Granny and Her Kids
A family history in
stories and pictures
Matthew ("Dinny") Mahoney
In the beginning, there was Granny Ho.
Well, in my beginning, anyway. She was Florine Mahoney, my father's widowed mother. My parents and I lived with her and Daddy's brothers from my earliest memories until I was almost six. She was "Rena" to her family, "Mama" to her kids, and "Granny" to me. But I had another Granny, too -- my mom's mom -- so to keep things straight, my mother said this one was "Granny Mahoney." I could only get the middle syllable right at first, however, and she was "Granny Ho" forever after.
Her husband, "Mister Matt" -- the first Matthew Vincent Mahoney in four generations of identically-named sons -- died in 1923. He left Granny a once-elegant 1900-style house, a pickle factory, and four children. My father, whom Granny called "Vincent" to keep things straight, was 16 and the only one old enough to go to work. The others were still in school: Daddy's younger sister, Florene (spelled with an "e"), and two younger brothers: Joseph ("Josie"). and Arthur ("Honey").
By 1930, the pickle factory had failed, Josie and Honey had jobs in nearby tobacco factories, and my father had married and moved out. I came along a year later, bringing the Great Depression in tow. In 1934, to make ends meet and to help Granny Ho, Daddy moved back to Granny's with my mother and me. Florene had since married and left home, and we took her old room
Understand, I'm not writing a genealogy with a bunch of dull names and dates. Even if I wanted to, I wouldn't get very far anyway, as the Mahoneys never wrote things down. They didn't keep scrapbooks or albums, or write dates or people's names on pictures, or even date their letters (unless you count "Thurs" as a date). And Daddy apparently had the only camera. He developed his own film, and left me a box of negatives, but in keeping with family tradition, wrote nary a note.
No, I just want to tell stories -- things I remember about my family and the stories they told me -- and print some old photos to go along with them. I think history means a lot more (and is certainly more fun!) if you get to know the people in it. The fact is, the Mahoneys were likable folks, and I'd like you to meet them. Granny and her kids had a knack for getting into odd situations, and most people enjoy hearing about them, whether they knew the Mahoneys or not.
Well, I'm the last one who remembers what happened and who recognizes the people in Daddy's negatives, so I'd better get started. Let me begin by introducing the lady who is part of, if not responsible for , most of the action -- Granny Ho.
Mahoney stories often sound more like TV sitcom scripts than real life. But it's not because the Mahoneys were "characters" in the Hollywood sense. There wasn't a comedian in the bunch, and no one set out to be funny or odd -- especially Granny, who probably never told a joke in her life or did more than just giggle at something. But just as some people attract lightning, Granny had a kind of magnetic force that attracted so many unusual and improbable situations that she should have been in the Guinness Book of Records. Events whirled around her, but Granny, herself, never seemed flustered or thrown off course. She was like the "straight man" (or woman) in a comedy routine -- or, better yet, the eye of the hurricane.
Have you ever seen or even heard of ball lightning? It occurs so rarely that, until it was reproduced in a lab in recent years, most scientists dismissed it as a myth or optical illusion. Shortly before we moved in with Granny, there was a severe thunderstorm in which lightning struck the iron railing on her second-floor balcony and created ball lightning! Picture a grapefruit-size ball of pure glowing electricity -- whirling energy -- moving slowly across the balcony floor. The French doors to the balcony were closed, but Granny and Honey said the ball melted or "ate" its way through a glass panel and floated into the upstairs bedroom, a few inches off the floor. It was still glowing, and according to Granny, it hissed ! Had it been me, I would have stared, dumfounded and frozen -- an idiot. But as though this were an everyday occurence, Granny just told Honey to throw a bucket over it and pointed to an empty coal scuttle! He did, and told me it promptly exploded with a loud bang and disappeared -- short-circuited, I assume, by the metal scuttle!
Pessimists say if you remain calm when those about you are losing their heads, it just means you don't know what's going on! But they never met Granny. Her calmness didn't come from not knowing what was going on, but from not analyzing it or judging it. Things weren't "better" or "worse," they just were what they were . She didn't waste a second pondering the Future or re-playing the Past. Zen Masters spend years to achieve this mental state. With Granny, it was in the genes.
Mr. Matt's death? A Pickle Factory? Two World Wars? The Great Depression? No matter. She rolled with life's punches and always had something pleasant to say about everyone. Granny never held a job, never earned a penny, never drove a car, never exercised ( Ladies didn't exercise in those days!), and hardly ever left her house unless the kids came and got her. At one point, she owed Mr. Eubank, the neighborhood grocer, for two years of groceries (try that today!). Stress would consume most folks in these situations, but emotion and adrenaline were not part of Granny's character. Her innate calmness -- and four eggs a day, she told me -- kept her going in good health and spirits for 93 years! With all 32 of her own teeth!
Granny treated people with a remarkable sense of equality and ready acceptance. Social status meant nothing. From garbage man to bank president, I remember her receiving everyone with good manners and politeness.
One of the local characters in the 1930's when I lived there was Mr. Jenkins, the "Rag Man," who bought and sold rags and clothing and drove a rickety horse-drawn wagon. To show what Granny was like, imagine that somebody really important in those days -- let's say Herbert Hoover, the President of the United States in 1930 -- came walking down her street just as Mr. Jenkins rattled up in his old wagon, yelling, " Rag Man ". What would Granny do?
Why, she would invite them both inside, address them as "Mister Jenkins" and "Mister Hoover," offer them tea, apologize for not having milk, ask about their aches and pains, and inquire how their families were getting along. And she would do this not because she made a point of it, but simply because that's the way she saw people. The only difference to Granny was that different people did different things for a living: Mr. Jenkins bought and sold old clothes; Mr. Hoover was President. As simple as that. What mattered was whether they wanted tea with sugar or lemon.
Don't get the idea that she always looked serene or impassive, however. Granny had a sly sense of humor. She smiled and giggled at things and had a penchant for mis-pronouncing names in a semi-logical way. Every New Year's Eve, for example, we listened to Josie's radio -- he's the one that liked music the most and and knew all the latest dance steps -- and tuned in a program from New York with Guy Lombardo and his orchestra. Granny would say how much she enjoyed the music of Guy Lumbargo , and Josie would say, " That's Lombardo , Mama!" Granny would giggle and say. "Oh, I know that!".
I really think she did. But next year, she'd mispronounce Lombardo's name the same way, and Josie would rise to the bait once again. Or she'd call Bing Crosby, Bing Cosby , and get the same reaction.
I live near a road called Underpass Road. If Granny were alive, I'm sure she'd call it Underpants Road. And Josie would say, "That's Underpass , Mama." And she'd giggle and say, "Oh, I know that!". She didn't do this to be perverse -- there wasn't a perverse bone in her body -- or to be comical. I just think her words were easier to say or remember, and maybe made more sense to her than someone else's. And I admit, they were often more efficient: one "Granny Ho" word could do the job of two or more ordinary words, as in the case of the Latrobe.
The main source of heat in Granny's house was something she called the "Latrobe" -- an ornate, custom-built cast iron and marble fireplace in the front parlor that Mr. Matt had specially built and installed for her. The Latrobe was essentially a classy pot-bellied coal stove mounted halfway into a marble slab that covered the fireplace. Smoke and fumes went up the chimney behind the marble, while the curved cast iron front heated the room air and radiated warmth (or "threw the heat," in Granny's words). There's a picture of Josie sitting on a lard can, posing for a sketch by my father; the Latrobe is behind him.
Granny eventually got too old to live alone, and moved in with daughter Florene. When they put her house up for sale, I had a chance to go through the empty home. I was always curious about the Latrobe because I'd never heard of anything by that name, so I opened the stove doors to look inside. There, cast into the metal, was the model number and the maker's name -- something like the Allegheny Iron Works -- and the city: Latrobe, Pennsylvania!
Now I ask you: what would you have called it? "The Parlor Coal Stove? Or Parlor Fireplace?" Too many syllables. Besides, this wasn't really a stove: you couldn't cook on it. And all houses in those days had stoves and fireplaces, but you couldn't see the logs or coals in this one. Well, maybe call it an "Allegheny"? Not pretty. But Latrobe ! It's brief and rolls nicely off the tongue. It sounds a little French and adds a touch of class. And, for sure, nobody else, even in the Mahoneys' upscale Church Hill area, had a Latrobe !
