Dear Questioner: Sorry, Iʼm not able to reach back 80 or 85 years in my memory for any joke, let alone a favorite joke, which might have been extant in my “kid” days. However, I offer an alternative…a humorous tidbit from my army days.
The war was over in Korea. However, U.S.troops would continue on duty there. As is true today, U.S. troops, allied with the South Korean military, have the mission of being a buffer along Koreaʼs thirty-eighth parallel (see a map) to prevent North Korean military from again invading Southern Korea.
So it was that in the 1950ʼs, my battalion was in a compound (camp) a bit south of the thirty-eighth parallel. My commanding ofﬁce was a Lt. Colonel… call him “the colonel.” As his executive ofﬁcer, I was privy to happenings in our battalion. The following was one small happening…
The colonel, a devoted Catholic gentleman, almost daily attended morning Mass …often before daybreak. His jeep driver would drive him to a headquarters about two miles away…the only location convenient to our battalion compound where Mass was held.
Early this particular morning, the colonel and his driver, returning from Mass, were coming in through our battalionʼs guarded front gate. At the very same moment, a senior sergeant was also coming in through the gate…but on foot.
The colonel knew this sergeant well, so he had his driver stop the jeep, leaned out, and offered the sergeant a cheery “Good morning, youʼre up and about bright and early!” The sergeant responded that heʼd just come from from Mass. The colonel then remarked that to attend Mass was a long walk and asked if the sergeant attended Mass frequently. The sergeant replied in the aﬁrmative.
Well…the colonel had just come from Mass but hadnʼt seen the sergeant there. There had been few enough people present at Mass that the colonel could not have failed to see the sergeant. The sergeant was lying.
If the sergeant were not at Mass and at such an early hour of the morning was just returning to the battalion, where had he been? Had the previous night been spent “fraternizing” with local ladies at a nearby native village?
The colonel knew that the sergeant had a wife and children, that his Korea tour of duty would end in about three months, at which time heʼd be returning to his family in the U.S.A. The colonel also knew that the sergeant had been highly eﬁcient in carrying out his military duties.
To not embarrass the sergeant or seem accusatory by further questioning, the colonel instead congratulated the sergeantʼs supposed steadfastness in attending Mass. Then, to facilitate the sergeantʼs attendance at Mass by eliminating the two-mile walk involved, the colonel cleverly “invited” the sergeant to ride with him to Mass each morning…and offer the sergeant “just could not refuse.” Thus, until the end of his tour in Korea, the sergeant rode to Mass each morning for three months… with the colonel!
I have finally found a way to enable commenting on this blog, so go for it! Also, if there was an earlier post that caught your attention, feel free to go back and leave a comment there. Please continue to ask questions by clicking on the “Ask Pops a Question” link on the upper right, instead of asking in a comment. That way Pops can continue to answer your questions in the order he receives them. Cheers!
My life began in December 1918, so my “lifetime” has been most of the 20th Century and these eleven years of the 21st Century. Accordingly, I must keep my answer to your question within the parameters of the foregoing time frame. There are so many “great” technological creations and advances in this time period that I hesitate to identify one as the ʻgreatest.” “Biggies” such as the automobile, airplane, atomic energy, the electronic computer, insulin, kidney dialysis, gene splicing, DNA, the telephone, internet, and cell phone have come into being. These “biggies” may not be as impressive to some folks as are air conditioning, radio, TV, motion pictures, photography, the pop-up toaster, the hula hoop, and…oh, the credit card! Whatʼs the “greatest” is in the eyes of the individual beholder. In my time, my favorite technological developments were the telephone and radio. Communications.
Incidentally, if I were to stray outside the time period designated in your question, my personal choice of the “greatest” technological invention would be the printing press. This device facilitated the availability, exchange, and dissemination of knowledge leading to tech “things and stuff” we do have today.
Iʼve never taken formal dancing instruction. Back in the 20ʻs and at home, mom and dad sometimes did some “fun” ballroom dancing… foxtrot, waltz, rumba, and tango. They were very good.
Before becoming a businessman, dad had been in “show business”…a singer-dancer in vaudeville. Itʼs possible that, while mom and dad were courting, she learned some of what he knew of dancing.
So I suppose that by watching mom and dad “strut their stuff,” some of these “moves” rubbed off on me. When I was older, big band era music (Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, etc.) came into fashion. “Swing” and “jitterbugging” as dancing styles seemed to compliment this music. Ballroom, swing, jitterbug…whatever…for me, it all seemed to just come naturally!
Incidentally, when Hitler came to power in Germany, swing, jitterbug, and the style of music that went with it…was outlawed.
