Harrison Gass Interviews

This is the transcript of two interviews with Harrison Gass. The first was conducted by Eleanor O’Bryon with Judy Shapiro and Paul Gass in July 1990. The follow-up interview was conducted by Judy Shapiro in January 1991.


Harrison Gass was the oldest son of Nathan and Sonya Gass, and a nephew of Samuel Gass, Paul Gass’s grandfather.


H: The Gass name was changed many, many times. My father came over, they [immigration official] said, “What’s your name?” He says “Nathan Guz.” So they say, “That’s not a good name for an American.” He says, “What’s a good name?” They say, “Stone.” So he came here, his name was Nathan Stone. And after a few years he went to school nights and he wanted to learn English. So he learns some English and now he’s applying for naturalization papers. They say, “What’s your name?” “Well,” he says, “It’s Guz, but they changed it to Stone on me in Ellis Island.” They say, “That’s not legal, it’s too different. You can’t jump from Guz to Stone.” He says, “What’s legal American?” “Gass.” So then he became Gazz.

E: Where did he come from?

H: He came from Turisk. It was on the borderline. I heard it’s spelled Trisk, Turisk. On the Polish-Russian border. Sometimes the Russians have it, sometimes the Poles have it. It might have been Poland, because my mother, who came from Gorodnov in Russia, she says she was a real Russian, he’s a Polack.


H: Well, they [the Gass brothers] had a factory [Lion Shoe]. My father was in it, and with Morris and Schleime, Sam [Morris’s son] was in it, too. After a while they brought in Goodman who is what?… a brother-in-law of Schleimes…?

J: Yes. Abraham Gootman.

H: Schleime was out of the fat before I came in. He’d been ill, fat, you know, all the Gass’s had arthritis, but he had it the worst, Sam. And he hadn’t been in for a couple of years when I came there. And Gootman used to be the buyer, my father was supposed to be the factory guy, and Morris was a nice guy, he handled the money. He was the easiest going of all of them. And Shleime was also a difficult fellow. He was a stubborn kind of a guy… You want to hear this?

So since there’s no money in being a philosopher, or in music appreciation, or economics major, and I was only 19 years old anyway, I decided I’d go in the factory and learn how to make money. So I went there and Sam Gass [Morris’s son] had been in for about two years, he was a couple years older. He’d been there about two years before me. He went to Dartmouth and when he got through and went out, he started the shoe business with a couple people who’d been in it. And there was another boy… Goodman had a son Georgie. And he also had started a business a few months before I got in.

Then I came in, I looked around, I wasn’t doing anything, I was learning something. I’d do this. I’d been there about six or seven months and finally they decided they were going to close the business. Not that they were broke. It was still profitable but it was getting more difficult….

[In the beginning] the brothers got together, they brought Gootman in and they had a small factory in Lynn on Boston Street. They did very well. They got bigger and bigger. And finally they had a big factory. In fact, in Lynn when I went there it was a huge building, about 50,000 feet, which was a substantial factory in those days. And for people who didn’t have a great command of the English language they did very well. My father used to go round selling. And Schleime, Sam, was out for a couple years by that time. And after I’d been there about 8 or 9 months, a year maybe, they decided to close it. It was getting a little more competitive, and Sam wasn’t around at all, and they were equal partners. And they had to change some equipment and they weren’t really up to it, and I didn’t know too much about it at that time either.

Also they had agreement that if they ever split up, none of their progeny would ever take over the factory because the others wouldn’t like it. That was the agreement that they had. I didn’t understand. It was silly. Nobody wanted it, why couldn’t I get it. Not that I knew much about it, but I knew I could run the business in time. And this was a business, not on its last leg. They made money up until the day they closed. But they decided to close it. So they closed it.

And Sam was getting sick at that time. He was living alone, the kids had all drifted away, in a big house in Chelsea. I went in the visit one day and I didn’t know him that well, but he was an uncle. I saw this old guy sitting there, fat, sloppy and alone you know.

