My Father

June 13, 2011

Dad in his late twenties or early thirties

With Fathers’ Day fast approaching, I thought I’d take the time to record my impressions of my Dad.

William Henry Seward Leeds was born in 1891. He was named after his own father, who died in 1895. Thus, the “Jr.” was dropped at an early age. In 1928 he became the father of twin boys, and the oldest was given the “Jr'”. My brother would later have a son of his own; to this day, my nephew has a “III” following his name.

Prior to the birth of the twins, Dad became the father to two girls. That was in the early 1920’s. One of the girls was not his, but none of us ever knew it; he treated that girl just as he treated the rest of us – with love and compassion. It wasn’t until she turned 65 and applied for social security that we learned she had been unofficially adopted. Our only guess is the potential shame that might have been brought on the family was too great to make such a public announcement. Dad simply, and quietly, accepted a little girl as his own.

One other son was born in 1942, and I came along in 1944. If you were quick with your math, you guessed that Dad was 53 when I was born. That’s very close. I was born in August. Dad turned 53 later in the year.

Dad in the National Guard - 1918

During The Great War (which didn’t become known as World War I until sometime during World War II), Dad followed his patriotic heart and tried to enlist… in the army, the navy, the marines, and various Canadian outfits. They all turned him down. Somehow (perhaps to help a recruiter meet his quota?) Dad was inducted into the National Guard.

If you look closely at the above photos you’ll see that Dad wore glasses. I have a picture of Dad when he was in grade school; he was wearing glasses even then. Nineteen days after Dad’s induction, someone saw fit to give him an eye test. A few days later they gave him an honorary discharge.

This is all to say that when I was born, my father was an older man with very poor eyesight. If it hadn’t been for the twins, who were sixteen years older than me, (and in many ways filled the gap I felt) I might have resented Dad more than I did. Most of my friends had fathers who were much younger and most of them came outside and played games with us. As a young boy, it’s easy to ignore the fact that your father is working six days a week and doing all he can to keep a roof over your head and food in your belly.

Because of my late arrival, Dad had to continue working until he was almost seventy years old. He retired just as I was graduating from high school. I never thanked him for that; I certainly should have.

“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.” Mark Twain said those words, but they certainly fit the way I looked at my father.

Dad had dropped out of school after the 7th grade. As you recall, his father had died when he was four years old. His mother was doing her best to raise three children. Thus, Dad and his brother had to quit school and go to work as soon as they were able.

What I failed to realize was two-fold. First, a 7th grade education in the early twentieth century was more thorough in the basics than today’s high school graduates receive. Second, and more importantly, Dad never stopped studying. As poor as his eyesight was, he read everything he could get his hands on. When his eyesight failed him almost completely, he signed up for “Talking Books” and continued to read for most of his life.

My first rude awakening occurred when I returned home from my first semester in college. I had just missed making the “good” Dean’s list and was feeling rather smug. When Dad asked me what I had learned, I spouted off a few facts and found myself aghast when Dad started filling in the gaps of what I’d said. He knew far more about those subjects than I did. From then on, I had a much deeper respect for the “ignorant old man”.

When I graduated from college, Dad once again asked my what I had learned. My answer at that time was, “How little I know.”

Because of Dad’s lack of formal education, he always worked at jobs that were far below his capabilities, but he always worked. Throughout the Great Depression, Dad managed to keep working when many other men were standing in bread lines. Dad didn’t make a lot of money, but it was enough to take care of his wife and four children.

At one point, he even bought a bunch of baby chicks and raised them in a pen he built under the back porch of their home. He sold some and cooked some.

One of my memories from my teen years was the Strout Realty catalogs that were delivered to our house on a regular basis. Mom and Dad would study them from cover to cover. Their dream was to sell our house (as soon as I was out on my own) and buy a small farm where they could raise chickens. I guess their experience during the Great Depression convinced them they could handle such chores in their retirement years.

They almost made it.

Mom died during my senior year in college. And their dream died with her.

Dad lived another eight years. I think he was proud of his children. By then, we were all married and had families of our own. In fact, Dad had about sixteen grandchildren and a few great-grandchildren by the time he passed in 1974.

In the intervening years, Dad meant a lot to me. I could always go to him for advice… but he never said a word unless he was asked. That’s something all parents can learn from. He knew when we turned eighteen, his job was basically done. From that point on, it was up to us.

I mentioned earlier that I resented my father not being able to play with me when I was young. That’s one of the main reasons I got married and had my children while I was young enough to do things with them. I know I’m far less than perfect in their eyes, but I hope they remember all the fun we had when they were young.