Hi Ad…good to hear from you. Once upon a time, someone asked a fellah…”Why did you climb that mountain?” The response was, “Because it was there!” I guess that ﬁts my situation. When I moved into where I now live, there was a beautiful, seldom-played Baldwin piano. No…wise guy, I didnʼt climb it (the cat does that)…I decided to learn to play it!
Truth is, Ad, Iʼve often wished I could kick my own derriere when my mom, almost ninety years ago, urged me to continue taking piano lessons. The piano teacher at the convent rapped my knuckles once too often, so I opted out. Mom couldnʼt get me to go back.
I was no Artie Shaw, but I did play a hot B-ﬂat Clarinet in my junior high school band! However, when I went into the army, the “licorice stick” was left behind. By the time I returned home years later, Iʼd lost my “lip.” Last time I saw the pipe, I think Tina had it…all the pads had dried out . When I tried to play, shrieks and squeaks were the result.
I do ﬁnd playing piano fun, but Iʼm no guy for the classics. My taste runs to swing and a bit of Jazz. Guess thatʼs because these were my diet when I was young. I remember, for instance, when “Sparky,” an African-American schoolmate and friend, was up on our school stage ( I was down in the band) and how I got goose pimples when he belted out “Stormy Weather.”
I love to listen to classical music…I like all music. However, I enjoy playing mostly popular music…mostly from my generation. I use the chord system and have learned many of their inversions and modiﬁcations up thru the 7ʼs. I canʼt handle the 9ʼs and 11ʼs. Incidentally, my playing is a personal thing…more for my own ears and enjoyment…not for others. After all, why make others suffer!
But…back to “old dogs” learning…never give up! What was the old saying? Oh yes, hereʼs how it goes: “If at ﬁrst you donʼt succeed - QUIT!” No-o-o, thatʼs not right…Now I have it ! “TRY AGAIN !”
Incidentally, Ad, the Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1898) gives a bloke by the name of E.C Brewer (1810-1897) credit for the “old dog” axiom.
My knowledge of family history is so sketchy that I canʼt give you a good answer. You see, I erred long ago in not inquiring into the details of my ancestors in sufﬁcient depth to identify their “customs” or “traditions.” Donʼt make the same mistake with your clan!
You might know from my previous posts that for fourteen years I grew up in the East-coast city of Philadelphia, but my grandparents on both sides of my family lived in the Midwest. My patriarchal grandparents died before I was born, so I never got to know them. My dad knew little more because at nine, he lost his dad. Then, at sixteen, he ran
away from home (to New York City) to separate himself from an abusive stepfather. After that, dad was always traveling. Consequently, he didnʼt learn of his motherʼs death until months after she had passed away. Hence, what dad learned in his young years about the details of his ancestry was limited.
The one contact I had with my motherʼs parents was the result of a 1600-mile train trip to Duluth, Minnesota, when I was ﬁve years old. They were nice but, to my young eyes, seemed ancient. The distance was long and the visit short. Travel in 1923 was arduous. I never saw my matriarchal grandparents again. Anyway, I canʼt come up with anything about them or those who came before them that the word “tradition” would ﬁt.
For my mom, dad, and me, surviving the chaos of The Great Depression and making a comeback from the 1936 loss of everything was all-consuming. After a long struggle to hold things together…home, employment, and long-time friends…my dadʼs business and its assets were gone. Surviving the chaos was a major effort. My family relocated to New York City, and we all had to work…at times in multiple jobs. Relatives, too, were hit hard by the economy, but details on what was happening with them were sketchy.
Communications in those days were not like we have today. The main means were letter or telephone. If you were on a party line,* all the worse. There was no E-mail, no “social” networks…nada.
Want to visit relatives? Commercial travel in 1920-1935 was mainly by train. Scheduled airlines…few. Actually, airlines didnʼt come into being in a big way until after World War II.
Long trip by car? A real undertaking. Roads were two-lane, often poorly-maintained macadam… many just plain dirt (or mud). Incidentally, the very ﬁrst four-lane highway in the United States was the Pennsylvania Turnpike and was built during the 1953-61 presidency of Ike Eisenhower. Before that, gasoline stations along main roads were few and far between. More often than not, to get gasoline, one had to ﬁnd a station in a town. Planning ahead was important because ﬁnding an open station at night was often a matter of luck.
Another contribution to my being out of touch with kin was my teenage enlistment in the army in 1941. I soon found myself in WWII in North Africa and, after that, a half dozen other places. In 1946, I returned to the USA. During the rest of my twenty-ﬁve years in the army, here, there, and everywhere, my contacts were with only immediate family.
So…why do I exercise this long explanation?…perhaps to offer a plausible excuse for the boo-boo of not searching out the details of my family history when I could have done so. Whatever. The fact is, though, I still canʼt identify that tradition you asked
* In those days it was not common to have a telephone at home. We did, but it was on a “party line.” With a party line, one shares the same telephone line with two or three other persons. Other persons on the line could listen in on your private telephone conversation. If you wished to use the phone when someone else was already on the line, youʼd have to wait until that person was ﬁnished.
