Another Busy Weekend

September 26, 2012

Looking back, my bride and I first got to know and like each other while camping. We both enjoy spending nights listening to the tree frogs, crickets, and other night creatures.

When we first married, one of our first joint purchases was a pop-up camping trailer. At the time we had a Ford F-150 pickup truck that was more than capable of pulling that trailer anywhere we wanted to go. But then the cost of gasoline began to skyrocket. (Obama said that skyrocketing is necessary!)

We decided to sell the truck and buy a fuel-efficient Toyota Yaris. The car is five years old and we’re still getting around 40 miles to the gallon. However, we had to sell the F-150 to pay for the Yaris. Without the tow vehicle, it soon became necessary to sell the pop-up. We did.

A couple of years ago we replaced a Mitsubishi Diamante with a Ford Ranger. That little baby truck is a 1997 model and had around 77,000 miles on it. We now have it up to over 90,000 and were concerned about its towing capacity.

But, we bought the 4,200 pound travel trailer anyway.

Our new travel trailer.

Since we had nothing better to do, we took four grandchildren along for the ride when we went to the dealer, Peco Campers, to pick it up.

Some of our future camping buddies.

Thanks to good friends, Ed and Carol Terry, we learned of a camping resort, Unicoi Springs Camping resort and are now proud members of the place.

Yesterday we hauled our new baby up to Cleveland, Georgia and left it at a storage place that is much closer to the resort. Eventually, we’ll be able to leave the trailer at Unicoi Springs and won’s have to haul it anywhere until Lu is fully retired and we hit the road to look for America!

In the meantime, while all of this was going on, I published the first two chapters of my family history book “Quakers, Politicians, and a Pirate (or two)” as an e-book.

It is available at Amazon.com for Kindles or Barnes & Noble for Nooks.

 


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!


Cap & Trade or Michael Jackson

July 7, 2009

Regardless of which side of the issue you’re on, it should bother you that the news media is spending far more time keeping the American people up to date on the Michael Jackson memorial service than they are in informing us of the progress of the Cap & Trade legislation.

And why are they placing so much emphasis on a dead celebrity? Why are they ignoring more important issues that could affect all tax payers?

Some right wing conservatives would have us believe that the left leaning media is intentionally taking the focus away from Congress so the Obama administration can shove another giant spending (and taxing) bill down our throats.

The left wing radicals would argue otherwise.

Naturally – and unfortunately – the truth has nothing to do with politics. Sadly, the media is giving the American public what the American public wants. I’ll admit I haven’t checked, but I’d bet that any broadcast of the American Idol show garnered a much larger share of the viewing public than any of the Presidential debates.

The truth is a large portion of our population doesn’t care about what goes on in Washington, D.C. In fact, they care even less about what goes on in their own state capitols.

Many years ago I attended a Key Club convention in Philadelphia. Each delegate was given a key ring. On one side was the Key Club logo. On the other was the phrase, “Combat Complacency.”

I believe we’ve lost the battle. In the 1960’s, college students stood up and voiced their opinions. While many of them were wrong in their beliefs, they all had the courage to stand up for what they believed. As a result, many things in our society were changed.

The youth of my youth took the time to learn about things that mattered. Sometimes they heard one side of the story and jumped to incorrect conclusions, but in most instances, they looked at both sides and came to good logical conclusions.

I’m afraid today’s youth are too busy twittering their lives away.

Perhaps that’s the major difference. While we didn’t have CNN, FOX News Channel, C-SPAN, or… come to think of it, we didn’t have any cable channels because we didn’t have cable. We also didn’t have lap top computers and the Internet. But we did have newspapers, news magazines, and the library.

We paid attention to the world around us – sweat bullets during the Cuban Missile Crisis – and felt a responsibility to speak out against what we saw as injustice.

Perhaps that was the influence of John F. Kennedy. I know we all admired the man and took the “New Frontier” very seriously. And we all deeply mourned his passing.

Until President Obama came along, we hadn’t had another President who could reach out and stir the interest of the youth as JFK did. But it appears that the interest of our current youth petered out once their man was elected.

It’s a shame because, the way I see it, it’s the youth and future generations who will be most harmed by what is currently happening in Washington.

The U.S. Government has no business being in business. Every time government has taken over an industry, that industry stops being self-sufficient. For example, independent bus and trolley companies operated in major cities for decades. They competed for riders and most of those companies were profitable.

The companies that couldn’t compete went out of business and their assets were bought up by the other companies. Then, the government decided to take over. The two ‘companies’ I’m most familiar with – the Port Authority Transit (PAT) in Pittsburgh and the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit  Authority (MARTA) – have both operated at a loss for decades. Taxpayer subsidies are the only way they stay afloat.

Will General Motors be any different? Will taxpayer subsidized pricing put Ford, Chrysler, and others out of business?

The Federal Government has put itself in a very awkward position. Congress is talking about passing a ‘clunker bill’ that will give citizens a tax break for trading in an old car for a new, more fuel efficient, car. Will the tax break be higher for those of us who buy a GM product? It would make sense if the government wants their ‘company’ to flourish.

