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!

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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?!

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?

Do You Remember Snow Days?

So, the plan for today was to reminisce childhood winters and all the snowy adventures the Amos Boys had back in the day. But, with the exception of Duane perilously sliding under an oncoming car with his sled; or Bruce riding down the Beech Street hill on sheet metal from an old furnace; or Jerry hitching rides from the back bumper of cars while skiing on his feet; these guys don’t have many snowy sagas to tell. In fact, they didn’t even get snow days off from school.

“Most students in Lansing walked to school and a foot of snow would not be a problem,” says Jerry.

Amos Boys and friends playing ball

Back, l-r; Uncle Ralph Gulick, his oldest son LaVern. Middle: Bruce and Duane. Front: Ralph and Laura's twins, Don and Ron.

What the guys do reminisce a lot of is running around the neighborhood and hanging out with friends. They remember playing ball in the street. Or kick-the-can. Or bicycle tag at night (one of their friends even painted his bike an advantageous black).

“That was our entertainment. We didn’t have all the things kids have today,” says Bruce. “There was nothing to do in the house.”

And yet, interestingly, it sounds like the Amos house was the place to be.

“We never had any grass in our front yard because all the kids congregated at our house,” says Duane. “No grass, just hard dirt. Our mom always worked, but the other kids’ moms were home. So everyone came to our front yard.”

“And in the house, sometimes, for wrestling matches,” adds Jerry. “We had a big jam pile there one time. About six guys were wrestling each other and they fell onto the couch and broke the feet off.”

Another time their friend Dick Ritchie’s sister, Delores, angrily chased him through their house. As she swiped at him with a mop, she shattered a chandelier.

Oh, man. Think of the Amos Boys’ poor mother when she came home from work.

Perhaps we should go back to talking about snow.

Jerry and his daughter Jenny

Maybe living in Lansing didn’t give the Amos Boys a lot of snowy memories. But interestingly, they all grew up and raised their families in the country. We, their children, spent a lot of time ice skating, tobogganing, and snurfing (a precursor to snowboarding, don’tcha know).

The memories that stand out most, however, are of Uncle Jerry pulling us cousins through the snowy fields on a wooden skid with his tractor.

Those were fun times, weren’t they?

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