I said, “What do you do all day long?”


I said, “I know what you need.”

“What, wise guy, what do I need?”

I said, “You need a television.”

He says, “I don’t want it.”

I said, “It’s crazy of you not to want it. It’s wonderful. They even have programs in Yiddish and you’ll like it.”

“I don’t want it.”

I said, “Forget it. I’m going to buy you one and bring it in to you.”

He says, “I wouldn’t have it. I’ll throw it out.”

And I didn’t know whether he meant it, you know, but what did it cost… 150 dollars, something like that. I was making a lot of money, thirty-five dollars a week, so I’d save a little bit. I thought, I’ll do it and that will be my key way to God, cause you’re a very religious guy, you know. You don’t say (brochas), I don’t say the prayers. Not that I don’t believe them, but I don’t. So he didn’t like that. But I left it, I said I’m gonna buy it. One day I says I’ll drive up with the car and I’ll have a television.

“Don’t bring in my house,” he says.

But I figured he didn’t mean it, because obviously it was good, it was great for him. They guy sits there, never goes out, once in a while he’d go to a show or somebody’d pick him up… and so I called him up in a couple week, I says, “I got a surprise for you.”

He says, “A television? Don’t bring it. You bring it I’ll throw you and the set out of the house.”

And I guess he meant it, so I never did bring it.

Sam… Schleime was a tough guy. Max was a pussycat compared to Sam. Here’s this old guy, sick, rich, sloppy in a sloppy house…

E: Everybody was gone…

He sat there with his yarmulke and the black sofa…

J: and his gloves and his cigarette…

P: and no one wanted to have anything to do with him.

It’s a miserable looking place. Looked like it was run down. One old guy in the house by himself is a sad-looking thing. And he wouldn’t get television set either.


How I’ll tell you about Max. While we’re at the factory, Max was in the factory, he’d been there for a few years. He was doing some assisting as I was. He showed me his poetry and says “How do you like this, this is great, you know.” He was serious about that. And he had a problem. He had a pattern problem. You know, you have to have a design, like when you make coats, shoes, you have to work and things have to fit. And everything was fine except the shoes when they got out at the end, it didn’t fit.

So we had all kinds of experts he brought in, and couldn’t make it fit. Whatever they did, whoever… we brought a guy from New York to figure what was wrong with this, and still it wouldn’t fit. And we were getting so it was a big important shoe at the time. So we decided, well I guess we better throw it out.

Max says, No, don’t throw it out. He says, maybe I can help. Good, what you gonna do? And you wouldn’t believe… he said he’s going to write a kvittel. A kvittel is a little note you have if you got a serious problem in life, like emotional things, like anything. And you write your problem and you fold it up, and then you find some holy place, preferably in the cracks of the holy wall, in the sacred wall. In the crack you stick it in there. And somehow miraculously the answer would come back. So he’s going to write a kvittel, and he’s going to take it to the Grand Rabbi Korff at that time, that’s before he got married.

I don’t think they went along with this.


Her name (my mother) when she came over was Sophie, but she liked Sonya. Before she married Nathan her last name was Dorson. Oh, I got a story for you!

When poor Russkies come over here, you know there they’re used to seven people in an apartment, but here the people who came over with no money… and he didn’t have any money, nobody had any money… it was customary to find somebody who had a couple of rooms and rent a room from somebody. So my father, he wound up in Lynn, and he rented a room from my mother, who was married to somebody else, a man called Phillip Schorr. And after about a year and a half he [Nathan] ran off with the landlady. How do you like that?

She was from Gorodnov, Russia. That would be Byelorussia. And my father got involved with the landlady and they ran off. That was unheard of in those days. So then she got divorced from Schorr and married my father. Must have been a great scandal.

Let’s see… I was born in 1914, (so she had to be married at least a couple of years before that, before they made me.

