This autobiography will attempt to describe my life as a series
of threads, some of which will be things like early years,
travels, homes, education, family, vehicles,
employment, and relationships. Each thread will be approximately
in order of occurrence, and actual dates will be added if known.
Many people have asked me about my apparent plethora of homes, and the history behind them is interesting. When I was born, I think my parents lived in a small apartment in Baltimore, but by the time I was a few years old they had moved to the home of my maternal grandparents, on Chester Street. Around 1955 we moved into a new two bedroom home just inside the city near Loch Raven Boulevard and Northern Parkway.
One of my childhood projects, when I was about 12 years old, was building a "shack" in a corner of the back yard. I think it was about 4 feet high, 8 feet wide, and four feet deep, and it had a hinged door with a lock and one or two hinged windows. The floor was actually made of old tongue and groove boards, and the only furniture was a wooden box, in which I kept some toys or reading material and a large battery which powered the crude low-voltage lighting system. I enjoyed the sense of privacy and freedom that this little structure provided, and it was also a proud accomplishment to have constructed it on my own. Since it was built of wood directly on the ground, after a year or so it became somewhat rotten and unstable, but I think I actually sold it (for a dollar, perhaps), to a friend who carted it away on a wagon.
My sister was born in 1956, and by the time she was about 6 years old we needed a larger house, so in 1963 we bought a three bedroom house on Fairmount Avenue in Towson. I lived there from then on, and I even decided to commute to college when I enrolled in 1966. A year before then, my brother was born, and by the time I was about finished with college in 1970 the house was rather crowded with all three children, of diverse ages, living there.
By this time, I started having dreams of being on my own, but I didn't want to shell out what I thought was a lot of money to rent an apartment. I looked into alternatives, such as homesteading, cabin building in the wilderness, and buying a trailer. At one point, I considered sharing a house with some friends, and we even looked at an old house in Hunt Valley that was for sale for under $12,000. However, none of us could afford it alone, and eventually we went our separate ways. Meanwhile, I happened to hear of a place called Koinonia, which was an intentional community or commune in the Green Spring Valley, and eventually I visited there for a conference, met some of the people, and registered for a live-in retreat in the early Winter of 1971.
At this retreat, called the "January Convergence", I had my first taste of living somewhat on my own, although it was also a very intense group experience. The main attraction was being outside the confines of my family, and I enjoyed the independence. After the retreat, which lasted only about 2 or 3 weeks, I returned home, and resumed a rather restricted life with my parents and siblings. I worked for a while, but my pay was too low to consider seriously a move to an apartment. Later, when I was laid off from my job, I returned to Koinonia on a part-time basis to help in the garden, and eventually moved there on a more or less full-time basis. However, it was still not truly my home.
After my experience at Koinonia, which spanned about two years and was interspersed with a period of living back home with my parents, I found a rooming house in Cockeysville where I was able to get a fairly large room for about $60 per month, including bathroom and kitchen privileges. I was even able to set up a small shop in a corner of the room, to ply my newly expanding trade of radio and TV repair, and also shared the company of two cats, who became pregnant and had 4 kittens each. Quite a crowd in a 200 square foot room. That situation lasted about two months; then I had to dispose of the felines and move back with my parents again in the Spring of 1973.
That Summer, I visited a friend in Ohio, and wound up getting a job there and living in the home of his parents. That was a very interesting time, and another opportunity for me to grow in my independence, but I still wasn't really on my own.
After that incredible summer, I returned home to Maryland, living once again with my parents, and soon got a fairly good job as an electronics technician. There was a lot of tension at home, partially due to sharing limited space, and after a few months, in September of 1974, I finally signed a sublease on an apartment in Towson, for about $147/month, and moved in on October 12. Now I was finally living on my own, and it was a good experience, but as the rent increased each year to about $155 and then $165, I became anxious to put my money into buying a place of my own.
