On October 13th, 2013, we sat down with Janell at her home in Pleasant Hill, Tennessee to begin our oral history interview. We started with Janell’s early life, growing up in Boyertown, Pennsylvania. In this audio clip you’ll hear Janell describing her family, her parents occupation, hard times they went through, and an early memory of her church.
This clip has been slightly edited from the original interview for clarity and theme. A transcript of this clip can be found below. And a full transcript of our interview with Janell can be found here [forthcoming].
Janell Landis: I was born in Boyertown, Pennsylvania. Actually a little village next to Boyertown, but I don’t remember (laughs). But uh, I grew up in Boyertown. It’s about forty miles north of Philly. Had my high school, all of my education up through high school in Boyertown. Anything else?
Malina Suity [1:05]: Tell us a little bit about your family.
Janell: Well, at that time my father, mother had one daughter, my sister Loah. And I was the second child. They were living in a very nice double home. It was the nicest home we had in all my life. And I remember coming home–I guess we lived there until I was maybe three or four or five, yeah cause, before kindergarten. I remember coming home and we went in the back door and there was a foreclosure sign that we lost the house. Then we moved to another place which still had indoor plumbing and we lived there about two years or so. I think we found a place in an apartment behind a grocery store and it was ten dollars a month rent (laughs). And of course my father was employed by the government. Worked on the WPA for some time.
And um, I had a very good childhood. Seven years later my mother had a baby girl and then a year after that another child, a boy. There were four of us. But it was in the height of the Depression when my older sister and I were the only children. Then when there was a little upturn, we had a larger family.
Malina [10:38]: And did you attend church?
Janell: Yes. Yes. I came out of the German Reform Church and that was the Good Shepherd Church. We had two big churches in Boyertown, the Lutheran Church and the Reform Church. And as a child, my third grade teacher would take me to a [light brigade], that meant monthly… and we’d quarrel with each other to ‘fess who was going to carry the teachers satchel, you know, to the meeting. I remember fighting with a Lutheran Church pastor’s son, and I think I won. I could carry the bag.
Malina [3:02]: What did your father do for the WPA?
Janell: They were, at that time, the town was removing the trolley tracks. We had a trolley going through Boyertown and all the way down to uh, I don’t know how far it went, I think probably to the nearby Pottstown, but anyway they took out the trolley tracks. And that was the work that I remember them doing. Otherwise I don’t remember what he was doing.
Malina [3:32]: Did your mother work?
Janell: No. She did… she was one of about thirteen or fourteen children. So I had a whole lot of cousins. I was the youngest cousin at that time. I had cousins and aunts and uncles. It was neat. And my father had a couple brothers and one sister, no three sisters and three brothers. But his parents and relatives too, he thought my mother wasn’t well and couldn’t take care of us one of my father’s aunts would come and look at after us in this small town. So we were a close knit group and I really was so blessed with many cousins and aunts and uncles, so I never starved for affection.
Photograph of Boyertown, PA by Skabat169 published under GNU Free Documentation License via Wikimedia Commons. Photograph of Janell as a toddler via Janell Landis.
Next time– “Janell at School”