Thursday, May 26, 2016

Bonnie Beal

I am sure all of us Grands have our stories, so I can only share mine. Part of my memories of her are colored by Mother's filling me in on her childhood.

She was stoic...the only time I saw her cry or lament was when her dear Will died in 1948. We rode in the care behind the hearse and that is where I saw her in tears. She recovered quickly and I never heard her lament about her loss again. I was seven and spent days with her in the summers between 1949 and 1956.

She and Dr. Beal (Will, Pop-pop) took over at the farm while Mother was in Butler VA Hospital (Deshon) for weeks with Chickie...and as far as I know, we never missed a beat...other than the time I sneaked into the bathroom and indulged in some chocolate flavored Ex-Lax and barfed...yep, I do remember that.

She was positive and loving to her grandson...always had room on the couch for me when I was in Junior High School...after band concerts or dances...she was always available.

I "squired" her, as Dad referred to it, to her door on countless Sundays after church. Each time playing the role of the model woman...Aunt Ann used to kiss me on the cheek when I squired her, but Bonnie never did.

Bonnie had the disposition of a saint...she was not Quaker, but she espoused Quaker values...never heard a cross word come from her...never, about anyone.

She would not let Aunt Nell defend her living with her brother-in-law in Aurora, IL when she returned to New Castle; "Now Nellie, that's enough about that...."

We were always in church together...she sang alto...very accurate tone-wise...and it is how I learned to harmonize. I preferred sitting next to her for the "Helps" and besides she tolerated my squirming. Dad, on the other hand, would squeeze my leg to make me sit still...back in the day. When it came to religion I know I have often said to myself...If it was good enough for Bonnie, it is good enough for me.

So...loving mother, grandmother, stoic, even tempered, good natured, and independent to the end. She lived alone at 413 until she was 96...then lived with Mother for four years before she moved in with Ms. Smith in New Wilmington until she passed at 103.

I often thought Mother got short shrift when it came to Bonnie. We all made over Bonnie and loved her, but Mom was the one with the responsibility and had to do the work...right down to the end. Bonnie had 38 years of being the doted on dowager in our family Mother had less than a quarter of that time...but that is a different story.

Bonnie was every grand-kid's favorite, to be sure, and a model of decorum and faithfulness.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Lots of Luck

In the May 2016 edition of The Atlantic writer Robert Frank outlines the role he and others think luck plays in our lives. Frank knows something about luck when his heart failed and he was rescued by paramedics just minutes after his heart stopped because they were in the area rather than at their home base miles away. He was revived when 90% of those afflicted don’t make it. He goes on to outline what researchers have found about the role good fortune plays in our lives.

This got me to thinking about my own life retrospectively (something I do all too often Aleene says) and what Lady Luck has made possible for me.

My dad used to say we should be grateful (read that lucky) that we were born into a loving family. This was in the late 1940s when there were half as many people in the United States and we as a nation were still in the afterglow of having WWII behind us. He thought to have love was important and I am sure it is, but it never occurred to me that a child would not be born into such surroundings. I took love for granted.

I thought I was lucky to be born into a family where I was the youngest and was doted upon by my older siblings (not the one closest to me in age, however.) I guess I could have been a little prique and not received their attention, so I was lucky I understood how to keep that affection flowing my way. Turns out I was not #5 in our family I was really #8 and had it not been for the stillborn deaths of a brother and twin sisters I may not even have been conceived. Was that luck or as many think, God’s will?

Luck was involved that my parents thought it best to seek a farm as a place to live when Dad was called back into the Army when WWII broke out. It turned out to be a learning lab for me  in many ways. I was lucky I had role models to emulate in the area of hard work and love of nature. I was lucky to learn how to drive a tractor when I was 12 so that I felt a certain amount of independence when I was out in the open air mowing or raking hay. That was my “happy place” in those days. That feeling stayed with me for five years as I took over some of the farming operations. The farm turned out to be much better than the city for a place to spend my teen years.

I was lucky to be born with some musical talent and to a mother who shepherded me toward vocal music and the experiences I gained from rehearsing and performing. I should also  mention the satisfaction I got out of appreciating great musical works. Lucky me.