A Letter to Grandchildren

March 31, 2011

Dear Grandchildren,

That song is from a show called “South Pacific”. It was a Broadway Play in 1949 and later made into a movie. Besides being a wonderful show filled with great music, South Pacific was one of the first dramas to address the questions of race and discrimination. Another song, “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” dealt with the fact that we are not born as racists, we must be taught to hate for no good reason.

I trust that your parents have not taught you to hate people simply because they are different. I’m sure you’ve been taught to judge people based on their character, and nothing more.

In the meantime, have you been taught the importance of having a dream? I failed to have a dream when I was young, and I’m afraid I may have discouraged your parents from having dreams. If nothing more, I failed to encourage them to sit down and give ample thought to what they hoped to get out of their lives.

As a child, I went through the typical dreams of the time – to become a star professional athlete, a fighter pilot, a fireman, and so on. But it wasn’t until I was nearing the end of my high school education that I gave it any serious thought. In truth, I gave little serious thought to anything at that time. That is why my grade average was a dismal “C”. I had the ability to do much better, but I had no reason to try. That’s what a serious dream would’ve given me.

Late in my senior year I decided that I would follow the foot steps of my older brothers. I would join the military (to avoid being drafted), serve out my required time, and then get a job driving a tractor-trailer across America. All three of my brothers had served and seen parts of the world I could only dream about – see! We can dream about lots of things! The two oldest brothers were local delivery truck drivers. I wanted to go beyond that and use the job to see the rest of our country.

Fortunately, one of my older brothers saw more promise for me than I did and convinced me to think about other options. At the time, I had started going back to church and was very impressed by our minister – John Latta. In talking with him, I decided I wanted to be a minister too. He sent me to talk to a younger minister at a church in downtown Pittsburgh. That’s when I learned that I could not enter the Presbyterian Seminary unless I had a Bachelor’s degree from a college.

I was a few weeks away from graduating high school and hadn’t even bothered to take a college entrance exam.

I went and spoke to the Principal of Langley High School – Harry D. Book – and asked his advice. That was the beginning of the whirlwind. Mr. Book recommended I apply to Edinboro State Teachers College and arranged for me to take the SAT in late June. He also wrote a glowing letter of recommendation to the admission office in Edinboro.

I scored surprisingly high marks on the SAT and received my letter of acceptance in early August. Classes began a week after Labor Day and I was on my way to becoming a member of the clergy.

The same brother who suggested I give serious thought to my future paid for my basic education for the first year. That amounted to about $1,000. Too bad those prices are a thing of the past.

For spending money, I got two campus jobs. I worked in the cafeteria and the Student Union. My pay was $0.75 per hour. Now do you understand inflation?

That first semester, I hit the books hard every night and finished with a 2.7 grade point average. That was almost a “B”! Unfortunately, by the time the semester came to an end, my “dream” of becoming a minister had faded. It was still there, but not as strong.

From that point on, I stayed in school for only one main reason – to NOT disappoint my family. I was the first of my siblings (also the youngest and last chance) to attend college and I had to graduate. In 1966, I did graduate… with a “C” average.

I still didn’t have a dream. I still had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up.

I managed to get a job teaching emotionally disturbed children in a mental hospital. A year later, I was teaching emotionally disturbed children at an inner-city high school.

Through a series of lucky breaks, I then landed a job with IBM. I held that job until I retired. I made a good salary and provided a good home life for my family… from a financial standpoint. As I mentioned earlier, I think I failed my children in a number of ways… especially when it came to developing a realistic dream.

When I look back on my own life, there were many wonderful experiences and I did manage to accomplish at least one of my dreams. I’ve traveled all across our country and seen all fifty states. I didn’t get to drive the big truck, but I did travel over many of the same roads.

But what about the other aspects of my dreams? I never became a professional athlete, a fighter pilot, or a fireman. While I have been involved in the Stephen Ministry and have done extensive work with the homeless and needy, I never attended a seminary and was never ordained.

What I have done is pile up a number of doubts and questions. What could I have achieved if I had really applied myself and worked harder in school? What would have happened if I had entered the military after college (I had given that some thought when I had trouble finding a job) and made a career out of it? Could I have retired as a General? What if I had stayed in the field of education? Could I have become a college professor?

What if I had held off getting married and traveled the world when it was much safer and cheaper to do so? Would I have met a girl in Korea or Switzerland or Brazil, gotten married and spent my life in that country?

