I believe essence of who you are is based in your family history. The influence of your Father, Mother, and Grandparents or even other family member affects who you are, and how you think. Perhaps I am just a 63 year old man rambling on trying to figure out who I am. Read my story and see if yours is similar. This may spark you into reviewing your history and writing your own story. Who am I?
My Father’s family has lived in the USA since the start of this country and came from England as far as I know. My Mother’s family came from Germany before World War I. Our family is a mixture of English, German, Irish, American Indian, and who knows what else. We are a true mixture of cultures and countries.
My Father started his job career as a mechanic with a well known bus company and worked his way up the ladder to Vice President. His last job he worked in Saudi Arabia for five years setting up a bus company for the Saudi government. He was a hard worker, good Father, a self made man with only a high school education. Dad was a WW II veteran and he was a strict Father when it came to raising kids. He was a tuff guy who did not take any crap from anybody. One time a man he fired at work attacked him with a knife and my Dad knocked him out and then called the cops. After that he carried a gun on him when leaving the office at night. He always carried brass knuckles in his pocket. I recall one time when I was about 6 years old we went to the movies and three men gave my Dad a hard time. My Brother and I were scared and my Mother tried to get my Dad to leave before a fight started, but Dad put on his brass knuckles and knocked all three for a loop. Dad acted like it was just another day at the fights. He went to high school on south side of Chicago where fighting was a necessary common activity. Since Dad also had military training from being in World War II he was not afraid of anything. My Brother and I had a lot of respect, love, and admiration for Dad. We knew if we got out of line punishment would be swift and harsh. We also knew he was always there for us when we needed him.
He rarely ever went out with Mom and was not a very outgoing person. Dad came home from work, ate dinner, watched TV, and then went to bed every day. Dad did not drink, smoke, or gamble. He was a simple man that just worked hard to take care of his family. He did like summer time vacations and camping trips. This was the only time we had our Dad with us for two weeks straight. My brother and I loved these camping trips. We would take off out west to the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone. We camped in almost every major National Park in the country. Mom was a hard worker also and when we started High School she got a part time job selling house wares at a local department store. Mom was always home everyday to cook dinner at 6 pm for the family.
My Mother and Father were married 45 years. Dad took good care of my Mother and they toured the world two times while he was in good health. My dad passed away in 1988 of cancer, three years after he retired. It was a terrible death and he suffered at the hands of a crummy Doctor. As of writing this book Mom is still alive, 89 years old and doing well.
My Grandfather (Dad’s side) was a coal miner and bulldozer driver. Grandpa could not stand up straight. He was bent over from working in the mines from age of 10. He worked 12 years bent over in the mines and since he was so young it deformed his back. Grandpa had huge hands and forearms from working in the mines. You could tell he was old before his time and tired by just looking at his wrinkled face. He never made a lot of money and he was married to Grandma for 61 years. They were married when she was 15 and he was 17 years old. To them family was everything. As a kid we often went on vacation out of state to visit my Grandparents in Indiana and Florida. My Grandparents had no education to speak of and never got pass 5th grade. They went thru the Great Depression and I was told many stories about how bad times where. If you ever saw the movie Grapes of Wrath, it depicts how it was during the depression. In those days there were no motels to stay in so you camped on the side of the road. You also had to be able to fix your own car if it broke down in the middle of nowhere. They made the trip from Illinois to San Diego in a Model T Ford. It was there they hoped to find a job picking crops or any type of work. They lived there for 10 years and then returned to live in Chicago. Needless to say they did not trust banks as when the banks failed during the depression most people lost all their money. Their bank was a coffee can in the kitchen.