Nathan wasn’t here long before that. He was born on 10/28/88, and I was probably propagated about 1912. So maybe he came over in 1910 or so. Sonya was a little older.

He died 8/15/67. His father’s name was Pesach and his mother was Annie Schwartz. And my mother was born 5/25/88. She died 9/18/69. My mother’s sisters always said she’s a liar, she was born before that, she was older than that.

When my father came over, I was born in San Antonio, Texas. Maybe they ran that far from the scandal. He went there and he was in the fruit business. Fruit business undoubtedly meant he had a stand and he had a horse and buggy and they went around selling fruit. I don’t remember San Antonio at all. We left there early.

My father was not the only one to come over. Sam came over first, and maybe Morris was next. They (Morris) had a place in Bellows Falls, Vermont. That was a junk business. He used to collect from the junkies. I remember going to visit there once and they had a big barn full of funny papers. And then my father came here, from Texas directly I guess.

Benny was born five years later in Lynn. My father went there to start working in the shoe factory, trying to merchandize and get the shoe business going.

E: What was he like, your Dad?

He was no gay lothario. He was not a very gregarious fellow… more gregarious than Sam. He used to travel around the country selling the shoes. But he was sort of shy and not interested in music and poetry… my mother was, he wasn’t. My mother was a very brilliant woman. She knew that I was going to run the world. She thought I was an angel.


She was quiet.

P: She was a slave. I mean I remember her when I had a hernia operation… I know she was sick at that time… I know she walked from County Road to Fremont Avenue, up the hill, and she brought me ice cream. I had to be like five years old or something like that. That’s the way I remember her.


Date: January, 1991

Interviewer: Judy Shapiro


My role in World War Two was very simple: I’m responsible for winning World War Two. I was very eager to get into the war. I enlisted the morning I heard of Pearl Harbor. I was one of the first in line and I immediately flunked the physical test. They said my eyes weren’t good enough. But I was in a heroic mode; I wanted to be the new Richard the Lionhearted. I found somebody who was a cousin of the secretary to the Speaker of the House. He says come on, we’ll go to Washington, we’ll drive down there and he’ll get you into the army. So we took a car and drove to Washington and we spoke to the secretary of the Speaker of the House. He says “Don’t worry, I’ll fix it up.” He went in to see the Speaker, came back in about a half hour with a card and a note to some naval captain who was in charge of enlistments in the army in Richmond, Virginia. So we then go to Richmond, Virginia. I gave this naval captain the card and he says “Come on with me.” We spent a couple minutes talking and he took me to the eye chart. He says, “You flunked the eye chart? Let’s do the rest over again.” And he gave me the tallest number. He says, “What is that?” I says, “It’s a ‘C’.” He ways, “You’re in the army.” I went down to look at it and it was ‘D’.

I drove the car down to Fort Lee and now I’m in the army. They put me in with a group of about forty or fifty people in a huge barricade, all sleeping together in tents. I thought, “This is America. I’m a great democrat. We’re all together and we’re going to kill Hitler.” The next morning they lined us up and gave us uniforms and some rough Sargeant says, “All youse fellows with college degrees, three steps forward.” So I went one, two, three steps forward. There’s about eight of us and he says, “Permanent kitchen police.” So I had a job in the kitchen.

We had too many people in the army at that time and not enough guns. So part of the day we’d walk around with broomsticks. One-two, hip- two-three-four, and the rest of the time I’m a kitchen police and I’m leaning next to a huge frigidaire with a rag. The frigidaire has three silver spots on it and I’m leaning over, polishing those three silver spots. After a month of this heroic service they packed us up into huge trucks and the word got around, “Now we’re going overseas.” But they moved us to another camp, went through the same routine.

