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.

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Jeremiah Was Kinfolk

March 29, 2010

Jeremiah Leeds, the first white settler on Absecon Island (now Atlantic City, New Jersey) was a great-great-great uncle of mine. I may have omitted a “great” or two or three, but that doesn’t matter. I’m more interested in the bullfrog today.

Actually, the thought that is stuck on my craw is the idea of being “King of the World.” Have you ever given that any thought? If you were “King of the World” for even a day, what would you do?

After careful thought, here is what I, as a hard-working American, would do.

Number one: Cut off all foreign aid.

We are paying Egypt the same as we are paying Israel for only one reason. Egypt will leave Israel alone as long as we continue to pay them. This is thanks to Jimmy Carter.

And what is Egypt doing with the money? They’re supporting schools that teach the children to hate Americans. And what is Israel doing with their payola? Besides paying spies to spy on the U.S., they’re using the money to kill Palestinians, which give the Arab nations a good reason to hate Americans.

I’m not sure where else American tax dollars are going, but my guess is they are having a similar effect regardless of where they are going. We pay people to do things the way we want them to do them. Ask yourself, if the government was paying you to do things a certain way, would you? Even when the government isn’t looking?

Consider all the cash we sent to Saddam Hussein when he was fighting Iran (to our benefit) and how he used it to build palaces for himself – ignoring the Iraqi people and encouraging them to hate Americans. Are other recipient nations doing less? I doubt it. The leaders are taking the money and feathering their own nests and the poor people of their countries are left wondering why the United States of American has abandoned them.

So, my solution is simple. Let’s eliminate the middle-men. If someone in Iraq needs help paying the rent, they can fill out an application and we will consider each applicant on an individual basis. Deserving people will be helped. Undeserving people will be encouraged to go pound salt.

While we’re at it, we’ll use the same approach for welfare in America. People who have physical or mental problems that keep them from earning a livable wage will be helped. The rest will be told to go suck eggs.

As for health care, the same rules will apply. If you are unable to afford health insurance – for a legitimate reason – we’ll use tax dollars. If you are too lazy to work, or consider yourself immortal, you will be left to prove it.

As for companies, the adage “Too big to allow to fail” will be erased from the American psyche. If your management screws up, your company becomes part of American History. It’s that simple.

Pre-existing conditions will mean nothing. If you have insurance when you are struck with a chronic or terminal illness, your insurance company will be required, by law, to pay your bills. They gambled on you and lost.

On the other hand, if you saw no need for health insurance until you were struck with the chronic or terminal illness, you gambled, and you lost.

For the sake of your family, I’ll encourage the tax payers to pick up your tab. But I won’t force an insurance company to go bankrupt due to your stupidity.

There is one other major area that I, as King of the World, would look into. We may have the best equipped and trained military in the world, but I believe we could attain the same results with a lot less money. Therefore, I’d force every high ranking military official to justify every penny that is spent. I’ll bet we could achieve the same results on half the cost.

As for other government run entities, I’d sell off AMTRAK, the Postal Service, the V.A. Hospitals, and a number of other programs to the private sector. There is no doubt in my mind that people trying to earn a profit could do a much better job.

To me, the major problems with government involvement are two-fold. For those living on the dole, the government has removed the shame that would encourage them to get off the dole as soon as possible.

As for government run entities, there is no incentive to make a profit. In fact, there is no incentive to break even. Thus, the tax payers are stuck with the annual bail-out programs that aren’t even reported by the mainstream media. Either the media are trying to protect the politicians who are bringing our country to ruin, or simply see no reason to report old news.

I don’t have a telephone like Glenn Beck to encourage people to point out the flaws in my assessments, but I do encourage your feedback. If I’m wrong, tell me where! But don’t deal in generalities. Give me specifics!


Is there a Family Resemblance?

February 17, 2010

An ancestor of mine was the first Mayor of Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Cousin Chalkley Steelman Leeds

At the same time, his brother was that city’s first Post Master.

Cousin Robert Barclay Leeds

And then there is me.

Do I look as serious as my ancestors?

I have yet to be elected to any city or county office and I let my brother do the Post Master thing. But you’ve got to admit it. We could pass as triplets!


He Who Hesitates

January 26, 2010

I’ve often advised people to pick the brains of their older relatives while their brains are still around to be picked. For whatever reason, people don’t seem to get interested in genealogy until later in life… after their parents and grandparents have gone on to their eternal rest.

