Archive for June, 2017

Donate and Die

June 15th, 2017

They say I killed old man Blue. That was a bit of my family’s sardonic wit, WWII-era version.

Truth be told, the venerable John Rinehart Blue did die (thrombosis) shortly after I wangled a donation from him, allegedly his first to anyone outside of his beloved Presbyterian Church. As a teen, hearing my great-uncle and others repeatedly taunt me about his death was mildly worrisome. I remain unconvinced of the cause-and-effect here.

In adult perspective, he was only old man in contrast to my youth. I see that he died just short of 60, not 100 nor 90. He came from a famous family, including a Civil War hero father. He had been a state rep (delegate) for several terms, superintendent of the state school for the deaf and blind for two decades, and owner of the Ben Franklin five-and-dime. He was born, raised, did his business and died in Romney, WV.

He was also well known as a skinflint.

I was as sincere and naive as anyone outside a mental institution. I was not deterred when it came time to canvass for donations for the awards at the first town swim meet for kids at the local Firemen’s Pool.

Young Bum

My maternal grandmother, Mable, was highly skilled at what became known post-Vonnegut as Catch 22 arts. My sister and I lived with our grandparents in Romney many consecutive summers. While we resented her no-win situations, we had to admire the elegance of some.

Pic Note: From historichampshire.org and without any claims. This is the store being torn down, late 1990s.

We became the help. There was a lot of make-work, like hand dusting each banister member every day, also daily using a watering can for repeated trips to the whole-porch planters of those damned petunias. I still despise petunias. Oh, yes, and regular ladder work with newspapers and ammonia to shine the windows.

Granddad worked nights at the B&O yard and enjoyed whole-day labor in his massive gardens. Here was the Catch-22 catalyst. As the girl, my sister was to be cleaning lady at Mable’s whim.

I got the no-win position.

  1. Stay to help her and I was a sissy and unworthy.
  2. Go to garden and I disrespected her and my sister.

The salvation was when the local volunteer fire department opened a town pool. It was a steady-income fundraiser for them and a boon to us. For a pittance (I think a quarter), we could vacate our servitude. Sure, Mable could complain we didn’t do enough work at her house, but we were not there to catch the guilt tripping.

We were simply bums. That was OK by us. We lounged with our friends, swam, read, and just enjoyed summer.

The Infamous Trophy

As a pool regular, I agreed to career along Main Street to ask business owners for contributions. The ideal was $15 for a trophy.

Of course, I had heard Mr. Blue did not give anything to anyone..except his church. I went in his store anyway. Perhaps my innocence and sincerity disarmed him. Regardless of cause, I left the store with $15.

Shortly afterwards, he died. Hence, the ribbing. Parting with the donation was more than he could stand, and such. Ha ha, I suppose.