A coworker was a real estate agent, and he let me look through the multiple listings and showed me several places, but the ones I could afford were rather mundane townhouses and such. I considered buying a house in partnership with a couple with whom I worked, but that did not work out. Finally, in late 1976, I found an old house in Cockeysville with about one acre of land, that originally was listed for about $25,000, but it did not have a septic system. We investigated the feasibility of installing one, and found that it could not be done. That would have been the end of the deal, but the house seemed charming, and it was a duplex with tenants already living on one side, and the owner reduced the price to $17,500 and agreed to hold the mortgage. After making a sizable down payment, I was able to own the house with mortgage payments of only $156.35 a month, and I felt that perhaps someday a sewage line might be extended to the area and I could install a real flush toilet. In the meantime, I was enchanted with the rural character of the neighborhood and thought I would enjoy being a sort of new age pioneer.
I lived in the house as a landlord starting in early 1977, and had many interesting experiences as a first time homeowner. After a couple of years, my tenants moved out, and I proceeded to remove the walls between the two sections in order to start converting the house to a single, larger dwelling, about 48 feet wide and 16 feet deep. However, around this time, I had met someone and lived with her on a part time basis in downtown Baltimore. Eventually, she bought an old house in Hampden, and my time was spent doing major renovations on it. My own house project was put on hold until we split up in 1980. My efforts were renewed then, but progress was slow, as I found more and more problems and less and less time.
Sometime around 1982 I was contacted by a real estate agent for the owner of an adjacent, unimproved, one acre lot, and he said that if I purchased it, I could put in a septic system and a new well. We contacted the county, had a successful perk test, and I once again purchased real estate, this time for $12,500 with an additional mortgage of about $120/month. The prospect of a real flush toilet spurred me to increased efforts on my renovations, but it was still fairly overwhelming.
In late 1983 I met someone else and started living with her in her cramped apartment. I shelved my plans for a while, and we even looked at a few houses that we planned to buy together, but the relationship only lasted until early 1984. I tried to move back to the house in Cockeysville, but it was very uncomfortable and there were major plumbing problems. So, I decided to move back to my home in Towson, where my mother now lived alone, since my father had died in late 1983 and both my sister and brother had moved out. Around this time I was also very interested in building a log cabin atop the hill on my property, and I even had a road cut for access.
By 1987 or so I had become rather comfortable living back home in Towson, and my plans for a place of my own were on indefinite hold, although I was able to have a water line extended to serve the property. Then, in 1988, my neighbor was compelled to sell his house for health reasons, and in order for him to sell it, he needed to have a way to install an approved septic system. There was a slim possibility for him to install the system up on the hill behind his house, and install a pump, but for this he would need an easement on my property to use the road for access. Eventually, I determined that the best situation would be for me to buy his property, install the septic system for that house in the lower area originally meant to serve my original house, and use the area he had perked for my eventual log cabin. I had by now paid off my other mortgages, so I was able to get a lot loan by mortgaging my existing properties for $45,000, with which I paid for my neighbor's house ($35,000), and the rest for surveying and installing the septic system. I figured that I could fairly quickly fix up his house, which appeared to be in better shape, and move in.
Meanwhile, I had been laid off from my job of 15 years, and decided
to try self-employment. This meant a period of lower income for
a while, however, so I was soon confronted with escalating bills
for plumbing and carpentry work, which was more than I had expected
because the house was not in as good condition as originally thought.
My brother and I eventually gutted the place, made major changes,
and installed the rough plumbing to the new septic system. That's
about as far as I could go, since I had run out of money set aside
for the project, and my self-employment had hit some snags that
did not give me enough income to complete the work needed. So,
I had to be content to conduct my business from my tiny room in
my mother's house, and this is where I still am at this moment;
however, I have made a lot of progress on the house in Cockeysville
recently, and plan to move out again by the Fall of 1998.
My first recollection of any vehicle I owned was a metal train engine that I could ride on. Actually, even before that, I may have tried to ride on a vacuum cleaner that had runners like a sled, but I didn't go very far! When I was about six my grandmother gave me a rather large tricycle, and I remember riding it on the sidewalk and in the alley. I also had a wagon with removable wooden sides, and I can remember riding it down the rather steep hill in the alley and sometimes crashing it into a utility pole. I also used it to try to ply a trade selling candy bars and Kool-Ade.