A sarge in charge of the barracks knocks on my bed one night. He says, “I hear you got a car.” I said, “Yeah, I got a car.” “Come on.” “Where we going’?” He says, “Just come.” He took me out – you have a pass to pass through the gates, but I’m with a sarge – and we went to a booze place. I nurse one beer for two hours while he’s getting dead drunk. At about one in the morning I take him back. Every night now I’m taking this drunk out. I didn’t see how there’s any direct connection to my killing Hitler and running with this drunk. Finally he says “They’re all being shipped out in the next week or so, but I fixed it up for you, you’re gonna be a permanent kitchen police here.” “I don’t want to be kitchen police.” “Well,” he says, “You can also work on this permit through the war. I’ll enlist you into the baking school, you’ll learn to be a baker, you’ll spend your life safe as a baker her.” “I don’t want to be safe as a baker, I want to go kill Hitler.” So anyway I had a fight with him, I didn’t take him out boozing anymore and they shipped us off.

Now we went to a third place and here we had some guns and we’re learning a little about shooting after three months. Then a test came out, who wants to enlist into the Air Corps? So I went into the Air Corps and the idiots let me in, didn’t know I couldn’t see a damn thing. I’m training in a machine that’s supposed to be like all the instruments of a plane. And I’m learning how to go forward and backwards and to tilt the wings, and finally I’m ready to go into a regular plane. I start in a small Piper Cub, a training cub, and I’m in the front dual controls and the experienced person is in the back. We’re learning how to make the plane go left and right and up and down, and after about four or five days I take control in the front and he’s there just in case I have trouble. Finally they find out that I haven’t had an eye test. It’s a special kind of an eye test. They put you in a room with a long table with two parallel cords with two planes, one on one cord and one on the other. And they tell you adjust both the planes to be on the fifty-yard line, on the twenty-yard line. I couldn’t come within fifty yards. I immediately got kicked out of the Air Corps.

Well, where would you like to go? I says, I want to go back into the infantry; I want to kill Hitler. But they recommend I go to Air Intelligence School. I says, that sounds good. So I became an Air Intelligence Officer – eyesight wasn’t very important to be intelligent.

Now I’m finally ready to go overseas. Now I’ll get my chance to kill Hitler. And about four or five days before I’m supposed to check out I get a telephone call, a message. Somebody says, “Your father wants you to call.” I call him back and he says he has a feeling I’m going overseas, he wants to see me before I go. So I says “Come on down.” He came down, but a little late, we were already in the trucks to go. I’m in the truck and I see my father, he’s sitting there and I’m waving and he’s crying. I think it’s the first time in my life I ever saw my father cry.

They took us overnight to Massachusetts and we’re going up the gangplanks of the ship that was taking us overseas. I got halfway up and I stopped and turned around. Te fellows behind me say “Come on, move, move.” I’ve got a pistol on the right side and on the left shoulder I have an officer’s carbine. I turned around and I had a feeling, “Don’t worry, America, now I’m going to kill Hitler, now I’ll take charge.” It was a great feeling.

Nobody knows where we’re going. That is we’re not supposed to know, but everybody knows we’re going to England. We get somewhere off the coast of Newfoundland, and we are forty or fifty ships in an armada, and a few ships patrolling, helping us out. All of a sudden we get the alarm in the middle of the night. Everybody runs up and puts on our safety belts. The reports are out there’s U-Boats all around us. A big bang and the ship about a hundred and fifty feet in front of us, explodes. Another bang and the ship behind explodes. We’re OK. We didn’t get killed that day but they destroyed forty percent of the ships. Now we’re an armada that’s hopeless. We didn’t have enough naval escorts. So we turned around and went back into St. Johns, Newfoundland. We waited there for three or four weeks until we can assemble a couple British ships, a couple Canadian, a couple more American ships.

At that time I got a call they are looking for an Air Intelligence Officer at some place called APO 865 in Newfoundland. And before I know I’m in Gander, Newfoundland. Gander was used as an intelligence corps. And anti-submarine flights patrolled out of there. Also we didn’t have airplanes that could go from the United States in one flight. They used to land in Newfoundland or Labrador to refuel, and then they’d make another flight to Greenland, another to Iceland and finally they’d get to England that way.

