John Charles Weaver (1884 – 1969) was my wife’s paternal grandfather. Fortunately, he left us with an autobiographical sketch, richly filled with family stories and genealogical information. Recently my wife re-read her grandfather’s story of his life. She had remembered him as a somewhat stern and aloof person. But that is not what comes through in his writing. “I wish I had know these aspects of him,” she mused. In order to preserve and share the multi-textured person that was John Charles Weaver, I am sharing his writing in 6 posts.
MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY BY JOHN CHARLES WEAVER (Part 4)
Pedro was the popular card game of the times and there was seldom an evening that it was not the pastime and our home was the most popular meeting place. When company would drop in I would be sent to the nearby saloon with a gallon bucket to get beer. I would knock on the door and the bartender would come and take my bucket (minors not allowed) fill it, give me a pretzel and I would be on my way with the evening’s cup of cheer.
One evening Mrs. McNally, a nearby neighbor, was the only person to come. Her husband was working overtime and she didn’t want to be home alone. They decided to play cards with me as my mother’s partner. I was elated at the opportunity but Papa told me to run over to McNally’s home and see if he had returned. Disappointed I went hoping that Mr. McNally would not be home, but there he was walking up and down the room. But I wanted to play Pedro so I cam back and with a straight face told a whopper. I said the house was dark and I played Pedro with a guilty conscience. I don’t know if they ever found out. If they did they never said anything, but I think my mother had her doubts.
About a quarter of a mile from our house and across the open field was the junction of the B&O & Walbash railroads, and at that point was a target station shanty and signal tower. The watchman was Tom Birch who lived next door to us. He was supposed to be in the shanty but seldom was. When a train would come to the junction they had to wait for the all-clear signal before they could cross the junction. The target signals were two balls, one red, the other green about the size of volley balls and it was Tom’s job to manipulate the balls and a train could not pass until Tom gave them the green signal. When a train came to the junction and found the red light against it, the engineer, knowing of Tom’s habits, would toot the whistle with a series of short blasts and Tom would come bounding out of the house. Now Tom had lost his right leg in a railroad accident which accounted for their putting up with Tom’s negligence. He wore a cork leg that would give a loud squeak when he put his weight on it, and when he was in a hurry which was usually most of the time, he wouldgo bounding across the field kangaroo fashion: thump, hop, squeak, thump, hop, squeak to the target house, pull up the red ball, let down the green and the train would pass on. The neighbors got a bang watching Tom hop and skip across the field when they heard an engine’s toot toot.
About a block from our house on Dierick Street was the volunteer fire engine house. When a fire broke out the one who discovered the fire would ring the fire bell and volunteers would come running, pull the hose cart to the fire which was usually too late to save anything except surrounding buildings. The firehouse was at the dead end of Holgate Avenue and the electric single track car line ran up to it. The car would be operated from either end by the motorman, so that when he got to the end of the line all that he had to do was turn his trolley around and be all set for the return trip.
Which calls to mind the time on one Halloween night as I came out of the house to join the kids at play under the arc lights, I spotted a can lying in the gutter. Upon investigation it turned out to be a can of lard. It was a large can nearly full and must have fallen from a passing truck. I called the kids. What to do? On Halloween night and with a can of lard? So we started out on a greasing expedition. First we greased the car tracks for about half a block. When the car came and the motorman applied the brakes his car wouldn’t stop and skidded into the firehouse door. When he turned his trolley and tried to pull out, his car just skidded on the greased track. The neighbors finally got a barrel of salt from old Adam Clare’s grocery nearby and got the car going. Aside from the car tracks, we greased everything in sight – trees, fences, Hitchingposts, windows, the community water pump – everything. Next morning there was a little boy carrying a bucket of hot water, a scrub brush and rags under the eyes of his mother cleaning up the mess. The little boy was me. I had been spotted by one of the neighbors and was made to clean up the mess.
Adam Clare who ran the grocery was an odd character. He only carried staple items in his store – bread, butter, sugar, salt, coffee, tea, crackers in a barrel and cheese – no meats. We ran a weekly account on tab. At the end of the week Adam would make out the bill, put it in an envelope, address it, place a stamp on it, then deliver it himself. His wife was almost totally blind and we would hammer out white pennies and when she was in the store try to pass them off for nickels.