Fortune played a role in my life choices, I am sure...where I went to college, what classes I took and the young men with whom I lived. I know that I made good choices, but where there was no reason to go one direction or another I was lucky I chose the roads I travelled.

I was lucky to be ordered to a ship on the East Coast vs. the West Coast during the Vietnam War. I served in the Mediterranean instead of Yankee Station. My good fortune continued while serving on board Roosevelt, since I served with some fine officers and men. When comparing notes with contemporary navy junior officers, mine was an uplifting experience not a sad one.

The only time I did a comprehensive job search with a resume and all, I chose Campbell Soup (and they chose me) when there were other good options and multiple offers. When I arrived for my first day of work five of the twelve men in my department were former Naval Officers….and two were Penn State grads. Was that luck in that I had made those choices which made me more attractive to that organization? You see I learned so much at CSC and after all, they moved us to West Michigan where we stayed for 35 years. I feel lucky that we raised our family there.

Then there was my choice (or her choice) for a marriage partner. Lady luck smiled on Aleene and me as she put us on the same track to find each other and discover our common bond: a strong family. While circumstances and choices pushed us close together, I really think that making a marriage decision at a young age (Aleene was 21, I 23)  had a  lot to do with luck.

We were lucky to be able to conceive children and had a boy and a girl and that they turned out to be Jeff and Amy. Yes, there is a lot to be grateful for whether it was luck or fate or God’s will..

Frank concludes his Atlantic article by saying that each time he introduces his study of luck he gets people to reflect on their lives and it inevitably ends up making them happy. As Garfield the Cat famously said, “I resemble that remark.”

Thursday, January 21, 2016

An update on a fifty year-old story

I published a blog back in 2012 that was my account of a flight I took from Mayport, Florida to Tyrone, Pa in 1965 with a shipmate, LCDR (then) Tim Grier. He was going north for a board meeting of a family operated exclusive school for girls, grade 7-12. If you read the details of my blog I also revealed that I had visited the school in 1962 as a member of the Penn State Glee Club.

By chance I ran into the URL of Grier School the other day and went through the entire site to see if I recognized any buildings or names. There were references to several Griers, but no mention of my associate, Tim. I was feeling nostalgic for something Navy, so I wrote to a name on the "Contact Us" list and explained my relationship with Tim. Next morning I got a reply saying that my email had been forwarded to the Board of Trustee President, Dr. Douglas Grier, Tim's brother.

We had a spirited exchange of emails...each recalling to the other about the aviational prowess of Brother Tim. Sadly, however, Dr. Grier revealed that Tim had passed last August after a bout with cancer. He was 83. I was sad, of course, but relieved to know that he had survived Vietnam, which is where he went after leaving FDR and that he had a good career in the Navy.

Dr. Grier also revealed that his son was about to take over the reins of Grier School which would make the 5th generation of Griers to lead the exclusive girl's school. 

It is not often that one is able to "close the loop" of time with an old associate even though the end of the road is death. Rest in peace Timothy.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Remembering my baptism

Granddad Beal and me; 1941
I don't often discuss my beliefs in my blog, but I am making an exception today. This post is about my Christianity....Methodism and family. You see, unless I miss calculated, one branch of our family has been Methodist for the last 150 years...or more. It's not about being better than other belief systems, but it is about legacy and connection.

Yearly, Methodists are reminded of their baptism. Perhaps it is because most of us are baptized...brought into the infants. We are asked to simply remember the significance of the occasion. The only physical connection I have of mine is this picture and, of course, my baptismal certificate. The picture was taken on "my day" and is the only picture I have of Granddad Beal and me. He died when I was seven and my memory of him is chair, calling grandma "Mother" and of course Christmas-time...his last in 1947. But...on the day this picture was taken, my baptism, he was focused on me and the possibilities of my life. That is what I call a blessing.

