Friday, March 3, 2017

Life is a Checkers Game: A Move Here, A Move There

The announcement came sudden and unexpected. 1976 had been a record year for Welded Tube, $80 million in sales. 1977 started off looking like it would be even better, but then as we crept toward 1978 things turned the other way.

For years I had come to work and been busy, busy, busy, between the accounting and running the technology. Now I was finishing up by lunch and sitting about twiddling my thumbs a good part of the time. We all were.

Why so? Nothing had changed with our product. We were still top of the line.

Yes, we were, but in 1977-78 the Empire of Japan began dumping lower priced steel in the United States. Mr. Baylis, unlike a number of other manufacturers, was stubbornly loyal to the idea of buying America. We continued to purchase coils from domestic companies at a higher cost than we could get it elsewhere and consequently we had to sell product at a higher price than our competitors who were not so patriotic. In the fall of 1978 it was announced the Philadelphia operation would be shut down and sold. Headquarters and all operations would be moved to our Chicago plant, where apparently both supply and shipping were less costly. 

It was a shock and Lou Bailis could not have been happy about his own decision. The Philadelphia area had been his home and it was here that he founded and built the company. We were told by the end of the year this location would be gone. I had been called upstair to the main office where they offered me a 47% raise to stay with the company and go to Chicago with them.  It was a difficult situation.

I was torn, but my wife was adamant that she didn’t want to move. We had lived all our lives in this area, our family was here as were all our friends. She did not want to move, and honestly, I didn’t either. But not to do so meant we would face that old bug-a-boo, unemployment and the challenge of finding a new job. Not only that, it wasn’t just us anymore. We had a baby now.

It was a new crisis to take to Laurel Hill Bible Church for prayer.

Then in the middle of October the phone rang. It was Jim Schlief (left), who I had been reporting to at Welded. He had left the month before the announcement was made having seen the handwriting on the wall and obtained a new position as CFO (Chief Financial Officer) for Mercy Catholic Medical Center. He called to see if I would consider coming there as the Budget Manager.

Of course I was.

I would start my new job in early November. I immediately let Welded Tube know I wasn’t going to Chicago with them and in fact was giving them my two-week notice. They were upset by my decision and tried to dissuade me by offering even more money, but our mind was set. 

It was a relief to know I wouldn’t face unemployment when Welded Tube closed up come January, but there wasn’t time to dwell on our good luck, if you could call it that. I didn’t know what I was in for at Mercy Catholic. We did know we would have to change addresses. The headquarters for the Medical Center was on Main Street, Darby, Pennsylvania.

Actually, it sat just outside the town proper and behind Holy Cross Cemetery at the border of Yeadon. Main Street had been South Lansdowne Avenue until the street crossed West Providence Road. There was irony in this for a decade earlier we had lived in The Lansdowne Towers, which sat along West Providence Road in walking distance of Mercy Catholic.

We weren’t in walking distance where we currently were. Between Chalet at Ski Mountain and my new workplace was a distance of 24 miles. If you look it up on Google Maps its says a 
35-minute trip. Yeah, right, if you’re the proverbial crow. I’d be traveling during rush hour up Route 42 out of Jersey, crossing the Walt Whitman Bridge onto the Schuylkill Expressway until Route 291. This would take me through southwest Philadelphia, pass the airport, eventually through Darby to the Hospital, and then reverse it every evening. Maybe you could do it in 35 minutes if everybody else died and the highways were clear, but not in that daily traffic and certainly not on Friday evenings and Monday mornings during the Jersey shore season. No, the only sane thing to do was move and do it quickly.

Lois did not want to go into another apartment, but we didn’t have enough money to afford a down payment on a house. We drove over to a Real Estate Office in Springfield, Delaware County and we told the Agent we were looking for a house to rent, one we could stay put in it for a while. We emphatically insisted we didn’t want any place that the owner planned to sell in the short term. We wanted to rent from somebody who only wanted to rent their property for several years.

The Agent assured us she had the perfect home right there in Springfield. It belonged to an older woman who had no interest in selling. We began moving our furniture and stuff there on November 8. We left Laurel at my parents over the weekend. We moved to 338 Rambling Way on November 11. When we picked Laurel up on Sunday evening we had managed to move two more loads that day, but still had a couple more to do.

