Maude Neal

As even a casual reader of this blog must realize, UJ and I don’t agree on many (if any) political issues, but I do think we would agree on this proposition: Gramma Neal was an influential person in our lives, and a lot of fun to be around, besides.

Maude Brown was born on August 5, 1899, somewhere in Canada. At an early age she moved to Akron, Ohio with her family, which included her brother David and sisters Elizabeth and Catherine. In the 1920s she was working at the “Auto Club” when she met Gilbert Neal, an enterprising, up-and-coming officer of the Firestone Bank. They married, had two children — my mother Agnes and my uncle Gilbert — and were happily married for 60 years, until Gramma had a stroke and died in 1988, at the ripe age of 89. Those are the objective facts but, as is so often the case, they really don’t say much that is meaningful about a person or why they were significant to other people’s lives.

Gramma and Grampa Neal, circa 1975

Gramma and Grampa Neal, circa 1975

I love the picture of Gramma that I have posted with this entry, because it captures her precisely as I remember her — wearing a “suit” with a jacket and the ever-present brooch, her hair dyed an improbably deep black, wearing glasses and an impish grin, with a twinkle in her eyes. The grin and the twinkle were crucial characteristics, because Gramma was someone who liked have a good laugh — although in her case is was more of a snorted, high-pitched “Hinh!” Whether it was the old women we overheard referring to themselves as “girls,” or a kidding comment she made about Grampa’s ever-present saggy, baggy grey pants, she was eager to find something funny in everyday life. And she was willing to have a laugh at her own expense, too. A stout woman, one of her favorite stories was about a trip to Ireland that she and Grampa took after his retirement, when an Irish hansom driver, struggling to hoist Gramma into a horse-drawn carriage, said she was “beef to the heels like a Mullingar heifer.”

She liked to eat lunch at restaurants. She never learned to drive. She carried enormous amounts of cash in her purse, which she would often distribute to whichever grandchildren happened to be in the vicinity. She let my sisters roughly comb her hair for hours. She loved to play cards, but never learned to shuffle, and would approximate that process by splitting the deck, placing one half atop the other, and then forcing the top half into the bottom and repeating that process once or twice. She took a nap every day. She enjoyed a stiff drink of bourbon on the rocks now and then. She liked golf — although she never broke 100 — and played with a wooden shafted “driving iron” that never hit a ball more than 4 feet off the ground and a wooden shafted putter. She had an encyclopedic memory for poetry and could recite for hours, whether it was the verse that began “At 17 he meets a girl” or a poem she wrote as a girl about Akron, home of the “famous Silvertown tread.” When UJ and I were kids we frequently stayed at Gramma and Grampa’s house, went to ball games and dinners with them, and traveled with them to Niagara Falls, Ocean City, New Jersey, Washington, D.C., and places throughout Ohio, and we always had a wonderful time, even though she insisted that we wear suits and sport coats and, in some instance, fedoras and black raincoats like junior G-men.

Like anyone else, Gramma had her negative qualities. She could be judgmental and was capable of bearing a grudge like no one else — among others, she had a mysterious feud with a woman named Mrs. Laughlin that always seemed ready to erupt into open warfare at any moment — and she had a tendency to remember and then recount chilling stories at inopportune moments. When UJ and I were little, she and Grampa would take us to a place near Akron called “Kiddieland”, where she would ride on the rides with UJ and I would ride with Grampa. While Grampa and I would be admiring the view from the top of the Ferris Wheel, she would be clutching UJ close and telling him about the unlucky youngster who stood on a ride at the wrong moment and had his head chopped off. With that deep-seated memory lurking in the unconscious, UJ probably has never really been fully comfortable at amusement parks since.

What else can I say? She was our grandmother, we felt safe, warm, happy, and loved when we were with her, and we loved her back, fiercely and unconditionally. She was a fine woman who was wonderful fun to be around and even now, 21 years after her death, I remember her distinctly and with great fondness. Happy 110th birthday, Gramma!

Related posts:  Gilbert Neal (Part I); Gilbert Neal (Part II); Gilbert Neal (Part III); The Sandwich Story

Thank You Mary Jo


Yesterday, I received a mailing from my Congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy. The mailing included a short letter in which she expressed her desire to bring down the cost of healthcare and make it more affordable and accessible for everyone. I’m in favor of all these.

Also included was a tear off questionnaire that could be mailed to her office. Shown below are the three questions that were asked with my responses:

How does the state of our current system affect you and your family ? I was recently laid off after working for a company for twenty six years, but was fortunate enough to qualify for retiree medical coverage through my employer at the age of fifty-two. Some laid off who were younger than I did not have the retiree medical option. 

What reforms do you think are necessary to fix our healthcare crisis ? I work part-time at a restaurant where most of the waiters and waitresses have no health coverage except for those who are married and covered under their spouse’s plan. At the very least the government needs to offer some type of plan that is affordable and accessible similar to what was done years ago for older Americans with the advent of Medicare.

Do you support the creation of a quality public healthcare option ? Yes, I feel that the government has to offer a plan in an effort to try and get insurance companies to change their current practices. If a public healthcare option is not offered than insurance companies will continue to charge high premiums and decline individuals with pre-existing conditions. The insurance carrier I worked for had a 10% profit margin built in to all of their health insurance premiums.

I think it’s interesting that people don’t want the government involved in our healthcare system even though they are already deeply involved. For example, if the government didn’t offer tax breaks to employers to cover employees, how many companies do you think would offer their employees coverage ?

The government offers these tax breaks with the stipulation that a company cover all employees and not exclude anyone. So an argument could be made that a large portion of citizens that currently have coverage under their employer have coverage because of the governments involvement.

I know that direct mail doesn’t get much of a response and perhaps nothing will be done with my questionnaire, but at least Mary Jo asked for my opinion and I took the time to respond !

You Give Law A Bad Name

As a lawyer, I dread this kind of news story. A disappointed graduate who doesn’t have a job sues her college for tuition payments, and it is covered as another weird news story, just like the stories about women who live with 125 cats or twins separated at birth who find each other after living for 70 years at locations five miles apart. Readers chuckle, shake their heads, and wonder what the world is coming to.

I think these kinds of lawsuits, and news stories thaty they produce, have a pernicious effect.  No context is ever given that might make the lawsuit seem reasonable — suppose, for example, that in this case the college in question for some reason gave certain students a written money-back guarantee? — and the ultimate dismissal of frivolous lawsuits is never reported. The stories create the impression of a legal system out of control, where anyone can sue anyone or anything else whenever they are disappointed in the outcome of their job, their education, or anything else and they may potentially receive some kind of windfall recovery. I think this impression has helped to increase the number of lawsuits filed in our federal and state courts, many of which are filed by pro se plaintiffs who assert the most far-fetched and legally untenable claims imaginable.

There are significant societal costs to this unfortunate reality. The courts exist as a dignified societal mechanism for resolving important cases and controversies. Stories which suggest that lawsuits are silly or that court proceedings are ridiculous cheapen the essential role of litigation as a peaceful and fair dispute resolution process that produces results that all parties accept, even if grudgingly, as final. And bogus lawsuits brought by unrepresented litigants clog the courts, impose wholly unnecessary costs on the parties who must defend even frivolous claims, and occupy the finite time of judges and court personnel. So, the next time you see a “funny” story about a lawsuit, don’t chuckle — such actions really are nothing to laugh about.