Charles Grant discusses George Bellows, and Captain Herbert Anderson discuss life on a tugboat
BROADCAST: Jun. 19, 1962 | DURATION: 00:49:37
Charles Grant discusses painter George Bellows; also includes anecdotes about his life, including being the first passenger on an airplane and meeting Buffalo Bill. Captain Herbert Anderson's conversation begins at 34:44.
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Studs Terkel In the February issue of WFMT Perspective that is on the cover was the celebrated painting by George Bellows of Stag at Sharkey's and I'm seated across the microphone from Charles Grant who was a close friend of George Bellows, in fact who took him to the Stag at Sharkey's. Oh Mr. Grant, as we look back now, and you were just I know you are filled with many memories of Bellows and other celebrated figures of the time. Yo-How did you know Bellows, George Bellows?
Charles Grant Well as I say his his father and my grandfather were fellow architects. So I knew the family when I was a a youth and the first time I got interested in Bellows was before we were in high school. I went into Bellow's back yard one day and he had built a miniature railway and I was astonished at it even at that age. They are common now you know. But he only showed initiative creative a little railroad track and a train on it and it occurred to me then that he was out of the ordinary and I was right too.
Charles Grant Yeah.
Charles Grant Well, as I explained to you, he was raised in a strict Methodist household and with all the limitations that goes with that, and I never knew a stricter household and that [unintelligible] is father was very religious. So as as I told you my father was a working newspaper man and every evening at supper I got all the dirt in Columbus. He just gave us the whole story whatever had happened that day. Well, the result was that I was worldly and Bellows wasn't. He he had no knowledge, he had no contact with the world at all, and it became apparent for him that he could lean on me for that. And he did for years. Never stopped in fact.
Charles Grant Well, as I said, Jim Jeffries was the heavyweight champion at the time. I I was interested in boxing because of my father had been and and Jeffries was one of the handsomest athletes I ever saw. He was a very fine looking large man and I suggested to Bellows as Jeff was in in New York that Bellows do a portrait of him on account of the fact that I knew Bellows has had that preparation in anatomy. I knew he could do a picture of of of Jeffries.
Charles Grant He studied anatomy, it was part of his art course. And that that was to familiar himself with the anatomy with the muscles and the bones and everything, and it was very valuable to him afterwards. He didn't have to guess about anything, he knew about it from a medical standpoint you know. So I knew Jeff's manager and made a suggestion to him and he thought it was fine. He thought that'd be good publicity for Jeff. The only difficulty was that Jeff wouldn't go for it. He would, he had a very bad disposition and argued about everything and he just said 'no I don't want to bother with it.' So that was the end of it. But while the negotiation was going on I took Bellows to the Sharkey Athletic Club one night to see his first fight. I wanted him to learn something about boxing and that's when he, the next afternoon he did the first Stag at Sharkey's.
Studs Terkel The Dempsey-Firpo fight. Well he, at this, at Sharkey's, perhaps come to the Dempsey-Firpo fight in a moment, at Sharkey's then, Bellows did this remarkable work of two men clobbering one another. He was criticized by boxing experts
Charles Grant Yeah,
Charles Grant Well the first fight he'd ever seen he knew nothing about detail and sportswriters all said it was no good because the ring was too narrow. The lights were wrong and the ropes were wrong. So Bellow's reply to that was when he, when it was brought to his attention was 'I don't know anything about boxing. I was painting two men trying to kill each other and that's
Charles Grant That was the answer alright. But I, as I said, my father was in New York one time and I took him up to see the Stag picture because he had been a sportswriter and I asked him what he thought of it. What he said was [unintelligible] ask me, 'its the best thing I've ever seen, [I'm] not lying.' That's the greatest fight picture I've ever seen. He said 'of course some of the details are wrong.' Well I said 'they've been all through that and my father said well he said he was talking to George, he was said to George 'the situation is this: a hundred years from now he will be dead' and he said 'a hundred years from now that painting will be hanging in a gallery and it will be taken as the documentary of the time.' Bellows said 'That's right. I never thought of that.' So I said 'are you going to change it?' He said 'I should say
Studs Terkel Bellows though, though not a fight fan at the time, and missing details, certainly captured the essence of what a prize fight is, two men trying to kill one another. The Sweet Science A. C. [J.] Liebling called it.
Charles Grant That that thing is still influential. From the standpoint that there's a great feud against boxing now. I had a letter two or three weeks ago from the editor of The Saturday Review Norman
Studs Terkel Cousins.