This has nothing to do with my story, but here's some great Latrobe trivia. Latrobe was a prosperous little industrial town a century ago, with iron and steel foundries, glass works and breweries. The Banana Split was invented in Latrobe -- at Tassel's pharmacy in 1904! Latrobe is the home of Fred Rogers of PBS's "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood," and the home of golf legend Arnold Palmer. According to the NFL, the first professional football game was played in -- you guessed it -- Latrobe, on August 31, 1895! (They beat Jeanette, 12-0). And on May 12, 1939, the first non-stop airmail pickup in the U.S. was made at (right, again!) Latrobe Airport!. And although they moved to Pittsburgh, the Latrobe Brewing Co. is still in business, making local brands of beer, including Latrobe and Rolling Rock.
The Pickle Factory
Before he met Granny, Mr. Matt worked in a food cannery that made pickled goods. After a few years, he and another worker, Mr. Mooney, decided they could make better pickles and more money by running their own business -- the Mahoney and Mooney Pickle Company, or just "M&M Pickle Company" on their letterhead.
M&M were obviously successful. Around 1906. when he and Granny married, Mr. Matt built or bought a house on then-fashionable East Franklin Street in the historic Church Hill area of Richmond. Granny's house was a mirror image of her sister's house next door. (I'm not sure, but he may have actually built both houses for them; the mirror image idea sounds like something that he would go for.) Mr. Matt also bought extra land behind the houses and constructed a large two-story brick factory building to house the growing M&M Pickle business. The factory had its own alleyway for workers and supplies, and was out of sight of upscale Franklin Street, but Mr. Matt only had to walk 100 feet out his back door to go to work.
At some point, Mooney either died or retired, and Mr. Matt became the sole owner of the M&M Pickle Company. When Mr. Matt died unexpectedly in 1923 at age 59 (of an infection, I think), his house and the factory building were fully paid for, and the future Granny Ho became the new owner of the M&M Pickle Company. I'm sure Mr. Matt expected to live long enough for his boys to to grow up, work there, learn the business and eventually take it over. Although he died before that happened, someone other than Granny, who was only 36, might have taken over the business and made a good income. But Granny wasn't "someone other."
Not one gray cell of Granny's mind was devoted to business. Not for a moment could she have directed workers, dealt with suppliers, kept a ledger or balanced a checkbook. Mr. Matt did all of that while he lived, not only for the pickle business but for his own household as well. The closest Granny came to business was to send one of the boys to Mr. Eubank's grocery for food. Mr. Eubank put it on her "tab," and Mr. Matt paid the bill once a month. Finance was that simple.
Even so, if there had been a "second in command" at M&M Pickles who knew the business and could do bookkeeping, he could have run the Pickle Company for Granny. After all, she not only owned the company stock, but owned the factory building as well, and could have collected rent. But it seems Mr. Matt had been the bookkeeper as well as President. There was no "second in command." Chaos ensued. Nobody else had dealt with suppliers and customers, knew who got paid what, or had done more than make pickles and drive a delivery wagon.
What to do??
Granny's first thought was her family. My father, Vincent, was only 16 at the time -- a bit too young in Granny's mind to be company president. But his cousin, Arthur Cherry, Jr. was 18, and a high school graduate (that meant a lot in those days). So Granny made Arthur the President, and Vincent, Vice President! Neither one had any idea how to run a business, use a ledger book, or how to make pickles. But Granny figured they would could catch on fast. The boys were game. They went out and did what new executives have always done -- bought new suits!
The first few months of their management sounds like the Three Stooges -- well, Two, anyway. Their office was equipped with a large walk-in wall safe. Having lots of free time as new executives, they occasionally took turns locking each other in the safe to see how long they could go without air! When the one outside heard a thumping from inside the safe, it was time to open it. For safety, even if no thumps were heard, he'd open the door anyway after an agreed-upon time limit.
One day, Daddy had just closed the safe door on Arthur when a salesman from one of their suppliers came in and asked to see the President. Daddy said Mr. Cherry was not available right now: please come back later. But the salesman was insistent -- it was important, and he'd wait right here, thank you. In a few moments, a thump came from the big safe. "What's that," asked the salesman. "Oh, nothing," Daddy said. After a few more more thumps, the time-out limit was reached. Daddy opened the safe door and, as though nothing was out of order, the new President of the M&M Pickle Company stepped out and introduced himself -- a little dazed, perhaps, but undeniably well dressed.
Given time, the boys might have learned the business and done a good job of running things. But there was no time. They needed a bookkeeper and manager right away. And here's where Granny's "magnetic field" goes into high gear.
She asked friends and family if they knew of someone she might consider. She spoke with a few (I started to say "interviewed," but then remembered it was Granny Ho I was talking about --"offered them tea" is more like it!). She picked a fellow who said he was actually a preacher, but was good at bookkeeping and numbers, and just knew he could do a good job for M&M. Granny told me years later she hired him because he was a preacher, and therefore bound to be honest !
Well, the self-proclaimed preacher was indeed good with numbers -- very good. Within a few months, he wrote checks to false suppliers (himself), stripped the company's bank account of all its cash, then vanished, never to be found! With no payroll cash, the workers quit, and M&M Pickles ceased existence. Most of Mr. Matt's savings went to pay the workers and suppliers, and Granny went from well-to-do to penniless in a matter of days.
For the Mahoneys, it was the start of two lean years. My father, the oldest at 16, got a job, but barely made enough to meet the gas, electric and water bills. Fortunately, the house was paid for, and the Pickle Factory had left enough coal in its coal bin to feed the Latrobe for a couple of years. Clothes were no special problem, as most kids wore "hand-me-downs" anyway. Clothing was made to be lengthened or shortened, or "let out" or "taken in." Jackets and trousers had seams in back to hide or supply extra fabric as needed, and dresses had wide hems that did the same. That's why men's trousers had cuffs . Granny could steal an inch or two of fabric from inside the cuff to lengthen it, or remove fabric from the cuff and re-fold it to shorten it, and look as good as new. For that matter, I grew up in the Great Depression and most of my shirts and trousers had been Daddy's or an uncle's.
The main shortage was food. Granny made soups and stews from stuff butchers gave away in those days, like beef bones, trimmings and fat. She never took a penny from her relatives, but gratefully accepted gifts of food on Christmas and Easter -- especially Smithfield hams, which in those days were cured by covering them with salt and sugar for months , and thereafter kept a year or two without refrigeration! One gift that really helped was a brood of baby chickens from a relative who also helped the boys build a fenced-in area for them (this is what started Granny's famous four-eggs-day diet.) Nonetheless, there still were things she could only get from a grocery store, and Granny eventually ran up a two-year "tab" with Mr. Eubank, the neighborhood grocer.
By the start of 1926, Josie had a job, and Daddy had begun his life-long career as a commercial artist. Within a year, they paid Mr. Eubank in full, and Daddy saved enough to buy Honey an electric train set for Christmas. In 1928, he bought a camera and took the first pictures of the Mahoneys. The one opposite shows the former boy executives, now young men in better times. Their executive suits had doubtless been "let out" by now, but they certainly look handsome.
At this point, it helps to know something about the town where everyone lived -- Church Hill, in Richmond, Virginia -- and get a little family background.
Mr. Matt's and Granny's families came to Richmond in the years between the Revolutionary War and about 1831 -- years before the great Potato Famine in Ireland, and before there were ocean-going steamships. Our ancestors travelled on wooden sailing ships and often endured weeks of bad food and sea sickness. But sailing ships had one big advantage over the big steamships that came later. They didn't need deep water ports like New York or Boston. You could go anywhere along the coast or, as our families did, continue up the James River to Richmond. There weren't many who came in those days, and the few did were welcome.
For those from the British Isles, Virginia was a "home away from home." It was England's first permanent colony, and by the Revolutionary War, the largest of the thirteen. It had the same language and way of life as the places they left, but with much more opportunity. And for Irish Catholics, who been oppressed by English and Protestant landlords for centuries, post-revolutionary Virginia had the added attraction of NOT being ruled by England! It was OK to be Irish AND Catholic!
You may remember from school that Virginia began in 1607 at Jamestown. Unfortunately, Jamestown was a marshy area unfit for growing much besides mosquitoes. What really gave England its foothold in America were the farms and plantations newcomers set up on higher ground north of the river. The "Middle Plantation," for example, became home to the College of William and Mary in 1697, and two years later, was renamed Williamsburg and made Virginia's capital.
