George Lengel grew up in Roebling, New Jersey during the 1940s. Back then, it was a company town owned by the John A. Roebling’s Sons Company. Nearly every member of George’s family, including his mother and grandmother, worked in the steel and wire mills there.
The Lengel family helped produce wire rope that supported scores of suspension bridges–including the Golden Gate–and the original elevators in the Eiffel Tower and Empire State Building.
At StoryCorps, George remembered his childhood in Roebling, and one man who stood above all others in a town full of tough men–his father.
George went on to become a history teacher; he taught in New Jersey public schools for 31 years before retiring.
Click here for the transcript.
My father when we would go over a bridge he’d say, “See those wire ropes, boy? We made those ropes.” And there was no doubt in my mind, I was going to work along side of my dad, my granddad, my uncles. But my father determined my future.
We had a discussion one time. I mentioned that at sixteen I wanted to quit school. I told him that I wanted to work in the mill. Well, my father decided to introduce my back to the living room wall. He placed his nose about six inches away from my nose and told me that I was NOT going to quit school. I was NOT going to work in that mill. That I was NOT going to be a bolvan. That he is a bolvan. And I said, “Dad, what does 'bolvan' mean?” He said, “Son, bolvan is a slavish word. It means jackass. You're not going to be one. You're going to college.”
There is one word that I would never say to my dad. The word was why. He’d say, “Son, cut the grass.” Why? No, you didn’t say that word. “Son, you're going to college." I knew this was the right thing to do. I knew dad loved his work, but he didn’t want me to do it. I was the first in my family to graduate from college.
And I remember I was eighteen, nineteen years old and every night, even if he was mad at me, I’d be in bed, my father would walk in the room, he’d sit down on the bed next to me. He’d say, “Good night, son. I love you.” And he’d kiss me on the cheek.
And I remember when dad died of lung cancer -- he was a smoker since he was eleven years old. I knew dad was bad, he was on his way out, I knew there were a few days left. And I would go every night and I’d sit down on the bed, like he used to sit next to me, and I’d look at him and I’d say, “Dad, I love you.” And I'd kiss him on the cheek and leave.
He was a tough man. But he was a good father.