The Failed Promise of Technology (Not)

April 20th, 2019 by Nick Jacobs 7 comments »

 

This was the title of a speech that one of my former Chief Scientific Officers used to give on a regular basis. I added the NOT because, for the past decade I’ve been working with scientists in a field that provides a technology that is proving to be invaluable. Unfortunately, it is still not being utilized by the vast majority of the physicians in the medical community because it is not being taught in the majority of the medical schools. This is primarily because it takes about 17 to 20 years for many discoveries and new technologies to become mainstream.

This technology involves genetic analytics and is called Pharmacogenomics, a long word with an easy explanation. By analyzing the 300 genes that metabolize medicines, science can now pinpoint how we, individually, will respond to specific drugs. This is truly precision medicine. With just two cotton swabs of saliva, the genetic equipment and the scientists can predict how you personally will respond to specific drugs. Imagine not having to take the drug to see if you will have the side-effect before you have that side-effect.

Not ironically, the physicians who are happy to use the pharmacogenomics test are psychiatrists. As a non-physician and non-scientists, these docs have explained to me that some psychotropic drugs actually exaggerate the symptoms for which they have been prescribed. So, if you get a prescription for schizophrenia, it may cause you to be more schizophrenic. If, though, you can tell how the patient will react to the drug before it’s given, why not?

Ironically, this test has touched both my life and the life of many of my friends. The examples are both moving and, in some cases, terrifying. In my own personal experience, I was admitted to the hospital 20 years ago on the verge of having a myocardial infarction. Two decades later, I received the results of my Pharmacogenomics test and read the following, “If you take x-statin, it could cause you to have a myocardial infarction.” X – was the drug that I was taking at the time.

My wife was experiencing severe gastric distress from a drug that she was on, and when she received her test results, one of the warning symptoms based upon her genetic make-up, was that she would have severe gastric distress. The good news was that there were five other drugs that could be used to treat her symptom that did not produce those outcomes.

My brother had experienced negative effects from pain medicines during previous medical encounters, and when he was admitted to the hospital with a collapsed disc, he cautioned his caregivers about these sensitivities. They simply replied, “We will be mindful of your sensitivities.” He was overdosed the following day, and his kidneys were permanently damaged.

One of my friends who, ironically, had worked at a hospital, called me to inform me that, at age 42, she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She asked me to help her find the best physicians and the best hospital for her care. One of my suggestions was a pharmacogenomics test prior to chemo. She took the test, informed her physician that the drug he was prescribing would not work with her genetic makeup, and he said, “Don’t worry, it will be fine.” Eighteen months later, the cancer came back in exactly the same place.

This test is not negative toward pharmaceutical companies or physicians, it simply provides them with a “tool box” for decision making in regard to the individual genetic make-up of the patient. The best news is that these tests not only provide you and your physician with the information that you need regarding your personal ability to metabolize the prescription you’re being given, but it also contains a myriad of data substantiating the information you’re being provided.

Get the test. It just may save your life.

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A Pennsylvania Guy

February 20th, 2019 by Nick Jacobs 1 comment »
The other morning I overheard an Uber driving pouring his heart out to the barista at the local coffee shop about the horrible weather in Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, I had just driven in from the Johnstown/ Somerset weather and thought to myself, “Man, you ain’t seen nothing yet.” But this is where I have to come clean. I love the seasons, love the weather here, and hardly ever complain about it. One of my mentor/ friends once told me that some of us are just about “place.” We’re essentially in the place where we’re supposed to be.
 
Now, who can say if he was right, but my life has been a little like a deer. OK, deer stay within about a 25-mile radius of their home, and my circle has been about 50 miles, but for whatever reason, I’m a Pennsylvania guy.
 
I’ve spent the last 10 years traveling around between New Jersey, Chicago, Indiana, Florida, and California – mainly California and Florida – and I have to say I still prefer Pennsylvania. I’m tied here because of family, history, comfort, but also because I love the seasons.
 
My son lived in Vermont, and that was waaaay too extreme for me. Florida and California felt like Groundhog Day, perfect every day, and well, places like Seattle and Oregon were too much like England and Scotland for me. Yeah, yeah, I know there are hundreds of you who are mentally crying out, “What’s wrong with this guy?” But it is what it is, and I’m OK with that.
 
One of my oft-repeated sayings is that Western PA and Seattle residents purchase more sunglasses than any other populations in the United States because the sun comes out so rarely that we forget where we left them.
 