Richmond was not part of the plantation area, however. It lies at the Fall Line : the geographic line that divides the relatively level region of the plantations from the the hilly (and eventually mountainous) land to the west. It's also as far up the James River as the colonists could sail -- to the first waterfall. The land was too hilly for farming, but ideal for factories using waterpower. When surface deposits of coal (long since depleted) were discovered on land southwest of the falls, the Falling Creek Ironworks --America's first -- was established. After an indian uprising in 1622 destroyed the ironworks, the English built a new factory and a fort at the falls, and a thriving industrial communtity began to grow around the fort.
The land northeast of the falls consists of a number of hills that rise in terrace-like formations from the river to elevations of about 250 feet. In 1733, plantation owner William Byrd Jr. named the settlement after the English town of Richmond on the Thames River, and had a surveyor draw up plans that encompassed seven hills. (Why seven? Because Ancient Rome was "The City of Seven Hills"!). To start, however, he put the first streets and buildings on the closest hilltop. In every English settlement, the church was one of the first buildings to be erected. When the one in Byrd's new Richmond was finished, the hill became known as Church Hill .
What Church? Why, Saint John's. of course. You remember -- the one in which Patrick Henry gave his 1775 "give me liberty or give me death" speech that helped fuel the Revolutionary War. Saint John's is just three blocks from Granny's Franklin St. House. This is the church the Mahoneys attended and where I was baptized as an infant. It was Church of England before our Revolution and Episcopalian afterward.
During Francis' and Mr. Matt's time, however, it also offered Catholic services. Mr. Matt's obituary says his services were held at Saint John's Catholic Church.
At the end of the Revolutionary War, Richmond replaced Williamsburg as Virginia's capital, and there was a sudden demand for more a lot more new commercial and goverment building space. In 1785, Thomas Jefferson designed the present-day State Capitol Building to go on the next hill to the west. Office buildings sprang up around it, and this second hill eventually became the area that is today's "Downtown" Richmond. Opportunities in government, business and manufacturing seemed endless, and that's what attracted our families to Richmond.
By 1906, when Mr. Matt married "Rena," most non-residential functions -- government, banks, hotels, department stores, and the like -- had moved to Downtown. "Dirty" industries like foundries and tobacco factories remained down the hill near the river, where they'd always been. And Church Hill had been transformed into a genteel area of fine homes, small shops, historic buildings and pretty parks. So in 1906, if you liked city living, Church Hill was the place to be. And if you wanted a "view," East Franklin Street was the place to build.
Church Hill is an elongated hill that roughly parallels the river. The center street ("Broad Street") runs along the hilltop, not far from the edge where the downward slope begins. At the east end there are only two streets between Broad Street and the edge: Grace Street, where St. John's Church is, and where Granny's mother lived; then East Franklin, where Granny lived, and her sister, next door.
What made East Franklin Street desirable was that even though it was only a few blocks from the business center, it felt like a different world -- prettier and quieter. It was last street on the River side of the hill, and all the houses in Granny's section were on the inward side the street. From the front porch, there was an unobstructed view down the hill and over the river. When I lived there, there was a pretty park on the opposite side, sloping downhill, with shade trees here and there. At the end of East Franklin. just a few blocks farther, there was Chimborazo park, an even larger downhill park named after the highest mountain in Ecuador.
To my five-year-old eyes, both parks seemed awfully steep and long -- almost scary. I couldn't even see the bottom through the shade trees. Even though there were concrete steps, paved paths and handrails to help, I wondered how anyone could walk all the way down and come back up again, And how could anyone possibly have a picnic there? Why, you'd have to hold on for dear life while your food rolled downhill! But the tobacco factories where Josie and Honey worked were near the bottom of the hill. and that's how they got to work every day before they had cars.
At night, we could see two large smokestacks, brightly illuminated from beneath by spotlights: one stack said "Lucky Strike" and the other said "Larus and Brothers," with their brand of pipe tobacco. (the Laruses were Granny's mother's family.) There was always some smoke from the chimneys, and if the breeze was right, it brought the pleasant aroma of pipe tobacco. I remember that we all liked the smell! Of course, these were the days when cigarettes were good for you, and when people liked the smell of pipe tobacco! Perhaps the second-hand smoke plus four eggs a day is what kept Granny going to age 93 and daughter Florene to 96!
Florene is standing at the edge of Libby Hill Park. There are no houses on this side of the street. To the right of the camera, the park begins to slope downward to the industrial area with factories, railroad tracks, and docks along the James River.
Granny's house was different from homes of today. but typical of Church Hill houses in 1906. For one thing, there was no lawn , front or back -- . that's a modern feature (or nuisance, if you prefer.) In the days before automobiles (The Ford Model T didn't appear until 1908), city houses were built close to the street. Better areas like Franklin Street provided wide sidewalks for strollers, and the houses had large covered front porches, elevated above the ground. Steps ran down to the sidewalk, with flowers, ivy or some ground cover on either side.
There's no full picture of her house, but you can get an idea from the two shots I reprinted. The house behind the two boys is Granny's sister's. It's roughly a mirror twin of Granny's, except for lacking a second story porch. The main floor is high enough above ground to make space for a basement apartment with large windows. (The window by Vincent's elbow is a basement window.) This was for a live-in maid or servant couple, with its own entrance at the back and inside steps up to the main floor hallway. Franklin Street had no electricity then, and large windows were essential for daytime light. Each house also had a roof cupola that provided a spectacular view over the James River -- or so I was told. Granny's cupola and the steps inside were rotting by the time I was old enough to be interested, and she wouldn't let anyone go up. Believe me, during the lean years, nothing got repaired.
The only picture that actually shows any part of Granny's house is the 1923 shot of young Honey in a travelling-photographer's goat cart. What you can't see in the shadows under the porch are the large ground-level apartment windows.
The houses behind Florene on the previous page are less expensive. Their main floors are not elevated enough to allow apartments, just crawl spaces. (Remember, there was no furnace, water heater, electricity, or any need for a "basement" in the modern sense.) They also lack a 2nd story porch or railing, and have no cupolas.
Expensive or not, most houses in this neighborhood had ten-foot-high ceilings. Warm air rises. and the extra height helped keep rooms cooler in hot weather. Most were also one-sided . Granny's house had a front-to-back hallway on the left side, with stairs leading to a second-floor hallway above it, plus stairs down to the servants' quarters. All rooms were on the right side, with hallway doors. This allowed servants and deliverymen to move around the house without passing through rooms. To conserve winter heat, reduce noise and discourage burglars, the outside wall on the hallway side was solid brick, with a single second-floor window for light. It also allowed houses to be built in mirror pairs, with their solid sides separated only by a walkway to the back. This put more space between the windowed sides -- usually enough for small vegetable or flower gardens.
Back "yards" in those days were functional: flowers or vegetables perhaps. Or in Granny's yard, a fenced-in area for hens (can't eat flowers!). And nearly every city house had a coal bin: an enclosed wooden shed which held a season's worth of coal. Most streets had alleyways between them so trucks could fill the coal bins and haul away trash from the back. By the way, the Pickle Factory used coal, and by good fortune left enough to feed a fleet of Latrobes. (Honey told me that when they were young, Vincent and Josie locked him in the coal bin and told him to dance until coal dust came through the cracks, or else they'd fire BB's through the cracks at him! (They never did.)
Until the year before I arrived, Granny's house had no bathroom or toilet, just an outhouse connected to rear porch by a covered walk. Her only running water was the cold faucet in the kitchen sink, which drained by a pipe to the outhouse. Without a toilet, you kept a chamber pot by the bedside and emptied it in the outhouse. Ladies normally took a "sponge bath" from a little basin (my mother called it a "spit bath"). If you needed a "real" bath, there was a metal tub you could just squeeze into. Your servant (or spouse or child ) warmed a bucket of water on the stove and poured it over you as needed.
By 1933, the boys were making good money, and chipped in get a sewer connection and have a bathroom installed on the upstairs landing. It had a heavy cast iron tub with lion's feet, a circular shower curtain rod fastened to the wall above it, and a sprinkler head in the center. There was still only cold water in the kitchen, but the new bathroom had a little gas water heater you lit with a match -- no tank, just a coil of copper pipe inside and a gas burner underneath. You lit it when you were ready to bathe, and it heated the water "on the fly" if you didn't use the water too fast.
