A Driving Lesson

March 18, 2014

My grandmother, Mabel Wright Kintner, never did learn to ride a horse or a car, but it was not by want of trying by my grandfather Floyd, who took her out for a driving lesson one late summer Sunday in 1915 after church, where Mabel’s father Joseph Wright was an elder and spent much of his time when he was not working on the family farm or his milk route, not too long after Floyd and Mabel were married.

They both had their hats and dusters on. Floyd put the car in neutral and stepped out. Mabel climbed down from her side, walked around the puttering, cylindrical front end of the Franklin and climbed up behind the wheel. Floyd got in the passenger seat (on the left) and leaned over to encourage Mabel with a few words (this was not her first lesson). Mabel depressed the clutch, shifted into first, released the clutch and off they went, lurching erratically down the farm road, dust billowing behind. In a minute they had reached the end of St. Mark’s Road and had to stop for traffic before making a left turn onto Perryville Road, which Mabel accomplished by revving the engine and popping the clutch. My grandfather’s head snapped back and he would have lost his straw hat had he not been holding onto it already. Mabel shifted into second and started up the hill, but too slowly, and, not knowing that she had to downshift the engine stalled and the car clunked to a stop right in the middle of the road. Cars were going by and some of the passengers, church members whom they knew well, waved and shouted encouragement.

“Put it in neutral,” said my grandfather as he got out of the car. At least he did not have to worry about adjusting the spark because the Franklin had an automatic advance. A quick crank and the car started, and in a few seconds they were on their way. “Keep it in first while you’re going up the hill,” my grandfather had to shout over the engine and road noise. They turned right on Blythedale Road and then had to stop for some chickens in the road. Starting up, Mabel stalled it again and Floyd had to get out to crank it back up.

They turned right in a few yards onto Principio Road and down through the delightful, cool glade along Mill Creek and all was well for a while as they spun along at eighteen miles an hour. Pretty soon they were back on the paved main road. The sun was getting high and it was really quite hot, especially since both my grandparents were dressed in dusters over their Sunday best. The car stalled again, my grandfather (who was a little hot under the collar even on the coolest days) started it and this time he said, “Mabel, if you stall it again you can get out and crank it yourself,” which is exactly what happened. And while Mabel was down in the dust cranking, two carloads of fellow Presbyterians drove by, this time without shouting encouragement at either my cranking, sweating grandmother or her husband, who sat rigidly in the passenger seat in his bow tie looking straight ahead.

A technologically advanced automobile: The 1908 Franklin’s wooden frame, combined with its full set of elliptical springs, produced a baby-buggy ride. Its four cylinder, air cooled transversely mounted engine drove a chain at one side through a three speed (two forward;one reverse) planetary transmission. The driver, my grandfather, Floyd Kintner, sat at the right and steered with a wheel. This was the car he purchased in 1914 for less than half of the original $1,000 price and used to drive to and from his quarry business near Perryville from his lodgings in Port Deposit, and to court my grandmother, whom he had met at the Presbyterian Church. By the next year they were married.

Mabel did not drive but she was by no means a technophobe; an excellent photographer, she recorded her relatives, the farms, her surroundings and plants. Below is one of her images, scanned from a 3 3/4″ x 3 3/4″ celluloid negative that I found not too long ago in my mother’s “magazine closet”, and here is a link to one she took of her father, Joseph Wright Sr. The image below shows the plants Mabel carefully tended for years while the family lived in the house up the hill at Rich Hill Farm before moving down into the big house in 1950.

Click to enlarge:


Hamlet, Act IV, Scene VII

March 8, 2014

Queen. There is a willow grows aslant a brook
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream.
There with fantastic garlands did she come
Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,
But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them:
There, on the pendent boughs her coronet weeds
Clamb’ring to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.

Laertes. Alas, then, she is drown’d?

Queen. Drown’d, drown’d.


A Can of Worms

December 26, 2013

My grandfather, Floyd Kintner, LL.B. Harvard Law School, 1914, was, after 1915 when he married my grandmother Mabel, a resident of Perryville, in Cecil County, Maryland. He was Trustee of Lunatics during the 1920′s, Receiver in Bankruptcy, Cecil and Baltimore counties 1933 – 46, candidate for Cecil County Judge as early as January 1939, then again in 1942 but not appointed until 1946 upon the death of Judge Constable. Later he was re-elected twice as a Democrat, and retired from the bench in June, 1957.

From the Frederick Md. News, 9 December 1955:

“Four Who Went Duck Hunting With Judge Fined $50 Each” BALTIMORE. Four men who went out hunting with Circuit Judge Floyd J. Kintner of Elkton, Md., pleaded guilty to charges of shooting too many ducks and were fined $50 apiece today. U. S. District Attorney George Cochran Doub, said he was convinced by statements made by Judge Kintner and by the four that the judge did not get more than three or four ducks. The daily bag limit is four.

