Robert W. Kennedy
F Company, 517 PRCT
Excerpts from my life... Robert W. Kennedy
Growing up in a small town in Indiana was no big deal to some people, but I had a lot of fun in my childhood days. Terre Haute, Indiana is just a small town on the banks of the Wabash river, just seventy two miles west of Indianapolis. Highway forty runs through the main street of town across the Wabash river to west TerreHaute. Lafayette Ave. runs up to North TerreHaute. The Big Four Railroad ran at an angle all across town and the C.E.& I. ran the other way. We didn't have " the right and the wrong side of the tracks" as in some towns; we had the north and the south. The more affluent people seemed to live in the south. I think they were the business people in the town. We lived in the north end, but it was real nice. The streets were paved and nice shade trees lined most of the streets. The trolley cars ran down the middle of the streets, leaving only enough room on each side for a car to barely fit. I remember the times my brother and I used to hop the trolley. The trolleys had bars on the back windows and a guard rail running the length of the trolley. We would hop on the back, grab the window bars and put our feet on the guard rails to hitch a ride. If the trolley didn't stop at our street, we would sometimes pull the trolley off the electric line to stop the trolley. We were both hit by cars jumping off the trolley, but we survived, I generally fared better than my brother.
North Terre Haute had a big swimming pool called Elm Grove. Old Mill Dam was also in North Terre Haute. There were things to do when you were a kid growing up. I remember the skating rink, it was on Third Ave., and named for it's location, The Third Ave. Roller Rink.
I was the last of six kids in the family. My mother's sole purpose in life was to raise six kids all by herself. She was a very nice, hard-working woman. She worked in a laundry six days a week with a take home pay of eleven dollars a week. She would walk fifteen blocks home just to save ten cents on street car fare so she could buy a dimes worth of candy and a Sunday paper for us kids to read. Mom never hit us kids, but was very strict on what she expected from us and "she had better get it". We lived next to a large cemetery and one of my earliest memories was standing out in the middle of the cemetery while my brother George hid behind the tombstone and made ghost noises. I must have been four or five at the time. I do remember that. I don't recall the period between that age and eleven or twelve. I have flashbacks of a horse named the banana horse, I don't know if it was the color or shape that gave him his name. I wonder about that sometimes. I recall my dad taking my brother George and me walking along the Wabash river. I don't recall my age at that time. I never knew my dad until years after I was born. I think I must have been 6 or 7 years old. I remember asking my mother about her friends that came from Scotland to visit, "Is he my father?". One of her friends said, "My God boy, don't you know your own father?" The truth was, I didn't. My mother and father came from Scotland to Canada and then to the United States. At some point, my dad decided to be a real life hobo. He had long hair and a beard and pants that were several sizes too big and held on by a rope tied around his waist. He had a bedroll he carried over one shoulder. I never knew what was in it, probably lice. Dad stayed with someone in New Jersey and rode the freight trains from Jersey to California looking for work, so they said, I don't think he ever found any. Dad never gave mom a dime after I was born, that I know of. My dad thought he could solve the problem of perpetual motion. I remember him coming to the house and saying to mom "Jean, I got it this time." Mom said all he had was "bats in his belfry". The story goes that one day mom called us kids to the front lawn and said "kids, this drunk man lying here is your father". I was so proud (not), It was the first time I had seen the old man. Mom said he used to make moonshine and sell it to all the local pubs and then sit there and buy half of it back until the money was gone and he was drunk. It was typical for Scotch and Irish men to drink a lot. They weren't very well accepted in the United States. There were signs saying "Irish and dogs keep off the grass".
My sister, Margaret worked in a stamping mill. She made pots and pans for a wage of twenty two cents an hour. The workers went on strike one time because they wanted to get twenty five cents an hour. Some crossed the picket lines for the twenty two cents, and things got bad. The National Guard was called in to help keep peace on the street. After a year, the strike was settled and they got the twenty five cents! My sister was rich. Twenty-five cents an hour, Wow! A year after the strike, Margaret bought a house on Fourth Ave, a "fixer upper". She had the basement dug out and installed a hot air furnace.
It seemed at the time that we moved every time the rent was due. Mom never stopped trying to stretch those eleven dollars a week by finding something cheaper. Rent in those days ranged from two to seven dollars a month. We lived on First St., Tippacanoe, Chase St. and in two different houses on Plum St. The last place we rented was from a widow who liked my mom and owned a house across from where we were staying. She let mom rent her house for three dollars a month. I had to cut the grass. It had two bedrooms, a living room, a closed porch on the side, a #2 bathtub, and a nice outhouse (a 2 seater). I always wondered why there were two seats in an outhouse, it's not as if you'd want any company!
At one point, Mom and I moved in with Margaret. This was the last place I lived in Terre Haute. Our family was breaking up, all going their own way. I entertained myself by riding my bike that I bought from Margaret for 50 cents, playing basketball, kick the can, and going roller skating at night. At the skating rink, you could skate from seven until ten and then stay for the parties at ten. The parties were 25 cents. At the time, my brother George was in Chicago, my sister Bea, who looked after me when I was small, lived in Indianapolis. My big brother John, the oldest in the family, was riding the trains from Jersey to California. I guess he was "a chip off the old block". My sister Jeannie had married a real loser named Lloyd which she ended up supporting most of her life. They had one daughter named Jackie. I only saw her once as they all went to California. We did get together about once a year, most of the time just the sisters and brothers.
Getting together always brought back lots of memories. My sister Bea looked after me most of the time growing up because Mom and Margaret were working. Bea still tells stories of how she would carry me around on her hip until I was about three or four because I wouldn't walk when I was tired. She told me once she went to the store and bought a watermelon and because I refused to walk home, she carried me on her hip and rolled the watermelon home with her feet. I was the baby in the family and she saw fit to look after me. Margaret was a different story, she was very bossy. When she mopped the floors, she would spread newspaper out over them and not let us in to eat or drink until mom came home. She wanted Mom to be sure to see how nice the house looked. I remember one time her giving me a can of pork and beans and a can opener and telling me to eat it outside in the yard!
Growing up in the depression years didn't bother me, I didn't even know the depression was going on. We had a garden and we raised rabbits and chickens. I don't recall ever going hungry. Mom would buy bread and jelly and we would bring our friends to the house and eat it all. We caught heck from Mom, but I don't think she was really mad. Mom knew the other kids were hungry.
In the summers, we went camping at a place called Old Mill Dam, where an old mill was used to ground corn and wheat and other grains. Having gone there at such a tender age, I saw the fifteen foot dam as being as big as a boulder dam and the old iron bridge over the creek as big as the Golden Gate Bridge. Years later I went back and saw how small they really were. While driving up there I spotted a young boy down in the creek moving rocks, looking for crawdads just like I used to do. It brought back memories. When I got there I discovered that the old mill had burned down and that they had drained Otter Creek to build the dam higher. There also was a new concrete bridge where the old Iron bridge once stood.