I’m down to my last two good sources of information: my sister, Gert, and my cousin, Ruth Morris.

I’m going to ask my sister to read this post. I’m hoping she can answer some questions that never occurred to me prior to this morning.

First, some background. Our oldest brothers, Bill and Lew (Seward and Somers to the family) dropped out of high school and joined the Navy during World War II. They both became Sea Bees (Construction Battalion) and spent at least six years each in the service.

As Sea Bees, they drove trucks and operated heavy machinery as they helped build landing strips, boat piers, bridges, and other facilities for the military.

So, why, after leaving the Navy, did they each go out and get a job working in an office?

Bill (Seward) went to work in the city or county Prothonotary’s office. For those of us who had no idea what a Prothonotary is, it’s the principal clerk of courts.

At the time, the Prothonotary was a gentleman by the name of David Lawrence. Lawrence would later become the Mayor of Pittsburgh and, still later, the Governor of Pennsylvania.

Bill did not like the job and soon went to work at Hammel’s Express as a truck driver.

In the meantime, Lew (Somers) took a job with American Standard and was soon transferred (promoted?) to New York City. Like his twin, he failed to warm up to the office environment and left American Standard to take a job driving a truck for the Fort Pitt Plumbing Supply company.

Now I find myself wondering why either of them took office jobs in the first place. I also have to wonder how they got hired back in the early 1950s when neither of them held a high school diploma.

Unfortunately, I never thought to ask those questions while they were still alive. I’m hoping Gert knows the answers.

In the meantime, let this be a lesson to anyone who might one day get interested in family history. Don’t hesitate to ask while you still have someone around to provide answers.

He who hesitates is lost.


Another Mystery Solved

July 24, 2009

About a week ago I mentioned that I was trying to learn the origin of the names of two towns. One was Laboratory, Pennsylvania, and the other was Forks of Ivy, North Carolina.

A basic search of the Internet told me that Laboratory, PA was originally known as Pancake, PA because a man named George Pancake ran a tavern there. I guessed that the name had to be changed in order to get a Post Office; at the time, Pennsylvania had two towns named Pancake.

I sent a request for information to the Washington County Historical Society in Pennsylvania. Here is the response sent me by Janet Wareham.

Earle Forrest wrote about this area in his 1926 History of Washington County, Pennsylvania in the chapter on South Strabane Township.  He discusses first George Pancake, then Jonathan Martin and adds this paragraph:

“About thirty years ago the late Dr. Byron Clark, who resided near the end of East Maiden Street, Washington, established a chemical laboratory for the manufacture of patent medicine, which he sold throughout the country.  He had a post office established and named the place Laboratory, by which it is still known, although the original name of Pancake still sticks.”

The only part I had right was that the U.S. Post Office was involved.

Now, let’s see if we can solve the mystery of Forks of Ivy. Maybe a member of the Forks of Ivy Baptist Church can help us.


A Little Touch-up

May 20, 2009

In yesterday’s post, I painted my big brother, Lew, (as opposed to my other brother, Lew) as a man with a dedication to perfection and a temper to go along with that disposition.

Like most of us humans, both of the twins had multifaceted personalities. Bill’s idiosyncrasies were more difficult to pin-point due to his predominantly easy-going nature. However, Lew was more of a man of extremes. Actually, in Lew’s case, I should make that present tense… he still exhibits some of those old tendencies from time to time.

Lew, the man who got so angry with himself that he threw a bowling ball out of a window on the fifth floor of a building, was the same man who annually rented an Easter Bunny costume and bought a case of eggs.

Dressed in that costume and sweating profusely, he’d sit in the window of Vrabel’s Dairy Store and dye those eggs. Parents would bring their children to see the Easter Bunny getting ready to make his rounds.

In the evening, Lew would have someone drive him to each of the area hospitals so he could pass out candy and eggs to children who were spending Easter in the hospital.

I was his driver on a few occasions. When nurses asked me who was in the costume, my answer was, “If I told you that, I’d be the first person to be killed by an Easter Bunny.”

The man has a heart of gold. But he also loves to tease.

When I was in high school and he was not yet married, he’d wake me for school as he was leaving for work. However, there were times that I’d come out of the bathroom, all ready for school, and find him lying in his bed laughing. When I checked the clock, I’d see that it was shortly past midnight. Lew had just come home from whatever he was doing that evening and was playing with me.

Of course, I’d return the favor when he let me use his car. I’d spend an evening cruising with my friends and return the car with an empty gas tank.

