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.

Now 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 likely the three of them did not go 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 his vehicles. 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!

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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.

Happy Birthday Jerry!

Art by Ryan Menary

Art by Ryan Menary

It’s birthday time again!

Tomorrow, March 24, is Jerry’s birthday and he thinks he might be mowing his lawn. Surely, that doesn’t happen often. But this year our Midwestern weather has been unseasonably warm and Jerry’s got a large lawn to mow.

Here’s how Bruce starts this week’s conversation with Jerry (after the usual talk of weather):

“So, how old you gonna be this week, brother?”

“Seventy-six. But I’ll have to check with Elaine. I can never remember.”

“You’re catching up to the old guy (Duane). And now, this week we get to talk about the runt.”

Which makes everyone laugh.

Jerry, 1940

Here’s Jerry, about 4-years-old. Isn’t he cute? And look, red hair!

Jerry, 1940

“They always called me the runt,” says Jerry. “I was smaller because they continually pushed me away from the table and ate my food.”

Oh, such brotherly love. And according to Duane, this is love they showered with great abandon.

“Bruce, do you remember the day Jerry was born? We were tossed out of the house. It was cold outside and we were mad, so we stood there throwing rocks at the house,” says Duane.

But that’s okay. As the story goes, all was well inside the house as the boys’ Aunt Laura assisted the intoxicated, old doctor H.M. Smith to deliver Gladys’ third baby boy.

So Jerry may have had a “rocky” start. He may have been small. And for many years of his childhood he may have missed out on the “good influence” of his older brothers. But he certainly didn’t lack for adventures of his own.

Maggie and James Adams

Here’s a picture of the boys’ Grandma Maggie and her second husband, James (JR) Adams, (remember Jerry lived with them until he was 12). Take notice of that white building in the upper right corner. It’s a grain elevator.

“The farmers would bring stuff there and get it ground for their animals,” says Jerry. “My buddy Vern and I used to go there at night. There was a crawl space underneath, about three feet high, and a lot of grain would filter down through the floor. It was full of rats. We would climb in there with our flashlights and BB guns and shoot rats. It was really fun.”

In spite of this UN-appetizing story, it’s important to note that food is a topic that always comes up when talking about Jerry (his wife says anyone who eats with him wonders how he can be so skinny).

This takes us to Elaine.

At a junior high dance, Jerry met this cute girl named Elaine Hotchkin, and from then on life was never the same. He and Elaine dated through junior high, senior high and college—how’s that for longtime sweethearts!

Jerry & Elaine 1951

Jerry & Elaine, 1951

“I would check with both moms (his and Elaine’s) to see what they were having for dinner. Then I’d take my pick,” says Jerry. “Elaine’s mom was a real good cook.”

And what’s this? Jerry’s report card? It’s been said Gladys didn’t try to raise brain surgeons. Obviously, she didn’t overshoot her expectations. Yet, in spite of this illustrious academic career, Jerry did go on to college.

“I remember in the 10th or 11th grade, I was talking to an older guy at Benny’s, and he was asking what I wanted to do,” says Jerry. “I was kind of interested in carpentry.”

The man agreed Jerry would always have work in carpentry, but if he went to college he would have more options later if he changed his mind. So after graduating high school in 1954, Jerry then went to Michigan State College (now MSU). Initially, he studied conservation.

Jerry 1954

Elaine 1954

“During my freshman year of college, they had a bunch of people come in that worked for the conservation department,” says Jerry. “I heard that when everyone else was hunting and fishing, you’d have to be working, and job opportunities didn’t look that good. So I switched over to education.”

I wondered what attending college was like back then—like how much was tuition and how did Jerry pay for it?

“I lived at home with mom and commuted back and forth because it wasn’t very far,” says Jerry. “Back then I could make enough money in summer working at the Capital City Lumber Yard—I worked in the mill room—I could make enough to pay for my books and tuition.”

Get this: Tuition then was $55 for all the credits you could handle.

Jerry & Elaine's Wedding, 1957

While Jerry went to college, Elaine worked as a payroll clerk for the Lansing School Board.  On June 22, 1957, before Jerry’s senior year, they were married.

Jerry graduated in 1958 with a bachelor of science degree in education. He’s had an interesting career teaching everything from shop, industrial arts, state and world history, and science, to 7-12th grade students.

His first teaching position was at Lyons-Muir, northwest of Lansing, and his salary was $4200. From there, he taught in Paw Paw, Lake Fenton, and finally at Waverly, where he taught for 24 years before retiring in 1989.