(Probably all those blasted books I had accumulated. My personal library grew year after year until a couple years ago I had over 5,000 volumes. (Only a few show in the photo.) Every time we moved the boxes loaded with books was greater. A decade ago I donated a great many to the local library. I only have a few hundred volumes left.)

My mom and grandmother were down on the 16 to help Lois unpack. They brought dinner with them. My dad got there in time to eat with us. They thought the house was nice. We had Christmas at our house that year. My parents gave Lois a washer and drier.

I have not mentioned anything for a long time about my wife’s Bipolar Disorder. I recall the house as being fairly decent, but she claims it was a decrepit dump, falling apart with the bathtub coming through the ceiling, a place she feared would collapse about us at any instance. (Photos of 338 Rambling Way’s interior line the sides along these passages.)

It certainly wasn’t perfect, but it also wasn’t on the verge of collapse. I have no recall of bathtub legs sticking through the kitchen ceiling. The basement was somewhat spooky, but most basements are. It had the furnace I think they used to terrify Kevin in “Home Alone”, but otherwise I didn’t fear for my child living there.

It had a nice backyard and the neighborhood was quite.

The home was conveniently situated, sitting less than a block back from Baltimore Pike, the main drag through Springfield. It had easy access to stores and restaurants, yet if you walked away from Baltimore Pike it was a quiet, peaceful stroll.

The house still stands nearly 40 years since we lived there and looks the same, except for a picket fence about the yard. (How the house looks today on the right; not much different then the first photo that I took when we moved there.)

It was only a 12-minute drive to the headquarters of Mercy Catholic Medical Center (MCMC) and my new job as Budget Director. MCMC consisted of, besides the administration building, two major Philadelphia Hospitals, the 204 bed Fitzgerald Mercy in Darby (on the right) and the 157 bed Misericordia Hospital in southwest Philadelphia (on the left).

In the years since I left they have changed the names to Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital and Mercy Philadelphia Hospital. That is okay, I always thought Misericordia was a terrible name for a hospital; sounds too much like misery. Actually, Misericordia is the Latin word for mercy.  The Medical Center also included a nursing school and several ancillary clinics scattered about the area. It was owned and operated by the Sisters of Mercy (a misnomer if ever there was one).

I was nervous about the size of the complex and the fact I had never been a budget manager before and wasn’t at all familiar with hospital accounting, but I was also looking forward to working with Jim Schlief again. I would soon be rudely awakened to a different reality.

I walked into a disaster. First of all, the fiscal year, as it is for many non-profits, ran from July 1 through June 30, not by calendar year. I began my new job in early November and discovered on day one that the 1978-79 budget was not yet in place. We were better than a third through the fiscal year and no budget had been completed. The former Budget Director, the man I was replacing, was still on board. He was a nice guy and a jovial sort, and he didn’t see this situation as very serious at all. He laughed it off. “We didn’t get a budget set until almost May last year so we’re ahead of the game. It was even worse the year before that.” No wonder they were bouncing this guy. He showed me around both hospitals, introducing me to department heads, but he showed no sense of urgency about inquiring where they were in the process. Well, I knew where they were, almost five months behind.

He left after another week and the department was all mine. I didn’t hardly know where to begin, but I knew it had to quick. I personally began visiting every cost center and I issued a memorandum that all budget paperwork needed to be in my hands within two weeks. That is when I discovered a lot of these managers had never even received paperwork or if they had, couldn’t understand it. I therefore carried extra paperwork with me and sat down with any manager to explain it. Now frankly, this stuff was new to me too and I was learning it as I taught them, but we got 'er done. Before Christmas came we had a budget in place and at the end of December we were comparing budget to actual. It wasn’t totally accurate, but it was better than nothing and I had made myself known to every cost center head in the system.

My second shock came as I was finalizing this budget. One of my biggest reason to be excited about my new employment, besides actually being employed, was the opportunity to work for Jim again.  It was not to be. Jim was the Chief Financial Officer, which meant he sat up top. He wasn’t the guy giving the day by day orders to my level. I seldom even saw him. There was an in between management position of Finance Department Vice President. The new boss started sometime that December.

We hated each other from the start.

