About the Author
Shirley Jones is an American singer and actress of stage, film, and television. In her six decades of show business, she has starred in Oklahoma! (1955), Carousel (1956), and The Music Man (1962). She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for playing a vengeful prostitute in Elmer Gantry (1960).
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Shirley Jones ONE
A Beautiful Morning
Although I was named Shirley after the saccharine child star Shirley Temple, I’ve always been far more full of spice than of sugar.
As a baby, instead of cooing away softly and then serenely sleeping all day in my crib, I screamed and screamed at the top of my voice until I got attention. My favorite pastime was chewing on my crib because I seemed to like the taste of varnish so much. I chewed so hard, and with such great determination, that chew marks were left all over the wooden rails of my crib.
I was sturdy, adventurous, and unafraid. When I was four years old, and playing in the family-owned Jones brewery, my grandfather promised me jelly beans if I drank some beer. I jumped at the opportunity, tried the beer, and hated it.
But I loved the brewery, and everything about it, primarily because it was my haven, my second home. My father, Paul Jones, and his brothers ran the Smithton, Pennsylvania, brewery, and from the time when I was three years old and we moved from Charleroi, Pennsylvania, where I was born, I spent much of my childhood there, playing hide-and-seek among the beer vats and the ice lockers, while my father’s employees all held their breath, terrified that I would accidentally lock myself in a freezer and emerge as a pint-size ice sculpture!
The Jones Brewing Company employed at least half of Smithton (population only 800), and it was started by my grandfather William B. Jones, who hailed from Wales. He immigrated to Pennsylvania, became a coal miner, worked himself to the bone, and saved enough money to buy a corner building in the little town of Smithton, a Norman Rockwell painting in living color. Then he converted that building into a small hotel with six rooms and called it the Jones Hotel. He was the bartender, and my grandmother Lulu did everything else necessary to make the hotel run smoothly.
The official story, the one that I grew up knowing by heart, was that the hotel was so successful my grandfather bought a building on a beautiful site on the Youghiogheny River, which flowed through Smithton, joined the Monongahela River, and then ran right into Pittsburgh, twenty-one miles away. In 1907, in that riverside building, he founded the Jones Brewing Company.
The unofficial story, one that I heard years later, was that William B. Jones, my grandfather, actually won the brewery in a poker game! According to that tale, the brewery had originally been based in Sutersville, Pennsylvania, and manufactured Eureka beer. After my grandfather won the brewery in 1907, he renamed it the Jones Brewing Company and moved it to Smithton.
Whatever the truth, I’m sure of one thing, the origin of the name of Jones brewery’s most beloved beer. According to family lore, one of my grandfather’s earliest customers was an African-American man who regularly visited the brewery along with his bulldog, Stoney.
My grandfather grew to love that dog so much that after the dog died, he declared, “From now on, my name is Stoney Jones.” And he named the beer he brewed Stoney’s beer after the dog he loved so much.
Since then, the Jones Brewing Company, Stoney’s beer, and Stoney’s Light beer have been featured in the movie Striking Distance, starring Bruce Willis, and in the TV shows Northern Exposure and My Name Is Earl.
Although I never knew my grandfather well, I inherited his love of animals and, as a child, raised mice, birds, squirrels, and had no fear of snakes or spiders. No fear whatsoever. In fact, my biggest ambition was to become a vet and look after animals of all types and sizes. Then, fate took a hand and I became something quite different.
My grandfather died of diabetes aged only fifty-six, after having his leg amputated, rumor had it, because he drank too much beer. Sometime before he died, he tried to reverse his diabetes by instructing that Stoney’s beer be manufactured without sugar. Sadly, that didn’t help, and he died anyway. Nonetheless, even today, Stoney’s beer is still manufactured without sugar or preservatives.
After my grandfather’s untimely death, my formidable grandmother Lulu inherited the Jones brewery, and my father and his brothers ran it for her.
Despite his responsibilities, my father was a relaxed, generous, and happy man, with a heart of gold. From the first, he was the love of my life. When I was in the crib and screamed until it felt as if my lungs would burst, he would immediately rush into my nursery at top speed, lift me high in his strong, muscular arms, then place me on his barrel chest, whereupon I would promptly fall into a deep, contented sleep.
In contrast, my mother never came to my rescue when I screamed. She just let me go on screaming and screaming. She was much too busy running our home, or entertaining guests. But while my father was always the life and soul of the party, my mother was not.