During all these years of teaching, Jerry and Elaine’s daughters Jerri Lynn and Jenny were born—Jerri Lynn on March 21, 1959, and Jenny on August 9, 1961. And in 1965, the family bought a big farmhouse on 33 acres in rural, northwest Lansing.

Jerry Lynn & Jennifer, 1967

“It was exciting for us and the girls to be out in the country,” says Jerry. “We had pigs and cattle. We had a pony that was smarter than we were. We called him Chocolate Drop because of the things he left behind in the field.”

Jerry and Elaine’s daughters feel the same. Of course, what they write about Jerry says so much more than anything I’ve written. So let’s take a look.

Jerry, Jerry Lynn, Elaine, 1980

Jerri Lynn

When I was a kid I used to brag to my friends “MY dad can fix ANYTHING!” It was a perfectly legitimate brag as he really can fix anything. I also used to irritate my friends by countering things their comments with “well, MY dad says…” and “MY dad knows everything!” Now that might have been a slight exaggeration (at least at that early point in his life) but it certainly seemed like he knew everything. Other people were always coming to him for advice, he could answer all sorts of questions and explain all kinds of things, and even get family members out of scrapes.

My dad also knew how to play all kinds of wonderfully fun things. He was always a lot of fun. He put on magic shows, entertained people with his silly antics and jokes, ran around outside playing kick the can after dark, and spent a lot of time on the floor timing my sister and I in wrestling matches. He was always coming up with ideas for projects to throw ourselves into like shooting a frame-by-frame movie of us kids scooting around on our bottoms pretending to be race car drivers.

Both my parents made growing up a lot of fun. We were allowed to do all kinds of things—from remodeling the granary into a playhouse to climbing around on the beams way up high in the barn, to camping out in the field for days on end. They were very supportive of any idea I had. They were behind me even during times when other parents would have put their foot down—instead they were helping me make these things happen: running an underground newspaper, dropping out of high school, starting my many businesses. It made me feel like my ideas and priorities were respected and important. It made me feel smart and competent. (I was brought back down to earth later, but it was a great feeling and still shapes my willingness to try new things.) My dad was always a great advocate for womens’ rights. He was very clear when we were growing up— girls should be able to do anything that boys can do.

Some of my earliest memories of my dad are from our house in Lake Fenton where we lived until I was through kindergarten. It seems like he was always working on that house. When I was real young I remember following him around repeating over and over like toddlers do “What are you gonna do dad, what are ya gonna do?” I loved to go with him to the lumber yard and the hardware or his shop classroom. I love the smell of fresh-cut wood and those are still my favorite sorts of shopping.

I remember him taking my sister and I somewhere where there were farm animals and he had to hold us both up high because a mean billy goat was charging with his horns down. I think he pinned my dad to the barn but we were safe. I remember him fighting a grass fire there in the field across the street with lots of neighbors. (That together with our family putting up hay every summer with the Wells family and my mom organizing our little town’s chicken bbq’s has instilled in me a longing and love for situations where I am part of a group of people working hard on a project together.)

My mom and dad always had lots of friends and our house was full of friends and relatives. There were big meals around the table and always some exciting project going on. My dad and Harry Wells were always buying animals of some sort at the auction (experimenting at being farmers as I know my dad grew up a city boy.) They were also always buying men toys like tractors, dump trucks, front loaders. My dad and another science teacher John Winn were always staying up late planning out new ways to teach their middle schoolers science with all kinds of neat little hands-on activities. They also put a lot of energy into thinking up mischevious little tricks to play on administrators and colleagues.

As I got older my favorite times with my dad were when we were working on a project together – building his canoe or roofing an outbuilding. He taught me how to cut in when painting, how to drywall, shingle, build walls and wire switches. He helped me remodel the day care centers and work on my houses. We don’t really do many projects together like that anymore. He thinks I’m too busy. Perhaps if I retire soon enough we can work on projects again.

My other favorite thing to do with my dad is discuss ideas, science, politics, religion etc. He is very well informed – he spends half his time reading and writing little notes, I think! There aren’t a lot of people that like to discuss those things so it is always a treat.


Jennifer

Jenny and Pete’s Wedding, 1984, with Hillary (Shelley’s daughter) and Jerren (Jerry Lynn’s son)


From the young skinny kid living on the wrong side of the tracks pursuing the cute confident girl from the other side of town, to the hard-working teacher supporting his wife and two girls, my dad always keeps things fun and interesting.

