Adios 2012!

Bruce, Jerry and Duane
Here we are already, the end of 2012!

If we rehash the year according to Time Magazine, the top news event was Hurricane Sandy. The most popular tweet was “Four more years,” by Barack Obama. And the number one sports story was Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace.

We are, by the way, also at the end of our yearlong Expletive Amos Boys blog. It’s been a fascinating journey, has it not? And just as the media has its top events, I’ve got my “top phrases.” They’re interesting expressions the Amos Boys used repeatedly in our weekly telephone chats.

Here they are:

“Speaking of police, do you remember the time…” 

Should we be concerned that this was the introductory line to a disturbingly large number of Amos Boys conversations? Like the story of Duane finishing a night of work at Matthew’s Restaurant and landing himself smack in jail.

“When I came out of the restaurant a guy was waiting on the sidewalk and he punched me in the eye,” says Duane, admitting that, yes, he may have previously smarted off to him. “A cop was there and grabbed us both. I had to get stitches and we both had to spend the night in jail.”

“That’s all hearsay…” 

Every once in a while the three guys came up with differing views of the same story. This, of course, is common for everyone as we remember events of our youth. What’s interesting though, is that in our year of reminiscing, I heard this comment most often from Bruce and it was always in reply to Duane and Jerry’s incriminating stories.

“Every day Bruce would chase Pat Matfore home from school. Every single day,” say both Duane and Jerry. “He’s the kid that grew up to be a big football player for St. Mary’s. And later he became a doctor.”

“I don’t remember that,” says Bruce. “That’s all hearsay. I was always Mrs. Amos’s good boy.”

“Giving it the Ol’ Beech Street Try”

Jerry made this comment more than a year ago when we first discussed the feasibility of doing this blog. At that time we brainstormed topics we wished to cover and how to coordinate the telephone calls. Jerry thought we should be an open book. He said even though none of them were big phone conversationalists, they’d give it “the Ol’ Beech Street try.” This rally, which references their house on Beech Street (you know, the one with the hard-as-rock front yard where all the kids hung out), is one he made several times throughout our project.

If we’re going to be metaphorically streetwise, the Amos Boys not only gave it the Ol’ Beech Street try, they made 2012 a Grand River Avenue of a year. Each Monday, as we connected via modern technology, they reinforced what I’ve always known—that these three brothers are truly special men. I feel so privileged to have shared this time with them.

Thanks Duane, Bruce and Jerry!

But wait, what about the rest of us? Our conversations in the comment section have been a blast. The Expletive Amos Boys blog is online for the duration, so let’s keep the chatter going!

And then there’s the reunion. Wasn’t last summer’s get together fun? Are you interested in having another? We need to start planning now—dates, location, activities!

Here’s one idea (and we certainly want to hear more):

This year, on September 14, Laingsburg is celebrating its 175th centennial anniversary. Check it out here. Note the mention of the Laing family’s interest in participating. That’s us! And remember the helpful gentleman we met last summer in the Laingsburg restaurant? He mentioned the possibility of a parade float just for us (now wouldn’t that just be riotous:-). Whether this materializes or not isn’t important, but, just in case, we need to start practicing our parade waves now.

It’s been a fun year everyone. Let’s keep in touch!

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone! It’s a blessed time of year!

As I talk about Christmas with the Amos Boys, I’m once again reminded of how special these guys really are (and funny, of course). When they were young and living apart, their Christmases were really quite different. Some brothers might hold resentment toward one another. Not these guys. Instead, they say, that’s just the way it was.

And they give each other a lot of ribbing.

“When I lived with my grandparents (Maggie and her husband Jim Adams), I got a lot of stuff for Christmas,” says Jerry. “Grandma would help me make a list of what I wanted. Then we’d roll it up and put it in a milk bottle on the back porch. One of Santa’s elves would come and take the note—of course, what it really was, was Jim going out the front door, around to the back door and stamping his feet. He’d take the note and knock over the milk bottle. It was always real exciting.”

“But I don’t think Duane and Bruce got too much,” Jerry adds.

If you recall, Duane and Bruce lived with their mother Gladys, and while she worked hard, she didn’t have the financial means to provide Christmas luxuries for her boys.

“No, I don’t think Duane and I ever had such a thing as making out a list,” says Bruce, in a tone that’s not at all self-pitying. “Do you remember any, Duane?”

“Well, maybe you guys didn’t want anything,” teases Jerry. “You weren’t that smart, you know.”

“We used to get a pair of high top shoes,” says Bruce.

“Yeah, I remember those shoes,” says Duane. “They had a little pocket on the side of them and there was a jack knife inside it.”