That’s probably true, but there’s nothing like driving from the airport, through the Ft. Pitt tunnel and seeing the amazing skyline of the lights of Pittsburgh. It’s the only city that actually has an entrance.
 
Just like that first breath of spring when the sun shines, the birds chirp, and the first flowers begin to blossom. Each season has special challenges, special quirks, special gifts, and special entrances for me.
 
Celebrating Christmas in Florida, Arizona, and California is like playing my trumpet with a mute in it. Something is just missing when you see a palm tree with holiday lights or cactus with a Santa sleigh. It’s borderline pathetic.
 
It’s also sad to watch the folks in those warm climates wearing down-filled jackets and boots when the temperature drops to 64. Give me the seasons. Let me appreciate the frigid nights and in the summer, the hot days. Let me live a life without the constant threat of hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and mosquitoes carrying post-climate change diseases.
 
Let me have four seasons of clothes that vary as widely as those seasons. Let me enjoy a warm fireplace, a cup of hot chocolate, a great pair of gloves, or flip flops and shorts. It’s all about change, lack of predictability and unending variation.
I like a good storm that doesn’t drown and kill people. Throw in crisp fall evenings, amazing firefly-filled skies in early summer, campfires, falling autumn leaves crackling under my boots, and horribly treacherous drives on fog-covered, ice-covered mountains.
 
Maybe I’m a traditionalist, an adrenaline junkie, or just some kind of a nomadic homebody, but this is where I was born and where I want to return to stardust.
 
Give me five days, not six or seven, at a beach. Give me three days in the Rockies, and I’ll take a warm long weekend in Ft. Lauderdale, but that’s it. Seriously, Goldilocks has nothing on me. I’m the original “not too hot, not too cold, just right” kinda guy.
 
God Bless the rest of you as you long for the traffic, crime, drought, or horrendous humidity of those eternally perfect-boring places. I’m good with Western Pennsylvania.
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Plan Z

January 5th, 2019 by Nick Jacobs No comments »

Several books have had a major impact on me: books such as “The Naked Ape” by Desmond Morris, “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibrand, “I’m Okay. You’re Okay” by Thomas Harris and Gail Sheehy’s “Passages.” Her book explored the natural personality changes common to each stage of life, and she takes the reader through the passages of each decade of life, what to anticipate, and how to use each of these passages as an opportunity for growth.    Much of “Passages” content has remained embedded in my mind because of the way she described our twenties and all the things we tend to do wrong during that important beginning adult decade of our lives. I was in my early thirties when it came out, and, to my delight, she explained that those second decade mistakes we made can be cleared up and corrected during the next ten years of life. It worked.
By embracing that life lesson as we move through our personal passages, there are things that we can undo, things we might not repeat, and things we can fix to help us grow toward a higher consciousness and level of achievement, however we define that for ourselves. And it sometimes takes mistakes to get there, but that’s okay.
Not unlike that hackneyed Thomas Edison quote, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” And “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” We can try, fail, try, fail, try, fail and finally get it right if we just stick to it.  Persistence is frequently the only commitment that’s needed to move things forward in positive ways. The other thing, though, is knowing when to quit and move on when a lesson is learned and not to be repeated.
Personally, as a musician or artist, it was never good enough for me to have a Plan B. In fact, when teaching leadership classes, my recommendation to the participants is to have as many plans as it takes to get it done, even if it means having a Plan Z.
Much of life requires risk-taking, and if you’re completely risk-adverse, you will be stuck in place because of your own fears and insecurities. You don’t have to fight the ocean to ride the waves.  Even in the most horrendous situations, there are amazing life lessons that allow us to grow and make unbelievable progress during that next opportunity or challenge.
If at first you don’t succeed . . .  Remember, it’s how we learned to walk, and it applies to most other challenges that we face. I remember asking a genomics scientist what happens if we block the communication pathway between genes and proteins, which are the workers and foot soldiers of the human body, and he responded casually yet assertively, “They do the same thing we do as people. They find a different way and get it done.”
Watching very young children who are presented with a problem creatively work their way through obstacles is always fun because they aren’t encumbered with our give it up attitude. They just keep trying until they figure it out. That spirit of creativity, stick-to-it-iveness, and optimism is the child portion of our brain described in the book “I’m Okay. You’re Okay” that we need to continue to embrace throughout life.
We can’t let our amygdala talk us down or convince us to quit, or that we’re not good enough, not bright enough, not creative enough.  We just need to make the mistake, fix it, learn from it and move on.  Growth comes from challenge.
Winners never quit, and quitters never . . . you get the idea. You can make life work for you by being persistent, determined and tenacious.  Wait. Those are all synonyms.

