Better A Safe Than Sorry By Rosa Smith

Better a Safe Than Sorry

By Rosa Smith  

 

 

Prologue

 

From Hampton Bays I like to ride my bicycle out the old Montauk

 

Highway over toSouthampton.  Sometimes in the late afternoon when it is cool and bright my

 

husband Tony joins me and we cruise through hedge-lined streets, head

 

west alongDune Roadbetween the ocean and theShinnecockBay. and peer with nostalgic

 

curiosity up a certain long driveway catching glimpses of a once elegant

 

Mediterranean style villa, the distinctive orange roof tiles identifying it from the road.   We don’t

 

know who owns it these days, but the villa was originally built by

 

Tony’s maternal grandparents in the 1930’s.  It was so solid and well situated next to a

 

large dune that it survived the big hurricane of 1938.  World War II was getting under way

 

and Tony’s father was well into his career at IBM when he was invited by his

 

younger brother Harry, a big player in those days among theSouthamptonsocial set,  to

 

join him for a weekend at the Bowers place onDune   Road.   There,

 

Tony’s dad, McLain Bernard Smith, was to meet Jane, the daughter of the house.  They

 

fell very much in love and were married after a brief engagement.

 

Not much later, my father-in-law-to-be participated in the Pacific theater of World War

 

Two.  As time went on,  rising to a prestigious rank at IBM, he taught his children by example

 

how to succeed in business.  As you shall see, Tony’s introduction to business was a summer job

 

selling wall safes door-to-door on easternLong Island.

 

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September 1945:

 

The young officer stepped off a plane and took a look around at the devastation that was

 

Tokyo.  It was September 1945.  A peace treaty had been signed by the emperor

 

Hirohito aboard the U.S. Missouri inTokyoBayafter the bombing ofHiroshima

 

andNagasaki.  Major McLain B. Smith was one of Defense Secretary McNamara’s first

 

logistical delegates to arrive in Japan.  On pre-war visits for IBM he had been fascinated by

 

Tokyo’s ubiquitous, paper-thin, light-wood-constructed

 

architecture, but it was all gone now.   Almost all that remained

 

after the allied incendiary bombings overTokyowere wall safes left standing here and there

 

amidst the ashes.  For the second time in a week he thought of his old friends and business

 

associates, Edwin Jr. and John Mosler, whose grandfather Gustave had emigrated

 

toCincinnati, Ohioand founded the eponymous wall safe company there in l867.  Familiar with

 

their reputation for strength and precision manufacture, Major Smith  had not even been that

 

surprised to hear that several Mosler vaults installed inHiroshima’s Mitsui Bank building prior

 

to WWII had miraculously survived the nuclear attack. (1)

 

Summer of ’63

About eighteen years later, father of four teenagers now,  Smith was contemplating  how to help his second son Tony land his first summer job.  He suggested that a job selling Mosler safes door to door “might not be so bad”  and rang up his old friends at the Mosler Safe Company in his usual efficient fashion. Soon my husband-to-be found himself driving around the                                                                    -2-

verdantSuffolkCountycountryside in his green Ford Falcon convertible, a pile of

pamphlets by his side.  He knew little about the illustrious history of the Mosler safes, and dare I say,  cared less.  No-one told him where to go or how to sell.   Listening endlessly to the Beach Boys, he cruised.   Thinking to himself  “Hey, they might want a wall safe,” he would pull over. Nonchalantly he would try to strike up a conversation with an unsuspecting store owner– “I just happened to be in the neighborhood… wonder if you need something to store your valuables in?”  If they would ask more he would say, “Well I work for the Mosler Safe Company and I wonder if you could use a small wall safe…….you know, the kind you see in the movies“  or he might just add into the silence– “You don’t want one?  Well, sorry to take up your time,” and slink back out to the safety of his car.

Although the sales acumen of the young man left something to be desired at

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