Obviously, none of these questions can be answered. I do know that beyond the questions and doubts I am happier now than ever. I have a wonderful wife, great children and step-children, and fantastic grandchildren.

It’s those grandchildren I’m thinking of as I write these words. I want each of them to sit down and think seriously beyond Justin Beiber, fire trucks, trains, and any of the other faddish things that can quickly grab the attention of today’s youth. I want each of them to realize that the jobs they are training for most likely don’t exist right now. Technology is changing everything.

So, we all (it’s not too late for me to develop a realistic dream!) need to think about the things that interest us the most – beyond Justin Beiber (can you tell I have a number of granddaughters?) – and begin studying subjects that fall into that general category. By all means, nail down the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. If you have those basic skills, you can learn anything.

Take the time to develop a dream you can hang on to for the rest of your life. Don’t let life just happen. Know what you want and make the effort to get it.

See! This grandpap can do more than tease!

You Can’t Buy Friendship

February 7, 2011

I called this place "home" for 22 years.

I grew up with a group of guys in Pittsburgh. We were all within a couple of years of each other. Joey Geagin, Frank Sabash, Joey Stiger, Billy and Bobby Ault, Marvin Hess, Herb Gallagher, my brother Lewis, and me. A few of the guys lived on Hollywood Street; whenever we got involved in a  sporting contest with kids from another neighborhood, we called ourselves the Hollywood All-Stars. That sounded better than any name we could invent based on Stratmore or Steuben streets.

There were a couple of other guys who moved away while we were all fairly young – Donny Yarling and a kid whose first name escapes me… his last name was Vater; his father owned the local hardware store.

And then there were the two siblings that were never quite part of the gang. One was a girl. She was obviously ostracized until our teen years. By then, she no longer wanted anything to do with us.

Her brother, David, was another story. I’m not going to mention his last name, but the folks I named earlier will probably know who I’m talking about.

It’s my understanding that both of those children were adopted. I can’t say for sure. I just know David was approximately our age, but had a different attitude on life.

None of us were anything more than fair athletes… at best, but David was never interested in our games of softball, football, or basketball. He always wanted to do other things – ride bikes, go to the movies, or get into mischief.

The thing that sticks in my mind the most about David is that he always seemed to have money. Money was a scarce commodity in our neighborhood and David learned early on how to use money to his advantage. If we were playing basketball and he wanted us to do something different, he’d offer to treat us to ice cream or pop. That meant bringing our game to a halt and walking the six or seven blocks to the dairy store.

David stayed in his house a lot more than the rest of us. When he did come out, he usually had something novel to get our attention… or he came bearing gifts. Because he never wanted to do the same things the rest of us enjoyed, we soon grew to dislike him.

Depending on the mood of the group on any given day, we’d either let him buy us something or tease him unmercifully until he went home.

I can remember one time I told him directly that he could not buy our friendship. If he really wanted to be a part of the group, he needed to just join in. Nothing more and nothing less. That’s the last time he offered me anything.

I often wonder if he would’ve changed as he matured. Unfortunately, we’ll never know. When he was fourteen or fifteen, he stole a car, took a bunch of guys joy riding, and wrapped the car around a telephone pole. He was killed.

Fifty years later I still have no idea why he felt the need to buy his friends. Yet, as I look around, I see others who seem to have the same personality trait.

I’ve known people who spend lavishly on friends and relatives and find themselves deeply in debt. Yet they’ll borrow money from retirement accounts to maintain the image of a wealthy big spender. I can’t help questioning what they’ll live on when they can no longer work.

Some people might think my bride and I are poor or simply miserly. We drive old vehicles and live in a modest home. We eat most of our meals at home and don’t spend a ton of money on the latest fashions. But we do manage to take nice vacations and continue to put money in our nest egg so that when we finally do retire completely, we won’t have to move in with our children.

You can’t buy friendship. I’ve always figured that if a person doesn’t like me because of whatever, I’m not really going to change his or her mind by spending lots of money showering him or her with gifts.

That seems like such a simple concept. So why can’t our government understand?

Jimmy Carter believed he could bring peace to the Middle East by giving Egypt the same amount of foreign “aid” as Israel was receiving. Considering all the money the Middle East is receiving simply by selling us oil, why do any of those countries need “aid”?

How many trillions of tax payers’ dollars have been sent to governments across the globe? How many of those tax payers’ dollars have trickled down to the poor people in those countries? How many of those tax payers’ dollars have made foreign potentates ridiculously wealthy while they continue to blame all their problems on the Imperialistic Devils in America?

We send billions of tax payers’ dollars to Saudi Arabia and their schools teach their children to hate us.