“I remember when I was about six or seven, and Bruce spent quite a bit of his money and got me an easel,” says Jerry. “And someone bought me a little rocker.”

“I must have bought that with my paper route money,” says Bruce. “I was in about the fifth grade.”

Isn’t that special? Here these guys didn’t have much, but they still bought Christmas gifts for each other. And they looked out for one another. Remember the story of the boys’ father, Roland, coming to the house with gifts, and Bruce and Duane made sure he brought one for Jerry too?

Here’s an interesting article from 1983. By this time the Amos Boys are grown with kids and grandkids of their own. This article about their mother, Gladys, says quite a bit. She was a pretty nice and caring lady.

That’s why her boys are too.

Helping Santa

A Piano Bond From Across the Miles


piano

In doing this blog, stories come up in ways I least expect. Like earlier this month when I was talking on the phone with the Amos Boys and the conversation drifted from one thing to another. It often happens that the guys say they don’t remember things. But inevitably what one forgets, one of the others fills in.

And so it was when Duane wondered if he’d been baptized.

“I don’t remember any of us being baptized,” said Duane. “Do you know anything about it Bruce?”

“You and I were baptized down in Topeka,” answered Bruce, definitely. “At the Methodist Church that was across the corner from where Grandpa and Grandma lived when we were down there. We were baptized there.”

Bruce was referring to his grandparents Wm. Arthur and Beatrice Amos, who he and Duane lived with in the later 1930s.

“Later we went to church for a little while at the Salvation Army,” said Bruce. “It was on East Allegen Street. That was when we came back to Lansing. ”

I asked Jerry if he went to church when he lived with his grandmother Maggie and her husband Jim.

“No, they never went to church,” said Jerry. “My grandmother was her daddy’s little girl and he didn’t like the Catholic Church. Her mother was a die-hard Catholic, but her father didn’t like the priest for some reason. So my grandmother didn’t have anything to do with it either.”

Since then Duane’s been wondering more about his baptism. He still can’t remember being baptized, so I offered to call the Topeka Methodist Church and verify their records.

Here’s where it gets really interesting.

I contacted Pastor Tamra Gerber, of the Methodist Church, and it turns out she grew up in Topeka. When she was a girl, she and her twin sister often visited Arthur and Hazel (Arthur’s second wife).

“I remember as youngsters going to sing for Art and Hazel Amos,” writes Pastor Gerber. “Art was a big man as I remember him but then I was quite small. Our mother would play the piano and we would sing for them. They were Christian people and active in church.”

Talking with Pastor Gerber on the phone was really fun. When I asked about the piano, she described exactly where it was when she was a girl—the same place against the wall, to the south of the front door, just as I remember it.

Then I told her I have that piano now. I sent her a picture of it, sitting right here in my dining room. I feel a bit of a bond knowing we both have made music on this very old instrument. Pretty cool, don’t you think?

But what about Duane and Bruce’s baptism?

Pastor Gerber said their records only go back to 1943, a few years after Duane and Bruce lived in Topeka. If they’d like to, she welcomes them back to reaffirm their baptism. And she welcomes all of us to visit her church.

“The sanctuary still looks the same,” said Pastor Gerber. “It really hasn’t changed.”

Food Fads

A & P (March 16, 1936) Public Domain, nypl.org

A & P (March 16, 1936) Digital ID: 1219150, public domain, nypl.org

Have you ever noticed how food is like fashion? How it changes over time and what we ate in some eras, we may not in others? For example, the recipes we posted last week—many of them were from the 1960s and there were lots of jellos and sugar. Compare them to the healthier, natural foods we eat nowadays.

“I remember when we were kids we had salmon a lot,” says Duane. “And when Bruce would get home from school he always had an onion and peanut butter sandwich. And I had a mustard sandwich.”

“At lunch time we had grilled cheese,” adds Jerry. “I also liked scrambled eggs and cereal. I’d have that in evenings a lot. I’d have a scrambled egg sandwich. That’s why I was the fattest kid in fifth grade.”

Seriously? Jerry was fat?!

The Amos Boys say they don’t remember their mother Gladys having any foods that were her specialty. Because she worked out of the house each day until 5 o’ clock, she didn’t have a lot of time for creative cooking.

“I don’t think she had a recipe box or paid a lot of attention to recipes,” says Jerry. “Other than a few slips of paper here and there, I don’t remember seeing any of the standard cookbooks in our house. I remember her cooking a lot of liver. She would send us over to the back of Curtis’ store and he’d give it to us.

“When I lived with my grandma Maggie and her husband Jim Adams, it was pretty much meat and potatoes. There weren’t very many vegetables. We had a lot of chicken because they raised chickens. We raised them for meat and eggs.”

