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!

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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!


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.


Thoughts and Memories on Turkey Day

November 26, 2009

As my bride and I prepare to head to her eldest son’s house to watch him deep-fry a turkey — and share in the feast that goes with it — my thoughts drift back to Thanksgiving Day, 1965.

As a college student, I, and the group of guys I roomed with, worked in the cafeteria. In addition, we had all learned to cook while still living at home. As a result, we often created some scrumptious meals.

A perfect example is the time we decided to hold a spaghetti dinner for our entire fraternity. We made the noodles from scratch. We also made the salad dressing from scratch. (We’d forgotten to buy it and one of the guys spent a summer working as a salad chef in Atlantic City.)

Just prior to the Thanksgiving break in 1965, we decided to have our own turkey dinner. We cooked everything from scratch and shared a marvelous meal.

Then we all headed to our respective homes to enjoy the time with our family and friends.

On the big day, we sat down to my mother’s version of the Thanksgiving feast. Everything was going great until one of my brothers looked at me and said, “It must be great for you to come home to such a wonderful home cooked meal!”

I never told my family that I lied that day.

Of course I said “Yes! It is wonderful!” However, I couldn’t help thinking about the great feast we had enjoyed in Edinboro, Pennsylvania. I also couldn’t admit the one ingredient that made my college meal better than my mom’s.

My friends and I had enjoyed a few bottles of wine with our dinner. Mom wouldn’t have dreamed of serving any sort of alcohol with her meals.

Red wine sure goes well with turkey. I wonder if my step-son will serve red wine today.

Whether he does or not, I’m sure we’ll have a wonderful time.

Between us, my bride and I have seven grown children and thirteen grandchildren. I’d say we have lots of things to be thankful for on this turkey day.


Living off the Land

August 12, 2009

One of my ancestors, Jeremiah Leeds (1754 – 1838), was a master when it came to living off the land.

The following is from “The Daily Union History of Atlantic City and County” by John F. Hall, Published 1900:

Jeremiah Leeds (1754 – 1838), the first permanent (white) settler on this island, so far as known, like many of his fellow-countrymen one hundred years ago, was a man of stalwart mould. He stood six feet in height and weighed fully two hundred and fifty pounds and was a Quaker. There is no evidence that he left the Quaker neighborhood at Leeds Point and came to this island to live permanently previous to 1783, when he was twenty-nine years old. He built his first log cabin and cleared away the field where it stood. He raised several crops of corn and rye and became thoroughly familiar with the very great abundance of wild ducks and geese and many kinds of sea fowl which then were tame and plenty, but are now rarely seen. He no doubt experienced the great pest of mosquitoes where there were so many ponds and swamps among the sand hills, and assisted as a wrecker in those days when many vessels with valuable cargoes were lost on the Brigantine shoals. It is difficult in these days to fully appreciate the advantages and the disadvantages which this stretch of beach afforded a young man who seems to have had no aspirations for political honors, but had his way in the world. The records at Trenton show, that he had risen to be First Lieutenant in Captain Joseph Covenover’s Sixth Company, Third Battalion, Gloucester County Militia, his commission bearing the date of September 18, 1777.

For fifty-five years this stalwart son of the Revolution lived on this lonely island and prospered, occupying log cabins till a more pretentious frame structure could be built in his old age. He raised cattle and grain and sold to passing vessels his surplus products and was under but little expense for taxes or the luxuries of life.

He was careful to build brush fences along the beach to catch the sand and build up the sand-hills to keep high tides out of the fresh water ponds so necessary for the wild fowl which comprised an important part of his food supply. He disliked to have sportsmen trespass upon his estate, though he always granted permission to shoot game under certain restrictions when he was asked.

He was particular to keep away from his sand-hills the cattle and horses which owners on the mainland brought over here in the summer to pasture. If the grass were eaten off, the sand-hills would blow away, which was detrimental to his policy of building up the island. The big sand-hills, which many now living can remember, were the result of the care and vigilance of patriarch Leeds, the original proprietor.

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In case you’re wondering why a Quaker fought in the Revolutionary War (against the Society of Friends teachings of non-violence), we need only consider this additional information provided by Mr. Hall.

Jeremiah Leeds, in his old age, used to tell the story of a visit which his father, John Leeds, received one day from foraging Redcoats, just before the Revolution.