Doub described them all as substantial, reputable citizens of Cecil County, where Judge Kintner presides over the Cecil County division of Maryland’s Second Judicial Circuit. No testimony was taken in the case but Doub told Federal Judge Roszel C. Thomsen that two federal enforcement officers observed the five men gunning from an offshore blind on Nov. 11.

The maximum penalty for a violation is $500 fine or six months in jail. “From personal experience in ducking,” Doub declared, “I think I may say there are no more than three State or federal judges here in Maryland who can hit more than four ducks a day and Judge Kintner is not one of them.” The four men who pleaded guilty and were fined: Donald C. Cole, 49, superintendent of the Perryville, Md., waterworks, Harry M Biddle, 44, of Perryville, Gordon T. Wilcox, Sr., 56 and Warren T. Quier, 53 of North East.

Some Perryville stories, like the above, can be associated with verifiable persons and events; matters of public record; stories about respectable people conveyed by other solid, respectable people; some, not so much. There is no real source that I have been able to find for the story of the boys who never returned from finding worms for fish bait. Yet my mother believes to this day that the boys lost their lives in Perryville or maybe Port Deposit, down by the Susquehanna.

It seems that the two young boys, brothers, went out to dig up some worms for bait. They found a likely spot, began to dig, and soon turned up a whole nest, not of worms, but baby copperheads, which the boys eagerly began to scoop into their pail. Both boys were repeatedly bitten and died.

So goes the story, which can be found in various forms in rural North America. It has in common with another class of stories told by my mother, about her family, only the tone: a certain prim satisfaction in seeing an ordinary turn of events gone desperately wrong.

A Christmas Card for Hitler

November 25, 2013

My father had been traveling in Germany for two months, and now he was home. He brought gifts for us all – Marzipan, toys. books. For my mother and him to enjoy, two cases of good Rhine wine. My little sister and I each got special gifts. I still have and will always have two that he gave me at that time: a small stuffed fabric rabbit, and a book by Ludwig Bemelmans, author of the Madeleine series of children’s books, The Best of Times. My mother and father were obviously happy to see each other and we children scampered. That night at supper I was allowed a sip of Rhine wine from a small conical stemmed glass. It was very good.

At that time I could read only a few words but The Best of Times is illustrated with many of Bemelmans’ water colors of post WWII Europe, and a few photographs. I leafed from picture to picture without much enjoyment. It is not a children’s book, and my father clearly did not read it before he bought it for me. The sketches are of adults, cafes, piazzas and landmarks. At page 119 I stopped, puzzled by the full page photograph, and went to ask my mother what it was. “Oh Billy, don’t look at that,” she said, and put the book away. At this point in his narrative of ravaged post war Europe, Bemelmans’ colors failed him, he says, and he reproduces his “Christmas card for Hitler”, an image of a concentration camp victim, dead, sprawled on the barbed wire, mouth agape, face turned upward and outward.

I took the rabbit with me everywhere. It became increasingly shabby and my mother helped me to repair it with needle and thread, working at her sewing desk. The rabbit’s arm fell off and was lost, but I had learned enough sewing from my mother to be able to fabricate a replacement arm, which is still attached. Soon after repairing my rabbit, I heard my mother’s sewing machine and went up to her desk to help her sew, but she told me to find a book or go outside and play. My father didn’t want me sewing anymore.

Pay Day

November 22, 2013

Great-Aunt Bess had a house in downtown Wilmington on Franklin Street. Since her divorce my aunt had an extra room or two and was glad to rent one to my twenty-one year old mother, who had just graduated from Washington College with a B. S. in chemistry and had taken a job working at the lab.

She worked the third shift, taking the crowded bus to work at 11:00 PM up Delaware Avenue to Union Street, then transferring to Lancaster Avenue. The building where my mother worked was down in the hollow of Red Clay Creek, near the pilot plant. Her job consisted of setting off controlled detonations of small amounts of high explosives in large, heavy steel vessels fitted out as calorimeters, so she could measure the energy of new, experimental explosives. The job was so dangerous that her building had been built in an isolated, low section of the plant, so that when it blew up it would not take the whole place with it.

My mother got back to Franklin Street at 8:00 in the morning of Friday, June 26, 1942, pay day. She ran up the stairs and into her room, slamming the door behind her before nosy Aunt Bess had a chance to say anything. She was warm in her suit jacket (it was already close to 80) and hung it in the closet, after throwing her bag on the bed. She opened the window. Now came the exciting part. My mother sat on the edge of the bed and opened her bag, withdrawing her pay envelope. In it were four ten dollar bills and a five. She lined the bills up in a row on the bed beside her. It was unbelievable to make so much money.