One funny but sad story my Grandpa told me that I recall is they were driving past a farm out in the middle of the country on the way to sunny California. There were some chickens in the dirt road. Grandpa tired to hit one with the car to kill it for dinner. He did hit one and stopped the car down the road a little ways so not to draw any attention from the farmer. Grandpa told my 10 year old Dad to go get the chicken. Dad ran back with a paper bag and picked up the chicken. Several miles down the road they made camp. In those days there were no motels and the roads were dirt or stone. Grandpa pulled off the road; they pitched a tent and set up camp. Grandpa started a fire and Grandma took out the chicken to clean it. As she was plucking out the feathers she found the chicken was full of white slimy maggots. My Dad had picked up the wrong dead chicken. By mistake he picked up one that had been dead for several days. Maggots were crawling all over it and it smelled rotten to the core. That night they had no chicken to eat, just biscuits and beans. Times were bad back then you ate what you had, not what you wanted. Some fried chicken would have been a real treat.
I never heard my Grandpa or Grandma say they were poor but I knew they did not have a lot of money and in fact they were dirt poor I came to find out. They lived in a trailer park in Gary Indiana for 30 years before moving to Florida when Grandpa was about 65 years old. My brother and I would go visit them every summer for a few weeks. Gary was a terrible polluted city. The whole city smelled like rotten eggs due to the steel mills causing air pollution. There was red and black soot on his car each day that my Grandpa would wash off. I liked to help him wash his car. The air pollution was killing them. He was not in good health due to bad lungs from working in the coal mines at the age of 10 and working at a cement company in Gary.
The last 20 years working he was driving a bulldozer moving sand to make cement. The fine sand would get in his lungs and he had silicosis for sure but no one knew what that was in those days. A doctor told him to move to Florida or he may not live another year. So they moved to Florida and my Father purchased them their first house for about $3,000.00. It was a small one bedroom house, more like a cottage but it was theirs and it made them so happy. It had no central heat or air like we have now. It was hard for me to believe this was their very first house they ever owned but it was true as they always lived in a trailer. When my Dad handed Grandpa the keys to their first house at the age of 66 everyone cried. I had never seen my Dad or Grandpa cry before.
Grandpa passed on at 78 of a heart attack while Grandma was cooking his bacon and eggs. The Christmas after Grandpa died I ask Grandma what she would like for Christmas. She told me a small piano would be nice. I ask her do you know how to play? She told me she never had a piano lesson. Grandma said she use to watch her older sister take lessons and thought she could learn. So I bought her a small piano as a Christmas gift. It was just a small upright piano that cost me about $200.00. When the piano arrived at her house the whole family was there. She sat down and cried as she always wanted a piano to play but they never could afford one. Then she turned on the radio and listened to some music. She tried the piano keys and within thirty minutes she was playing the song that was on the radio. She had a natural gift which was over looked all these years. She would also play songs she had remembered, such as Christmas music and so forth. Grandma played by ear since she could not read music. The whole family was surprised that at her age she could play that well with no lessons. God Bless her, all these years her hidden talent was wasted. At least she got to enjoy a piano for a short time of her life as she passed away at age 89. But every day, the rest of her life she played that little piano. She loved it so much. I still cry when I think of her playing the piano with her old and wrinkled bent fingers moving over the key board like she had played the piano her whole life.
My Mothers father passed away at the age of 45 when she was just 22 years old. Grandpa on my Mom’s side was in World War One and was stationed in Siberia. He was in the 27th United States Army Infantry Regiment called the “Wolfhounds American Expeditionary Forces.” Their job was to control the Trans Siberian railroad and keep out of the hands of the Bolshevik’s in 1918. He went to Japan by boat and then to Vladivostok Russia. He wrote to his mother “You should see these Nipponese people. The men wear dresses and wood shoes.” Not many people know that we had troops fighting in Siberia in World War One. He made it through the war in good health. That is all I know about him.
When my Mom’s Dad died it left them in a bind. Mom did finish high school but she and Grandma had a tuff time making ends meet. They both worked jobs to pay the bills. Then Mom meant Dad after World War II in 1945 and I was born in 1946. Grandma lived with us while I was growing up and she passed away at age 89. She never remarried and was a kind gentle woman. Grandma would sing to me in German when I was a baby and my Father did not like that as I could speak a little German by the time I was five. She was a wonderful person who loved everyone and had a strong believe in God. I could go on for hours about her life history. In those days everyone had it tuff. My Dad and Mom took care of her since she had little income. She received about $50.00 per month from Social Security. She had no kind of job training and worked as a gift wrapper at a local department store for many years making little money. Without a good family she would have been a homeless person. My Dad supported her and liked her living with us.