A British vessel entered Great Bay in full view from Leeds Point. Two barges with soldiers and sailors came ashore for fresh meat. The captain ordered the Quaker farmer to drive up his cattle which were grazing in the meadows nearby. This was done, where upon two fat steers were selected from the herd and quickly knocked in the head, their bodies quartered, loaded on wagons and taken to the barges and to the ship.

“All right. That’s all,” was the farewell greeting of the captain to the farmer, who considered himself lucky in losing so little by the uninvited visitors. The steers happened to be the personal property of Jeremiah and his brother, and were worth perhaps at that time six or eight dollars per head. This event had its effect in making a soldier of a Quaker boy in the war of the Revolution which soon followed.

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Another ‘by the way’, the island that Jeremiah occupied is now better known as Atlantic City.

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Sadly, Jeremiah was part of a tiny minority of humans who tried to take care of the land upon which their lives depended. Over the centuries, industrialists and others have taken a far different approach.

For example, starting in the 1600’s, wealthy men decided that ivory billiard balls were far superior to their wooden and clay predecessors. The best source of ivory at the time was the tusks of elephants. And the only way to get the tusk of an elephant was to kill the beast.

Over the next couple of hundred years, thousands of elephants were destroyed so that their ivory tusks could be ‘harvested’. The tusks were the only things carried away by the hunters; the bodies were left to rot where they lay.

One might think that humans eventually came to their senses and recognized the evil of slaughtering innocent animals so men of wealth could strike ivory balls with wooden sticks. That wasn’t it at all. The truth is that the manufacturers of the billiard balls recognized that the world was running low on elephants. For them to remain in business, they had to find a substitute material.

Obviously, animal life has often been seen as insignificant. The great American Buffalo slaughter was not caused by the population’s insatiable appetite for Bison steaks. On the contrary, humans wanted the hides. The leather was perfect for machine belts during the Industrial Revolution, and the winter coats of the animals worked well for winter coats for humans.

The meat of the animals was left to rot much like the elephant’s carcasses.

And the blame cannot be laid at the feet of men like Buffalo Bill Cody. The animals he shot were used to feed the armies of railroad workers.

In truth, the first people to slaughter Buffaloes for the skins were the American Indians who sold the hides to the white businessmen.

I’ve heard of numerous complaints about air and water quality in the United States. Perhaps growing up in Pittsburgh gives me a different perspective.

When I was a lad, people used their headlights during the day and mothers hung their wash in the basement to keep it clean while it dried. Very few people fished in the three rivers because of all the chemical pollutants.

Today, the air is much cleaner and the rivers have become a sportsman’s paradise with trout, pike, bass, and many other species being caught on a regular basis.

Our country has done a tremendous job in reducing pollution. Is there more that needs to be done? Of course, but things are so much better than they were.

I guess you’d have to see how bad it was before you could recognize how much better it is.

As for the senseless killing of animals… unfortunately, the slaughter continues. Poachers are killing mountain gorillas so people can have vases made out of their feet, elephants are still being killed for their tusks, sharks are killed for their fins, bears for their livers, and so on.

It’s very similar to the drug trade. As long as there is someone with a wad of money willing to buy these items, men will kill innocent animals so they can feed their families.

We, as humans, have a tendancy to look the other way to avoid seeing the evils in this world. Besides, we have to keep up with the lives and deaths of people like Michael Jackson and the next American Idol. Those things are far more important.


Earliest Trips to New Jersey Shore

May 28, 2009

Because my father was raised in South Jersey and still had family living in that area, most of our annual vacations were taken at the shore.

I can vaguely remember riding in the old Chevrolet. As I recall, it was a green car that looked something like the one in this photo.

Gone by 1949 but not forgotten

Gone by 1949 but not forgotten

I always thought that car was a 1943, but while looking for a photo I discovered that Chevy didn’t make any consumer cars that year. They were too busy building military vehicles.

In any case, you’ll note the car had a large back seat area. It was large enough (and I was small enough) that I could lie on the floor and use the middle hump as a pillow. My older brother had the luxury of lying on the shelf by the rear window. (Back then, seat belts in cars were non-existent.)

I vividly recall looking up and out the windows and watching the utility poles flash by as we ‘sped’ down the road.

In those early days, we were only able to speed between Irwin, Pennsylvania and Carlisle, Pennsylvania – a distance of about one hundred and sixty miles. In the late 1940’s, the total distance we traveled was more than four hundred miles and much of it was on the old U.S. highways that went through dozens of small towns.

Many of those old highways were three lanes that required drivers to be extremely careful when passing. That middle lane – used by motorists going in both directions – resulted in many head-on collisions.

