A KWORUM OF ONE
PREFACEWhile driving forward at age 84, a look in the rearview mirror to see where I've been, before I forget.
Dedicated to all those people, thanked and unthanked, who have helped me this far.
EARLY YEARS - Verona, PA -1925 to 1931Birth -- My "baby book" records the following historic item: "Robert Adam arrived on Thurs. A.M. Jan. 8th., '25 at 3:45 o'clock at [856 First St.] Verona, Pa. Miss Ada Dunsmore and Dr. E. C. Lewis were in attendance. The boy weighed 10¼ lbs."
I think I was welcomed by my brothers, Dick at age seven and Ray at age five. Maybe I was too young to be a rival sibling. --"Smiled for first the day before he was 1 mo. old."
The Christening --"Robert was baptised in Trinity Lutheran Church, Verona, on Sun. A.M. May 3rd. by Dr. Elmer Bittle of Pittsburgh." When I was two years and eight months old, I had to leave the spotlight in favor of my new sister Cathie. First Prayer--at 3 years, 10 months, : "God bless this food and fill our hearts with love."
First Faint Memories --- Being found about three
blocks away after 'taking a walk' --- my brothers' pet white mice being
located in galoshes in the kitchen closet ---the zinc-coated window box
where food was kept not-too-cold in the winter --- getting ice cream
cones with 'jimmy' on them at John Mons grocery store ---eating a Chocho sandwich which was named for a clown; it was built with lateral
slices of banana on a bed of lettuce plastered with old-fashioned
peanut butter and mayonnaise captured between two full slices of fresh
white bread; still one of my favorites--- at the foot of the hill,
viewing my first parade as it headed from Verona to Oakmont ---in the
care of my brothers at The Willows swimming pool where they 'taught' me
to swim by just throwing me in the water --- the 'dirty'-white bear rug
in the attic --- spending scarlet fever quarantine time in the bedroom
with Dad. Our meals were brought to the door --- the wallpaper was
stripped off and Dad entertained me by drawing pictures on the bare
I was a favorite of "Sput", my next-door neighbor, who was a fellow in his mid-twenties. One day we took a hike on the railroad tracks down the hill along Plum Creek. Hopping from tie to tie, as a five-year-old would, I was abruptly interrupted when Sput lifted me bodily in midstep. There between the next ties was a coiled copperhead! Giving the reptile a wide berth, we finished our walk and arrived safely home.
Can I explain one simple joy of my childhood? Friends of our family lived near a tiny brook wending among the trees. Launching a small leaf or piece of twig, I'd watch it follow each vagrant current obediently downstream. Sometimes, the "boat" would hang up on a pebbly dam or slow to a stop in a backwater. To the rescue! Prodded with a little stick, the journey was recommenced. At the property edge, the floater would be transported back to the starting point to begin anew. I believe I'd still be there if all dreams could come true. At one Saturday matinee, a 'cowboy' did rope tricks onstage. When I was about six years old, I saw the first movie of which I have a memory. It was about seafaring or whaling. It had a leather-faced actor, like Charles Laughton, who played the part of an ill-fated seaman who had his leg sorely injured. He was put on a rough table and was attended by the ship's 'surgeon', shown plainly with a saw. The scene was changed but the blood-curdling scream that followed will forever ring in my ears!
Attended first grade where we took a penny or two each week which slowly accrued to our savings accounts. Lost it all when FDR closed the banks --- walking home from school, gathering buckeyes on the way ---a slick tin toy monkey that somehow climbed a string which was attached at the top of a doorway---Dad had a pigeon coop at the back porch---- apparently apprehensive about moving to the 'tough' town of Braddock, I made sure to take along a rope for protection.
Also during this span of years, as later, family 'vacations' were actually visits to my grandparents' homes. An early-August trek was usually made to 'The Wigwam', the home of Mom's parents. It was an 18-room edifice (counting all of the sunporches and capacious entryways) situated on a hilltop farm overlooking DuBois. We climbed the barn ladders and jumped down into the haymow. We hiked winding roads through the woods. We grasped and clutched and sat on every branch of of our favorite apple tree. We tasted the ripened mayapples, squeezing the seedy, viscous, lemony innards out. For top-drawer eating, a raid was made on Grama's cookie canister in the pantry or on the parched sweet corn kernels in pie pans kept in the warmer section of her enameled coal stove.
