Origin Story - The Beginning

Jim:    Ahhh, looking for rainbows?  Or looking for rain?  Looking for thunder?  Or looking for a dark day?  Looking for a sunny day?  Let’s make a choice to walk down the sunny side of the street today.  And, remember, that’s your choice.  Welcome aboard me hardies.  Welcome aboard.  For those of you who prefer to be an avian, for those of you who prefer to be pirates – this is Jim Ellermeyer, and this is Fishing Without Bait.  This is the laboratory, this is the kitchen where we help you prepare and create your life, and take whatever ingredients you care and choose to off the shelf.  And, sometimes, remember we have to find those ingredients.  We may have to find them, and that may require an adventure.  That may require going down the rabbit hole, going places where we haven’t been before.  Let’s have some fear.  We’re looking to create ourselves.  We’re not looking to find ourselves.  So, we combine the ingredients of synchronicity and serendipity and we put in a dash of honesty, open-mindedness, and a willingness to try.  Jump on board.  Grab a paddle.  Let’s get on that pirate ship – or in the navy.  Cross the sea.  Remember, as Christopher Columbus said you can’t cross the ocean unless you have the courage to leave the shore.  Welcome aboard.  Today, as always, I’m joined by my good friend, co-host, and producer of this program – Mr. Mike.  You’ve kind of reinvigorated me in getting involved into the world of comics again.  

Mike:    Oh, have I?

Jim:    Indeed you have.  

Mike:    I mean, you’re already here on recording day – typically you’ve got a great Superman shirt.  You talk about it all the time.  I’m happy to hear that.

Jim:    Yes.  You’ve renewed my interests.  You’ve renewed my spark.  And, quite often when it seems like when they run out of a storyline, or things get a little stale, they go back to an origin story – do they not?

Mike:    Indeed.  They reinvent things.  