When I was eleven or twelve, I started to work in a drug store. My job was carrying the trash from the apartment above the store to the furnace downstairs where we would burn it. I would also sweep the store out and burn the cardboard from the store parcels. I would put coal in the furnace in the winter. My wages at the drug store were 25 cents a weeks. There were no child labor laws when I was a boy. Things were cheap back then. Fifteen cents for a movie and ten cents for a pack of cigarettes. You could go to the theater uptown for five cents, it was called the Savoy theater. You could get the Pathe news, a comedy, the main movie, and a serial, all for five cents. Other movies were ten and fifteen cents. A big bag of popcorn was five cents. Double dipped cones were also five cents. That was in the mid 1930's. After about a year or so, I became a delivery boy and got a raise to one dollar and fifty cents a week. The next year, I got three dollars a week. I gave Mom half of my three dollars and kept the rest. That was a lot of money for a boy in those days. The people that owned the drug store, the Larrison's, were good to me. My brother worked there too until he found a job paying ten dollars a week. All the children did odd jobs if they could find one. My brother, George, shot wild rabbits and sold them for twenty-five cents each. I made extra money cutting grass and keeping my teacher's car clean. I worked six days a week; seven a.m. until noon, then off until six p.m., then six p.m. until eleven p.m. I had Sundays off. My brother George, who was four years older than me, took me hunting and fishing. I learned to swim in the Wabash river. When you could swim across and back again, you were a man. Some boys never made it. The current was swift. Several boys drowned as I recall. At this point in time, I saved three people from drowning. I forgot all about it until the wife of a friend of mine told me I saved her at Crystal lake one year. Kenny Barker and I liked to swim in any water that was available. We would ride our bikes down to lost creek and go skinny dipping after school. There was a small pond off of Ohio Blvd. called "Cow Pond" that we swam in. One day, a boy who couldn't swim let go of a log that was holding him up. I saw the boy go down and come up and I could tell that he couldn't swim. I dove in and got him back on the log. I can't remember his name. There was another situation in which a young boy couldn't get his breath while swimming in Otter Creek. Pete Shaw and I pulled him ashore and after he warmed up he was okay. I think that was in March and the water was cold as hell that time of year. I don't remember his name either. We used to build a big bon fire on the banks of Conover Pond and break the thin ice to see who could stay in the water the longest. I never won. You can't swim in a hole in the ice. As long as you would keep moving, the cold water wasn't that hard to take. We did all of the "kid things" when we were fourteen or so. There was an old barn at the back of Chuck People's house that we made into a bunk house and jail for when we played cowboy and indians. We used strap metal from the stamping mill junk pile. The wood, 2 x 4's, we got from old buildings and barns around the neighborhood. We cut long poles down at lost creek where they grew along the banks of the creek and the nearby woods, we would set them up like Indian tee pees and cover them with burlap bags sewn together. We built one on top of our bunkhouse and one day I set it on fire accidently while lighting an old kerosene lamp, I put it too close to the burlap on the tee pee. The neighbor put it out with water from their garden hose so it didn't burn the barn down. The summers were spent riding our bikes out to Mill Dam and Crystal Lake. We went to west TerreHaute to Izak Walton Lake at the back side, it cost 25 cents to go there and there were rafts and diving boards. They had a big swing at the back side on a high bluff that you could swing out over and let go into the water. It must have been twenty feet to the water as I recall; it took me a while to get up the nerve to let go. Most of the summer, we went barefooted, stubbed our toes and cut our feet on glass and metal. Most of the kids couldn't wait till spring to take their shoes off. When fall came, you put gravel in your shoes to get used to wearing shoes again. (HA) Just like todays kids, we liked to fly kites, we never had the fancy ones like they have today, although some of the big guys had box kites. They had a big field called Spencer Park, and all the kids would fly their kites there, they even built fires at night and flew them, I don't know why, you couldn't see them, you could only feel the pull on the string. I liked farm life and farm animals and spent summers at Pete Dragons farm outside of Terre Haute. Pete had cows and they were milked by his three grown daughters, I think his wife had died. The milk was put in large cans and dooled by the pump house. I loved a big cup of cool creamy milk straight from the cow.
Winter time was a dreary time in Indiana, the leaves fell from the trees and when it snowed, the soot from the coal burning stoves made the snow turn grey in about two days. The first snow was beautiful, walking through the woods was like a fairy land, it was so quiet. The big guys stole lumber from the Gifford Lumber Co and made a big bob sled that held at least ten people that they pulled behind a car, you could steer it as the front end was on a swivel and was controlled by a rope and both feet. One day, a guy said he would pull me on the sled if I wanted to steer it. The snow was real slushy as it was starting to thaw. When we came to the rail road tracks, we hit a dry spot and I lost control, the front end spun around and almost broke my leg, the snow and mud covered me from head to toe and broke up the sled. Catching the bumper of a car on our western flyer sled and letting go when the car went real fast was real fun, some drivers stopped and gave us hell and said we could get killed, as if you could kill a fourteen year old boy! I climbed trees and old buildings and fell out of both, never broke a bone until I was thirty years old. Every year the big hay stacks at the paper mill caught fire from internal combustion and set off an eight alarm fire. This happened mostly in the winter. The hay stacks, as we called them, were really straw stacked forty feet high and covered a city block. Every truck in the county showed up and when the temperature dropped, the firemen were covered with ice; they had to tear the stacks apart to get to the fire in the middle of the stack. Wet straw that burned and was put out smelled "to high heaven". This was an event that happened about every year and everybody came from miles around to see the blaze and watch the firemen fight the fire. The firefighting lasted for a week and after the fire they kept one or two trucks there just in case it flared up again. The grain elevator and storage yard was a one time event, it cought fire on winter nights that had a snow that covered the ground about two or three inches. The fire lit up the sky so bright, you could read a newspaper a mile or more from the fire at night. The sky and snow turned red from the blaze, it looked real scary. They never rebuilt the grainery but they did create tunnels in the straw stacks and make them smaller. This stopped the fires at the paper mill. After the fire, it took weeks to wash and dry the fire hose. When I was five or six, they had a hand pumper and two horses that pulled it to a fire, our teacher took us on tour of the fire house at 13th and Chase St. When the alarm would sound, a big red ball on 13th St. would light up, the harness was hung over the horse on a pulley and it would drop onto the horse and hook up to the pumper. This must have been replaced by trucks right after this because I never did see one in action, only on the school tour. We also took tours through bakery's and grocery stores. Once we toured Paitson Brothers store across from the drug store where I later worked. I helped myself to the oranges in the bins during the tour and Walt Paitson said, "Boy, Skeets (he knew me), you have gotten fat just walking through my store", I think I had a half of a dozen oranges in my shirt. Walt never let me forget that and told everyone the story over and over. After the grain elevator fire, you could go on their property as there wasn't anything of value there. There was a real high bank on the east side where we would get an old sheet of metal from the burned out building and slide down this bank on the tin sheet. When it was cold, we would get this oil soaked stuff like string out of the journal box that oiled the axel on the train wheels, It would smoke real bad and your face got black if you played there all day. I guess old buildings held a fascination for us because we were in every one that we could find.