At this time, in the late fifties, many kids in the city had scooters that they made from old roller skates nailed to a board, with a wooden box and handles. I remember making one, which I think I even equipped with a headlight and other fancy trim, but I neglected to remove a nail from the running board, and I got a nasty gash when I attempted to propel it along.
Another popular vehicle was a sort of soap box derby cart which was made using wheels from old shopping carts. My first attempt at making a four wheeled coaster was a rather cumbersome affair with a rather high seat and a front axle which swiveled on a bolt, and was steered by a tiller bar made of band iron. When I first tried it outside the wheel caught on a crack in the pavement and I found that the tiller bar was far too flimsy to work.
My next attempt was a much lower-slung contraption, and I think the axles were actually machined from square steel stock with the help of my father's machinist friend. I found that it was much better to use my feet to steer the front axle, but I also used a rope, which allowed me to steer when I used my feet to stop. I actually bought heavy work boots for this purpose, since sneakers wore out very quickly when used as brakes. Other kids in the neighborhood also built such "racers", and we engaged in the rather dangerous practice of speeding down the back alley and making a sharp turn at the bottom, hoping we would not encounter any cars or other obstructions. I upgraded my racer with larger ball-bearing wheels purchased from the hardware store, and I carefully painted it and made it very comfortable with a cushioned seat and back made of an old kitchen chair, and a "trunk" made from an old army surplus cartridge box.
I brought my "racer" with me when we moved to Towson in 1963, but there were not many safe hills nearby. I did find several good hills quite some distance away, but only rode on them several times. One rather exciting run was a concrete drainage ditch that ran near the Beltway; it had banked turns almost like a bobsled run, and there was no worry about traffic, but there were some problems with broken glass and stones, and a rather abrupt end at a fence and a pile of rocks.
Even with such a limited venue for riding, I was inspired to design and build a technologically advanced form of this conveyance. I made a steel frame out of angle iron, and had it welded at an auto shop. Then I made a front axle assembly with independent axles and a linkage system that allowed me to use a steering wheel from an old toy car. It actually worked quite well, but it still lacked brakes, and I could not come up with a practical design for them. Finally, I sold the thing to my neighbor, who gave it to someone who supposedly put a motor on it, but I think it wound up getting crushed when someone backed over it in a garage.
It was probably about the same time, circa 1964, that I had my first experience riding a bicycle. It was an old, big, Schwinn ladies model, and once I got the hang of balancing it, I was hooked. I started looking for an old, used bicycle, but they just seemed too expensive. A good friend had an English bike, and I really liked the idea of having three speeds, although I wasn't too crazy about the hand brakes. Finally, I found someone who had an old, broken down Raleigh bike in his garage, and I bought it for about $15. I took it just about completely apart, and I fixed or replaced almost everything that was questionable. I think I was able to clean up the original paint, which was a somewhat metallic red. When I was finished, everything worked great, and I began to go on increasingly lengthy rides. I also rode it to school, along with one or two other friends, even though it was not really a "cool" thing at that time.
Around the time I graduated from High School in 1966, a close friend bought a little Yamaha 50cc motor bike, and I thought it was really a lot of fun. After some discussion with my parents, I decided to buy a motorcycle, so I got some catalogs and checked out all the specifications and prices. Finally I decided on a Honda CA-160, which was a fair-sized touring bike with a rather unique hinged front suspension and wide, flared fenders. I bought a brand-new white one for about $600 cash, and after an arduous initial journey home (getting used to the clutch), I joined my friend on many rides. Finally I got my license, and I was able to be a bit more independent. When I started to college in the Fall of 1966, I commuted on my motorcycle, and also took trips to several nearby areas.
As winter approached, it became increasingly arduous to ride the seven miles to campus, and at times it was quite miserable and dangerous, with rain and wind, ice and snow, and traffic. By the early Spring of 1967, I had decided that I needed a car, so my father and I looked at several. My friend's father was an auto shop teacher, and he was going to sell me an old 1955 Cadillac, or else a 1955 Ford, but I finally decided on a 1960 Ford Falcon, which I bought from the owner of a gas station we frequented. It only had a tiny 144 cubic inch engine and a two speed automatic transmission, but I was impressed when we first looked at it, buried under several feet of snow, and it started up and ran immediately. I think I paid about $300 for it.
