New Jersey Aunts & Uncle

April 30, 2009
The Crowley residence

The Crowley residence

This house on Shore Road in Somers Point, New Jersey, was the home of my two ‘spinster’ aunts – Mary and Josie Crowley. It would appear that when Uncle Lewis B. Leeds married Nellie Crowley, it was a package deal.

The Crowley girls had been born and raised in Pittsburgh and Uncle Lewis met Nellie sometime after he and dad rode double on a motorcycle from South Jersey to Pittsburgh. That trip to find employment occurred in 1910.

I’m not sure of the time frame, but at some point Uncle Lewis and the girls moved to Florida. A few years later, they moved to South Jersey. That’s where they were living when they each eventually passed on.

Uncle Lewis' home in Linwood

Uncle Lewis' home in Linwood

The entire arrangement is one I never thought about until the last few years as I learned various details from my cousin, Ruth Morris.

According to family rumors, Aunt Nellie refused to allow Uncle Lewis to consummate their marriage. In the meantime, Aunt Josie may have had at least one secret affair that was consummated.

My sister, Gert, somehow found herself as the executor of Aunt Josie’s will. Josie was the last of the group to pass away. During the process, Gert learned that Josie had left everything (which turned out to be a negative number) to some woman who could only be contacted through a church. Unfortunately, the woman could not be located, but it is surmised that the lady in question might have been Josie’s daughter – born out of wedlock and given up for adoption. We’ll never know the whole truth behind that one.

In the meantime, when we would visit Mary and Josie in the 1950s, there was a blind man living with them – a Mr. Biddings. Again, the rumors insisted that Mr. Biddings was Josie’s live-in lover. Another thing we’ll never know for sure.

According to Ruth, Uncle Lewis and the ladies also had a habit of checking out of hotels without bothering to pay the bills.

That’s one of those rumors that, on the surface, doesn’t make sense. I’m not sure what Uncle Lewis did for a living prior to becoming a politician, but he eventually became a Freeholder in Atlantic County. I, being a little boy at the time, bragged to my friends that he was a freeloader. I might have been right!

I’ve been told that a freeholder in New Jersey is the equivalent of a county commissioner in other states. I have no idea how much he was paid in that capacity, but I do remember he drove a big Cadillac.

Aunt Josie worked at a mental hospital in Pleasantville. She called it the Looney Bin. Uncle Lewis used his political clout to get her the job. Considering some of her idiosyncrasies, she may have made a good resident of her place of employment.

For one thing, Josie refused to drive faster than thirty-five miles per hour. I can recall riding with her on the Garden State Parkway. I was greatly relieved that we only traveled a short distance on that superhighway.

When Uncle Lewis died, Josie inherited the Cadillac as she was the only sister who drove. She immediately had her garage remodeled. The finished product had doors on either end so she would never have to back in or out.

Aunt Mary was the chief cook and bottle washer in the family. I should note that when Uncle Lewis died, Aunt Nellie sold her home and moved in with her sisters.

Eventually, Aunt Josie was the only one left.

One time I had a business trip to Philadelphia. I decided to take my middle son, Kenn, and planned a side-trip to Atlantic City. Kenn was around twelve years old at the time. We dropped in on Aunt Josie and both Kenn and I soon realized what we were dealing with.

Aunt Josie repeatedly asked me how Jimmie was doing and I repeatedly explained that I was Jimmie. The house was a total disaster and Josie kept offering us something to eat. She finally went into the kitchen and invited us to follow. She pulled out an apple pie that was covered with mold and offered us each a slice.

It was then I decided the visit had lasted long enough. I stretched the truth a bit and explained that we had a dinner reservation in Atlantic City and really had to be going. Kenn was pleased that we had escaped without being fed.

About a month later, Gert was in the area and stopped in to see Josie. To Gert’s surprise, Josie was royally angry at me. After Kenn and I left, she had prepared a meal for us… and we never returned to eat it!

There is one more memory I have of Aunt Josie. When Aunt Mary died, Josie had her body shipped back to Pittsburgh for burial. I went to the funeral and rode in the limo with Josie to the cemetery. They had a very nice memorial service in the chapel. When the service was over, Josie insisted on seeing her sister’s coffin lowered into the ground.

The undertakers and cemetery officials were not prepared for that and tried to talk her out of it. She was adamant… as were they. Fortunately, I bumped into another undertaker, Ray Brusco, whom I knew through the Lions Club. I explained the situation to him and he pulled some strings.

Later I learned that the main reason for Josie’s insistence is that she did not trust the undertakers. She was afraid they’d open the casket and steal things from Mary’s corpse.

Just think, I could get ornery and crotchety when I get old. Nah, that would never happen.

