Sunday, January 22, 2012

Remembering My Grandfather On What Would Have Been His 112th Birthday!

Pappy with my daughter Jamiann 1982

Today would have been my maternal grandfather's  112th Birthday.  Happy Birthday Pappy!  His name is Howard Norman Eck, he was  next to the youngest of twenty-one children born to Margaret Hinkel Eck, and  Frances Eck in Weatherly, Pennslyvania. 

The family had lived in Mauch Chunk, now known as  Jim Thorpe, PA, and at some point in time they moved to Phlllipsburg, NJ.  When  my grandfather was in elementary school, they lived on what was known as Dish  Water Row, which sat above South Main Street on the left side traveling toward  Alpha on that long stretch just before the Norton's Liqour Store by Green's  Bridge.

Dishwater Row got its name from the women who  lived up there throwing their dishwater over the front porch, and it would hit  the passing trolley cars.  I actually remember when the trolley tracks were in  the middle of S. Main and ran all the way up Rt. 519 into Alpha.  They ran along  519/Third Avenue,  making a right turn onto High Street, over the tracks they  continued toward the left down Railroad Avenue in front of Kutzman's Gas Station  and ran all the way down toward what was Lyons Electric, just below the current firehouse.

When Pappy lived on Dishwater Row he and his  siblings climbed aboard slow moving railroad coal cars, and kicked off coal,  carrying it home in old pillow cases to be used to heat their home.  I find it  hard to believe that they told the truth to their mother as to where they got  it.  She was a strict Christian woman and would never have approved of such measures.  Once he took his little sister, my Great Aunt Ree  on board with him, she became too scared to jump off and they ended up in  Stewartsville before they could get off of the train.

At one point in time, they moved to what was at  that time the oldest home in Phillipsburg, and it sat where the Armory sits  today on Heckman Street.  It was a field stone home similar to the Roseberry  House which still stands next to the Phllipsburg Middle School.

While living there when he was about 17 years old  he was crossing the Ingersoll Rand property, and was hit by a jitney engine. He  was taken to a hospital in Philadelphia where he had brain surgery to save his  life.  They removed part of his skull in his forehead, which left a life long  dent there.

At the age of twenty he married Mary Beatrice Kohl,  and a year later my mother Ruth Marie was born in Betts Hospital in Easton, PA.   When my mother was eighteen months old, her mother left her with her  mother-in-law, my great grandmother Margaret while she went home to visit her  parents in Easton, PA.   While she was visiting them she had a seizure.  Little  was known about seizures back then, and her family committed her to a nursing home.

When she did not return to their home in Phillipsburg, NJ that evening, he went looking for her at her parent's home Her brother was the Chief of the Easton Police Department at the time, and was there to greet him. My  grandfather became upset because they would not allow him to see his wife and  take her home. He had my grandfather arrested, and would not allow anyone  to visit my grandmother.

Approximately twenty years later my mother went to  visit her mother in the very depressing nursing home.    The attendants said that no one ever came to visit her from her own family.  My  mother and father had my brother Buddy with them and he was just a baby.  Her  mother made a fuss over him, saying "I have a baby just like you at home."   Those words broke my mother's heart. Our grandmother died at the age of 57 of a brain tumor.  When my mother walked up to the casket all the  lights in the funeral parlor went out.  Everyone said it was an omen.   I told  my mother that I think it was her mother's way of telling her that she knew that  she was her little baby girl.

I really don't know much more about my grandfather's life until  1955 when his home on Delaware Drive in Easton was flooded during Hurricane  Diane.  Pappy moved into our very small four room home on Shimer Street in  Phillipsburg.  His arrival into our home was proof positive of my mother's  ability to love unconditionally and give with all her heart.  It also showed that  she ruled the roost, and the our father went along with her wishes.  My parents  already had three children on August, 17, with the new arrival of their fourth  on the day of the flood August 18, 1955.

Mom, Dad, a fourteen year old son, seven year old  daughter, four year old daughter, and a brand new baby in a two bedroom, four  room one half of a double home with an outhouse, and now our grandfather.  He  slept on the couch for the next three years until we moved to Alpha, NJ where he  finally had his own bedroom.

No matter where we lived all the kids loved Pappy,  and they all called him Pappy. Sometimes he babysat for us while Mom worked at  our snack bar.  I can remember him making us French Toast that he called Egg  Bread.  He showed us how to melt a puddle of butter in the middle and sprinkle  on sugar.  I still eat it that way, and love it that way.  He would have made  Paula Deen proud.

Once he bought me a second hand bike, painted it  silver, and placed a saddle bag behind the seat and a basket on the bars.  I have a fond memory of Pappy  and I hopping the bus  to downtown Phillipsburg from Alpha when I was  twelve.  He took me shopping at  Stone's Dept. Store and bought me a red  bathing suit, white lace cover up, straw  hat, and flip flops.  We then  went to the Wardell for their famous steak, and then caught the Trans Bridge Bus home to Alpha.

He sang us songs  that were not quite appropriate for adults to sing to children, but not all  together that bad either.   We definitely memorized them and sang them to our  friends.

Way down south where the grass grows green,
The bull frog  jumped in the sewing machine,
The sewing machine went around so fast...
it  sewed ten stitches in the bullfrogs a*s!

Oh, how we would giggle and  laugh, and the more you laughed around Pappy the more he sang...

