Warning: The following column contains various ruminations and subjective recollections of my childhood in a small rural town in Pennsylvania approximately 150 miles away. The account makes only a passing reference to anything related to the law. Unless you favor nostalgia, reader discretion is advised. Please note that part of this article is reprinted from a previous Montgomery County Bar Association column (2001) with permission from its author, which happens to be me.
I started out as a child. My family was poor but poverty-stricken. I may have been born with a spoon in my mouth, but silver it was not.
As a retired master sergeant in the U.S. Army, my father earned a V.A. pension of $110 per month. I remember standing in long lines with my mom and dad to receive rations of powdered eggs, powdered milk, and cheese, which today, had a remarkable resemblance to Velveeta. Back then, this handout of food was called “surplus.” My dad always said that his dream was to become a farmer so necessity became the mother of invention for the Kudel family.
I grew up in a two-story farmhouse, complete with barn, shed, outhouse (until 1956), cows, chickens, pigs, many dogs (all named “Shep”), and cats who lived in the barn and were never allowed in the house. To supplement the family income, my mom ironed clothes for neighbors but for the most part, we worked the farm.
Working a farm may conjure up certain idyllic images, but the actual work on a farm is anything but idyllic. Each day before I went to school, I had to get up at 5:30 a.m. and feed all of the animals. The cows needed to be milked and turned out to pasture; eggs needed to be collected from the hen house; the coops and barns needed to be cleaned, and all of this to be done before a hardy breakfast and off to school by 8:30 a.m.
After school, I was expected to get the cows back into the barn, feed the animals again, and be finished by 5:30 p.m. sharp for supper. Following the meal and homework, my mom, dad, and I would settle in for an evening of television. I can still remember watching the Red Skelton Show, the Phil Silvers Show, I Love Lucy, Jackie Gleason, and the Ed Sullivan Show on our 25 inch black and white RCA console, which received two channels reasonably well when the weather was good.
It didn’t take long for me to develop my entrepreneurial spirit. By the age of eight, I was selling vegetables by the road, cutting grass, and shoveling coal for the neighbors.
One day, when I was twelve years old, my mom and dad took me into town for an appointment with a lawyer. My dad said he wanted to obtain a copy of the deed to our property. When we entered the building, we were greeted by the lawyer’s secretary who escorted us into the library and gave my mom and dad coffee and me a soda.
While we waited, I remember sitting in this room which contained a huge wooden roll-top desk, a library table, chairs, and more big books than I had ever seen. The lawyer entered the library and met with us for a while. He gave my father a copy of the deed to our property, and when my dad offered to pay him, the lawyer said there was no charge.
At the end of the meeting, I asked my dad who the man was. He replied, “That is Mr. Bionaz. He is a lawyer.”
I then asked what lawyers do.
“They help people,” he said.
It was then, while I was thinking about his answer, along with the roll-top desk, the books, the soda, the handshake, and the smile, that I wanted to become a lawyer.