You can’t buy friendship. If children can figure that out, why can’t our politicians?

The current congress, and President, claim they want to cut government spending. I don’t know how much of the budget is given away to foreign governments, but I’ll bet we could save a bundle by telling them we don’t need their friendship that badly.

And that is my rant for the day.

More Ramblings Down Memory Lane

November 15, 2010

That puzzle magazine continues to stir the memories long ago locked away in the remote recesses of my brain.

My original shopping center

As the calendar crept toward Thanksgiving, the merchants of our neighborhood would begin to order their Christmas wares. Note that I did not say they would display them; they would simply order them so they could be displayed soon after Thanksgiving.

Not shown in the above photo is the Crafton Heights First United Presbyterian Church – my first church home. The building sits back to the left of the telephone pole and car shown in the left corner of the picture. I point this out because shortly after Thanksgiving, a huge community Christmas tree would be erected in the church yard. The merchants would split the cost of the decorations and electricity to keep it lit throughout the season.

Back in the days when a letter could be mailed using a three cent stamp (Christmas cards could be sent for two cents if the envelopes were left unsealed) the U.S. Mail (this was long before the outfit changed its name) increased its service leading up to Christmas. We had our mail delivered twice – morning and afternoon – on Monday through Friday and once on Saturday. It kind of makes me wonder what happened. When they changed the name to Postal SERVICE, things seemed to go in the wrong direction.

Speaking of pennies, how many of you remember when you’d put twenty cents in a cigarette machine and get a pack of smokes that included two or three pennies in change?

I quit smoking more than ten years ago, but I’m told the price of a pack of cigarettes is now over $5.00! And there are no coins in the wrapper as change.

Another thing I remember about the Holidays was a company called Railway Express. Whatever happened to them? Quite often my family would receive a package sent by an uncle who spent his winters in Florida. That was the one time of year we’d have orange marmalade.

Come to think of it, winter was the only time our family had citrus fruit. As I recall, it simply wasn’t available any other time of the year. Of course, this could be said about most fresh produce. If it wasn’t grown in the U.S., it either wasn’t available or was too expensive for my family’s budget.

To this day I am amazed that our family gathered for Thanksgiving dinner at my parent’s home. When the twins got home from the Navy following World War II, a normal dinner would find mom and dad, my three brothers, and I gathered around a standard sized dining room table. With the other furnishings in the dining room, there wasn’t very much space for anything, or anyone, else. Yet, we somehow made room for the extended family on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The extended family included our two sisters, their husbands, and their combined four children. So, on those special occasions, we had eight adults and six children crowded into that same space. We must have had a “children’s” table, but I don’t remember it.

I do remember those 25 to 30 pound turkeys! Mom and our sisters really went all out to make sure no one left hungry.

If I’m not mistaken, Thanksgiving is only a week or so away. Time to fire up the cooker and make sure I have plenty of peanut oil.

Things will never match my memories, but then I wasn’t doing any of the cooking. My only job was to clean my plate. I was good at that. Come to think of it, I still am.

Maglie of Mound Fame

November 11, 2010

Where my knowledge of trivia began

I recently received a crossword puzzle magazine in the mail. I love doing puzzles and I quickly jumped into this publication with relish. It wasn’t long until I found myself thinking about the many times lately when I’ve said something humorous in the presence of my grandchildren and been met by blank stares. Come to think of it, it’s not just my grandchildren who have no idea what I’m talking about; and it’s not just my attempts at humor. Most people twenty or so years younger than me have no knowledge of the trivia of my life.

For example, last week I mentioned that I once had a friend who was very much like Joe Btfsplk. Recognizing that I probably mispronounced Joe’s last name, I quickly added, “He was the little guy who always had the storm cloud over his head.”

Blank stares from all but one or two people in my presence. I had to explain further, “He was one of the characters in Li’l Abner… the Al Capp comic strip.” At that point, I realized that, even though we had just gone through an important election, mentioning Senator Phogbound’s name would get me nowhere.

Li’l Abner left the daily newspapers in 1977. I have to remind myself that most people younger than thirty-five have never seen anything to do with Al Capp’s Dogpatch.

Does anyone anywhere still celebrate Sadie Hawkins Day?