Studs Terkel Yes.
Studs Terkel Nineteen eight. But the Dempsey-Firpo fight again. The, here's that magnificent painting of one man being knocked clear out of the ring. Dempsey and, Firpo hovering over him, the wild bull. How, Bellows was present at that fight too?
Charles Grant Oh yes. Another incident like that was, I took him to Madison Square Garden one night to see Billy Sunday. And he, the next afternoon he did a picture of that that Billy Sunday meeting and that's a very celebrated picture now. That's been very influential too. It didn't do Sunday any good.
Studs Terkel You have a long way to go yet. Mr. Grant the the, you said something early before we went on the air about Bellow's habit in painting. He would sit down and finish it one crack. Would you mind telling us about that?
Charles Grant Oh yeah. One of the notable things was his speed in doing a painting. That's one reason why he turned out so many. At the time he died his wife sold his collection of paintings for a large fortune because there was so much of it but on account of the fact that he worked so rapidly. He could he could do a painting in a few hours the very, first that that that first Stag at Sharkey's was a five by seven painting.
Charles Grant I never knew him to, he may have at some time or other. But when he, after he started he'd he'd wind it up and he apparently got accustomed to doing that because he usually on a big canvas he put in five or six hours. But his speed was was very unusual for a painter. The average painter isn't fast you know. Bellows worked very rapidly and [unintelligible] he had to get something on the instant, or he [unintelligible]
Charles Grant Yeah.
Studs Terkel That may explain it that it was one one steady flow or fast flow. Bellows surrounded himself with a lot of artists at the time and other creative spirits didn't he in New York? His studio was a center wasn't
Charles Grant Yeah. It was yeah. He was very popular right from the start and particularly among the art students and when his first paintings were shown, if there was any criticism of it, there would always be a row among the students about that. They didn't want Bellows criticized, see. Criticism didn't occur very often but a man as radical as he was could engender criticism though, no question about that. For a painter he was definitely a radical.
Charles Grant Well the studio was just simply a hang out. There were four cots in it, and it was quite a large studio. It was on the top floor of the [Brandt] Theater with a a glass roof and a quite a good sized room and there was never any time when there wasn't a crowd there. He he was so popular and so interesting to the students you know.
Charles Grant Oh, Eugene O'Neill yeah. Well I'll just tell you the way it came about. As I said Bellows is always leaning on me for advice. And one Sunday morning the usual crowd was there and a young man came in with a suitcase and Bellows talked to him and then he took me out in the hall. If he wanted to discuss anything privately he always took me out in the hall. So I said 'what's going on now?' Well he said 'this boy's father threw him out of the home this morning he's got no place to sleep.' He said 'he wants to stay' well I said 'let him stay here.' Well he said 'we haven't got a bed for him.' Well I said 'give him my bed I don't use it anyway.'Well he said 'if that's all right with you we'll let him stay.' So we went back in and I watched this boy unpack his suitcase and with interest from the standpoint that he had nothing in the suitcase but a couple of shirts and a pair of socks and the rest was all books. So I know how he was inclined then. So and then Bellows told me what the circumstances were. He was the son of James O'Neill the tragedian. And he and his brother had both started drinking very early which his father didn't approve of. His father was a very strict Catholic. And he he didn't approve of the drinking. And on this occasion Eugene had come home the Saturday night before drunk and the next Sunday morning his father just told him he had to get out. So he came right up to Bellow's studio looking for a place to sleep and stayed there for quite a long time.
Charles Grant I knew him by correspondence later [unintelligible] gave me on account of his friendship with Bellows. But my acquaintance was brief at that time. I I just happened to be in New York when he was in Bellow's studio.
Studs Terkel Rather interesting I suppose at that time Bellows hung around athletic types and prize fights. O'Neill hung around the Bowery and the Waterfront. Just about that time. The painting of one and the playwrighting of the other. The muscularity of.
Charles Grant I I knew Thurber in Columbus. And then had a considerable correspondence with him after he went to New York. And and also saw him in New York when he was working for the New Yorker. And one of the one of the stories there was that Norman Ross had a very high regard for Thurber.
Charles Grant Yeah. And Thurman had a habit of drawing pictures and writing notes and tearing it off a pad and throwing it on the floor. So Ross had a boy stationed back of Thurber's [Thurman's] chair all the time to pick up everything he threw on the floor and well one one of the items that he saved that way was that picture about the owl in the bedroom. Have I got that right?
