Look Inside

“Mom told us chilling stories about the ‘old country,’ stories about hearing screams coming from the nearby cemetery. Once, townspeople dug up a recently buried coffin and found the body with scratch marks inside the coffin lid. Apparently in those days, people who ‘died’ were not embalmed and perhaps some presumed to be dead were actually alive but in a coma when buried. These were the ‘un-dead.’ When they awoke, they found themselves in a cold, damp, dark box underground with no escape.”

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“When Mom was in her 50s she decided to become a U.S. citizen. She studied the materials intently and when she went before the judge, one of the questions he asked her was, ‘What flies over the White House?’ She thought and thought silently to herself, got nervous and frustrated, and thought silently some more, thinking, ‘Vhat dha hell, vhat flies ova Vhite House?’ Then she firmly proclaimed, ‘Pigeons!’ The judge laughed, hit the gavel, and granted her full citizenship. He had expected her answer to be ‘the American flag.’ In fact, Mom had a large wooden placard of the American flag at home. It hung for decades on the wall next to her bed. She was very proud of it; it was an inspiration to her.”

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“Our new 19-inch Emerson television arrived in the early 1950s, when we were 8 or 9 years old, bringing many hours of enjoyment to our family. The shows were all in black and white—colored TV did not become affordable until the late 60s. Rabbit ear antennas sat on top of the television and were adjusted to length and rotated and angled to obtain the best picture quality. There were no remote controls. One had to get up each time and turn a knob to change channels or regulate the volume.”

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“I first remember seeing your father in 1939. We were sitting in the front room and my father and your father [two Ottos] were talking and from under the couch ran a mouse and in a split second your father stepped on it and killed it. My sister and I were so impressed. The conversation at the time in the room was always remembered because of the event [to wit, that]: Construction crews at the time were taking down the Second Avenue El (Elevated Railroad, above-ground ‘subway’), and your father said they (the U.S.) were sending the steel to Japan and a war was coming!”

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“While in high school, John remembers many times going to sleep in our fifth floor apartment with his self-built HeathKit transistor radio against his ear, listening to distant stations. He picked up a radio station over 1,000 miles away in Waterloo, Iowa. Little did he know then that he and I would be living in Waterloo decades later, pursuing doctorate degrees in nearby Cedar Falls.”

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“Joe started working regularly when he was 11 years old. There was a New York City law that a kid needed working papers to get a job. Child labor protection laws, you know. This was good. Joe applied for the working papers, but they said he was too young to work, that he had to be 14. This was bad. Well, he was angry, stubborn and determined to work, so Joe, a sixth grader, started his own business as a carry-out boy standing in the front line of checkout counters at the local A&P supermarket on the corner of 79th Street and First Avenue. This supermarket did not have any such program to assist shoppers. They did not have baggers or carriers. . . . Aha! Joe found a niche.”

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 “Dad tried to help us, but he spoke country or ‘low’ German, ‘Swabish Deutsch.’ In high school, we were taught formal or ‘high’ German. I survived, but John did not. There were a half dozen ways to say the word ‘the’ in German. John balked at this, thinking, ‘I’m not learning this; they (all the Germans) will have to change it to one word.’ When Herr Helmut Schmidt, one of the German teachers, asked John, ‘Wie heissen Sie? (What is your name?),’ John replied, ‘Heute ist Montag! (Today is Monday!).’ To make a long story short, John got kicked out of German and into Spanish which he loved and succeeded in. (‘Ya! Ya! Er war ein dummkopf’)”

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 “Think outside of the box. That’s where many hidden solutions to problems can be found. This reminds us of a true story of a man up on the roof of a three-story house doing repairs. The roof had a sharp enough pitch that he began to slide down. He knew he would be severely injured or killed if he fell off, so he made a quick decision to staple his left hand a few times with the power nail gun into the roof. The nails held him until rescue arrived. Ouch!”

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