After the snow and cold was gone, it was spring cleaning time. All the rugs were hung on the clothes line and beat with a rug beater that looked like a long tennis racket. All of the homes were mostly wall papered and had to be cleaned. The wall paper cleaner was a little like play dough and was used like an eraser on the paper. If it was to be removed, they used a steam cleaner or hot water. They papered over the paper over and over as long as it was tight on the wall. Sometime as much as five layers of paper had to be removed. The stove was taken down and cleaned and stored in the corner for next winter. The windows were washed and the beds were cleaned and brushed with kerosene to kill the bed bugs. After all of this, we were ready for spring and summer.
Growing up in Indiana was nevertheless all fun and games to me, we would play in the park until after dark playing "three step" and hide and go seek". We were never afraid of the dark back then, not like the kids seem to be today. We climbed trees, played ditch, and caught craw dads in the creek at mill dam to use for bait to fish with. We never had television, so we made our own fun. Airplanes were a novelty at that time and we would run out to look at them whenever we heard them flying over. We would watch until they were gone out of sight. It would take a real long time to get into everything I did growing up. I never shot anyone, or did drugs, or anything real bad. On Halloween, we did push over outhouses, and pull the trolley cable to stop the street car, and soap windows, and throw corn at windows in town. We considered these "kid normal" pranks. We raided the garden next to the park for tomatoes and turnips. Raw turnips tasted good on a cold night. In the winter we went ice skating on a frozen pond at Demming Park. During heavy ice storms, the ice formed on roads and sidewalks and even on the dirt thick enough to skate on. I delivered orders at the drug store on ice skates for a week during one of the storms; it had frozen and stayed cold for the whole week. In the winter time, Kenny Barker and I set traps to catch rabbits in the woods next door to his house. We would set the traps at dusk and run them before school. We got two or three a night. His father would dress them. One day we forgot to spring one trap in the woods and caught "Pete" the pet turkey they had. The boys I ran with were Kenny Barker, Dick Johnson, and Baldy Bensinger (a name given because of the close haircuts he always got). Baldy had fast V-8 cars and drove pretty wild sometimes. Once he raced a train with all of us in the car with him. What he didn't notice was that on the track next to the one he was racing, was a fast approaching steam engine going about fifty miles an hour coming around the curve. The engine came so close to the back bumper of his car, if there had been a coat of paint on it, it would have been gone. Baldy stopped the car down the street and he must have shook for thirty minutes thinking how close he came to killing us all. Another time, he lost control of the car on a dirt road and went between two large concrete columns and landed in a farmer's field. I guess God looks after dumb kids and animals.
Monday was wash day, and everyone had bean soup for supper along with cornbread and onions. The women put a pot of beans on the stove to simmer while they scrubbed clothes on an old washboard. Mom got the beans ready and us kids would chop the wood and build a fire in the wood stove. Margaret would do the wash and iron the clothes. We didn't have a lot of clothes, so there wasn't that much to wash or iron. We had baked chicken, mashed potatoes and all the other stuff on Sunday. We always had lots of pies. Fruit was cheap, chicken was cheap. Politicians ran on the slogan "a chicken in every pot". Old wood stoves were common in those days. There were electric stoves, but most of the people had wood burning stoves. Kerosene stoves were common. The Barker's had a four-burner and I remember breakfast being prepared on it. Kenny and I liked toast with coffee poured over it, and sprinkled with sugar. Of course, they had chickens and hogs, so we had bacon and eggs too.
I started to smoke when I was eleven, quit when I was in my thirties. Kids in those days smoked, just like the kids do today. We didn't know the harm we were doing. Dick and I both smoked a pipe for years, along with cigarettes. A lot of movie stars smoked a pipe. I guess we thought it was macho. Dick's dad worked for "Kroger Food Stores" as a night watchman. This was a big warehouse where they transferred food and baked bread all night. When we went to see Dicks dad at the warehouse, we would get cigarettes from over the counter when his dad went on his rounds to punch the clocks. Dick's brother-in-law baked the bread and stacked in on large racks before it went to the slicing and wrapping machine. Dick and I would get a couple of loaves of warm bread and bananas from the rooms where they kept them until they became ripe. Hot bread stuffed with bananas was a real treat. It was delicious. We kept Dick's dad company until about twelve or one in the morning and then went home. We found plenty of things to get into. They had coupons in the loaves of bread that were worth one half a cent. People had turned them in at the store for credit and they were then sent to the ware house to be burned. We got hundreds of them as they didn't cancel them. We could cash them in at Kroger stores and buy gallons of ice cream. We would tell the store clerks that people saved them for us.
I had a lot of friends in town, but only five or six close friends. Dick Johnson, one of my closest friends, and I would go hunt pigeons in old water towers and abandoned buildings. One place was an old glass factory with high towers and big sand vats eighty feet high. Some towers were even higher than that. We never thought about falling a hundred feet or so. We would probably have died from a fall. We were just having fun, catching some birds. I was never afraid of heights and would climb anything. It helped later on in life. I never knew why we caught those pigeons. We would put them in a big cage that we had built and just feed them, water them, and look at them. Once we found an old whiskey bottle with some left in it, we poured it down one of the birds mouths. It stumbled and started to fly, but couldn't get off the ground. It finally sobered up and was okay. We never did that again. One night at the glass factory, we caught a sac full of black birds. There were hundreds in the factory, so we just caught them and put them in the sac until it was full. We turned them loose in this little store we hung around that was owned by an old German man. The birds flew everywhere, knocking things down. The old German man saw me turn the birds loose and threw a can of milk at me. He hollered, "Damn you, Steve", instead of "Skeets", my nickname. My buddies called me Steve for weeks after that. They thought it was funny. I wasn't allowed in the store for a month, but he finally said I could come back in. I was the only kid with a steady job. I spent more money there than the other kids did. He even gave me a "dollar credit"! WOW!
I went through grade school and through two years of high school and then quit. I never liked school. I am sorry about that now. I never understood how important an education was until later on in life. I later went back to get my G.E.D. to complete my high school. The best I can say is that I got an education in shop work. I had experience as an automobile mechanic, in woodworking, printing, electric and in tin smithing. All of that came in handy later on as it gave me a lot of knowledge about tools and how to use them. I've never been out of work long enough to collect unemployment insurance except one. I think a lot of luck entered there.
