1.0 PREAMBLE

 

On Tuesday, Dec 9, 1997, while at perpetual adoration at St Elizabeth Ann Seaton chapel I started thinking about all the important people in my life who have departed, and how nice it would be if I could see them again and ask all the questions I didn’t ask when I had them here.

 

One of the sad things about being a member of  the oldest generation is that there is no one to “look up to” or to ask about past events. I keep asking myself “Why didn’t you ask dad/ aunt Mary/grandma about that when you had a chance?”

 

Therefore I decided to offer my “ progeny” some answers as to who and what made them what they are, and recommend that they ask questions before it’s too late. I write this in the first person because it reflects who and what made me what I am. I refer to my beloved wife, Joan, only to the extent that it affects me. (I hope this encourages her to write her own memoirs, which are at least as colorful as mine.)

 

 

…………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

Morning Offering

 

 

Dear God

 

So far I’ve done all right

 

I haven’t gossiped, I haven’t lost my temper

 

I haven’t been greedy, nasty, selfish or overindulgent

 

I’m very thankful for that

 

But in a few minutes, God, I’m going to get out of bed.

And from then on, God, I’m going to need a lot more help.

 

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2.0 WHO MADE ME WHAT I AM                                                                                           

 

2.1 ANCESTORS

 

 We inherit our genes from people we never knew. Why does my grandson Ethan look like my dad, his great grandfather as pre-teens?  How come our granddaughter, Kristen has features and facial expressions like her grandma Joan’s cousin Jean? Why does our granddaughter Jennifer look like her grandma Joan did at the same age, and share her neat and tidy ways?

 

My mother’s parents, Abbie Kelleher and John Walsh, came over from County Cork, Ireland.  They met over here, and Married in St Louis in 1895. John’s brother, Edward married Abbie’s sister Ellen. Ellen’s daughter Mary, (called Mamie) was a “double cousin” to my mother.

 

John and Abbie had four children; Ellen Rosalie, born 1896, Mary Elizabeth, born Jan 7 1900, John J, born and died, 1901, and Abbie Elizabeth, born Jan 7, 1903. (I didn’t know I had an uncle John until late in the 1990’s as I never heard my mom, aunts or grandparents mention him)

 

From my infancy till we moved out into the suburbs, at about age 11, I always lived in the “flat” upstairs from grandma and grandpa Walsh, with my two aunts and three cousins one or two houses away. My grandparents babysat, visited, told stories, sang songs, and helped form my ideas, values and morals.

 

Grandma Walsh was a small woman with a quick wit and a quicker tongue. She sang a lot and had a saying for every occasion. When we fret too much, she reminds us “You’ll be a long time dead”. When I can’t find something and she walks in and picks it right up, I get “If it was a snake it would have bit you”. When I forgot something and had to go back for it , it was “Use your head, save your feet”. When something is disorganized and messy, it looks like a “connaminar’s nest. I never really knew what that was, but I knew it must be something gruesome.

 

`Grandma was a little vain. She said she didn’t know how old she was, as the records In Ireland were destroyed by fire. The family took her to a live broadcast of a radio show,( I think it was Tom Brenneman’s breakfast club ), a coast to coast network show. One of the features was to give an orchid to the oldest lady in the audience. When the family urged her to participate, she advised them that she will buy her own orchids, thank you. When we took her to see the horse races at Fairmount Park in Illinois, we thought she would be impressed. Her comment was, “them nags. I ‘ve seen better at Fairgrounds park in town in the old days.

 

 

 

Grandpa Walsh  was a tall, rather distinguished  stern looking man. He was born in 1871 in County Cork, Ireland. He was what we call “black Irish, with black eyes black hair and full mustache.  He played football, (soccer), in his younger days. Of course, I only knew him as 

An “ old” gray haired man, crippled with arthritis and injuries sustained as a worker in a glass factory, walking with a cane and his sight slowly failing from cataracts. He smoked a corncob pipe. In fact, when my dad took him to the doctor with some ailment, as he stood there, stooped with arthritis, nearly blind with cataracts, the doctor told him the best thing for him to do was to quit smoking. Grandpa asked him, “What’s the next best thing for me to do?”                                                                                                                                           

 

Grandpa and I were kind of buddies. He would take me on walks around the neighborhood.

