Ray Walsh Would Have Been One Hundred Years Old This Month

Ray Walsh, my Dad, would have been one hundred years old in June 2020. It’s a good opportunity to share some reflections on his life.

Dad with Tim, Mike, Brian (on Mike’s lap) and me.

He was born in June, 1920, to Martin and Margaretta (Donovan) Walsh, in Minooka, Pennsylvania, a neighborhood in the southern end of Scranton. Anthracite coal provided a livelihood for many of the residents of Minooka in those days, including the Walsh family, but that livelihood came with risks. Martin Walsh died in a coal-mine cave-in when Dad was an infant.

Margaretta’s story had taken tragic and troubling turns long before Martin’s untimely death. Her father essentially abandoned the family, and her mother died when Margaretta was still a child. She was raised by her sisters, she received only a first-grade education, and she never learned to read or write. She was put to work in a factory at age six, standing on a wooden box to reach whatever task she was assigned to do. She and Martin, the love of her life, were in their teens when they married. (A big Thank You! to cousin Pam Tanis Johnson for this paragraph about our grandmother.)

After Martin died, Margaretta managed to provide for herself and her six children, one girl and five boys, for several years. There was a seventh child, a girl named Rose, who died in infancy of influenza. In time Margaretta met and married a man whom the family referred to only as Kelly, and together they brought another child into the world, a girl named Joan (more about Aunt Joan later). Kelly expected his five stepsons to work in the mines. Dad’s first job — he was only about eleven years old when he started working — was caring for mules that were used by one miner to pull the trams in and out of his mine. The job didn’t last long: Dad let the mules escape from their pen, and that ended his career in the anthracite coal industry.

Margaretta, meanwhile, wanted no part of having her sons work in the mines, so she found a way to move most of the family to New Jersey. The oldest, Margaret, was married by then and stayed behind in the Scranton area. Dad also lived with Margaret and her husband Gene for a while, probably until the rest of the family could get settled and start to earn their own upkeep. They lived in Newark at first, then moved to the Watsessing section of Bloomfield.

Dad went to Bloomfield High School, and he earned enough credits to graduate by the middle of his junior year. Having grown up in the era of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, Dad wanted to play baseball, and he was a decent catcher. It was the middle of the Great Depression, unfortunately, and Dad had to find time to play baseball in between his shifts at the nearby GE plant (or was it Westinghouse?). He once mentioned having an opportunity to try out for a spot in some major-league ball team’s farm system, but apparently either the opportunity disappeared or he had to forego it.

A rare photo of Dad all dressed up from December 1951.

In Dad’s circle of acquaintances in Watsessing was a paperhanger named Charlie Hodson. Charlie and Mary Hodson had six daughters. The youngest daughter was Ruth, who was three years younger than Dad. Ruth married Bill Stanley in 1945, and they had two daughters. I married the younger of those two daughters, Jody, in 1977. Dad and my mother-in-law did not remember each other when they realized their lives had intersected earlier, but Dad remembered Donald Shaeffer, who married Kay Hodson.

A photo of Dad in his army uniform, probably taken in mid-1942 after he finished basic training.

Dad did not tell many stories about his younger years, so I know little of what happened after high school graduation. When Pearl Harbor was attacked in December 1941, Dad joined thousands of young Americans who tried to enlist in the U.S. Army. A medical issue — I recall it being flat feet — kept him from being accepted at that time. As the war effort grew and a military draft was instituted, Dad was called to serve. He took basic training at Fort Dix in New Jersey and received further training at Fort Belvoir in Virginia. Once, when I told him about a trip to the Washington, D.C. area, he told me that one of his training exercises involved placing mock explosives on a highway bridge over the Potomac. He was assigned to an engineering battalion and deployed to Morocco. There he built, maintained, and operated terminals and depots for aviation fuel. From North Africa he went to Italy, then on to France. He was a few miles into Germany when the war ended in Europe in May, 1945.