I bought my first car and got my driver's license at the same time. It was a "hupmobile" that I bought from a widow for twenty-five dollars. It had mohair seats, big wood spoke wheels, and made lots of noise with a straight pipe. The gears worked in reverse of a standard shift; first was third, second was reverse, and third was first. My brother borrowed it one day and shifted, or rather, forced it into reverse at thirty miles an hour. Good-bye car and twenty-five dollars. It cost too much to repair the hubmobile, so I junked it. I saved up money to buy another car. This time, I put fifty dollars down on a 1934 Ford. The balance was one hundred and ten dollars. Mom thought I had lost my mind, she didn't pay that much for the furniture in the house. I thought I'd be too old to drive by the time it was paid for. It was ten dollars a month. I went every month and gave the dealer my ten dollars. I took a class in auto mechanics in school. I was in high school at the time. The car ran like a top and I had a good time in it. I had a good car and a good job, what more could a sixteen year old boy want?
My girlfriend Mickey and I were going steady. We would go roller-skating and dancing. She was better at dancing than she was at roller skating. She taught me how to dance and made me buy my first suit; it cost me $19.95. We danced and drank coke in a little soda shop called "Gerton's" after school. We swam in lakes and pools and had a good time. Sometimes, we would get together with friends and go to a B.Y.O.B. club and dance. Cokes were a dime and a bowl of ice was twenty-five cents. The juke box would play six songs for a quarter. If we could all scrape up a buck a piece, we had a whole evening of fun. We would go ice-skating, hunting, fishing and sledding down the snow covered hills at Deming Park. We had lots of snow in Indiana. We spent a lot of time dancing. Mickey would rather dance than skate. She was fifteen and I was seventeen. We hit it off pretty good, we later married. ( Last year, 1996, we celebrated our fiftieth anniversary in Hawaii).
When I was almost eighteen, my brother George had been working in New Jersey for the New York Shipyard. My uncle Abe had gotten him a job there after my mother went to visit he and Aunt Mae. George made good money in the shipyard as the government started to build more ships to send supplies to England. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor and the war was on. George came home to Terre Haute and asked me if I wanted to go to welding school and make more money. I was only making six dollars a week at the time. I had never seen big ships like the ones he was describing. I said, "What have I got to lose?". I became engaged to Mickey, quit my job, sold my car, said good-bye to all my friends, kissed Mom and Mickey good-bye and took a train to Philly, then a bus to Camden, New Jersey. Camden was a strange place! The houses were stuck together, row after row, up and down the block. Most of the houses were not very pretty. Arriving in Philadelphia was a new experience for me. It was the first train ride for me, the first train ride that I actually sat inside the train. Us kids would hop on to coal trains and pile the coal up on the sides as the train slowed down through town. The coal was pushed off close to where we lived, then we would jump off the train and pick up the coal to take home; a light form of stealing we reasoned. Getting on a subway train was exciting as we never had a subway train in Terre Haute, only street cars. They didn't move as fast as subways. The big buildings and the number of people on the streets were more than the population of Terre Haute, or so it seemed. Seeing all the traffic and the hustle and bustle of the big city was overwhelming to me. We didn't take many clothes with us, so the trip was light. Mom mailed the things we packed before we left.
Uncle Abe and Aunt Mae were a regular couple in their fifties I think. Abe was a short, heavyset man, and Mae was a big Scottish woman who I think got up to three hundred pounds. Abe and I shook hands, but Mae was the "kissy" kind of woman. She was real nice though. Aunt Mae liked to cook, and took it upon herself to fatten me up. I weighed one forty as I remember. They showed us to our room and we settled in. My brother George had to work, so Abe took time off to show me around Camden and Philly. He took me to Ninth and Vine in Philly and told me not to talk to anyone, just to look. It was real interesting. There were lots of street people hanging around. There was a restaurant there that served a seven course meal for seventy five cents. We didn't get to try that. I was in Jersey about three weeks before the new year of 1941. I knew my way around a little bit and wanted to go some place to ring in the new year. George and Abe stopped and drank in a bar and George got tipsy and fell asleep on the couch. I went downtown to a roller rink and went skating. After skating, I got lost and didn't know where to catch the bus to get back home. I wasn't dressed for Jersey weather and thought I'd freeze to death waiting for the bus after a man finally told me which number bus to take. After about a week, my brother took me to Frazier's welding school and I signed up for the course on electric welding. George and I had bought an old Nash. The first time I drove to school, a car took my back bumper off and didn't even slow down. Driving in New Jersey was much different than driving in Indiana. There was more traffic and they had traffic circles where several roads came into them. Once you pulled into the circle, you hoped you could find the right road to get out. Traffic moved fast and you didn't have enough time to read the signs. After you knew your way around, it was pretty easy. Terre Haute and Camden had one thing in common, the houses didn't have garages. The people would park on the street in front of their homes. Even though we had a car, we found it easier to take the bus. The busses ran every fifteen minutes and riding the bus meant you didn't have to worry about finding a place to park.
Welding school lasted about six weeks and I was ready to look for work. Abe knew some people in town and got me a job as a tacker, my job was to weld clips and brackets for a ship builder. This job didn't require too much skill. I later went to work for the Penn Jersey shipyard and my first paycheck was ninety dollars, at last I was rich. I later took a welding test to become a first class welder; I then made much more money. George and I put a down payment on a row house on Garfield Ave. for our Mom and sent her money to come to Jersey. I bought some clothes and shoes, a jacket for fall, and put some money in the bank. Mom came to Jersey and kept house for George and me. It was the first house Mom ever owned. (The cops closed it the first night she opened....(joke).)
My brother George and I found plenty of things to do for entertainment. We would go to nightclubs to see the floor shows; all the nightclubs had floor shows with big name entertainers. The regular movie theaters even had live entertainment on stage. We would ride horses in Penny Parker Park and paddle canoes in a little river that I can't remember the name of. You weren't allowed to swim in the river. My friend had a boat rental there. He rented canoes and sailboats.