So what does Pansy Yokum have to do with a crossword puzzle magazine? Nothing more than the name of Desi’s daughter, Mindy’s TV roommate, Philo of whodunits, Warbucks’ ward, a 1984 dictator, J.R.’s mom, the actress who played Miss Kitty, a Princess Phone feature, the patriarch of the McCoy family, Imogene’s partner, TV panelist Francis, Burr’s TV crime fighter, DDE’s opponent, Robert of “I Spy”, Mountie Do-Right, Slaughter or Cabell, Bucky Beaver’s brand, Sapphire and Lightning’s radio and TV show, Vaudeville super-star Al, Kuklapolitans, and Will Rogers’ prop. And the list goes on.

Every puzzle in that magazine had at least one entry that would be extremely difficult for a young solver. I’ve often run into puzzles that throw in extremely obscure words or foreign phrases, but I’ve never seen so much absolute trivia.

At the same time, I’m loving that magazine because it’s bringing back so many memories.

It’s been years since I’ve given any thought to Captain Video and the Video Ranger, Howdy Doody, Buffalo Bob, Clarabell, Princess Summerfallwinterspring, Phynias T. Bluster, Flub-a-dub, Bobby Orr, Otto Graham, Jesse Owens, Jim Thorpe, Bruce Jenner, Ara Parseghian, Lech Walesa, Mario Lanza, Emma Peel of the Avengers, Maxwell Smart, Hedda Hopper, Erma Bombeck, DeSotos, Lonesome George, Uncle Miltie, Mamie’s predecessor, Walt Frazier, James Arness, Chester (Dennis Weaver), and Xavier Cugat’s wives.

Anyone who has recognized all the people and events I’ve mentioned so far is either somewhere around my age, or a great fan of meaningless information. Perhaps this will generate some comments and we can all remind each other of many other trivial items. In the meantime, I’m going to fill my jug with some Kickapoo joy juice and work another puzzle.


By the way, let’s all take the time to thank our fellow citizens who have served, or are currently serving, to protect our rights as Americans. Today may be a bit special – Veterans Day – but we shouldn’t wait to say “Thanks” only once a year. We thank them every day!

Give me Your Tired, Your Poor

March 26, 2010

I’m not sure how old I was before I realized the family I grew up in was poor. I knew they’d lost a house during the depression, and I knew we didn’t have a lot of extra cash. I also knew that the men my father worked with at a meat packing plant would often stuff meat into his shirt before he left for home.

In fact, I believed my father to be a bit on the pudgy side until the day I saw him open his shirt and pull out several packages of meat. I was the youngest of four boys and the meat cutters he worked with wanted to be sure we were well fed.

At the time, my father was working as a maintenance man. I construed that to mean he was a janitor. My Big Sister is offended by that definition. “Daddy worked hard all his life!”

I totally agree with the old lady’s remarks, but considering that most of the repairs done on our home were accomplished by Mom, I’m not so sure Daddy knew how to maintain anything. But that’s getting off the subject.

The key thing is that my parents were proud to proclaim that (aside from the meat) they never took a handout. Government welfare had begun under President Franklin Roosevelt, but the vast majority of the poor folks in this country were too proud to take a handout. That’s why the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and other jobs programs were so successful. People didn’t want a handout – with the shame that came with it – they wanted a hand.

Jesus once said, “The poor will always be with us.”

Growing up in that proud, but humble home, I was stunned as I worked my way through college as an enumerator for the R.L. Polk company. I, and a number of others, would go door-to-door seeking information for the City Directory (and mass-mailing lists). Because of my size (I was six feet tall and a tad over 200 pounds in those days) I was sent into the poorer neighborhoods of Pittsburgh. I was shocked by the number of people who told me they were not employed, but living on P.A. (Public Assistance – Welfare!).

One day I got to talking to a boy who was about eight years old. I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. “I want to be on Public Assistance.” He proudly told me.

That’s when I first realized the damage our government had done. They’d removed the shame. The shame had nothing to do with being poor. Being poor is not shameful as long as you’re doing whatever you can to subsist. Shame comes from taking the money or goods that someone else worked for. That was a shame my parents fervently avoided.

And here was a young man who had no shame. He was proud of the fact that he, like his parents, would rather work the system than work for his living.

My father lost a number of jobs during the depression. In desperation, he ordered baby chicks and raised them under the back porch of the home where my family was living. He sold some of the chickens and fed others to his hungry brood – two boys and two girls at that time.

He tended the chickens at night… after working ten to twelve hours at whatever labor he could find. At times, he even took care of some of mom’s sister’s families… causing those families a bit of shame.

I was a middle-aged adult when I learned that a number of my aunts and uncles avoided my parents in later years because they felt resentment that Mom and Dad had food and a little bit of money when they had none. Resentment is something that grows out of shame. Rather than leaving the pain remain inside, humans have a tendency to direct the emotions outwardly. “It’s their fault that I feel this way!”

