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Book online «Joe Biden Beatrice Gormley (classic children's novels txt) 📖». Author Beatrice Gormley

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To my grandsons, Anthony and James

A Natural Leader

Something about Joey Biden made other kids want to follow him. It wasn’t the way he looked or sounded, because he was small for his age, and he stuttered. But if Joey was your friend, you could count on him. And he was a decent person, fair to everyone. And it was a lot of fun to be around him.

In Joey’s neighborhood in Scranton, Pennsylvania, “fun” meant sports like football and baseball, played in the street or on a vacant lot. Since Joey was small, at first the older boys didn’t want to let him play. But he kept pestering until they let him try, and he turned out to be quick and bold. “Give me the ball!” was his favorite sentence.

Of course Joey got knocked down, but he got right up again. That was what his father advised, as a general principle in life: if you get knocked down, get up.

“Fun” also included riskier games, and Joey was quick and fearless in these, too. One time, Joey and an older boy, Jimmy Kennedy, were playing near a construction site. Jimmy dared Joey to run under a moving dump truck, never imagining that Joey would take the dare. But as soon as the words were out of Jimmy’s mouth, Joey ran at the truck, darted between the front and rear wheels—and came out safe on the other side.

Joey began life in Scranton, born at St. Mary’s Hospital on November 20, 1942. Catherine Eugenia Finnegan (Jean) and Joseph Robinette Biden (Joe) had just gotten married the year before, and they were living with Jean’s parents, Ambrose and Geraldine Finnegan. Jean and Joe named their first baby Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., after his father. They called him Joey.

Joe Biden Sr. had met Jean Finnegan in high school, when his family moved to Scranton from Wilmington, Delaware, in the 1930s. Joe was tall, handsome, and well-dressed, with smooth manners. Jean was only five feet one inch tall, but she was spirited, and she was the high school’s homecoming queen. She’d grown up in Scranton, where her father was an advertising salesman for the local newspaper.

When Joey was little, Joe Sr. could support his family in fine style. He worked for his uncle Bill Sheen, who sold a waterproof sealant to the United States government for their merchant marine ships. The year before Joe was born, on December 7, 1941, the United States had entered World War II, and Sheen Armor Company’s business was thriving.

Successful and generous, “Big Bill” Sheen encouraged his nephew Joe to enjoy expensive sports, like polo and riding to the hounds. Joe and his cousin Bill Sheen Jr. were like brothers. They drove new cars—Cadillacs for Bill, Buicks for Joe—and flew private planes.

The city of Scranton also prospered, while the US and its allies were fighting World War II. Scranton was a major center for coal mining and railroads. For the war effort, the US needed tremendous amounts of coal, a major energy source at that time. And freight trains were the main means of hauling coal and the steel needed to build tanks and airplanes.

Joe Biden Sr. did well at his uncle’s Sheen Armor Company. They sent him to Boston to head up a branch, and the Bidens lived in a four-bedroom Colonial house in the suburbs. In 1944, Joey’s sister, Valerie, was born. On weekends and holidays, Joe flew his young family back to Scranton to be with the relatives. Airplane travel was too pricey for most people in those days, but not for the Bidens.

After World War II ended in 1945, the demand for Sheen Armor Company’s products dried up. However, Joe Sr. had saved enough money to open a furniture store with a friend. Unfortunately, the “friend” took the money for the store and ran off. To Jean Biden’s dismay, Joe refused to hunt down his thieving partner and press charges, because he’d been a friend.

Joe Sr. had a little money left, and he went in with another partner to start a crop-dusting company. They bought an airfield on Long Island, New York, and the Bidens moved there to live. But before long that business failed too. In 1948, Jean Biden took Joey and Valerie and moved back to Scranton, to her parents. Joe gave up and followed soon afterward.

Returning to Scranton was the practical thing for the Bidens to do, but it was a big comedown for Joe Sr. to live off his in-laws. He had to take any job he could get. Jean’s brothers couldn’t resist rubbing it in a bit, making smart remarks about Joe’s upper-class manners. Edward Blewitt Finnegan, who stuttered, sarcastically called Joe Sr. “L-L-L-Lord Joseph.”

Years later Joe Biden Jr. would realize how humbling the return to Scranton had been for his father. But at the time, five-year-old Joey was perfectly happy to move in with his grandparents and his uncle Edward Blewitt. Joey and Valerie loved their uncle, who was kind to the children. They didn’t care that everyone called him “Boo-Boo” because of the way he pronounced “Blewitt.”

The Finnegan household also included Joey’s great-aunt Gertie Blewitt, his grandmother’s sister. They all lived in a two-story shingled house at 2446 North Washington Avenue, in the Green Ridge neighborhood. Green Ridge was at the end of the electric streetcar line that ran from downtown Scranton. The neighbors were mostly working-class families, of Irish descent like the Finnegans.

The families in Green Ridge were mostly Catholic, too, with immigrant roots. Their parents and grandparents had left Poland, or Ireland, or Italy and came to Pennsylvania to work in the anthracite coal mines. Priests and nuns were a familiar sight on the street, and the children always greeted them respectfully. “Good afternoon, Father. Good afternoon, Sister.” It was taken for granted that Joey would go to a Roman Catholic school, like the other children in

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