When you’re a kid, whatever you see around you seems normal. If you’ve read some of my earlier blogs you already know my Dad was quite a character. When I think about it, his father was too. Hmm, maybe we all are. Maybe it’s a Yeager thing.
My Dad told me that when he was a kid growing up near the end of WWII, he and his six brothers and sisters ate dinner on White House china. I was confused. Dad always said they were poor. His father was an Elevator Mechanic, a working guy with a bunch of kids. What was with the White House china? Mom confirmed it. She said when she and Daddy were dating, she often saw odd pieces from the Hoover administration on the dinner table.
My grandfather got an exemption from serving in WWII because he had so many kids. But as one of the guys left behind, he had to travel far and wide working on elevators. I guess back then there weren’t elevators in every building like there are now. Important buildings had elevators, buildings like the White House.
After working on their elevators for a while Grandpop became curious about a certain room that was always locked. He never saw anyone go in or out. This part of the story tells me that Poppy must of spent a lot of time wandering the rooms of the White House unnoticed. It’ all in the attitude. When he realized it was always locked, of course he wanted to get in. He was on a mission. He started to ask around. He started with security. I might have to get into that room down there. The locked one. Access to the elevator power. Can you get me in? He spoke to secretaries. I need to get into that room down there. Elevator business. He always got the same answer. They key to the room was lost. No one had a copy. No one knew exactly what was in there. He couldn’t get in.
Maybe a regular guy couldn’t get in, but locks don’t keep elevator guys out. They might slow them up a little but that’s just part of the fun. Grandpop waited for the right time and into the locked room he went.
The place was full of old boxes. He started pulling them open. It turned out to be a storage room for china from past administrations. Plates and serving pieces were everywhere. Somehow the Hoover administration box met his needs. Into his tool box they went. I’m not sure how many times he accessed that room but even with 5 out of control sons, they had enough White House china to last well into the 60s.
During those White House years, Grandpop became friends with a famous Washington cartoonist who did a caricature of him and somehow he started spending time with a Louisiana Senator they called the Kingfish. His name was Huey P Long and he was famous for his corruption and power. He ran an organization called Share the Wealth that had 7.5 million members and when he spoke on the radio, they say 25 million people tuned in. Even within the White House, he traveled with guns and bodyguards.
Grandpop was working on an elevator when one of Long’s bodyguards approached him. “The Kingfish wants the elevator!” Poppy flashed his attitude. I don’t care if he’s the blowfish. I’m working here. Huey Long stepped forward. He said, “No one refuses the Kingfish.” They locked eyes. Poppy said, “Well I just did.” There was silence. Long broke into a smile. “A man after my own heart. Come on men, back to my office for a drink!” They drank and talked the night away. When Huey Long wrote his autobiography “Everyman a King” he autographed one and gave to Poppy. They had dinner together whenever he was in town and they stayed in touch. Well, they stayed in touch until Long was assassinated. Then not so much.
Daddy carried on the “adopting” of things all during my childhood. Mom’s upstairs bathroom has a beautiful marble floor. It was from some high end building where Daddy was working. He could only get one case of marble out that day, so he could only had enough to do the bathroom. I hated that floor. It was always ice cold. Daddy said it was special marble and we should be grateful to have it.
As a kid our everyday silverware was beautiful real silver forks and spoons engraved with the letters CHI. We had to polish it every few months but you had to appreciate that it was clearly special stuff. I remember Mommy got so aggravated when he brought it home. Ed, people are going to think this is from a previous marriage or something. Why do you always do this? Daddy said “Who cares? It’s nobody’s business!” I found out years later that CHI stands for Cherry Hill Inn.
Elevators can be complicated machines. Daddy’s tool box always contained forceps and other surgical tools he said came in handy for doing delicate work. Whenever a dumb waiter in the OR broke, Daddy helped himself to any tools he thought might be useful. One day he came home with a handful of shiny stainless steel screws. He said, look at the precision of these screws! They’re amazing. I said Dad! They were supposed to go into somebody! You stole them? He said they were just sitting there and they might come in handy on my boat.
When I told him one of the girls at work needed a stool on wheels due to an ankle injury, he said he knew exactly where to go. The next day the stool appeared and West Jersey OR was down one stool. He said it all came down to attitude.
Daddy and his buddies went fishing every Tuesday night after work. They would causally go into whatever hospital was on their way with 5 gallon buckets and fill them with ice. Mostly for beer, sometimes for fish. Finally Security stopped him. Hey, you can’t just come in here with buckets and take our ice. Daddy got annoyed. The ice has to be tested weekly! You want the ice machines shut down? Fine. I’ll shut um down now. They got their ice every week all summer long.
One time he even made a bet with another elevator guy that he could walk into a local bank and take the paintings right off the walls. Somehow he did it. We still have all kinds of stuff he adopted. I just gave a friend a big heavy display table for her new shop. She asked where I got such a monster. Oh, I said, it’s from Macy’s China Department.
It’s all in the attitude.