A Love Story of a Different Kind

Perhaps you’ve noticed many of the pictures so far have been of Duane and Bruce, but not Jerry. Or, if you remember, the Amos Boys moved quite often. Some of this was due to the Depression. Some of it was also due their parents, Roland and Gladys.

Here’s the story of Roland and Gladys and the very special love that came because of them.

Roland&Gladys1929-30

Roland & Gladys, 1929-30

In the late 1920s, Roland moved to Lansing from his hometown Corunna, Indiana. Perhaps he came for job opportunities. We don’t really know. But according to information Jerry gathered from Michigan historical documents and talking with relatives; in 1929, Roland and Gladys lived around the corner from one another. She lived at 617 Smith Ave. He lived at 1815 Beal Ave. And in 1929, they both worked at REO.

On December 21, 1929, when Gladys was 18 and Roland was 20, they headed on down to Indiana and got married.

Here’s their wedding picture. Aren’t they a handsome couple?

Roland & Gladys, Wedding, December 21, 1929

Roland & Gladys, Wedding, December 21, 1929

Unfortunately, the story now gets somewhat sensitive. Apparently, marriage wasn’t an easy thing for Roland and Gladys.

“They had a rough time together,” says Duane. “It was off and on. There were times when Dad (Roland) was there. Then there were times when he wasn’t there for a year or two. I don’t think they had a good marriage.”

“They had problems from the beginning, I think,” says Jerry. “Mom (Gladys) told me one time that they had a big blowout the day after they were married. They both were kind of stubborn.”

So there were times when the Amos Boys’ parents were separated. And there were times when they were back together. Finally, they divorced in 1947.

I’m thinking they gave it a good try, though, right?

“Well,” says Jerry, in a drawn out way. “They both had ‘other friends,’ if you know what I mean.”

So now story goes from sensitive to complicated, and we have to back up a bit.

In 1935, Roland was having trouble finding work in Lansing. He got together with an airplane pilot named Harvey Hughes and together they traveled the country selling rides to people at fairs (more on this story in months to come). According to Jerry’s research, it’s likely he was conceived during the time Roland was away.

Roland did come back when Jerry was born in 1936, but records show by 1937 he was once again living away from the family. And both Roland and Gladys were out of work.

“Mom lost her welfare when she moved out to living on the same road as her brother Ralph,” says Jerry. “I think that’s when she had to give up taking care of her boys.”

And that’s when the Amos Boys were separated.

Duane and Bruce went to live with Roland’s parents in Topeka, Indiana. They lived there for two years before coming back to live with Gladys.

Jerry, however, went to live with Gladys’s mother, Maggie Adams, and Maggie’s second husband, JR. He lived with them until he was twelve.

“It was kind of scary living with my grandfolks sometimes,” says Jerry, with a laugh. “It was nice in some ways because they provided me with more—more stuff and more attention—than probably what Bruce and Duane were getting. But on weekends they (Maggie and JR) would do a lot of boozing and fighting. I always thought it was nicer to be with Mom, Bruce and Duane. Whenever I could, I would visit them for a few days.”

Bruce, Jerry and Duane

Bruce, Jerry and Duane

You’re probably thinking this isn’t much of a love story. It certainly wasn’t for Roland and Gladys.

But what about Duane, Bruce and Jerry?

Whenever I talk to them in our conference calls about these early days, I never hear any whining or “woe is me.” I repeatedly ask them how they felt about living apart, or did they begrudge one another for getting something maybe they themselves didn’t get. I even ask if they thought of Jerry as a pain-in-the-neck, younger brother finally coming to live with them. No, they say, no they did not.

“That’s just the way it was,” they repeatedly say.

Then I think about them as adults. I mention the closeness they’ve always had with one another, and the love and respect they showed their parents, flawed as they were.

“We always have a good time when we get together,” says Bruce. “We always enjoy getting together.” (It seems this is the most schmaltz I’m going to get out of them.)

Nowadays the Amos boys don’t get together as much. Duane and Jerry live in Michigan. Bruce lives in Florida. But you should hear them on the phone—their banter, their patience with one another, their reminiscing.

I’ll let you in on it soon, because this is the real love story.