Dad was forever telling stories. When we were little he told us he had an alter ego and that by day he was a mild mannered schoolteacher but at night he became Chicken Man. He would make up stories about his escapades as Chicken Man to keep us entertained. I remember telling my friends not to believe anything he said. To hear him tell it, he is part American Indian. This supposedly explains why he has no hair on his chest. Dad also told me that at night our neighbors in Lake Fenton would hang their ten kids on the hooks in their hallway because they didn’t have enough beds to go around. Every time I went over to their house I looked at the line of hooks and wondered how they ever got any sleep.

Growing up our house was always full of people. Mom made it an inviting atmosphere with a nice comfortable house and good food and Dad was the entertainment. From his stories to his magic tricks (glass through the table, floating ghosts, going though walls) he was always a hit. Our birthday and Halloween parties were always the greatest. In the summer we would have picnics in the yard and cool off in the horse tank that dad had converted to a swimming pool. In the winter we would build snow forts, have snowball fights and ride the manure skid. Dad was the biggest kid of all.

I remember at bed time never wanting to go to sleep so Dad would be wrestling around with us causing mom to complain that now we would never go to sleep. But dad would carry us off to bed, tuck us in and sing to us.  His favorite was Old Black Joe. We would drift off to sleep thinking of our new adventures for the coming day while listening to Dad’s renditions of his favorite songs.

Growing up Dad was always there to support us. If we wanted to try something new he encouraged us. He was always at all of the school functions and sporting events cheering us on. He has done the same things for all of his grandsons.

Not everything was great though. Dad was always the one to get up with us on school days. He thought it was funny to start our day with that army wakeup song usually played by a trumpet. He would loudly imitate the trumpet sound with his mouth and then yell up the stairs that breakfast was ready. Now, in high school I just wanted to drink a Carnation Instant Breakfast and be done with it. But oh no, we had to have a full breakfast to start our day off right. It seemed like once a week we would have to..….wait for it…….choke down liver and onions. Are you kidding me???? For breakfast??? It was the worst. I think I am still emotionally scarred from that.

Dad always has a big project going that incorporates creative thinking and a lot of old fashioned hard work. Like taking an old farm house without electricity and heat upstairs and lots of work needed on the out buildings and making it the perfect place to grow up.  He was already great at the rehab stuff from his Industrial Arts degree and work experience but he also learned a lot about farming and the care of livestock and other farm animals (castrating bulls, fighting mean roosters, training biting ponies, corralling escaped cows, etc.). It was always fun and interesting living on the farm.

Some of his other projects included, building a racquetball court on the lower loft of the barn, starting me in the asparagus business to pay for my schooling, and one project that is still in the planning stages: converting the top of the old silo into a sky observatory.  Maybe he’ll start that in his 80th year. He has instilled in my sister and me the notion that anything is possible as long as you work hard and stay positive. That attitude has given me the confidence to undertake things in my professional life that maybe I wasn’t really qualified for but knew if I put in the work that I could succeed.

Jerri Lynn and I also got our love of learning and reading from him. He is always interested in learning more by reading and doing. I think that is what has kept him so young in mind and spirit. When he started to get interested in health and nutrition he not only changed the family’s eating habits (out went the Hostess Cupcakes, Twinkies, ice cream, white bread and pasta) and got us interested in physical fitness (paying us to run in 5 and 10K’s) but also decided to start a health food store on the farm. He really goes all out.

One of the things I admire about my dad is that he can talk to anyone. He told me once that the secret is to ask the right questions. He is great at starting a conversation and making anyone feel at ease. He is knowledgeable about a multitude of subjects so he is an interesting guy to converse with. I think his secret is that he is a great listener and he has a very open mind.

Dad has always been the go-to guy for questions on how to fix or repair anything. My husband Pete has made use of dad’s knowledge on a lot of our home improvements. He is always ready to lend a helping hand and has traveled to Illinois numerous times to help us with projects.

Dad has been the starring character in a lot of my boy’s papers and stories for school. We would travel to the farm to visit grandpa and grandma quite a lot when the boys were growing up. We would drive over to Lansing in the summer or on school breaks. One time after we got back to our house from a visit, I glanced outside and saw Kyle peeing on the neighbor’s flowers. I ran outside and asked Kyle why he hadn’t come in to use the bathroom. He said that he and Grandpa had done it on the farm behind the barn so why couldn’t he do it here?……..Thanks Dad. After another trip, one of the boys had to write a few paragraphs on what they had done over spring break. His response: “On my spring break my grandpa taught me how to play Craps.” I received a very interesting note from his teacher after she read that assignment.