We would sit around his kitchen table eating bread and “tay”’ (tea).We would sit and listen to the Cardinals games on the radio. If the Cards weren’t doing well, he would turn off the game in disgust. I was named after him. Everyone else in the family called me Jack. Grandpa never called me anything but John.

 

My paternal grandfather, Frank Otto, was born in Germany in June, 1846. His wife, Alvina,  (don’t know her maiden name), was born in December, 1861. Frank was 51 when my dad was born, in May, 1898, so it is not surprising that he died when my dad was a “young” boy. I suspect dad was between 9 and 12 when Frank died. Dad described him as a draft dodger, an atheist and a socialist. I believe he fled to this country about the time of the Franco-Prussian war. (1870-1871), at which time Prussia, (Germany), had universal conscription. My dad was not allowed to be baptized until he made his first communion, probably around age 12, at which time I presume atheist Frank was dead. His Occupation, as described in the 1900 census, was that of a “ packer of chinaware”.

 

Grandma Alvina had to have been married at least 3 times. She had a daughter named Gertrude, born in1887, who was dad’s half sister, so Frank had to be her second husband. Growing up, I knew her as grandma Grimmenstein, and I can remember grandpa Grimmenstein who died when I was young. Dad’s half sister’s married name was Puddy, as shown on her gravestone She had a daughter, also named Gertrude, whom I last met during World War II. She was about ten years older than I and was married to a man whose name,(I think), was Cleon Freeman or Friedman. He was a Colonel in the Air Force at that time. I mention these names in case anyone in the future is able to identify them and shed more light on my paternal relatives. Along this line of thought, we have a photo of a baby, about two years old, identified as Lucy Otto, and we have no clue as to who she was.

 

  I know grandma Grimmenstein mainly from dad’s descriptions and stories. After grandpa

Grimmenstein died she lived alone in a flat in south St Louis. I remember it had sliding doors between the living room and dining room. (So they wouldn’t have to heat the whole house in winter. The “heating system” in those days was often a pot bellied stove heated with coal or kerosene.) In later years she lived in a “retirement home” mostly paid for by dad, as there was no Social Security. She was short and stout, spoke with a slight German accent, and seemed very stern. I don’t ever remember seeing her laugh.

 

 

2.1.1 PARENTS, AUNTS & UNCLES .                                                                                

 

My mother had two sisters, Mary and Ellen, (called Ella), and a brother, John J Walsh junior who died as an infant. Mary never married. Ella and husband Ed had three girls. The twins, Mary Ellen and Rosemary were born April 6, 1921, and Abbie was born Oct. 12. 1922.

 

Aunt Ella, (Ellen), was a character. I always called her O’Dell. She always lived one or two houses away from us and not everyone had a phone, so mom would stand on the back porch and shout “Oh Ell”, and she would come to her back porch and converse. I thought she was saying O’Dell, so that’s what I called her to her dying day. Ella was a professional worrier., the superstitious one, who always told her daughters how to raise children. They only had 18 of their own. I could drive her crazy by opening an umbrella in the house (it’s bad luck.), or stepping over my little brother as he sits on the floor. (It’ll stunt his growth).

 

William Edward Tudor, “Uncle Ed” was a country boy from Kentucky. He had several brothers. One was a policeman in St. Louis, another was a “big shot” in Washington, DC. Ed was “just a machinist”, a steady worker. He was out of work a couple times during the depression, and he never owned a car. He didn’t seem to resent taking a back seat to my dad who, though having to take cuts in salary, was never out of work.

 

Let us not forget aunt Mary. She was a loving, generous interfering busybody, every inch an “old maid’. When I was small, she was dating a doctor. What happened to him, I don’t know. I was told she was in love at about age 18, but grandpa Walsh interfered and it ended. She was the only person I ever knew who admitted she had no sense of humor. She was a surrogate mother to Mary Ellen, having shared quarters with her at times. She could hold a grudge. Her motto was “I can forgive but I can’t forget”. At the same time she was very loving and generous, especially to me. (I was one of her “favorites”). She told my dad , after Bill was born, that they shouldn’t have any more children. Dad didn’t appreciate Mary at times. She was also a wedge between Mary Ellen and her husband Dick Foster. This caused a lot of friction between Mary and Dick. Yet when his son, “Dickie”, Moved to Quincy Ill, after Mary Ellen died, aunt Mary moved into a seniors’ home in Quincy and Dick senior had a “jealous” fit. She was the last of the Walshes.