Sent from my iPhone

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23&Me

November 18th, 2018 by Nick Jacobs 7 comments »

 

After putting this off for years, I sent my saliva to 23 and Me to find my health risks, my relatives and my ancestral origins. The information that I received via email yesterday was exciting, fun, and, thank goodness, it was mostly okay.

There are 1,001 relatives I didn’t know on my list, and one is impressive. That one is J. Craig Venter, the former president and chief scientific officer of Celera Genomics. Craig and Francis Collins are credited with the first mapping of the human genome. Up to this point, my only famous relatives were the ones who founded Uniontown, and cousin who owned “Gunsmoke’s” Long Branch Saloon.

The report revealed that I didn’t have the genes for Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, and that was a relief. There were no major genetic abnormalities that I’ve passed on to my kids or grandkids, and that was a relief, but there were some more interesting facts that cracked me up.

For example, I’m a tiny part Neanderthal. Today, that’s probably not something to put in your curriculum vitae, but it’s a minute enough portion that it explains some of my physical traits like straight hair and a little hair on my back. I know, TMI. Thankfully, the percentage was low enough that I’m not a knuckle dragger.

My very favorite part of the report came from the page entitled traits. This was something I hadn’t expected to find from a tablespoon of saliva. For example, the very first trait is that I have the ability to match musical pitch. Once again, what a relief. Especially since I had majored in music in college. That is a trait that I had not realized could be determined from genetics. So, when adults tell me they have absolutely no ability to match pitch, maybe it isn’t just because some music teacher didn’t want to deal with them.

Here come some of the funnier and more interesting ones that caught my attention. For example, I will not have a uni-brow. Oh, and how about this one? There are slightly higher odds that I will not like cilantro. After all these years, I finally understand.

For those of you who wonder about the unusual smell when you go to the bathroom after eating asparagus, it’s heredity! Apparently, some people don’t notice any difference, but for me? Post asparagus potty-time is clearly noticeable, memorable and well-defined.

I’m more likely not to be bitten by mosquitoes any more than the average human. I’d argue that one to my mosquito scratching grave, but hey, it’s not a perfect test.

How about this one? I’m likely to wake up around 6:58 a.m. every morning. OMG, that is soooo true. What the heck is that? I don’t want to wake up at 6:58 a.m., but regardless of the time zone, that’s my wake up time. OK, it’s not always my get-up time. When I ran hospitals and had to be at work by 6:30 a.m. for meetings, I’ll admit that sometimes I didn’t wake up during those meetings until almost 8, but who knew?

This one is a little gross, but I’m more likely to have wet vs. un-wet ear wax. Not that any of us needed or wanted to know that, but there it is. Hazel or brown eyes, no dimples, and detached ear lobes that I’m hoping won’t become too detached.

And here’s the one that’s been bugging me for years. When I get my picture taken, my hair will be photo bleached. That means I’ll look even more bald than I am. Photo bleached hair, a genetic trait? Who knew? 23 and Me, that’s who.

 

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On the passing of time

October 25th, 2018 by Nick Jacobs 6 comments »

Because I’ve recently been eagerly searching for my next chapter, it’s taken me down some very interesting, sometimes brilliantly lit, passages. Frequently, getting older feels challenging and emotionally wasteful to me, and because of that, I’ve begun to realize that there’s plenty of time, but sometimes not enough life.

Leonardo Da Vinci said, “Time stays long enough for those who use it.” But Albert Einstein had his own viewpoint when he said, “Time is an illusion.”

When I revisit all the negative experiences of my lifetime –the Korean War, Vietnam, the assassinations of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy, the Chicago riots, Kent State, Nixon, Iraq, 9-11, Iraq and Afghanistan, Hurricanes Katrina, Maria, Sandy and Michael, mass shootings in schools, movie theaters, concerts and night clubs, and the Boston marathon bombing – a quote from J.R.R. Tolkein’s “The Fellowship of the Ring” comes to mind:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Instead of watching life passing by, my goal has been to enthusiastically work to create a legacy that helps others. I’m not striving for immortality through these actions, it just seems so much more productive than the alternatives.