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Me and My Siblings – Part I

April 29, 2009

My favorite niece named Debbie, who is currently living in England, has encouraged me to write about our family… mainly because her father – my brother – provides very little accurate information to his children.

I’m sure he’s hoping that someday I’ll forgive him for telling his eldest two daughters, Jackie and Debbie, how much I loved Jello. That’s how they greeted me on my first visit to their home in California. Because of my brother’s lying ways, I was forced to eat – not just one – but two bowls of the only food on this earth that I detest. Each girl had made a different flavor… just for me!

Thus, if those two girls, as well as their brother, Charles, and younger sister, Cathryn, ever hope to get the true story of our family, it will have to come from a more reliable source. In the meantime, I trust our older sister, Gertie, will read this and comment on any errors or omissions on my part.

At our last family reunion

At our last family reunion

I believe the above photo was taken in 2000. It was the one and only time I was able to say, “I’d like you to meet my brother Lew. This is my other brother, Lew. And this is my wife, Lu.”

This reunion was the first time in many years that all three of my brothers, our two sisters, and I were at the same place at the same time. After much discussion, we concluded that it had been more than thirty years since we were all together. Sad to say, it hasn’t happened since, and it never will again – at least not in this world. Our oldest brother, Bill, died of cancer in 2002.

I’m not sure the five of us remaining siblings were all able to attend Bill’s funeral. The ‘Old Lady’ of the family will correct me if I’m wrong.

Bill is on the far left in this photo. The other men are – from left to right – Douglas Lewis, myself, and Lewis Somers. The ladies from left to right are Wilda and Gertrude.

I entitled this post ‘Me and My Siblings – Part I’ because I hope to provide information – as I remember it – for all of my siblings… but not all at once.

For no good reason, I’ll start with the twins. The oldest boy in our family (born in 1928) was Bill. His full name is William Henry Seward Leeds, Jr. His birth was followed shortly by Lewis Somers Leeds. Their combined birth weight was over twenty pounds.

In 1945, at the age of seventeen, they dropped out of high school and joined the Navy. Dad had to sign papers to allow them to do it, and although I’m sure he struggled with the decision, he was proud to send them off to defend our country.

It should be noted that Dad had terrible eye sight that kept him out of the service during World War I. Dad was turned down by every branch of the military and even went to Canada to see if the Canadian Army could use him. (Quite a bit different view of Canada in regards to the U.S. military!)

Dad finally was accepted in the U.S. National Guard and lasted for nineteen days. That’s when they finally got around to giving him an eye test. He was immediately honorably discharged.

Prior to Bill and Lew joining the Navy, Wilda and Gertrude had already joined the Navy as Waves. Thus, when Lewis (Doug) and I were toddlers, our four older siblings had all left home.

Each of the twins became Sea-Bees – members of the Navy’s Construction Battalion. Before going any farther, it’s interesting to note that Lew failed his eye test during his pre-induction physical. His eye had been damaged when his brother Bill had hit him with a brick.

Lew asked if he could return the next day and try again. Granted permission, he sent Bill to take the test for him. Bill passed and they both became sailors!

After their first four year enlistment period ended, they both re-enlisted for another four years. Of course, by this time the war was over, but there was still a lot of reconstruction to do.

During that time, both of our sisters married and moved out permanently. So, aside from when one or both of the twins were home on leave, we had the house to ourselves.

Between the twins (I can’t remember who was stationed where), they were sent to Alaska, Cuba, French Morocco, Guam, and Haiti. Neither spent much time aboard a ship. Most of the time they were on land building something.

In 1947, Bill was on a ship for one of the few times in his Naval career. He was part of the detachment observing an atomic bomb test on the Bikini Atoll. If you’d like to read a letter he wrote based on that experience, go to Something Different – a post I added in July of 2008.

Lew (Somers) was in South Africa – as I recall – when he came down with Hepatitis. It was assumed he had caught the disease while he was stationed in Cuba. He was hospitalized somewhere “over there” until my parents enlisted the aid of our Congressman. It took a while, but Lew was finally transferred to a VA Hospital near Pittsburgh. He was honorably discharged in 1952. I remember that year well because Dad welcomed him home by giving him our 1949 Chevy, which he promptly traded in for a 1952 Plymouth.

He soon got a job with the American Standard corporation. I’m not sure exactly what he did for the plumbing outfit, but at one point he was transferred to New York City. It then became a daily exercise for mom, Lewis, and I to watch the Today Show and try to see him wave to the camera on his way to work.

In the meantime, Bill finished his second enlistment period and came home in 1953. Dad gave him money for a down payment and he purchased a 1953 Pontiac. Within a short time, Bill was driving a truck for Hamel’s Express. He stayed with them until his retirement.