That’s exactly what has happened with welfare recipients. Instead of feeling ashamed that they have to rely on the labors of others, they turn it into resentment that the others aren’t being as generous as they should be. Those rich folks aren’t giving their fair share.

Several years ago our government took it a step farther. Because people were “embarrassed” having to use food stamps – and being recognized as lazy people living on the dole – the government turned to modern technology. The politicians claimed it was a money saving move. Politicians like to say they are saving the tax payers’ money even when they are doing something completely different.

The solution is known as an EBT card. It looks like a credit or debit card, but the EBT stands for Electronic Benefits Transfer. It’s interesting that they use the word “Benefits”. That’s a term that is normally applied to the fringe benefits that are earned as part of employment. This implies that even people who refuse to work are entitled to benefits.

Now, for the whining Liberals who have been offended by some of the things I’m saying, let me say that there truly are poor people who, for one reason or another, cannot work and earn their own living. It might be mental or physical problems, but the problems are legitimate. I have no problem with these people and agree that the government should step in and help… if their church affiliation is unable to do so.

My problem is with the people who refuse to work and see Public Assistance as a career path. Then, when they are shown on television picketing and demanding a raise, I lose all respect for them.

Speaking of television… Karl Marx called religion “The Opiate of the Masses”. It’s a shame to say this, but religion has been replaced by the television. Perhaps that is why our government has slowly but surely converted our country toward Marxism. EBT cards were just one baby step toward the redistribution of wealth.

How much of a giant step was taken by the Health Care Reform act? And what do student loans and Pell Grants have to do with health care? It makes me wonder how many other unrelated ear marks are buried in the pages of this monstrosity.

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. But don’t give me your freeloading low-lifes who have no shame in taking what I and other good people have worked hard to attain.

Instead of inventing new ways to redistribute the wealth of our citizens, we need to discover a way to bring shame back into the mix. Pride in accomplishment must be reborn or our Republic is dead.

Haunted Childhood Memories

March 25, 2010

The Haunted House on Round Top Street

This photo taken in 2008 would indicate that someone finally bought this old house and refurbished it.  When I was a child in the late 1940s and early 1950s, my friends and I were afraid to walk past it.

The photo clearly illustrates what an imposing edifice the structure is. It sits on the highest point in Crafton Heights and, when all the surrounding area was overgrown with weeds and vines, and the home was badly in need of paint, it was easy for a child to let his or her imagination run wild. Add numerous broken windows and a roof that was missing many shingles, and it became more frightening. And all of this was prior to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”!

There were rumors that some brave boys entered the stately old mansion (it still has the stone hitching post on the sidewalk in front of it) and found such oddities as a dumb waiter. But I never met one of these lads, so I could only go on what I heard from the rumor mill.

In any case, I avoided it like the plague, especially on Halloween.

Our woods above Steuben Street

These woods, which – surprisingly – are still there, represented one of our favorite places. We spent many hours playing games in the woods and throwing snowballs and other objects down on passing vehicles.

However, I was not permitted to go into those woods until I was allowed to cross the street by myself. I really don’t recall when that magical part of my youth came to pass. What I do remember is the night we were scared silly walking this road past the woods. It was in 1954, when I was ten years old. My brother and I, along with a number of friends, walked down to the Crafton Theater to see the latest horror movie.

By the time the movie ended, the sun had set. I don’t recall the exact season of the year, but it was warm enough for the crickets and other noisy insects to be out chirping away. Those chirps sounded just like the giant ants in the movie we’d just seen. That’s one time our parents didn’t have to worry about our dawdling on the way home. We made record time!

I’m sure there were other things that kept us awake at night, but hiding under the blankets always seemed to keep us safe.

The one thing I miss from childhood is movies that allowed us to use our imagination. Today’s films, with their constant displays of blood and gore, are disgusting… and not nearly as frightening as what we can envision by ourselves.

Life’s a Beach

February 16, 2010

Edisto Island Beach

I’ve been going to the beach ever since I was a toddler. Because my father was raised in South Jersey and we had relatives living in Linwood and Somers Point, my family vacationed near the beach every year.

We never stayed at the beach; that would’ve been too expensive. We would rent a small apartment or stay on my uncle’s cabin cruiser (also small) a few miles in from the shore. Most of our time was spent fishing and crabbing in the inland bays and marshes. Once or twice during our stay we’d go into Atlantic City or Ocean City to spend some time on the beach or stroll along the boardwalk.

