Thursday, November 10, 2011

Daddy's Blues

“He’d drag ass home from work
Lookin’ lot older than his years
And in those eyes I could see
My Daddy’s Blues.”
Doctor G and the Mudcats

Gregg Andrews, author of the Thyra Edwards biography, sent me a typescript Thyra’s sister Thelma Marshall did of her ancestors. In turn I sent him “Gary’s First Hundred Years” and asked whether he could speak on our campus in February during Black History Month. He said he was “thoroughly enjoying” the book but would be in Texas that month touring with a “swampy blues band, Doctor G and the Mudcats.” I looked them up on Google and found two YouTube numbers they performed live, “Rockin’ Rita” and “My Daddy’s Blues.” Gregg’s the frontman. They were quite good.

My dad, Vic, was a white-collar commuter living in Fort Washington, PA and working for Penn Salt, a corporation whose offices were in Center City Philadelphia. Like “Daddy” in the Mudcats song he was a Camel smoker and died young, at age 50 but he liked one stiff whiskey drink when he got home not Falstaff beer as in the song. He liked show tunes and crooners like Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby rather than Jimmy Rogers and swamp blues, but his job could get him down – on the road much of the years and pressured by Penn Salt to conform to proper dress and manners. Even when golfing Sunday mornings, his monogrammed polo shirt and slacks matched the others on the links of Manufacturers Golf Course. He taught me poker and other card games and we made up lineups and kept statistics for a baseball pinball game that we played for hours when we weren’t in the basement playing ping pong or outside shooting hoops or playing wiffleball (one game I could beat him in). He was really disappointed when I quit law school to pursue a doctorate in History but shortly before he died suddenly of a heart attack he confided to me with a wink that maybe it would be nice to have a doctor in the house. He and Midge were planning to build a getaway cottage in the Poconoes that he hoped his grandkids (whom he never got to see) would visit.

I voted straight Democrat at Brummitt School in Chesterton even though there was only one contested town council race. Gary officially elected its first woman mayor Karen Freeman Wilson and Portage voters unfortunately defeated its first female mayor Olga Velazquez. Driving the Occupy Wall Street Movement off the front page are about sex scandals involving former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and Republican Presidential hopeful Herman Cain.

TerryAnn Defenser in University Relations came to the Archives to get my signature on a copy of “Gary’s First Hundred Years” that she intends to give a friend named Marty. She also got Steve to inscribe “Steel Giants.”

Retired Sociology professor Barry Johnston passed away. He was about my age and quite a stud when he first showed up on campus with long hair, a Texas accent, and riding a motorcycle. I played tennis with him and poker, and he was a very tough teacher and prolific scholar. At lunch Chuck Gallmeier talked about rooming with him when they’d travel together to Sociology conferences. I interviewed him while researching a history of IUN, and this is how he described being interviewed in 1973 by administrator Herman Feldman: “I had done a master’s thesis on hippies and the drug experience. In my vita I called it a participant/observation study. Feldman wanted to know how much participation I had done. I phrased my answer carefully. I had shoulder-length hair and a beard and was committed to an alternative lifestyle. I enjoyed being an intellectual but relished living life on the boundaries. I tried to answer Herman’s question honestly without leading myself into harm’s way.”

Last evening I bowled better than usual but the Engineers lost all three games, the last one by a single point despite our clean-up man David “Duke” Caminski rolling a 269. In the tenth he struck and then left a eight pin on a perfect hit.

I interviewed State Senator Earline Rogers for my “On Their Shoulders” project. Her dad Earl Smith, was a tremendous athlete in high school at Froebel who had to quit college when his mother’s health failed. Becoming a steelworker, he worked different shifts and would often come home angry over the way Blacks were discriminated against. It was his hope that all five of his children would graduate from college, and they eventually did. Earline grew up in a Delaney Housing Project home. Her mom was a good campaigner when Earline went into politics. Earline ran for mayor in 1995 and would have beaten Scott King had not a second Black candidate Judge Charles Graddick, not divided the Black vote. She got her competitive streak from her dad and would have been a good mayor.

I had great food at Asia Day in the Savannah gym. Former vice chancellor Marilyn Vasquez was one of the servers. There was a fashion show and other entertainment. During one musical interlude Tanice Foltz came up and started dancing with me. One woman got a dozen students to help her demonstrate examples of laugh therapy. Vice Chancellor David Malik handed out candy bars to folks who correctly answered questions about various Asian countries.

Chris Young’s student Elizabeth Laduke met me at the Archives to ask about the Elbert H. Gary statue downtown and the Michael Jackson monument in front of the house where he grew up. I mentioned that Judge Gary was no friend to African-American steelworkers and that there was a movement during the 1970s to change the city’s name to DuSable. I defended Michael against charges that he never did anything for the city and speculated that there might be a statue of his likeness in the future as fans continue to gather outside the house on special occasions.

1 comment:

  1. judge gary was no friend to steelworkers ( or workers as a class, for that matter) if they sought to improve their control over conditions of work through organizing unions. "when an employer contract with the union labor leaders he immediately drives all his employees into the unions. otherwise they cannot get employment. that is part of the reason for trying to organize the men, and that is why we have been such an obstruction. i am not antagonizing unions, i am not saying that they have not a perfect right to form unions, of course they have, but we are not obliged to contract with them if we do not choose to do so..." [Labor in Crisis: The Steel Strike of 1919. David Brody p.124-125] he knew what was best for his employees and could not see why they would think otherwise. simple honest souls being misled by radical unionist...disabuse them of these dangerous ideas and they would see the light...the judge as pater familias.