I love his outlook on life and his continual quest for new knowledge.  Like he says, “I’ll try anything…..twice”.

And here’s a special word from Jerry’s grandson, Kyle:

I’m Kyle, Jerry’s grandson (Jennifer’s son). I’m twenty-three years old and I work in research in the Psychiatry department at the University of Minnesota. I graduated from Minnesota in 2010 and will be pursuing a Ph.D. in clinical psychology this fall at either the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill or Arizona State University.

Ever since I was a child, my grandpa has always been one of my favorite people to talk to. He always has something interesting to say because he is always acquiring new knowledge. I don’t know anyone else who highlights and takes copious notes while reading for pleasure like he does. I’ve also never known anyone as curious and open-minded as him, especially at his age. Most people are set in their ways after a certain point and have their opinions and attitudes firmly in place, but my grandpa would never let that happen. He believes that there is always an opportunity to learn something new, no matter how much you know already.

Most adults treat children as intellectually inferior when speaking to them, which in some ways they obviously are. However, I vividly remember having many conversations about politics, science, and philosophy with my grandpa when I was a child. He had to dumb down the subject matter so that I could grasp the ideas, but what was unique about our conversations was that he expected me to contribute rather than simply absorb what he was telling me. He would ask my opinion of something or pose questions that made me think critically, something that most adults don’t do with children. I think that those conversations helped to spark my interest in philosophy, science, and academics in general. I’m certainly going to try to follow his example when I have children and grandchildren of my own one day.

And finally, isn’t that AWESOME artwork from Jenny’s son, Ryan? Check out more of his work here.

 

Jobs, Driving and Happy Days

iStock_000017350095

So in last week’s post, it seems we missed a few interesting jobs in Bruce’s career. Some of them were random, such as working for Lansing Drop Forge, REO Truck Plant and Cook Coffee.

When Jerry comments that Bruce gained lots of experience from these jobs, Bruce replies, “Well, no one would keep me very long.”

And then there were other jobs that, in retrospect, formed a great plot in the timeline of Bruce’s life and those of his brothers. So from here, we’re going to take the story into a reverse chronology, just like they sometimes do on TV.

Before Bruce began delivering mail for the post office, he delivered milk for Lansing Dairy on N. Cedar Street. He was among the last of the horse-drawn deliverymen.

“My route was between Saginaw and Willow Streets, from Capital Avenue on up to the Beltline,” says Bruce. “We loaded on at 4:30 in the morning, and Bill Roggow, from our neighborhood on Beech Street, worked there also. He and I used to leave the dairy at the same time and race down Shiawassee Street to the (restaurant) so we could have breakfast.”

Jerry wants to know about the accident Bruce had with a milk truck (the truck he drove before he was relegated to the horse-drawn wagon).

“Well, I was just going down a gravel road, a washboard type road. And I was driving a little too fast, and bounced around a little too much off the shoulder of the road, and rolled the truck,” says Bruce. “When I rolled, a bunch of milk bottles broke and I got pieces glass all over my back. And because you rode around in those trucks with the doors open, I got thrown out into a ‘muck’ field. They wouldn’t even put me into a room in the hospital, they left me out in the hall.”

Jerry is a true younger brother and brings up important points that perhaps his brothers “have forgotten.”

He asks, “Duane, you drove a truck at one time too, didn’t you?”

This then, forces Duane to admit that he too once rolled a truck—a gravel truck. Gravel…milk…they’re all a shifty loads, aren’t they?

Jerry says he never tipped over any trucks, but he did run into the side of Benny’s Drive-In on Michigan Avenue with his 1940s Chrysler.

“There would be a carload of us guys and we’d drive around the drive-in and look through the windows to see if there were any girls in there,” says Jerry. “I ran right into the side of the building doing that.”

Which brings us to Benny’s…

Benny’s Drive-In was a big part of the Amos Boys’ teenage life. Duane and Bruce both worked there during their high school years (when the restaurant was called Matthew’s). Jerry worked there during his high school years as well, and it was the place to hang out for teens and young adults. The Amos Boys’ stories make the place sound just like Arnold’s from the TV sitcom Happy Days (although if you heard what they did behind those kitchen doors, you probably wouldn’t have eaten the food).

“Benny’s is where Duane met your mother,” Bruce tells me.

Apparently, Bruce and Coyla Jean had had a spat. So when Bruce and Duane went to a party, they took other girls. After the party, they dropped the girls off at their homes and cruised on down to check out the scene at Benny’s Drive-In.