But wouldn’t that be unfair to the other companies? Does the government care?

There are many people who believe the economic crisis could’ve been solved months ago simply by the government letting workers keep their entire paychecks. Think about that. The typical worker has almost a third of his or her paycheck withheld every pay day. If that money had been available to the individuals, they would’ve spent it. Even if they simply paid off some bills, the economy would’ve improved.

Foreclosures would’ve been reduced dramatically and banks would’ve had more money for other loans. Consumers would’ve bought more cars, televisions, and other big ticket items… which would’ve resulted in more jobs.

If consumers bought Fords and Toyotas rather than Chevys and Buicks, GM would’ve had to fix their problems or go out of business. With increased sales, the other auto makers would’ve been able to buy GM factories and put the former GM employees to work building other makes of cars.

Is it too late for the government to get out of the auto business? I hope not. And while they’re at it, they should also get out of the banking and investment businesses.

Come to think of it, maybe it’s time for MARTA and PAT to liquidate and let the private sector show the politicians how it should be done.

Considering the business acumen of most politicians, it wouldn’t take a business genius to repair the damage done by congress. Think of it! How many politicians have held a ‘real’ job during their adult life. There may be a few, but most of them were borderline lawyers who recognized they could make a lot more money supporting the causes of special interest groups.

If they were intelligent enough to be successful business people, why would they even consider becoming a member of Congress?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and see if Michael has been buried yet.


What’s Come and Gone in my Life Time – Part 1

June 15, 2009
My first home - beginning in 1944

My first home - beginning in 1944

As I race toward my sixty-fifth birthday, I find myself wondering how much I take for granted each day. Many new things have appeared during my life-time. And a lot of things have quietly disappeared into the past.

I began listing them alphabetically.

A = The Apple Computer is obviously new; all personal computers are. As for the big old mainframes, they have also come into existence after I did. Alaska was a United States territory until I was a teenager. Air conditioning was around, but not very common. More common were the air vents located just in front of the windshield on many cars. A lever below the center of the dash board was used to open and close the vent.

B = Box top premiums were big when I was a lad. We’d send away for plastic submarines that could be loaded with baking soda and played with in the bath tub. Bon Ami was a cleanser used to remove the ring around that same tub after the dirt on my body was transferred to the water. Bonomo’s Turkish taffy came in three flavors – vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry – and could be eaten in one of two ways. You could try to bite off a chunk which left a long stretchy portion in both your hand and your mouth. Or you could slam the bar down on a hard surface causing it to shatter. Then you could eat the small peices and make much less of a mess.

C = Carburetors were found under the air filter on most cars until electronic fuel injection took over. Any one who has had to try to adjust the fuel and air mixture on a carburetor appreciates the advancements in that area.  The CRT (also known as the CAT scan) took the X-ray to a new level and has become a powerful diagnostic tool. The other CRT (Cathode Ray Tube), has basically come and gone during my time on earth; It was new technology when we sat around watching that thirteen inch television, but has since been replaced by the flat screen Plasma, LCD, and others. Coal furnaces were everywhere in the North when I was growing up. Natural gas has replaced them all.

D = Disk memory is something that is still around, but utilizes totally different technology. In fact, I have ‘flash’ drives that hold more data than all the disks I ever installed while working at IBM. Dick Tracy, as far as I know, bit the dust many years ago, and took Prune Face, Flat Top, B.J. Plenty and all the other characters with him. Decoder rings offered by the Little Orphan Annie radio show, Captain Midnight, and others were among the Box Top premiums that are not longer available. The DeSoto automobile left the scene before I was old enough to drive.

E = The Edsel somehow became equated with all automotive lemons. As far as I know, that is a terrible mistake. I knew one person who owned an Edsel and he was very fond of it. Unless my memory is totally off base on this one, I’d say the Edsel was a fairly decent car… but the Ford Motor Company did a lousy job marketing it. Electric eye head light dimmers were a standard feature on Cadillacs for many years. When the device picked up the light from on-coming cars, it automatically switched the car’s headlights to low beam. It was a nice device – when it worked properly. Maybe they were never able to get it to work properly, because I haven’t seen it in years.

F = Full Service gas stations not only checked your oil and the air in your tires, they cleaned your windows and gave you saving stamps. Today, we’re hard pressed to find a station that will pump your gas… period. Unless, of course, you’re driving through New Jersey. In that state, self-service is against the law. Talk about strong labor unions. Floor mounted dimmer switches have long ago been replaced by an added feature on the turn signal lever. Would you believe that turn signals were not standard equipment in my youth? We had to put our arms out the window to signal our intentions. Frozen custard is the thing I miss the most. It was similar to soft serve ice cream but tasted far better. My guess is it contained raw eggs.

G = Gas grill. That’s right. We didn’t have the argument among the Bar-B-Que kings. The only option was charcoal. Wait, I’m probably wrong on this. Some folks might have used wood.

Look for Part 2 sometime in the future.


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.

——————————————————————————————

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.