Her name was Marjorie, and she was born Williams, of English descent. Her father was a telephone lineman, she had two sisters, and when she met my father, she fell in love with him at first sight.
That love was to last a lifetime, but from as far back as I can remember, my mother continually appeared to be suffering from a deep and abiding disappointment. As I grew older and got to know my mother better, it became eminently clear to me that when she married my father, of the Jones Brewing Company, she had expected far more out of life and, forever afterward, desperately longed to get out of Smithton and move into the big city.
But despite my mother’s unfulfilled expectations, she loved my father unconditionally and adored him unreservedly. I never saw her fight with him, and even though he sometimes came home drunk, I never saw her get angry with him. Drunk as he was, she would undress him, get him ready for bed, and take care of him without a word of complaint. Looking back through the years, I realize that because from the time when I was a small child I watched my mother display such love and tolerance toward my father, her example unconsciously formed my own attitude toward men, in general, and to my first and second husbands, in particular.
My father was away from home a great deal, traveling from Pittsburgh-area saloon to saloon, selling Stoney’s beer. Now and again, to my joy and excitement, he would scoop me up and take me with him on his travels. Together, we would drive through the countryside in his gray Chevy, talking away, drinking in the beauty of the Pennsylvania countryside.
Our route always took us over one particular bridge across the Youghiogheny River, through farmland where cattle and horses peacefully grazed. My father would invariably stop the car and just sit there, gazing at the animals. “They are so beautiful, Shirley,” he would say, “so beautiful.” Witnessing my father’s deep reverence for animals and for nature bequeathed to me an enduring love for animals and nature, as well.
Once we arrived at a saloon, he would sell cases of Stoney’s beer to the saloon owner, then go up to the bar, put up a sign, BUY STONEY’S BEER, and place beers for everyone at the bar, while I played on the pinball machine to my heart’s content.
I couldn’t help noticing that wherever we went, women were all over my father. He was such a handsome man. Years later, I once asked him if he had ever cheated on my mother, and he smiled and said, “I just played at it. I patted a few asses now and again, but I didn’t do more than that.” And I believed him.
He was kind and loving, perhaps because he was the youngest son and had grown up very loved by his mother, Lulu, my grandmother.
After my grandfather died, my grandmother became the matriarch of the family. My mother and father and I lived with her in a fourteen-room brick house on the corner of Second Street in Smithton. The house had a huge front porch, which ran half the length of the street and looked warm and welcoming.
My mother and father and I had seven rooms in the house, my grandmother had the rest, and a door led between my grandmother’s kitchen and ours. Every morning, I would wake up and run to have tea and toast with my grandma in her kitchen.
She was the boss lady who owned the brewery, handed out paychecks, and gave a big Christmas party every year for her family and employees at Sweeney’s Restaurant and Lounge on Route 51 in Belle Vernon. She was a great role model, a tough lady who had to fight to stay on top in a man’s world.
My world, in contrast, was safe and secure. As an only child, I had my own room, with my own little desk in one corner, a blackboard in another, and all the toys I wanted. I had a tricycle I loved, every paper doll known to man, and countless real dolls.
I adored my dolls, one in particular named Carol, who had a huge china head, big blue eyes, and a body bigger than the average baby’s. She was so startlingly lifelike that one time I even dressed her in the hat and dress that my mother took me home from the hospital in and painted her nails. Now that same doll belongs to my granddaughter Megan, my youngest son Ryan’s child, and she loves Carol as much as I did all those decades ago.
Smithton was a classic all-American small town, like River City in The Music Man, made up of only four streets, and my childhood there was idyllic. The biggest house in the town belonged to Dr. Post and stood on top of the hill at the end of Fourth Street.
All us kids always looked up at Dr. Post’s house—a country-style home with white shutters, a lot of land, and a big fence around it—and dreamed of one day living in such an imposing and impressive mansion ourselves.
Meanwhile, as we all waited to grow up, we relished our childhood in Smithton. Our world was small, self-contained, innocent, and ideal. Smithton was so tiny that the town had no policemen, only a sheriff, and there was just one movie theater, the Smithton Movie House, which played movies only on the weekend.
