Sunday, June 26, 2016

Remembering my Grandfather Leonard

From July 2010...
In the midst of choosing his suit and recommending pall bearers, Pop forgot to tell us what he wanted in his eulogy, and so I am left to my own devices this morning. I can only reflect on the last 25 years of this wonderful man’s life. If you want to go back a bit further, please find his sister or children. They can tell you stories. And if you want to go back a lot further, please find Cousin Mae or his best man, Jack, they can tell you even more stories. But, for now, I just want to reflect on the small things that I noticed as his grandson – his ingenuity, smile, kindness, wit, devotion, and sense of humor. 
My initial impressions of Pop, from the mid-1980s, are much different from the ones I have now. My earliest memories include him, Grandmom, Uncle Frank, Uncle Chas, Aunt Teresa and other assorted characters from the Armstrong and Payne families sitting around the kitchen table, telling stories and having a good time. I also recall huge batman comic books in the basement and the watermill he kept on the back deck. Even at a young age, I was amazed at the way he worked with his hands. In fact, as I was writing this, the fan in my room broke and I couldn’t help but think “Pop would know why this fan broke.” 
His ingenuity can be seen throughout 416. Someone mentioned the other day that a contractor never set foot in the house. An architect might show up and draw him the plans, but then he would do it. His ingenuity is one of many nuances we will miss about him. He was skilled with his hands and put those skills on display every Friday night at the bowling alley. As kids, it was rare that we were allowed to stop by the bowling alley on Friday nights – I can’t imagine why they were keeping the under 10 crowd out – but it was there that I stared in awe at his team’s name and wondered what it meant. My wonder has changed. Now, I wonder how many of those nights he stopped by Callahan’s on the way home. Or how many times he followed it up with a Saturday night trip to Cavanaugh’s with Grandmom.
My later memories of him include stories about the war - the canteens (he and his fellow soldiers) used and food they ate while traversing the German countryside and the R&R they took in France. As I grew older, I recognized his devotion to my grandmother more and more. He never left her side. He was dedicated. In these ways, he was not an overcomplicated man. Upon hearing the news that I was moving to China, he said it would be much easier to move to 11th and Race. This was a reflection of his simplicity - and in that little statement, you could see his wit. He always had something clever to say. That wit of his – I think that is what I will miss the most. In the days following Grandmom’s passing, which I am sure were incredibly difficult, he maintained his sense of humor, referring to 416 as “The bachelor pad.” No situation was taken too seriously, which was a key to his longevity. And he did not complain or make excuses. In fact, just the opposite was true. If one was seeking kind words, you could do no better than Barney. I guess that’s one of the reasons the line stretched down to 25th street last night. 
My brother Brendan, who could not be here today, reflects on Pop’s curiosity about his grandchildren’s lives. Whatever sport Brendan was playing, Pop wanted to know about it. Brendan also recalls stopping by 416 a few weeks ago. Pop was watching the Phillies game and informed Brendan shortly after he arrived that Cole Hamels was a bum. 
There are certain things you take for granted, simply because they are the staples of your life. Aren’t everyone’s parents from Schuylkill? And everyone’s uncles and aunt are kind and humorous, right? I took these things for granted until the last few days when person after person repeatedly commented on how polite all of Pop’s children are. This is a tribute to him and it would be an understatement to say that the man obviously did something right. 
We will miss you, Pop. In the simplest terms, we miss you already. Schuylkill has lost one of its finest. And, after nearly four years apart, we hope you have found Grandmom and your siblings and that all of you are sitting around the kitchen table of heaven, enjoying each other’s company, entertaining each other, and having an Ortlieb’s. You wouldn’t have it any other way. And neither would we.

Remembering my Grandmother Eleanor

From September 2015...

Coffee nips, spaghetti on Styrofoam plates, Planters peanuts, Hi-C, Micro Magic French Fries and Dixie cups in the freezer - These are some of the fond childhood memories my cousins and I have of visiting my grandmother on Upland Street.

Grandmom would always greet us with a big smile on her face. She had a record player in the living room and would play songs like: “Putting on the Ritz, Grandma got run over by a reindeer, and YMCA.” She loved to sing and dance with us. Her house was a children’s paradise. The typewriter and building blocks in the basement, the train tracks running through the backyard, someone feeding us juice and I even think I took a sip of beer once – what a loving place for a child to explore.
Grandmom would hand us money just about anytime we saw her and hide eggs at Easter filled with dollar bills and candy. She was once quoted in the newspaper saying – “my grandchildren keep me young.” She loved our company and we loved hers.

When I was five, I asked my mother, “Is Grandmom El our great grandmother?”
My mom asked, “Why do you say that?”
I replied, “Because she's so great to us.”

While we kids were exploring the backyard and basement, our family and friends would gather around the living room table, enjoying conversation and a Meister Brau with Grandmom. She loved her beer. In an article from the Philadelphia Inquirer, celebrating her 80th birthday (in 2003), the author of the article wrote, “When the rest of the world ran out to buy water and duct tape to gird for a terrorist attack, Eleanor bolted to the liquor store and bought two more cases of beer.”
Years later, she would move to Lansdowne Ave. That was when things began to change. She was still Grandmom, but she wasn't drinking anymore. I remember being surprised at how well she took that. She was still taking SEPTA to get around though. She loved taking SEPTA wherever she had to go – the 13 trolley to work or taking my mother as a child on the bus so she could see the smashed up cars at the junkyard.