We usually began our vacations late on a Friday night. Dad would come home from work and sleep for a few hours while mom packed the car. Then, around midnight, we’d start on the long journey. We lived about forty or fifty miles from Irwin and it was mostly city driving. The Penn-Lincoln Parkway did not exist and there were lots of traffic lights.

From Irwin, we’d sail along the ‘new’ turnpike that had opened for traffic in 1940. When we got to Carlisle, we’d return to the U.S. highways and continue our eastward trek.

As I recall, we sometimes avoided Philadelphia by passing through Wilmington, Delaware. If we did go through Philly, we’d cross over the Ben Franklin Bridge.

By eleven o’clock on Saturday morning, we’d be greeted by Uncle Lewis and Aunt Nellie. I’m sure dad was exhausted, but Lewis and I were ready to go crabbing and fishing.

In 1951, the Pennsylvania Turnpike was opened from the Ohio line to Philadelphia. That cut an hour or two off the trip and also made it possible for us to stop at a Howard Johnson’s for more than gasoline.

Coincidentally, a song that sticks in my head because I heard it so much during our travels between Pittsburgh and South Jersey was also recorded in 1951.

Les Paul and Mary Ford were popular recording artists of the time. Several years later, they divorced, but Les Paul continued playing guitar and began designing his own line of guitars. I’m sure my step-son, the rock star, has heard of Les Paul guitars… but he might be left wondering who the guy in that video is.

Getting back to our vacation journeys… the Walt Whitman Bridge opened in 1957 making the trip even easier. Then, in 1965, the Atlantic City Expressway opened.

Today that trip that took at least eleven hours in 1948 can be accomplished in under seven.

Many people have come to take the Interstate Highway System for granted… as though it has always been there. For the younger generations, that is absolutely true – it has always been there!

But those of us who remember being stuck behind trucks and buses winding their way along two-lane U.S. highways cannot thank President Eisenhower enough for pushing the idea through congress.

However, let me let you in on a secret.

If you are not in any big hurry to get from one city to the next, get off that Interstate and follow the old U.S. highways. In many cases, you’ll find the road surface to be in much better condition. It has been resurfaced and doesn’t carry the heavy burden of trucks, buses, and cars.

If you like looking at old buildings (many, unfortunately, abandoned) along with farms and forests, you’ll find the travel much more interesting.

Just keep the secret to yourself. We don’t want everybody to get off the Interstates. Smelling the roses won’t be so sweet if you’re stuck in a traffic jam.


Traveling is on the Mind

May 26, 2009

Ever since I started sticking pins in that map on Facebook, my spirit has been urging me to go… somewhere… anywhere!

My wanderlust was not helped at all by our Memorial Day activities.

A group of folks from church got together for a cook-out yesterday and I found myself reminiscing about Atlantic City’s Steel Pier with Karen Taylor. Karen grew up near Burlington, New Jersey, which is the town where my ancestors landed around 1676.

Karen was fascinated by the fact that, on my very first date back in 1961, my lady friend and I went for a ‘ride’ in the diving bell. Karen had done likewise many years ago and had never encountered anyone else crazy enough to go under water in that big metal monstrosity. The sad part is we both agreed that we couldn’t see anything as we peered out the small portholes. The waves crashing on the beach made it impossible to see any kind of fish.

Karen and I got to talking about the diving bell after a discussion of the ‘diving’ horses on the steel pier. Personally, I never thought the horses got any real thrill from jumping off the platform into the ocean. In fact, as I recall, the ‘diving board’ dropped out from under them. The horses had no choice in the matter.

My other memory of that day in Atlantic City was sitting in the large auditorium on the Steel Pier and listening to Xavier Cugat and Abbe Lane.

Naturally, all of this talk made me want to rent a house on the beach and return to the spot where my family vacationed all those many years ago.

Of course, if I couldn’t do that, I’d have no problem returning to Texas and walking along the River Walk in San Antonio. A visit to the San Diego Zoo would be nice… especially if we won the lottery and could take our grandchildren along.

There are so many places I’d love to see again… almost as many as the people I’d love to see again.

But there are also those places to which I’ve never been. Winning the lottery would go a long way toward paying our airfare, meals, and hotels as we visited Rome, Athens (not the one here in Georgia), Berlin, Tokyo, Amsterdam, Brussels, and so many other places.

I know that I will now be watching the travel web sites looking for that great bargain. When I find it, we’re gone!