As we begin to notice the sands in our own personal hour glasses rushing through like darting fireflies on a warm summer evening, we realize that the panic or unrest that we sometimes experience is not so much fear of death, but fear of not having the time left on this planet to get done whatever we think we were put here to do.

One of my favorite quotes about time and life is from Sarah Dessen.“There comes a time when the world gets quiet and the only thing left is your own heart. So you’d better learn the sound of it. Otherwise you’ll never understand what it’s saying.” Just listen.

If we embrace science’s theory that man and all of life simply evolved through billions of years of chemical interactions, there has to be some safety net, some handle to grasp onto tightly or we might free fall through infinite intellectual space.

Obviously, it could be much more fun to go through this fleeting journey with no guiding principles, no moral compass and no ethical boundaries because every day would be a random holiday of self-gratification without retribution and many days it feels as if we’re living in an era where positive values are being denigrated, ignored and vilified, but the emptiness of that type of narcissistic journey is well documented.

We now know definitively that we are connected at a molecular level with everything and everyone in the universe.

If we think positively, we can feel peace as in this quote by Rabindranath Tagore, “The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.”

Possibly, just embracing goodness is the very best answer and a wonderful brass ring to grasp.

Think about the ethical implications of The Golden Rule. It exists in some form in every religion of the world. Maybe just doing the right thing will be enough.

If we acknowledge our complex web of connectivity, why not spend each day being good to others, and thus being good to ourselves?

It shouldn’t be about guilt. It should be about making clear, positive choices between things like giving vs. greed; or loving vs. hating; kindness vs. meanness; positive actions vs. negativity. Those positive choices are good choices.

What if we’re born, we live, and we die and that’s it?

My personal recommendation is to embrace the goodness.

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Saving Hospitals

September 7th, 2018 by Nick Jacobs 4 comments »

The hospital environment in the United States is quickly changing nationally and exponentially more rapidly in Pennsylvania. According to Moody analysts from a Modern Healthcare article by Alex Kacik, hospitals are successfully lowering their operational expenses but not as quickly as their revenue is dropping. The implications of that statement are onerous. There are only so many ways to cut until you reach rock bottom as an organization and the point of no return. Shrinking to greatness is typically not considered a viable option to survival.

The statistics from 2017 are very telling as expense growth was cut by 5.7% but revenue has only grown by 4.6% and that was in spite of the numerous mergers and acquisitions that have taken place. In fact, with 13 M&A transactions, Pennsylvania was the most active merger and acquisition state nationally followed by Georgia and Texas at nine and eight each. In the year 2000, there were approximately 122 independent community hospitals in Pennsylvania and now there are just 36 with several of these hospitals hanging by a proverbial economic thread.

Without getting too deeply into the financial woods, Medicie and Medicaid payments as a percentage of gross hospital revenue increased slightly, but higher paying commercial insurances have gone down by 33.9%. In a financial structure where less than 3% of net patient revenue came from capitated and risk-based contracting in 2017 and 41% from DRG’s (Diagnostic Related Groups), 28% from fee schedules and 17% from the actual charge master or list price, based on a traditional operating model, there is no clear pathway for small and rural hospitals to remain viable.

Add to these economic challenges, the 2868 total number of retail clinics in the United States supported by Minute Clinic, Walgreens, The Little Clinic, Walmart, Target and dozens of other smaller corporations as well as an exponential growth in free-standing surgi-centers and independent physician-based clinics, and hospitals must take additional aggressive steps to change their business model.

In the Modern Healthcare article, Lyndean Bric, President of Advis Group, a healthcare consulting firm, states that hospitals must find ways to grow volumes, be creative, and do things differently than they have by looking to monetize assets and seek out non traditional revenue.

What if your hospital could afford to have its own Innovation Officer, and creativity could be added to your C-suite agenda at every meeting? With experience in the latest “Omics” research, expertise and connectivity in Integrative Medicine, and other cash income producing innovations, we can change the way a community utilizes their local hospital facilities while generating significant financial gains to their bottom line.

Although some of the areas that we may recommend may seem a little like “driving in front of your headlights” to the traditionally trained C-suite executive, each of them comes with a proven track record of success from multiple settings. Ultimately, the hospitals that work with us have experienced new levels of community acceptance and involvement that helps to reposition them as true partners with their patient base on a level that drives increased volumes and patient revenue.

