April 11, 2008

The Stories That Live On

Returned from my morning walk with Coleen, just finished my breakfast of cold salmon and Irish potato batter, still enjoying my nice hot cup of Martinson's coffee (it does help cut the sweetness of the batter) and I have one hour before I have to go pick up little Sean E. Pie, so I thought I'd share a bit of my heritage. There's Irish potato batter in the fridge because Seth had to do a project for history about his history. (I do have a feeling the Irish don't eat "Irish potatoes" very often but whatever...there's no way he was baking bread or boiling cabbage.) He has been busily gathering stories and pictures.

This is a pipe that has grown onto an oyster shell. Or maybe it's the other way around. It's over 100 years old. My great grandfather, Belford, (they called him Hoopie) found it in the Delaware Bay. (We can't figure out if the mouthpiece end is newer, maybe replaced by Pop Pop at some point??? The markings that tell the type of pipe would be right where the shell is.) Belford's father died when he was 6 (1890) from typhoid fever. He quit school in 4th grade to support his mom and his two twin sisters. As a teen, he went to work on an oyster boat in the Delaware Bay, just a few miles from his home. One day the men dredged up this pipe and Belford asked if he could have it. He smoked from it for sometime after. Belford became the cook on the boat for a while, but when his wife became pregnant with their first son, she demanded that he get off the bay. Too many deaths. He became a farmer. I have relatives on my grandmother's side who were oystermen too, she lost two brothers to the bay.
He liked to tell the story of one of his favorite pranks when he was a cook. He fixed the oystermen rice pudding for their dessert and, before he sat down at the table, filled his handkerchief with the stuff. At dinner he pretended to sneeze and blow his nose into the handkerchief, then proceeded to eat the contents. Oh how he loved that story, it must have been a great time of his life. He certainly was a man who enjoyed life - for 101 years. He pulled a similar gag later when he was first married. His wife's family were visiting for the day from out of town. They all went swimming at the lake for the day and he fixed dinner. He first went out and bought a new chamber pot, then baked bread pudding inside, slopping the sauce over the sides of the pot before baking to give it that used look. Then he set it on the table when they came in from swimming. You have no idea how non-silly my great grandmother was. I can't believe she stayed with Hoopie for 50+ years.

Story goes, she left him once. They had a hired man who lived on the property and liked to drink beer. Once Pop Pop got drunk with him one night and Nana - the Christian prohibitionist type - left him and went home for two weeks. Pop Pop followed her and slept in their barn for two weeks til she relented.

But that wasn't the end of ole hired hand Ken Heinz or his beer. Pop Pop convinced Nana that they needed to keep a couple of beers in the ice box for Ken over the long hot summer, so he could have one handy if he ever needed one. Nana relented again. It was hard to resist Pop Pop's charms, everyone loved Hoopie. However, the bottles weren't exactly the same bottles every day, if you catch my drift. No, Pop Pop had a case of beer hidden in one of the barns and he put two new beers in the fridge every day. Story goes, at the end of the summer Artie (Nana) said, "Belford! It's time to git those beers out of the fridge!"

Speaking of prohibition, there's a story for that too. He used to cut hay from the marshes and sell it in the city. Evidently, horses love "salt hay." One day a couple of men approached him and offered to load the hay onto his wagon for him...and unload it when he got to town...and pay him for it. He contends that he had no idea what they were doing, but those nice guys helped him out frequently!

He may have been one of the earliest drag queens. When he was a young man, his sisters dressed him up as a woman one night, heels and all, and he went to town where all his buddies hung out on Friday night. They were heard to say as he walked by them, "Belford! That must have been some party!"

One day he took his youngest child, my Aunt Doris, down the shore and while they were there, decided to take her up in one of those planes that fly around the beach with long advertisements flying behind. Her mother had no idea her daughter would be up in one of those flying machines - heck they hardly ever saw a car where they lived out in the country. I love the thought of the two of them flying about in a plane.

Here's Belford at 97. He enjoyed this blow up snake and sent me the picture of himself while I was at college. On the back he wrote, "This is my pet. Dec 25, 1981 Big Pop Pop, as ever"
Reminds me of a story... Nana making beds upstairs...Pop Pop finding a black snake...snake flinging through window onto the bed...Big Pop Pop, as ever


rosemary said...

What great stories. Hopefully your boys will love them and want to know everything about their ancestors...and the interview with Pop Pop will be a treasure for yeas to come. Last Christmas I got ALL of our kids The Legacy Keeper. Do you think one of them has used the recorder or booklet to ask questions of us or their other relatives? No. Sad. I remember my mother saying...."One day I'll be gone and you will be sorry you never asked me about me....of course she was laying in a hopspital bed dying whe she said this but I did ask. Finally.

Paul said...

I'm telling you again...you've got a knack.

Enjoyed this post.