Today, when asked to remember my baptism I thought of this picture of Pop-Pop and me. Remember the old song, "Old time religion"? It is my guide when my faith falters at times...."if it is good enough for your (mother, father, or in this case grandfather), it's good enough for me." Somehow, people in my family who loved me, protected me, and reared me knew what I know, lived in a different time than I, but they fundamentally believed what I believe. Don't get me wrong, there are some differences that 75 years of experience has revealed (as per John Wesley's Quadralateral, which you can Google), but belief that we are put on this earth to love, show compassion, and to share has not changed.
Whipple Dam 1952

I was also recalled the picture to the left, which has little to do with my baptism, although they were all there and basically share my belief system. I thought of it because they all three nurtured me and for that I am most grateful. Dave, Jim, Joe and of the few pictures when the four Lutz boys (off-spring of Dorothy and Raymond) were together at the same time.
How can I not remember these big guys in such a setting? Whipple Dam is located near State College, PA and the occasion was the graduation of the two big dudes from Penn State.

What does this all have to do with remembering my baptism? It is a time for reflection...for recalling...who was "God for me" over the years. We are asked to nurture those who are baptized in our community...and so off and on over many years I think of Joe, Dave and Jim serving in this capacity in my life.

Who is God for you?

Friday, January 08, 2016

(submitted to New Wilmington Globe/Leader)

Some Luacres History 

Our family moved from Highland Avenue, New Castle to Valley Road in Neshannock Township in May 1942. Dad, a dentist, was in the Army Reserve having served in WW I and knew he would be activated that summer. There were five of us ranging in age from 14 years to nine months (me). Mother said that if she had to raise her family alone she wanted to be in the country not in the city.
Mother and older kids were not strangers to spartan living. They had spent the previous ten summers in a cottage with no electricity or indoor plumbing near Volant located just below the dam. But they were not experienced at farming. The place they bought from Tom and Daisy Smith consisted of 63 acres, a house, barn and several out buildings. Her friends thought she was crazy, but it became the training ground for the Lutz family.  We called the place Luacres.
The ensuing three and a half years, until the end of the War and Dad’s return to his practice in the Greer Building on Mercer Street, were filled with one new experience after another. Some included learning to milk the five cow herd; how to till the soil with a team of horses; how to tend a Boomer coal fired furnace; how to survive the war years with rationing.
I was too young to remember those early years, but I was tuned in as a six year old when I started school at Walmo in 1947. In 1946 and 1947 we welcomed
Jonathan Byler (from Volant) to Luacres. He lived with us and ran the farm to fulfill the requirements of his military deferment. Jon (we pronounced it Yone) was just 19 and gave our family a taste of Amish culture, which stayed with all of us. After he left our farm and married, there were frequent visits to Jonathan and Deana Byler’s place over the years to renew old friendships.
During Thanksgiving break of 1950 the Big Snow left an indelible mark in my memory as Brother Dave, two neighbors and I took a load of 5 and 10 gallon cans of milk to Linger Light Dairy by tractor and wagon into New Castle. I recall the trip up Mercer Road to the Neshannock Fire Hall where we left two five gallon cans for neighbors who might be out of milk, across Shenango Road, south on  Wilmington Road and down Jefferson Street hill where we stopped for lunch on the Diamond. On the trip home we fetched a 55 gallon drum of fuel oil for a neighbor. Heady stuff for a nine year old.
As my siblings left home (Joe to the Navy and then Penn State, Dave also to Penn State, Phyllis to IUP, Jim to the Air Force and Slippery Rock) I  became the sole kid on the farm in 1956. By this time I was in George Washington and headed to NeCaHi (where all five of us graduated) to be a member in the last class (1959) to come from Neshannock. I spent my teen years raising replacement heifers for Harold Green of Glen Road. Mr. Green was Brother Dave’s father-in-law I worked both at home with my small herd of cattle that I raised for 4-H projects and at the Green farm with their 60 head of Holsteins. After graduation I headed to Penn State to study agriculture.
While I was finishing my junior year (1962) Dad died in his office. While Mother hung on to the farm for a couple of years we were all building our own lives around the country. The old house with its coal furnace became too much for her.
Luacres was sold in pieces: the house and barn and land west of Valley Road in 1964 and the bulk of the land east of Valley Road to the Neshannock Creek in the mid-1970s.
After Penn State, I spent five years in the Navy, taught school, worked for Campbell Soup who sent us to Michigan in the early 1970s. My wife Aleene (Laurel 1961)
and I raised our family there and stayed for 35 years. Today we reside in Newberg, Oregon where our daughter Amy and her family live.

