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Wednesday, July 14, 1999
Houston, Texas
Volume 64, Issue 156

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Even in the '30s they were jamming

By Brandon Moeller
Part II of III

Sunday nights in Indiana must have been great. Two families of relatives and a lot of neighbors would make their way to my grandfather's house every Sunday for ice cream, musical jam sessions and ice skating.

These are the origins of our current tradition of family gatherings for birthdays and holidays on Sunday afternoons at my aunt and uncle's house.

My great-grandmother was the instigator of the fun. She knew that it didn't always take money to have a good time.

It was the worst of times -- yet it didn't seem to matter when a large group of people got together to eat homemade ice cream and to laugh, sing and play. Grandpa played the violin, someone was always on the piano, and everybody else sang along. Including Grandpa's brother, Fred. He had what they call a lyric tenor voice, and could sing from bass up to higher than tenor.

Later he went to music school in Chicago and was in a chorus. He quit when he decided that he didn't want to live the kind of lifestyle that kept him on the road. He also worked at a bank doing accounting work when Roy Cullen noticed him at his granddaughter's wedding doing a gig with the chorus. Cullen hired him soon after to help do the books.

The hardest part about the Great Depression wasn't being poor, but the mental attitude that people experienced when they were out of work for so long. People felt so inadequate that many drew a mental curtain -- a psychological battle with themselves -- that made it hard for some to even leave their front porch.

This sluggish mentality was evinced in many houses that Grandpa would pass by that were never painted. However, when these people had a do-nothing-and-sit-on-a-porch mentality, Grandpa's family had the opposite. They believed in the give-all-you-can-away mentality.

This is because unlike those who seemed to waste away during the Depression, Grandpa's family had a garden -- to them, having a garden and being able to eat seemed about as basic as breathing.

They had two cows and so much milk they didn't know what to do with it all. Milk was in a big crock on the table at each meal. Their family drank it like it was water, but only at meals. Although the life on their 25 acres of land was enough to keep their stomachs full and their pocketbooks in the black, the food was never wasted.

In high school, Grandpa practiced the violin for four hours a day, on average. After high school, he began boxing in his spare time. He never lost a fight, but he quit when he started having problems with his eyes. His father was a boxer as well.

The government sponsored classes in fields that needed employees during the war. My great-grandfather taught one of the classes that had to do with heat transfer. However, too many people signed up for it, so Grandpa had to help teach the class.

Since these classes were free, Grandpa made sure he took as many of them as he could so he could know as much as possible about the field he would work in for the rest of his career. One of these refrigeration classes was taught by one of his customers. Although Grandpa knew a lot about the theory behind the field he was in, he didn't know the "why" that was involved in the different processes.

Grandpa was working for W.H. Howard, a company that did the extra insulation work on the Astrodome. Unlike the company that had the base contract on the Astrodome, W.H. Howard was a lot more efficient. They utilized walkie-talkies to get the job done faster, and they hauled their equipment on trailers through the dome, instead of having a runner go and get a

wheelbarrow. Mayor Hofheinz once oversaw my grandpa and Howard working and admired them for the efficiency with which they performed the tasks they were assigned.

When my grandfather began working at Brown and Root, he hired Howard. Although Houston was one of the few cities that grew during the Great Depression due to the oil boom in the 1930s, The Oil Glut in the early 1980s led to Brown and Root having to lay off 50,000 employees. Grandpa wasn't forced into retirement, but realistically, he had no other option.

When my grandparents moved to Tomball, where Grandpa lives now, they had a garden. Now the garden is pretty much dead, due to my grandfather not being able to keep it up anymore. But who knows? Maybe we'll start it up again real soon.


 
Whitlock, a sophomore information systems technology major,
can be reached at rwhitloc@bayou.uh.edu.
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