HANOVER TWP. — When a little girl knocked on Charlotte Jones Styczen’s door on Saturday evening, hoping to sell fund-raiser candy or popcorn, the pint-sized peddler sparked half a dozen memories for Styczen and her four guests.
“We never sold a thing,” said Viola Kobusky, who is Styczen’s twin sister.
“But we did collect aluminum,” said Elizabeth Bell Yakavonis.
“They let us out of school early to go collect scrap,” said Betty Fritchey Cinti. “People would clean the cans and stomp on them so they’d be very thin.”
“We collected paper, too,” said Audrey Swinski Davis. “We’d go to Marion Terrace because that’s where the rich people lived.”
As you might have guessed from their comments, the five friends were schoolgirls during World War II, participating in war-time recycling efforts while growing up in Hanover Township.
Now 85, the five good buddies said they have been getting together once a week for about 17 years, mostly for an hours-long session of good-natured reminiscing.
“We do just what we’re doing now, laughing and talking,” Davis said.
“We don’t gossip,” Cinti pointed out.
“We laugh at ourselves,” Yakavonis said.
All that laughter seems to help them feel much younger than their 1932 birth dates and 1950 high school graduation might suggest.
“I feel the same as I did when I was 55, or 45,” Styczen said.
“I only feel like 40 myself,” Kobusky said. “It’s hard to believe when you have kids who are 60.”
“It’s funny when your kids pass you out,” Cinti said with a laugh.
The group has a long history together, with Davis and Bell being friends since first grade, Styczen and Kobusky since birth, and all five since they met in ninth grade.
“We never competed with anybody,” Styczen said.
“We were all just friends,” Davis said. “Everybody in our class.”
As the women thought about their high school years in Hanover Township from 1946 to 1950, they recalled a time of not much money — “We were all poor together,” one said — but plenty of simple pleasures.
“We used to dance and go to the movies,” Kobusky said. “That’s what we did.”
Teens would jitterbug, polka and two-step, the women said, and girls often danced with each other because the boys who lined up on the other side of the room were slow about approaching a young woman.
“Sometimes you’d hear a girl saying, ‘Oh, I hope he asks me, I hope he asks me,’ “Kobusky said. “Then the one she didn’t like would come and pester her.”
When they weren’t socializing or studying, there was work to be done.
Several of the friends worked at the former Sans Souci Amusement Park, taking tickets at the stands set up by individual rides.
“Your parents would say, ‘OK, if you’re working at the Caterpillar (ride) tonight, you’ll be home by 9:30,’ ” Kobusky remembered. “If you were working at the roller coaster, you’d be home after midnight.”
Getting home after work, even after midnight, was easy for Kobusky, because the amusement park, located on the site of what is now Hanover Area Junior/Senior High School, was just a quick jog away.
“You’d get out of the park, run up the hill and you’d be home,” she said.
Other ways the women earned money while they were growing up ranged from picking tomatoes on a local farm, as Davis did, to babysitting a neighbor’s children, which Kobusky and Styczen — then known as the Jones twins — would do.
“There was this Polish lady who was a marvelous cook,” Kobusky said. “After we watched the children, she gave us a choice. She’d pay us, or we could eat.”
“We took the food,” Kobusky said, recalling “pork chops with tomatoes, and stuffed cabbage” that were quite delicious.
The women didn’t always live in the same town. Some moved around the country, living in California, Tennessee and other places. But they’ve all gravitated back to Hanover Township, where they started out.
Kobusky, for one, is grateful for that. She took it hard, years ago, when her twin moved one state away.
“Charlotte lived in New Jersey for seven or eight months,” Kobusky said. “I cried my eyes out, and she moved back.”
The twin bond was so intense, Kobusky said, that when her sister was pregnant, “I lost 30 pounds, with sympathy morning sickness.”
As a group, the women have faced their share of difficulties, from a child who died to a husband who returned from Korea with a disfigured face.
They also share the sorrow of losing their classmate, Joseph Gayewski, to a football injury in 1949.
“I remember him being tackled and not getting up,” Cinti said.
“He went in for one more play and collapsed on the field,” Kobusky said. “We all rode a school bus to the funeral.”
“It was at St. Adalbert’s in Glen Lyon,” Styczen said, growing teary-eyed.
But the women didn’t remain down for long.
They had lots of stories that cheered them up, including one about how the twins’ father almost made his youthful emigration voyage to the United States from Wales aboard The Titanic, but waited for another ship because his sister had the measles.
They chuckled at a more recent memory, the thought of a 5-year-old boy Kobusky watched while his parents were at work. “This has been the best year of my life,” the child told her.
As they polished off a meal of potato pancakes that Styczen had made from scratch, Kobusky, who lives next door, admitted she had not helped her sister cook them, and she hadn’t helped her sister can the tomatoes on the counter either.
Though everyone in the group gets along so well, she suggested, part of the reason for that may be that the twins never cook together.
“That’s one place where we would argue,” Kobusky said.