Picture This

My BIG Sister and a Great Nephew

Perhaps I should have titled this “Grand Central Gertie”.

I’m trying to get back into the habit of adding something every day. Unable to think of a topic, I decided to leaf through my photos and see if I could glean any inspiration. The above photo is the one I decided to use… but I’ll bet you already guessed that.

This picture was taken a few weeks ago when my bride and I headed to Florida between Christmas and New Year’s. The little lady in the middle is my sister, Gertrude… better known as Gertie, or just plain Gert.

The young man, Bryan, is Gert’s grandson – my great-nephew.

Although it’s difficult to recognize in this photo, Gert is a bit older than I. In fact, she is twenty-one years my senior, but is in far better physical condition. As much as she nagged me about my weight during our stay, I’m sure if I spent a month or so with her she’d have me whipped into shape in no time.

Family gathering for a wedding

The above photo was sent to me by my nephew Keith – Bryan’s father. It was taken at the wedding party of Gert’s mother-in-law, Pearl Cronin (seated next to the woman in the dark dress) and Pearl’s former brother-in-law, Steve Stephenson. Each of their spouses had died and they found companionship in one another. Uncle Steve is standing between my sister, Gert, and her husband, Mac.

Among the guests are my parents, my brother, and two of my nephews. I’ll let you try to guess which one is me. I’ll give you a hint, the picture was taken in 1956.

The wedding took place at Gert’s house… which says a lot about my big sister. Her house seemed to be the hub of many family activities. She’d married the boy next door, Andrew J. Cronin, when the family lived on Keever Street. Their home on Keever was within walking distance of the house my family owned while I was growing up. As a result, we saw quite a bit of Gert and her family.

Because Mom never drove a car until after Dad became legally blind, Gert was the person who usually ran the errands while Dad was at work. She also found time to help Mom and Dad in many other ways, like painting or scrubbing the walls.

Now there’s something that has pretty much disappeared over the years – wall scrubbing. Perhaps it was the coal furnace or maybe cigarette smoke. In any case, washing the walls seemed to be an annual part of Spring cleaning.

Our home on Stratmore was built before the advent of wallboard (also known as dry wall and sheet rock). Its walls were constructed of lath and plaster and covered with oil based paint that could be scrubbed clean.

I doubt if the walls of today’s homes could take that sort of treatment without dissolving!

Gert, and my other sister, Wilda, were both old enough to be my mother. Thus, in many ways they were like additional mothers – but they seldom disciplined my brother and me. Gert, especially, liked to be silly and teased me. Of course, as I grew older – and bigger – her style of teasing had to change.

That became abundantly clear the day she walked into our house and, seeing me in my bare feet, stomped on my foot. I quickly retaliated. Her petite foot had no chance against my size elevens. She was in a cast for several weeks and we both learned a lesson.

In 1977, after both of our parents had died and both of their sons were grown, Mac and Gert moved to Florida. Shortly thereafter, I moved my family to Georgia. It wasn’t long before our other sister moved with her husband to Alabama.

At that point, we had one brother living in California and two brothers still in Pittsburgh. And one thing kept us together – Grand Central Gertie! For whatever reason, we all feel comfortable communicating with Gert. In fact, as silly as it sounds, if I ever wondered about one of my brothers in Pittsburgh, I’d call Gert and ask what she knew before calling the brother.

Grandma Leeds' home in New Jersey

The above photo is included to illustrate my point. In 2006, Lu and I met my oldest brothers (the twins) in New Jersey. Lu and I were heading back south after a couple of weeks in New England. The twins traveled from Pittsburgh so they, and I, could relive some of our childhood memories.

At some point, the twins wanted to see what Grandma’s house looked like after all these years. They asked me if I knew where she lived. I had to remind them that grandma died the year before I was born.

We eventually arrived at the house shown in the photo. The two of them then began to argue as to whether or not this was the right house. Finally, Somers – the younger twin – said, “Let’s call the old lady. She’ll know.”

We then used a cell phone to call Gert. She did know.

Gert knows all!

In many ways, Gert is the glue that holds our family together.

All of this resulted from looking at one picture… and I haven’t begun to tell Gert’s story. Maybe I’ll do that some other time when I can’t think of anything to write about.


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