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Davidson Esso service station did well, he began building a house on a hill up the road, doing most of the work himself, after hours, with the help of family and friends. My grandmother left him and married a steel worker, who adored her and who won her a few cars in bowling tournaments; a couple of times, he was on “Bowling for Dollars.” (Her father had died in the same mill, Jones & Laughlin, where her second husband worked.) The children’s main home was still the one on the hill.He’d found a standard house plan and customized it—with a window above the kitchen sink, for example, looking across a valley. A woman named Mary Lou, who worked at the Westinghouse factory outside Pittsburgh, lived near the garage, in a house that she shared with a husband who was cruel to her in ways I’m glad I don’t exactly know, but whom she was afraid to leave because of her Catholic faith.My grandfather was good at it, which may be why, when his mother was widowed, she decided that he would be the one to quit school and go to work, though he was the youngest.He had wanted to go to high school with his siblings; he was a good athlete, and one of the coaches had already talked to him about playing. The problem was that, to be a car inspector, you needed to be a licensed driver, and to have a license you needed to be sixteen. His mother went with him to the office of a justice of the peace, which is where you got a license in those days, and the J. looked through every book he had, trying to find a loophole.A board member was telling him that they’d filled the day’s quota for the Air Corps when one of his colleagues said, “We’ve got planes in the Navy.” He signed up. As in every Second World War story, one of his crewmates was a guy from Brooklyn.I heard about him when I was a little girl who was from Brooklyn, too. The plume of smoke was seven thousand feet high, and the explosion damaged ships more than a mile away.
One of the few steady sources of revenue was state auto inspections; eventually, my grandfather did them himself, and his father just signed the form.
They had it ready in time to help in the Battle of Okinawa, which ended, in an Allied victory, on June 22, 1945—exactly seventy years ago this Monday.
It was another few months before my grandfather got home.
The drinking, as much as the illness, meant that my grandfather had, for some time, been doing more and more of the work in the family’s business, a small garage at an intersection called Five Points, near the big steel mills in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania.
As an eighth grader, he repaired the cars that came in—he’d learned from watching his father, who had once maintained coal trucks for the mills.