That little Falcon took me through the rest of my days in college, with very little trouble. I took good care of it, and I even painted it a very interesting metallic green, using about a dozen spray cans. By 1970, however, I felt I needed better transportation, so I bought a 1965 Chevy Malibu 4-door, with a 230 cubic inch 6 cylinder engine, and three speed manual transmission. I was impressed with its clean lines and smooth running, and I bought it from a private party for $650. I did quite a bit of work on it, installed a good 8-track stereo, and put a set of new belted tires on it, in preparation for a cross-country trip that Summer. The car performed very well, reaching (legal!) speeds of over 80 mph in areas such as Kansas, and got us all the way to a couple miles from home, where a recently installed fuel pump conked out.
At about this time, I became involved with Koinonia, and I used the Malibu for several eventful trips. While I was there, I also learned to drive a tractor, a Gravely mower, and a pickup truck, but I was really quite impressed with my friend Paul's Ford Econoline van. It seemed so practical, to have so much room, and the engine was accessible from within. I determined that I should get a vehicle like that, and I looked at several, including some VW microbuses and the very unusual Corvair Greenbrier van. However, I was not making much money, and the Malibu suited my needs. Around this time, I also bought another three-speed bicycle, which I took apart completely, painted a very nice deep metallic green, and used for many long rides. I even made a leather saddle bag and recovered the seat in leather.
My friend Jay wound up buying Paul's van, for the princely sum of about $100, but he wound up in some trouble and went home to Ohio, with me to take care of his van. In the Summer of 1973, I drove it to Ohio to return it to him, and rode back with a friend returning from Indiana. However, while I was there, I learned of a job opening at the local electronics repair shop, so I returned with my Chevy and stayed the rest of the Summer. In August, I learned that the business was being sold, and the owner also had a 1960 Ford Econoline van that was in rather poor shape, with a broken spring and an overheating engine. I offered him $50 for it, but he would only accept $40! It was the first (and last) time I ever had that happen. So, I drove the ugly thing back to my friend's home, and proceeded to replace the head gasket and water pump, and I bolted on some helper springs. When I started it up, it ran much better, and I finally decided to take it back home to Baltimore with me. Later that Fall, I got a ride back out to Ohio and retrieved my car, but I had become quite used to driving the van, and it was handy to have so much room to carry things and for storage.
In July of 1975 I decided to get another motorcycle, so I bought a 1970 Honda CB350 for about $450. It was much more powerful than my old one, and was pretty sharp looking, with gold paint and a windshield. I had a lot of fun with that vehicle that summer and fall, but it had some problems, and I gave up on it for the winter. On my birthday in April of 1976 I came home from work to find my motorcycle missing. It had been stolen, but was recovered nearby. However, the thieves had blown the engine, so I wound up buying a used engine for about $75, getting it rebuilt, and installed it. The bike ran pretty well, but it always seemed to run rough at low RPMs. Eventually, by next winter, I sold it.
Sometime around 1975 I bought my first 10 speed bicycle, which was on sale for about $69. It served me quite well for many years. The only major difficulty I had was when I got a flat tire on a long bike ride on the Eastern Shore, and my flat fix kit was defective. I limped a few miles on into Oxford, where I bought a new tire and tube, installed it, and rode just a few feet when it blew again, because it was the wrong size tire. Finally I got the correct size, and was on my way again. On my birthday in April of 1996, enroute to the Hunt Cup, a spoke broke on the rear wheel, and I had to walk the bike for about 8 miles. Later, trying to repair it, I broke the retainer in the freewheel assembly, and I have not ridden it since.
I kept the old van running for quite a while. In June of 1975 the differential went bad, so I replaced the entire rear axle and the broken spring with one from another van that Paul had wrecked. I also did some extensive body work, but there was some major rust on some frame parts, and by 1976 I felt that it would be better to buy a newer vehicle.