It only snowed a few times in Jersey as I recall. The air was damp and the cold went right through you to the bone. I was in Jersey only five months when I was inducted into the service; that was May 31, 1943. My brothers, George and John had been inducted before me and were already in the army. George and I had money in the bank with Mom as a co-signer to use as she saw fit. Mom wasn't one to lay around and as soon as I left home, she went to work at Campbell Soup. My mother was a psychic of sorts and would read cards for people as long as I can remember. She told us boys we would all come back unharmed and we did. None of us was wounded. John was in the Tank core, George was in the anti-aircraft division, and I was headed toward Ft. Dix as an army private. When I arrived at Ft Dix army camp, they issued me my uniform; they had two sizes, "too big" and "too small", I choose the "too big". They gave me a G.I. haircut (down to the scalp), and proceeded to extract free labor from me. I had K.P. duty, loaded trucks and moved army supplies from one place to the next. I volunteered for the paratroops and right away the officers tried to talk me out of it, saying I might get killed (Ha, Ha, like you couldn't get killed in the Army, the Marines or the Navy). I was at Ft. Dix a short time before they had four more volunteer for the paratroops. We were packed up and shipped by rail to Toccoa, Ga for basic training. We were met by Lt. John Alicke who gave us a blood and guts speech to scare off the more timid guys. He said "You all volunteered for parachute duty so here is your chance to prove yourself". The recruits, still in civilian clothes, climbed wooden towers thirty feet high where they were put into parachute harnesses fastened to steel cables. They would put them into a doorway and instruct them to jump out. The ones who would not jump were put in the out section. The ones who did jump were put in the in section. The out section was shipped to infantry mostly. The only difference was the training and the jumping from planes. Basic training began with running two miles before breakfast, close order drills, bayonet practices and K.P. You ran every where you went. In the evening every colonel to private was off on a two to five mile run in step and in formation. Speed marches of five miles in forty minutes were made with full packs on our backs. Throughout training, push ups were administered as mild punishment. If you were caught walking when you should be running, or if you failed to salute an officer, you were made to do ten to twenty push ups. We were either sun tanned or sunburned as we trained in shorts most of the time; six weeks of exhausting work! I remember asking the Lt. once if I could keep my shirt on, he said, "Are you sunburned private?" I said "yeah" instead of "yes sir". He made me do twenty five push ups and 5 laps around the field were in. We then got the bad news; we were going to be brought up to strength with a train load of new recruits. The bad news was six more weeks of basic training with the new recruits. I ran a lot in Terre Haute when I was growing up, we used to run around the block for hours, but I never ran as far as I did in the airborne. They had a small mountain called Mt. Currahee that we ran up and down. June and July temperatures were hard to deal with. Several of the guys passed out and a couple actually died of heat stroke; after that, they stopped the runs up the mountain. After twelve or fourteen weeks, we were sent to Camp McCall in North Carolina. I was put in the Second Batallion Company F. third platoon under a twenty-two year old Lt. Giuchici (pronounced Juky), he was over six feet tall, weighed over two hundred pounds and was rough as hell. In order to get to McCall, we were tested and interviewed at Taccoa, Georgia to see if we were qualified to be paratroopers. I was interviewed by Lt. Listner who said in a loud voice, "We work troopers twenty four hours a day in the Airborne, Can you do that?", of course I said, "Yes, sir", but my thoughts were, "you can't work a person twenty four hours a day, he will die". The next day I had K.P. duty and due to a company screw up, I was on duty thirty straight hours. The first Sgt. said to take an 8 hr. sleep break but the platoon Sgt. said to get up because no one sleeps when they inspect the barracks. I made up for that night. I thought, "Boy, that Lt. Listner was not kidding, they do work you 24 hours a day or more". Most of our time was spent in running, close order drills and marches. You were up early in the morning and worked till evening. If you weren't in shape when you got there, you were soon. As our units filled up, we got ready to go to jump school training. We loaded on trains for Ft. Binning, Georgia. We settled into our temporary barracks and the training started the next morning. Training started by jumping from a mock version to the real thing. First they would have airplane bodies four feet off the ground, we would jump out, turn to the left, hit the ground and roll. This went on all day long with new instructions thrown in. The mock plane had a cable running it's length. We were seated on a bench and had a snap bracket in our hand. The order was given to stand up, hook up, check equipment, sound off, equipment check, stand in the door, go! You did the same thing as you had done the day before, jump, turn to the left, count to three, hit the ground and roll...four feet to the ground. The next step was the towers. They put you in a parachute harness, tapped you on the butt and you jumped from a thirty five ft tower on a steel cable and slid down to the ground. You practiced this over and over, jump turn and count to three, look up to see if your chute opened (make believe chute), later on we hollered "Geronimo", why I don't know. Geronimo was an Indian Chief and I am sure he never jumped from a plane, maybe from an Indian pony, maybe. Next came the two hundred and fifty foot towers. We were placed two in a buddy seat, pulled to the top of the tower and dropped thirty three feet a second. We then were given a harness, hooked up to a guide wire, and dropped two hundred and fifty feet with a chute above us. The guide wire experience felt the closest to a "free flight". The final step was a release from the tower in a free fall with an open chute. The drop zone was an area filled with sawdust piled about 12 inches high to prevent injury. It was then that we were ready for the big jump; seven to eight hundred feet from a plane at one hundred and twenty five miles per hour. The next week we learned how to pack a parachute. We packed and unpacked our chutes, had our work checked, and packed and unpacked over and over again. Our final pack was the one that we would use on our first jump. Right before the jump they decided to check our courage by recalling some chutes saying they were rejects. The numbers they were calling out were sometimes one number away from the chute we had. Some of the guys quit right then. First thing in the morning of our jump, our chutes strapped tight, we were loaded up in a C-47 plane. The plane took off. Over the drop zone, we heard, "Stand up, hook up", the butterflies were flying all over in our guts! "Check equipment and sound off", we would check the gear of the guy in front of us, I guess the last guy was on his own. The green light would come on and we would do what we were trained for, just like at four feet. Once we were out the door, there was a sudden jolt as the planes prop blast opened our chute. The rush of the wind blows your cheeks past your eyes and then what you hear is silence as the plane flies away. You look down and see the ground shifting back and forth. My first thoughts were, "What the hell am I doing out here?". For qualification, you had to pack your chute and jump five times altogether, you could then tuck your pants into your boots. You were now a paratrooper. After jump school, we returned to Camp McCall for more training. While I was in Ft. Benning, my girlfriend and her parents moved to Jersey and found jobs at New York Ship building corporation. Mickey sent me a nice watch for my birthday and I lost it on the first jump back at McCall. I managed to get in nine more jumps, making it fourteen before going overseas. We trained more in McCall and then went to Tennessee for army maneuvers. Rain and mud were the menu of the day. Jump suits and jump boots were not the thing to wear in cold weather. If there is a special hell reserved for paratroopers who have sinned, it has to be in the Tennessee Maneuvers. It was back to McCall to prepare for oversea movement. While we waited for orders, we trained in war games and long marches and calisthenics to keep us in shape. We were only ninety miles from Charlotte, N.C. and we would chip in ten dollars each and take a cab to the city on the weekend. I had an army buddy who lived in Charlotte. I spent some weekends at his parents house. His uncle would bring moonshine or white lightning as they called it, it sure put you on a high. They sure fed us good though. I had my first taste of southern grits there.; they liked to split a gut laughing when I put sugar and milk on them, I thought it was creme of wheat. We got a ten day furlough before going overseas, so Jack Sewell, another friend of mine, went with me to my house in Jersey and we spent the time with my girlfriend and her girlfriend, Bev. Time goes fast and before we knew it, we were back at McCall packing up. May 17, 1942, we climbed the gangplank of the "Santa Rosa Troop Ship", the big adventure began. We staged through Camp Patrick Henry near Newport News, Virginia and sailed down the St. James river and out to sea. After days at sea, which was really nice, lots of sun and no action, we came close to one floating mine. We landed in Naples, Italy on May 31st. We left the ship and boarded railroad cars to our staging area in an old extinct Volcano called "the crater". Later, we were moved to the front to give us experience in combat. We got it north of Grosseto after Rome fell to the allies. You learned to hit the dirt at the sound of gunfire, but not the noise from bullets going by your ears; they sounded like bees. It doesn't take you long to find out though. We had about fifty casualties the first day, but we also learned we could fight and win. We saw action for about two weeks. Life in the Crater wasn't bad, we visited towns nearby and drank their vino in the little bars. I had a three day pass to Rome and took the opportunity to find my brother George as he was in Italy too. I found him a hundred miles north of Rome and he came back to camp with me on a ten day leave as the German airforce was about gone and my company commander gave me a five day pass to Rome. We spent the time in Rome and had a ball! Rome was not hit with bombs or shells from either side. Rome was a very pretty city.
