Wednesday, July 30, 2014



I am writing this blog in memory of my father, JAMES MATHEWS whose 94th birthday would have been this week. 


Dad was born July 31, 1920 in Manhattan to William and Mamie (McGuigan) Mathews.  He had one older sister Catherine born in 1911, and two older brothers, Thomas born 1909 and William born 1915.  He continued to live in Manhattan on 73rd Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues until sometime between 1925 and 1930.  He then moved with his family to the house of his Aunt Katie Morris whose husband had died and needed some help.


During his years in Manhattan he lived close to many family members such as the Hickeys, Flanagan’s and Rudolph’s.  One story he always told, when he couldn’t remember something, was the time he got hit by a taxi cab while coming home from school.  He was walking with Bunny Hickey, his cousin who was a few years older.  He got hit and was taken to the hospital.  He wasn’t hurt too much just a little banged up but he always blamed his bad (it really wasn’t bad) memory on that accident.



James R. Mathews 1st Communion about 1927


After moving to the Morris’ house in Richmond Hill, Queens, he went to catholic elementary school and than Bishop Loughlin High School.  Dad played on the basketball team in high school. My father was very tall 6’4” and very lanky. He never really talked about any particular games but he saved all his uniforms.  All of us kids used them as Halloween costumes for years.


James R. Mathews about 1933




When WW 11 started and Pearl Harbor was attacked my father like many of his cousins and friends enlisted.  He enlisted in the Navy.  He was never sent overseas but was assigned to Navy Intelligence and was based in Washington D.C. and also New York City.  Just before he enlisted he met up with his future bride while working on Wall Street as a Messenger for the Stock Market.  My mother, Ruth Moore, was a telephone operator working in the Wall Street area also.


My parents married on April 19, 1942 while my father was in the Navy.  Many marriages at that time would see the groom in uniform and they were beautiful couples.  Below is the marriage photo of my father James Mathews and my mother Ruth Moore.




My father and mother started married life in an apartment in Jamaica, Queens that his sister Kay had just left because she had 2 small children and it wasn’t large enough.  At this time there was a scarcity of apartments.  Many were passed from relative to relative.  It turns out after my parents left that apartment for another larger one his brother Bill and his wife Nancy took it.  Our family moved into the larger apartment sister Kay had had and then we moved from there to a house, brother Bill and his family took it over.


I remember the second apartment, it was in a large house and we had the second floor.  My bedroom had a window facing a large tree that I always wanted to climb out onto.

Because it was war time we had black out curtains on all the windows.  I remember peeking out to see my father come home from the railroad station (the el, elevated train) down the road.  He looked so good in his uniform.  I was only about 3 but I remember it very clearly.


My sister, Pat, was born in 1945 just as the war was winding down but it still was hard to get around because gas was rationed, so was food.  Both of us girls were born at the hospital at the Navy Yard in Brooklyn while he was in the Navy.  My father had to save all his gas ration stamps so when the time came he would have enough gas in the car to go from Jamaica to Brooklyn.



We stayed there for a few years after the war and my father worked in Manhattan and went to New York University at night under the G.I. Bill1.  When he was off we would walk to the library on Jamaica Avenue and that was the start of my love of reading.  We also went to Riis Park Beach and Rockaway Beach.  Many of his relatives had little bungalows at Rockaway Beach where they spent the summer and we would visit with them.


My father got a position with the National Office of the Independent Insurance Agents2 on Maiden Lane, in Manhattan as Assistant Secretary and then as an editor of their American Agency Bulletin.  This job enabled him to afford a house.  We moved to an old large 3 bedroom house in Bellerose.  It was wonderful, it felt like the country but it was still a borough of New York City.  Dad had a car, he’d had one since he learned to drive.  It was sort of strange because many people in the city never got cars because they could use the taxis, bus, train and subway.  We were able to drive to Alley Pond Park, and the beaches.  Our summers were busy travelling around Queens exploring all the wonderful parks to play in.





The winter we moved in, there was a large blizzard and we were out of electricity and heat for more than a week.  I remember my father pulling us on a sleigh to find a store that might have milk.  He put blankets covering the doorways and we all slept in the living room.  I’m sure it was very hard on him but we thought it was fun.


My father was a very calm and patient man.  I mention that because we wanted a dog and pestered him constantly.  He finally gave in and we got a puppy.  Unfortunately, no one had ever had a dog and had no idea had to train one.  This puppy ate everything in its path, pulled us to the ground when we tried to walk him and barked constantly.  His name was Rags.  My father, being the patient man he was, tried and tried to calm the dog down but about a month later he gave up and we gave the dog back to the store.