There is a lot more to tell about my older brothers, but I’m running short on time today. So I’ll end this post with those all too familiar words:

To be continued…


Making a List

April 28, 2009
Pittsburgh surrounded by hills and trees

Pittsburgh surrounded by hills and trees

As freshmen in college, meeting other students included exchanging names and telling each other the name of our home towns. I found it interesting how many people told me they were from Pittsburgh only to later learn they really came from Altoona, Aliquippa, Canonsburg, Johnstown, Latrobe, Washington, Jeannette, or some other small town many miles away from Pittsburgh.

The typical explanation for claiming Pittsburgh as their home town was that most people knew where Pittsburgh is. Trying to explain – over and over again – where one could find Glassport was more trouble than it was worth.

I was proud to state that I truly did come from Pittsburgh. While I could walk across the street and find myself in Crafton – the home town of Bill Cowher – I was born and raised within the city limits of Pittsburgh. Of course, that wasn’t good enough for Ron Wallace. He grew up on the South Side and by walking across a bridge could be in downtown Pittsburgh in about ten minutes.

Being a true Pittsburgher, I have great pride in knowing that many famous people were born and raised in the area. People like Gene Kelly, Frank Gorshin, Andy Warhol, Dennis Miller, and Dan Marino. I also know there were many people who may or may not have been born in Pittsburgh, but were living in Pittsburgh when they became famous.

This list would include folks like Andrew Carnegie, Dr. Jonas Salk, Rege Cordic, and Rush Limbaugh.

In compiling my lists, I learned that when it comes to fame and fortune, Pittsburgh reaches out to the outlying areas as much as my freshman classmates did. For example, Pittsburgh is proud to consider Jimmy Stewart (from Indiana, PA)  as one of its own, along with Arnie Palmer (Latrobe), Perry Como (Canonsburg), Bobby Vinton (also from Canonsburg), and Sharon Stone (Meadville).

Sharon Stone, by the way, attended the same college as I. She didn’t graduate from Edinboro University, but she’s till proud to be a former student there.

I discovered two web sites with extensive lists of people who passed through Pittsburgh on their way to fame and fortune. One is Hollywood.com and the other is Wikipedia.org. To say the least, I was really surprised by the people listed.

The biggest surprises for me were Chet Welch, Rebekah Becky Lee, and Billy May.

Come to think of it, learning that Billy May – pitchman for Oxi-clean – was a native son is what got me started on this post. Then when I searched for lists of famous people from Pittsburgh, I was overwhelmed by the names on the list.

I wonder if my name will ever make it on one of those lists? Maybe I can start a write-in campaign.

Pittsburgh as seen from the South Side

Pittsburgh as seen from the South Side

Perhaps they’ll name a street in my honor. OK. I’ll settle for an alley.


My Main Aging Problem

April 27, 2009

Pastor Kerry Maurer of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Cumming, Georgia likes to begin each service with a joke. He also loves to tell stories to emphasize the important points of his sermons. Many of the members of our congregation find this refreshing and it helps us continue to pay attention long after most preachers would have sent us off to dreamland.

Personally, I have a problem with his jokes and stories. That problem has nothing to do with my personal spiritual beliefs or my sense of propriety. (Come to think of it, my sense of propriety is probably terribly lacking.)

In truth, I think having a Pastor with a sense of humor is a good thing. I also think relating stories – some of which are very personal for Pastor Kerry – adds greatly to his sermons, and does encourage us to stay awake.

So, what’s my problem?

I’ve heard the jokes and stories before.

As soon as Pastor Kerry begins one of his jokes or stories, I recognize it and instantly remember the punch line or the moral or message behind the story. It then becomes a matter of observing his delivery and looking for embellishments. I try not to notice when he skips details… unless those details are important to the punch line. In truth, he has blown a couple of jokes, but I’ll forgive him. Long ago I learned that clerics are also human.

A couple of weeks ago, after listening to another perfectly good story I’d heard before, I came to the conclusion that my problem is my age and memory. I wondered how many stories and jokes there are and what percentage of them I’d already heard. It’s been said that there’s nothing new under the sun. Am I doomed? Will I never again hear a new joke or story?

Let it be duly noted that around election time we hear many jokes about the competing candidates. However, in most cases, the jokes are old. The names of the people being made fun of are the only things that change.

This past Sunday, Pastor Kerry told about presiding over a service for a group of Lutheran women from all across North Georgia. When he began to describe having lunch with an eighty-eight year-old woman who had just gotten married for the fourth time, I knew he was telling a joke rather than relating a true experience.

I began searching through my memory banks for the punch line so I could devote my time to observing his delivery. Alas! I could not find it. Thus, I concentrated on the details of the story.

It seems the little old lady began her adult life by marrying a banker. After twenty years of marriage, the man passed away. A year or so later, she married an actor. Several years later, he passed on. After a reasonable mourning period, the lady married a Pastor. They had a good life together, but shortly after he retired, he too went to meet his maker.