Fishing and crabbing with nephews and nieces

I recall one vacation when my parents did something different. I believe it was 1955 or 1956. Instead of going to South Jersey, we went to Cambridge, Maryland and rented a cottage along the Choptank River. We arrived shortly after a hurricane had passed through. Not only was the river running fast and deep, many of the surrounding fields were still draining. We saw a number of people holding chicken wire at the end of irrigation ditches. They were catching some very large fish that had been driven inland by the storm surge.

On that particular trip, the beach wasn’t quite as convenient. But on one of our days in Maryland, we drove over to Ocean City, Maryland and enjoyed their beach and boardwalk.

I have been to beaches all up and down the East Coast, Mississippi, Texas, California, and Oregon. I’ve also visited Brighton Beach in England and some beaches in Puerto Rico and Mexico. They all speak the same language as they invite us to either walk along the water’s edge or sit down and watch the waves rolling in.

Without even closing my eyes, I can hear the sound of the surf, the wind, and the sea gulls.

I’ve often thought about living closer to a beach. I wouldn’t want to own a home on the beach. Hurricanes might not hit a particular beach that often, but once would be more than enough for me. I’d like to live about twenty miles inland so it would be an easy trip to get close to the ocean.

However, with most of our children and grandchildren living within thirty miles of us, I’d find it difficult to move anywhere.

Perhaps we could win the lottery. Then we could move the entire extended family.

My bride and I on Tybee Island

I have been to the beach so many times in my life that I consider it a God given blessing and wish everyone – especially children – could visit a beach on a regular basis.

Twice we were able to stay at rental properties right on the beach. Once was in Ocean City, New Jersey and the other was on Edisto Island. My bride and I rented the place in New Jersey at the end of the summer season (reduced rates) and my nephews and nieces chipped in. On Edisto Island, we were fortunate to be the guests of John and Debbe Mize. That was in November a couple of years back.

Based on those two experiences, I’d say the best time to go to the beach is after Labor Day and before June. The temperatures are much milder and there are no crowds.

We’re hoping to get to at least one beach in 2010, but I think I’m already there mentally.

Let’s Pretend

February 10, 2010

My Childhood Home

I can remember sitting on our back-porch steps with my next-door neighbor. I was driving a 1952 Plymouth and he was tooling along in his 1951 Chevy. We were both about eight years old and never gave a thought to drag racing. We were just enjoying driving side by side through the colorful countryside.

Other memories include riding a bicycle and pretending it was a horse, or motorcycle… depending on the game we were playing at the time.

Most of the boys I grew up with had very few toys. The one exception was Donny Yarling. I think that was his last name. As I recall, he was big into Captain Video and had space helmets, ray guns, and numerous other space-related items.

Donny didn’t play outside much, and his family moved away when we were all very young. I don’t recall him ever letting us play with his toys, so we weren’t all that heartbroken when he left.

My parents didn’t allow us to have toy guns – except on the Fourth of July. Therefore, we pretended to have guns whenever we played “war” or “cowboys and Indians”. The cap guns we were given for Independence Day were only a small part of our arsenal. We were also given hammer type devices with feathered tops. We’d place a cap or two in the head of the hammer, press in the feathered top, and smack the hammer on a concrete block. That would cause the caps to explode and the feathered top to go sailing through the air.

Come to think of it, I’m surprised my mother allowed us to play with such things. We could’ve put an eye out!

The other Fourth of July “play things” were the sparklers. One of our parents or older sibling would provide the flame to ignite the stick. We’d then twirl it around and be dazzled by the light. We were easily amused. I’m not sure what I pretended as I flashed my sparkler around, but I’m sure my vivid imagination had me fighting a foreign enemy with a sword or something. Had “Star Wars” been around back then, that sparkler would have quickly turned into a light saber.

As an adult, I often wonder how much we relied on our imaginations simply because we had so few toys. I watch my grandchildren play with their toys (I should say their abundance of toys) and realize there is still a good bit of pretending involved.

One thing the children up north don’t have to do right now is pretend there is snow on the ground.

Some of my favorite childhood memories are centered around the many hills in Western Pennsylvania and the abundance of snow. We would ride our sleds for hours… on city streets!

I never measured the distance, but we had a course that would’ve done Olympic bob-sledders proud. We’d start at the intersection of Stratmore and Hollywood streets. We’d sled down Hollywood, across Arnold, and circle around to where Hollywood ran into Arnold a second time.

If we had enough speed, we’d make the turn onto Arnold and continue in the direction of Hollywood until our momentum finally died away. Then, we’d pull our sleds up Ford Street and walk along Stratmore to Hollywood and repeat the run.

