The Amos Alley Cats

During the 1930s, 40s and ’50s, Americans set themselves up in a bowling craze, and Amos’s were knocking pins with the best of them.

“Bowling was really big back then,” says Duane. “During the Depression and World War II times—there was no money and there was gas rationing. You couldn’t get out and do anything else.”

Apparently the Amos Boys’ father, Roland, was a pretty good bowler. When he worked for REO, he bowled in their leagues and bowled a 300 game.

Their mother, Gladys, was a good bowler as well.

“I remember one time out to Spartan bowling alley, there was a tournament and Dad put Mom’s name in,” says Duane. “It was just a local tournament but the first prize was $100. Anyway, Mom won it. I don’t suppose she gave Dad any of that money.”

“That was a couple weeks’ wages back then,” says Jerry.

“Funny thing, at the time, Dad worked at that bowling alley,” says Duane. “And back then, things weren’t automated like they are now. Someone had to sit in a booth to watch for people stepping over the foul line. I was about 14 and Dad had me sitting in the booth. Probably if people knew I was up there, they wouldn’t have approved.”

“Conflict of interest,” laughs Jerry.

If you recall, it’s likely Roland met his second wife, Harriet, at a bowling alley. And if you’re old enough to have visited their home on Holmes St., you certainly remember the great display of bowling trophies on the dresser in the back bedroom.

“Harriet was probably one of the top women bowlers in Lansing,” says Bruce. “But after she and Dad were married, they didn’t bowl as much.”

The Amos Boys have bowling memories as well.

In high school Duane, Bruce and their cousin LaVern were on a team together in a school-sponsored league.

“I got involved in bowling for several years,” says Bruce. “I was on that same high school team. And after high school I bowled in league bowling for several years. Jeanie was a good bowler too.”

“I remember being like 5-6 years old and going to an alley sometimes. I’d be staying with Mom for a bit, and we’d go for her league days,” says Jerry. “There were all these smells and the sounds, everybody yelling and screaming. Once I ran up to the return to grab a ball. Everyone started hollering at me because another ball was coming up the ramp, but I didn’t know and I got my hand pinched between two balls.”

Ouch!

But interestingly, the Amos’s didn’t just knock down the pins, they set them up as well. Manually. In fact, you could say they were part of what today is a lost art.

They were pinboys. (Here’s an interesting article and photo on that.)

“When we were younger, like 13-14, our Dad worked at the Spartan bowl,” says Bruce. “We were substitutes because at that alley grown men set the pins.”

Later, he and Duane worked at the Strand Bowling Alley.

“I was between jobs,” says Duane, of a time when he was about 15-16. “After a couple days of sitting around the house, Ma told me to go out and get a job. She didn’t care what it was, I just had to get a job. So I set pins at the Strand.”

The Amos Boys describe pinsetting as a typical job for kids who hadn’t found anything else. It was low-paying, part-time and flying pins often made it dangerous.

“There was a cut-out between the alleys and you sat in there. When you got a little better you could set two lanes at once,” says Duane.

I wonder if this manuel setup of pins slowed the game?

“No, it wasn’t much slower,” says Bruce. “It takes the automated setup just as long to run its cycle as it did for us to pick them up. Even when you did two lanes. That’s where the courtesy of bowling comes from—you don’t bowl two lanes at the same time because of that.”

“Pinsetters got pretty fast,” says Jerry. “Some of them could pick up 3-4 pins at a time. I tried it for one evening in North Lansing and that was enough for me. Plus the guy wouldn’t pay me.”

Bummer. But if you did get paid, how much was it?

“You got paid like piece work. You got paid for each game you set,” says Bruce.

“You liked it when you got good bowlers because they’d get more strikes and the game would go quicker,” says Duane.

So there you have it—stories of the Amos Alley Cats. Next time we get together for a reunion we’ll have to roll a few balls for history’s sake, yes?

Who wants to set the pins?!

Our Very Own Clark Gable

Roland Amos

As we look at pictures, several people have commented how Roland looks a bit like Clark Gable. Maybe it’s that pencil mustache. Or maybe the jaunty glint in his eye. Whatever it is, he certainly adds a touch of charisma to the Amos Boys family portraits.

We know Roland is the Amos boys’ father, but what do we really know of his life?

1910 Census

Roland Elbert was born on July 8, 1909, to Wm. Arthur and Beatrice (Holmes) Amos. According to this 1910 U.S. Census, the family lived in the town of Corunna, DeKalb County, Indiana. Four years later, in 1913, his sister Dorothy was born and the family continued living in Corunna.

Apparently, Roland was not much on talking about his childhood. Even more unfortunate is that none of us, his offspring, ever pinned him down for stories.

