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Bob Stockton

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The Blue Collar Blues
By Bob Stockton
Saturday, November 12, 2011

Rated "PG" by the Author.

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A remembrance of the forties and fifties from my blue collar roots.

There was an abundance of kids on Lafayette Avenue to hang with but most of the families forbade their children to have anything to do with me. I was seen as a
thoroughly bad influence to most of the parents on that block. There were a few exceptions, the Schlegel family being the most notable. That family will always
have a special place in my heart.

The Schlegels were of Pennsylvania Dutch origin, having moved to Trenton following World War II. The father, Lew, was a talented locomotive mechanic who was a complete alcoholic. Shortly after arriving in Trenton, the old man lost his job because of the booze and as far as I could tell never worked anywhere again. He would occasionally leave his bedroom to come downstairs and sit in the parlor of the house. There he'd sit, looking very jaundiced and frail, saying very little. He was always very polite to me on the rare occasions that I saw him. I felt sorry for this man who had long ago left his dignity and self respect in the bottom of a whiskey bottle and was now slowly dying of liver disease.

My empathy was not shared by his family. Old Lew had put them through too much heartache and disappointment.

Mrs. Schlegel wouldn’t hear of a divorce. She was a strong willed churchgoing woman who held the family together on a low paying state government clerical job and always found time to welcome me into her home as if I were family. Often she would haul out an ancient ice cream making machine- crank handle and all- and make ice cream as a treat for her four children. She also had empty soda bottles that she would wash and make homemade birch beer to go with the ice cream. I think she must have made that birch beer in the old wash tub; it always tasted a little soapy to me, but it was all that she could afford in the way of something special for the kids. I tell you, that woman had a backbone of pure steel. God had to have a special place reserved for her in Heaven.

The four children, Eleanor (Norie), Clara, Louie and David all helped around the house while the old man, his liver shot, lay upstairs in a bedroom wasting away.
Norie was probably six years older than me and was a real looker. She had a job somewhere and apparently spent most of her money on clothes as she was always dressed much better than the rest of the family. Norie was a party girl. She was going to escape the poverty of her surroundings no matter what. I suppose she eventually married a reasonably well to do young man with a big car and a promising career.

I don’t remember much about Clara. Clara was next oldest, about three years older than me and helped her mother quite a bit around the house. She was always

listening to the latest pop hits on the radio and had a particular affinity for the Four Aces’  Heart Of My Heart and just about anything sung by the Four Lads.

Funny, the things you remember about a person.

Louie was a year or so older than me and had a love for all things mechanical. We’d sit in front of his house and he’d talk of inventions that he was going to patent

and how they would revolutionize society as we knew it. He was one of those incredibly energetic people whose mind was never in neutral. He could find immense pleasure in dissecting the inner workings of all types of household appliances, bicycles, electrical doodads – you name it. Try getting him to pitch in with a little yard work and he would disappear in a hurry. Fix a lawn mower? That was fine. Operate one? Forget it. Eventually Louie enrolled in a technical college in Pennsylvania, attending electronics classes in the evenings. He had secured a day job at one of those auto mega dealerships in the area  turning back the speedometers on used cars.

David Schlegel was the youngest child. He was a bit younger than me and was the quietest of the four Schlegel children. David wasn’t particularly adventurous nor
was he the dreamer that Louie was. He was just an average good kid with a shy smile. David’s clothes were always just a bit too big for him. They hung from his
thin frame like the worn and faded hand me downs that they were. There was no money in the family budget for new clothes for David. It must have been

terribly embarrassing for him to go to school and to church dressed like that. Everyone in the neighborhood felt sorry for him. I have a picture of David taken in my back yard around 1951 when he was ten. There he stands in that ancient, faded Kodak print, smiling shyly, wearing his brother’s old clothes looking  exactly as I remember him.



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Reviewed by J Howard 11/12/2011
it is funny the things one looks back upon and remembers...what strikes me often is how differently we each can look at the same situation...sometimes.

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