So I was an Air Intelligence Officer doing anti-submarine patrol for five or six months. And then I was shipped out to Greenland doing the same work. There was a lot of U-Boat activity. Night after night, day after day I’m doing that and it seems to me I’m getting far away from shooting Hitler personally, which I really wanted to do. I was young in those days. And it was kind of boring. I didn’t do anything – I’d just tell them “Go here, go there. What did you see, what did you do?” and lay out charts and maps and assess the damage that had been done. Then I started flying on patrols myself, looking around. You look down and what you see is a shadow of a big U-Boat, but often it wasn’t a U-Boat, it was a whale.

In Greenland we had a report that a Nazi U-Boat had landed further up the east coast and it looks like they’re out to destroy a weather station. Well, the colonel called me, he says the man in charge of the military police broke his leg playing basketball, so you take a group and go up and round up those fellows. So we went in some heated sleds that were mechanized, went two days and finally came across these poor guys. We saw about a dozen people half-frozen, running out of fuel, they were delighted to see us. Our first catch. It was not exactly like killing Hitler, but it was something anyway.

Also in Greenland we were shot down once. I was on one of these patrols. We saw a ship, and there was friendly signals. A ship would come, you would challenge them with radio. Every six hours the code would change. If they’re friend they know the answer. We challenged them and didn’t get a response. Again, still no response. Well, there’s a possibility that the radios are out of order, so we have a second signal where we shoot lights at them. One long yellow light, two red flashes, a long green in response. No answer to that, too. A second time we give them the light challenge. All of a sudden the sides of the boat open up, guns come out. It was called a Cuba, they were fake merchant ships. He shot the hell out of us. He killed the pilot and one other person, wounded two others and shot off the landing gear. I wasn’t hurt. The co-pilot got us back and they prepared for a crash landing; trucks covered the runway with a slippery substance and it softens the blow. In the landing one other person got hurt and I got something hurt on the knee but I don’t know what it was. We landed and I stepped on the top rung and fell off the plane. Falling off the plane I broke an Achilles tendon. Now a serious question arises: did I get hurt in the crash, or by the firing, or was it just negligence on my part? That determines whether I got a Purple Heart.

While they’re making their mind up I got transferred to North Africa. And then I’m back in England. I finally did get a Purple Heart, but I still haven’t killed Hitler personally.


While I was still in Gander the USO troupe came through. The USO Troupe went around to all the camps as close to the battlefield as they could get, to entertain the forces and keep their morale up. It was a company of three, sometimes four. They’d have a master of ceremonies who also told jokes. Then they’d have an acrobatic dancer, and somebody sang. But sometimes they thought that’s not enough, and so they’d send a legitimate drama called “Personal Appearance” and make a big fuss about it. Part of the job of the provo marshall was to meet all the VIP planes and introduce them around. I was acting provo marshall, so I met the plane, and out comes one gorgeous girl. And that was Blanche. She put the play on there for a few days and I spend quite a bit of time with her. Then she left and she says, “I’ll write you.” And that was the last I heard from her.

When the war was coming to a close and I’d been all over – I was in North Africa at the time doing anti-submarine patrol – I got new orders to report back to the United States. I got on the plane with a couple hundred people, and it turns out we’re all supposed to report back to Harvard University, Cambridge, to the Harvard Business School. They decided the European war was almost over, they figured Japan would be another six months or a year, and they were facing a serious economic problem. All the factories are full of planes and tanks, equipment they needed to win the war. But they’re not going to need all these planes and tanks now. What they’re going to need is commercial work done. They wanted to clear out the factories of stuff that won’t be needed after the war is over and go back to a civilian economy. So we were there for three or four months learning how to terminate Air Force contracts, and what to do with the plants themselves, what to do with all the equipment so that you could go back to civilian contracts.

