Category Archives: HUNTING HISTORY
A couple of days ago I realized that I had no idea how my mother and father first met.
I was always closer to my mother than I was to my father, but my mother was very closed mouth about things that weren’t any one else’s (meaning her children’s) business. By just using simple math and a little historical data, I had figured out that they had met about 1933 when my father was 19 and my mother was 21. (My mother didn’t know about the age difference, because my father lied about his age, telling her he was two years older than she.) But how did they meet one another?
While they lived only eight city blocks away from each other, they lived in entirely different social and cultural neighborhoods. Both were third generation American citizens, but my father lived in a predominant German/Catholic neighborhood and my mother in a mixed Polish/Irish/Italian/Catholic neighborhood. (Sort of a Depression Era North Side Story.) To confuse matters more they also belonged to two different Catholic parishes that were only three blocks apart.
Now my younger brother was always closer to my father than I was, and they shared a passion for fishing, which all things considered is a rather boring pastime. So I figured they had to spent time talking about something other that the fish not biting while they were threading worms on fish hooks. So I gave him a call, and asked the question. Unlike my mother, my father apparently had no secrets and he had revealed all to my brother.
Flashback to My Grandpa Skip … my mother’s father. He was a baseball fanatic and he had hoped to have nine sons so that he could have his own baseball team. While he had nine offspring, three of them turned out to be girls. And while my mother, his oldest daughter was a more than adequate batting practice pitcher, she didn’t qualify to play with his team against the other all guy teams. So he resorted to picking up possible players from the guys who were watching his team practice at Fairgrounds Park in Old North Saint Louis.
One of the guys he asked to join his team was a friend of one of his sons. The friend also had a friend who had a friend who happened to be my father. So my father joined my grandfather’s baseball team as an outfielder. As he told my brother, he was an adequate outfielder who sole claim to fame was the day he was running to catch a hit ball when a woman pushing a baby carriage decided to cut across the ball field. There was no way he could stop without running into the carriage, so he jumped completely over the top of it. And also caught the ball for the out. (I was skeptical about this story, so I went on line to research early 30s baby carriages and strollers. I discovered many had smaller diameter wheels and were actually built closer to the ground. So it would have been possible for a running 19-year old to leap over one. Dumb, but possible.) When my brother retold the story, I remembered my mother’s brothers always talking about the incident at family picnics and other gatherings. But I had completely forgot about my father playing on my grandfather’s team. And since my mother was at all the games, and since she was rather hot looking at the time … …it was only natural that my father started “courting” her.
My grandfather’s baseball them was part of the Saint Louis Amateur Baseball League and they regularly played against teams in the Negro Baseball League and other semi-professional teams of the era. His two twin sons tried out for the Saint Louis Cardinals. One was a pitcher and the other was a catcher. They wanted to sign the pitcher to a contract, but he refused to sign because they didn’t want to sign his brother. So they continued to play on my grandfather’s team until the start of the war.
And finally my father married my mother in 1938. This is the picture he carried in his wallet until the day he died.
If you’re a regular reader, you know that I have two brothers … an older brother and a younger brother.
As brothers, we got along pretty good. Sure, we had our little spats … and once my youngest brother stabbed me in the back with a pencil and the point broke off in my back and I was sure I was going to die of lead poisoning. Obviously I didn’t.
There was, however, one point of major contention … and that was the bullet fork of which we all claimed ownership.
This was a fork that, at one time or another, we had all used to feed our faces.
BACKGROUND HISTORY OF THE FORK — We had five uncles who served in WWII — four soldiers and one sailor. After the war, one of them brought home a shell casing and gave it to my father as a souvenir. About the same time the plastic handle of the fork we ate with broke off. My father was a metal worker and he took the fork and the shell casing to work and shaped it into a new handle for the fork.
Naturally since we all ate with the fork, we all claimed ownership of it. (Even though my youngest brother wasn’t born until 1949.) However, since they both got married and moved out of the house it has become a moot point … because they’ll never figure out where I hid it.
MEMORIAL DAY THOUGHT … our family has been blessed when it came to our military service. I had five uncles who served during WWII (Africa, Europe, South Pacific and Aleutian Islands) and only one was injured. He was in basic training when his rifle jammed and exploded injuring one of his eyes. He spent the rest of the war working at a desk. *** I served for two years in the army in the Veterinary Food Inspection Service in the middle of Kansas at the start of the Vietnam Conflict. *** My older brother spent two years in Vietnam at the end of the conflict. *** My youngest brother served in the Army Reserve. We were lucky, while many of our friends paid the greatest price. We respect and salute all of them for preserving all we hold dear.
Ever since I was a tiny tot … which was more 35th birthdays ago than I care to reveal … a strange implement has resided in one or more of the kitchen drawers of every house in which we have lived. It was in the kitchen of the second floor flat we called home when we lived in the city for 14 years. And when we moved to West Walnut Manor in the suburbs, it moved along with us. And in all that time, no one has ever used it.
The first time you look at it, you’d probably think it was some sort of instrument of torture that managed to escape from one of the Borgia’s dungeons. My mother didn’t know what it was, what purpose it served or even how it got in the kitchen drawers. For a long time I thought it was an apple corer until I tried to core an apple with it. It never dawned on me that there might be an inscription on the implement … until last month when I began my annual clean the kitchen drawers project. (OK, I didn’t plan to clean the drawers — I spilled a glass of tea in the drawer and I had to take everything out and wash them.)