 

 

My mother Abbie Elizabeth Otto (Walsh) was a wonderful person. She never had a bad word for anyone. She would keep quiet rather than say something derogatory. It is said that she wouldn’t say sh-- if she had a mouthful of it. She claimed to be five foot two, but I’m pretty sure she lied about her height. There was a time when she and Carmen Miranda, (look her up), were the only ones left who wore “platform’ shoes. Like someone I later married, she would stay up till 2 am or later, and then sleep late. Often, when I came home from a night of wild partying, I would find her in the kitchen kneeling on the chair, elbows on the kitchen table, having fallen asleep saying her prayers. Also, like Joan, she was a good judge of character. She would size a person up, cut through the facade, glitter and bull and decide at once whether the person was real or phony. My dad would take a lot longer, but almost always come to the same conclusion. She loved young folks and they loved her.

 

She only got to see one grandchild before she died at age 53, and Steve was only 6 months old when she died.( She would call up almost daily to see “how’s my Steven?” She died too soon because of loyalty to our family doctor. Dr. Byrnes. After old doc Byrnes died we didn’t have a “ family” doctor, and mom put off going to a new doctor until it was too late. She died of hepatitis, failure of the liver. The family doctor was more important in those days. Dr Byrnes delivered me, (at home), and  my brother Bill, (at Christian Hospital), came to the house several times when dad had “strep” throat, came to them house to announce that I had diphtheria. (I was playing in the back yard at the time.) The family doctor was like part of the extended family.

 

She didn’t get to travel much, because of dad’s devotion to work. He was a “traveling salesman” for several years and didn’t really like to take a lot of time off.  If I wanted something from dad, I would often ask mom to intercede. When brother Bill wanted something, he usually went to dad first.

 

My father, Raymond Eugene Otto was a man of many parts. Raised largely with no father and a harsh, unemotional mother, he grew into a self made successful business man, stern and serious concerning business, but a push-over at home, easy going, friendly and generous to a fault. He had it so tough as a child, he made life too easy for his children.

 

As I recall, dad went through the eighth grade and finished one year of high school. He was about to flunk math, but they offered to let him pass if he promised not to come back the following year. (The truth is, my dad could out-calculate and out-estimate me when he was 70 and I was 43.) So, dad was 13 and looking for a job. After a couple days of this his mother told him; You’ll go out again tomorrow and come back with a job, or don’t come back at all”. So that was the kind of childhood he had. His father died when he was a young boy, and his mother didn’t lavish much love or tenderness on him. He didn’t really have an opportunity to play ball, go fishing or generally have fun.

 

So dad came home the next day with a job that lasted for several months. His next job lasted somewhat longer, 49 years to be exact. He hired in as a “mail boy” delivering inter office correspondence, etc. He went on to become a salesman, sales manager and vice president of marketing at Emerson Electric in Saint Louis, Mo. Then a manufacturer of electric motors

and fans, now a world wide conglomerate. He no more looked or acted like a salesman than a cowboy. He was quiet, honest and impatient with “phonies”. He didn’t mince words with business associates, but sometimes could not express his feelings with his own family.

 

I think he was disappointed that his sons were not as independent as he had to be. One reason for this was that he didn’t want us to face the hardships he encountered so he went out of his way to make things easy for us.                                                                                                

 

 

2.2 CONTEMPORARIES

 

2.2.1 Cousins.

 

The first “other kids” I knew were my three cousins, Mary Ellen, Rosemary and Abbie. They were the daughters of aunt Ella and uncle Ed. I started out in life surrounded by “women”. My three cousins, grandma Walsh, aunts Ella and Mary. As previously mentioned, uncle Ed was a quiet, retiring man whom I hardly knew when I was small. Grandpa Walsh was my ‘buddy’ in my early years, but he seldom left the house, except to join me in a walk around the block.