Dad was no one’s hero. He was a citizen–soldier, like hundreds of thousands of his comrades in arms. He went to do a job, and when the job was done, he came home. He received an honorable discharge in September 1945. By then the family had moved — actually they had moved before the war — to Clifton. His mother had married a third time, Kelly having died some years before. Dutch, as we knew her third husband, came from a family that owned farmland in the Richfield section of Clifton. Together Grandma and Dutch ran a tavern across from what is now Columbus Middle School in Clifton.

Aunt Joan, Grandma, and Mike
Aunt Joan, Mike, and Grandma.

Dad never said much about his family. I learned more from Aunt Joan, Dad’s younger sister, than I ever did from Dad. We saw Grandma and Dutch and Aunt Joan, Uncle Joe, and Pam occasionally. We generally saw the other members of Dad’s family only at funerals. If Dad and Mom were invited to family weddings, the probably declined. Aunt Joan was my Godmother. She, Uncle Joe, and Pam were the only members of my parents’ families who were invited to our wedding. I told her at one point that I wanted to see her once in a while when there wasn’t a coffin in the room, and she reminded me of that on several occasions. In her last years she lived in a senior housing complex, then in a nursing home. She was Dad’s favorite, and when either Jody and I, or my brother Mike and I would visit, she would share stories about him. He bought Joan a bicycle once and paid for it on an installment plan. When his brother Ed and sister-in-law Agnes, with whom Dad was living at the time, discovered a bill from the department store, they raised holy heck.

Ray and Betty Wedding
Dad and Mom on their wedding day.


Again, details and dates are lacking, but sometime before the winter of 1949–1950 Dad took a room in a house in the Dutch Hill section of Clifton. During a particularly bad snowstorm he noticed two women who were struggling to clear the snow from their walks a few doors up the street. Rose and Betty Pinke were both single and living in the house that had been their family home since 1919. Dad helped them clean the snow away and struck up a relationship with Betty. They married in July 1951. Mike was born the following spring. Two years later I joined the family, followed by Tim, and finally Brian.

Dad with the four of us at Tim’s Kindergarten graduation.

Dad wanted to pass on to his sons his love for baseball. He taught us how to throw, catch, keep our eyes on the ball, and swing level. He coached a Little League baseball team for several years, and Mike, Tim, and I played on the team. He and Mom always made sure there was a case of soda in the back of the car for the team to enjoy after our games. He taught us how to ride bicycles. He erected a pool for us in the backyard and built pigeon coops when Mike took an interested in raising pigeons. He taught me how to cut quarter-round molding with a coping saw to make a professional-looking inside corner.

When Mike was about to turn seventeen, he bought a ’57 Chevy. It was a plain four-door sedan with a straight six and a Powerglide transmission, and the engine needed a valve job and new piston rings. Over the course of one winter, Dad and Mike took apart the engine and put it back together. The car ran well after that; DIY mechanics could do that kind of work back then and expect good results.

Tim and I joined our local Boy Scout troop. Brian followed a few years later. Dad wasn’t interested in being a Scoutmaster; coaching baseball was more his speed. But he did support us and accompany us on some camping trips. On one trip the other adults on the trip were availing themselves of a supply of beer, but Dad drank only coffee the entire weekend. Dad struggled with alcohol, and he had recently come out of a period where it had gotten the better of him. I remember being proud of him for being there and for his self-control under the circumstances.

The year I turned sixteen, three of my scouting friends and I decided to take a multi-day canoe trip on the Delaware River. We would be on our own, with no adult supervision, finding our own campsites, and cooking our own food. We loaded our gear into a pickup truck belonging to one of the other fathers, and that father, Dad, and our Scoutmaster drove us to Hancock, New York. We put in on a branch of the Delaware and set off. Many years later Dad recalled watching us disappear around a bend in the river and thinking “What have I just done?!” We ended the trip eight days later, safe and whole.

Dad in his happy place.

