He was an MP in the army during World War II. He was a cook. He worked as a taster in a local brewery—Ortlieb's, a one-time Philadelphia institution. He'd tell the story of how he once alerted his boss to a bad batch of beer that was nearly sent out into the marketplace. Apparently, my grandpop could taste that the yeast was about to turn, but he couldn't get anyone else to agree with him on this. They ran a bunch of tests, since discarding an entire batch would have cost the company a lot of money, but everything kept coming back fi ne. Finally, my grandfather's boss turned to him and said, "Pete, if you tell me it's a bad batch, it's a bad batch." Sure enough, within a week to ten days, the beer had soured and Grandpop was proven right. But this was almost beside the point. What mattered to my grandfather was that his boss believed in him, even when all the tests and all the other tasters didn't agree. He'd built up enough credibility and goodwill to be taken at his word, and this to him was a tremendous accomplishment.
And he always had a story or two he'd share to instill that same work ethic in us. The most memorable was a kind of parable about hard work and determination, centered on a bag of peanuts. He told it to us so often that years later it made its way into my campaign speeches. He used to sit us down and in his gruff voice he'd say, "Listen, no one is going to hand you a bag of peanuts. If you want a bag of peanuts, you have to earn it." Then he'd go on. "Instead of banging your head against the wall in frustration, you could work hard and earn enough money to buy two peanuts at the end of each day. Then, eat one peanut and put the other in a bag. The next day," he'd continue, "do the same thing." As he spoke, he'd raise his hand to his mouth as if he was eating a peanut. "Eat one," then gesturing as if to toss a peanut into a bag, "put one in a bag. And before you know it, you've earned yourself a bag of peanuts!"
It was a simple bit of homespun wisdom, but he handed it down to us kids as if it held all the secrets of the universe.
To this day if anyone in my family says, "Eat one peanut . . ." whoever's in ear- shot will respond, "Put one in a bag . . ."— complete with hand gestures!
Lessons about hard work didn't only come from Grandpop, but from Grandmom, too. She grew up during the Depression, one of nine children, and as soon as she and her siblings were old enough they had to go out and work. At the end of the day, they gave what they earned to their father, my great-grandfather. My Grandmom was nine years old when she got her first job, working in a dress factory earning a penny for every tag she sewed on a garment. It was painstaking work, but she never complained because she loved it. Eventually she worked her way to floor supervisor. She was happy to contribute to her family's finances. She used to tell me that no matter how difficult things were, she was always able to move about with her head held high. She considered herself very much a lady, throughout her life, never more so than when she had so little.
"Class is about character, not money," she used to say. "Doing the right thing and treating others with respect is not something you can buy."
To my grandmother, this was what it meant to be a lady, which was (and is!) all about character.