 

Mary Ellen and Rosemary were “identical” twins who were far from identical in looks and personality. Rosemary was more feminine, prettier and more laid back. Mary Ellen was more serious, more of a “tom-boy”, outspoken, “touchy” and loyal. She was my buddy. We did things together, played sports, went on “camping” trips, packing a lunch and hiking down to the fruit cellar in the basement. (our “cabin”)

 

Abbie, though only a year younger, seemed much separated from her sisters. I don’t much remember the three of them doing anything together. They did have one thing in common. They spoiled me rotten, as did my aunts, grandparents and parents.

 

The three girls were Tudors before Marriage. Mary Ellen met Dick Foster during  “the war” when he was training at Scott Field in Illinois. I was best man at their wedding, at age 16. Dick went on to become a B-24 bomber pilot in England. Dick came from Lansing Michigan, and after the war they settled in St. Louis. They were “happily married” but there was a subtle jealousy between him and the Walsh clan, especially aunt Mary. They had three children, twins Dick and Donna, and David, who was a couple months younger than our Steven. Dick, senior shared my birthday, April 17. Although he was sometimes “at odds” with the other cousins, he always liked and respected us, especially my mom. Dick was different than the other husbands. He was not from the St. Louis area and he had been an officer during the war, (an ego building experience), which contributed to his position as the “odd man” among the three husbands.

 

Rosemary, as I had said, was not very interactive with me in my early years. She was pretty and popular in high school, married a true “character” and had eight children                                                                                                                                        with him, and always had time to be romantic through it all. It was not uncommon to see them dancing in the living room with bedlam all around. Her husband, Al Whitelaw, probably never weighed more than 140 pounds in his life. He looked the same the last time I saw him as he did when I first met him, about 30 years before. He was a tough, wiry little guy whe was good at anything he did, but he had no ambition. He would work his tail off for my parents, or for Joan and I, but he didn’t want want any part of any job with responsibility. He had a dry wit that wouldn’t quit. Never cracked a smile. One of his favorite sayings was, “if there’s anything I hate, it’s kids. They had eight and, when one of them died, They grieved like it was their only child. Their five girls were named; Mary Francis, Mary Patricia, Mary Jane, Mary Ellen and Mary Ann. 

 

I don’t remember any of Abbie’s boy friends except the one he married, Charlie, “mutts” Kranz. Mutts was a policeman and a character in his own right. He was a cop, later a detective. They had five children including Abbie, a late surprise who was an aunt the day she was born. (she is the fourth generation Abbie, including her mother, my mother and her mother. Charlie and Al were very good to my parents, and especially to Joan and I as newlyweds. They teased us mercilessly, but came over to “help” me paint our first house. My main job was to keep the beer coming.

 

Jim Wissler, (Wiss), was not my first cousin. (I only recognize the titles; “ first cousin” and.” not first cousin”.) At whatever level, we were double cousins. If some of my cousins were characters, this one was THE character. He belonged to everything, knew everyone, respected everyone and was in awe of no one, and was never at a loss for words. He had a younger brother, Dan, just a couple years younger, but I was never really close to him. Jim was about two months older than I. They were the “poor” relatives. Jim’s dad died when he was a young boy. His mom Mamie struggled to keep them fed and housed. Mamie had a hard life, bur she had a great attitude and a great sense of humor. I loved her.

 

Jim spent three years in the navy during the war, and was almost drowned in a typhoon in the Pacific. (He didn’t know how to swim and refused to try it afterwards.) He was married to June while in the navy. I was in the wedding party and we had a few drinks the day we got measured for our “wedding garments”. It’s a wonder June didn’t call the whole thing off. He joined the navy reserves and was just staring his family when he was recalled for the Korean” Non-war”. After his second hitch he went to work with civil service. While building his brood of six children he went to night school and earned his degrees, eventually becoming a CPA. During this time his was the only family we knew who didn’t own a car. I won’t say he was successful, but by age 55, he found he could take home more money as a retiree than he could as an employee.

 

Jim lived life to the fullest. He might break a leg playing softball in his 40’s or lose 24 feet of his lower intestines to cancer, but he never slowed down. With his sense of humor, he could tell a bad joke and make it sound hilarious. His funeral parade would make a mafia don jealous.

