Uncle Al’s Family Stories

By Peter McManus

While Mom and I were visiting Uncle Al and Aunt Dot over the weekend of October 25, 2002, Uncle Al told several stories about our family. Here they are (I’ve slightly embellished them with some information from other sources) . . .

Mom and Aunt Dot

These days we don’t talk politics much. It keeps the peace. But when the Standards, McManus’, and Andresens got together, things were different. Politics always came up.

Mom’s politics clashed with those of her sister, Aunt Dot, for as long as I can remember. Mom has always been very liberal and Dot was the complete opposite. When they got together, Aunt Dot would (in my opinion) bait Mom unmercifully about her beliefs. In one such discussion about racial problems, Dot finally exclaimed, “Well if you like blacks so much, why don’t you marry one?”

Mom replied, “I would, but none has asked me yet.”

Imagine how different our lives would be if we were mulatto.

Dad’s Principles

Almost every male of a particular age served in the armed forces during World War II, including all our uncles. Many of the men had desk jobs. Some never even went overseas – I believe our Dad was in that category, as he had the rank of Private First Class while earning his medical degree during most of the war.

Some time after the war, Congress voted to award $100 to every veteran as a special thanks for their service. Dad was furious about this law. In particular, he saw no reason why he deserved the handout, having participated only from the sidelines. Why should he get this money, but not the people who worked incredibly hard at home in the factories to keep the war effort going?

Dad refused to accept the $100. At the time, Al pointed out to him that if he didn’t accept the money, it would go to someone else. That was just fine by Dad.

Uncle Al admits that he accepted the money, and says that he always admired Dad’s principled stand. That $100 would be worth around $1000 today, and the family was not well-off at the time.

Anyone who has patronized a hospital knows that some of the fees look excessive. For example, a blood test may cost 50 cents for the pathology department to perform, but the hospital charges $5.00 for the test. The pathology department gets 75 cents and the hospital takes the other $4.25 for its own purposes.

Early in his career, Dad was offered the position of Director of Pathology at Roosevelt Hospital in New York. Dad said that he would accept the position on one condition: that all of the revenue from pathology tests would go to the pathology department.

Dad wanted truth in labeling. He wanted patients to know what they were paying for. He also knew that this was tantamount to declining the job, because the hospital could never accept such a radical change to how they collected revenue. Uncle Al has always been impressed that Dad stood by his principles, at the cost of not getting a very prestigious job.

The Andresen Farm

The farm at McAfee

Mom’s father, Dr. Andresen, got into an accident when his horse-drawn ambulance collided with a horse-drawn trolley. His chest was pierced and he developed an abscess. Grandfather’s doctor told him he needed rest and advised him to recuperate in the country. So the family bought a farm near McAfee, New Jersey, and moved in. Grandpa proceeded to commute the long distance to New York (so much for getting rest), sometimes staying in New York for days. Grandmother and the three kids spent much time alone in the godforsaken New Jersey hills.

The farm was at the top of a hill. Mom tells me that the driveway up the hill had a series of “thank-you-ma’ams” – level spots on the way up the drive. Grandmother’s car was a bit underpowered, so to get to the top of the hill she would position the car well before the hill and step on the accelerator, driving full throttle to the top. If she didn’t make it she had to back the car down the driveway and try again.

Once while Grandfather was in the city, the local Ku Klux Klan chapter placed a burning cross on the front lawn. Catholics were not welcome in McAfee.

Many years after our grandparents sold the farm a Playboy Club was built on the land.

Unpublished work © 2002 Peter McManus