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Friday, 12 October 2007

Taking Dad Home to Pennsylvania

By Nancy Leitz

My Dad was a wonderful husband, father, Catholic, Democrat and Pennsylvanian. Here is his story:

John was born in 1891, in a small house on Johnston St. in Philadelphia. He was the youngest child and only boy in a large Irish family. He had eight older sisters. He always said that he had nine mothers.

Because the times were bad John had to leave school in the fifth grade. But he was a great reader and went to the library as often as he could and the librarian took an interest in the poor boy who so badly wanted an education, but whose family needed the money he could make working. She recommended books to him and he read every one she suggested. He became more and more sure of himself and was determined to succeed.

In 1905 at the age of 14, John went to the Real Estate Trust Company at Broad and Chestnut Streets and started work as an office boy. As the years in the bank went by, John was promoted to teller and by 1916, he was in the trust department of the bank and doing very well.

He never neglected his education and loved to wander around the campus of the University of Pennsylvania and wish that he was a student there. He met many people in the course of his days in the bank and at Penn, and was often mistaken for a teaching assistant or even an associate professor. He never pretended to be anything but the banker that he was but was flattered by the attention.

In 1917, a young girl came to live in the house next door. She had left St. Joseph, Missouri because the boy she intended to marry had died in the great flu epidemic and her mother had sent her to a sister who lived on Johnston Street in Philadelphia. Her name was Babe because she had never been given a proper name. She was just the baby of her family and Babe she was called for all of her years.

She and John met, fell in love and married. They had four children - two boys and two girls. I was one of the girls, born in 1928. In 1950, I married and had four children and my Dad was the best grandfather ever. He read to the children and told them stories and said outrageous things that made them laugh.

He was retired from the bank by this time, but still wore a shirt and tie every day and used to carry a briefcase that everyone thought was filled with important papers but in reality, the case was full of pretzel sticks for the kids and a book to read to them.

He read Black Beauty and Treasure Island to them before they were school age and had them reading the classics in grade school. They also knew the story of William Penn and his beloved Penn's Woods. He instilled the same love for our state in the children that he himself felt.

When one of my brothers moved to New Jersey for a wonderful job opportunity, my Dad was aghast! Someone willingly leaving Pennsylvania? He couldn't believe it. But it was true. Bob and his family had moved to Willingboro. After that and just for fun, if someone asked Dad how many children he had he would say, "I have four children. Three living and one in New Jersey." Then, to make matters even worse, my brother, Jack, married Peggy and they moved to New Jersey.

So, the years passed and finally Dad and Mother succumbed to Bob and Jack's pleas to move close to them. The boys found them a lovely apartment in Burlington where they could be called at a minute's notice.

My sister lived in New York so I was the only one in our family left in Pennsylvania. It was only a 40-minute drive to their home from mine, so I visited often and we had a wonderful relationship always. Dad never failed to mention the wonderful springtimes in Pennsylvania and the glorious autumns. As often as I could, I would drive him over the bridge and visit New Hope or Washington's Crossing. How he loved those trips to his old home state.

Dad passed away in 1977 at age 86 and my brothers and my sister and I were making arrangements for his services. My brothers assumed he would be buried near them, but I couldn't bear the thought of that. I would never have forgiven myself if I had allowed my Dad to be buried anywhere but where he felt at home.

My brothers and sister agreed and we bought a plot at Sts. Peter and Paul Cemetery in Broomall, Pennsylvania, but the requiem Mass was to be in Jack's parish in Mount Laurel, New Jersey on February 12th.

Well, that was the day of the biggest blizzard in New Jersey history. We arrived at the church after a battle with the elements and after the Mass, the funeral director informed us that we would have to wait until the authorities had told us that we would be able to get through the storm safely before we could leave for the cemetery.

Word soon came through that if we left right away our chances of making it to Broomall were fairly good. So our slow, sad caravan started out with all of us hoping we would make the trip all right. We crept down the highway through the falling snow and now came the big test - crossing the Benjamin Franklin Bridge over the Delaware River.

As we went up the steep incline on the New Jersey side, I looked ahead and was shocked to see red lights flashing on a car stopped at the crest of the bridge. I thought there was an accident or it was too dangerous to proceed, but as we got closer I could see that it was the Pennsylvania State Police who had come to escort us to Sts. Peter and Paul.

The officer motioned to the funeral director to follow him and he led us through the City of Philadelphia and out into the suburbs to the cemetery where our Dad was laid to rest in his beloved home State. He would have been so proud just as all of us were so proud of him.

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


A memorable homecoming Nancy!

Well done.

What a powerful story. Thank you.

A wonderful tribute to your father, Nancy.

What a wonderful tribute to your Dad Nancy.....beautiful.

I will echo all the other sentiments; this is a great tribute to a well-deserved man. What a good example he set for his children and grandchildren.

This is a great story of a quiet life influencing generations. Thanks for sharing him with us.

Nancy, what a gift to get on the computer this morning and read your beautifully written and loving tribute about your father. I am again on the road this weekend, away from my home in Texas, and in Lafayette, Louisiana.

We are attending a yearly event, the Festival Acadien, devoted to Cajun heritage, music, crafts, and history. I was struck by how so many festivals that we attend come down to love of family and preserving traditions. As I reflected on the festival, my thoughts centered on the joy so clearly felt by the generations of family participating in dance, song and storytelling.

When I read your tribute abut your dear father this morning, the connections between the festival and your wonderful tribute just fit. Your father shared such a zest for life with all of you. Thank you for sharing this loving tribute with all of us. I am as enriched by your tribute as I am by the lively and joyful music that I have been hearing this weekend. Music and words, both weaving threads of connections that make up this rich tapestry that we call life.


To Joy ,Judy,Marty,Grannymar,Mage and Darlene, Thank you all for your kind words and interest.

My Dad would have loved your comments.

Marti: I am interested in your account of the Acadien Festival. My most favorite poem is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's account of the trials and tribulations of Evangeline.

It is so beautiful and if all the stories of the people of Nova Scotia and all of that area are true, then they are the people who eventually settled in Louisiana and are the Cajuns.

I have always been interested in their story. Would you write about the festival for this Story telling Place?

Thanks so much for the note yesterday. Yes, this blogging is a wonderful new adventure for me. Very exciting. Yes, the fires are so terribly sad. The REd Cross and Sally's ARmy are right there in the forefront helping everyone, and the city is giving more every day. It's wonderful to see this.

So you have a blog?

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