One time, just to be different, I went down Ford Street with the intention of turning up Arnold. I missed the turn and slid into the curb. With bloody lips, I dragged my sled back up the hill and returned to the Hollywood run. By the time I got back to the top of the hill, the bleeding had stopped, so I just kept on going.

Often times, in the summer, we’d find ourselves really missing the snow and sledding. That’s when we would walk down to Bodnar’s Appliance store and get a cardboard refrigerator box.

There used to be a vacant lot at the corner of Stratmore and Ford. We never thought they’d build a house there because the lot was basically a cliff – great for sliding down the hill in a box or on a snow disc, but not really suitable for a home with a lawn.

Our favorite sport was to load five or six boys in the box, and then roll it sideways down the hill, Our bodies would be bouncing and rolling over one another until we came to a sudden stop at the bottom. Cut lips, bloody noses, and black eyes didn’t discourage us one bit. We’d drag the box back to the top and do it again… and again… and again… until the box was torn to shreds.

I just realized I’m pretending to be back in that box. Or maybe I’m sitting with my friend on the back-porch steps driving my 1952 Plymouth through the countryside.

Who needs reality!

Another Picture

February 9, 2010

Smart car parked in Paris

I’d never seen a Smart car until we visited Paris a couple of years ago. The thing that most fascinated me was the fact that the length of the car was just about the same as its width. Therefore, one could park it as shown in the photo above, or simply pull straight up against the curb. The straight-on approach allowed the driver to park in a narrower spot and not have to worry about getting out of the spot… getting out of the car might be the bigger problem.

I thought we were pretty smart in 2007 when we bought our Toyota Yaris. In fact, I still think we were pretty smart. It consistently gives us around 40 miles per gallon (4 cylinder gasoline engine – not a hybrid) and, thus far, has not had the gas pedal stick nor the brake pedal fail to bring the vehicle to a safe stop.

My guess is that the market will soon be flooded with Toyotas and the CEO may be found a victim of Harry Carey… although I thought he died some years ago… Harry, that is; not the Toyota executive.

Would I buy another Yaris? In a heartbeat! Especially if the problems make the price much more reasonable. In fact, I would take a long hard look at the Camry and other models. Gas pedals and brakes can be fixed. High interest, long term car payments are something I’d rather avoid.

Lots of people buy the expensive luxury cars. One of my older brothers bought a 1959 Cadillac… in 1959! He traded in a perfectly good 1958 Oldsmobile and, before long, regretted the decision.

Our parents thought he was crazy the minute he arrived home in his new car. When they learned how much he paid for it, any doubts they might have had quickly vanished.

Can you imagine? He paid $6,500 for that car. In 1942, our parents had paid $6,200 for the three bedroom house we were living in. How could an automobile (or “machine” as our mom called it) cost more than a house?

Compared to the other cars various family members owned, the Cadillac was a wonder to behold. It had power windows that went up and down when a button was pressed… until something went wrong with the wiring and they no longer moved.

The car had a device on the dashboard that sensed the headlights of on-coming cars and automatically switched to low-beams until it quit working.

The car had a radio antenna that automatically went up when the radio was turned on… until the motor in it burned out.

That car spent more time at the dealer’s maintenance shop than it did on the road. But it sure looked nice!

After a year or so of constant electrical malfunctions, my brother traded it in for a brand new 1960 Buick convertible.

Anyone who has gone through a similar series of cars is either rich, or, like my brother, digging a constantly deepening hole of debt. Each time he traded for something new, the total cost was more than the value of the car; he had to include the remaining cost of the old car in the loan for the new one.

Late in 1960, it caught up with him. He had to sell the Buick (at a loss) and concentrate on paying off the loan for cars he no longer owned. That’s when he bought a used 1955 Chevy. It took him two years to get out of debt. When he did, he bought a more sensible 1962 Chevy.

Perhaps my watching him is what keeps me from buying the luxury models. In high school I dreamed of having a metallic blue Corvette. The fanciest car I’ve ever owned was a 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass. I’m perfectly content in viewing automobiles as forms of transportation for getting from point A to point B.

When the Smart car was first introduced in the states, I gave serious thought to getting one. However, the price tag was about twice what my Yaris cost and the gas mileage was about twenty-five percent less.

Needless to say, I’m smart enough to own something other than the Smart car. Of course, I wouldn’t mind driving one… just for the experience.

Then again, if I’m going to drive something “just for the experience” I’d prefer a metallic blue Corvette. Forget gas mileage!