That’s when I saw the inscription … JUISTRACTOR and I saw it came from PITTSBURGH, PA.
At that point I realized what the implement was, and how it was used. You would insert the open end in an orange or lemon and screw it through the fruit. Then holding the open end over a glass or cup, you would squeeze all the juice out. Whether it worked or not is another matter, because I did give it a try.
How it got into the kitchen drawer hasn’t been resolved either. Perhaps she received it at a wedding shower. Or maybe her mother added it to the kitchen drawer when she was helping her setup her first home.
But something tells me that either my father or my mother’s father was the source of the Juistractor. Back in the late 30s, there were no supermarkets or shopping centers in the city. Instead you had the corner grocery store or butcher shop. But every Saturday both my father and my grandfather would jump on the streetcar and ride downtown to do the weekly meat and produce shopping at the big meat markets and farmers’ produce stalls. Also the department stores were all downtown, too.
But most important, there were the five and dime stores … S.S. Kresge, F.W. Woolworth, Ben Franklin, McCrory’s, Neisner Bros. all lined a two block stretch of 6th Street. And every Saturday each store featured some Ron Popeil-like pitchman demonstrating the very latest “your kitchen can’t do without it” invention or implement. Both my father and my grandfather were suckers for these pitchman who managed to do magical things with their special implement which you would never be able to duplicate at home. So I’m quite sure one or the other of them bought the Juistractor on a Saturday afternoon many years ago.
Boy, those were the days! I know, because when I was old enough my father took me along with him when he went shopping.
Cleaning out and/or hunting through drawers seems to be a never-ending project around here. Mainly because I always ending up returning the items I discover to yet another drawer to examine on yet another day. Last week I happened to open the yet another drawer where I had stuffed every thing I had found last time I cleaned drawers. This time I photographed all the found items so I would be able to have them at hand as I researched them.
Now I might not have been born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but I sure in the hell was fed my baby food from one. Actually, all three of my mother’s sons were feed with this spoon when they were babies — over a ten-year period that is.
The obverse of the spoon shows a little boy drumming while sitting on a block with the letters HAP on one side. The inscription under the illustration is RUB A DUB DUB.
The reverse shows the PYRAMID OF THE ALPHABET under a stack of blocks and the words OH LOOK HOW HIGH.
I knew the spoon was silver, because it was totally tarnished like old silver gets.
As I studied the illustration, I realized that it looked like an illustration from one of the old OZ books which vastly predated my birthdate.
So I went on-line to research a Rub-a-dub-dub silver baby spoon and the first thing that popped up was my spoon. Only I don’t think the spoon was my spoon. I thing it was my father’s.
Sterling silver 3 1/2″ straight handle baby spoon without a monogram. The charming children’s patterns on this spoon were by the Weidlich Sterling Spoon Company, Bridgeport, CT — 1915
That information coincides with my father’s first birthday. And the Vintage Silver Company that was selling it was asking $115 for it. Of course, their spoon was polished.
But I was fed with it … for a couple of years, anyway.
Growing up with my family I got the impression that carpe diem was the family motto. The only thing was … none of them knew any Latin other than what they heard or mimicked at Mass on Sunday. But for some reason no one would ever talk about the family history. Occasionally my paternal grandmother would comment about growing up in the 1880s, only to be told by my old maid Aunt Edna, “Oh, shut up, that’s all dead and buried!” My father, who was the youngest of eight siblings, must have received the same response when he was growing up, because he didn’t know anything about his family heritage either. I knew we weren’t just a three-generation family, so I started digging up the family tree several years ago. And ut all started shortly after my mother’s death when I was sorting out her possessions and I discovered her old prayer-book from the mid-30s.
It was a real heirloom … with ribbon page markers weighted with medallions of saintly images.
More important, the book was filled with a multitude of funeral prayer cards …
The backs of which were filled with historic information.
With the information from the back of the cards I was able to go on-line and really begin my search for a family tree.
And what have I discovered … I’ve tracked my father’s family back to Alsenborn, Kaiserslautern, Rheinland-Pfalz, Germany in 1658.
I’ve discovered that my ancestors were responsible for making the country what it is today. Both of my father’s grandfathers worked in the brickyard that made the red bricks that made Saint Louis and several other mid-west towns the Red Brick Cities they are today. Also my father’s mother and father met because their fathers worked together in the brickyard. My mother’s grandfather played a part in the western expansion of the country. Being fluent in Polish, German, French and English he worked as a government land agent helping newly arrived immigrants to settle in Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and Nebraska. Her other grandfather went from stable boy to a successful businessman owning first a livery stable and then a funeral home. I’ve discovered ancestors who were noble born, as well as those who were murderers and gangsters. And I discovered it all because of a prayerbook. Oh, yeah, there were a few other things in that prayer-book …
They were a number of old photographs that apparently meant a lot to her, since she cut them out and carried them with her … her baby sister, twin brothers, husband and youngest son, youngest brother and the one with the dorky cap and Easter basket is her first-born son … me.
And that’s some of the things you can discover other than historic artifacts when you begin paging through history.