I ask the Amos Boys if they had a favorite meal?

“I remember going to the Famous Grill when I was quite small. My grandfolks never went to restaurants but I went with Mom, and maybe you guys,” Jerry says to Bruce and Duane. “I had a grill cheese sandwich and chocolate milk, and it was about the best thing I ever tasted.”

“That was on the corner of Larch and Michigan, wasn’t it?” says Duane.

“Well, as an adult, I always enjoyed Jeanie’s spaghetti dinners,” says Bruce. “The kids loved those too.”

“I’ll tell you what Bruce’s favorite was when he was a kid, like 12-13 years old,” says Jerry. “Mashed potatoes. My grandmother was having a big dinner. I don’t remember whether it was Thanksgiving or what, but there was probably dumplings and chicken and mashed potatoes and all kinds of stuff. Mom got mad at Bruce because he only wanted a big plate of mashed potatoes.”

“I can’t really remember any specific thing that was my favorite,” says Duane. “I remember when I went down to Topeka after I graduated from high school, they (grandfather Wm. Arthur and his wife Hazel) had a lot of things I’d never had before. Like fried cucumbers. They had a lot of vegetables and we didn’t have them much growing up.”

I ask if the foods they ate when they were young were shipped in from far away?

No, the Amos Boys say the food was pretty local. You know how we always hear that oranges were special treats for Christmas? That was true for them, as well.

“You couldn’t get bananas during the war either,” says Jerry. “Anything that had to be shipped, you couldn’t get. All the ships were busy with the war. There wasn’t a lot of produce except in the summer, when people went door to door.”

Interesting how that goes, isn’t it? Nowadays, local food is a popular buzzword and we’re willing to pay extra for it so we can “live sustainably.” Back then, however, people often struggled just to sustain life.

Happy Birthday Duane!

Duane, as a baby, with his mother Gladys. Do we know the woman holding him?

So here we are into the final months of our Expletive Amos Boys blog and it’s birthday time for the very guy who prompted this year-long adventure. Yep, it’s Duane’s birthday, the oldest of the three Amos boys, and today, November 3, he is 81 years old.

Happy Birthday Duane!

If his brothers were to razz him (although I can’t imagine them ever doing that), the first thing they would bring up is books. Apparently, Duane was a big reader, even as a kid.

“We would all be outside doing something,” says Bruce. “And Duane would be in reading. Ma would always tell us to get him out of the house.”

“Well, he was big on clothes too,” adds Jerry. “He spent a lot of money on clothes. Bruce and Duane used to fight about them all the time.”

“Yeah, you used to get a little nappy with me about your clothes,” Bruce says to Duane. Apparently so much so that Bruce once locked him in the basement and Duane had to break his way out.

Here’s one of Duane’s high school pictures. Don’t you just love that wavy hair?

In high school, Duane added music to his repertoire and played trumpet in the band. Years later he would serenade his kids with renditions of Ciribiribin (but not on his own horn, since he left that behind at a high school graduation party). He would also regale the day he skipped school (imagine that) to hear Louis Armstrong in Lansing’s Michigan Theater.

Isn’t this interesting? It’s the back of the band photo and Duane’s friends all signed their names.

In 1949, two days after he graduated from Eastern High School, Duane headed down to Topeka, Indiana.

“My grandpa (William Arthur Amos) invited me to work with him in his blacksmith shop,” says Duane. “My boss from the bowling alley, Joe Joseph, was going down to Michigan City, so I hitched a ride with him.”

Duane lived in Topeka for about seven months. There he learned the fine art of blacksmithing; i.e. holding the hooves of heavy workhorses and swearing at high strung steeds. He also learned a small town with only one streetlight is pretty boring.

“There was nothing to do. I didn’t have a car and Grandad never offered me his. Once in a while I went out with other kids, but even then, there was nothing to do.

“Apparently, before I came down, there had been a youth center. But one night two girls were dancing to music and the townswomen raised such a ruckus, they closed the center.”

So in February 1950, Duane came back to Lansing and by that September he joined the Navy.

“When I came back from Indiana I was taking some business classes from Lansing Business College and there were quite a few veterans who told sea stories. I guess I got a little enamored by them so I went and signed up,” says Duane.

Duane spent 46 months in the Navy (two months shy of his full 4-year duty because the Korean War ended and Truman cut short the enlistments of personnel). While serving, Duane studied fire control and spent almost a year in Washington D.C. From there he served aboard the U.S.S. Ashtabula.