GROWING YEARS - Braddock, PA - 1932 to 1947
Our family moved into the first floor of the old Mills
Mansion which occupied a corner lot. Mom and Dad had one bedroom, we
three boys had the second one and our sister used a day bed in the
sunporch. There was a wall bed in the living room which was used for
guests. I never did
need that rope for protection, but 'Red' Weil ran me through the alley
once or twice. I walked to elementary school where the basics were
taught. Mrs. Ruth Taylor, a former missionary to Africa, was the
principal. Being a member of Dad's church, she was a secret ally of his
in shepherding me through school. After the depression hit, we were
given milk at school although we came home for lunch. Early on, the
school made an informal survey to determine how bad things were at home
for the families. We were asked to raise our hands when they questioned
how many days per week our fathers worked. I held in until they called
for "one day a week?" and proudly held up my hand. My minister father
got quite a laugh out of that when word got to him. I must have been a
loud singer for I was once asked to stop singing so that the teacher
could hear the rest of the class! Maybe I WAS influenced by Mom's (were
they on Saturday mornings?) radio music programs featuring Walter
Damrosch and Madam Schuman-Heink.
depression era entertainment:
I believe that after I moved out of the Junior High
School, it burned down. And our hours were reduced as the six classes
had to double up in the High School.
I did manage to have a second near-death experience when I was about 16 years old. The Pneumococci invaded me and I was diagnosed as having double pneumonia. This occurred before the advent of penicillin which was able to conquer this disease almost magically. But I was confined to bed and treated with the cures of the day, including mustard plasters. At the critical stage I was cared for by nurses around the clock. The detailed temperature chart showed when my fever finally broke, after 'I had heard the angels singing.' I believe I was absent from school for maybe two weeks and had to make up some work to catch up in class.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor put a punctuation to
feelings I had harbored about war. The cover of my tablet already had
doodles pertaining to my moral outrage against the Axis aggressors.
With a year and a half before graduation, I continued on with my
studies albeit in a changing environment. Rationing was ordered. Metals
and other items were collected. Used toothpaste tubes were saved. My
older brothers ended up being rejected for military service because of
heart palpitations. They pulled their weight at the steel mill relining
furnaces with the "brick gang". It was a tenet of our family that any
useful work could be prideful, even that of a 'honeydipper.' Dad became
an air raid warden with the job of enforcing practice blackouts. The
authorities never did determine how to blackout the steelmill hellfires
which lit up the night skies for miles. I cut out silhouettes of
military airplanes of all nations participating in the war. These I
attached to the ceiling above my bed and studied them daily. |
About five months after my seventeenth birthday, I graduated in the top twenty percent of our class of two hundred students. I believe I had to register with the Selective Service then but could not volunteer until I turned eighteen. A free federal course in machine shop was offered over the summer, so I enrolled. I made a small steel vise and a hammerhead. Upon completion of that class, I was employed as a machinist apprentice at the Sommerfeld Machine Co., a local shop which was manufacturing 20-inch lathes for building artillery pieces for Australia. This first job paid 40¢/hour and I soon learned that pretending to be busy was worse than being busy.
A little side job I had there was making metal hooks. A piece of heavy wire stock was laid on a flat jig and a compatible bar was used to turn the wire around steel pegs to form the hook. As I did this one day, a steel peg broke and shot up, striking my eyeball. Upon reporting the injury, I was advised to walk to the 'company' doctor's office about ten or twelve blocks away. Such was OSHA's predecessor in the old days...non-existent. My eye healed.
It might have been prior to Labor Day 1942 on a Saturday, if we worked six days a week. The shop workers, all non-union, held a rump meeting before going home. Its aim was to decide whether to work on Labor Day 48 hours hence. A vote was taken and it was agreed that we would work due to wartime priorities. I patriotically walked to work on Monday and the shop was closed tightly with not a soul around! So much for some of the home front folks.