When I had started school a place called Levittown was being built.  The builders were making it affordable for all the veterans who fought in the war to be able to buy a piece of property and a very nice new house.  My parents decided to check it out and we made the move out to Nassau County and bought a Levitt Cape.  It had 2 bedrooms, bath, and living room and eat-in kitchen.  The upstairs was unfinished but you could finish it yourself when the time came that you needed more rooms.  My father loved the house and yard.  The neighbors were all Navy, Army, and Marine veterans about the same age as my father.  He made many good and lasting friendships with these neighbors.  They all would get together in the afternoons sitting in the yards listening to the ball game.  Dad was still working in Manhattan so was taking the train from the Hicksville train station like so many of the neighbors.  The neighborhood was a mixture of people working in Manhattan and those who were working on government jobs with Sperry and Grumman.


Dad continued editing the magazine for the Independent Insurance Agency and also was a ghost writer.  He wrote speeches for other people.  At this time he was also in charge of setting up conventions for the Independent Insurance Agents.  They had a convention twice a year all around the country.  Dad would come home from these different states with presents for us.  Many were little dolls depicting the state, I am so sorry I don’t have any of them left.


In 1952 my brother, James, was born and my father finished our attic space into a large bedroom for my sister and I.  He also built a workshop for himself with the largest workbench you have ever seen.  Well anyway to a little girl it was huge because it was higher than a regular table because of my father’s height.  My father loved to build with wood, nothing fancy but very sturdy things.  He made our picnic table and benches for the back yard in that workshop.  He had also built a large doll house for my sister and I.    We could sit our large dolls in it.



Every summer Dad had a two week vacation.  Usually we just stay around home and went to the pool or beach.  One year we went way out to Rocky Point in Suffolk County.  We stayed the two weeks in a rented house right on the cliff by the beach.  We had to go down about 50 steps to the beach, so we only did it once there and once back up.  Dad was very prone to sunburn so to see him sit on the beach was a sight.  He would have his bathing suit on but have a long sleeved shirt and a big brimmed hat and an umbrella over him. He would be covered in sun block lotion (they didn’t have what we have now) but he would still be beet red at the end of the day.  We would bring all our towels, blankets, drinks and food.  It was so much fun.


A short time after that my parents were expecting another child and it was time to move again.  We only went a couple of miles into Hicksville but another Levitt home, this time a ranch style.  This house had two bedrooms upstairs and two downstairs.  The fun feature of this house, and I like to think that was why my father bought it, was it came with a TV and it was in the wall.  This was around 1953 and TV’s were very new and we didn’t have one yet.  We enjoyed watching the moving men bring the workbench down from the upstairs in our house to the moving truck.  That thing was so heavy and big it took several men a long time to get it in the truck.  The poor bench had no place to go in the new house so it was put in the carport.


Dad again made new friends with the neighbors and had barbeques in the backyard.  He had an extension put on the house so that we had a garage and a place for his workshop and workbench.  My second brother, Kevin, was born in 1954 and we had a full house.  My father was very happy and content.


Easter 1956


I will leave the story at this point, these were very special years of my growing up and having a wonderful Dad.  Dad lived until he was 77 and died September 22, 1997 in Rocky Hill, Connecticut.




2. The Independent Insurance Agents of America (IIAA) is the nation's oldest and largest association of independent insurance agents began as the result of a chance meeting on a Denver street in 1896.

Robert Brannen and Charles Wilson, two independent fire insurance agents, stopped and talked about the challenges facing agents who wanted to give their customers a choice of products from more than one insurance company.

Brannen and Wilson decided to meet with other colleagues to discuss their concerns. Twenty agents got together on September 30, 1896, and unanimously decided to form the National Association of Local Fire Insurance Agents (NALFIA), based in Chicago. Their mission: "to support right principles and use our influence to correct bad practices in fire underwriting."

Membership expanded in 1913 when NALFIA decided to include casualty and surety agents. For the next 62 years, the group was known as the National Association of Insurance Agents (NAIA). Before long, NAIA moved its headquarters to New York City and in 1934 established an office in Washington, D.C.

In October 1956, the now-well-recognized Big "I" logo made its debut on association and member materials.

In 1975, the association changed its name to the Independent Insurance Agents of America (IIAA).

And in 1989, IIAA moved its national headquarters to Alexandria, Va. Just outside of the nation's capital.





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