Charles Grant That's it yeah. Well that was one of the things that he drew and threw on the floor and the only the only way it could be had was that way because he wouldn't take any instruction or listen to anything at all. He drew something for his own amusement or for to remind him of something he'd just tear it off and throw it on the floor, that's all. Well Ross saved a a number of very important items not only pictures but notes too.
Studs Terkel It was Harold Ross that was the name. Harold I said Charlie Ross I'm sure there was something Freudian about that because you looked back there was a famous Charlie Ross case years ago wasn't there? Way way back kidnapping case whatever happened
Studs Terkel That's Norman Ross the swimmer. But any any other, I know that you have so many memories that you know just hit right at you as as you start to talk and think of the men you knew who were creative spirits at this particular time. Did you know any of Bellow's colleagues? In in that field of painting [slow]?
Charles Grant Well just the, just the ones that came up in his studio. The only [kind?] I had was there in the studio because I wasn't interested art myself and met the one there. But he had some very interesting companions. One of them that I recall was Ben Ali Haggin. He he was the heir of James Haggin, the Wall Street financier and he had a large fortune and was interested in art particularly in what Bellows was doing. And it was through Bellows that he became affiliated with Flo Ziegfeld of Chicago. Haggin did Ziegfeld's scenes for him. But one of the first things that I, that came to my attention was that I was out with with some place with Haggin one night to see something and he took me to his apartment and it was the first two story apartment I'd ever seen. They were unusual at that time you know and with a big liv-two story living room with a balcony in one end and all that. And then another thing out of the ordinary was that while we were talking there was a bell rang and his wife immediately got up and went and got her hat and went out and he explained that to me. He said my wife is a fire fan and he said we've had that fire alarm installed here so if there's a fire in the neighborhood here that rings she'd go to the
Charles Grant Unusual.
Studs Terkel Eighty-one. Well as you sit I notice the reading matter you have around The Saturday Review, The New Yorker and the paintings and you're working on double acrostics here. You're right in the middle of life. In your looking back without being prejudiced against the present. I'm just, do you feel there has, there have been gains there have been losses. Do you feel something has been lost that once was present in the past? You spoke of eccentricities and color. Do you feel that has been lost or is it still retained? We imagine it has been lost.
Charles Grant My father was the last owner of the John Robinson Circus in Cincinnati. He has a, he had quite a, after his newspaper career he had a quite a career in the [unintelligible] of showbusiness see. And he was drawn into it for the same reasons the newspaper wanted him, is increased income, that's all. But the way that came about, John Robinson the third was the owner of the Robinson circus. In this period founded by his grandfather and Robinson had become prominent in society in Cincinnati. And John was getting sick and tired of the circus business. So he'd become well acquainted with my father on account of my father's operation in the circus business. So he called my father in one day and he told him he wanted to dump the circus, he wanted to get rid of it and the old man said, well, he says, 'you know what the usual difficulty with selling a circus is?' He said the only thing you can sell is the menagerie. Well, he says, 'I'd like to have you take it over and get rid of it for me' and the long and short of it was he transferred the ownership. So my father and my father operated a show for another six months after that. Before he did dispose of it. Some of the elephants are still living.
Charles Grant They had a very fine herd of elephants and one of them my father contracted with some, a lot of the big shows and on one occasion he had the Hundred and One Ranch in Boston. And I went up to Boston to help him. And they had the Robinson elephant herd. And one of them [knock on door] What? Alright.
Charles Grant One of them was is Tillie was a very old female, of course they're all females. And, but I had gotten acquainted with Tillie in two or three other places where the show was playing and discovered that she likes chewing tobacco.
Charles Grant When I, no I can't think of the name of it. I I can describe it, I know what it was like. But anyway, usually when I went back to the elephants I'd always take her a pack of that tobacco. So the show was playing in Boston at the baseball park and I went right out to the ballpark about six-thirty. And I wanted to see the elephant man, for one thing, and asked where they were and they told me they were under the grandstand, so I went back under the grandstand and it was dark back there. The elephants were there alright. He he came right out and while he was talking to me I felt a finger in my pocket here. That was Tillie's trunk finger looking for that tobacco.
Charles Grant Yeah the elephants are intelligent, no question about it. But she she remembers where I carried that tobacco you know, and in the dark there she didn't ask for it or anything she just looked for it.