What about lights and cooking? There was no residential electricity in Church Hill in 1906, but plenty of city gas, and both Granny's house and her sister's had gas cookstoves. They also had wall-mounted gas light fixtures in the rooms but, out of caution, the ladies seldom used them. City gas wasn't natural gas, but coal gas -- a hot-burning fuel, great for cooking but dangerous to breathe (it contained carbon monoxide!) and potentially explosive (it also contained hydrogen.) That wasn't a great concern in cooking because the kitchen was outside the house -- a separate ventilated structure connected to the back of the house with a door you could close to keep out heat and smoke (and gas!). But both ladies were nervous about gas room lights. They were hard to reach and light, and if a breeze blew out the flame while you napped -- well! They preferred what they'd grown up with -- oil lamps. When electricity arrived in the early 1920s, Mr. Matt had a single-bulb ceiling fixture installed in each room, and an outlet for a reading lamp. Granny adjusted to electricity easily, but her sister didn't quite trust that, either, and tended to stay with oil lamps long after. I never saw a gas wall lamp lit in either house.
When you think of an "oil lamp," what comes to mind? Most people picture a fuel bowl, a wick holder and a clear glass chimney -- the kind of thing you might see on reruns of The Waltons . But the oil lamps our two ladies used a century ago put these units to shame. For room lighting, especially in the Parlor and the Dining Room where guests would come, lamps were more than just light sources; they were part of the decor . They were ornate works of art that matched the furniture -- one type for table ("banquet") light, the other for ceiling ("chandelier") light. Those equipped with mantles (like the white fabric cones you see in Coleman camping lanterns) were as bright as electric light bulbs. To give you a better idea, I've reproduced two nostalgic clips from the Lamp pages of the 1902 Sears, Roebuck catalog.
P.S. -- look at the weight of the chandeliers! Imagine attaching one of these to a ten-foot ceiling! How do you light it? I never got to see that since Mr. Matt had replaced their ceiling oil lamps with electric fixtures before I came. But her sister still had --and still used -- museum-quality oil banquet lamps and chandeliers.
You recall that Richmond city gas was coal gas. That's made by heating soft coal in something like a giant whiskey still and driving off the gas. A by-product of the process is a black sticky goop that condenses insides the pipes -- Coal Tar . No, not asphalt, which is the equivalent goop from petroleum refining. But before World War II, Tar is what they paved the roads with, soaked roof shingles in, and dissolved in turpentine to make Creosote to put on fenceposts and telephone poles to keep them from rotting.
Road tar softens easier in hot sunlight easier than asphalt. When I was young, my buddies and I would dig pieces from the roadside on a hot day and chew it as chewing gum! But not to worry, mom; we didn't get sick. Coal tar has something asphalt doesn't -- germs hate it! It kills bacteria, fungi and parasites, and lasts forever. That's why creosote kept telephone poles from rotting. I have no idea whether Granny knew any of this, or whether it was just her remarkable instinct -- but she knew enough to play dog doctor in our next story.
Remember Mr. Jenkins, the rag man? He travelled with a large, scruffy mongrel dog, Old Jack, who trotted along under the wagon. After a few years, Old Jack began losing patches of hair, and developing nasty-looking sores on the bare spots. Mr. Jenkins didn't know what to do. Old Jack was only middle-aged in dog-years, but was getting worse every day. Mr. Jenkins just reckoned the end was near.
Not Granny! She was positive that whatever was wrong with Old Jack was something she could fix if the dog would just come and stay with her a while. She asked Mr. Jenkins to leave Jack with her so he could heal. Mr. Jenkins agreed, privately figuring, I imagine, that Old Jack would at least be better off dying at Granny's than under his wagon.
The first thing Granny did was to dig tar from the edge of the street and soften it with another freebie -- used axle grease from a relative who worked for the railroads -- then smear it on Old Jack's sores. To make his hair grow back (which she figured was just poor diet), she fed him what worked for her: four eggs a day fried in lard! In a month, Old Jack's skin was healed and his hair was growing back in -- and he was back in action, trotting along under the rag wagon as good as new!
In case you're curious, you can buy the same basic mixture today under the fancy name of Ichthammol. The label calls it a drawing salve -- an old-fashioned name
for ointment people a century ago put on boils and sores to "draw out the poisons." But it sure doesn't have an old-fashioned price: $7.95 a one-ounce tube at CVS! Just be careful not to get it on your clothes -- you'll never wash it out!
To Granny, objects and events were sort of like people. Everything had a job to do, and everything had a lifespan. Things were born, grew up, did their job, got old and finally died, whether it was a light bulb, a pickle factory, or a thunderstorm. For example, the Weather Bureau can tell you on TV where storms form -- where they're "born," so to speak -- and they can show you where they're headed. But Granny knew something the Weather Bureau still doesn't know: where they went to die! When a storm passed through Richmond, she knew exactly where it would end up -- where it would quit in a final blast!
Curles Neck was supposedly a place ten or fifteen miles down the James River from Richmond. It must have existed at one time because our milk came from the Curles Neck Dairy. But when I got old enough to buy a car and drive all around the area, I never drove through Curles Neck. And in writing this, I looked at road maps of Richmond and Virginia and I couldn't find it anywhere. But as surely as Dorothy knew Oz existed, Granny knew where Curles Neck was. And she knew that when a storm left Richmond, it would simply follow the James River downstream until it hit the storm graveyard -- Curles Neck -- then expire with a mighty bang!
Each time a storm passed through and the sky began to lighten, Granny would say, "Well, I guess the storm has gone on down to Curles Neck." And Vincent, Josie, Honey and I would groan and laugh because of the picture it painted in our minds -- some miserable, woebegone town, beaten down by the final raindrops, hailstones and lightning bolts -- again and again. Why did storms stop there, of all places? Did anyone actually live in Curles Neck? Why?
Well, now that I think of it, I'm sure I know why I can't find Curles Neck any more: it's been blown clear off the map!
Richmond had more than History on it's side; it had progress. Much of the business and industrial district was destroyed by fire in the Civil War when General Grant broke through the Confederate defense in April, 1865, and burned the buildings. (Granny said her mother watched, in tears, as flames consumed buildings not far from her home.) But having to "start from "scratch" proved a blessing of sorts. Industry rebuilt rapidly, determined to be at the front of things.
One problem the town faced was a lack of public transportation. Few city people besides carriage drivers or tradesmen owned a horse, and there was no telephone to call a "horse cab" if you wanted to go somewhere. Trains weren't the answer. The tracks were down along the river, and the hills were too steep for trains. Besides, locomotives were too big, smoky and noisy for a refined city. The solution was one already in use in Boston: lay standard railroad rails down the major streets and construct lightweight streetcars that were pulled by horses! Frankly, I never even heard of horse railcars in school, yet they were popular in many cities. By 1888, Boston had the largest system, with 4000 cars and 8000 horses! That's the year Richmond pulled the rug from under them.
Even before the Civil War, electric motors had been used experimentally to power small railcars. But they weren't practical in cities: the motors were either "off" or "on," and just ran at full speed on a test track. Things changed when inventor Frank Sprague patented the first practical speed contoller for streetcar motors, and formed the Sprague Electric Railway and Motor Co. His promoters set out to find the best city in which to build the first real electric streetcar system -- preferably a city that already had horse railway tracks in place, but needed something better and faster.
OK, class -- what city was it? Oh, I see your hand raised! Right! Richmond! The
1956 Brittanica tells us, " Regular operation of the Richmond system began in Feb. 1888. It was an immediate success and attracted widespread attention. " This was America's first real electric street railway system -- the one that embodied the basic design used for the next half-century! OK, class, where did it run? Right, again! Church Hill! Straight down Broad Street, all the way into downtown Richmond on the next hill. That's another reason Church Hill was a desirable place to live.
The streetcars had an electric motor in each unit, so they could operate individually or be coupled. Each car picked up 600 volts DC from an overhead wire by means of a spring-loaded pole with a metal wheel -- the trolley -- at the end. The rails were the ground return that completed the electric circuit, so the steel wheels not only provided traction but electrical contact as well. The rails were safe to walk on, however, as they were grounded. And they were embedded in the steet at intersections so vehicles could drive over them.