North Atlantic. Between 7.57 and 8.11 AM 475 miles East of St. John’s, Newfoundland, U-607 and U-704 both torpedo British MV Empire Rainbow in convoy ON-113 which sinks (all 39 crew and 8 gunners picked up by British destroyer HMS Burnham and Canadian corvette HMCS Dauphin). At 8.15 AM 12 miles East of Tobago, U-66 sinks Brazilian SS Tamandaré (4 killed, 48 survivors in 2 lifeboats spotted by an aircraft and picked up by US patrol boat PC-492).

At 9.45 AM in the Gulf of Mexico off Corpus Christi, Texas, U-171 sinks Mexican SS Oaxaca (6 killed, 39 survivors).

Case Blue. German Army Group A fans out rapidly into the Caucasus, South of the River Don (while 1st Panzer Army attacks Southeast, 17th Army heads Southwest to secure the Black Sea coast and join up with Manstein’s 11th Army arriving from the Crimea across the Kerch peninsula). German 6th Army breaks through Soviet 62nd and 64th Armies to reach the Don just West of Stalingrad.


November 21, 2013

Now it was 1950. A magazine we got, Scientific American, came out with a cover picture of the Earth as if seen from space, a blue and white globe uneasily suspended in blackness. I was able to read the newspapers a little by now, and from the headlines and what the adults were saying I knew we were at war in Korea. “Mommy”, I asked, “are the communists going to come over here”? “No”, she answered, “I don’t think so.” “Then why are we fighting them?” I asked.

Mrs. Burkholder’s

November 21, 2013

Mrs. Burkholder ran a kindergarten in her basement, a mile’s drive from our house, but only a couple of hundred yards if you took the back way through the fields. I was able to walk there by myself in the morning because my father, with his sickle bar, had cut me a path through the tall grass in Mr. Paoletti’s field. Whether it was fall or spring I cannot tell you now, but the path was straight, very long, and the grass on each side of me was as tall as I was.

One day at kindergarten, probably in an effort to impress Peggy Lindsey, I raised my hand to answer Mrs. Burkholder’s question, even though I did not know the answer. I hadn’t any idea what the word on the card she held up meant. And I will never forget my embarrassment when I could not tell her that the word was ”big”.

There was another large farmer’s field in back of Mrs. Burkholder’s and Mr. Paoletti’s. One day a plane landed or crash-landed back there. It was a big Navy plane with a propeller in front. We children were allowed to rush out of the basement to see. The grinning pilot in his leather helmet and flying straps was walking away from his Navy blue plane, sitting on its belly in the field, towards us. He asked Mrs. Burkholder if he could use the telephone.

September, 1949. A-Bomb Calling.

November 21, 2013

My father addressed several skeptical remarks to no one in particular at the dinner table after the announcement by President Truman that the Russians had exploded an atomic bomb. They wouldn’t be able to get one over here. They had faked the test. They wouldn’t have been able to do it without secrets they had stolen from us. I sensed the uneasiness and futility of his words. There would be a new reality, after all.


November 21, 2013

My mother always had trouble keeping her cleaning women. One day I was sitting at the kitchen table playing, drawing with Crayons with my baby sister Meg while the woman was cleaning the stove. I was thinking about trains, big black steam locomotives speeding and whistling, and trying to draw them. If I cupped my hands in front of my eyes I could almost see them rushing along through tunnels. Someone asked my sister what her favorite color was. “Red,” she answered. And then they asked me. “Black,” I replied, thinking about the locomotives. “Blaaaaack!” The next day my mother told me that the woman had quit, offended by my remark. My mother was not angry with me. She wanted me to know what a sensitive subject color could be.

How to Make a Good Fire

November 21, 2013

When it was too cold to play outside if I promised to be quiet I was allowed to sit with my grandfather in his study, where there were many law books lining the wall and a wonderful smell from my grandfather’s pipe. Although my grandfather and I both, I am sure, had expectations of being good, we got down on the floor anyway and went around on all fours laughing and playing Eskimo.

On a cold Sunday the hired man was off and so my grandfather had made the fire in the big fireplace in the living room. I lay on my side on the rug before the hearth watching the fire and hoping I would be allowed to put in a log. My grandfather sat down and bent over to me, saying: “Ah, a good fire. Do you know what they say about how to make a good fire? One log can’t burn, two logs won’t burn, three logs might burn, four logs’ll burn, and five logs makes a good fire”.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 77 other followers