There  was a dog, his name was Jack
He pooped(sh*t)all over the rail road  track.
The train came by the poop(sh*t) flew high,
and hit the conductor  right in the eye!


Gene, Gene he made a machine,
Joe, Joe  made it go...
Frank, Frank, turned the crank...
His father came out and  gave him a spank
and knocked him over the cinder bank.
Gene, Gene he  made a machine,
Joe, Joe made it go...
Art, Art left a fart,
and blew  the machine all apart!

He also told the best stories.  If you have  ever seen the movie "Big Fish" well that movie reminds me of Pappy.  On one  particular day when Pappy was in his late seventies or early eighties while  sitting around my mother's kitchen table, my brother Buddy encouraged Pappy to  tell us the story of the Sunshine Man.

In a very enthusiastic manner he began to  tell us that he saved this man he called the Sunshine Man from drowning in  Indian Head Lake.  He said he was the biggest man he had ever seen, he was 21  feet, 18 inches tall.   As he described him, Buddy was doing the "David  Letterman" interview thing, encouraging him to elaborate, all the while we are  all laughing until our stomachs hurt, and Pappy loved it, the more we laughed  that more eager the expression on his face became.  He cajoled, "He was so big  they picked him up and put him on a fire truck and his feet hung off the end."   "Then they took him to an airplane hanger, because it was the only thing with a  tall enough ceiling."

Another of his stories always reminded Buddy of the  TV show Soap where the grandfather thought he was Teddy Roosevelt.  He always  told a story of how he signed the Peace Treaty with Woodrow Wilson and Kaiser Wilhelm at the end of WWI.  He actually told a woman from a government office  that he was a veteran, and when I said he wasn't she acted as though I was  lying.  So, I simply said to him, "Tell the lady about what you did with  Woodrow Wilson." 

I am not sure if he had delusions or he  incorporated things he saw on TV into his own memory brought on by the brain  injury of his youth.   Whatever the case may be, he became a much more  interesting character.

When he came to live at  our house after the flood, he realized he was missing one shoe of a perfectly  good pair.  He went downtown in Phillipsburg to Harold's Shoe store and tried to  convince the clerk to sell him one shoe to match that one he had.

He loved trains, and would often talk about the  Baltimore Ohio Railroad, and thought that Baltimore was in Ohio.  When my girls  were little I would take him for rides. Sometimes we just rode around Pohatcong  Township, Milford, and Ingersoll Dam(Now Merrill Creek Reservoir) where he would tell us that he was a night  watchman at the dam when he was young.  But he loved it when I would take him to  Stokes State Forest, High Point, and the Poconos.  When we arrived home he would  tell everyone that I had him either to Port Jervis or Warwick, New York.

He loved to play the harmonica.  His favorite songs  were Turkey In The Straw, and The Dark Town Strutters Ball.  On Christmas day  1973 I gave Pappy a musical toy monkey that was battery operated, and played the  drums and hit the cymbals while it screeched.   Little did I know that day that  I started a new obsession for my grandfather. Every time anyone came to visit my  parent's home Pappy would go back to his bedroom and return with that monkey to  show it off for entertainment value.  That monkey started a string of musical or  wind up toy purchases for Pappy's birthday and Christmas presents.

Ever since he moved in with us he would go along  with Mom on her weekly grocery shopping trips. When we were little he always  bought us something that we liked, usually licorice or cookies.  After my  children were born, he was known for having large Hershey bars, and Saltine  Crackers in brown paper grocery bags sitting on his bedroom floor. Every time  any toddler entered Mom's home, they ran straight for his bedroom and asked for  chocolate.

Everyone of my siblings, and all of my parent's  grandchildren were always known as "Pappy's Little Honey Babe".  He would  repeat that often, along with a little "Deeddle deet, deet,  deedle,  deedle..deet" or a "Joe Bags whatever that meant.  He was always very entertaining in a silly, strange way.

In the fall of 1978, I took Pappy to Wilkes Barre,  Pennsylvania as my guinea pig when taking my test to receive a Barber  Hairstylist license.  We had to climb a huge staircase and poor Pappy was  seventy-eight years old.  Then the shampoo sink was broken so I had to wash his  hair leaning forward into the sink, and he started swearing when his face got  wet.  I had to give him a shave and clipper hair cut.  I nicked his ear, but  used proper procedure to stop the bleeding, and I passed the test.

On the way home he talked me into stopping at the  Buckhorn Casino on Rt. 519 between Belvidere and Harmony, NJ for a drink.  I  bought him a shot and a beer, and we made a pact to not tell Mom, as she had  stopped him from drinking after he had bowel surgery.

Mom started buying non-alcohol wine at Laneco, and  scratched the non-alcohol words off of the bottle so he wouldn't know that it  wasn't real wine.  Once he asked her why all the bottles had scratches on them.   She told him it was the way they unpack them at the store.

He lived with my parents for the rest of his life.   When my dad passed away before him he said," I wished God took me  instead of Bud." and he cried.  Pappy passed away  in March of 1989 at the age of eighty nine.
He was ambulatory right up until  the end and had gone shopping with Mom the weekend before he passed away.

 I am so glad that he was our grandfather, and that  we grew up in an extended family.  I am so grateful that Howard Norman Eck came  into this world on January 22, 1900. We will hold him in our hearts until that  day when we can hold him in our arms once again.

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