And, of course, it’s during his Navy years that Carol came into his life. By now we’ve heard the story how Duane was on leave and met Carol at Benny’s Drive-In. I ask him how that went—like did he call her up again after the night they first met? Or did he write to her once he returned to duty?

“I guess so.”

“You guess so?”

Duane is not exactly a man of expressive words. But when pressed, he admits he wrote Carol “most every day” during his time on the Ashtabula. And on July 18, 1953, while he once again was on leave, the two of them were married.

When Duane got out of the Navy, he and Carol settled in Owosso. He began an electrician’s apprenticeship with General Motors in Flint and for the next 42 years he dedicated himself to keeping those cars rolling off GM’s production line.

“It was an interesting job, never routine,” says Duane. “And I made a pretty good living— it got all my kids through college.”

So, yes, Duane went to work each day. When he came home, he still liked to sit down and read a book. But you know how that goes when life gets busy…there’s a house in the country to build, 4-H clubs to supervise, and school activities to attend. Duane did all of these things, and more, with great love and dedication.

In 1999, Carol, his wife and friend for 46 years, died from a three-year battle with cancer. Duane then kept himself busy with traveling and his dog Jake, but life just wasn’t the same. In March 2001, he was blessed once again with the love of a wonderful woman when he married Jan.

Nowadays, Duane and Jan keep active with daily life and lots of kids, grandkids and great-grandkids.

But let’s back up a bit to those Amos kids.

At Duane’s 75th birthday party, Bruce recalled how Duane used to say he was never having kids. Then he’d say, well, maybe he’d have one. Strange how that goes…

Here’s a word from each of his six kids!

Duane, as father-of-the-bride, with Terri, 1980.

Terri

My Earthly Dad
With these three words,
“Dear Heavenly Father,”
I begin my every prayer,
But the man I see
While on bended knee
Is always my earthly dad.

He is the image
Of the Father divine
Reflecting the nature of God,
For his love and care
And the faith he shared
Pointed me to my Father above.

—Mary Fairchild

Being 56 years of age, I should have tons of stories to tell about Dad. But since I have to share space with my siblings, I am forced to be concise. The above poem says best what I feel about Dad. Earthly fathers are to be an example of our Heavenly Father, so that we as children can know God. And Dad did just that.

Dad and I spent a lot of time in the car. Seems like Dad was always driving me to school. Sunday School, Christian Day School, Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Dr. Martin Luther College, and finally Salem Lutheran School where I would teach in Edmonds, Washington. Dad was doing what he could for my education. More importantly, he was doing all he could for my spiritual education. And finally, Dad was helping me become what I wanted to be—a Christian Day School Teacher.

Thank you Dad for being the kind of dad that leads his children to the Heavenly Father. That is the best gift you could give us. I love you very much. Happy Birthday!

Duane with his family; Carol, Dave, Terri and Diahann, 1961.

Di

When I was a kid my dad would squeeze my biceps and say, “Just feel these muscles!” Or he’d play catch with me as I practiced becoming an all-star windup pitcher.

Anyone who knows our side of the family is well aware we have not one iota of genetic muscle or athleticism. The point is my dad gave us confidence and hope, no matter how unrealistic it may have been.

I’ve thought about confidence a lot while doing this blog. The Amos boys’ parents didn’t give them an ideal example for marriage or parenting. It’s unlikely the three of them went boldly into the unknowns of their adult lives. Yet all of them married, raised children and created the legacy we cherish today.

In my eyes, my dad will always stand on the highest of pedestals. I admire him for all he’s accomplished just by steadily going forth and not whining or complaining. I laugh at his gruff exterior, knowing full well there’s a caring, sensitive and emotional marshmallow underneath. And most of all, I’m blessed. Because of him, I’m confident of the hope God gives us—the whole Amos family together—for an eternal life in heaven.

Love you lots Dad! Happy Birthday!

Duane and Carol, with Dave on his graduation from college, 1983.

Dave

I remember as a kid having to help Dad work on the family car or tractor, usually on miserably cold winter days. These were apparently male bonding moments, since the girls were allowed to stay inside and watch TV.

My contribution was mostly in a supporting role (“Can’t you hold the flashlight steady?!?”), shagging tools (“What do you mean you can’t find it?!? It’s in the basement right where I told you!!”), and crawling under the car after dropped sockets. These shared afternoons convinced me that neither one of us would be mistaken for Mr. Goodwrench and having the right tools would have made all the difference in the world (“Let me have the vice grips… No!! The vice grips! Those are the channel locks!”). I did learn the fine art of muttering under my breath though (“What did you say?!?”).