From the 1920s onward, Richmond's streetcars looked like the one below. Each car was double-ended, with controls, headlight, "cowcatcher" and trolley poles at both ends, and seat backs that flipped so the seats could face in either direction. This avoided the need for a "roundabout" track at the end, or a turntable like the ones used by cable cars in San Francisco. At the end of the line. the motorman simply pulled the rear trolley down with an attached rope, raised the other trolley, flipped the seatbacks to face the other way, and sat at the other controls.
At first, streetcars directed the way Richmond grew -- wherever new tracks were laid, businesses and new housing developments followed. By 1950, however, automobiles and new roads freed people and businesses to move wherever they wanted, but streetcars couldn't follow; the tracks and wires were frozen in time. Now, it was wherever new roads went, buses followed. The city could add new bus routes just by printing new schedules, so it started pulling up tracks and pulling down wires. By 1980, Richmond streetcars had gone the way of the dinosaurs.
But, boy, they bring back memories. In the 1940s, we lived west of the city. My mom didn't drive and I was too young to own a car, but for fifteen cents I could take the steetcar to school, movies, downtown, the public library, or way out to Granny Ho's house. Sometimes I rode to the track's end just to enjoy the ride. If I was lucky, the motorman would let me flip the seatbacks while he switched the trolley poles.
Mr. Matt's ancestors lived in Ireland from the Dawn of Time, or so they would say.
They called it 'c9ire, and they pronounced our family name with a accent on the first syllable: MAH-ho-nee. (Gee, if my folks had said it that way, she might be Granny MAH instead of Granny HO!) And they would say they decended from the King of Ireland. But don't get excited; the head of every Irish clan was called the King!
Celtic Ireland was politically organized (or disorganized) into hundreds of petty kingdoms (that's the Britannica's phrase), each of which was quite independent under its own elected king. If a king claimed lordship over the others, it was only a position of honor -- like being elected "Most Popular" in the high school yearbook.
Around 1200 A.D., England and Scotland concluded that Ireland's land was too good to be wasted on the Irish, and spent the next six centuries seizing by force. They started at the channel of water up by Scotland, where soldiers could row across. Northern Ireland, a somewhat geographically separate area, didn't put up much of a fight. There was already a kinship between the North and the Scots -- in fact, it was Northern Irish tribes, the Scoti, who invaded Scotland centuries earlier and gave it their name. For the most part, the Scots seemed content with the land they had taken in Northern Ireland and left England to tackle the rest of the Island.
At first, the battle was just for land. But in 1532, England outlawed the Roman Catholic Church and replaced it with the Protestant Church of England -- replacing the Pope in Rome with King Henry VIII as the head of the new church! This wasn't a big problem in Northern Ireland, which was already playing a major role in the Protestant Revolution. But the Celtic people to the south were a different breed -- fiercely independent and solidly Roman Catholic. It had taken them centuries to accept that the Pope in Rome was rightfully head of the Church, even though he wasn't Irish! But once they got it straight, no one was going to change their minds,
England eventually took most of the land, but never made a dent in the religion. An 1800 census showed that nearly 100% of the southern population was still Roman Catholic. But almost every plantation in Ireland was now under British or Northern Irish (Protestant) control, inspiring England to pass a new law in 1830 -- the"Act of Union," declaring that all Ireland, Scotland and England was now united as a single nation under the English King: The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland .
That just made things worse for the Catholics. The new law abolished all Irish government, prohibited Catholics from holding public office anywhere in the U.K, made the Church of England the official religion, and the King of England, the Head of the Church ("The Defender of the Faith"). The last place for Catholics was at the southern end, Counties Kerry and Cork. For the Mahoneys, it was Cork.
Cork was a pleasant and peaceful area. The harbor was one of the best in all of Europe, and the land was ideal for cattle grazing. (There were more dairy cattle in Cork and Kerry than in all the rest of the island.) If you liked commercial fishing or dairy farming (Cork was famous for its butter, and still is ), you could make a good living. But that must have seemed pretty dull to young Francis Mahoney. When the Act of Union went into effect in 1831 and eliminated most opportunities, Francis -- at age 16, all by himself -- took a sailing ship from Cork Harbor to Richmond and promptly enlisted in the Army (the Virginia Militia). Granny saved papers that show he was promoted to Lieutenant by 1835, and Captain by 1842. Francis married a young woman named Murphy, also from Ireland, and they settled in the Church Hill area of Richmond. Mr. Matt was born in 1864, the oldest of three boys.
at Rena's mother's boarding house, where two of Mr. Matt's nephews boarded
Top row, left-to-right: (1) Arthur Larus Cherry, Rena's brother (the father of Arthur Junior of Pickle Factory fame); (2) Walter Mahoney, Mr. Matt's younger brother (Does he remind you of Frasier ?); and (3) Mr. Matt, age 42.
Second row (1) Nellie Cherry, Granny's spinster sister; (2) Irving Mahoney, Mr. Matt's brother; and (3) Rena -- Florine Larus Cherry, 19.
Bottom row: Not sure; different relatives had different opinions, but I believe the two young men at the corners are the nephews who boarded there. Rena's two other sisters, Harriet and Elizabeth ("Lizzie" or "Diddy") are not here.
Florine Larus Cherry, my future Granny Ho -- "Rena" to her family -- was 23 years younger than Mr. Matt, born in 1887. Her families had come from England and (I think) Scotland, and settled in Richmond well before Francis Mahoney arrived. I know little about them, except that her father, Isaiah Cherry, was a Civil War surgeon, and that her mother was Harriet Larus, of the family that owned Larus and Brothers Tobacco Company, a major maker of cigarettes and pipe tobacco for many years. Rena was the next-to-youngest of seven children: three brothers and three sisters. Her brother, Arthur Cherry, was the father of young Arthur Jr. whom Daddy locked in the M&M wall safe. I never met the other two brothers.
Isaiah Cherry died when Rena was young. To make ends meet, her mother turned their big Church Hill home into a boarding house. Two nephews of Mr. Matt boarded there years later, and that's where he met Granny. I think one reason Granny adapted easily to the lean years after Mr. Matt died was that she was raised in the same frugal atmosphere. Long after the boys began making good money, she still wouldn't spend a penny on anything that wasn't absolutely necessary. The house slowly went into decline, and she continued to eat four eggs a day.
The lady to the left is Granny's sister, Nellie -- whom everyone called "Nellie Bly" or just "Bly." Bly never married and hardly ever smiled, but that didn't matter. Whenever she came by (usually when Granny and my mother went shopping), Bly and I walked to one of two great places: High's Ice Cream ("A Quart for a Quarter"), where she bought me a HUGE hand-dipped cone for a nickel, or to a doughnut place whose name I've forgotten, but not the doughnuts. As we sat at the counter, I watched MY doughnut sizzling in a vat of hot oil! When it was crispy, the counter lady retrieved it with tongs, rolled it around in a tray of powdered sugar until the sugar melted -- right in front of me -- and served it, still molten, in a square of butcher paper to keep my hands from burning or getting messy. Hog Heaven!
I always thought "Bly" was her middle name since the boys referred to her as "Nellie Bly." But in doing my homework for this book, I found she was Nellie Tolliver Cherry. Where did her nickname "Bly" come from? Well, in 1889, when Bly was young, an adventuresome woman reporter for the New York World talked the newspaper into financing and publicizing a trip around the world with her as the heroine. Her goal was to beat the time of Phileas Fogg, the fictional hero of Jules Verne's popular novel, "Around the World in Eighty Days." The newspaper held a contest to see who could guess the final time (a million entries!), and brass bands and fireworks greeted her everywhere. She finished in 72 days, 6 hours and 11 minutes. The stunt made her famous -- under the pen name of Nellie Bly !
The pictures opposite page were taken by my father with his first camera in 1928. They are the only ones that show Josie and Honey in their 'teens, but I also included them because they capture the "look" of the late 1920s. I believe the car is a 1925 Oldsmobile Coupe which belongs to the father of one of the two friends.
Part of the 1920s look is what the boys are wearing. Then, as now, pre-school boys wore short pants, while boys in high school or older wore long trousers. Except for church or formal occasions, however, grade-school boys (including me in the 1930s) wore knickers . No, not British knickers, which means underwear, but American knickers: loose-fitting short pants gathered at the knee (per Webster's, who fails to add an important part -- always worn with long socks !). Professional golfers wore knickers, too (some in Scotland still do), which helped us kids feel more grown up. Honey, maybe 15 here, is wearing knickers.