Jim:    Indeed.  So, however, I was thinking as this is our 60th podcast – I was thinking, not that we’re becoming stale or out of date – in fact, I believe we’re picking up steam, getting into fully impacting people’s lives, spreading those wings, getting out of that darkness and spreading technicolor into your life.  Participating and grabbing life.  I thought that people might want to be interested in what kitchen was I brewed in?  Where did these ideas form at?  Where did they – how long have they been hidden?  When did they come out?  And, how did they occur?  What crucible?  What heat made that steel that is talking to you right now?  I was born in a small town in Western Pennsylvania.  And, at one time in the early 1900s I was born in Kittanning, PA.  The coal mines in the area were going strong.  There was a strong manufacturing base in the area.  The brick plant employed several hundred men.  And, in a neighboring town, the Eljer Company was booming.  The Eljer Company made porcelain bathroom fixtures.  And, the largest employer in the area was Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company.  And, at one time before World War II, it was the largest glass producer in the world.  Sadly, the coal mines have suffered.  The Pittsburgh Plate Company and the Eljer Company is now only a grass field.  So, it was in this environment, back in 1954, that I was born.  And, it wasn’t until my teenage years that I figured out that I was a surprise.  My parents were married in February of 1954.  I was born in September of 1954.  And, however, I was not premature.  I remember my early days as being very happy once.  My father owned a tavern in West Kittanning, which may have been a precursor of my later years.  And, he and my mother spent long hours there.  I spent most of these early years with my paternal grandparents, Julio and Isabelle Zanchi.  My Pops, as I called him, was a naturalized citizen.  He came to America from Italy when he was fourteen (14) years old.  He was a coal miner working for the Allegheny River Mining Company in Cadogan, a small town about eight (8) miles west of Kittanning.  I remember being taken to the company store run by a fellow named Sam Kettering when I was just a tot.  I thought it was great.  You could get anything you wanted there, just by signing your name.  What I didn’t know was that it came out of my Pop’s paycheck at the end of the month.  There were many months that I found out later that he owed the company store more than he made.  I particularly remember the 2₵ popsicles at the gas station next to the store.  My grandfather was an avid hunter and owned a camp outside of Sigel, Pennsylvania – about fifteen (15) miles south of Cook’s Forest.  We spent almost every weekend there in the forest.  There was a big black bear that lived about a hundred yards from the camp.  If you got up early enough you could see him saunter across the back yard.  I can still smell the eggs and bacon cooking in butter on the wood stove that heated the entire camp.  There was no indoor plumbing in the cabin so you had to use the outhouse.  I was very little at the time, and always had a fear of falling in the hole that was the seat.  Being afraid of the dark, my grandmother – who everyone called Nan, would take me outside to the bathroom when nature called in the middle of the night.  One of the saddest days in my life occurred in August of 1961.  My Nan and I were in Florida visiting relatives in Fort Lauderdale.  I remember being roused in the middle of the night and hustled to the airport.  Upon landing in Pittsburgh we were greeted by my father’s brother Tommy.  It was then that I learned my Pop had been killed in a mining accident.  Being six (6) at the time, I was very confused about the whole situation.  I knew that my mother and Nan were very sad.  It was explained to me that my Pop had gone away and would not be coming back.  However, I knew better.  Having a dog that died, I figured out that my Pop was dead.  My mother was extremely close to her father and suffered a long bout of depression, which finally lifted when she had my sister, Julie, who was named after my Pop.  When the tavern my father owned was robbed, he figured it was too dangerous a business to own.  My paternal grandfather used his influence to get my father appointed Postmaster of Kittanning.  My grandfather, James, played a prominent role in my life and the narrative of Kittanning.  He was a third generation American, James William Patrick Joseph Ellermeyer, Sr., was born in Kittanning in 1900 to Charles B. and Margaret Ellermeyer.  I remember his brother, my uncle Charles “Chick,” owned a beer distributor on South Jefferson Street in Kittanning. The smell of stale beer would assault my nostrils every time my father and I would stop to see him. At the time it made me sick to my stomach.  Little did I know at that time that that’s the way I would smell every morning for years.  Charles, Sr. had built a large brick home on South McCain Street for his mother, Eva Crohn Ellermeyer.  Eva had married my great, great grandfather, Albert, in 1862.  There is a chest of drawers made by him sitting in my spare bedroom.  He was a cabinetmaker by trade.  I do have the trunk that Eva used to bring her away from Germany to the United States.  My family are packrats.  They never threw away anything.  Every time I wanted to get rid of something in the basement or attic, my father would tell me just try to find one of those things today.  We might need it in the future.  South McCain Street must have been a lively place.  Along with my grandfather, his brother Chick, and his mother and father, his uncle – William “Billy” Ellermeyer lived with him.  Billy and his brother Charles were partners in the family business.  They bought two (2) farms outside of Kittanning in the early 1900s at a partition sale.  One of the concerns that my great grandfather and his brother ran was a butcher shop located on South Jefferson Street in Kittanning.  