Be it cash paying integrative treatments, pharmacogenomics testing, human longevity, federal and state grant opportunities, new technologies for treating depression, opioid testing labs, the creation of a 501©3 Foundation, mobile imaging, polypharmacy, or just creative supply chain payment methodologies, we hav experience, knowledge, and connectivity in all of these areas and because of that can bring the right people to the table to make “creative things” happen in an economically viable way for you and your organization.

 

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Growing up in a Catholic Family

August 22nd, 2018 by Nick Jacobs 2 comments »

 

Full disclosure. I was never physically molested by a person of the cloth. I’ve been verbally abused, but most of us have had that experience sometime from someone in power regardless of our faith.

When I was a pre-teen and wanted to be a priest, my Italian grandfather used to tell me regularly that I shouldn’t be so “impressed” by them. He used to say, “Nicky, the Pope is just an old man.” When he said that, I was worried that he’d be going straight to hell, but I’m pretty sure now that wouldn’t have been a problem.

When President Kennedy was killed, I was a complete wreck because I had read that he ate bacon for breakfast that Friday morning. At that time, that was also a “Hell” infraction. Of course that was before I had heard about his other extracurricular activities. Naivety can be a wonderful protector.

A decade after that, my dear Italian grandmother died. To say she was religious would literally be “the understatement of the year.” As a young woman, she had made a Pilgrimage to Assisi and even had a tattoo on her right arm that the participants received for making the last mile up the mountain to the Church of St. Francis on her knees.

Grandma died and the new priest pulled up to the funeral home in a white Mercedes. He came inside to talk to my dad about her funeral, and then this happened. “Mr. Jacobs, I don’t care if she came to church every day of the year, I won’t do this funeral mass unless you pay me $100 upfront.” (That’s $580.06 now.)

Two years later my dad died. He had been suffering from lung cancer and didn’t make it to church very often because of that. During that time, he received last rites from another new priest.

Except for that meeting, they were not well acquainted. During the sermon at my father’s funeral, the priest said, “Charlie, snuck into heaven through the back door” because he wasn’t attending church regularly. Then his entire sermon was a lecture about abortion. Nothing about my dad.

Later in my life I went to work for a Catholic Hospital. There I met several nuns who, when you looked into their eyes, you could literally see heaven. They used to say, “Don’t go to those priests for confession. Some of them are very bad people.” I should have listened.

As it turned out, several of those priests were exposed in the Altoona/Johnstown predator report. Some of those ladies must have known and had no where to go because even the DA’s of that era along with the monsignors, bishops, cardinals, and the Vatican have been implicated.

Many of my Catholic friends will point out to me that the church is not solely its leadership, but its members. It is also a human organization run by humans with human flaws. No human organization is perfect. They will say they are members based on their personal faith. So by lumping all members with these criminals I am basically accusing all of them who continue to remain faithful to the teachings of the church of the same crimes.

That is certainly not my intent. Just like I didn’t accuse my Penn State friends of being part of the Sandusky scandal. What I am saying, however, is that these heinous crimes should be punished to the full extent of the law. The statute of limitations should be lifted. Judges should not be able to take donations as potential hush money from those related to the church, and, for God and the kids’ sake, let priests get married, or at least screen out the pedophiles. Let women enter the priesthood. These were illicit sex rings run with the knowledge of church leadership.

As Blood Sweat and Tears used to sing… I pray there ain’t no hell. (Because it’s gonna be full of unholy men.)

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Integrative Medicine

July 20th, 2018 by Nick Jacobs No comments »
Having served in healthcare senior leadership for over two decades, my tolerance level for various “healthcare norms,” that revolved around the sometimes-insensitive treatment and care of patients and their families had reached the breaking point.  Consequently, at the end of my 40th decade when I became a hospital CEO, I arrived in the position with a quiver full of change arrows that were sure to shake up the status quo, and it did.Because I had entered the healthcare field some twenty years after most of my senior leadership peers, my life experiences were much more varied and non-traditional. For ten years, I had been a band and orchestra director in both City and Urban school districts.  After that, I ran what became a successful arts organization in a rural area, and finally, served as the CEO of a convention and visitors bureau.  It was during those years that I went back to school for another Masters degree in public management/health systems management.