“The only thing I can remember him telling,” says Duane, “was that when he was a boy, the neighbor’s dog bit him on his lip and gave him a scar.”

“Supposedly he was pretty good in basketball,” says Bruce. “A (Native American) Indian team recruited him to play for them because he was so dark.”

Roland & Gladys with friends

Roland and Gladys, on left, together with friends, circa late 1920s.

Small town Indiana must not have appealed to Roland because in the late 1920s he moved up to Lansing, Michigan. That’s when he met and married Gladys Gulick and started his family of Amos boys.

“For a while he worked as a tool and die maker for REO,” says Duane. “Supposedly REO had a basketball team. Maybe he came because of that, I don’t know. Later he got in with Ford Motor Company in Detroit when they were paying $5 a day.”

That was a big salary in those days.

It seems Roland was quite the adventurous spirit. In the mid-1930s, he met up with a pilot named Harvey Hughes and the two of them began traveling around the country doing air shows.

“Harvey had a plane and they went to fairs all over the country selling airplane rides,” says Bruce.

“I don’t know if it’s true or not, but someone told me they used to do some stunt work. They’d do that to attract attention and Roland would get out on the wing,” says Jerry.

“Yep, I heard that too,” says Bruce.

“As part of their show Dad (Roland) would ride a motorcycle through a burning wall. One time he broke his collarbone,” adds Duane.

“I heard that too,” says Jerry.

“Well, he didn’t check the other side of the wall and somebody had parked a car there. When he went through the wall, he hit this car,” says Bruce.

So not only was Roland adventurous, he was a bit of a daredevil as well!

Roland with Duane and Bruce

As we know, things weren’t always well with Roland and Gladys. Over time the boys lived with several different families, including Duane and Bruce living with Roland’s parents in Indiana and Jerry living with Gladys’ mother and stepfather in Lansing.

By then, Roland’s parents Arthur and Beatrice had moved to the small town of Topeka.

“Dad wasn’t with us all the time while we lived in Indiana,” says Duane. “But sometimes he was. I remember one time there was a bad thunderstorm and he took Bruce and I out on the big covered porch. He held us, one in each arm, so we wouldn’t be afraid of the storm.”

Duane remembers another time when Bruce, who would have only been four or five, was climbing on the guide wire of a telephone pole and got a shard of wire caught near his eye. It was Roland who took Bruce to the doctor and Roland who became upset when he felt the doctor wasn’t treating his son right.

“I guess Dad was holding Bruce while the doctor took the stitches out. Something happened and Bruce jumped,” says Duane. “Dad got mad and yelled at the doctor.”

Jerry remembers an incident with Roland as well. It was Christmas time and Jerry was spending the holiday with Gladys, Duane and Bruce (remember that he lived with his maternal grandparents until he was 13).

“Roland came to the house with presents for Duane and Bruce,” says Jerry. “He apparently didn’t know I was going to be there. He didn’t recognize me at first until Bruce or Duane said something to him. Thinking back on it now, it was to his credit that he made up the excuse that he must have left my present somewhere and would have to go back and get it…which he did. Roland and I did not know each other then. It was the only time I remember him ever saying anything to me. He was taken by surprise finding me there on Beech Street and knew the other boys did not want me to feel bad.”

These memories are special. But when a man isn’t around for his wife and children a sense of animosity easily arises. That’s how it was for the Amos boys.

“Yes, I resented my dad for a time,” says Bruce. “Mom had to basically raise us boys by herself.”

“When I was in junior high and high school I really resented him. He gave my mother a lot of dirt,” says Duane. “It wasn’t anything that was outspoken but we just never spent much time with him.”

“He seemed to be a very distant father, and I was not a part of his world,” says Jerry. “Gladys never let on that Roland was not my father and I did not give it much thought until adulthood when it was too late to discuss the matter with Mom. As adults, Roland and I became better acquainted and got along fine. We just never talked about our family relationship.”

That’s what’s so special about these Amos boys—they all grew up, got on with life and chose to forget whatever injustices transpired during their childhood.

“When I was in the service, I was stationed in Washington D.C. before going overseas,” says Duane. “It was 1951 and Dad and Harriet had just gotten married. They came to D.C. for their honeymoon. I wrote a letter to Harriet before they came, just to get acquainted, and when they visited we all did things together. When I came home from the Navy and all of us got married, everyone got along real well.”

And so we come to Harriet…

Sometime after WWII, Roland met Harriet Green. The Amos guys think they may have met at the bowling alley because they both enjoyed bowling.

“Bowling was a real big thing back then,” says Bruce. “Everyone bowled. Harriet was probably one of the top women bowlers in Lansing.”

Harriet Amos, 1955

Harriet was a professional woman who had previously never married. She was independent and had her own home in Lansing, which she inherited from a family member.

