June 14, 2014
Once upon a time in the far off land of my childhood …
Granddaddy took me everywhere with him. Then he got sick and died when I was seven. He was 63. I asked if he got sick because he didn’t eat his lunch. Uncle Bob, sitting at the head of the table at family Sunday dinners and holding our plates, large spoon piled high with mashed potatoes poised to serve us, said to my brother and me in turn, “Do you want them easy or hard?” He was 61 when he died unexpectedly of colon cancer in 1973. Whenever I asked Daddy the meaning of a word, he said, “Look it up.” He took us on Sunday rides through the country, to the old Southwest Airport (now Philadelphia International) to watch the airplanes, and wrote a novel before he was married; he sent it to one publisher, who rejected it. He played the piano and organ and composed music. Daddy lived a long life. He died in 2004 at age 90, suddenly, when his aorta split. As teenagers, Daddy played the clarinet, Uncle Bob the sax. Daddy and Uncle Bob loved big bands and had extensive record collections. Uncle Bob loved photography and reading. He’d often vanish into a spare bedroom for a couple of hours and read a whole novel.
(There is a soundtrack to this story: click on number 40 in my “The Dream” playlist.)
Here they are relaxing in rocking chairs on the porch of the family summer home in Sea Isle City, N.J., with their dog, Tippy. Tippy died in 1939, two years before I was born, but the family talked about him long after. This photo was taken in the late 1930s.
Granddaddy didn’t drive. He had a chauffeur until Uncle Bob, two years older than Daddy, learned to drive. They said the chauffeur only polished the side of the car facing the house, as the car sat in the driveway. Uncle Bob was a good driver; he was a volunteer fireman and later chased fire trucks; he taught Daddy and Aunt Marguerite how to drive. He taught Grandmother, too, but she had a lead foot, so that didn’t work out so well.
There was an owl. It hooted outside Uncle Bob and Aunt Marguerite’s bedroom window where they lived in my grandparents’ home in the western Philadelphia suburbs until 1950 when their own home was built. When I was two, Granddaddy, Uncle Bob and Daddy took me to get a puppy, a collie/shepherd mix. They named him Butch. Uncle Bob drove the Packard. Daddy rode shotgun. I rode in the back seat with Granddaddy and Butch, who had his paw in Granddaddy’s pocket.
Uncle Bob and Daddy went away in the Army during World War II. Daddy was stationed at Fort Dix, N.J.; Uncle Bob went overseas – to North Africa, with the Allies onto Sicily, up through Italy and to Belgium. I remember when the war ended and they came home. Uncle Bob brought me a doll from Brussels. This was a special doll; I have always cherished it and still have it.
Granddaddy loved being surrounded by people. He and Grandmother hosted large dinner parties inviting all sides of the family. One of Granddaddy’s four sisters, Edna, married a man who came from England, Edgar. Uncle Edgar talked funny. Uncle Bob and Daddy used to call them Edner and Edgah.
We often vacationed at the South Jersey shore in the summertime. In the early days, the three men would travel to work in the city during the week, returning home to the shore by train each evening. Years later, when I was a teenager, my brother and I stayed with Uncle Bob and Aunt Marguerite in Ocean City, N.J. That’s where my brother fell running on the boardwalk. It took a long time to get all the splinters out of his shins. Uncle Bob and I spent our beach days riding the waves on rafts (air mattresses). On the upper deck of this house is where Uncle Bob proclaimed daily at 5 p.m., “The Ocean Bar and Sea View Grill is now open.”
Granddaddy, Uncle Bob and Daddy, all three of them were my fathers in many ways. They gave me a secure and happy childhood. I could not have asked for more. This is my humble tribute to them. I will miss them always.
On this page I have placed just a few images. I have uploaded more from our family albums. If you are interested, you can see more of the family “rogues gallery” here. It is curious how the mind telescopes time. Seeing these old photos and nostalgizing on relevant events evokes their presence as if they are right here with me again, as if all that went in between never existed. Happy Father’s Day.