The first phase of Anvil was undertaken and we got ready to jump in Southern France behind German lines. Our mission was to prevent the Germans from reaching the southern beaches. We wanted to establish a beach head there at Toulan and open the port. An hour before midnight on August 14-15, we checked our equipment, had it all camouflaged and we loaded up in a C-47, three hundred and ninety six of us in all. This was the Albatross mission, to drop 5,630 troopers in Southern France in the first combat night jump. A fog closed in and we were dropped and scattered for miles because of poor navigation. Pathfinders couldn't set up lights and signals, the terrain was rough in some places and we had some jump casualties. Through all of this, we managed to get together and move on to our objectives. We jumped at LuMuy and we fought all the way to the mouth of the Sospel Valley. I went through five campaigns, Rome-Arno, Finland, Southern France, Central Europe and the Ardennes, all without a scratch. On the evening we loaded the plane to make our jump into Southern France, the guys were very quiet and thinking about the jump. We got a big speech from Colonel Graves about fighting for democracy and all that crap. He spoke about how some of us would not be coming back and how he was proud of every one of us as we were the "best damn soldiers in the world", more patriot crap! I think everyone looked around at his buddies and thought that they might be the ones to die, but not ourselves. On the flight over, you could see other planes in the formation because they had green lights on top of the planes and some of the men prayed and some slept; others were deep in thought. When the red light came on we all came alive. The butterflies in your gut started flying and you hooked up to the static line that would open your chute when you bailed out the door. From the red light to the green light seemed like hours as the plane bucked and groaned. The green light came on and the stick of men moved forward and out the door followed by the second stick. Thirty seconds later we were all out in the sky. The moon was bright and when I looked down, I thought they had dropped us in the ocean. I went through the clouds and everything turned black as the heavy cloud cover had blocked out the moon. Five or ten seconds later, I hit the ground with a thud and fell backwards over a terrace about four feet high. Getting out of my chute and taking stock to see if I was all there, I took my rifle out of the case and put it together real quick, then looked for a friend. We all had these little clickers that sounded like a frog in order to identify each other. I found Sgt. Lynch and three other guys and we went looking for more in the dark. We wound up with eight or ten and moved towards this little town of LaMuy. Going in we were fired upon and I could see American paratroopers in the town and told them to stop firing at us. I never even thought that those guys were prisoners of the Germans as they landed right in the town. I soon found out when Sgt. Lynch took a bullet in the forehead and showed me the hole in his helmet and told me he was dying. The bullet went through the steel helmet, followed the liver to the back and came out. Lynch swore the shell went through his head. We circled around the town and found Lt. Riddle and a whole company of men; mostly other companies men. Lt. Riddle formed up the group and found our objective on the map. He told me to be the point man in front to lead the group, I told him my rifle wouldn't work as it jammed in the fire fight at LaMuy, he thought I was chicken and gave me his rifle. I came on a dead radio man along the creek I was following and didn't recognize him as our own man from the third platoon. Farther up, I saw six Germans run back into a tunnel that looked like a mine. We spread out and got close enough to tell them to come out. Lt. Riddle was right in the line of fire and I said it was a good thing he didn't need the rifle as it wouldn't shoot, he pointed it in the air and pulled the trigger and nothing happened. He pulled the bolt back and slammed another shell in the chamber, same thing happened, I think he turned a little pale. I don't know if the rifle landed in the river or not. I heard later that the British paratroopers took LaMuy. We reached out objective and set up road blocks. The engineers were busy tearing up poles with sharp ends to deter parachute landings the Germans had put up. About the third or fourth day, reinforcements were flown in. The 551st parachute infantry jumped first. There were over six hundred jumpers. They quickly assembled and cleared the drop zone. Two flights arrived fifteen minutes late and were releasing their gliders when the third, to avoid the crowd, circled around and released their gliders creating a traffic jam. Gliders were crisscrossing everywhere and looking for a place to land. Instead of a nice field, they found trees, housed airborne stakes. Gliders coming in at 80 or 90 miles an hour bumped across the field until they hit a solid object or another glider. It was a massacre on the ground, as the gliders hit a tree or one another. The amo and supplies in the glider came loose and took the pilots out with them. A dozen pilots were killed and hundreds hurt. The gliders were a total wreck. One came down by us and went between two trees tearing the wings off. I thought they would all die and went to help them. They came out of that wreck like hornets from a hive, I thought they would shoot me as they didn't know that we held the landing area. The jump brought a good supply of food.
We moved back to some old French barracks in Soissons, France and it rained the whole 12 days we were there. The officers decided we were a ragged bunch and ordered haircuts and beards and mustaches to be gone. After everyone was neat as a pin, they said we could keep the mustaches but no beards.
On December 15, the German army launched the last great offensive of World War Two.
We were put on alert to act as reserves and on Dec. 21, trucks from a variety of places began arriving in the afternoon. We loaded up for the long trip to the front. It was a long, miserable night. Sleet and snow fell the whole trip. The trucks didn't stop unless it was to check the route. Men jumped off to go to the potty and missed their truck when it left, they caught the next truck. By the end of the ride, the front truck was empty and the last trucks had men hanging from the sides. We moved around in trucks and marches to plug up holes for retreating Germans. We made attacks with the 7th Arnard Division on St. Vith. We spent over a hundred days in combat, some in the snow up to our butts. The bulge was the end for the Germans, the war was about to end and we were pulled out. When the war ended, those who wanted to police Germany stayed and the rest were to be reactivated and sent to the South Pacific. On the way, Japan surrendered and I was sent home to await my new orders. They discharged me at Camp Atterbury, Indiana at my request in 1945.
