Posts Tagged ‘Hammond’

My mother always said that, if she could relive life, she would be a journalist.  My father, on the other hand, never had such thoughts.  He was too busy watching his “window to the world,” television.  However, I think that dad would have loved to have been a film maker. 


 He loved taking movies.  His movies usually consisted of family holidays, back when people were used to sitting still for the camera so we had a lot of years of “wave at the camera” shots.  I do not think it ever occurred to him to take a movie ‘with a purpose’ other than the time he wanted to take one to make it funny by playing it backwards.


Dad had us play a game of cards; throwing down the cards, drinking a glass of pop, the dog jumping up on the chair and my brother eating a banana.  The best part though was when David, my brother, finished with the banana and continued eating the banana peel.  That was not in the script and I think that milk came out my nose because I started laughing so hard.  Backwards movies have ick factors too.


This is still the most asked for film in the family and part of the reason is that it seemed so out of character.  David was not the family clown.  Well, other than the time, when my nephew was a baby and David stuck the nephew’s high chair suction toy to his forehead and left it there during the picnic.  Needless to say, he never did that again.  The hickey lasted for a week.


David was shy.  Painfully shy where girls were concerned.  He was the band nerd in school, and all my friends thought he was adorable but since he was six years older than we were, it was not an issue.


Later, he became the computer nerd.  He was the guy who went hunting with a friend and hunted only with his camera.  He spent his life reading books and listening to music and, when he had children, he added a lifetime of Boy Scout leadership to that list.  He loved camping and nature.


I still like to think he is somewhere, sitting outside his tent, by the campfire, with his nose in a book.   




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As marriages do, my parent’s marriage was up and down. First they had their years when dad was ruler and monarch. Then, they had their years where they were happy square dancing around northern Indiana. Things kind-of-went sour when mom decided she did have a brain and wanted to use it, and dad did not like losing his kingdom. Their retirement years, in Arkansas, were spent with dad either in his recliner and mom off playing cards or them taking friends and relatives out on the pontoon boat.

I always enjoyed the story of how they met; long before internet dating.
Just out of high school, my mother took a job as a waitress. The first restaurant she worked at was in Hammond, Indiana. It was the kind of restaurant where she would clear the table and take the plates back to the kitchen and they would cut where the customer bit off the pork chop, reheat it and serve it to the next diner. Talk about re-gifting! If the meat was too small to serve again, they would just cut it up and use it the next day in a stew. I think we may all say a “thank you” to our own state’s Health Department for not allowing that to go on anymore.

Mom’s work ethic made an impression on the owners of the restaurant across the street. Who, by the way, did NOT reserve meat. They coaxed her away by promising more money and that she would not have to clean the bathroom. So, she went to work for the Indiana Barbeque in Hammond, Indiana.

Mom was happy working at the Indiana Barbeque. One evening a man walked in and mom looked up and said, “That’s the man I will marry.” She said that she just knew. He sat down, at the counter and asked for ‘mashed potatoes.’ He told her he had tried every restaurant in town and no one served them. It just so happened, that her boss had made them for his own dinner that night and had extra left, so dad got his mashed potatoes.

When dad left, mom found a circle of penny’s under his plate, for her tip. The extra effort it took to do that let her know he liked her too. They never served mashed potatoes again but she spent fifty-five years making mashed potatoes for that man.

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I never met my maternal grandfather, since he died before I was born, and I was only one year old when my maternal grandmother died. They had six children and they live through the stories their children tell. 


Memories have a way of reinventing themselves and I have listened to many family discussions that disagree.  One memory all their children agree on,however, happened during the depression when grandfather was a bootlegger.

Granddad supported six children, a wife and a father living in his home; as well as a roving number of assorted relatives, who stayed for short and long stays, and friends who dropped by on Sunday for the best, fried chicken dinner in town.

He had trained as a classical violinist, so when the depression descended, he made extra money playing honky-tonk fiddle in bars and on the radio.  He played on the Hammond radio station as “Dad DeWitt and the Pumpkin Huskers.”  His four daughters sang and his two sons played instruments.  This was not what he became famous for, though.

What he became famous for, was the best bootleg bathtub gin in Lake County, Indiana.  The, then Mayor of Hammond was his best customer.

The still had been set up under a false floor in the coal bin of the house they rented.  One day, a cousin was helping him watch the still and fell asleep at the gauges. Yup, it exploded. Fine black coal dust sifted up out of every register in the house. No one was hurt but it days to get the house cleaned of soot.

Grandpas bootlegging career ended unexpectedly the day a black limousine pulled into the yard. The driver knocked on the door and told granddad that Al Capone was waiting to talk to him. Mom says Granddad’s face turned white as a ghost at those words. Grandma did not know if she would ever see him again. He walked to the car, with Capone’s henchman, and got into the back seat. The car did not drive off. Instead, Granddad sat in the back seat and had a conversation with Al Capone, in the limousine, in my grandparent’s yard.

Capone told Granddad that the quality of granddad’s gin was so high he wanted granddad to make bathtub gin only for him. He would buy Granddad a new car and a new house. But the house would have to be located where Capone wanted it. Granddad politely declined what must have been great wealth during the depression. He explained to Capone that he had children and did not feel it would be right to get them involved in this business. Capone was very friendly and polite about the whole thing and even gave Granddad a cigar.

After the conversation, Granddad came in and smashed the still. That is when grandpa, Omar DeWitt, decided he was not going to make bootleg bathtub gin anymore, for anyone. He was not going to endanger his family because once you start working for Al Capone, you could never ever quit. 


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