Working on the cars with Dad taught me that being an adult meant doing necessary jobs, whether they were pleasant or not. I doubt Dad enjoyed working on the cars, but he never shied away from any work that had to be done at home. That is one of the many lessons he passed on to us kids.

Thanks Dad. Happy Birthday.

Duane and Cheryl, 1968

Cheryl

Leftover from his Navy days, Dad walks with “a lelf, and a lelf, and a lelf, right, lelf.” He can also sing old marching tunes and songs from the ship’s showers like “It’s a treat to beat your feet on the Mississippi Mud.”

Though he’d rather be sleeping, Dad took care of me weekdays after working third shift while Mom was a cook at school. It worked out that grilled cheese sandwiches were the extent of Dad’s cooking ability and my culinary vocabulary. A man who cooks remains priority in my heart still. By time I enrolled in kindergarten, Mom was back home in the new big house and Dad still wasn’t getting enough sleep.

Dad’s sleep was always an issue. On scorching summer days we’d find him sleeping in the basement, bug him until drove us to the lake, and leave him sleeping in the car while us kids cooled off in the water. The following year we scored a swimming pool.

We also scored lots of animals, activities, sport points and recitals. If Dad wasn’t working he was with his family, providing, protecting, and governing. He taught me repeatedly to be grateful for what I have, to do what I say I will do, and to “stop or there’ll be war.”  In a large house full of kids and dogs, Dad must have felt like he was still on a ship, steering us all through unknown memorable waters.

Friends who see pictures of Dad say he looks like a diplomat, a Viking chieftan, Santa, and of coarse tired. While he fits all of the above, when I see Dad I’m ready for a big hug, some sandwiches, and a nap.

Happy Birthday Dad, everyday I thank God you are my Father. And a special big thanks for bringing Jan and her family into our lives which has enriched us all.

Duane with Rebecca and Joel, on Rebecca’s first day of school, 1976.
(Gotta love that outfit, Joel)

Rebecca

Before I went away to college, Dad went over how to do some basic car maintenance like changing a flat tire (which has come in extremely handy more than once!) and checking and adding fluids. He said I needed to be prepared for anything, driving in Milwaukee. He would be seven hours away and unable to come quickly and rescue me if I needed help.

Years later, the winter after mom died, Dad came for a visit. We were talking and I apologized for living so far away from him and mom. For not being able to come home and help as much as I would have liked to. He said no, that he and mom were so proud of each of us kids and the lives we were leading. And even though he and mom missed each of us kids and all the grandkids, they were happy and proud that the hours between us forced us to handle our own lives and not come running home every time we had a little problem. He knew that each of us could handle whatever life threw at us like the responsible adults he and mom had raised us to be.

Now whenever I am unsure what to do, I take a step back and think of Dad’s words. Then I remember that yes, I am a responsible adult and I have the tools to deal with problems big or small. To make my own decisions. To stand on my own two feet. Because I have the best Daddy in the world, who first taught me these skills and then stood back while I flew away into the big world and used them to live my life.

Thank you Dad! I love you! Happy birthday!

No wonder Duane never got any sleep! Joel practicing a trumpet, 1986.

Joel

When I think of Dad (Duane) as a father, the one word that comes to mind is sacrifice.  Dad made countless self sacrifices for the benefit of our upbringing, and also not to have to listen to us whine.

He sacrificed many family vehicles so that his kids would have something to drive when needed. I know I smashed up two of them. Or was it three?

The steel siding of his garage took an awful beating while it was used as a backstop during my years of baseball development.

I’m sure many hours of peaceful newspaper reading were unavailable as we all learned to play our various musical instruments.

Why once, he even sacrificed his big toe so that we could have a nice lawn!

Thanks Dad! Happy Birthday!

Halloween: More Tricks Than Treats

Well, here it is once again—that goblin and ghoulish time of year. Do you ever wonder what Halloween was like back in the 1930-40s? Or how the Amos boys celebrated, if they did at all?

Obviously things were different back then. Jerry says most parents were too busy working long hours for the war effort and trying to make do.

“Maybe it was just our social class environment but I can’t remember any birthday parties, graduations, open houses, or parents giving any special attention to Halloween,” says Jerry. “We were on our own for fun things to do.”

Although he does remember tricking-or-treating once when he was about 11-years old and living with his Grandma Maggie and her husband Jim Adams.

“Three or four of us guys thought we were really too old for this but might try getting some candy on another street,” says Jerry. “We didn’t have costumes or masks. It was after dark and in a different neighborhood. We went up to a strange house, knocked and shouted “trick-or-treat.” A little, sweet old lady finally came to the door and seemed really taken back. She was unprepared for Halloweeners but said if we would come in she would find something for us. She returned from the kitchen with a pint jar of grape jelly and a tablespoon. Having us hold out our hands she gave each of us a nice big scoop. We thanked her and departed leaving the treat somewhere along the way back home. We never knew for sure whether we were flimflammed or not.”