I grew up with my younger brother in a typical all white middle class neighborhood on the west side of Cleveland. We had a nice average middle class house and I never had any worries, like my Dad and Mom did growing up in the depression. Dad worked very hard to get ahead and make money so the family would not be affected by a depression again. My Brother and I would get odd jobs to make money as my Dad always said get a job if you want some spending money. We always had everything a kid could want growing up. I thought we were rich. We were far from rich I found out but we had a good life. When I was in high school I had many jobs after school to make spending money. I worked in a car wash most of those years. Washing cars I made a penny a car and tips. On a good weekend I could make $30.00. I had other jobs such as paper boy and a stock boy during high school. In addition I shoveled snow and cut lawns, when I had time. I was always looking for a way to make money.
It was 1965 and time to graduate from High school. What would be my future? I wanted to be a Tool Maker but my Father pushed me to go to college. It was June and summer time, just out of high school and I needed a job. I got a job as a Tool Maker trainee for $1.25 per hour. I thought this was going to be a great job and I had a future to be a tool maker. I was good with my hands and knew how to make things out of metal and wood. After a few months of $1.25 per hour I soon realized I could not even make enough money to have my own place and move out of the house. My Father was right I needed to go to College.
Dad told me I could live at home as long as I needed while going to college. I started college and still kept working as much as possible. I did not want my Father to spend his hard earned money paying for my school. I was a man now and I expected to make it on my own.
This was the peak time of the Vietnam War and I was now draft bait but since I was going to college I was able to obtain a student deferment. Then I got lucky and landed a new job with a defense contractor. This job required a DOD (Department of Defense) secret security clearance and an AEC (Atomic Energy Commission) Security clearance. Once you obtain these security clearances the Army will not draft you as this was important government work I was doing during war time. What a lucky break this was. In addition they would pay for my college. I was very lucky as most of my friends were getting drafted or joined the Army. Some came home wounded and some came home dead. It was a scary time for young men just out of high school.
Starting pay for my new job was $3.50 per hour which back in 1967 was big money. I had a great job and was getting a degree in Engineering, The new company was paying for my school. I had a future at last. I had a direction and an idea of what I wanted to do. I could move out of the house and be on my own. I went to college as Dad suggested receiving three degrees including an MBA in 1980 fifteen years after leaving high school. I hated high school but loved going to college.
My Brother joined the Navy in 1968 rather than be drafted into the Army. He spent 23 years in the service. I did not see my Brother very much during those years. My Mom and Dad moved to New York and then to Florida in 1975. My Dad wanted to be close to his parents. So about once a year I would see my family which was at Christmas time.
My story ends here, basically skipping my life as this is about how we came to be who we are. Your life is shaped by your family in your early years. In writing this I realize my quest for the almighty dollar and to improve my life situation comes from my hidden fear of the great depression that my family and millions of others experienced. The fact that my Grandparents were not the most well off people and seeing what they did not have gave me a push to be something more without me even knowing it.
I came to realize this is also what drove my Father to try and make more money and have a better life than his parents. My Father gave me my drive to work hard and ambition to get ahead. My Mother taught me to have compassion for others not so well off. Both Mom and Dad showed me how important it is to take care of the family and especially ones parents.
One thing I know for sure is my Father, Mother or Grandparents never cheated anyone and were very honest people. My Father and Mother always stressed for us to tell the truth. This has also rubbed off on me.
I think owning a house became a very important matter in my life after seeing my Father buy a house for his own parents. Now at my age owning a house is not as important as it once was. I just want to get the cash out of my house to use for retirement. For young people it is still important to own property for the long term. It is a forced savings plan that usually pays off in the long run. Buy low and sell high is the best method to use. Knowing when to do this is easier said than done.
I made many mistakes in my life which I did not cover in this story, but you cannot go back and change anything. You need to think about the future no matter what age you are. One also needs to remember who am I, but maybe I still do not know. Do you know who you are?