There’s no good explanation for the “pops” sobriquet. ”Pops” covers grandpop, pop, great grandpop, and “who’s that old guy?” …Perhaps because this simple monicker for all of the above facilitates is a way to get my attention in a crowd. I do remember some years ago…our extended family was all together somewhere in CA. Among the gang in the same room were 4 Davids. Someone in the room said “David, you have a telephone call.” For a moment, confusion reigned! If, at that time, the family would have been calling me “pops”…then 1/4 of the confusion would have been eliminated. “Pops” came into usage as my label at some point after that particular get-together.
With a little spillover at each end, I count the period 1950-1959, as an especially good decade for me personally. I do include a “spillover” at each end of this period because late in the 40ʼs I fell i love with and married a terriﬁc young lady. Then in 1951 and then 1953, eighteen months apart, a daughter and a son came into our lives. Those were wonderful events. A bit of a downer though…I was on a military duty overseas when my daughter was born…I would have liked to have been with my wife when that happened. If, by your question, youʼre asking about a favorite decade in history, my vote goes to 1770-1779. That period includes the happenings political and military that led to America becoming a nation. Certainly, each July 4,1776 rings a bell with us, just as the actual bell at Philadelphiaʼs Independence Hall rang announcing our nationʼs Declaration of Independence. If you allow me spillover past 1779, Iʼll include…after six years of war…the 1781 surrender of British General Cornwallis to our General Washington, while the French played “Yankee Doodle.” !
Hello all. Pop’s computer has been on the fritz, so it’s been kind of quiet around here. Those of you who have been checking for updates only to find crickets, never fear! Things are finally getting back on track, and rumor has it there will be a new answer posted soon. Thanks to all of you who have shown an interest so far. Pops has been getting a kick out of it.
Here’s the worst part of Pop’s computer trouble: When his computer crashed he lost a lot of info—including a large chunk of a document he had been working on. It was a detailed account of his family history, and he had been been putting it together piece by piece for quite a while. He had printed out some of it, but a lot of it was lost. Most of us have experienced something like this in the past and know how gross it feels! If any of you want to offer him a message of encouragement, feel free to post it in the “ask a question” section and I’ll send it along to him.
The teenage gang was the “Rock Sockers.” The gang was involved in small-time protection shakedowns. My tenuous relationship with the gang was short. It was like this…
By early fall 1934, the Great Depression had taken its toll on our family. Dad’s business in Philadelphia had gone bankrupt and we’d lost our home. Close to broke, we moved to New York City where dad was offered a job. We moved into a small apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. Mom and dad went to work. I was more or less on my own, waiting for high school to start. I’d had friends galore in Philadelphia. Now, in New York, I had none.
The “Kitchen,” on the west side of Manhattan Island, was a twenty block long area… in large part waterfront, tenements, warehouses and a scattering of mom-and-pop stores and small businesses. During the Great Depression, it was the habitat of many poor families. It was also teenage-gang territory.
At 14 and being the “new kid on the block,” I was picked on by neighborhood older kids. I learned to fight back. When I did, I was “accepted.” Suddenly, I had friends. The “friends” turned out to be a gang. Membership in a gang afforded companionship and a degree of protection from mayhem by other gangs. On invitation, I joined the Rock Sockers. I was the youngest member.
I didn’t know what I was getting into. The gang’s name derived from their weapon of choice…a sock full of rocks, used in gang fights or to shake down people wishing to avoid damage to personal property. One aspect of Rock Socker activity was the gang’s offer of car protection…for a price. For example…
The subway is the main transportation means in New York. Nevertheless, many people do have cars. They park on the street because garages are few and expensive. In the 30’s, fewer people had car insurance than have it today. Car insurance or not, it was inconvenient, to say the least, to return to a car and find broken glass or dents. However, this was not necessary because, for a few dollars on occasion, a local gang could make sure the car was not harmed. A gang had special ways that senior members collected premiums…when due. There were variations on this activity, but I’ll not get into that.
The gang’s initiation requirement was to observe a “collection.” I followed this rule. What I experienced did not sit right with me. It was wrong. Perhaps I was just “chicken,” but… right then and there… I knew I wanted out…out of the gang. After my initiation, I did what I could to spend as little time as possible with the gang. I avoided going out on “collections.” This was noted and criticized by the gang’s older teen members. Suddenly, I was some sort of pariah…with no friends in the neighborhood.
By September, my excuse for this avoidance was an after-school, weekend, delivery boy job with a tobacco wholesaler. Later in the year, when my family moved uptown to a location near Yankee Stadium, I continued to go to school and to work downtown, but I lost contact with the gang.