He was a short, snarly man named Simons, a New Yorker with a heavy New Yorker accent full of curses. The first thing he said to me was I should fire my secretary. My secretary, Sue, was a nice middle-aged lady who had worked for the Center forever, meaning at least 25 years. She took orders well and did her job without mistakes and was very dedicated to MCMC. She had the monotonous task of typing up all those repetive monthly budget reports, pages and pages,  and did so without complaint and with efficiently. Why should I fire her? 

I asked him that very question. 

“Because then the other employees will fear you,” he answered

That was his management philosophy, rule by putting the fear of God, and he saw himself as god,  and he did fire a number of long time employees and people did fear him. I didn’t show the same fear. I refused to fire Sue. He didn’t like me from that time forward. Unfortunately for him he had to walk cautiously where I was concerned. He knew that Jim Schlief, who was his boss, and I had a prior relationship and friendship, and Jim had hired me. He would have to have a real good cause to fire me and that he didn’t have. I had done something the last two Budget Managers had failed to do, pull a budget together.

He never spoke a kind word to me the whole time I worked for him; in fact usually, sneered when ever he saw me, but for the most part he stayed away from me.

My home life during 1979 was fairly normal, no big traumas.  Our old friends had dwindled down to two couples, the Rubios (right) and the Ernests, we had moved away from everyone else.
Joe and Linda Rubio had their first child in 1973 and named her Meredith after me. In September 1978, shortly after having their second child, another girl whom they named Kristen, they visited us at 338 Rambling Way. The photo shows Laurel, Meredith and Kristen playing together. Meredith was one month older than Laurel.
This visit would be the last we saw each other in person. Not 
long afterward ARCo closed its Philadelphia headquarters on South Broad Street and moved to downtown Los Angeles (Right, ARCo headquarters, L.A. in 1980). Unlike myself, he went with his company to the West Coast, buying a home with a swimming pool. We corresponded for a while, but that drifted off. I do not know where Joe is today. 

Victor (left) and Marsha Ernest continued their friendship with us a couple more years, but with the closing of Welded Tube he moved on elsewhere as well. He and I still went golfing on weekends, but by 1982 they disappeared from our lives. I heard from Victor a year or so ago, but nothing since. Both of them have serious health issues. 

In January 1979 I had to go take a driving exam to get a Pennsylvania Driver’s License to replace my New Jersey one. On February 3 we dropped Laurel off at my parents and they took her to a birthday party for her cousin Kelly. Lois and I went to a party at the Ernests.  (right, Kelly and Laurel.)

On March 3 we had a intimate party for Laurel’s first birthday. My mother, father and grandfather were at our place for dinner, as was Mr. Heaney and Evelyn Weinmann, Lois’ lifetime friend.

We were to my parents for Easter Sunday, as usual. 

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On May 19 my parents and grandmother came down for a belated Mother’s Day. We took them to the Longhorn Ranch Restaurant on Baltimore Pike in Glen Mills. We enjoyed that eatery and took Laurel there often. It had a Western theme with live country bands performing in the dining room. We always had a table ringside and  the bands fell in love with Laurel because she kind of flirted with them. When we sat down they kept directing their music at her. (This was different a different Longhorn from the chain restaurants using the name Long Horn today.)

It eventually closed and a nightclub called Pulsations was built where it had been. This was very popular for a couple years, drawing long lines, but it too closed and disappeared.  We never went there.

On June 27 for my birthday, we met my mom and grandmother and went to Dutch Wonderland. This was an amusement park that was brand new in the ‘sixties and rather limited in rides at the time, but they added a new ride each year and became fairly large.  

In August was the Wilson family reunion. We also received the bad news in August that we would have to move again. Despite the assurances of the Realtor when we rented 338 Rambling Way and that the lady owner had no intensions of selling it and never would, she did just that. She offered it to us, as a curtesy, she said, but we couldn’t afford to buy and thus it was sold out from under us and we had to be gone by the end of September.

So October 1 found us were moving our stuff once more. 
This was a nicer, if smaller house, on Congress Avenue in Springfield. The owner hadn’t wanted to rent to a family with children, but the Realtor assured her we were a very nice family and talked her into it. The Realtor felt guilty because she had told us the first home would never be sold and it was. Boy, were we getting tired of moving. This was the ninth time since we married. That was nine times in less than 20 years.