Smithton boasted just one grocery store, a drugstore, and a little variety store, which sold toys and clothes and candy. When I was six, overcome by an uncharacteristic surge of greed, I grabbed a stick of bubble gum from the store, slipped it into my pocket, and skipped home with it. When my mother saw me open the bubble-gum packet, she asked where I got the money to buy bubble gum for myself, and I confessed that I had just snatched it from the store. Outraged, she immediately insisted that I return it to the store right away. So I trudged over there, declared to the shocked owner, “I took your bubble gum,” and threw it right back at him.
Afterward, my mother sent me up to my room in disgrace and told me to stay there until she gave me permission to come out. So I stomped upstairs into my bedroom, slammed the door, then tore the linens off the bed, the drapes off the windows, swept everything off the dresser, and dragged it all out into the middle of the room.
When my mother eventually came upstairs and yelled through the door that I could come out now, I yelled back defiantly, “Why don’t you come in and look at my room?”
She did, drank in all the chaos I had created, and ordered me to put everything back in its place again. Naturally, I couldn’t do that on my own, so I got one of my friends to help me instead. I didn’t feel guilty about what I had done, either. I was already a little hell-raiser, and proud of it.
Another quintessential story from my childhood as Shirley, the precocious little rebel: When I was five years old, my mother took me to the dentist. After examining my teeth, the dentist announced that I had to have a tooth pulled.
I shook my head and stamped my feet, but to no avail. An appointment was made for the dreaded extraction of my errant tooth.
When the morning of the appointment dawned, my mother and father accompanied me to the dentist, along with my favorite aunt, my mother’s sister, Aunt Ina.
In the car, I kept yelling that I wasn’t going to have my tooth pulled, no way, no how.
My mother, to her credit, was kind and patient and kept reassuring me, “Now, sweetheart, it’s not going to hurt. Your aunt Ina’s here, your daddy’s here, I’m here. Everything is going to be all right.”
I should have believed her, but being the child that I was, by the time we all climbed to the top of the stairs in the dentist’s building and stood outside his office door, I plainly did not. So I pulled away from my family and ran downstairs again.
All of them, my mother, my father, and Aunt Ina stood at the top of the stairs, begging me to come back.
I just kept shaking my head and stayed put at the bottom of the stairs, and out of reach.
Then Aunt Ina hit on a winning formula: “Listen, sweetheart, if you come up the stairs again, I’ll buy you a pony.”
Won over by her promise, I looked at my mother first, then at my father, and both of them nodded encouragingly.
“Come up, sweetheart, I’ll hold your hand and nothing’s going to hurt you, I promise,” Aunt Ina said.
Mollified, I ran upstairs, and my mother, my father, and Aunt Ina, all grabbed me and put me in the dentist’s chair. Within moments, the dentist had injected me with anesthetic, then yanked out my tooth.
“But where’s my pony? Where’s my pony?” I cried, when I woke up.
I looked questioningly at my mother, my father, and Aunt Ina. None of them met my gaze.
The dentist exchanged glances with my father, then shrugged.
The writing was on the wall.
I stuck my face straight into the dentist’s and yelled, “I’m not getting a pony. And you’re a big shit!”
I don’t know where or how I learned that particular word, but I was on the right track, really. Because over the next few months, however often I asked my mother, my father, or Aunt Ina where my pony was, however much I begged and cajoled, I always got the same answer: “It’s coming soon.”
Not surprisingly, my pony never did materialize, and I was angry with Aunt Ina, with my parents, and with the dentist. They had all lied to me, and I didn’t like it at all. Which is probably partly why I became even more of a rebel. The other reason, I guess, was that I was just born that way.
I was willful, stubborn, and determined to do exactly what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. I was unable to follow rules, or to act in the way in which a well-bred young lady was supposed to act. From as far back as I can remember, everyone who knew me agreed that I was already my own person.
The dentist incident caused me to loose trust in adults, but I think yet another reason for my tendency to rebel at every turn and to be a tomboy so early on was because I knew that my father had always wanted a son, and because I loved him so much, I wanted to please him.
So I yearned to be a boy and to do everything that boys did, only better. I refused to wear dresses and did whatever I could to prove that I was as tough as any boy and could do exactly the same things as boys could, only better.
After my father taught me sports and took me to all the Pirates games, I became a great baseball and softball and basketball player and, down the line, became head majorette in high school.
My father was delighted by my sporting prowess and made sure that I knew it, praising me at every turn. My mother, however, was not amused that I wasn’t evolving into a nice, well-brought-up, little Shirley Temple–type young lady...
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