 

                                                                                                                           

  

2.2.2 FRIENDS

 

Jack Sly was, and still is, my closest friend. I met him when we moved to Bel Nor. He lived on the street behind ours. It is surprising that we have been so close for so long, since we are so different. Jack is outspoken, opinionated and quite the entrepreneur. He has never had a full time job, working for someone else. He savors his reputation as a tightwad, but is very generous to people and causes he believes in. He is convinced that everybody likes him. He can be intimidating, but I never felt intimidated by him. He has many attributes in common with my bride, doesn’t he?

 

My mother had two versions of Jack: “Jack Sly dries the dishes for his mother every dad” and; “If Jack Sly jumped in the lake, would you follow him?” The answer is “only if I couldn’t jump in first”. We jumped in many a lake and river over the years. Jack could tell stories with the best, (“the best” was his dad, who could tell stories that only he could believe.) Jack didn’t just tell a story, he re-lived it with gestures and demonstrations. His motto was “it could happen to anybody”, but mostly it could only happen to him. Like the time he was driving his truck down the street and he saw a wheel rolling past him. While he was feeling sorry for the poor slob who lost a wheel, his truck lurched to a stop and he found out who the poor slob was.

 

Jack’s father, Leo Sly, started a fruit processing business during the depression. He was wiped out when the banks closed, leaving him with little but the eggs he was unable to sell. That’s all they had for food for a while. Like many who were wiped out during the depression, Leo was a staunch Republican. My dad, who, though he took cuts in salary, never lost his job, was a loyal Democrat.

 

After “the war”, Jack took over the family business, “Fruit Products”, and helped make it profitable. Eventually they sold the business and Jack and his family traveled the United States for a full year looking for the “ideal” place to raise their children. They wound up in Versailles, Mo, a town of about 2000, where they owned a  local motel. When the children, Patrick and Laurie, completed college, they sold the motel and retired in Versailles. Recently, they have become rather reclusive, ignoring the rest of the world, and living by and for themselves.

 

Jack’s wife Betty is quiet, like myself, but intelligent and capable and can be, at times, stubborn. Jack’s mother, Blanche, did not approve of her, mostly because she wasn’t Catholic. When she was dying, slowly, of cancer, Betty was very kind and supportive of her. Betty had a stressful childhood and is kind of fragile personality.

 

My baby brother, William Eugene, (AKA Billy Gene), was born on July 12, 1931. I was disappointed when he was born. I was five years old, surrounded by girl cousins, looking forward to a brother to play with. He was so small and useless. I was so naïve I didn’t notice mom’s condition and, as I recall, no one told me to expect a new baby, till the morning I woke up and mom wasn’t home. As I recall, they let me name him Bill. Uncle Ed, whose first name was William, thought Bill was named after him, and nobody corrected him.

 

As a baby and toddler he had long blond curls. I was embarrassed, thought he looked like my sister. He was a finagler, whether it was “pony ride dad?” at some place where there was one set up, or “I’ve got a pain in my side” when we were walking a mile to St. Ann’s school, and” Big brother” had to carry him part way. In return, I brought home from school all the childhood diseases,( measles, scarlet fever, etc.) only I always came down with a slight case, and Bill got a severe case of the same thing. When Bill wanted something he worked on dad, while I usually went to mom. Bill was always a skinny kid who wouldn’t eat. That is, until meat rationing was imposed during “the war”. Then he suddenly developed an appetite that never quit 

 

Bill followed me through high school at CBC, then went to St. Louis college of Pharmacy, then did a hitch as an army corpsman. Shortly before his time was up, mom went to the hospital for a checkup. We didn’t think it was serious, but we had him request an early discharge. It just so happened that the day he came home, mom died. I had to pick him up at the airport and tell him his mother was dead. At that time, it was the hardest thing I ever had to do. Years later I had to tell Joan that Paul was dead. Then that became the hardest thing I ever had to do.

