Working sisters put family first all their lives

April 24, 1995|By JACQUES KELLY

There is something infectious about the smiles on the two sisters who clean tables at the Eastpoint Horn & Horn restaurant.

They belong to the women who wear tags with the names Bobby and Wanda. Most days you'll find them clearing away trays with the remains of fried chicken and apple cobbler. Dressed in black pants and white shirts, they are two busy bees.

Bobby, at age 82, is the senior of the pair. Wanda is 73.

They almost cannot remember a time when they haven't worked, occasionally together, most of the time apart. They have no plans to stop their current jobs, where they put in 26 to 32 hours a week.

"I live alone. I want company. What I make helps with my expenses. I still have all this ambition left. I don't plan to sit down in a chair and die," said Bobby Siewierski Miller. Like her sister, she is a great-grandmother and a widow.

"You ought to see her. She paints her house. She cuts the grass. She cements. She does everything," said Wanda Siewierski Reinhardt.

There is no mistaking these siblings. One may be a little taller than the other. Their faces are what clear complexions should be. And there is a sense of contentedness in their manner, the way they never stop moving, their hands going from task to task.

In those few minutes between lunch and dinner when the tables are not so busy, the sisters start wiping down the coat racks.

It's been four years since the sisters started work at the Horn & Horn in the 7900 block of Eastern Boulevard, a favorite gathering place for retirees, families and bus tours. It seems that anybody with a big appetite knows this all-you-can-eat, 370-seat restaurant. Once, it had been a a bingo hall.

The sisters are noted hummers and singers. Bobby has a deep rich voice. Wanda's is soft and airy.

"We are always asked to sing Happy Birthday. One man asked me to sing 'When Your Old Wedding Ring Was New.' He started to cry and gave me $10," said Bobby.

They come from a Polish family [Bobby's real name is Balbina, a name her father read in a children's book.] There were once 13 Siewier ski children. Today four sisters survive.

The family lived in Canton at 236 S. Conkling St. where their father, a cobbler, also had a small business selling dry goods. He died as a fairly young man. After his death, the children went to work so the family could be held together.

"My father was a loving man, a good provider for his 13 children," recalled Wanda.

The sense of family never failed. Their mother, Julia, lived to be 93 and was taken care of by her children.

"As a child, I never knew what a baby doll was on Christmas morning. We didn't have all that," said Bobby.

She went to work when she was 13, and hasn't looked back.

"They didn't know I was under age. I was a stitcher in a coat pad shop," she said.

She was good with her hands and continued stitching, but switched to book bindery work at American Bank Stationery. She turned out bank ledgers.

It was at her job at the Gold Dust (the Broening Highway Lever Brothers factory was simply known by those two words) that Bobby remembers some taxing conditions.

"There weren't many girls working there then. They dressed us in canvas pants and big galoshes and we packed soap. Boy, did we pack soap in big cartons," she said.

Some days the sisters packed the once popular Gold Dust product. Other days it was Sunny Monday, a clothes washing soap, or Fairy Soap, Silver Dust or Lux Flakes. Some of the soaps were so fine they had to wear respirators.

"That big old building was unheated. We'd put on sweaters and it was still cold," she said.

Wanda began working at 16 and has held a number of jobs. And while both sisters have worked since they were teen-agers, neither has a pension.

Wanda picked seeds out of the blackberries bound for the cookers at the old Highlandtown Crosse & Blackwell plant. She soldered parts at Western Electric, but found that tedious.

She was an inspector of bottle caps at Crown Cork and Seal. She did five years at a McDonald's restaurant. She also worked with her sister at the Gold Dust.

Occasionally her Horn & Horn customers inquire why they are still working.

"Everybody wants to help me because I'm old. The joke is, I don't want any help," Bobby said.

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