I have had an interesting career mostly in in education and human resources, but I still self identify as “a farmer kid from Pennsylvania.”

Friday, December 04, 2015

Why I love baseball

Baseball has been a part of my life experience since I can remember...going back to 1947. Living near (50 miles or so) Pittsburgh made the Pirates our family team.

The radio was on in the house most weekend afternoons as we listened to the play-by-play of the beloved Buccos. During home games the announcers (Rosey Rosewell and soon after Bob Prince) called the game from Forbes Field. The away games were called from Pittsburgh with some sort of teletype hook-up to the city where the game was being played.

I am not sure that every pitch was sent over the wire, so the announcer made up action to fit what was sent. For example the wire might send something like, “Kiner singles on a 2-2 pitch.” That is what would be recorded in a score book. So, Rosey would imagine the pitches that got the batter to a single: “Here’s the windup, the stretch, the pitch….low, ball one.” There was no background sound other than the sounds of a newsroom and what patter he would generate. It would be like calling a game by looking at Yahoo Sports Ap and reading what they show  there. It was like listening to paint dry.

As boring as it sounds it piqued our interest in the game and kept us up on how the Buccos were doing. We, of course, was sister Phyllis, whom we all called Chickie. She was the baseball fanatic. During those years...1947-52 while she was at home before graduating from High School she would clip the press reports out of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (which Dad brought home from the office, daily) and pin the most dynamic up on her bedroom wall. When you walked into her room your eyes were attracted to the clippings.

Chickie would play catch with me in the front yard while we listened to the Pirates on a small table radio...extension cords stretched as far as we could from the nearest outlet in the house. Of course, home games were more fun with the crowd noise and Rosewell’s trademark: “Raise the window, Aunt Minnie, here it comes.” There would be a crash of a breaking pane of glass and his final words, “She never made it…”On rainy days when we couldn’t be outside, Chickie taught me how to keep score...pencil, paper, clipboard and a ruler to make your own chart.

Catch consisted of a taped up ball, and two being a five fingered mit that allegedly was used by my oldest brother Joe when he played organized ball. The backstory was that Joe broke his front teeth in an inverted V which dad repaired with gold...the material of choice in the 1930s. And the story continues that allegedly Dad said no more organized baseball for his boys. Continuing that if we broke our teeth, we had to fix them yourself, somehow. But back to the games of catch. The second glove was often a small mit with no padding. Later, I bought a glove which I played with through Little League.

She stood at the big white pine tree in the front yard and I had a spot near the driveway, probably 50 feet away and throw as hard as I could to make her wince. She was a teenager then and a good catch and thrower. I am not sure how many ten year olds had 16 year old sisters that  play catch with them. 

Notice Dad's work attire...
There were others, of course, including Dad. He did not last long since he could not risk injuring his hands being a dentist. Jim and I played catch, too, but not the seemingly hours that I spent with Sister.

In the summer of 1951 five of us….Dave, Tillie, Chickie, Jim and I ….. frequently attended North County League baseball games. We went to Volant mostly, but I remember going to Pulaski, New Wilmington, and Eastbrook. It was there that I learned the finer points of the game...positioning, pitching and hitting. We had a connection to Volant, of course. 

Our family had a cottage along the Neshannock Creek just below the dam of the old mill during the 1930s until the fall of 1941 when I was born. Dave knew people there and some of the locals were patients of Dad. So there was a welcomeness and warmth when we sat in the bleachers, there.

It was my indoctrination to the Volant culture...small town, water-wheel powered mill, general store and people of the earth...lovely people who knew more about my family’s past summers there than I did. But it was all because of baseball.

The Volant ball field was...and more or less, still the lowland adjacent to the river south of the bridge. Foul balls tailed off into river (in left field) into Wilkin’s general store (right field) and as far back as the mill race to the right of home plate. Home runs went into the bushes on the hillside 300+ feet from home plate.

