West Middlesex, PA
Winning her heart – in the kitchen
If you want to win the heart of a wonderful woman, forget about wining, dining, and roses. Just learn how to can fruits and vegetables.
Okay, that might not work for everybody, but that’s how John Schosser impressed Frances (Fister) DiClaudio – who is now Frances Schosser.
After Fran had gone through a difficult divorce in 1988,she swore she would never get involved with another man. Six years later that resolve started to waver. Through a support group for divorced and separated people at St. Joseph’s Church, she learned about a Christian dating club in Greenville.
“You filled out some papers telling something about yourself,” Fran said. “Then every month you’d get a letter with sheets of different guys. If you wanted to meet one you sent a letter to him through the club. I read about John and three other guys.”
The others didn’t stand a chance.
“You know what attracted me to John? He liked to can, and I loved to can. So I wrote a letter to him. And he did the same dang thing. Our letters crossed in the mail.”
After another letter, they agreed to meet – but not at her house.
“I was a little bit leery because I didn’t know him. I said we could meet at Arby’s in Hermitage. When I pulled into Arby’s, he pulled in right beside me. He rolled down the window and so did I. He said, ‘Are you Frances?’ I looked at him, and he had that big smile and those big blue eyes, and in my heart I knew then that he was the man I was going to spend the rest of my life with.”
John suggested they take her car home so he could take her out to dinner. She agreed, but she still felt the need for caution.
“I took all these back roads thinking he’ll never remember how to get here in case things didn’t work out,” she said.
Fran went into the house to get a jacket.
“John came in with this box. He said this is stuff I canned and I want you to have it. I’m thinking, that’s the guy. No way is he getting out of my life. We went up to Howard Johnson’s and ate, and talked and talked. When he dropped me back home he gave me a peck on the cheek and said I’ll see you. And that was it. After that I saw him almost every night.”
With all that talking, they soon knew a lot about each other’s lives. Fran learned that John was born in 1926, the youngest of ten children of Austrian immigrants. He attended school in Stoneboro and worked on his father’s farm.
“We had 32 head of dairy cattle, and raised corn, hay, and oats,” he said. “There was no electric, and no anything else.”
John left home before he finished high school, and worked on another farm for a lady who needed help. Then her brother came back from the service.
“That left me with no job, so I went to work for another farmer. But he had a daughter, who had a boy friend, and he was wizzling in there, and I didn’t want to get in the way. I had no place to go, so I enlisted in the Navy.”
That was at the end of 1942, when John was “barely eighteen.” Actually, if you do the math, he was not quite 17.
“I lied just a little bit,” he said.
He served on a mine sweeper in the Pacific.
“It was nice,” he said. “There were just 32 of us. Everybody knew their job, everybody was happy. I never had a white uniform on the whole time I was in the service.”
After he got out of the service in 1946, John bought a 100-acre farm in New Vernon Township. He drove school bus to supplement his income. In 1948 he married Louise Temple, with whom he had four children: Charles (1948), Doris (1949), Mark (1952), and Mary (1968).
Over the years he expanded the farm to 168 acres. He sold it in 1974 and went to work as dairy man at the mental hospital in Polk, PA. After four and a half years the farm was discontinued, so John got a job repairing machinery at McDowell Implement in Grove City. He worked at a variety of other jobs, including New Vernon Township supervisor.
“My wife had MS,” he said. “When she got really ill, I resigned as supervisor and stayed at home to take care of her. She passed away in 1994.”
Fran, who was born in 1936, also grew up on a farm, on the edge of West Middlesex. They had no electricity until Fran was in seventh grade. Her dad never owned a car and never learned to drive.
“We got a phone when I was in eighth grade,” Fran said. “We had about 14 or 15 on our party line.”
Fran fondly remembers the days of her childhood.
“We didn’t have much, but we appreciated everything we had. My father would spend $14 a month on groceries. We made our own butter and cheese. We were never hungry. He’d butcher a pig or a cow. We had no refrigeration, so he’d put it in a barrel with water and garlic and keep it there most of the winter. Mom used to can beef and pork if it started getting too warm before we used it. We had chickens and a big garden. She canned tons of food.”
Soon after high school, Fran married Herman DiClaudio. Their first child Diane was born 11½ months later, and Danny 11½ months after that. Eventually David, Doug, Donnie, and Debbie followed.
Herman and Fran started DiClaudio heating and air conditioning business in Sharon. They installed units in a number houses for a contractor. When the houses were completed, the contractor got paid and took off without paying the subcontractors.
“So we lost everything – the business, the house, everything,” Fran said. “We had four kids. My brother-in-law purchased a big building in Pulaski. It used to be a hotel or something at one time. It was a shambles. It took us 14 gallons of paint to make it where you could half live in it.”
But the paint couldn’t solve a bigger problem.
“Pulaski’s water lines ran under the old bridge. Every winter they froze up and we had no water. One week when it was below zero we checked the temperature on the boiler, and it was 280 degrees. But the radiators were ice cold because there was no water.”
To keep the furnace from blowing up, they had to put out the fire.
“We had four kids here and it was getting so darned cold. We put blankets on the doors, and we had a propane kitchen stove. We turned the oven on. Then the next day we went up to JC Penney’s and bought two electric blankets. We put one for three of the kids and put the baby in with us.”
A friend gave them a used furnace that got them through the winter. They were threatened with a sheriff’s sale, but it was canceled at the last minute. The following summer Herman got some furnace and hot water work at Montgomery Ward and started driving truck. About 1964 he got into the sheet metal union. Then he worked that pretty much through that, and whenever he got laid off he drove truck. And he used to do some furnaces on the side. That’s pretty much how we survived. Those were the worst years of my life.”
In 1989 the DiClaudios’ marriage ended in divorce, and Fran had to find a way to survive on her own.
“I took a course for displaced women at Mercer County Vo-Tech. They taught you how to survive by yourself, to take care of yourself, to protect yourself, and how to make resumes. That was hilarious. The counselor asked what work experience I had. I said I’m a mother and a housewife. I raised six children, I can, I cook, I clean. She said that’s all experience. You have more experience than most of those people who work. So they told me how to put it on my resume, and we had to send out thirty of them. I went on thirty interviews. The last interview I got the job. It was at Federal Wholesale in Hubbard. It was the lowest paying job – $3.50 an hour. My first pay check was $113, and my hospitalization for Deb and I was $112 through COBRA, so we had one dollar. We went to McDonald’s and each had a hamburger. I’ll never forget that. Debbie was so tickled. When I got into the union, I got hospitalization for me and Debbie, full coverage, dental, everything.”
And then, along came John Schosser.
“About a month after we met we were up in the mall,” Fran said, “and he stops at King’s there and looked at rings. He says I’d like to make this a permanent situation. We got engaged that Christmas eve. He sold his farm and he moved in here, and we got married on August 2, 1997. So we’ve been married nine years – the best nine years of my life. God knew. He put us together.”
They are well prepared for many more great years together.
“We probably have 1,000 jars of food in our fruit cellar that we canned,” Fran said.
Excerpted from Lives of Quiet Inspiration, Volume 2, by Joe Zentis. Hermitage, PA: Green Street Press, 2008