We were there four months, and when I got through I had a choice to go to San Francisco or New York, Chicago or Dallas. My first choice, San Francisco, I couldn’t get. But the second choice, New York, I got. So I wound up in an office off Wall Street terminating Air Force contracts. I was living with a roommate, another officer – I think I was a Captain at that time – off 82nd Street, corner of Madison Avenue. And I got a letter. I looked at the back, it had been written to me three years ago and it had followed me around all of the places I went in the world and finally reaches New York. And she has a New York address, in Manhattan, East 37th Street. So I checked – yes, she was there but she was out of the town for a few days. I left her a note. She came back and she called me. She was an actress, in a play for about four or five months up on Broadway.

I saw a lot of her there. I figure it’s safe, I wasn’t going to marry her because she was a gentile. I’m not a very pious Jew, but I wasn’t going to get that involved with a gentile. Finally I found out her name wasn’t Blanche Faye, she’d changed from Friedman, because Faye would be a better stage name. And we did get involved and we got married shortly after the war was over.

I put away my uniform and I had no place to live. I came from Lynn at the time and I couldn’t find any houses to buy or apartments. So we lived with my folks for about a year and a half until a friend of mine, his father built an apartment house in Brookline. We got an apartment and started to raise a family. There isn’t much theatre here, but Blanche did some plays at the Brattle Teatre in Cambridge until they closed it down and we began to have children. She got used to living off Broadway and went back to school, got a Masters in Theater Education and became a part-time professor at Tufts. It worked well, but she made an irretrievable error. She died.

Blanche told me she had Hodgkin’s disease before we got married. And as far as I knew it was a fatal disease. But when I found out we were too… we were very involved. So I went to see her doctor and he said, “I love Blanche, but you might as well know what you’re getting into. She most likely won’t last more than a year or two. It was not a pleasant business. But I was never able to kill Hitler so I said, “This is good, I’ll be a great help.” The truth of the matter is she never had any trouble with Hodgkin’s.

She died fourteen years later of something totally unrelated. That was the end of my romance. And I never did kill Hitler.


My father came over [from Russia] and he didn’t have any money. He got a job in a shoe factory stitching or something and he learned that he could go into business. Someone else would cut the shoes, he would stitch them together and someone else would sell. So my father and Max’s father, Samuel, and Morris Gass, the three brothers opened up a small factory. My father knew something about it, the others didn’t know anything about it. They did well.

When I got out of college and didn’t exactly know what to do, I was offered two jobs as part-time instructor while I’d go ahead and get a PH.D. One was in economics and one was in Music Appreciation. And that sounded pretty good to me, to be a professor at Harvard. But I found out they got sixty dollars a week. And that didn’t sound so good to me. So I went to work in my father’s factory, Lion Shoe Company. Nathan was the President, and with Samuel and Morris and Abraham Goodman… they rented a huge building, about sixty-thousand feet, one entire floor and half a floor. They made cheap shoes and they made a lot of them and did pretty well.

At that time Max was working for them and had been there a few years. And Sam Gass, Morris’s son had been there for a year. I think I worked there about one year. It was still profitable but it was getting more difficult. The way of making shoes had changed. Instead of stitching the bottoms on, everybody was going to where they cemented the soles on, and the change was kind of difficult for them. In addition Sam had been in trouble with arthritis and hadn’t been there at all for some years. They decided they’d better close the place. They weren’t ready to turn the business over to the younger people. I knew something, I could have paid them out in time or something, but they felt they’d all do it together or none of them, so they closed the factory.

Morris’s son Sam had been out for six months or a year anyway. He went with a couple of the boys and they started a business, Klevbro Shoe Company. They did well too and finally sold the business years later.