I was really sold on the idea of a van, and I soon selected a 1966 Ford Supervan, which was a bit longer than the old one. It also had an economical six cylinder engine, and it ran very nicely. However, only a couple of weeks after I bought it, I took it on a Sierra Club cabin trip in Pennsylvania. It ran perfectly on the way up on Friday, but when I went to start it on Sunday it would not start. We tried everything we could think of, and all the usual systems seemed fine, but we had no luck, and eventually the battery wore down. So, I went home with someone else, and returned the next day with a fresh battery and a complete tune-up kit, but our efforts were still in vain, so we had it towed to a repair shop in the nearest town. They, too, were unable to get it started, and found that it had very low compression. Finally, I returned with a borrowed truck and hitch, and towed it back to my friend Paul's place. He pulled the head, and we found little metal deposits in the cylinders, but no obvious problems. Our best guess was that someone had used some sort of sealant to restore compression, and the long trip, coupled with a cold night, may have dislodged the sealant. We considered several options, but eventually we decided to remove the engine and replace it with the one in my old van. This we did, actually manhandling the old engine at one point; but I borrowed a portable hoist from work to make the rest of the job a bit easier. The rejuvenated van ran quite well, and actually had more power, since the engine from the old truck was actually a 200 cubic inch Fairlane engine with a high compression head. I took the rear seats out of the old van, threw the dead engine in the back, and sold it for $35. So, it had cost me a net amount of $5.
I think I sold my old Malibu in 1975 or so, but then about a year later I bought a 1967 (approx.) Dodge Dart with the famous 225 cubic inch slant 6, for about $300. It was a smooth-running, very reliable vehicle, and I used it as an alternative to my truck for general transportation. I finally sold it in 1979 or 1980.
My girlfriend, whom I met in 1977, had a new, tiny, Toyota Corolla, and I was impressed with its great gas mileage and surprising pep. In February of 1980 I bought a really beat up 1972 Corolla for about $300, and did extensive body work on it. It had a 1600 cc engine, and had good power, particularly after I rebuilt the carburetor and found that the primary and secondary jets had been reversed. That little car was a lot of fun, and I actually was able to sell it for about twice its purchase price in about 1982. Around this time I bought my (now-ex) girlfriend's Toyota, for about $2700, and kept it as my main transportation for many years. I still had my van, which I used mostly for hauling.
In 1986, after an extensive search, I bought a 1982 Toyota Long bed pickup, with a cap, for about $3100, with about 68,000 miles on it. Shortly after I purchased it, I drove my by now quite dilapidated 1966 van to the junk yard, where I got $50 for it. Then I found some nice seats out of a Mazda sedan, for which I returned the $50. This new truck was to be a very reliable vehicle, and, equipped with chains, it took me safely through the heavy snow and ice of the storms in the winter of 1995. I finally sold it for about $250 in November of 1995, with 177,000 miles, and it still ran well, but a large hole rusted through the frame made it unsafe.
In April of 1987, I bought an old bulldozer, an International TD-340, for about $3000. It ran pretty well, but its rollers and idler wheels were badly worn. However, I used it to cut a rough road through part of my property, and it was truly a great feeling of power to sit high up on a massive machine, crank up the loud diesel engine, and bully my way through rough terrain. I finally sold it in 1993, for about $1500.
I bought my present vehicle, a 1986 Isuzu Trooper, in October of 1995. I had seen it advertised for $3800, which I thought was a bit more than I wanted to spend, but when I looked at it, it seemed to be in really nice condition. It did have 117,000 miles on it, but the engine seemed to run fine. When I had a mechanical inspection done, however, some fairly major problems were noted, but the seller reduced the price to $2500, which was too good to pass up. It was an opportune time to purchase a four wheel drive vehicle, since that winter was the Blizzard of '96, and I was able to negotiate the deep snow with confidence. In the spring of 1996, I had some major work done, and the mechanic noticed an engine noise that sounded like a possible bad bearing, which he said could fail at almost any time. I drove it gingerly, however, and even took it on a 500 mile trip to Ohio. I was beginning to think that it would keep limping along forever, but in May of 1997, enroute back from Rehoboth Beach, as I was coming off the Bay Bridge, a sudden loud knocking sound alerted me to the demise of the engine. After a fifty mile tow back home, I took some time checking my options, and I finally decided to have the engine rebuilt. It cost me a total of about $2500, but now the vehicle is very reliable. Its gas mileage improved from about 18 to just over 20, and it is now serving me well as my primary transportation.