Dad thought highly of his employment as a carpenter, and he did good work. His skills as a millwright were more in demand in his later working years. Several times he was called on to spend most of a summer holiday weekend dismantling or reinstalling a steam turbine or some other large piece of equipment. But he was always happy to get home, get cleaned up, and go sit on the screened-in porch with a can of beer, a copy of the Daily News, and a Yankees game playing on the radio. Those kinds of pleasures were most of what he asked for in life, a life that ended too soon.

Children learn from what they see the adults around them doing. So how did Dad learn to be a father, to be a dad? He never met his own father. Dad’s stepfather saw only the need to have him earn his keep. Yet, in a way that he would acknowledge was far from perfect, Dad somehow managed to be the father that we needed. I don’t often think, as some other sons might, how I miss his counsel and long to be able to see him again and ask him this question or that. We didn’t have that kind of a relationship when he was alive.  But I do miss him, and I wish I had been more thoughtful and generous toward him. I’ll just have to conclude this remembrance acknowledging that regret and wishing him a happy one-hundredth birthday in heaven.

This has been a long read. If I had started earlier, I probably could have edited half of it out. Thank you for stopping by, and for your patience in reading to the end.


Mutti Would Have Been 100 Today

Elizabeth Josephine Walsh, née Pinke, would have been one hundred years old on March 19, 2018. Known as Betty, she was the youngest of eight children born to Joseph and Josephine Pinke, a Hungarian couple who emigrated to the United States near the end of the nineteenth century. Betty was born in Alabama, but the family moved to the newly incorporated city of Clifton when she was a toddler.

Betty Walsh with (l-r) Tim, Pat, Mike, and Brian. This photo was taken some time in 1958.

Citizenship papers belonging to Joseph Pinke show that he renounced his allegiance to the Emperor of Austria-Hungary and became a U.S. citizen. No such records exist for Josephine, his wife. Faithful Catholics, Joseph and Josephine occasionally attended a Hungarian church in nearby Passaic, but they sent their children to the local parish school in Clifton.

On New Year’s Eve in 1931 Joseph Pinke was injured in an automobile accident. The following summer he died of complications arising from his injuries. Betty, who had recently graduated eighth grade, was obliged to suspend her education so that she could help pay the bills. She worked as a seamstress for a while, following in the footsteps of her sister, Rose. Betty also took evening classes and earned a GED.

Seamstress work, and the proximity of an older sister who could only seem to see the mistakes that she made, led Betty to pursue other career options. She found work as a bookkeeper for a bus company and later a roofing company. She remained in the family home through the Depression years and into the war years that followed, providing and caring for her mother.

In 1945 Josephine fell ill. When she died she left Betty and Rose, both still single, as the only two members of the family still permanently installed in the family home. As the elder of the two, Rose inherited the house. Some time in early 1951 Betty met Ray Walsh, a single carpenter renting a room in a house a few doors away. It was after a nasty snowstorm and Ray lent a hand clearing the snow off the walks.

Betty and Ray married in July, 1951. He moved into the Pinke family home, intending to save up for a down payment on a house he and Betty could call their own. Four boys, Mike, Pat (yours truly), Tim, and Brian came along in quick succession. The down payment never came together, and Ray and Betty continued to live with Rose and raise their sons in the Pinke house.

Mike, Tim, Brian, and I eventually bought homes of our own. Ray died in 1994. In the fall of that year Betty, whom we referred to as Mutti, was found to have ovarian cancer. It was too late in the course of the disease to consider surgery, and chemotherapy slowed the disease only briefly. Betty entered hospice on Valentine’s Day 1996. She lived four days past the six months that Medicare allowed for hospice care. She died in what had been the dining room of the family home, her sons by her bedside.

Like many people who came of age during the Depression and endured the sacrifices that civilians were obliged to make during the Second World War, Betty lived simply. Thrift, the art of making do and getting by with less, and self-reliance defined her life. There was little that would make her cry. The only time I remember seeing her shed tears was during JFK’s funeral in 1963. My wife saw tears on one other occasion.

