An Active Life
Nonagenarian Shares The Stories Of Her Experiences
With the assistance of a mid-wife, Mary Hedin’s mother delivered her in their apartment above a bakery on the corner of Masten Avenue and Laurel Street in Buffalo on May 24, 1926. Her father assisted by cutting the umbilical cord. Sadly, Hedin’s mother died when the little girl was just three years old and the toddler spent the next six years living with various friends and family members. A second tragedy struck the family a year after they lost Hedin’s mother when her 14 year old brother, Arthur, died.
When Hedin was nine years old, she went to live with her father on Buffalo’s Humber Avenue after he remarried. She attended School No. 23. For three consecutive summers, until she was old enough to be left alone, her father would drive her 300 miles to her step-mother’s parents’ farm in Cloyne, Ontario and returned to retrieve her just before school started in September. She remembered riding to town in a horse-drawn buggy over the dirt streets of Cloyne. She also remembered spending a lot of time playing in the grandparents’ basement with two doll houses and she pretended the tin house was the summer house. A Coca Cola doll was one of her beloved toys.
She attended Kensington High School where she hiked and played volleyball and basketball.
“I got my letter “K” for Kensington,” she said but admitted she never saw it again after she gave it to a boyfriend who lost the coveted letter.
A well-known actress, Dorothy Lamour, stopped by the high school to promote the sale of War Bonds.
After Hedin acquired her working papers at age 16, she soon learned that more isn’t always better. She took a job at Kresge’s 5 and 10 in downtown Buffalo for 33 cents per hour, rather than one in her own neighborhood that paid three cents less, but spent the extra money on transportation. She told about stores allowing customers to listen to 78 RPM records before making the decision of which ones to buy them.
The young woman graduated from high school in 1944. Even though she wanted to go to college to become a teacher, her father would not permit it, saying “girls go to college and then they get married.”
She took a job at Ellicott Drug Company where she was the order clerk and biller. Her weekly gross pay was $20.
On Saturdays she often went to a theater on Grider Street to watch serials and cliffhangers for five cents. Up and coming big bands performed 30 minutes or more before and after the movies she saw at Shea’s Buffalo. There was no extra charge to listen to the bands, which included Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller and Vaughn Monroe. She had records signed by some of these band leaders.
“That’s how they got started,” she explained.
She loved to roller skate and was a member of Rhythm Rollers Skating Club. After skating she went with friends to an ice cream parlor where they ate ice cream and played the juke box. During WWII it was not uncommon for young ladies to go to dance halls to dance with members of the armed forces. The girls usually stood in a row and the guys would pay 10 cents per ticket to dance with them.
“The nylons were rationed, too. If you got a run in them, you sewed them up,” said Hedin.
She told about the silky stockings having a seam and the challenge of getting it straight on the back of the leg. In the same conversation she mentioned that women wore hats and white gloves to church. Another brief style was to twist a wet, full, cotton skirt around a pole creating a pleated skirt when it dried.
She met a young man from Jamestown named Nels Hedin, who was training to be a sales representative, at Ellicott Drug Company. Nels had worked at Helgren’s Drug Store at Winsor and East Second Street when he was a teen. While he was serving his country, his former boss and owner of Helgren’s became CEO of Ellicott Drug Company.
“Nels was going to go to Alfred to become a dentist but his boss told him to come to work for him at Ellicott Drug because becoming a dentist takes too long,” said the nonagenarian.
The trainee invited her to go on a date to a roller rink. After he had learned about the products and his training was completed, Nels returned to Jamestown to begin his new career. His boss gave Hedin a ride to Jamestown when he would drive down to his cottage on Chautauqua Lake every other weekend. She returned to Buffalo by bus on Sunday evening. Nels went to Buffalo to see his girl the opposite weekends. They skated at Midway Park in Maple Springs and Evans Skateland in Celeron.
The young couple married on Oct. 11, 1947. The bride still has the scrapbook she put together which contains every greeting card and gift card from the wedding. It also includes the menu from The Latin Quarter where they ordered steak dinners for seven dollars while visiting New York City as part of their honeymoon. Atlantic City, Gettysburg and Washington, D.C. were other stops made on the week long trip. She also has a photo album she started while she was a teenager.
The newlyweds resided in an apartment on Jamestown’s Arnold Street, before buying a house at 46 Gifford St. in Lakewood in 1948 where they lived for over 50 years. For 25 years Nels worked as a part-time Village of Lakewood police officer. After he retired from the pharmaceutical company, he worked for Chautauqua County Family Court.
Hedin subbed in the cafeteria at Southwestern Middle School before landing a job in the school’s library, which she did for five years, and after she worked in the library at Jamestown Community College for 26 years. She retired when she was 71 years old. She said, “I watched my retired neighbors and decided ‘that’s not for me.'”
“So, I got my teaching that way,” she said with a smile.
She was a Gray Lady at the former Jamestown General Hospital and belonged to Lakewood-Busti Senior Citizens. The couple attended Gloria Dei Lutheran Church where Hedin taught Sunday School on and off for 30 years.
They traveled to Sweden to visit Bergsjo where Nels was born and lived until he came to the U.S. when he was two and a half years old.
“I loved to knit by hand and with a knitting machine and made 100 hats each year for school children. I had a weaving machine and wove placemats and rugs,” she told. “I used to love to do crafts, sew and read but with macular degeneration I’ve had to stop reading and now get digital books from Albany through the Blind Association and the machine to play them on.”
Nels died in 2001. The couple has three sons: Paul, Jeffrey and Neil. Paul lives in Jamestown and is an architect who worked on the National Comedy Center and many other buildings in the area, including Hultquist Place where Hedin resides. Jeffrey is a retired Lutheran minister who lives in Pittsford. Neil is a chiropractor whose office is in Falconer. Hedin has 8 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren with another one on the way.