On October 30, Lois and I were baptized by emersion at the Lowndes Free Church, also known as the Blue Church, where we were now attending after having to move from Laurel Hill Bible. Mr. Heaney and my parents and grandmother were there. It was a Sunday evening service. I had been baptized in the Grove Methodist Church as a baby and had reaffirmed my baptism at Laurel Hill, but I felt strongly we should be emersed and so we arranged it.  (On left is The Blue Church in Springfield, Delaware County.)

Thanksgiving was at my parents, but once again we had Christmas at our home and this would be the pattern for years to come. I didn’t think it was fair to pack the kid up after they opened their gifts and hauling them several miles away for the day. Let them be home and enjoy their new toys, and boy did Laurel get new toys.

You could say 1979 was a typical family year, little drama on the home front, other than the unexpected moving to a new home. The turmoil remained with Mercy Catholic Medical Center and the years immediately ahead.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Now like All Christians I will be Happy, Healthy & Prosperous

Besides my job and my church work and the youth ministry and also playing in a church league softball league, I had gone back to college in the evenings of 1977. Apparently I didn't think I had enough on my plate.
At Temple University I majored in Sociology, but when I registered at Camden County College as a student I went in another direction, computers. I had a course in COBOL programming and another in Systems Analysis. The latter was to become very handy to me in the near future and one of the most useful tools I ever gained from education. I never actually got to apply COBOL anywhere; although a call went out for such programmers when they panicked over Y2K. The programming language I did learn and use regularly at Welded Tube and later at Wilmington Trust was RPG II (Report Program Generator).  (Eventually I also picked up Basic and HTML or HyperText Markup Language.)
I also took Accounting Principles I and II. I had an A average overall, but it was hardly surprising, I had been doing accounting in the real world for several years by then. Everything we were being taught, I had already done, but on a more complex and larger level.
But like several other things, the miraculous birth of my daughter, Laurel, complicated things.
Lois and I had given up our involvement in the youth ministry due to her pregnancy. Obviously having to remain in bed for term made it impossible to continue. Having a baby added to the responsibilities at home.

Now that I was a Born Again Christian, my life should become incredibly easy, right?  Saved Christians are assured to be happy, healthy and prosperous are they not?  We have a big invisible shield,  just like Colgate Toothpaste, to protect us from the woes of this world, isn't that so? Did not Jesus say in John 10:10 that He came so we could have the abundant life? Didn’t Paul tell us in 2 Corinthians 8:9 that Jesus “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich”?  Didn’t Jesus also say, in John 14:14, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it?” Isn't God like the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella?
At the time I accepted Christ as my Savior, Prosperity Preaching was very much in favor with some radio and TV “evangelists” (I use quotes because the term evangelists is being used pretty loosely here.)   A lot of people fell victims to these false prophets and send their savings and money they couldn’t spare  to receive prayer handkerchiefs or miraculous vials of water, and the false idea that if they gave a dollar to a Leroy Jenkins or some other charlatan that they would magically receive a $100 or a $1,000 or even more riches.
The only ones really prospering were people like Reverend Ike (pictured right), who distorted the Word of God to fill his coffers with millions of dollars. The so-called Reverend Ike died of a stroke at age 74 in 2009.

Sad to say, Leroy Jenkins is still at it despite being in his eighties, even after being convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison for assaulting two men and plotting arson to two homes; despite his arrest in 1994 on grand theft (charges were dropped after he agreed to pay restitution.) He married a 77-year-old widow three weeks after her husband died in 2001. She had just won $6 million dollars in the Ohio lottery. The marriage was annulled by the courts on the basis the women was incompetent and incapable of knowing what she was doing at the time. In 2003 the Ohio Department of Agriculture found his cure-all “miracle water” contained coliform bacteria. He was at least fined $200 for not having a license to sell water.

These so-called preachers cherry-picked verses from the Bible that suited their deception without including the context. They overlooked the fact that it is hard to find true people of God within the Bible or out who didn’t suffer for their faith. Being faithful followers of Christ certainly led to easy street and the prosperous life for the Apostles, now didn’t it? Jesus, who was closer to God than any of us, because he was God, was born in a borrowed stable and buried in a borrowed grave. He never had a big Galilean Estate or a luxury chariot to tool about in.