Folding Tents, Leaving Town

On 14 January 2017 the Ringling Brothers/Barnum & Bailey Circus announced that it would fold its tents for the last time and go out of business. We’ve taken our children to the Ringling Brothers circus only once that I can recall. We’ve also taken our children and grandchildren to the Big Apple Circus, which is also in bankruptcy and selling off its assets.

There are only a few degrees of separation between myself and both circuses. We have a family member on Jody’s side who is related by marriage to a dancer who has performed with both the Ringling Brothers and Big Apple circuses. Her husband, a drummer, has also performed with both. Mark Heter, who taught me to play the euphonium, played tuba for Ringling Brothers in the days when a live band accompanied the performances with tunes such as Julius Fučík’s “Entry of the Gladiators” and Mikhail Mikhailovich Ippolitov-Ivanov’s “Procession of the Sardar.” Before that he played with smaller tent circuses that he referred as “mud shows.”


I don’t have any great affection or disdain for the circus. The exploitation of animals is regrettable, especially since the species exploited by circuses—elephants and tigers in particular—also face extinction in the wild because of widespread poaching. But watching the circus is an opportunity to learn that even the most fearsome threats can be tamed, to admire the skill and athleticism of the acrobats and other performers, or to laugh at ourselves as we see ourselves reflected in the behavior of the clowns.

There’s another lesson to be learned from the role that circuses and other forms of entertainment have in our lives. Although modern circuses are not used to placate a discontented populace, how timely is the concept of “bread and circuses”? It also puts me in mind of Neil Postman’s excellent Amusing Ourselves to Death:

“Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas, they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials.”
Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Or Business

Or we argue with tweets and Facebook posts.

As the administration of Barack Obama was also folding its tents, the New York Times published an article on his reading habits during his years in the White House. The comments accompanying the on-line article reflect a wide range of views. No doubt any group of people who happen to read this post will also have a wide range of views on the subject, and that’s cool. I believe with President Obama that one purpose for reading, and reading broadly, is to enable us to gain new and valuable perspectives on our lives, on the lives of those around us, and on the events of the day. I would hope that the days to come will find us looking to literature that will help us gain those perspectives, and not relying on the bread and circuses of our day.

Thanks for stopping by!

Grandma Has a Podcast: Reading to Grandchildren From a Distance

One of the pleasures of being a grandparent is reading with your grandchildren. All of Andy’s and Betsy’s grandparents read to them at one time or another when Andy and Betsy were children. We have been reading to Caleb and Sadie at every opportunity since they were infants. I admit to being a bit lax in that department with Ellie Rose; I spend more of my time with her taking photographs instead of reading to her.

In Proust and the Squid Maryanne Wolf observes, “As soon as an infant can sit on a caregiver’s lap, the child can learn to associate the act of reading with a sense of being loved.”

What happens when your grandchildren, or nieces and nephews, live at a distance? How can you read to them on a regular basis if you see them only a few times a year, or even less frequently?

When Caleb and Sadie were still babies we discovered that we could record MP3 files to send to them. MP3 is a widely used audio file format that is used to distribute music, podcasts, audiobooks, and just about any other audio content. I had the use of a Macbook Pro laptop computer and had software installed on it called Garage Band. With Garage Band we could record and edit a story and produce an MP3 file that could be played on any MP3 player. We chose to copy those MP3s onto CDs to go along with the books that we purchased for them, although in hindsight this seems wasteful.

What’s cooler than a Grandma who can knit and edit audio files?

Caleb and Sadie outgrew their need for stories on CD, or so we thought. On a recent visit they reported that they still listen to their CDs of Grandma Jody reading Wacky Wednesday, Harold and the Purple Crayon, and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. They, in turn, have read Jan Brett’s beautifully illustrated “The Night Before Christmas” and The Gingerbread Baby for their cousin Ellie.

How Do I Do That?

What do you need to record MP3 files to send to your loved ones? You will need a smartphone, tablet, or computer with audio input and output, and some sort of recording software or app.