“We were driving around Benny’s and Coyla and her friends were parked there,” says Duane. “We got out and talked to them. Bruce and Coyla made up and that’s when I met your mother. She was friends with Coyla and was visiting from Henderson for the weekend.”

And the rest is history. How cool is that?

Happy Birthday Bruce!

February 27 is a big day for the Amos Boys—it’s Bruce’s birthday and he’s going to be 79. Happy Birthday Bruce!

Supposedly, this week’s conference call was supposed to be an hour long “Roast Bruce,” but I must say, Duane and Jerry went pretty easy on him. A few stories have come out over the weeks, and even though Bruce repeatedly claims they’re all hearsay, I’ll pass some of them along to you anyway. Like, say, the time things got a little “smoky” in their Grandma Maggie Adams’ chicken coop.

I’ll let Jerry clear the air (ahem) on this one:

“When Bruce was 12 or 13 he was visiting on Beaver Street (Maggie’s house, where Jerry was living). It was our step-grandfather Jim Adams’ birthday and he had received a lot of Lucky Strike cigarettes. Bruce thought we and some of our neighborhood buddies should have our own party so he borrowed a carton of Jim’s smokes. We crowded into a little chicken coop out back and smoked those cigarettes.

“After getting sick of the whole thing, we all went down the street to another kid’s house for something to drink. While there, we heard fire engine sirens and ran out to enjoy some excitement. We were shocked though, to see this big rig pull in to Jim and Maggie’s place. Someone had seen a lot of smoke coming from the chicken coop and called the fire department.

“A fireman took his big ax to the coop door and opened up to a large number of smoldering cigarettes butts on the floor. We boys were standing there innocently when the head fireman walked right over to Bruce. I don’t remember what he said but there weren’t any serious consequences that I know of except for a lingering bad taste.”

Here’s one of Bruce’s high school pictures. Isn’t he handsome?

Bruce's high school picture

There’s a story about Bruce’s high school years as well. Apparently, there are several versions, but we’ll go by how he tells it:

“Back when I was in junior high, I got in the habit of skipping school. When I got to high school at Eastern (High School), Duane started skipping right along with me. At the end of the first semester, the principal called us into the office and said Duane was a pretty good student until I got there. He made the statement that the school wasn’t big enough for the two of us.

“I went home and didn’t tell Ma I got kicked out of school. I just asked if she could get me into Sexton (High School) because that’s where all my friends from junior high were going.”

Sexton High School was a long walk across town for Bruce, but it turned out to be quite worthwhile because that’s where he met a very special someone—Coyla Jean McCargar.

Coyla Jean

Coyla, who went by Jeanie, grew up living with her grandparents in the very small town of Henderson, about 45 miles northeast of Lansing. During her high school years she moved to Lansing to live with her mother, and she graduated when she was just 16.

She must have been pretty smart to graduate so young, don’t you think?

“Not too smart,” says Bruce. “Not if she married me.”

Bruce and Coyla Jean

Bruce and Jeanie married that next January 1952, a month before Bruce turned 19 and a few months before Jeanie turned 18.

“She twisted my arm,” says Bruce.

Well, she obviously did more than that. By December of that same year, their daughter Vicki was born. Fourteen months later, in February, 1954, Shelley was born. And in July, 1959, Roland Scott was born.

When I ask Bruce what he enjoyed doing in his younger days, his response is that he was “never particularly smart, or never had any particular interests.”

“I just lived life as it came,” says Bruce.

I’m thinking Bruce is being a bit modest here, because it sounds like he worked hard and did well.

In the early years of their marriage, Bruce worked 40 hours a week delivering mail for the post office during the day, plus another 42 hours a week as the night manager for a McDonalds in Lansing.

“I was getting a little worn out and was going to quit McDonalds,” says Bruce. “But the owner asked how much I was making at both jobs. He offered me more money to quit delivering mail and just manage his McDonalds.”

Eventually Bruce was managing three Lansing McDonalds, and later, one in St. Johns and one in Corunna. He also owned shares in another McDonalds in Portland.

All of this is really interesting. But what’s even better is what Bruce’s children have to say about their dad. It’s very, very special.

Here a word from Vicki, Shelley and Scott.

Vicki

Dad was always one of the hardest working dad’s we know. He always took his job seriously and did his very best. My guess would be his best work years were the one’s he spent at McDonalds in Lansing, which started as a second job (nighttime -after working at the Post Office all day). Eventually he became the supervisor of all three Lansing McDonalds that were owned by Ed MacLuckie.

