Uncle John Introduced Aunt Erma

Uncle John (not my uncle) was a finer grandfather than my biological ones. A close friend to Grandma, Uncle John sat quietly in a corner at family celebrations and get-togethers, always clean shaven, dressed as an informal businessman.

He collected junk throughout the streets of Philadelphia at 4am, pushing a hand-rigged cart in which he piled discarded scraps. Afterwards, at his home, he stripped metals to separate them from other materials before recycling was a household word. Uncle John easily identified any type of metal my siblings and I waved in front of him. So resourceful and hardworking, he hid from most people that he never learned to read.

All five of us kids loved his visits. He always deposited Philly soft pretzels and donuts onto our dining room table. Sometimes, he’d bring small toys for us, and household goods for Mom. But the best things were treasures he found while junking: costume jewelry; broken tools, which he restored; a bolt of material; statuary.

His most valuable trash pick, was a wilted paperback of Erma Bombeck’s book “Motherhood: The World’s Second Oldest Profession.” He couldn’t have known the title or about the author, but Uncle John knew I loved reading. And his timing was perfect. I was a new mother, and never heard of Aunt Erma’s amazing humor writing. From that book, I gained emotional sustenance as a poor mother, by allowing myself to view through humor, situations I was powerless to change. My child-less, non-grandfather, who couldn’t read, introduced me to a writing legend who still inspires today. Reading that first Bombeckian book triggered me to read others. I’m still a fan.

Uncle John’s life is historic. He came to America as a baby, and was adopted by a Jewish family from Germany named Simon. Uncle John never knew his original last name because he couldn’t read his birth certificate. I’m happy Uncle John owned a portrait of himself as a child. Surely, his adoptive parents had it done. I cherish it, and his “hut” he wore to visit us. It sits above my head, on a bookcase, as I type this. Thank you, dear Uncle John, for your interesting life and legacy of love beyond genetics.



  1. He sounds like a truly fascinating man. I am so glad he had your family and you had him.


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