Earlier this week, I found out the before the 1970s, Grandmom actually wasn’t a grandmother. Hard to believe, right? Before that time, she was a dedicated wife and a loving mother, working at Sunray Drugs and Penn Mutual to help support her family. She was Aunt Winnie. In her downtime, she enjoyed playing the lottery, watching game shows, and listening to Dean Martin. She enjoyed smoking cigarettes. “I wasted matches,” she said. “No sooner was I lighting one then lighting another one.”

And, before 1946, she wasn’t Grandmom or Mom. She was Eleanor, working at the family restaurant at 2nd and Chestnut, and dating my grandfather. “Whenever I wanted to talk with him, I’d call his house and ask ‘Did you call me?’ ‘No.’ ‘Oh, well, someone called me, but they didn’t leave a name so I thought it was you.’” She was a witty, young girl, the daughter of Helen and Charles, enjoying life on 57th Street.

And by the good grace of God, she spent her final years a few blocks from where she grew up and where she was married – here, at Little Sisters of the Poor. Just last month, I stopped to see her a few times. Over ice cream, we would discuss her past – her father’s police beat in West Philly, her mother from Mahanoy City. We talked about the shore – she would help her sister at B&B cold cuts. During down time, Pop-pop and the girls liked the beach, but she loved the boardwalk, “Those were the good ole days,” she said.


I will miss her terribly. I already do. I hope she is gathered around the living room of heaven with Pop-pop, Aunt Lucille, Uncle Paul, GG and everyone else she loved. I hope her son Thomas is sitting on her lap. Everyone gathered around – sharing laughs, telling stories, and singing songs. If I close my eyes I can picture it. I hope you can too.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Snow Day

We just returned from a quick trip to Chinatown and the Reading Terminal. God bless snow days. God bless Uber. Neither one of us felt like taking our cars out, but we both wanted to get out of the house for Dim Sum and fresh lemons.

Yesterday, I ventured to Brendan’s with Matt to watch the AFC title game. I was happy my Broncos conference play succeeded. A few of Brendan’s buddies were there and we were all equally relieved to get out of the house, stop shoveling, and watch some football.

Saturday was the day we got hit with the storm. The previous night, I ventured to the movies to watch “Anomalisa” and when I returned home, I shoveled the front and dusted off the car. By the time I left the house on Saturday afternoon to shovel again, we had at least another fifteen inches of fresh powder on the ground. I dug a walking path on our sidewalk and the neighboring sidewalks as well. Denise cooked a lot – from hot chocolate to stuffed squash to fondue pretzels, she went all out and took care of us.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Break Trips

In Chambersburg, you turn the light on and off with a switch. In Eaton Hollow, you rely on daylight, fireplaces, lanterns, and flash lights (sometimes you even wear one on your head).

In Chambersburg, you adjust the water temperature from 85 to 90 by nudging a dial. When you’re finished with the shower, you point the head to the left so the next person gets sprayed when they turn it on. In Eaton Hollow, we didn’t shower.

In Chambersburg, we sat on our beds, watching television and drinking beer. In Eaton Hollow, we sat around the fireplace, having conversations and playing games.

In Chambersburg, if you had to go to the bathroom, you took a few steps. In Eaton Hollow, you walked fifty yards to the outhouse or peed on a tree.

In Chambersburg, we never turned on the heat. The temperature was comfortable enough with intermittent rain. In Eaton Hollow, we were drier and colder. There was no heat dial. You threw wood on the fire and chopped wood the following day.

A week ago today, on December 27, we took a long hike. We encountered a lumberjack and asked for his advice on pleasant sights nearby.

“Well, hell, I just don’t think we have anything like that. There’s a golf course that my daddy runs about 45 minutes away.”

“Oh well, at least we asked,” I thought.

“And, there’s the largest reservoir in the mid-Atlantic region about a half mile down the road.”

It’s incredible how he mentioned that last.

Chopping wood and wearing a flashlight on my head were two things I had never done before Eaton Hollow. Now, I look forward to doing them again.

In Chambersburg, the walk from the car to our room measured roughly forty yards. In Eaton Hollow, our walk wasn’t a walk. Our walk was a mile long hike – a winding trek that included alternating terrain: twisting woods, steep hills, and damp, leaf covered paths.

In this way, hiking was an inherent part of the Eaton Hollow trip whereas in Chambersburg, we needed to make a conscious effort to find a place to hike. In both places, setting out for hikes was done in a whimsical nature. We sort of knew where we wanted to go, but the specifics were shady.


With all these differences, I would not choose one trip over the other. I would not judge them. I will simply say they were both enjoyable and if I could go back in time, I would not change anything. I would go on each trip and let each evolve as they did: with plenty of laughs, imbibements, and spiritual moments along the way.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Fridays Across America

Video journal of three Fridays on the road.