When this CEO opportunity presented itself, I realized how each and every one of my life experiences could help me run a hospital, but not just any hospital. It was my vision to create a hospital that embraced all modalities used in integrative medicine with the ambiance of a fine hotel and the amenities of a health spa.  We carefully scrutinized and then credentialed practitioners specializing in massage therapy, integrative nutritional counseling, acupuncture, osteopathic manipulation, pet and music therapy, reiki, and spirituality to name a few. These practices intermixed with traditional Western medicine became our new norm.

As the traditionalists who are reading this article begin to shake and scream about a lack of medical evidence, I can only point to the 19,000 papers written supporting the efficacy of acupuncture and the thousands of other medical papers written about the healing powers of music, massage, and such. In that same spirit, there is also the fact that the head is connected to the body and provides a mind-body connection that doesn’t fit neatly into the scientific “heal to the pill” mentality of our current system.As a non-clinician, non-scientist, it was easy for me to believe in things like “the Placebo effect” as well.  It really didn’t matter to me why people got better. It was our goal to create a healing environment where people would not be immersed in fear and trepidation, where their loved ones could comfortably stay with them, and where unnecessary paging, and middle of the night prodding, and wake-ups were avoided as much as humanly possible.

It seemed to me that by training our employees at Disney University, allowing them to learn from the Ritz Carlton, and exposing them to sensitivity and emotional quotient training, we could create a healing environment. Because my philosophy was that you could not change the human condition, but you could change the condition under which humans worked, we also embraced an anti-bullying environment where employees were cherished and recognized for their contributions to the welfare of our patients.

How did implementing all of these ideas change healthcare in our little slice of Camelot?  Our infection rate dropped to below 1% and stayed there for eleven years. (The national average is nine percent.) And I know we weren’t washing our hands more than they were at other hospitals. Of our peer hospitals, we had the lowest readmission rates, restraint rates, and lengths of stay, and when the naysayers saw these numbers, they said it was because we were not a large hospital. My belief was that we successfully had created a healing environment where our patient’s white blood cells were actually able to function to fight off infection.  We were transparent, nurturing, and caring. We were not a “Healthcare FACTORY” where the patients became widgets in an Industrial Revolution model of care.

Music was always used in healing ceremonies by an indigenous man. Acupuncture has been deemed effective for over 5000 years. Massage makes you feel better, and sometimes your spine gets out of alignment and needs to be corrected. This is neither rocket science nor brain surgery. It’s about love, kindness, and caring, wrapped up in good Western medicine. Oh, and one more thing.  Even with a palliative care unit, a hospice, we had the lowest death rate of our peer hospitals. I had always wanted to put up a billboard that said, “Come to our hospital . . . you’ll die less often.”
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Grandma and Grandpa

June 20th, 2018 by Nick Jacobs 1 comment »

A few weeks ago, I got a box of cassette tapes. One of the tapes had “Grandpa and Grandma” on the label. I instantly remembered sitting with my family with my little tape recorder as I interviewed my grandparents for posterity in 1960. Let me share just a few tidbits from those now deceased voices talking, laughing, and telling, in broken English, their story of poverty, struggle, and life. While they spoke I thought about the life of my English grandparents whose families came here in the 1600s. It was like “Downton Abbey” or “Up the Down-staircase.”

I asked my grandmother what her family told her life was like in the early 1800s she said, “Longa time ago, our family lived in a family cave, and even when we were little, we useda olive oil to light our house with little lanterns.”

Then my granddad who came to America at age 13 said, “ When I was a kid, I had to take care of the cows. My brother and dad would use them to plow the fields, and I had to clean up after them, feed them, and take care of them. I hated that. That’s why I ran away.”

I asked him, “Did you go to school?” And he said, “The old man used to say, ‘Get a book and learn to read.’ So, I taught myself everything.”

Then I asked what he remembered about his mother, and he said, “She went to church every day, and every dime she got, she gave to the priest. She gave him bread all the time even when we were hungry. He had a big belly.” Then I asked him, “Did you ever go to St. Peter’s in Rome?” He said, “When I lived away from home, we went there all the time, but I don’t know whata you people think. The Pope is just an old man.” (Obviously, he wasn’t happy the priest got all the bread.)