I became an outside salesman. Then I started a factory of my own in Lynn a year or so later, called Shelburn shoes. About eight months later the war broke out and then I was very busy killing Hitler, so I sold that factory. We had a gentleman’s agreement that when the war was over the buyer would sell me back half of the business, but when I got out of the war he’d forgotten about that. He’d done very well. So I looked for a job and I became a shoe salesman. I sold shoes for a Lynn/Swampscott man, for many of the factories, and did very well. And then I opened my own business in Lawrence, Mass. I took over a factory that had been going. Finally I was approached by a huge chain and I sold the business to them and signed a contract that I would run that business, the manufacturing end, for five years. After the second or third year they asked me to run all the factories. A whole group of shoe factories I ran, until I retired.


Benny was a hero also. He went into the war and when he got through with school he was a pilot. He went into Air Transport Command and was flying transports all around the world. He told me the exciting part was flying over the hump. We had some forces in Northern India and he flew the hump into southern China. When he got out he married a girl named Mary Jo McElroy, who was a photographer from Des Moines, Iowa. They had a son David. After the war Benny was flying for Northeast Airlines. When the Korean War started Ben and I were both in the reserves. We were both called in and we went together to go into the Korean War. He passed the examination and I got a momentary flunk.


E: Did your father ever speak about his parents?

H: No. All he said was that he had another brother who died of starvation there.

P: Someone said that he had committed suicide. I never heard starvation.


I had one brother, Bernard. Ben was his nickname. He was about five years younger. He was a tall, handsome kid and he was a pilot in World War II. Most of the time he was flying from China to the Indian outback across Asia. He survived that all right and came back here and got married to Mary Jo McElroy. The family promptly went into a catatonic fit. She wasn’t Jewish. She was Scottish. Nice girl. She came from Des Moines, Iowa, and they went out there for a while. Then he came back here and was a pilot here for Northeast Airlines.

Then they were just on the verge of getting divorce because he’d taken up with a girl here, but they didn’t get divorced because he made an irretrievable error. He got killed.

The Korean War came out again and he and I went together to volunteer. And he was accepted and I was temporarily turned down. I had a bursitis and they gave me ninety days for a minor operation. During the ninety days he was training flyers out of Boeing Field in Washington, and I guess one of the kids got crazy or something and crashed, and he got killed. They had something called the Sullivan Law, they will not take the sole surviving son.


She was born 8/13/18, Blanche Freedman, and she died 10/20/63. She was beautiful. She became a professor of English and Dramatics at Tufts. She started out as a dancer and then became an actress.

Her father was from Poland, his name was Sam Freedman. Her mother was born in New York City, Miriam.


A son, 42, Robert Bruce Gass. Born 1948.

Married to Judith Epstein. Boulder, CO. Three kids,

He is a strange fellow. He was a hippy in his early days. He went to Harvard too. He was a revolutionary. 1969. PH.D. at Harvard in psychology. Today he is a guru psychology. People all around the country come and listen to his seminars. When he decided he was going to leave here there were about two or three hundred people here in the back yard, all singing and holding hands. Love is the answer to everything. How to maximize yourself. Now he composes music. Albums, tapes under the name Robbie Gass.

Laurie Beth, 1953.

A social worker specializing in old people. Hollister, MA.

Diane Lee, 1956.

Interested in music. Went to get a degree in piano tuning the support herself. She has her own business. She came down with MS just a few years ago. Arlington, MA.


When I came back from the war I decided to get a job as a shoe salesman. My Uncle Morris told me about a fellow in Malden who needed a salesman. So I got the job but I don’t know how to sell shoes. In Boston they have a place called the Blue Diner and everybody who was anybody went there. So I went to the Blue Diner. They told me “You go there, you’ll meet somebody.” So I go there one guy says, “I sold a thousand cases, fifty-thousand pair.” Big loudmouth. That guy sounds like he knows what he’s talking about so I says, “Listen, I want to talk to you, come upstairs.” So I says, “I just got a job, I’m a salesman. I don’t know where to go. I’ll give you fifty bucks, which is a lot of money to me in those days, to give me a list of places to go.”