On the 18th of March some of the ladies of the church threw a baby shower for Lois.  No one had given her any during the pregnancy because of fear she would lose another. The joy of gifting an expectant mother with baby needs would turn to deep sorrow if the child was lost. The mother would not want to see what could have been represented in the gifts that would never know the child.
Lois’ longtime friends also gave her a shower at Mary Lou’s Bryn Mawr home on April 9.
This was a rare baby shower where one of the guests of horror is the baby.
Then two weeks after these parties came a scare. Laurel began gasping and struggling for breath. It would be a real concern in any baby, but Laurel was a premmie as well, and her lung growth had been a concern with the doctors. Before she was born, during that tense week when we thought we were going to lose an eighth child, the doctors had approached us with their concerns. They wanted to use a then experimental drug in hopes it would strength her lungs. The drug was called steroids. It had certainly appeared to do the trick since she had come out into the world howling. Now we were facing a new threat to her breathing.
After seeing the pediatrician, we were sent to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where Laurel was admitted with suspected Whooping Cough (Pertussis). The hospital provided sleeping arrangements for a parent to be with the child during the stay and Lois remained with Laurel the two nights she was being treated. She had been admitted on April 25 and came home on the 28th, now fine and dandy.
On Mother’s Day, my dad gave us money to have dinner at the Black Angus, then one of our favorite restaurants. It was a fairly upscale place located in Ludwig’s Corner, not far from the horse show grounds. Lois was an adventurous eater, but I was pretty predictable. I think I had the same meal every time we went there: Two Whiskey Sours on the sweet side, a fruit cup with orange sherbet, a house salad with blue cheese dressing, a medium filet mignon with onion ring, mashed potatoes and gravy, fried eggplant and some kind of pie for desert. I no longer drink alcohol and I cannot eat such a large meal anymore. Frankly, I can’t afford filet mignon these days.
I gave my mother a framed 8x10 photo of four generations of family women, my mother, grandmother, wife and daughter. That did not cost anywhere near as much as our dinner, but to them it was a more valued gift.

Laurel was dedicated on June 25. Laurel Hill Bible, as a Fundamentalist church, did not believe in infant baptism. Such a practice is not Scriptural. Baptism is an acknowledgement of your acceptation of Christ as your savior, a symbolic burial and resurrecting into a second birth, and so must be done with complete understanding of what you are engaging in, and a baby cannot understand this nor accept Jesus of their own will. Therefore, what substituted as a Christening was a dedication on the parent’s part to raise their child in the faith.
My parents, Lois’ father and my friend, Victor Ernest along with his wife Marsha attended. Victor also brought his mother and cousin, who were currently visiting him from their home, and his birthplace, of Saint Lucia in the Caribbean Sea. Although the Island was then under the United Kingdom, it had bounced back and forth between French and British colonization for centuries. (A year later, in 1979, it would become an independent state.) Victor had a distinct accent of Saint Lucian Creole French, although Lois always swore he sounded like the Muppet Elmo.
Since the end of the slave trade, the African population has become the majority on the island. A small minority of the population are Indian (from India). Victor was part Indian and part African. By the mid-1970s he had become my best friend.
On July 8 something happened that became a life-changing event for my dad. He was changing a tire on his truck when the locking ring exploded. It flew at him and he threw an arm up, which the rim hit and then careened off a far distance into a nearby field. The blow shattered his arm and they took him to Coatesville Hospital. This was his first stay in a hospital in his life and the first time he realized he was mortal. He said if he hadn’t got his arm in the way that rim would have probably taken his head clean off. He had seen that happen to a trucker one time. My father had always saw himself as John Wayne, something bigger than life; now he realized he was human after all.

The arm was in bad shape with multiple fractures. It had to be pieced back together like a puzzle and put together with rods. The resulting scar would run pretty much the length of his arm. We visited him in the hospital, where he wasn’t happy, several times over that month. On August 10 my mom took him to a doctor in West Chester to remove the stitches. My father was a tough man, but they had to get smelling salts to keep him from fainting during the removal. His arm was placed in a sling. It wasn’t until August 16 that he was able to drive again, when he drove himself to a clam bake at The Gap. He wasn’t able to work until mid-September when he began escorting drivers hauling oversized loads locally.

On Halloween 1978 we surprised my parents on Halloween by showing up in costume. But the Devil’s Holiday was a warning to this Christian boy that Satan was still about and our lives began to take a turn toward troubles. So much for the lie that being a Born Again Christian guaranteed you’d be happy, healthy and prosperous, and safe from any harm.