The advantage to mothers during the Depression years (and to
Granny during her lean years) was considerable: no cuffs to
wear out, nothing to lengthen or shorten, and nothing to catch
and tear in bicycle chains (only girls' bikes had chain guards
then.) If money was short, boys could wear hand-me-downs,
or wear fake knickers: Granny would cut off the worn ends of
Vincent's or Mr. Matt's long trousers and sew a strip of elastic
at the end. When they were tucked into long socks, they
looked like knickers! That's what Josie seems to be wearing.
This sketch was done by my father for a magazine illustration
in the 1930s. It shows the proper schoolboy garb for early fall:
corduroy knickers; a sweater over a white shirt, and patterned
socks (more expensive than black.) If you went to Catholic
school (the Mahoneys didn't: no money), you also wore a
necktie. Honey is wearing corduroy knickers, but Josie isn't
-- another reason I think his are just cut-off trousers.
The boys in the lower picture are in a classic pose familiar to football fans in the 1920's -- The Four Horsemen , the four-man backfield of Notre Dame's football team at the line of scrimmage, ready to charge at the snap of the ball. Knute Rockne was the head coach of Notre Dame's football team, "The Fighting Irish," from 1918 to his death in 1931, winning 105 games and losing only 12. Rockne specially trained the four-man backfield the newspapers called The Four Horsemen , who always posed this way for sports photographers.
My father began his career as a commercial artist at 18 and stayed with the same company until he died at 59. He was a really good artist, with a great eye and and a precise hand. That little "knickers" sketch on the previous page looks like a pen-and-ink drawing, but it's a brush -and-ink drawing! He did all such line drawings with a small sable-hair brush dipped in India Ink, twirled in a little porcelain dish to bring it to a fine point. By controlling the pressure, he could make the line thinner or thicker, but his hand was so steady he could draw a perfect line you'd swear was done with a pen and a ruler. When I was young, I once invited an unbelieving friend over and asked Daddy just to draw just a line for him -- just one line! Amazing!
Like most artists, he started drawing for fun when he was young. But what really got him going was an ad in a matchbook. (For non-smokers, a matchbook is a little fold of cardboard with twenty cardboard matches inside. In those days, they were often given away free and always carried advertising.) Interestingly, the ad Daddy responded to was still running even when I was a 'teen. On the front was a picture of a woman's face; inside was an ad from an art school that said Draw This Face and Win a Free Art Course. Well, at 15, Daddy did just that -- and drew it so well he won a free correspondence course in drawing!
The course helped develop his natural interest in painting things that looked almost as real as photographs, and in making precise line drawings you'd swear had been traced from real photgraphs. One especially accurate drawing done as an exercise got him his lifelong job -- a pack of Chesterfield cigarettes with a few cigarettes artfully raised from the pack. When he read a help-wanted ad from an engraving company looking for commercial artists, he grabbed the Chesterfield drawing and some other samples, took the streetcar down to the engraving company, and was hired on the spot! He told me the Chesterfield drawing was the clincher!
"Commercial" art refers to drawings, paintings and retoughed photos used in ads or in labels on boxes and cans. You can see why realism is important and why Daddy got the job. But with more experience, his interest turned to painting scenes that were more interesting or expressive than photgraphic -- pictures that "told a story."
An early example is the imaginary scene from the General Store and Post Office at Walkerton, Viginia. Florene's Husband, Joe May, Sr., rented a large cabin outside Walkerton, and we often spent a several weekends there each Summer or Fall. When we drove down from Richmond, my folks stopped first at the General Store for supplies (I'd get a pack of BB's and a Nehi Grape soda). Everything in the picture is real -- the old gent filling his pipe, the two dogs and the store shelves -- but they were never in that one place at the same time. Daddy sketched Josie from his picture taken in front of the Latrobe, and drew everything else from memory.
The Pirate , opposite, is another example. He painted it for a storybook illustration, but it touched something deep inside and he kept the original watercolor. It was done the year I was born, and has been knocking around in boxes all these years, without a frame or glass. I'm surprised the two of us have lasted this long.
Deep in his heart, Daddy longed for a meaningful but simple outdoor life, and his sketches often reflect this. The theme that best expressed it, and stayed with him all his life, was being Out West. His favorite brush-and-ink drawing, The Cowboy , 1936, is really a spiritual self-portrait, painted entirely from his imagination. The Cowboy is Daddy, Out West -- a place he would never know, in a life he would never know. But in the picture, the day's work is done and the Cowboy is free . Although we can't see it, we know he's sitting before a campfire. And he's just lit a cigarette; the lighted match is still in his hand.
When he was 19, friends he had played high school football with talked Daddy into joining the Richmond Arrows football team. He started as their quarterback, and became the team's Captain the following year, 1927. His friends started calling him "Cap," a nickname that stayed with him most of his life.
The Arrows were Richmond's most popular football team -- somewhere between amateur and semi-professional. In addition to his job as a commercial artist, Daddy played for them for four years, until his back was cleated and the muscles injured in a player pileup. The only picture I have is the beat-up newspaper clipping above from 1927. (He's the second from the left.) The article says they played before 3,500 fans, which gives you an idea of their popularity, The Arrows were often on the local sports pages, and I'm sure half of Richmond knew who Captain Mahoney was! But I never found out if O'Reilly "stopped these boys"! I'll bet he didn't!
All three brothers enjoyed outdoor activities when they were grown, especially horseback riding and fresh-water fishing. (Plus, for my father, a once-a-year ocean-fishing trip out on a charter boat in North Carolina's Outer Banks.) Most of this came about because Joe May, Florene's husband, had rented a cabin -- really a small country house -- on the Mattaponi River that runs through Walkerton. The cabin was about 40 miles from Richmond, making it easy for the Mays and Mahoneys to go there on weekends or holidays throughout most of the year. We fished from a rickety wharf in front of the cabin, or from a small island a short way up the river, easy to reach by rowboat. I would have enjoyed swimming except the Mattaponi had a few venemous water snakes -- Water Moccasins ("cottonmouths") -- and the water near the cabin was so muddy I had no idea what was around me!
The cabin was one of of two similar small houses by the river, about a hundred yards apart, built by a farmer and horse owner, Mr. Trice. He had a son named Latane (which we always pronounced "Latney"), a very pleasant young fellow about the same age as Honey. In one of the Mays' early visits, Latane met Joe May's younger sister, Louise, was instantly attracted, and soon married her! If memory serves, Mr. Trice gave the cabin he had built next door to Joe May's to Louise and Latane as a wedding gift!
Besides farming, Latane's father and uncle raised and trained horses. And Latane himself became interested in professional harness racing and in trotting horses to the point of building a track around the farm to train them. This is what got the Mahoney boys interested in riding -- not for racing, just for fun.
Honey had the least interest in riding (does that show in his expression?). I think he went mainly to be with his brothers. But Daddy really enjoyed it. To him, riding was more than just being outdoors; it was a little like being the Cowboy Out West. Josie loved riding, too, and was especially interested in looking like a rider -- always the Proper Englishman (or Irishman), with white shirt, necktie, expensive riding boots, and Jodphurs , or Riding Breeches -- loose fitting above the knee, but snug below so they fit into the riding boots. Grown-up knickers, you might say.
The picture below shows Vincent cutting firewood at the cabin in wintertime. And in spite of what Honey told me when I was little, that's two horses behind Daddy, NOT the famous double-ended horse of Walkerton, Virginia! The right picture is a summertime pose with Joe May at top; Florene and Honey, next, Josie and Vincent, next; and little me, age 4 -- taken at the other cabin, which I'll get to shortly.
My mother was Kathleen "Kitty" Leake. Daddy once told me that before he met her, he had decided he wanted to marry "a pretty little dark-haired girl." Well, that was Kitty. The upper left picture was taken in 1926, a year or two before they ever met, when she was 16.