I spent three days in Terre Haute, seeing most of my friends, at least the ones out of the service. Some of my friends had moved on to greener pastures. Most of my time was spent visiting my old stomping grounds. I boarded the train once again for my trip to New Jersey. Philadelphia and Camden looked just the same as it did when I left for the service. I had a happy reunion with my girlfriend "Mickey" and my mom and Mickey's mom and dad later that day. I went to work at Campbell Soup shortly after coming home, but quit after I received a letter from Jersey Ship calling me back to the ship yard. I went back to work as a welder/burner, dismantling old submarines that they sold for scrap. I bought up about 100 C.O.2 fire extinguishers for five bucks and sold them to lumber companies and gas stations for twenty five. After dismantling subs and building a small barge, Penn Jersey shut down and I was out of work. New Jersey was a manufacturing state and you could find jobs pretty easy, the only problem was, as soon as they filled their quota, they let you go. I guess for the ten years I was in Camden, I had more jobs than I can remember; Campbell Soup, Penn Jersey Ship, Midvale Steel, Heitz Mfg., Magnetic Metals and the last place I remember was Penn Lawnmower. In Camden, we had a group we went around with dancing and drinking on the weekends. Mickey took pictures for Len Pettit as a professional photographer in all the clubs we went to. Mickey and I broke up and got back together again several times. I had been home for some time when my brother George came home. My brother John came home next, but then he left to live in Detroit, Michigan where he had lived previously. George and I lived with mom until we left to get married. George got married first to Flossie, the girl he was going with when he went into the service. On May 25, 1946, Mickey and I, George and Flossie went to Elkton, Maryland. Mickey and I got married, George was our best man and Flossie our bridesmaid. Floss and George bought a house off of Twenty-eighth St., It was a cute little house, almost like a doll house, it was nice. We bought one around the corner on 28th St. Ours was an old house but I plastered and papered and painted and did everything I could to make it nice. We had the outside done in a new siding material. The house had a full basement that I turned into a workshop. I used to make rubber molds for deer heads and then make plaster dear heads that I would paint bronze, highlighted in black. Mom took them to Campbell Soup and they sold for two dollars and fifty cents a piece. Mom sold dozens of them and they went as fast as I made them. About this time, George and Floss went to Chicago to go into business with an old army buddy, but it didn't work out so they came back to Camden. They had sold their house to some friends, so they bought a row house on Twenty-eighth St. We talked about going to other places like Alaska or Australia, even Africa, but that was shot down pretty quick. My Uncle Abe was selling real estate in Jersey and got some property in Florida. The property wasn't what he had in mind, so he sold that and bought a lot on the Indian river and built his own house. He was a plumber and had remodeled several houses in Jersey. We had been in Jersey ten years by now and decided to visit Abe and Mae in Florida. We decided to make deer head and sell them to finance the trip. It was around October that we began making the deer heads, we had 24 molds and I had the dye to make the antlers. I made the antler and painted them, George cast them and dried them on top of his furnace. Mom sold a lot at work around Christmas time for gifts. I made the rounds to all the gift shops . I think we had over a thousand dollars and we were ready to go. We gassed up my chevy and packed some clothes and we were off to Florida. We saw Florida as the last frontier, big oak trees, Spanish moss that covered the trees and hung to the ground, palm trees and lakes, the Indian river, full of fish. Abe said there was deer and bear and lots of wild life that included alligators, snakes and mosquitoes. It looked like Africa a little bit and even had strange noises coming from the woods. I expected a tribe of cannibals to come out of the brush any minute. Abe lived on the Indian river and showed us a lot on the river that he thought would be a good investment, it was a little wild, on the end of Riverside Dr. We liked the property and bought it on the spot from a Realtor for $550.00. The lot was 270' x 360' dep. It was January when we were in Florida and it was 75 degrees or more, we wore pants and a T-shirt, even at night. We thought that was great. After looking Florida over, we were going to drive back but the engine blew up on the chevy, so we had to take the bus home. It was just as well, we may not have gotten back until Spring. On the way to Florida, I fell asleep in the back seat and when I woke up I found George had taken the wrong turn at an intersection and was one hundred miles out of the way.
We moved in with George and Floss for a while and I went to work at Magnetic Metals, then took a job at S&F Linoleum's out of Trenton, New Jersey. I began laying asphalt tile at a housing project making about $180.00 per week. We got twenty eight dollars a house and did almost three a day and spread up two more for the next day. They paid part of my wages under the table because the union didn't go for piece work. This man I worked with taught me a lot about tile and how to lay out the work, lay the field, and cut in around the edges; this came in handy when we moved to Florida. We bought a big truck and started to fix it up to move to Florida. After several months, George sold the house and we loaded up for the trip to Florida. We weren't sure the old truck would make it, but we were on the road and there was no turning back. Mickey and Floss were already in Florida, they had come with Mickey's brother who was in the navy at the time and stationed in Green Cove Springs. They were staying in Cole's Cabins off of Riverside Dr. It was just down the road from where we had bought the property. There was a canal behind the cabins that the girls said strange noises came from; it scared them. They were really freaked out when they found that it was a four foot alligator making the noise!
My brother shot the gator with a arrow, but didn't kill it. We told Jimmy Tant that there was a gator on the end of the arrow in the water. Jimmy got in a boat and went out to see if it was true. He got a hold of the arrow and lifted the gator right smack into the end of the boat. I swear, Jimmy walked, or rather, ran across that water to the shore, we almost died laughing at him. The gator must have left as we never saw it again. George had money from the sale of his house so we decided to fix ours up and live in it. We had to rock, lathe and plaster the rooms and tile the bathrooms. We lived kind of rough for months, the land was not cleared and the mosquitoes and the sand flies were terrible. Mickey never liked Florida from day one and went to visit her Mom and Dad every two or three months. There were woods all around the property, we could walk fifty yards and kill half a dozen squirrels. Once, George shot seven quail off a stump out the back door. We both went to work, George for a welding company working on a dredge making the Indian River deeper. I was only working five days, so George got me hired working on the weekends welding on the dredge. They paid us overtime, but said not to tell their regular employees. When the dredge job was done, George went to work for Halls Machine Shop in New Smyrna. I went to work in a tile shop. We did small jobs in tile on the week ends and George learned the tile business working with me. We both now had two trades, welding and floor tile. George and I both quit our regular jobs and went into doing jobs for other tile contractors and ourselves. About this time, we were introduced to a new method of doing hard tile, we were accustomed to doing plastic tile. This " new method" of tile setting consisted of gluing ceramic tile directly to existing walls without putting up a mortar & cement mix on the walls beforehand. We were the first to implement this method in the area. We did some work for Atlantic Tile Co. and had jobs of our own. We also learned to set tile using the mud method in which we would apply a cement and mortar mixed base to the walls. Bill Kleeby worked for Atlantic Tile for years and then ventured out into his own business. Bill asked George and I if we could help him out for a couple of days and we ended up working for him for several years. Bill was a perfectionist when it came to setting tile and he showed us the finer points in tile setting. We tiled 99% of the homes and businesses in the New Smyrna Beach area. Later on, George and I began to set hard tile on our own and do very little floor work. We were both making good money.