When we journeyed to other fields the fans felt less hospitable, but that may have been just me. Actually, Eastbrook was closest to us...the old field up behind what was then the High School and now is apartments (the school where Aleene attended ninth grade.) We hung out down the right field line adjacent to the Vo-Ag classes that were taught by my mentor (10 years later) Mr. Howard Fox. In New Wilmington, there were folks who were related to Tillie and they made us feel comfortable there. That field was located up behind the “old” high school.

Pulaski was a whole new “ball game.” We knew no one there and as a result we, or at least I, watched my Ps and Qs. The interesting thing about Pulaski was that the “bull pen” was adjacent to the stands and I got to watch the interplay there as the pitchers and relievers warmed up. I can still hear the pop of the ball hitting the glove of the catcher.

This summer experience had a real impact on me, because baseball came alive. I could see it, hear it and yes, even smell it. It also made me feel that baseball was something I wanted to be involved in.

I played ball at recess and lunch at school in games that would seem to go on and on for days. We had some pretty good players. But when the chance came to play the first Little League team that Neshannock fielded, I got stoked. I talked Dad into taking me an informational mixer at the Fire Hall on the corner of Shenango and Mercer Roads...a plain block structure, not the modern building that is there now. It had three garage doors and was packed to the rafters that night. They served hot dogs and cider and had an old guy talk about playing ball against Honus Wagner...turns out he was the Sheriff and his stories were true.

The point of the meeting was to explain how the process would work which culminated in parents having to sign a permission slip that we at school called “contracts.” As in: “Did your folks sign your contract?” like it was a pro-thing. Well, my parents talked and talked and finally signed at the last minute, as I recall. I was in. All I had to do was make the team.

The rules that first year were crazy. There would be one team of 18 boys from the whole township. It would be made up of an equal number of 10, 11, and 12 year olds...all on the same team. There were a lot of boys left on the outside looking in. I got picked as a 10 year old and was one of two who made the first team at first base. I can still name the first team and would except it would be super boring. Anyway, that team turned out to be quite good. We traveled around the county playing New Wilmington, Wampum, Pulaski, Hillsdale...all over the place. The only team we could not beat was Wampum. They had a pair of brothers by the name of Allen. One was Harold and the younger one was Richard who was known affectionately as Sleepy because it looked like his eyelids were half closed. Well, Sleepy Allen turned out to be Richie or Dick Allen future player of the Philadelphia Phillies.

That was all in 1952...I would turn 11 that October, so I played as a 10 year old. I was getting ready to go into 6th grade. Our team would actually get together and practice in the afternoons during the week. Supervised practices were held in the evenings. We enjoyed playing together so much we rode our bikes for, in my case, miles just to play.

Jerry Opp, John Catterson, Ronnie Rupp, Eddie Houck, Ronnie Schmidt, Tommy Lutz...and others whose names escape me were a very cohesive team. In short, we thought we were good.

The next two summers the rules changed. There were too many outsiders looking in, so to speak to justify just one team from our community (Township). As a result six or eight  teams were formed and we played each other until August when an “all star” team was formed and we played the winner of the County Little League (the league we were in the year before) which both years...Wampum still with the Allen brothers. Needless to say, we lost both years. All stars do not play game after game together and there was no cohesiveness. I am sure this was all done with good intentions of the adults in charge, but we were designed for failure. Those were the summers of 1953 and 1954. That ended my organized baseball career.

My heros were Ralph Kiner, Wally Westlake, Stan Rojek, Danny Murtaugh and the rest of the early 1950s Pirates. When Roberto Clemente came on board, respect and awe became part of my baseball observations.

Perhaps my biggest baseball thrill was in 1969 while working in Chicago for Campbell Soup when I met Ernie Banks. I was managing the company’s basic education program for employees. Ernie was under contract with a Campbell ad agency who supplied him as a speaker at our spring “graduation.” Ernie had been dropped off at the corner of 35th and California where the old soup plant was located and found his way up to the 7th floor cafeteria on his own...being interrupted along the way. Once there he ate with the “students” who were all adults trying to either learn to or improve their reading skills. He very casually stood at the mike and made appropriate remarks. I was there, of course, but was not scheduled to interact with him. When the event was complete, Ernie hung around to sign autographs. The book was a Campbell produced paperback of baseball history and facts.