 

As we got older, the age difference dwindled. His friends became my friends. In fact, I dated his friend Larry’s sister a few times. Once, when I was supposed to take Joan on a hayride, I got called out of town on my job, Bill took her. She never heard such complaining about what a bummer it was, to this very day. Bill was a good dancer, I was not. Joan loved to “fast dance”, I didn’t. Joan liked to dance with him, but all Bill did was act goofy and stumble around with a pained expression. Bill would go to extremes for a joke. We used to go to Illinois for football games .The team is called the Illini, after an Indian tribe. During half time, as the band played, “Chief Illiniwak”, in buckskins and head dress would do a war dance of sorts. We would have a “pep rally” the night before, talking, drinking, playing college fight songs. So Bill goes to the bathroom, unnoticed. A few minutes later, Bill comes out, shirt off, pants rolled up, barefoot, with a towel for a loincloth and a toilet seat cover for a headdress, doing a war dance. He went to all that trouble for a two minute “show”. He is also a great story teller. Like my friend, Jack things happen to him that wouldn’t happen to anyone else. If you get with “uncle Bill” anytime ask him about when Louise got locked out of her house. Never mind, I’ll tell it.

 

Bill and Gloria had her parents over on a Sunday evening, as usual. Louise was a sturdy Italian woman of about 170 pounds. Joe was a small wiry Italian man of about 130 pounds. They didn’t have a car so Bill drove them home, as usual, to their sturdy brick bungalow on “the hill”. The next morning the telephone conversation went something like this;

           Louise; I left my purse in your back seat last night.

           Bill; Oh! I’ll get it back to you

           Louise; But bill, my house key was in the bag. Didn’t you see me waving at you?

           Bill; I thought you were waving goodbye. Did you get in al-right?

         Louise; All the doors were locked and all the windows except the kitchen window            and it’s about 6 feet off the ground.

      Bill; But how did you get in?

      I gave Joe a boost and he finally pulled himself up. Then he pulled me through the               window, but Bill, I had a terrible time. I tore my stockings and skinned my knees on the bricks.

      Now picture a 130 pound man, about  five feet, two, pulling a 170 pound woman          up    the wall and through a kitchen window.

               Bill; Why didn’t Joe just unlock the door and let you in?

   Louise. (There was a long pause.) Oh!

 

Bill met, and eventually married Gloria Puricelli. Gloria’s theme song was “Life is just a bowl of cherries”. She was an upbeat person, jolly, not without a temper, willing and able to brag about her children. She and Bill were ”crazy” about each other. They had five children together. Our children and theirs were rather close, in spite of  the fact that they lived about 40 miles apart. Then, in1969, after a day of fishing, she came home and, when she was washing her hair, she fell over, dead. She left five children, two of them under the age of three. The next few years were very hard, exacerbated by the fact that I had to take my family to Wichita to find work. He met Shirley Czerniewski, who also was recently widowed and had three children of her own. She was tall, poised, blonde and serious. Gloria was short, stout, brunette and “laid back”.  So they married, moved into the house with eight children, at one time five teenagers. Shirley handled the children well, especially the two little girls. The step brothers and sisters soon were just brothers and sisters. All of Shirley’s children, Debbie, Terry and Bob are married. None of Bill’s are.

 

Bill met, and eventually married Gloria Puricelli. Gloria’s theme song was “Life is just a bowl of cherries”. She was an upbeat person, jolly, not without a temper, willing and able to brag about her children. She and Bill were ”crazy” about each other. They had five children together. Our children and theirs were rather close, in spite of  the fact that they lived about 40 miles apart. Then, in1969, after a day of fishing, she came home and, when she was washing her hair, she fell over, dead. She left five children, two of them under the age of three. The next few years were very hard, exacerbated by the fact that I had to take my family to Wichita to find work. He met Shirley Czerniewski, who also was recently widowed and had three children of her own. She was tall, poised, blonde and serious. Gloria was short, stout, brunette and “laid back”.  So they married, moved into the house with eight children, at one time five teenagers. Shirley handled the children well, especially the two little girls. The step brothers and sisters soon were just brothers and sisters. All of Shirley’s children, Debbie, Terry and Bob are married. None of Bill’s are.

 

 

 

 

Then disaster struck again. Bill’s youngest, Michelle, was killed by a drunken driver. She was about 30, had many friends, a very crowded, very sad funeral. They worked hard and finally got the driver jail time. They joined Mothers Against Drunk Drivers,(MADD) and have been active in it. Shirley goes out with police, lectures and is politically active.

 

Bill and Shirley are popular with our children and grandchildren. They are very hospitable and generous when our family members are in St. Louis. Shirley’s children are always warm and friendly when we are in town.

 

Back to Memoirs