Soon, he learned to loan me his car and his gas credit card. He’d often give me a few dollars for spending money if he knew I had a date.

One more story before I start thinking about tomorrow’s post.

We were rebuilding the porch on my sister’s home in Greentree. Gert’s husband, Mac (real name A.J. Cronin), was there, as were his sons, Terry and Keith, and Lew and I.

At one point Gert asked if we’d like lunch. She was offering bologna sandwiches. Lew said he’d like one with yellow mustard… but he wanted the mustard on the meat – not the bread.

Unless Gert gave him multiple slices of meat (which she wasn’t about to do) there was no way to tell where she put the mustard. Naturally, when he got the sandwich, he complained that she had done it wrong.

Like I said, the man loves to tease… even his big sister.

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On a somewhat related note…

When I was in college at Edinboro, I received a letter from Gert. The return address stated it was from A.J. Cronin. My roommate, Roger Frazier – an English major, had picked up the mail and was all excited that I was receiving mail from A.J. Cronin.

When I said simply that it was my brother-in-law, he flipped out. To be honest, I’d never heard of the A.J. Cronin he was referring to. Needless to say, Roger was grossly disappointed when he learned the truth.


Me and My Siblings – Part I-A

May 19, 2009

A while back I began writing about my oldest brothers. To review what I’ve written so far, click here.

Our last family portrait

Our last family portrait

I left off at a point where both Bill and Lew (Seward and Somers to family members) had been discharged from the Navy and had moved back in with our parents. We’ll pick up the story from there.

By 1953, both of the twins were home. They each had a car and a job. Lew had an office job with American Standard and Bill was driving a local delivery truck for Hammel’s Express. I don’t recall the exact amount, but they each paid our parents for room and board.

Lew didn’t last long with American Standard; he hated being cooped up in an office. He took a job as a truck driver for Fort Pitt Plumbing Supply. Years later, when they went out of business, he went to work for a company called Dilner that operated a facility for loading and unloading river barges. Somehow during that employment he came into contact with asbestos and now suffers from a lung disease caused by asbestos.

It wasn’t long before they each took jobs as bartenders in the evenings to supplement their incomes. After all, it cost money to go to all the sporting events they attended with their friends. They both had season tickets to the University of Pittsburgh football games and often went to away games. In fact, one year they took me along to a game in Syracuse, New York.

They also went to Pittsburgh Steelers games, Hornets hockey games at the Duquesne Gardens, as well as Pitt and Duquesne basketball games. Of course, they went to many Pirate games too.

In addition to watching sports, they took part in bowling leagues and played football and softball. My guess is that they also played more than their share of basketball and golf.

Sometimes it seemed that the sports in their lives outweighed their desire to spend time with the ladies. However, they did manage to go out on dates from time to time. That’s when I played the part of a valet for them.

I often shined their shoes for special events and made many trips to Swartz’s cleaners to have their dress clothes cleaned and pressed. I don’t recall if Mr. Swartz did shirts or not because, for whatever reason, the twins opted to have their dress shirts laundered by Brandi Cleaners – a company that picked up and delivered to our house.

Both of my brothers liked having nice clean cars to drive. They often paid me and our other brother (the other Lew) to wash those vehicles. If memory serves me, while they both liked newer cars, Bill was the more conservative. He began with a 1953 Pontiac that he traded in for a 1956 Pontiac. That car gave way to a 1959 Pontiac which was eventually replaced by a 1955 Ford. (I’ll explain that move shortly.)

In the meantime, his twin went from a 1953 Plymouth to a 1955 Buick. The Buick was replaced by a 1958 Oldsmobile that was quickly replaced by a 1959 Cadillac. The Caddy was a real shock to my parents’ systems. At $6,500, it cost three hundred dollars more than our house.

Lew soon tired of the Cadillac and traded it in for a 1960 Buick convertible. I really liked that car because I was about to turn sixteen and had high hopes of one day driving it. However, the combined costs of all the new cars caught up with Lew. By the time I got my driver’s license, he was driving a 1955 Chevy.

Eventually Lew got his finances in order and bought a new 1962 Chevy. He’s had so many cars since then that I couldn’t begin to keep track. The major factor is that he learned his lesson and only drives what he can afford to drive.

In 1959, Bill got engaged to Rose Macino. Bill was a thirty-two year old bachelor and Rose was a nineteen year old girl from a large Italian family that owned a corner grocery in the Elliot section of Pittsburgh.