When the signing died to a trickle, Ernie looked up at me and said, Could you show me where all these wonderful people work?” I was completing a full year and new the plant well, so I jumped at the chance. For the next 45 minutes Ernie and I tramped through the old plant starting at the top where the raw materials came in to the bottom two floors where soup was put into cans and then warehoused. When we finished he shook my hand, thanked me and drifted off to find his ride.  

Baseball transitioned slowly in the early 50s to television. First, it was the All Star game, then the World Series and finally weekend games by 1955 and 56; black and white, of course. We didn’t have TV until I was in 6th grade in January 1953. That meant that until then I was only able to watch at a neighbor’s house, when invited. When the opportunity came, I jumped at the chance.

I had chances to play ball in ensuing summers, but did not take the opportunity. I was a farmer kid and did not wish to be burdened with practices and games all summer long. Back then, New Castle High did not offer baseball, so there was no opportunity to play even if I wanted to. NC was a football and basketball school. By this time I was engaged in music.

Of course, my love of the game continued and I played organized ball in the Navy, albeit softball, and again slow pitch up until I was 44.

I am sharing all this because as I get more mature and the game changes I reach into my past to understand my love of the game and its traditions...the national pasttime.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

My love of pipe organ music....

 I do not expect anyone, except for a very few, to understand why I love to listen to pipe organ music...especially Bach...and especially played by the late Virgil Fox. But for now, listen if you like, to Mr. Fox's arrangement of Now Thank We All Our God written by Bach. Our organist played it today at church and it brought me to tears.

You see, my first memories of church...First Methodist in New Castle, Pa...of the Greer organ played by Mr. Edwin Lewis who also was my voice instructor when I turned 14. Edwin was a showman...not like Virgil Fox, but if you got to know him...and I did when I was taking voice from realized he was an eccentric master musician. Sunday after Sunday he would make the walls of that church tremble with the vibrant sounds of that great music. So, today when I hear great music played on a grand organ it runs shivers up and down...and I weep.
Listen to this, if you want to experience some Christmas music written by George Fredrick Handel.

This will keep you going for a while, if you like, no love, as I do the sound of the Wannamaker organ in the big store in Philadelphia. We were there at Christmas time in the late 1960s and early 1970s...not every year, but several of those holiday seasons and we generally took the train over to Philly from our home in New Jersey to see and hear this great organ. We did not get to experience Virgil Fox, but it rocked, none the less. The Wannamaker organ is the largest in the world, I understand.

Being tuned in and turned on to organ the 1940s and 1950s...I happened to be in New York City during the spring of 1962 for a concert tour of the Penn State Glee Club (at Town Hall) and a friend of mine...Art Mauer (now deceased) and I went to Radio City Music Hall to see a movie and as the movie was ending the Mighty Wurlitzer rolled out and began playing the closing credit music of the film and then burst into a short concert before the Rockettes performed. Notice the difference here between the show organ at Radio City and the Wannamaker organ above playing Bach. I realized that while I liked the heavier sounds of Bach versus the show sounds of the Wurlitzer it was still a pipe organ and it gave me chills. I was back again at Radio City when the ship was in New York and off to Radio City again...not for the Rockettes, but for the Wurlitzer.

Fast forward a few years and a pizza place opened in Grand Rapids known as 20th Century Pizzeria that had a Wurlitzer theater organ...boy did we make plans to go there for a listen...again...the rich full sounds of a pipe organ, but alas playing contemporary music, not Bach. Ok, but not fulfilling.

One more personal church experience after New Castle was always electronic so I began buying recordings of Bach played by Virgil Fox. But my experience with live pipe organ music drifted off...that is until Newberg First United Methodist  popped onto our radar. Bam. I was hooked. Jane Mendenhall was organist then and I literally cried when she played. Now Janet Lyda is our organist and she can still bring me to tears as she did today.

But if you want to hear my favorite...listen again to Mr. Fox and you will get a glimpse of why I love pipe organ music and love to dance the gigue (or jig.)