John E. Reynolds- born August 8, 1899. Heads used to turn when nurses at the doctors office asked my grandfather his date of birth. Not many people had met someone who was still living a vibrant life and had been born at the turn of the 20th century. I spent a lot of time with my grandpap and the picture you see above is of me and my grandpap deep sea fishing off of Oregon Inlet, North Carolina. More on that in a minute.
John E was a character. Apparently in the days of prohibition, my grandpap had a key to every speakeasy in Pittsburgh. He liked a party and no government regulation was going to stop him from making gin in his bathtub upstairs or frequenting the joints that had music playing and liquor flowing. The other picture above is of Richard Dix the famous silent film star. My grandmother was friends with Alice Mills who was a silent film heroine and it was not unusual for Alice to visit Pittsburgh from California and bring other stars with her like Richard Dix. The reason they came was not only to see the Mills family but to get together with John Reynolds at the speakeasies and have a good old party in the middle of prohibition. My grandfather was actually pretty well known in the Hollywood circles and more and more stars came to Pittsburgh. They wanted to take my mother back to Hollywood and get her started as a child star but my grandmother would have no part of that. So Hollywood came to the North Side and had much revelrie with John E. Reynolds. The Feds came to my grandpap’s house one time and asked him if they could look out from his pantry to see the illegal wine making operation happening with the neighbor. Apprently there was some wine trafficking and the Feds wanted to use my grandparent’s house as a lookout. Well obviously when they told John E when they would be back, he immediately called old man Volpe and tipped him off. The day the Feds came back, there was no activity and they gave my grandpap a quizical look. Needless to say, the wine always flowed at 2815 Stayton Street courtesy of Volpe the bootlegger.
Fast forward, I came on the scene right before my grandparents stopped drinking. They had had enough and decided to quit cold turkey. The Abbot Beer Distributor was never the same without my grandpap and his cases of Duquesne Beer. But, all was well and they embarked on a mission to educate their grandson on the weekends. On Friday nights, they would always take me to dinner as a young lad and then we would make a beeline to Wheeling, West Virginia to take in the horse races at Waterford Park. My grandparents were purists. No trotters for them. They liked the flat races and taught me how to read a tip sheet, how to look at the horses and the jockeys, how to wait until the last minute to see the odds before placing a bet. My grandfather always swung for the fences and placed money to win. My grandmother was much more conservative and placed show bets. In her mind she would win if she hit either a winner a second place or a third place. But not John E. He went for the gusto and made me go to the window to place all bets. The people behind the windows got to know me and allowed me to place my grandparents bets even though I was woefully underage. My grandpap smiled and laughed no matter what happened. He just liked to watch them race. They took me to Hollywood in Florida, Pimlico, Churchill Downs, and all the other major tracks on the east coast. We had a ball and my grandpap smiled the whole time.
My grandpap always took me fishing as a young guy and to this day, I still use all of his tackle and rods. His cronies were Bill Marcus(an attorney), and Judge Bill Miller. Both of these gentlemen loved to fish and we went everywhere together. They had quite a racket. My grandfather was a real estate appraiser and bankruptcy referee. When Interstate 279 was going to be built, all the houses in the East Street Valley had to be appraised so that the government could pay people to leave their houses to make way for the new road. The three amigos did all the appraisal and legal work and it was years of work due to the scope of the project. They would work from April to November, take December off for the holidays and then spend the next three months in Florida fishing and playing golf. I would visit and fishing became second nature to me. When I could drive, it got better for the three amigos because they could sleep in the car while I drove to Canada, North Carolina or Florida. Lots of miles logged, lots of Canadian fresh water fishing with little to do for a teenager at night after those guys went to bed at 8:00PM. But at 4:30 AM they were ready to rock. They always let me drive the boat and run the outboard. It got a little dicey when we were in the Everglades and my grandpap thought it was funny to sneak up on an alligator and poke him with the fishing rod. Their mouths would always open in a menacing smile and as a cherubic young lad, I was in shock as my grandfather laughed hysterically. I dinged the propeller a few times in Canada on hidden rocks and almost tipped the skiff in the Everglades due to some jerky operation of the outboard motor, but the kind and patient instructions from the three amigos was always reassuring.
After my grandmother had passed, my grandpap lived alone in their new condo in the north of Pittsburgh. I say new because my grandpap almost burned the house down on the Northside when he had about 3 adapters and 9 plugs in the wall with his new computer and other electrical devices that overloaded the circuits. As the house smoked and the firemen put out the flames, they took it as a sign to move and they bought the condo. My mother would always look out for my grandpap on the Access bus every day, feed him his dinner, and then watch him return on the bus. I helped her by cooking dinner at the condo from time to time and taking John E. out after my run or bike riding. We always laughed about the old days, the fishing, the horse races and life on the Northside. My grandfather always wore a coat and tie as was the custom of the old time Irishmen. In fact, he was the only guy to walk every day down at North Park lake with the coat and tie and hat. He always bought a new car every year and one year when he was 89, he decided to buy a Honda. As a died in the wool Buick guy, this was surely a departure but when he accidentally drove it over the hill and into the woods at my folks house, he climbed out of the Honda and looked at me and said,” Ooh- I guess it is time for the Access bus.” Again we laughed, but deep down we were relieved that he was ok and he was no longer driving. When he turned 90, we sat him in the back of my dad’s vintage Buick convertable with a sign that read, ” John Reynolds is 90 Today”. One smart ass yelled to him ” Are you still getting any John?” And quick as a shot, he hollered back,” Yea- more than you sonny.” We all howled at that one.
The best part about all of this and my wonderful memories of him will always be his persistent smile and good humor. Now I am not a geneticist and I don’t know about traits that are passed down. But I like to think that I am a positive person. I love life and all the interesting, funny and adventurous times that come about in one’s lifetime. I believe my joie de vivre came from my grandpap. My mother always said that I took after him with his humor, his traits, and his quirky way of living. I am definitely a Reynolds and I can say that I am proud of that. Not that there is anything wrong with the McCloskey side of the family, but John E. Reynolds was a great role model and wonderful guy to know and love. Everyone should have a grandpap like I had. Everytime I throw a line in the water and try to land the big one, I think of him. Everytime I watch the Derby and the Preakness, I think about him betting the farm on the big win and my grandmother harrassing him the whole time. Everytime I see a white Buick with black interior( he was color blind), I think of him. The guy was hilarious. I can’t wait to see him again in glory!! Thanks for reading.