Duane and Bruce

It’s too bad we don’t have any pictures of Jerry and his friends with their hands full of jelly. We do however have this cute snapshot of these two cowboys, Duane and Bruce, although I’m betting it has nothing to do with Halloween—not the stories they tell anyway!

“I don’t remember doing any trick-or-treating. I suppose the tricks we did would be considered next to vandalism,” says Duane. “There were a couple houses we picked on quite a bit.

“There was a man—I don’t remember his name, but we called him Van—we picked on him quite a bit because he always called the cops on us. We would play ball in the street in front of his house and he would call the cops. I suppose if he had just ignored us, we wouldn’t have bothered him. As it was, he fought a losing battle.”

I wonder what vandalism they did?

“Oh, just throwing rotten eggs and things like that,” says Duane. “A few kids would throw stuff at his front door and while he was yelling at them, a whole bunch of kids would be throwing eggs at the back of his house.”

Bruce has a Van story as well.

“Once we tied a rope to his front door and then wrapped it around his house and tied the other end to his back door,” says Bruce. “Then we made a lot of noise so he would come out.

“He couldn’t get out the doors. But he must have climbed out a window because all the sudden he came up behind and grabbed me. He dragged me over to the window and his wife dumped a bucket of water on me. It was a cold night and that water was real cold.”

Bruce remembers another incident with someone down the street—a woman and her friend.

“Her gentleman caller left his car parked on the street in front of her house,” says Bruce. “Back then no one locked their car doors. We got in and moved it further down the street. He thought it was stolen and called the police.”

Seems like the mention of police comes up often in the Amos boys’ stories, doesn’t it?

“We were always up to something,” says Bruce. “Whether or not it was Halloween didn’t make any difference.”

The Voices We Love

One of the funnest things about our reunion this summer was noting the obvious similarities in our family traits. From the cleft of a chin passed on to generations of men to the hilarious laughter exchanged between the female cousins, there are many cool things we Amos folks share.

These common traits carry through in the way we speak as well. When I listen to the recordings of my conference calls with the Amos Boys, I hear my sisters in myself. In the Amos Boys’ voices, I find memories of my grandfather and great-grandfather.

A while ago the Amos Boys and I were talking about school. By now we know the three of them and school didn’t always jive. The stories they tell are funny and I’m excited to share them with you, as told by the guys themselves.

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Here’s one by Bruce (click here). Don’t you just love the resonating gravel of his voice?

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Speaking of handwriting, Duane also has a story (click here). Apparently, he didn’t take the fine art of penmanship as seriously as did Bruce.

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Hmmm… (click here to hear Duane speak first, then Bruce and then Jerry)…considering Jerry is the teacher among us, wouldn’t you figure him to have been a well-read, scholastic child?

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And then there was after school. The loving banter the Amos Boys display today obviously goes way back to when they were boys (click here).

As we close this week, I have to comment on our conference call good-byes. Sometimes we’re like the Waltons, with the brothers all saying good-bye to each other. Other times the good-byes are like the one below. There’s something to listen for.

You know how each family has that someone who binds everyone together? It’s the person who organizes the gatherings, pulls in the strays, and speaks his heart for those who sometimes have trouble speaking their own. Listening to the Amos Boys, it’s easy to hear which of the three that someone is. He kept his older brothers in line back then. He keeps them in touch with each other now.

Interesting how that goes, eh? (Click here.)

It’s Harvest Season!

Garden Harvest

Here we are, already into September and the summer’s winding down. While we’ve been reaping the benefits of gardens for months, now’s the time we really pull out those baskets and bring in the produce.

How many of you are gardeners? What do you grow and what are your favorites?

Back in the day, when the Amos boys were young, many families gardened out of necessity. During the Great Depression they participated in Relief Gardens and during World War II they had Victory gardens. I asked the boys if they remember gardening and here’s what they had to say.

“When I was little and lived on Beaver Street (with grandmother Maggie and her husband Jim Adams), it was during the war and everyone was supposed to have a Victory Garden,” says Jerry. “A lot of people on our street had little gardens out back. Jim Adams, he always had a big garden. Every time friends would stop he’d load them up with sweet corn, tomatoes…whatever he had. He always grew more than we could use. He’d also load me up with a basket and let me go around to the neighbors and sell some.”

“We never had a garden as kids that I could remember,” says Duane.