It's interesting how they met -- through a "blind" dinner date arranged by Kitty's father and brother. To explain, my father's company, the Metropolitan Engraving Company, did more than just commercial artwork and photogaphy. Their main business was making the metal plates used to print pictures on paper. In those days, a page that had nothing but print (like this one) was printed from an inked frame in which metal type had been laboriously set by hand at the print shop, one letter at a time . But pictures ("graphics") had to be printed from metal plates which were photo-etched with the images. This was a complex process that involved chemicals and giant cameras, a job which only specialty companies like the Metropolitan could do. As a result, Daddy not only worked with advertisers and ad agencies, but got to know many of the printers who used Metropolitan's plates.
One of the printshop owners was T. S. "Smitty" Leake. Smitty had one son, Monty, a year older than Daddy, and one daughter, Kitty, three years younger. Monty ran the presses and he and his father shared the manual typesetting. The Leakes had become good friends with my father by 1927 or 1928, when he had become captain of the Arrows' football team. They invited Daddy over for dinner several times -- maybe just out of friendship, but I'm convinced it was mainly to introduce Kitty to a nice, eligible young bachelor who also just happened to be Captain Mahoney of the Richmond Arrows!
My father and Kitty were married in the Fall of 1929, and the next picture shows the two of them at that time. I was born in 1931, and was probably close to 1'bd years old when the lower left picture was taken. The last picture was taken a bit earlier -- it's one of the few I have with both Grannies together. Smitty is holding me; Granny Ho is on your right, and my other Granny, "Granny Leake," is on the left, with Kitty behind her.
Smitty was an interesting fellow: a "tinkerer" who loved to work on machines and invent things. He built an electric lawn mower for himself long before they were commercially available. He bought one of the first motorcycles sold in Richmond, and became a motorcycle dealer in 1902 by age 20. He organized the first motorcycle club in Richmond (according to Granny Leake, around 1905 -- to her memory, the first club in the South ). He became a printer's apprentice during this time, and after a few years either took over the printshop when the original owner retired, or left and started his own printshop -- not sure which.
Smitty loved the outdoors and especially the water . From the 1920s until he died in 1952, he rented the cabin you see opposite, where he kept the fishing boat shown below. The cabin was on a little inlet off the mouth of the Rappahannock River, only a few miles from where it joins the Chesapeake Bay. Compared to Joe May's year-round cabin with fireplace heat, spring water, and a flush toilet (!), Smitty's cabin was a rickety old shack. It had one bedroom up front; a middle section with a screened porch, dining/living room and tiny kitchen; and out back, a large, detached bedroom building shown in the side view picture. For water, I filled two buckets several times a day from a rusty iron hand pump at Mrs. Brown's farmhouse next door (that's her white fence on the left) The cabin's outhouse was down over the hill behind the car -- an unpleasant trip in rain or at nighttime!
In spite of its shortcomings, Smitty's cabin got a lot of summertime use. It was on a knoll of land, neatly mowed, next to an inlet from the Rappahannock River. The opposite river bank was almost out out sight, and the view was terriffic. I loved sitting in a lawn chair under that tree at the right side of the picture, and watching distant sailboats and fishing boats way out in the water -- not a care in the world. And there was plenty of water activity. Besides the fishing boat, Smitty kept a canoe and a small outboard motor boat in the water around the side of the hill, and he was always ready to take whoever cared to go (not me), out into the River or the Bay in the big boat for serious salt-water fishing. The ladies sometimes fished from the wharf or caught salt-water crabs with a net, using raw bacon on a string as bait.
In case you wondered, the dock is white because it's filled with oyster shells right down to the bottom -- nearly indestructible. There was a large cannery nearby whose products included canned oysters. Getting rid of tons of shells was a problem, and Smitty found they were only too happy to send barges of oyster shells with a crane to his dock and dump them into the pilings -- free of charge!
The canning company owned several fields nearby where they grew greens and vegetables for canning, including spinach, We usually went to the cabin in two cars, Smitty's and Daddy's, and the dirt road that led to the cabin went right between two spinach fields. We loved fresh spinach, and Kitty and Granny Leake always made us stop the cars in spinach season so they could fill a few grocery bags! Smitty, Daddy and I hated this. All the men in my family were honest to the core, and we had visions of the Sheriff arresting us for stealing. We weren't poor; why couldn't we BUY spinach? "Oh, for Lord's Sake," which is what Daddy always grumbled when stuck in a situation he didn't like. "Oh, Poo!", which is what my mother always replied, and the women just kept on picking. I was sure someone would notice the skinny plants and be on the lookout for thieves thereafter. But my mother said she took only a few leaves from each plant so nobody would notice ! I can still see her in my mind's eye, fluffing up each plant to make it look full again!
In 1936, with First Grade just a year away, my folks figured it was time to move out of Granny's -- and for that matter, out of Church Hill itself. It was more than simply getting a separate bedroom for me, or having more personal space. The hill where Richmond's history began two centuries earlier was showing it's age. Most of the houses had been built before the features we think are essential today ever existed. Florene and Joe May had long since fled west of downtown, and Granny's well-to-do relatives, the Reeds and the Laruses, had moved to large homes or estates farther west. Ultimately, even the Metropolitan Engraving Company would move west.
My mother didn't just want to buy a house, however, but build one. She had her heart set on a new home in a new section of town -- a house with central heat, a living room instead of a parlor, a real hot water heater, a refrigerator that made its own ice, an electric stove, and a genuine driveway for Daddy's car. And since she didn't drive, it had to be close to a school bus route AND a streetcar line.
They couldn't have picked a better year to get started. New roads and a recently extended streetcar line had opened up plentiful and cheap land to the west of Richmond. Depression-era labor was cheap, so if you knew what you wanted (and what you didn't need), Mama figured it was cheaper to build a house than to buy one. So in 1936, in the depth of the Great Depression, my mother talked the bank into loaning them money to buy a lot in one of the new developments, and to build a two-bedroom brick house on it, all on my father's $37 a week artist's salary.
Now, my mother wasn't an assertive or take-charge type. She was bright, quick to pick up on things, but more of a "bubble," perhaps a bit silly at times. But once she got an idea in her mind that made sense to her -- be it picking spinach or building a new home -- she could persist until all opposition was worn to dust. I can imagine the bank president, to use my father's phrase, saying to everyone else, "Oh, for Lord's Sake, just give her the mortgage and get her out of here!"
By the Fall of '36, the outside of our future home had been completed and Daddy snapped the picture opposite. There's a living room on the right, a dining room and kitchen on the left, and two bedrooms and a bath upstairs. By early Summer next year, the interior was finished and the driveway installed, and we moved in, leaving just enough time to get settled before my school started in September.
Our new house was heated by hot-water baseboard radiators, supplied by a coal-fired furnace in the basement. Unlike the homes in Church Hill, however, this one had a coal bin in the basement, just steps away from the furnace. To fill the bin, the coal truck backed up into the driveway, extended a chute to the bulkhead door that opened to the bin, and poured the coal in. (And, no, we didn't have a Latrobe!)
The streetcar stop was just a block away, and the elementary schoolbus stopped just two blocks away. On a bright September morn in 1937 -- my First Day of School -- my mother walked me to the bus stop and saw me onto the bus -- in tears, as though I'd never return (or more likely, afraid I'd be scared in a new situation). I don't recall being scared, however. I'd already met of couple of the neighbor kids, and getting on the bus seemed more like an adventure to me. I must have been numb, though, as I don't remember anything about that school day. But I do remember that when I came home, I told Mama to her great relief that I did "just fine".
Now that we had moved, Daddy figured he could do a lot his work at home if he had the space. Kitty's solution (probably requiring another trip to the bank) was to enclose the open porch to make a studio. There was no outside door -- just four big windows for light. Daddy put a desk, drafting table and easel at the back end, away from foot traffic, and built a combination storage cabinet/daybed up front by the living room door. I often "flopped" there after school to read or to listen to 15-minute radio serials like Dick Tracy, the Green Hornet, or the Lone Ranger.
Josie was the most sociable and outgoing of Granny's boys. Daddy said if all three went into a store, the female clerks would end up talking to Josie. He had a great smile and a laid-back manner that put people at ease.
He was also the musical brother. He bought a table-model radio when they first came out, and one of the first portable 78 rpm record players. He could sing along with the popular tunes, play the ukelele, and he knew all the latest dance steps. He was the only one who liked to dance (or even could dance). I can trace the musical phrase truckin' back to a 1930s tune he danced to called the Dipsy Doodle . The dance step was a forward shuffle with knees slightly bent, while pointing a wiggly index finger to the sky, That was " trucking " or "truckin' on down." The phrase and pose lasted long enough to re-appear in Hippie-era posters as Keep On Truckin' .
