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 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!

Halloween: More Tricks Than Treats

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

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

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

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

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

Duane and Bruce

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

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

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

I wonder what vandalism they did?

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

Bruce has a Van story as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will Family Albums Be a Thing of the Past?

Several years ago an instructor for the photography class I was taking expressed concern that a whole generation of photography would eventually go missing. His thought was that right now, in this age of digital photography, we are still new enough to the concept that we are not taking care to preserve our images. In the future however, people will realize what’s been lost and they’ll take specific measures to once again produce hardcopy photos.

He’s right, you know. I’m a perfect example.

I put together photo albums for my family up to the late 1990s (albeit in great need of organization). Somewhere after that I went digital and no longer had them printed. Oh, I always mean to. But year after year goes by and I add hundreds of pictures to my computerized stash, yet I fail to make hardcopies. At any given time, my technology could fail and I could easily loose these irreplaceable family treasures.

Does posting pictures on Facebook count? Or in a blog?

Some say our photos are safer online than in the old-fashioned photo album. But there’s something to be said about sitting down with a tangible timeline of one’s beloved family. There’s joy in turning the pages of an album—those plastic sheaths that archive the pieces of our lives. Somehow the pass of a finger across a digital screen just doesn’t compare.

We don’t have a lot of pictures of the Amos boys when they were young. Those we do have are so very, very special. We’re lucky Gladys and others took the time to shoot those photographs—it certainly was much more expensive then than now—and we’re lucky they cared enough to save them for us.

Here are good suggestions for preserving family photos and data (click here). Do you have more ideas to add? How can we make sure the pictures we take today will be there for our grandchildren and their children?

The Voices We Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modern Day Genealogy Junkie

Gladys' list of family names

Well, where did September go? Somehow, I got extra busy and the weeks slipped by without any new posts to the blog. So sorry about that. But, hey, it’s October and we’re back!

October is also Family History Month. The Amos family is way ahead—we’ve been celebrating our history the whole year. Even so, genealogy is a study worth discussing, partly because it’s a popular trend and also because—well, of course—because it tells us who we are.

Family history made its first grab at me when I was a teenager. I remember talking with the Amos boys’ mother, (my grandmother) Gladys, and she wrote down a list of names. Then she gave me a copy of this photo. Suddenly the names became real people and I was hooked. I was a genealogy junkie.

Back then learning of our family tree was a slow and tedious hobby. I wrote to people, via U.S. mail, and then I waited. I sat in libraries and scanned through microfilm. Nowadays, the internet brings everything to an immediate accessibility. Some say it’s taken away the thrill of the hunt, but, hey, I’m a busy woman so I’ll take less thrill and more reward.

Have you gone online and checked out Ancestry.com?

Paisley Laing Military record

At this time, Ancestry.com is the biggest genealogy resource and with its claim of 10 billion records, it’s the candy shop of family history. One can’t decide which direction to go first. Birth? Immigration? Military? Census? With a simple click of your mouse on the waving green leaf you can find interesting artifacts like this military pension record for our Paisley Laing (the Amos boys’ great-grandfather).

Yes, Ancestry.com charges a subscription fee to join. But you can also check your local library – many hold subscriptions and allow you to use it for free. If you join, let’s share information!

So what about you? Are you a genealogy junkie? What does knowing our family tree mean to you?

It’s Harvest Season!

Garden Harvest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farmer Jerry

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

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