Both families had farms close to the town of Alvito between Rome and Naples. Her family’s was three miles away, and both fathers were sharecroppers. Half of what they grew went to the rich men who controlled the land. My grandfather said, “One summer dad cried like a baby because everything dried up, and another summer he didn’t geta good grapes for wine, and he cried even harder that time.”

I asked if they made wine, and my grandmother said, “The mena mada the wine by stomping on a da grape in their bare-feet.” My English mother asked, “Did they wash your feet?” The result of that question was lots of laughter. “The alcohol killed the germs,” my grandfather said laughing between breaths.

“When we were ina this country and was married, I made a jug of wine,” my grandmother said, “and Patsy (my grandfather) tested one time.” Then she said, “My winea was betta than his dad’s wine.” My granddad looked at me, smiled and winked. “Yep, he laughed, yours was better.” (That’s why they were married for so long.)

“Did you wear shoes?” I asked. My grandfather burst into laughter, “The first shoes I have was when I come in America.” “So, what did you do in the winter?” I asked. He said, “We would wrap rags around our feet in the winter time.”

For whatever reason, as a 13-year old boy, I asked, “Did you ever see a wolf?” To which my grandmother said, “My dad had to walka to church one time at 4 in the morning and something came after hima growling. He yelled because he thought it was a wolf, but it was a biga dog.” Then she laughed and laughed. Grandad said he saw wolves.

Then he said something that stuck with me. He said, “We had a lot of fun, but it wasa stupid fun.” From the sound of the laughter on that tape, maybe it wasn’t so stupid.

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Dad

June 13th, 2018 by Nick Jacobs 2 comments »

Many of us are proud of our fathers, and with Father’s Day fast approaching, we’re definitely expecting to see posts praising our dads. OK, so, here you go.

My dad was relatively short in stature at about 5’6,” but incredibly tall in my eyes. Although Dad held jobs that usually preferred a college education, and he didn’t have one, he was one of the smartest men I’ve ever been around. Whenever something interested him, he attacked it with wild abandon. When it was iron furnaces and cannonballs, we traveled all around our area seeking cannon balls with bent coat hangers or twigs as dowsing rods. When he became enamored with electronics, we got to play with every type of electronic analytical machine that he could buy used. (We didn’t have much money.)

Dad dove into bees, not literally, and learned all about them. Then, as he reached his 40s, he turned to our community. First he decided that any peaceful little community should have gray squirrels so he drove back and forth to Jeannette, where a friend would live-catch squirrels for him. He populated our little town with these frisky bushy tailed devils. He loved to watch them, but, unfortunately, our neighbors loved to shoot and eat them.

After his squirrel adventures, dad turned to getting water and sewage into our little village, then a bridge, and finally, a Coal and Coke Museum. During his work days, he was able to convince an entire community along the Mon River to work together to bring in the Pittsburgh Wind Symphony for summer concerts.

To say that he didn’t teach me a lot would be a bona fide distortion. Every night he’d drill me in recitation of vocabulary words. We had a large box of vocabulary words that he practiced with me, words that won’t appear in this column because they are too obtuse. His charge to me was that I’d learn five new obscure words from the lexicon each and every day, use them in sentences until I was comfortable with them so I’d get a great score on my College Board exam. (That worked in English but not so much in math.)

Dad also taught me to spade a garden, control copperheads that were about to strike me with a two pronged snake stick, shoot rats at the local dump, identify all poisonous plants, recycle bottles, make compost piles, shovel coal into the coal bin, stoke a coal fired furnace and then empty the ashes from that furnace, solder, use a hand saw, pound nails, change the oil and do body work on a car, and most importantly, avoid physical harm by outsmarting my potential opponents. He taught me how to make money from a lemonade stand, from grass cutting, and running errands for retired people. He also taught me how to manage my paper route like a business. He would sit with me and go over my collections, explain how to approach the two deadbeats on my route and how to up-sale my customers into getting the Sunday paper.

Our grade school was only a few blocks away, but I always begged my parents to allow me to periodically take my lunch to school.

Dad wanted me to feel special, so he bought white lunch bags. I was the only kid in the school who ever had a white lunch bag. He also encouraged my imagination by buying me little tablets and making sure I always had lots of pens and pencils.

He bought me my first bike and car but then taught me how to save for the second of each. Above all he taught me how to be a good, loving, kind, resourceful, provider and Father.

Dad smoked until 1960, but he died in 1975 from lung cancer. It was an outrageous loss for my family and for the world. Love ya, Dad.

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