Bruce, Jerry and Duane, 1990s

Bruce, Jerry and Duane, 1990s

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Living the Life in Lansing, MI

Bruce and Duane in front of Lansing Power & Light building

Bruce and Duane, with Lansing Power and Light in the background. Mid-1930s

As we get into this blog, it’s important to set the scene. We all know of the Great Depression and how it affected our nation, but most of us only know what we’ve learned in history books.

What about Lansing, specifically? How did the Depression hit that city and what was it like for the Amos Boys to grow up there?

Back then, Lansing was steeped in the auto industry—an industry hit hard by the Depression, just as it’s been today. Most ordinary folks, like what our family would have been, worked in manufacturing plants related to this industry. So when hard times hit there, they also hit the people in our family.

I wonder if the Amos Boys knew then that they were living in exceptional times? What was it like?

Here’s what they have to say.

Jerry

“I’ve talked to a family friend who is older and remembers this. Lansing had some big auto manufacturers then—Motor Wheel and Reo, and they just gradually shut down. First Reo cut down to half time, then to 1-2 days a week, and sometimes they just shut down (Reo ended car production in 1936, but continued its truck line).

“There were several other factories in town where our relatives worked, like the Nash Kelvinator, Duo Therm and Fisher Body.

“People were scratching around, trying to survive. It seemed normal to us.”

Bruce

“We were just kids then, so we weren’t old enough to know all the problems. Our family was as poor as anyone else. Everyone was in the same boat.”

Duane

“One time, I remember Dad wasn’t working and Mom got a job going to people’s houses. She installed coke bottle openers for them with a hand drill. I remember we celebrated because she could work that job for a couple weeks.”

Coca Cola Girls

Coca Cola Girls. Gladys (the Amos Boys’ mother) is in lower left. 1930s

Listening to these guys is fun and full of laughs. I ask them a question, then sit back and let them go with their reminiscing. So far, there haven’t been any lulls. In fact, I get the feeling I could leave, get a drink and they wouldn’t even know I was gone. I can’t though, because I’m scrambling to keep up with my notes.

They keep talking about all these street addresses—Willow, Pine, Kalamazoo, Beech, Michigan, and on and on.

How many places did you live, I ask.

“We moved a lot,” says Jerry. “Seems like every year we were living at a different address. That was common for us. It was probably common for most families because they couldn’t keep up with the rent.”

And for as many places that they lived, there were as many jobs that their parents’ worked—gas station attendant; serviceman for Garlock Refrigeration; die maker for Reo; die maker for Ford in Detroit; salesman for airplane rides somewhere away from Lansing; alleyman for Spartan Bowling Alley; bookkeeper for Liberty Highway; clerk at Capitol City Electric Shop; and many more.

Apparently, back then you just went wherever there was work. And, according to the Amos Boys, kids were left pretty much to their own devices.

What do you think—by any chance did these guys take advantage of that?

Who are these guys - Bruce, Duane and Jerry?

Bruce, Duane and friend Sheldon Homer, at Beech Street house, 1930s

Welcome!

Expletive
  1. Word with no meaning, used to fill out a sentence
  2. Oath or swear word, of profane nature
  3. Choice word Gladys (or other adults) used in conjunction with her three boys

Two months ago was an anniversary of sorts. It marked an era that began 80 years ago in Lansing, Michigan, when, on November 3, 1931, the first of three Amos boys was born. The city has never been the same since.

The Amos Boys—Duane, Bruce and Jerry—were born in the 1930s, a time when economic depression commonly forced families to do uncommon things in order to survive. Since then, the world has created history in ways no one could imagine. The Amos Boys have created their history too.

Think of the stories they have to tell — a few hard times, lots of fun times, and all of them meaningful times. And typical to these three guys, they tell them with a laugh and a very special bond.

So that’s what we’re going to do with this blog. Together, with Duane, Bruce and Jerry, we’re going to hear their stories and share a good laugh. While we’re at it, we can all get to know one another—we, who are their children, their grandchildren and even their great-grandchildren.

This is gonna be so cool!

Here’s what you should do:

  1. Scroll all the way to the end of this post and click on the Reply link
  2. Leave a comment. Tell us who you are and how you’re connected to Duane, Bruce or Jerry (make sure you click “Post Comment” when you’ve finished your comment).
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