The lady was now a relative newly wed. She and her fourth husband had wed about six months ago. When Pastor Kerry asked what this man did for a living, the woman said, “the man is an undertaker.”

Pastor Kerry then commented on the wide ranging vocations of her husbands. At that point, the little old lady explained that it was exactly as she had planned it when she was a little girl.

And here comes the punch line…

The lady said, “I married one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and four to go!”

I recognized the joke when he got to “for the money”.

Yes. I’d heard it before. But I didn’t recognize it until the beginning of the punch line.

And that has me worried. Am I now facing another senior citizen problem, or was this just a fluke?

I’m sure Pastor Kerry will continue using jokes and stories in his sermons. I’ll have to continue to closely monitor them to determine a proper diagnosis.

Obviously I won’t be napping during his sermons anytime soon.


Changes

April 26, 2009

The video I wanted to embed is from the Late Night show with Conan O’Brien. His guest was a comedian who goes by the name of Louis C.K.

Since I wasn’t able to embed the video, you’ll have to click here to see it.

While this subject is laughable to many, I’m sure that all the people in my age range and older spent a good deal of time nodding their heads in agreement as they watched Louis C.K. make fun of what people have grown to expect.

As for life before the changes, “Ah yes, I remember it well.”


Do Re Mi

April 25, 2009

This is a video that Ivette Lake shared with me. It reminded me of a stunt pulled in Grand Central Station. That stunt involved a large group of people who, on a signal, froze in place. They became like statues and caused all the regular commuters to come out of their typical commuter mindset and stop to observe the world around them.

As near as I can figure, this video was filmed at a train station in Antwerp, Belgium, and puts the New York stunt to shame.


Quote Quiz

April 24, 2009

Neal Boortz is a syndicated radio talk-show host whose home base is in Atlanta. Yesterday, on his website, he listed a number of quotes concerning our political atmosphere and climate. I’ve taken those quotes and turned them into a quiz.

The idea is to read a quote and try to guess who said it. Was it John McCain? Ted Kennedy? Queen Elizabeth? Or some other notable curmudgeon.

The way I figure it (and I hope you’ll tell me if I’m wrong) most people will find the quotes – and their authors – interesting and amusing. A few will get bent out of shape over this entire post. So be it.

Here are the quotes – numbered for your convenience. The quote-ees are listed below.

  1. Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But then I repeat myself.
  2. A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.
  3. A liberal is someone who feels a great debt to his fellow man, which debt he proposes to pay off with your money.
  4. Giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.
  5. The biggest difference between Republicans and Democrats is the spelling.
  6. What this country needs are more unemployed politicians.
  7. In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm and three or more is a congress.
  8. A government big enough to give you everything you want, is strong enough to take everything you have.
  9. There is no distinctly native American criminal class…save Congress.
  10. In general, the art of government consists of taking as much money as possible from one party of the citizens to give to the other.
  11. I don’t make jokes. I just watch the government and report the facts.
  12. The only difference between a tax man and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin.
  13. The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of the blessings. The inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.
  14. The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools.
  15. Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.
  16. No man’s life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session.
  17. If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed, if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.
  18. Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you!
  19. I contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.
  20. Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.
  21. Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.
  22. Foreign aid might be defined as a transfer of money from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries.
  23. The government is like a baby’s alimentary canal, with a happy appetite at one end and no responsibility at the other.
  24. Talk is cheap…except when Congress does it.
  25. If you think health care is expensive now, wait until you see what it costs when it’s free!

And the answers are:

  1. Mark Twain
  2. George Bernard Shaw
  3. G. Gordon Liddy
  4. P.J. O’Rourke
  5. Anonymous
  6. Edward Langley, Artist (1928-1995)
  7. John Adams
  8. Thomas Jefferson
  9. Mark Twain
  10. Voltaire (1764)
  11. Will Rogers
  12. Mark Twain
  13. Winston Churchill
  14. Herbert Spencer, English Philosopher (1820-1903)
  15. James Bovard
  16. Thomas Jefferson
  17. Mark Twain
  18. Pericles (430 B.C.)
  19. Winston Churchill
  20. Frederic Bastiat, French Economist (1801-1850)
  21. Ronald Reagan
  22. Douglas Casey, Classmate of Bill Clinton at Georgetown University
  23. Ronald Reagan
  24. Anonymous
  25. P.J. O’Rourke

Finally, a special note to those who might have found this less than entertaining because it may have been slanted toward one particular point of view.

If you have quotes – humorous or otherwise – that present the other side, feel free to submit them and I will see they are published on this blog. I shouldn’t have to warn you that I will not publish anything that is vulgar.