“Well, the only place we could’ve had one was the front,” says Bruce, referring to their mother Gladys’ yard.

“Which was, what, like 6×8-feet?” asks Jerry. “And all trampled down from the kids that were always there. The dirt was like concrete.”

Isn’t it interesting how things go? In the years following World War II, gardening was no longer a means of subsistence. Food was plentiful and the idea of raising fruits and vegetables was relegated to just a charming hobby. And even though the Amos boys or their wives were amongst these quaint hobbiests (remember Jeanie’s 52 jars of pickles—one for each week of the year), much of the American population simply drove to the store and picked up a box of well-processed, packaged food.

Nowadays the pendulum has begun to swing. Gardening and knowing where your food originates has become quite the fad (one we should rightfully credit to the millennium generation). We now regularly use terms such as ‘foodie,’ community gardens and CSAs. And everyone wants their ingredients to be grown locally and in a sustainable fashion.

Food has definitely taken a turnabout. Kind of like how it was back in the 1930s and 40s, yes?

Farmer Jerry

No it’s not a tree root, it’s a parsnip! “One of Farmer Jerry’s pride and joys of gardening,” says Elaine. 

Hey folks, share some of your gardening stories. How did the weather affect your success this year? How are you getting your food these days?

Happy Birthday Elaine!

 It’s been said in our family that the prince married the princess.

This year, the princess—Elaine—is having her birthday on a special day. It’s the same day as our family reunion! And because some of you attendees may not know Elaine, or those of us who do, may not know her as well as we think, this week’s post is dedicated specially to her.

Back on June 16, 1936, when Jerry was just a few months old, a baby girl was born to Norris and Inis (Franklin) Hotchkin, of Lansing. They named her June Elaine, and she immediately decided to go by Elaine.

Elaine had two brothers; Norris, Jr., who was 11 years older; and Don, who was eight years older.

“Because of the age difference between my brothers and I, and being the only girl, that made me the princess,” says Elaine. “Norris and Don were always good to me and I was included in some of their things that maybe if I had been closer in age, I wouldn’t have been.”

Elaine’s childhood home, from age 4-15


Elaine’s dad worked as a toolmaker for Lansing’s Oldsmobile. Her mother was a housewife.

“Her home was her castle and her family was all-important,” says Elaine. “I’ve always said I could tell what day of the week it was by what task she was doing that day. I was never that disciplined. I’m still not.”

Growing up, Elaine had a busy life with all her neighborhood friends, of which she was still the youngest. She talks about playing the same games the Amos Boys did (although surely in a more respectable manner)—games like Kick the Can, Hide and Seek, Ante I Over (throwing a ball over a garage roof and running around both sides to catch it) and softball.

“Sidewalk roller skating took up a lot of my summer days,” says Elaine. “And if it rained we played barefoot in gutters of the street where the water ran down to the sewers. I lived in that neighborhood from the time I was 4 until about 15.”

If we remember back, Jerry told us he met Elaine at a junior high dance. Elaine tells us more.

“When I met Jerry we were in the seventh grade. It was April, and the YWCA in downtown Lansing had Friday night teen dances,” recalls Elaine. “A girlfriend of mine from my neighborhood and I went. It was a time when girls could walk safely the almost-two miles from my home to the YWCA.

“Someone I knew was with Jerry and we talked, and Jerry offered me a pop. After the dance my friend Barbara and I walked back home, and Jerry and his friend followed us. I think it was weeks before he could remember my last name.”

From then on, the Hotchkin household took on a new fixture—Jerry.

“We got a television fairly early on and Jerry would come over and watch,” says Elaine. “I don’t know if it was me, the television or my mom’s cooking that he was most interested in!”

Those who know Elaine, know her as one of those industrious, go-to women—if you want a job to get done, you go to her. Apparently, this started way back in high school. When she was 16, she started working for a dry cleaner, first behind the counter and later in bookkeeping.

She also worked in her high school’s co-op program.

“I went to school half a day and worked the other half,” says Elaine. “I worked for a finance company that made small loans. Five hundred dollars was the top amount, which now seems a small amount, but at that time you could buy a new Ford sedan for $2,000.”

After high school Elaine worked as a payroll clerk for the Lansing board of education. She and Jerry were married in 1957, and she continued working there while he finished his senior year at Michigan State.

And then came the girls!

In 1959, Jerri Lynn was born. In 1961, Jennifer was born. Elaine began her career as a stay-at-home mom and no longer worked outside the home.

“I should say I did not work for a paycheck,” says Elaine (she says this in an email, but I can picture her laughing).

