Molly Leavitt

By Latifah

Molly Leavitt and Latifah

1. Where were you born?
I was born in Oakland, California in1919.  I’m 87 years old.  When you’re my age, it’s an accomplishment, you’re proud to say how old you are!

2. Tell me about your family.
I had 3 children—2 daughters and 1 son.  All are married with children and grandchildren of their own.  I have 6 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.  My husband and I were married 58 years.

3.  What was growing up like for you?
Very happy.  I was very lucky.  I had loving parents, an older sister and two brothers.  My folks lived in Berkeley until I was 4, and then bought a place in Alameda.  We used to swim in the bay growing up, and I still swim almost everyday.

When I was 12, I told my mother I wanted to go to San Francisco, but I was too scared.  She said, “What?  Your father and I came all the way from Poland, you speak the language, what it there to be scared of?”  I did make the trip to San Francisco when I was a little older, I took a train from Alameda to Oakland and then took the ferry, there was no Bay Bridge then.

4. What memories stand out for you about the Great Depression?
I was very fortunate.  My father had his own business.  We didn’t feel the effects of it like most families.  My father was in the produce business.  We didn’t have Luckys or Safeway like we have today.  We had milkmen, fish delivery men, and produce men in those days.  They would deliver to people’s homes.  We always had a crate of oranges on our back porch.  Once I had a close friend around Christmas time, who was very excited about her Christmas gift.  I couldn’t imagine what it might be.  She told me that she got an orange for Christmas and I got very quiet.  An orange was a luxury in those days.

5. Tell me where you were and what you did during World War II?
I had 3 children then.  One was born in 1942, another one in 1944, and the third in 1947.  I was a busy mom in those days!

How did your life change when the war ended?
My husband Sam wasn’t in the service; he worked at the naval airbase in Alameda.  He worked there 6 years and they let him go around 1946.  His mother and father lived in Vallejo and asked us to move closer to them to help take care of them.  A house came available a few houses down from his parents and they made the down payment, so we moved to Vallejo.  We have lived in Vallejo 60 years in the same house!

6. Your most vivid memories of:
• Vietnam War – My son was at an age where he would have been involved in going to Vietnam, but at that time he was at UC Davis studying Political Science and joined the National Guard instead.  He had very strong opinions about the war, he did not believe in it.
• The first moon walk – It was unbelievable!  We sat and watched it.  My mom had come for a visit, and I said to my mom, “What do you think about that mom?”  She said, “It’s all make believe!”  My mother just couldn’t accept that it was real.  I said, “No, they really put a man on the moon!”  My mother wasn’t convinced.
• Assassination of JFK – That was a terrible thing.  I was at work and everyone was crying.  Everyone remembers where they were.  Everything was so bizarre then, famous politicians getting shot, and my friend said it was like living in a Banana Republic.  The killing of Martin Luther King, Jr., and I remember Robert Kennedy was shot around that time.
• Women’s rights?
In the mid 1960s, I went to buy a new car at a dealer in Vallejo.  I wanted to buy a 1966 2-door blue Plymouth, the first new car I ever would own.  The salesman said he needed my husband’s signature.  Women weren’t allowed to buy a car on their own, in spite of the fact I had a career and was very well paid.

7. What do you think has been the most important invention of the last hundred years? Why?
The automobile!  Or electricity!  Without electricity, we wouldn’t have phones. [Without new inventions] we’d be in caves!

8. If you could pass on any advice about life to the newest generation of your family, based on your experiences, what would it be?
Don’t sweat it.  Don’t worry about things out of your control.  I was a terrible worrier.  It doesn’t help.  Life is too short.  You really have to have a good attitude.

9.  What major life event did you experience that changed you?
Going to work. My husband was really thoughtful. When I went to work the butchers were really roughnecks. I had a father like my husband, really gentle.  The butchers would tease me, because I was quiet and shy, not sassy and quick with comebacks.

Around 1959-1960 my husband got really ill. So I had to go around to get a job. My friend was a meat wrapper and said, “If you become a meat wrapper, you won’t have to worry about your livelihood.”  It was difficult to get a job, because you had to join the meat workers union.  It was difficult to join the union unless you had a relative working there.  One day during vacation time, a meat counter was short-staffed, so the manager said, “Put on an apron and get back here and work.”  I put on an apron and helped out.  A union man came by, and said, hey, you’re not in our union, you can’t work here!  I said, well I want to join the union, and I am working here today.  I joined later that day, I went and paid my dues.  So I was a working lady ‘til 1982. Meat wrappers made more than teachers in the 60s and 70s because of the union.  For many years, from the early 20th century to the late 20th century, the butchers union was really strong.  I retired in 1982.  I’ve been retired 25 years now.  We had a wonderful retirement even though he had tedious health, he still was a good companion. We traveled the world in retirement. We took many trips, we enjoyed a lot of trips, even though my husband had health problems, he was still a good companion. We took a spur of the moment trip to Japan.  I saw a sign that said “round trip 500 dollars to Japan.”  I said, “That sounds good, let’s go.”  People tried to talk us out of it, saying it was an expensive country.  They said we’d be back in 3 days.  We stayed there 27 days.  Once we couldn’t find our way back to the hotel and we asked a nice Japanese businessman for directions.  We told him, “We’re so lucky you speak English so well.”  He said, “I live in Los Angeles!”  We went to Hong Kong on a cruise; we also went to Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore.  We learned where to stay, places such as budget motels and youth hostels, and our son called us “you hippies!”  We took a lot of trips through Elderhostel for over 20 years and we really enjoyed it.  We went to places like the Albuquerque Balloon Festival and other events around the US.  We traveled abroad all over Asia and Europe, to Israel twice and parts of Canada.

Return to the Greatest Generation Project Page