Our first few years in Florida we spent fishing and hunting a lot. We had a boat and motor and used to shrimp in the Indian River. The shrimp were so thick sometimes, I swear you could walk across the river on them. One night, we dipped so many we almost swamped the boat. It wasn't unusual to catch forty or fifty trout at night under a light at one of the docks along the river. We worked and partied just like all other young couples. My brother and I joined the Edgewater Fire Department and remained active for eighteen years. Besides fighting fires, we built the Edgewater Community Center and the Edgewater dock that later became the shuffle board court and the kids playground. After George and I retired, my nephew George, my brothers boy became chief and took my job at the 4th of July celebrations (a fire department annual event) setting off the fireworks from an island for the people of Edgewater. One of the ariel bombs didn't get out of the tube and the tube exploded. Georgie died on the way to the hospital in the helicopter.
After that, they hired professionals to shoot the fireworks.
We both had finished our homes on Riverside Dr. After almost fifteen years in the tile business, the housing business fell off and in 1965 I went to work at Cape Canaveral as a general plant maintenance mechanic. I worked there for six years on the Apollo project that put a man on the moon. I did some tile work and floors, later I was on the high crew working on safety nets and removing all of the debris that construction workers left in the structural steel girders. We removed twenty tons of steel cables and wood planks, welding rods and trash of all kinds. They were afraid this junk would fall on a missile launch and hurt someone. We worked on beams 4" to 16" wide, some as high as five hundred feet. We got extra pay doing this job, so we considered it a "good job." During the time I worked at the cape, we worked five days a week, except when they had a missile launch, then we had plenty of overtime available until the shot went off. Working five days a week, eight hours a day gave me a lot of time off, so George Negedly and I decided to open a lawnmower shop in our spare time. George and I met in the volunteer fire department, he was employed at the time selling mower parts around the state. We rented an old gas station on Magnolia St., and set up a shop. We ordered mower parts and the things that we needed. George's dad was going to run the shop while we were working. We had all put in $1000.00, so we had a pretty good start. George's dad worked week days and George and I worked nights and weekends. Bill (George's dad) quit after one year, so we hired a young boy who could fix mowers and run the place. He ended up stealing us blind.
After six years with T.W.A. at Cape Canaveral, the company lost the contract to Boeing Co. They got the contract by cutting the cost of labor, my wages by almost 50%. I had the lawnmower shop so I decided that I could make that much in the shop and not have to travel eighty miles a day. We bought a building on U.S. 1 several months before I got laid off from the cape. I fired the guy that was stealing me blind and took over the shop myself.
I found out that I was nine thousand dollars in the red and didn't have too many customers. I borrowed ten thousand from the bank, closed in the front of the building and paid off my distributor and other bills. George and I and three friends had to work nights, I worked days to get the shop going. The horror stories the people would then tell me about our former employee and his attitude were unbelievable! The second year, we went from twenty thousand to thirty thousand and every year after we would increase ten to twenty thousand. We started a lawn service later, we hired six more people, bought some equipment, three trucks and some trailers. We had about ten employees altogether. After nine years, George and I split up. I had done most of the construction work on the building on U.S. 1, building shelves, closing in the front and the back of the shop. We kept the name "Magnolia Lawnmower", which was the name we had chosen because of the street we first opened on, Magnolia St. I worked in the shop, started the yard service, kept the books, ordered the parts and fixed most of the things needing repair. When George and I broke up, he had the nerve to tell me that I never cleaned the bathroom once, "Well, big deal!". Magnolia was pretty busy by the time we split up. I went to get a small business loan of twenty five thousand dollars, but the bank said I would probably need extra so they made it thirty thousand. It was a big strain on me to be by myself handling all of the repairs. My wife was doing the inventory and price fixing on the inventory. I bought George out for twenty five thousand, his dad was bought out for what he put in. He took it out in trade, a riding mower and lawn cart. My son John, quit the newspaper in Jacksonville and came to work in the shop with me. He didn't know anything about mowers or engines so we had our ups and downs. John and his family lived in the little house behind the shop. We had bought the house so that we could park our cars and trucks on the property. John had three boys, a set of twins and one a year older. The house was small and they were really cramped up. Johns twin boys would come into the shop in the summer to work on their go carts and anything else they were allowed to work on. They got to be pretty good mechanics and learned a lot about engines and other equipment. Jason, John's other son didn't show an interest in mechanical work. Our nephew, George and son-in-law, Jim ran the yard service, Jim went out of the lawn service business in less than a year. Magnolia mower service got bigger every year, but we managed to work it with John, Mickey and me with part time help. After twenty six years in the lawnmower business, I decided to retire at the age of sixty two, but the government wouldn't let me retire unless I sold my interest in Magnolia Lawnmower. I sold my interest to my son John and had to draw up legal papers to prove it was a legal sale. I still helped out in the summer a little bit. When I was sixty years old, I went to Beach Mountain in North Carolina with my daughter Sandra and her husband Buren, their two kids and Mickey. I got hooked on snow skiing and have been going every year since. At first, we went with a ski club out of Daytona, Buren, John and Sandy and me. Later on, Buren and Sandy quit skiing and John got up a group of six to form our own club. We skied Colorado and Utah most of the time and had a great time. I had a new knee put in my left leg when I was seventy and skied nine months after the operation. I only missed one year of skiing. At seventy three, I am still active. I cut my own grass, wash the car and the dog and help out in the shop once in a while. We go out to eat two or three times a week, mostly to Dustin's barbecue.
From 1923 to 1997 we went from the model T with four cylinders and no air to luxury cars with air conditioning and TVs and two thousand mile check ups. Model T's needed break bands every few months. Tires on the model T's blew out on a regular basis, fifteen hundred miles on a tire was great. Today, we get fifty to sixty thousand miles on a tire. We had dial phones that you had to put your finger in a hole with a number in it to dial the number. No cellular phones, no instant contact from New York to California. Airplanes that flew at ninety five miles an hour to shuttle planes that go 26 thousand miles an hour. High tech computers that do calculations in seconds. Shot guns and twenty two rifles for hunting rabbits to assault weapons that kill kids and adults alike. From wind-up phonographs to high fi walkman radio's. Eye glasses to contacts and even contacts in color. We had radio that wasn't that great to TV with transmissions from the wide world. We got our exercise by working, walking and running, now there are gyms at four or five hundred dollars a year to get you into shape.
I can say without a doubt, “ Life has certainly been interesting!”.
My father, Robert Kennedy, had written this story from his life a while back. He asked that I forward it to you per a request made to gather stories from the 517 guys. See file attached. -- Sandy Alderman (April 2010)