Originally, Harriet was from Lapeer, a town about 75 miles northeast of Lansing.

“I don’t know if her mother died or what happened,” says Jerry. “Harriet talked a lot about when she was a young girl and the nice things father would do for her. Maybe he felt bad that her mother was gone, but he got her a pony and that was a great thrill for her. She spent a lot of time riding.”

“Her dad was kind of a wheeler dealer,” says Bruce. “He was a horse trader.”

Harriet’s father Wallace eventually remarried and Harriet had two step-brothers, Wally and Robert.

When Harriet finished school, she moved to Lansing and began a career. At first she worked for the state in liquor control. By 1948, she had joined Donovan, Gilbert & Company, a small financial firm that dealt largely in bonds. She eventually became a stockbroker and decades later ended up owning the company.

I ask the guys if Harriet was an influence on Roland settling down and becoming a family-oriented guy. It’s possible, they say.

Roland, with his sister Dorothy Loughman, and their father Arthur Amos, stepmother Hazel and an unknown gentleman, 1963

Roland & Di, 1964

Roland and Scott

Roland and his namesake, his grandson Roland Scott, share July 8th as their birthdays.

Whatever it was, something clicked. The Roland my generation (his grandchildren) knew was a really super guy. Always together, he and Harriet came to family gatherings and grandchildren’s events, and they shared with us their involvement in various civic organizations (who can forget those Zonta fruitcakes!)

Roland & Harriet with Bruce, Duane and Jerry. Roland’s 75th birthday, 1984

Roland with his grandson Joel, 1984

Roland with his grandson Joel, 1984

Unfortunately, in the mid 1980s Roland developed trouble with his prostrate.

“Our dad didn’t like doctors or dentists,” says Bruce. “He had prostrate cancer and he didn’t do anything about it until after it spread to his kidneys.”

Roland died on August 19, 1987, when he was 78 years old. True to his family, everyone was there for his funeral—the three Amos Boys and their wives, Harriet, Gladys, and many grandchildren and great grandchildren.

We are a special family, aren’t we?

Roland and Harriet

After Roland died, Harriet began to appear disoriented.

“We didn’t know if it was because she was grieving,” says Duane. “Or perhaps Roland had taken care of things more than we knew. But she would get lost coming to our house. Or she wasn’t taking care of her bills.”

In the early 1990s, Harriet was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She eventually moved to a memory care facility and on March 11, 2006, when she was 94 years old, she passed away.

Harriet’s death marked the end of a generation in the Amos family. But life just keeps moving on. The Amos Boys are now great-grandparents and the family is growing and growing.

Isn’t it great to be an Amos!

Mother’s Day and 1st & 2nd Mrs. Amos’s

Amos cousins


@1968

When my generation—the Amos Boys’ children—were kids, we always gathered for holidays, birthdays, Mother’s and Father’s Days, and summer outings. We’d all get together—us kids, our parents and our grandparents. It’s just what we did.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized how unique this was. It’s unique because there in attendance were Roland, his wife Harriet, and his ex-wife Gladys. And everybody got along.

Maybe unique isn’t the best word. Maybe special is better. And caring, giving and tolerant.


1958

I once asked Harriet about this. It was after Roland died and we were talking about special things.

She said they did this right from the beginning. Apparently, there was to be an upcoming gathering and Bruce’s wife, Jeanne, said she was not going to have separate parties. Harriet asked Roland if that was okay. He said yes. Roland asked Gladys if that was okay. And she said yes.

In our phone conversation this week, the Amos Boys talked about Roland, Harriet and Gladys.

“Elaine, and Jeanne, and Carol, they all got together and informed Dad and Harriet, and I suppose our Mother too, that we were going to get together and if they wanted to come, we would all be there,” says Duane. “And so they did get together.”

“They made it plain they weren’t going to have two or three different celebrations each time,” adds Jerry.

And so it was.


1990s

Harriet (on the right) once introduced Gladys as the first Mrs. Amos
and herself as the second Mrs. Amos.


Harriet told me this togetherness was awkward only when my sisters and I invited them, the grandmothers, to our school’s annual Mother-Daughter Banquet. Harriet would always pick up Gladys and they would ride from Lansing to Owosso together.

“It mustn’t have been too awkward. They often would all ride together,” says Duane. “Like when they came to our house.”

And so it was.


1979

This week our post is dedicated to the awesome mothers in our family—Gladys, who was mother to our beloved Amos Boys; Harriet, who happily took on a ready-made family; and Carol, Jeanne and Elaine, who married the Amos Boys and had us kids.

And, of course, here’s to the generations of mothers that now follow.

Happy Mother’s Day to you all!