Billy would often travel to Chicago to purchase carloads of cattle to bring back to Kittanning.  He would disembark from the train station and drive the herd up the West Kittanning Hill to the farms.  I can imagine those days now.  They were farms called the Blair and the Hoover farm.  They were named after the original owners of the property, and I have in my possession the original deed written on sheepskin to the Hoover farm.  However, talking about the crucible, talking about the environment in which you were raised, and generational transmission, modeling behavior – my grandfather was possibly the finest human being I have ever known.  His kindness and generosity were legendary.  I’ve been told that during the Depression he fed half the town from the butcher shop.  In a predominately Republic town, he held the only office held by a Democrat – being elected Tax Collector for twenty-four (24) straight years.  Many of the older families in Kittanning owed their homes to him.  He would often pay their tax bills when times were desperate during the late 20s and early 30s.  My grandmother’s brother had issues with alcohol, and when his wife died, my grandfather took his three (3) children and raised them as his own.  I have a picture of my grandfather standing on a podium in front of the Kittanning Courthouse introducing John F. Kennedy when he visited Kittanning in his 1960 campaign for President.  My mother still talks of that day with awe, having lunch with the future President of the United States.  This did not phase my grandfather at all.  He could just as easily shake hands with a vagrant as the President and was just as happy.  Every holiday, all my aunts and uncles and cousins would gather with my grandfather and grandmother – who all of us called Mimi, to celebrate.  Christmas was a special occasion.  The families would gather at his house to celebrate.  He would have gifts for every grandchild – all twenty-one (21) of us.  I still have many of the presents he gave me, particularly a huge Random House dictionary.  I believe he expected me to be a scholar.  He valued education, sending all of his children to college with the exception of my father – who refused to attend.  He was stubborn as he was stoic.  Every single person in town either knew my grandfather, or knew of him.  I never heard a bad word about him.  During my time of troubles when I did drink alcohol, I couldn’t buy a drink in Kittanning after they found out to who I was related.  I have to smile every time I think about him.  I still remember him rounding up me and my cousins and taking us to funeral homes to be mourners when he thought the deceased wouldn’t have anyone there.  Can you imagine that?  He would think so much of people that if nobody would be there, except the mother and father, he would have us dress up and we would go to the funeral home and sit.  Unbelievable.  I thought so much of him that I named my son James William Patrick Joseph Ellermeyer, IV.  I was the first male of the fifth generation to carry on the Ellermeyer name.  To my grandfather, this was a big deal as he came from a male-dominated society.  I have read some of my great aunt’s diaries.  They would not make a decision without consulting their brother.  My great grandfather, Charles, he would often travel to Pittsburgh once a month to write checks for them to pay their bills.  All the deeds to the land stayed in the names of the males.  They never added their wives to the deeds after they married.  They were afraid of them dying and their wives would remarry and the land would pass out of the Ellermeyer name.  His youngest son, my Uncle Tommy, was killed in an automobile accident coming home from college when he was twenty-two (22) years old.  I attribute my grandfather’s early death to Tommy’s passing.  He and my grandmother never recovered from the shock, and I do not believe they ever had another happy day.  I was eight (8) at the time, and my father would often send me to their house to keep them company.  My grandfather died in 1968 at the age of sixty-eight (68).  It was front-page news in the local paper.  I was fourteen (14) and a pallbearer at his funeral.  You talk about generational transmission, about generosity and kindness – my grandfather gave a considerable amount of his money away.  My great, great grandfather, Charles – and Billy, who was his brother – they bought all of these farms.  And, they had a big butcher shop.  They made a lot of money.  But, my grandfather gave a lot of it away.  They also had two (2) other brothers by the name of Harry and Ed.  Ed died of alcoholism.  He died of the DTs.  So, Harry – I’ve got the picture.  They had a big store, like a department store that sold everything in Downtown Kittanning.  And, I have a picture of Harry, Albert, and Ed standing in front of the store.  Harry ran the store, Harry Ellermeyer.  Actually, he started the Kittanning Country Club.  During the Depression, Harry Ellermeyer had sold a lot of things on credit.  And, after the Depression came, people lost their jobs and they couldn’t make the payments on the merchandise that they had bought on the sofas and the chairs, and whatever that they had bought.  And, they would come in and they would say Mr. Ellermeyer, I kept these things very nice.  I can’t pay for them.  I’ll return them.  So, his heart was broken from people having to do that.  He put in the paper – he had a big legal notice.  He said this is from Harry Ellermeyer.  All debts, both personal and business, are forgiven.  He forgave all the debts that he had, and it ruined him.  It ruined him financially.  The banks weren’t as generous as my Uncle Harry.  And, he lived the rest of his life with Charles, my uncle – his brother, he took care of him.  Amazing, huh?  Amazing.  He didn’t care about being the richest man in the cemetery.  He might have been the best man there.  

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