and Evelyn Bartsch, my maid-of-honor.

with brother

Happy Couple!

Wedding ladies


Since it was during the war, I didn’t want to have a big wedding with all the trimmings.  My aunt Bella, who had worked in some of the fancy fashion houses in New York, made my dress with hat to match.  My parents had the reception at home with many of our family and friends. 


We were to catch the 2 o’clock train in Providence, but my father who is always early, got us to the depot in time to catch the 1 o’clock train just as it was ready to leave the station.  My father told the conductor that we had just gotten married and he volunteered to take care of us.  That he did! He took us through all the cars and told everyone “Here come the newly weds”.  I was so embarrassed. 


We arrived in New York and went to the Algonquin Hotel for the night.  The next day we took a bus to Lake Wallkill to the cottage where his mother and brother John were staying for the summer.  Lake Wallkill was a summer resort where Jacque and his family spent many summers.  The cottage was built in an apple orchard about a half-mile from the lake.  The water in the lake was soooo cold.  It came from springs.  I met all the old friends, but still didn’t learn to swim.  We climbed the apple tree in front of the cottage to see the view of the area.  Went to the Lake every day and at night, they had movies at the clubhouse.  Jacque said the Lake was such fun every summer with all the old friends.  But as they all grew up and started to work, it wasn’t the same the last few years.

Our honeymoon cottage at Lake Wallkill  (His mom on steps)



updated: 20.11.2011