I was born in Baltimore, Maryland on April 27, 1949, and at 9 pounds, 6 ounces, I was dubbed a "Baby Elephant" by one of the nurses. So, I started life as a big guy, and have always been a bit larger than average, in many ways.
During my early years, my mother and father lived with her parents, my Nana and Pappap, at 1210 North Chester Street. My grandmother was a great influence during that time; she allowed me much freedom to do what I wanted, which was usually to play with glossy pieces of coal, pipe fittings, and pieces of wood in the basement, or making paper furniture for the mice I believed to be living on the other side of a hole under the kitchen stove.
Once, I think my father and grandfather were working on the stove, and had the gas line temporarily disconnected. While crawling around, I discovered the open end of the pipe, and found that it was just the right diameter to insert a coin. When they reconnected the pipe, the pilot light worked fine, but when they turned on the burner, the flame at first lit up normally, but soon dwindled and went out. After many attempts, they disconnected the pipes, and found my coin.
My father was always involved in electronics, and I soon conducted my own experiment. I noticed that the slots in the wall socket were just the right size for the blades of a pair of scissors, and I was "shocked" to discover that inserting them resulted in a shower of sparks. I was startled, but unharmed. The only damage done was a blown fuse, and a somewhat "shorter" pair of scissors (pun intended).
I had very few friends my age in the neighborhood, probably because I didn't go out too much, by my own preference. Once, my grandmother decided that I should get more fresh air, so she dressed me warmly and asked me to go out into the bright sunshine on a crisp Autumn day. I reluctantly complied, but simply stood on the porch, and refused to venture any further. I had been happy to play quietly in the warm house, and saw no good reason to bother with the great outdoors. Eventually, I became friends with several children in a black family that lived a couple doors down the block. I don't think I really noticed that they were a different color until one day the boy I was playing with lifted his shirt, and I remarked, "How come you're belly's brown and mine's white?" At that time, in the 1950's, there didn't seem to be much problem with race relations, but later, in the 1960's, there was an increase in crime as poorer black families moved into rental properties and white families fled to the suburbs. This resulted in much anti-black rhetoric, but my family and I always remembered those good black folks, and we tried to resist the popular racist attitudes of many others who, perhaps, had never had positive experiences.
During those early years, I remember going to the local corner grocery, Kapinos's, to buy pretty much whatever was needed. For more major purchases, we often walked the several blocks to Monument Street, where the market offered open-air stalls of fresh vegetables, meats, cheeses, and candies. Our walk took us under the nearby railroad, which provided memorable sounds of trains passing at all hours. I had always loved trains, and even had a pin-stripe engineer's suit with the escape hatch in the rear. I wore it once on the train to Washington, DC, with my grandfather, who persuaded the engineer to allow me into the cab, and to blow the whistle.
My father's parents, Grossy and Grossfather, were very German, and my visits there provided me with a more disciplined influence. They were more strict, and did not allow me the freedom I was used to, but I always had a good time, especially because I enjoyed eating the rich foods I was constantly encouraged to eat there. My grandmother taught me some German, including a child's prayer, and the word "Gerauchertebueckling", which means "smoked fish". When we went to Lexington Market, I endeared myself to a German merchant when I asked for that delicacy in her native language. I picked up enough of an accent to be described by my Aunt Mil as a "little Dutchman". Once, I was at her house, and had tried to water the flowers with a hose. When it didn't work, I said, "Look, Mil, comes no vatter out de 'ose!"