Dad was a strict dad. If he whistled, you better come running. If he said you should be doing this or that, you better be doing just what he said. We all knew he loved us very much, but he was not a demonstrative man with his feelings…that has changed as he has aged. He shows more emotion now and says I love you. We always knew that he did, but it wasn’t said often when we were young.

Dad gave us all a strong work ethic which we have carried throughout our lives. He’s never been materialistic, he just looks to be comfortable and content.

Dad used to play men’s softball as a pitcher for many years and now he still enjoys watching. He and I have lots of conversations about my granddaughter, Makela, who is a 10th grader in high school and a great little pitcher. When Dad has been home to Michigan he makes sure he takes in one of her summer tournaments.

He is an avid reader…this year we got him a Kindle to move him into the technological world with his reading.

The love of Dad’s life now is his dog, Molly! She is a rescue dog that Scott found for him and they are inseparable.

Vicki, Jeanie, Shelley, Bruce and Scott, 1972

Shelley

The first thing I really remember is my family living in a house with Grandma (Gladys) and Jerry and Elaine. I guess Dad worked nearby, but things must have been tough for everyone if we were all living together.

We moved to a house on State Rd. in north Lansing. I’m not sure if this was our next residence or not, but I remember having a dog and Dad making me go out back and feed it. The dog would run around my legs and I would get caught up in his chain and fall down. That’s when I first remember Dad saying “I’m gonna trade you in for a dog and shoot the dog.” That really scared me because I didn’t want to go away and I didn’t want the dog to die.

I think after that we moved to Coulson Ct. in south Lansing. There were lots of young families on that street with lots of kids to play with. When it was time to go inside in the evenings, Dad would whistle for us and it didn’t matter where we were, we could hear him and knew we’d better get our little butts home. Our parents made friends with lots of the other parents and there were always parties. The adults would dance and Dad was the best twister. He was also pretty good at hula hooping!

I guess I was a daddy’s girl because I always liked to help him with whatever he was doing. I’m sure I was in the way a lot, but I don’t ever remember him telling me to go away. We didn’t talk a lot when we “worked” together and I remember him saying that we could spend half a day together and I wouldn’t say a dozen words. (That’s because my older sister always felt the need to talk for me!) I’m sure I learned a lot of Amos expletives by helping Dad with his projects too.

Dad worked at McDonalds for several years. He took me to work with him one day when I was probably 7 or 8. It was before females were allowed to work there. I thought I was pretty special because I got to put the pickles on the hamburgers! I also remember Mom calling him at work a few times when Scott was a new baby, because we were being naughty. He would come home and get Vicki and I and take us back to McDonalds with him. The first time, he made us sit in the car while he went back to work, but his boss found out we were in the car and made Dad bring us inside. We got to do cool things in the back like cut the potatoes into French fries (yup, they used real potatoes way back then), help make shakes, and eat whatever we could talk Dad into.

Dad was the disciplinarian. Mom would say “wait until your father gets home!” so I would be in tears when Dad walked in the door. He always said all he had to do was scold me because that was harder on me than getting spanked. Dad was not very good at verbalizing his love for us. If we would say “I love you Dad” he would say “me too” or “mmhmm”, but we knew he loved us by his actions. He’s gotten over that over the years and doesn’t have any trouble saying “I love you” now.

We moved to St. Johns when I was in the third grade and lived on a farm and we all got horses. Vicki and I were in 4-H with our horses and Mom and Dad were very involved. We would take our mares down the road to another farm to be bred. Dad thought it would be a good educational experience for me/us (I don’t remember if Vicki was there) to watch. Mom wasn’t too happy about that when she found out!

When we had friends over, Dad would always stare at the top of their heads when he talked to them, which made them very nervous! (I bet he did it to you cousins too.)

I worked for Dad at McDonalds for awhile and all the other employees thought I was a great person to voice their complaints to, hoping I would go home and tell Dad. I tried…once….

Dad was always there for us kids, even when he wasn’t too happy with us, and always gave us good advice, even when we didn’t want it. He still treats me like his little girl…love you Dad!

Scott

I worked at McDonalds also when I was 9, working every other Saturday picking up papers in the neighborhood. After I was done doing that, I got to help out inside. Filling buckets with potatoes, slicing potatoes, putting ketchup & mustard on the buns, making shakes & eating pretty much whatever I wanted. I got sick on cherry pies when they came out.

Dad would ground me and after a couple of days mom would let me off but said, make sure I was home before Dad got home.

Happy Birthday from all of us!