While some fathers of nineteen year old girls might’ve been upset with their daughters getting involved with older men, Mr. Macino was delighted. That’s because my brothers were well known in the area and had sparkling reputations. They were seen by most to be great ‘catches’.

Bill and Rose were married on Memorial Day of 1960. Bill liked the idea because he’d always be able to remember their anniversary. That’s before the government stepped in and changed the official date of Memorial Day. Thus, if you can remember when Memorial Day used to be, you’d know the date they tied the knot.

For Bill, the jump from paying mom and dad for room and board to paying rent and buying groceries for two came as a surprise. That’s why he sold the 1959 Pontiac and replaced it with an old Ford.

By 1961, Bill was the proud father of Lynne. Over the next several years, Rose would give birth to Amy, Billy, Richie, and Mark. Each of those children will tell you there was never a more loving – and forgiving – father.

In the meantime, Lew held out. It wasn’t until 1965 when he finally married. His bride was a widow by the name of Dorothy McConnell. Dot, as she was known, had Elizabeth (known to all as Snookie), Dee, Dick, and Patty.

This marriage made things rather interesting for me. Dick and I had graduated from high school together, and Patty – who I dated from time to time – was a year younger.

Because of my sisters, I already had three nephews and a niece close to my age; now I had nieces older than me! In fact, Snookie and Dee were already married and had children. I became an instant ‘great’ uncle!

Both of the twins settled into married life and were fantastic fathers – whether their children were their own or not. They continued to be great sports fans, but had to give up the road games and many of the home games. They continued to bowl and golf, but long ago gave up football and softball.

We lost Bill to cancer a few years back, but Lew is still going strong.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t say something about their differing personalities… and the fact that I often felt as though I had three fathers.

Bill was the more laid back of the two. While he always encouraged me and his own children to do our best, he readily accepted whatever effort we made and praised us for our successes.

Lew, on the other hand, was the perfectionist. He was probably harder on himself than he was on others, but sometimes that was difficult to see.

I recall one time when the three of us (the other Lew was in the Army at the time) were building a new back porch for our parents. We were at the point of putting down the flooring. I was measuring, Bill was cutting, and Lew was nailing.

If a board was a thirty-second of an inch off, he’d throw it back at us. If it was too long, he wanted more cut off. If it was too short, he wanted it discarded.

The porch was about twenty feet long across the back of the house and came out about ten feet. We were laying the boards perpendicular to the house and at the rate we were going, the scrap heap was bigger than the porch. We would soon run out of lumber and have less than half the floor laid.

Then Lew received a phone call. When he went in to answer the phone, I ran up on to the porch with a stack of the scrap. I began nailing the boards while Bill handed more up. By the time Lew got off the phone and came back out, I had two thirds of the flooring down.

He took one look at the jagged edge, yelled at me for turning it into a hillbilly dump, and stormed out of the house and drove away.

While he was gone, Bill and I completed the flooring. I then took the electric saw and, starting at one end, cut the boards to make them all the same length.

The subject was never again brought up for discussion.

Lew’s temper and need to be perfect cost him a few golf clubs… that were either thrown into lakes or bent around trees. However, the event that caused him to rethink his attitude and led to his mellowing occurred at Alvin’s Southside Bowling Alley.

Alvin’s had five floors with about six alleys on each floor. One evening, Lew was bowling on the fourth or fifth floor and having a terrible night. Please note that ‘terrible’ is a relative term. He may have been averaging over two hundred for the three game set; but if he thought he should be averaging ten pins higher, to him, it was terrible.

When his anger got the best of him, he walked over to an open window and threw his blowing ball into the alley below. Fortunately, there were no pedestrians in that alley.

Taking driving lessons from the two of them was a “good cop, bad cop” experience. Bill would concentrate on what I was doing right and Lew would do the opposite.

To a great extent, I believe my personality was shaped more by my brothers than my parents. I’m sure my children will tell you that at times I could be compared to each of their uncles.

There is so much more I could say about Bill and Lew, but I’ve already gone my self-imposed limit for words. I’m sure my writings will continue to reflect on them as well as my parents, sisters, and other brother.

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I never gave it any thought until now that the twins were always referred to as Bill and Lew or Seward and Somers. Bill (Seward) was the oldest… by a few minutes, so I guess that’s why we never said Lew and Bill or Somers and Seward. I’ll have to ask Lew if that ever bothered him.