Grossfather, typically German, enjoyed his beer and homemade wine. I enjoyed going into his basement wine cellar, breathing the rich aromas of fermenting grapes, and sometimes sampling some of the fresh squeezings, referred to as "children's wine", in my own wine glass. When my grandfather wanted beer, he would sometimes send my down to the local corner saloon with a metal pitcher, which would be filled with fresh draft beer and enjoyed by him in a traditional German stein.
My German grandfather was a very clever and talented man. At Christmas time, he would always put together a train garden, with houses he constructed from old cards and pieces of variously colored cellophane, with tiny lights inside. He also had a waterwheel, which he hooked up to a sink in the basement, and by means of an intricate set of belts and pulleys, it powered miniature amusement park rides such as a ferris wheel and carousel. He had a well-equipped basement workshop, where he built many things. I learned how to build things, too, with an old "Erector Set".
Most of the time, I was a rather quiet and introverted child. However, I can remember one time, after my parents had bought me a pair of rubber boots, I put them on and pretended that each time I put my feet down, the rubber soles would make my feet bounce back up. I bounded and stomped around the kitchen table, to the delight of all, doing what we called the "Rubber Shoe Dance". Other than that one instance, I don't remember displaying much "wild" behavior.
I was always a "night person". I can remember lying awake in my crib at night, listening to my parents watching "Groucho Marx" or "Amos and Andy" on the old round screen Hallicrafters TV. I often made noise and cried for a drink of water, until I was allowed to come down and watch. When I briefly attended nursery school, I was surprised when everyone was supposed to have a nap during the day. I complained and made a fuss, until I was allowed to play quietly with modeling clay while my classmates slept.
Like most kids, I was always fascinated by bugs. My favorite was probably the little ants I found around the marble steps in the front of the house. They were the tiny ones, that never seemed to bite, and I would make little houses for them, and watch them crawl around on various objects. I also loved fireflies, or "lightning bugs", as we called them. They were not too prevalent in the city, but I was delighted when Pappap took me on the streetcar to Halethorpe, which at that time was essentially in the country. He was probably visiting one of his favorite bars there, but there was a field next to it, with train tracks and tall grass and more lightning bugs than I had ever seen. I think I captured a whole jarful, but he wouldn't let me take them back home. He said that they might get loose on the streetcar and "frighten the ladies".
Pappap was an alcoholic, and hard of hearing due to his job as a boilermaker at Sparrows Point Steel Yard, but he was never abusive. His favorite haunt was Joe's bar, on nearby Mura Street. Sometimes, I went there with him or my grandmother. At one time, I took accordion lessons, and he took me there to play for his cronies. They seemed to like it, and said I should go on the Ed Sullivan show, which often seemed to feature accordion players. I was also amused by the strange, often toothless, old characters that seemed to hang out at the bar, and I enjoyed the claw machine, which often yielded some nice prizes. When he was home, he enjoyed eating sharp "rat-trap" cheese, which actually burned my mouth, and drinking miniatures of liquor. He would give me the empty bottles to throw away, but before I did, I would "sniff" them to get a strong whiff of the vapors.
Once, he had taken a can of frozen orange juice out of the freezer, thinking it was orange sherbet, and remarked "This stuff is really strong!" Another time, my father had told him that you could clean paint brushes in laundry detergent, which he described by its brand name, "Surf". He didn't hear too well, and later complained that the brushes wouldn't come clean when he soaked them in "syrup"!
The family often enjoyed going to the shore home of my mother's
uncle Nick and aunt Mabel Ayd, on Middle River. They had a very
unique house. After they had purchased the property, their neighbor
complained that their house encroached on his property line. As
a typical shore home, it was built above ground on pilings, and
probably could have been easily moved, but he decided to cut the
house at an angle along the property line, resulting in odd shaped
rooms, one of which was triangular. The place was very rustic,
including an outhouse and an outdoor shower. There was a small
sandy beach, and an old rowboat which uncle Nick used to service
his live boxes where he harvested soft crabs. We would go out
in the water with a seine, and bring back all manner of creatures,
including an occasional eel that my aunt Mabel fried and savored,
much to my disgust.