“You came to the right guy,” he says, and he gave me a list of every city, the buyers, Baltimore, Washington, everywhere down to Florida, Alabama, New Orleans, Texas, the Coast, St. Louis and back again – about a hundred names.

So I went to pick up a case of samples and I take the bus to Philadelphia. I go to the first guy and I open up my samples. He says “What the hell you doing. See that shoe in the window? This is a men’s factory. You have women’s shoes.” Every name on my list is men’s factories. So the bum stole my fifty dollars.

So I says, can you help me? He says, sure, and gives me the name of five or six buyers who bought women’s shoes. I didn’t sell any shoes there but I got the names in Baltimore. I was getting discouraged, down in Atlanta, Georgia. I hadn’t sold a case of shoes yet but I’d sold a hundred and fifty samples. But you lose money on the samples. They don’t represent orders.

They told me, this guy in Atlanta can give you the business, but he’s tough guy, watch out. I start with the tough guy. And he was a tough guy, but a nice guy too. He opened up. Well, he says, this is not so hot, but you look like a nice guy, let’s go to my house, we’ll do business in the morning. He gave me a nice meal and in the morning ordered forty cases, the first real order I had.

I showed him the list and he says, Don’t waste your time. Skip all this and go right to St. Louis, go to one of these four names. And if they give you any baloney, go back and quit your job, you’re wasting your time.

So I thanked him and I go to St. Louis. So I went to number one guy and got brushed off. I went to number two and you can’t see him without fourteen introductions. Number three looked and looked and I gave him a couple pairs of samples. Then I went to number four. This was a young guy, about forty-five. He opened the bags, he looks, mmmm-huh. “Well, you might be in luck,” he says. “I can’t talk now, it’s five o’clock, leave your bag here. We’ll go to my father’s house.” We ate dinner and he took me to a Knickerbockers game.

He picks me up in the morning, he says, “Listen, you may be in luck. We had a big important source making these kind of shoes and he went broke. I don’t know when he’ll come back and we don’t want to wait. These you got here are no good, but…” He pulls out two shoes. “Can you make these?” Sure we can make them. He sat down and he wrote out an order for thirty-six thousand pair in several colors. “This is a tentative order,” he says. “My assistant will call you at the house over the weekend. You pick him up at the airport and take him to the factory. And if he says your factory can make these shoes, OK. Otherwise he’ll take the order back.” I said OK.

So I didn’t sleep all weekend. I pick up the guy. This was a grumpy guy. He didn’t say a word all the way from the airport to Malden. He looked around, he says, “Well, give me the order.” He cuts the order down to half. “You go ahead and make these he said. If the first half comes in all right, we’ll give you the order for the second. And then you’ll have a real source.”

I took the order to my boss, the guy almost fainted. “My God,” he says, “that’s a big name.”

But now I knew the kind of shoes you could sell Americans. We made those same shoes over, made his two shoes in seven or eight color, went around the country and I sold a gillion cases of them. And the funniest part, when we made the shoes and shipped him the first few hundred cases, they got over to him he cancelled, he said the quality’s no good. But that started me.

I started on a fake and the guy hired me on a fake too. And then I realized, I’m in a fakey business.

I did OK, I should have been a professor.

I stayed there for about three years and the guy went broke. But I got to learn the business. So I got another job as salesman of a large factory. Pretty soon I was running the whole business and I ran three factories for him and made a lot of money in the shoe business. But then my wife passed away and I’ve got three kids, I didn’t want to travel. So I bought a factory in Lawrence and did well there, eventually sold it for a good price, and worked for them as director of the factory.

I started teaching English as a second language several years ago. Teaching Russkies. They don’t pay anything. The oldsters, the pensioners, they don’t have any money. But I like it.