Once again, anyone who knows Elaine, knows she didn’t just sit at home ironing little girls’ dresses. How’s this for a resume…

For many years she served on the township park board, where she was secretary, treasurer and president. She scheduled activities. She helped acquire a federal grant to develop a park over a former landfill. And she was chairman of the Labor Day Chicken Bar-B-Que, complete with games, beer tent and music.

And then there were the Girl Scouts!

“Girl Scouts were a big part of my time away from home,” says Elaine. “My friend Donna Wells and I had a troop from Brownie Scouts 3rd Grade to Senior Scouts thru 12th Grade. Our meetings were Mondays after school and Jerry could never remember where I was on Monday afternoons. But he always supported us girls in all our activities.”

Once again, Elaine got the job done. Over the years her troops raised money for a trip to Chicago and another to historical sites out east. They also went camping several times a year, where the girls learned the fine art of outdoor living.

“We were a close group and some years after I would receive Mother’s Day cards from some of the girls,” says Elaine. “Later I saw one of the scouts and she told me scouting was greatest thing during her childhood and the songs she sang and taught to her children were the ones our troop sang.”

When Jennifer went to college, Elaine went to work (like, duh, what had she been doing all those years?) She took a paying job with a moving company, where she worked for 25 years as a bookkeeper and many other roles.

“During some of those years he had two companies and I did the books for both,” says Elaine. “I bought a truck and the company leased it from me.”

So what’s with the prince and princess bit?

When I talked with Elaine on the phone, she mentioned a thought she and Jerry had together. Looking back, Jerry also was a youngest child. And being the only one of the Amos Boys to live with his maternal grandparents, he was the sole recipient of their doting (albeit sometimes drunken) attentions.

“Jerry says it’s a case of the prince marrying the princess,” Elaine laughs. “It’s amazing we’ve gotten along so well all these years!”

Christmas 2010

Nowadays Elaine enjoys being a mom, grandma and great-grandma. She and Jerry have this awesome family together, some who live in the area and some in Chicago, and they maintain a wonderful closeness with all of them.

“Looking back and forward, I think my goal all along has been to be a mother, grandmother and great-granny,” says Elaine. “I want to be a part of all their lives.”

This princess has accomplished her life’s goal and so much more.

A Game Board Much More than a Birthday Board

Game Table

Perhaps the greatest mystery in life for the male gender is shopping for females. Combine that with an adolescent’s natural absence of cognitive thinking and you’re guaranteed a doozie of a present.

And so it was for Gladys one year for her birthday (actually, it turns out this may have been a Christmas gift, but we’ll talk about today since today is Gladys’ day).

It seems Bruce got the idea the three boys should go down to Knapp’s Department Store and pick out a gift. For those of you unfamiliar with the store, Knapp’s was synonymous with great quality and, of course, expense.

“We found the perfect gift,” says Jerry. “It was a beautiful, wood, card table-like, game table with a shiny roulette pointer, a checker board, and other game designs. They say we often get gifts for others that we would like for ourselves. This may have been evidence of that.”

Apparently Gladys wasn’t too happy with the gift, especially when she learned the boys charged it to her credit card.

“I may have been 14 at the time,” says Bruce. That means Duane was 16 and Jerry was 11.

Perhaps the table didn’t go over well back then, but over the years generations of kids and adults have gotten lots of enjoyment from it. In fact, Duane still has it (come to the reunion and check it out!)

Anyway, Gladys obviously was a tolerant woman. And as Bruce said in last week’s post, she put up with a whole lot raising her boys.

You may remember a post back in February, when the three guys described their household as the place to gather for all their friends. Gladys would come home from work to broken decor such as her couch and chandelier.

“Mom had a pretty good temper once in a while,” says Jerry. “It would flair up.”

“Oh yeah, I remember her chasing me around the dining room table with a spatula. I had done something,” says Bruce. “We went round and round that table. Finally it got kind of ridiculous and we both started laughing. By that time, she forgot what she was going to spank me for.”

Duane relayed a similar story.

“Once I was playing with matches at the dining room table,” says Duane. “I built a little house out of wooden matches and then lit it on fire. It didn’t burn through but it charred the wood. Oh, I saw her temper then. She had a frying pan. Same thing happened—she chased me round the table until it got funny. She let me live.”

Even at the end of a weary day, when the comforts of an inviting bed should have awaited her, Gladys didn’t always find rest.

“Once I was working on a project and I needed some wood,” says Jerry. “So I took slats from Mom’s bed. That night she got into bed and the whole thing collapsed.”

Sigh…(along with the chuckles).

That Gladys—she sure was quite a woman, wasn’t she?

And how wonderful that her three boys grew up to become loving, doting sons who took great care of their mother.