Smartphone, Tablet, or Computer

  • A tablet or smartphone provides the easiest solution. iPads, iPhones, and Android devices have built-in microphones and speakers, and also have a 3.5-mm jack that can be used to connect an external microphone and speakers/headset/earbuds.
  • A computer will offer more options for editing and for copying the resulting files to flash drives or other media. More about that in a bit.
  • Whether you use a smartphone, tablet, or computer, consider purchasing an external microphone. It does not have to be an expensive condenser mic. A $20.00 headset with earbuds and a microphone will serve well. The built-in microphone in your digital device will pick up ambient noise as well as your voice. An external microphone will help reduce ambient noise.

Which Recording App or Software?

A quick search for Android or iOS recording apps will return numerous choices, including many free apps. I do not have any experience with any so I can’t make any recommendations. I have used both GarageBand and Audacity. Both are available for Windows and Mac. Both have recording and editing capabilities. What do they let you do that you can’t do with a simple recording app?

  • Edit out sounds such as turning of pages.
  • Record and insert replacement pages if you make a mistake in reading.
  • Add sound effects and transition sounds. We record a transition sound that fits in with the story. When we recorded Clement Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas” we recorded a short clip of sleigh bells to signal the page turns.
  • Add music to the beginning or end. At the end of Wacky Wednesday we added Lionel Hampton’s recording of “Crazy Rhythm.”

I’ve Got an MP3 Recording. Now What?

If you read a story such as Green Eggs and Ham and add transition sounds the resulting MP3 file will be several megabytes in size. Adding a piece of music may double the size or more. That file may be too big to email. You can copy it to a flash drive (thumb drive) and mail it. You can upload it to a cloud-based file service such as Google Drive, iCloud, or DropBox, then send a link to the file via email. iTunes also offers a service for private file transfer and storage. YouTube might be a good option for you too.

Do You Have a Suggestion or a Tool That You Use?

Feel free to comment if you have a tool or technique that works particularly well for you. Thanks as always for stopping by!

Childhood, Curiosity, and Crows

This past weekend our granddaughter E__ and her Mom came for a visit. Yes, it is pretty shameless to exploit an adorable infant to draw readers to this blog.

Baby girl
E__ at five months.

We had planned on Saturday to take her for a walk and introduce her to the local park and library. The weather proved contrary, so we stayed in.  When E__ took a nap, Mom and Grandma left briefly to run errands, thinking that the nap would last until they returned. Within minutes she was awake and calling out, although not crying.

I can’t say that I was displeased to have a few minutes alone with her. She is good company and rewards attention with good cheer. At that moment she preferred being up and wandering about, and I was happy to oblige. We found ourselves looking out at the rain through the sliding glass doors.

As we stood there, E__ looked back and forth at the houses and trees surrounding our backyard. I hoped for a rabbit sighting but the rabbit did not oblige. Soon a crow passed over the yard and it caught E__’s attention. She followed the bird until it flew out of sight.

When you are five months old everything is new, and the objects that older children and adults find commonplace can be fascinating to you. We see and hear crows by the dozens every day, and aside from learning recently that crows will sometimes bring gifts to people who feed them,  they hold little fascination for us. That may be short sighted. I would wish for E__ that she would always be fascinated by the world around her, especially the natural world.

As it happens, the sermon at Grace Presbyterian Church this past Sunday was about children. The faith of a child—eager, imaginative, and uncomplicated—is a model to which people at all stages of life can aspire. It was not an accident that I was struck with a small sense of joy and wonder when I heard a nuthatch, saw a sharp-shinned hawk, and saw and heard killdeer on a brief walk to another nearby park today.

Spring arrives this Friday, 20th March 2015. The weather for the coming weekend promises to be suitable for spending time outdoors. I hope you get at least a few minutes to watch the crows, see whose crocuses and daffodils have emerged, or look for Venus, Mars, or even Uranus in the evening sky.

Thanks as always for stopping by.