A GIFT FROM DAD

June 10, 2024 | Author Friend Promo, Family, Holidays

Pondering what it means to be poor

by Anne Montgomery

When my dad was 92, he got sick.  With the exception of some childhood bouts of pneumonia—the result of growing up in a house full of chain-smoking coal miners—he’d been robustly healthy his entire life. That he survived the twin assaults of Valley Fever and pneumonia was surprising. Before dying just a week shy of 97, he still took ballroom dance lessons, required not a single medication, and read the New York Times every day.

My father was an ice dancer until he was 80. Then he took up ballroom.

However, my dad was not the same as he was before his illness. His mind was altered, leaving him fuzzy in the short-term memory department. Ironically, and like many elderly people, he has no trouble recalling in vivid detail events that occurred many decades ago. The Japanese kamikaze that flew so close to his destroyer escort he could see the young pilot’s eyes before the plane narrowly missed the ship and plunged into the sea. The sailor plucked from dark, oil-slicked water who lay in his arms and asked for a cigarette before dying. The shipmate who worked as Mickey Rooney’s stunt double who sometimes climbed the mast and performed swan dives into the ocean. And the bodies of downed pilots, in a neat row on the deck, tarp covered save for their feet which rocked rhythmically as the ship swayed beneath the night sky, waiting to be buried at sea.

My father served on a destroyer escort during World War II. The men of the USS Ulvert Moore fought in numerous battles, including Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Bright and clear is another memory my dad carries, one of a ten-year-old growing up in the mining town of North Irwin, Pennsylvania. The small dwelling on Penn Avenue housed immigrants, Irish in my father’s case. But Italians, and Poles, and Russians, and others lived on the street, as well, all sharing something in common. They were poor.

“Dad’s taking you to a ballgame,” his mother called.

Clad in knickers with clasps below the knees, brown shoes and socks, and a white button-down, my father balked when she handed him a sack lunch bearing a chicken sandwich and a small red apple.

“I wanna get lunch when I get there,” he said. “Everyone buys their lunch at the ballgame.”

My grandfather— thin, balding, blue eyes dancing beneath the brim of a fedora—smiled, then ushered my dad to the train station. There was no money to make the trip to Pittsburg’s Forbes Field, but my grandfather worked for the railroad, one of the few members of the Butler clan to avoid laboring in the mines, so they rode the train for free.

My dad still clutched his sack lunch on the streetcar that would drop them in front of the stadium. “I wanted to hide it,” he said. “I put it under the seat because I didn’t want people to see it.”

After disembarking at Forbes Field, they were caught in an excited wave of baseball fans rushing to get into the game. When they settled into their seats, my dad tucked the brown bag out of sight.

The game got underway, but then a strange murmuring swept through the crowd. My dad turned and, up in the stands on the third-base side, he saw a couple approaching.

“The man was young, dashing. Black hair. Big smile. Well-dressed. She was a beautiful lady. Blonde. She looked like a movie star. People were waving at them.”

And there was something else.

“He was carrying a two-handled picnic basket.”

“What are you looking at?” my grandfather asked. “I think there’s gonna be a squeeze play.”

But my dad kept staring at the couple.

“Paul, you have to watch the game. Is there something wrong?” My grandfather turned.

“I don’t understand why anyone would bring a picnic basket to a ballgame unless they were real poor. He doesn’t look poor.”

“Paul, he isn’t poor!” my grandfather said. “That’s Billy Conn, the Light Heavyweight Champion of the World.”

Conn, an Irish-American boxer and local favorite called The Pittsburgh Kid, was known for being cocky and brash, his fights against Joe Louis, and his 63-11-1 record.

My dad continued to keep his brown bag hidden beneath the seat as he watched the game that day, taking a bite occasionally, hoping no one would notice. He wondered about the glamorous couple, sneaking peeks as they snacked on their picnic-basket lunch. He thought about what it meant to be poor.

 

A chance sighting of world champion boxer Billy Conn had my then ten-year-old father pondering what it meant to be poor.

“I should have been proud to be able to go to the ballgame,” my dad said, blinking blue eyes that look just like mine. “I learned that I shouldn’t worry about what other people might think of me.”

I thought about his wise words, a lesson he learned at the tender age of ten, a time he still recalls so vividly.

Thanks to the G.I. Bill, my father would earn a bachelor’s degree from Penn State University. When I was eight, I watched from the balcony as he received a master’s degree from Seton Hall. Because of his stint in the Navy and his education, we were never poor, something that, as a ten-year-old, he might have been comforted to know.

Here is a brief peek at Anne’s latest release.

Bud Richardville is inducted into the Army as the United States prepares for the invasion of Europe in 1943. A chance comment has Bud assigned to the Graves Registration Service where his unit is tasked with locating, identifying, and burying the dead. Bud ships out, leaving behind his new wife, Lorraine, a mysterious woman who has stolen his heart but whose secretive nature and shadowy past leave many unanswered questions. When Bud and his men hit the beach at Normandy, they are immediately thrust into the horrors of what working in a graves unit entails. Bud is beaten down by the gruesome demands of his job and losses in his personal life, but then he meets Eva, an optimistic soul who despite the war can see a positive future. Will Eva’s love be enough to save him?

Praise for Your Forgotten Sons

“Although a defty crafted work of original fiction, “Your Forgotten Sons” by Anne Montgomery is inspired by a true story. An original and inherently interesting read from start to finish, “Your Forgotten Sons” will prove to be an immediate and enduringly appreciated pick.”  Midwest Book Review

“This was a quick, riveting read that really challenged me to think differently about our servicemen and women, especially those who take on the jobs that don’t get heroically depicted in the media or news…I really highly recommend this book to anyone that is looking for a different take on American history. I left it with a newfound appreciation for the unsung heroes.” Bekah C NetGalley

“This is the truth. It’s gritty and painful and bittersweet – and true.  When you think you’ve read every perspective of WWII, along comes Bud to break your heart.” Bridgett Siter Former Military Reporter

“Anne Montgomery writes a strong story and I was hooked from the first page. It had a great concept and I enjoyed that this was inspired by a true story…It was written perfectly and I was invested in the story. Anne Montgomery has a great writing style and left me wanting to read more.” –  Kathryn McLeer NetGalley

Available at AmazonApple BooksBarnes & NobleGoogle Books, and Kobo

 

Anne Montgomery has worked as a television sportscaster, newspaper and magazine writer, teacher, amateur baseball umpire, and high school football referee. She worked at WRBL‐TV in Columbus, Georgia, WROC‐TV in Rochester, New York, KTSP‐TV in Phoenix, Arizona, ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut, where she anchored the Emmy and ACE award‐winning SportsCenter, and ASPN-TV as the studio host for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. Montgomery has been a freelance and staff writer for six publications, writing sports, features, movie reviews, and archeological pieces.

When she can, Anne indulges in her passions: rock collecting, scuba diving, football refereeing, and playing her guitar.

Learn more about Anne Montgomery on her website and Wikipedia. Stay connected on Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter.

 

 

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