It's ironic, but easygoing Josie was the one with a stomach ulcer. There was no Zantac then, and the current medical advice was just avoid spicy foods and drink lots of cream to soothe the ulcer. He also had chronic psoriasis -- red patches with scaly white skin on his elbows and knees. It was quite troublesome during the winter, but cleared up almost completely every summer, thanks to what they now tell us to be afraid of -- sunshine -- good 'ol ultraviolet. Josie got lots of exposure and summertime healing at Joe May's and Smitty's cabins.
Josie got married in his thirties, and never had children. He worked all of his life for Larus and Brothers, the family tobacco company. (Granny's mother was Harriet Larus). When he was in his fifties, the company promoted him and sent him and his wife, Florence, to the Phillipines to represent the company and oversee their tobacco plantation. For most people, this would have been a prestigious promotion. They were given a big home. a maid, cook, chauffeur and grounds keeper. For Josie, however, there was a unforseen and tragic downside.
As the company representative, Josie always wore a white shirt, tie and, even when outside, a light jacket. That would have hard enough on his psoriasis in Richmond weather, but having to stay covered in the Phillipine heat and humidity made it really bothersome. The company's Phillipine doctor thought he had the answer -- a new wonder drug at that time, Cortisone . At first, daily injections stopped the itching and improved the skin. But unbeknownst to the doctor, continued cortisone use, especially by injection, does irreversible damage to blood vessels and tissues, and Josie started turning red all over! The company sent them home to Richmond, expecting that American doctors could fix things.
They could not. I visited Josie a few months later while on a business trip. He was in bed, still acting cheerful, but as red as a cooked lobster! He died not long after.
It's interesting that Honey, who was the most serious and responsible of the three boys when older, was the most playful and active when young. He was the one most likely to break something, and to wear out his clothes the fastest. Once, he came home with a big rip in his coat but didn't remember doing it. He told Granny he was running so fast coming home that the wind must have torn a hole in it!
He was barely out of his 'teens when I lived at Franklin Street, and he acted like an older brother, not an uncle -- teasing or making up stories like the double-ended horse of Walkerton. One I certainly won't forget is when he told me there was a different pipe in my throat for each different kind of food ! Now, I was young, but I knew there were only two pipes: one for air, one for food. But Honey insisted there were hundreds -- a meat pipe, a bread pipe, a tomato pipe, and so on! I said "Oh, yeah? How about stew, soup, or hash? How do the pipes know which pieces go where?" "Oh, they know ," he answered, and never changed his story!
During the 1930s, Honey worked at one of the tobacco factories in Church Hill, Perhaps life was boring, but I think it was also out of patriotism that in 1939, he enlisted in the Army Reserves for two years. Europe was at war, but America never expected to get involved, and Honey never expected to be in combat. The Reserves gave him weekends off to hang out at 319 Lexington or go to a cabin with us.
Fate certainly can change things! On December 7, 1941. Daddy took Mama and me for a Sunday drive in his new 1941 Ford to see Honey at Fort Eustace, Virginia. His enlistment period ended in two weeks, and he was there to be "processed out." I won't forget the ride back to Richmond. I was in the back seat, leaning forward to listen to the car radio, when an announcer broke in to say Pearl Harbor had been bombed by the Japanese! And Daddy said, "Well, Honey's not getting out NOW! They're not letting ANYBODY out if we go to war!" Boy, was he right. Honey was part of the Normandy Invasion (the 2nd or 3rd "wave" in June, 1944), and was not discharged until the end of European hostilities (1945).
After the war, Honey returned to work at the tobacco factory, but Daddy eventually convinced him to work at the Metropolitan Engraving Co. and learn the business of making printing plates -- partly because it had a better future, but also (I'm sure) because it would keep them together. He later met a girl he really liked, married her and had one daughter -- my younger cousin, Suzanne, the one who inspired me to write this Mahoney book. I was living in New Jersey in the 1950s and '60s, and pretty much lost contact with Honey. I don't know when he died, or of what -- only that he was the last of the Mahoney boys to go, and that Granny outlived them all!
When we moved out of Church Hill in 1937, the Mahoney gang's headquarters shifted from Granny's house to out new house at 319 Lexington Road. Josie got married in the mid-1940s and moved out of Granny's, followed by Honey in ten more years. From the start, though, the boys missed the closeness they'd grown up with, and took every opportunity to get back together on weekends and holidays. Sometimes, this was at one of the two cabins, and occasionally, back at Granny's. But most of the time it was at "Mahoney Central" -- our new house. On Fall weekends, Josie and Honey would come to listen to football games with Daddy on our big floor model radio. And on Holidays and birthdays, they'd come to celebrate and open presents. But often it was just to "hang out" with Daddy and be together again. When Josie and Honey started dating the girls they would later marry, they brought them along, too, and that made even more of a family feeling. I enjoyed having everyone there, and I have a lot of pleasant memories of those times.
319 Lexington was The Gang's Last Stand. I joined the Navy in 1949, and returned home only on occasional leave. With me gone, Mama decided to sell the house and move to a new one further west of Richmond. Three years later, she sold that one and moved again , this time to a new house she had an architect design according to her own ideas! Josie and Florence moved twice after I left, and Honey and Ethel at least once. All this activity put quite a damper on the weekend get-togethers. But other things were winding down, too.
Even the vacation weekends that had been fun when the boys were young now seemed like hard work -- especially to the wives, who complained they did all the hard work, cooking and cleaning. Then Smitty died in 1952 and Joe May started to become bedridden, and both cabins were given up entirely. Honey had been the last to move out of Franklin Street. With Honey gone, there was no way Granny, around seventy, could live by herself in a decaying old house that used a Latrobe for heat. Luckily, Florene and Joe May had a big home, plus children to help out, so Florene brought Granny to live with them. She put 2714 Franklin Street up for sale, complete with a crumbling Pickle Factory. The boys still got together at one of the new houses during holidays, but the days of just "Hanging out" were over.
Just so we don't end on a sad note, I'll tell you about a humorous family tradition from the Christmas get-togethers at Mahoney Central, and print a few last pictures from the "good old days."
On a Christmas-season NBC Tonight Show many years ago, Johnny Carson observed that someone in his family received a fruitcake as a gift every Christmas -- the kind that weighed a ton and got even heavier when they poured rum on it -- but no one ever ate any of it. Yet, because it was a gift, no one ever threw it away, either. His only explanation was that there was just ONE fruitcake in existence -- passed year after year to different people. Mysteriously, no one ever claimed to know where this fruitcake was during the year, or who sent it the next Christmas.
Well, the Mahoneys had their counterpart: The Matched Set . This was a pair of men's silk dress socks and a matching silk necktie that were probably stylish many years earlier. But no one in our family wore silk socks now, especially saggy ones, and certainly not ones this ugly. The silk looked thin and weak, with a sickly, off-white color best described as "putrid." And just as no one in Johnny's family ever ate any of the fruitcake, no Mahoney ever wore the Matched Set. And during the year, no one admitted to knowing where it was. But come Christmas, either Daddy, Josie, Honey or I would unwrap a handsome necktie box only to reveal (to the merriment of everyone else) the Matched Set.
The Matched Set circulated during the years I lived at 319 Lexington. The last two years I was there, however, it didn't show up. We assumed it had finally been lost or thrown out -- that the joke had run its course. Nope. When I came home on Christmas leave in 1950, I opened what looked like a classy handkerchief box and there -- Ta Da! -- was the resurrected Matched Set!
As the Mahoney Gang scattered in the years that followed, it seemed the Matched Set had finally gone to the Great Haberdasher's in the Sky. Florence was rumored to be the last to have it, but when her Estate was settled, the executor's list of personal items didn't mention silk socks or a tie. So somewhere in the Universe, the Matched Set might just be waiting to make a comeback appearance -- and perhaps bring The Fruitcake with it.
1947 -- Young Dinny, age 16, with his first car -- a 1927 Model T Ford.
This is the back yard at 319 Lexington Road -- still "Mahoney Central" at this time. My father's studio is at this end of the enclosed side porch.
Why am I working on the car? Pure curiosity! I'd never seen the inside of an engine before, so I pulled the head of the engine just to see what was there!
That's Butch, our dog, keeping an eye on the goings-on.