Charles Grant Well I'll tell you one one incident. The Bill show was going to play Columbus and this was very early. And Cody wired my father and asked him to come out to the lot before the show. He wanted to wanted to talk to him very much so we went out to the show lot and went back to the resident section and we got to Cody's tent. And the old man said 'listen we haven't got much time.' He said 'you stay out here and wait for me.' So I stood out in front of his tent. While I was standing there a young lady in western costume came out of the next tent and asked me whether I'd like to come and sit with her while I was waiting. That was Annie Oakley [laughing]. You think
Studs Terkel So as the as the names come to mind the historic figures really of a of a past a very colorful past and as you infer the present is no less colorful. You you find as much excitement today as when you were young? Of course you're more or less restricted now here.
Charles Grant Well I do through the newspapers and magazines. That's about the only contact I have. I haven't. I've always been very fond of the theater. I haven't seen a movie or anything for well over eight months now. And it looks like I'm going to be handicapped from now on. I guess I have to give up on that. But anyway I had eighty years of it-
Charles Grant -in the newspaper and show business outdoor, show business. I don't think my father was ever innocent of anything except excitement. That's what he was looking for [unintelligible] but he was always in something where there was a lot of noise and excitement you know.
Charles Grant I remember one night I was in San Francisco and a newspaper man there took me to an Italian restaurant. A French restaurant it was. And we were late. So then this newspaper asked me if I'd like to go down to the Barbary Coast to a dance hall and I said I would and the restaurant proprietor was standing there and he immediately invited himself to go along. So the three of us went down to this place on the Barbary Coast. And the the Ziegfeld Follies were playing their first engagement on the coast. And they came down to that club that night for atmosphere I suppose. Anyway I was asked what with all those stars of that time I've forgotten their names now. But they they were all notable you know the Ziegfeld stars. That was just one of the great amazing things that would happen.
Charles Grant Why there was something that I don't want to forget. Somebody from your office that talked to me and they asked me about an incident that happened very early in aviation. My father was a manager of Glenn Curtiss for one thing but I was the first person that ever rode rode as a passenger in an airplane. And at the time about 1910 that wasn't important atall because flying was so new that it didn't occur to anybody that there were going to be any passengers [driving?] But the fact came out later and one of the Cincinnati newspapers did a story about it. So it's on record. And apparently it's it's important now from the standpoint that they are planning to become great passenger carry.
Charles Grant The way it came about it was this, my father had Curtiss in Cleveland for a flight across Lake Erie and back. He made a deal with the Cleveland Press and one of the unusual things about that was it's considered now the larg-, biggest press agent stunt in history. He demanded the entire first page of the press for a week during that event and got it. They they were so glad to make the the connection with Curtiss that they they devoted, they sidetracked all the telegram news and everything else from the first page. It was all Curtiss on the first page. But anyway, a day after, or soon after we arrived there we were on a beach out at Euclid Beach and a girl came down from the press and she wanted to write. It was Curtiss. Well, the old man introduced her to him and she asked Curtiss if she could go out on his plane and he said no very positively. He said I'd like to accommodate you but I cannot do it. So the girl, we had a picture of her sitting on the plane, and she went back very angry. She was sore because she didn't get that right. So after he left the old man said listen. Then he says 'I'm sorry you couldn't do that on account of our arrangement with the press' and Curtiss said, well he said 'I cannot do it. I cannot gamble with anybody's life.' He said 'if it's business it's a different matter, if it's in the profession' but he said 'I cannot take a chance with any civilian or non-flyer.' He said 'I just simply cannot do it.' He was that kind of a man.
Studs Terkel Mr. Grant what was your reaction? You were the first passenger. The only others up in the air who had wings were the men who actually operated the planes. Do you remember your first reaction when you left the ground and
Charles Grant Well I'll finish that that interjection there. My father said, well he said 'I'm sorry you feel that way but I was going to ask you to take Charlie up.' Curtiss said 'Oh that's all right I'll take Charlie up.' I got on the wing of the plane and out [with one?] over Lake Erie about a mile and back. And of course it is a very unusual experience. No question about that very little background for it and I was a little nervous. [laughing]
Charles Grant But it it was notable from the standpoint that it was actually as far as anybody knows now it was the first time anybody had ever been carried as a passenger and I sat on on the wing of the plane. I have a book there on early aviation.
Studs Terkel Beachey.
Studs Terkel This
Charles Grant Yeah.
Studs Terkel Alright. I think we have a pretty good interview here that we have now Mr. Grant and I don't want to, you know, wear you out. This is wonderful. Here it is. [unintelligible] Herbert Lyle.
Studs Terkel Curtiss. Yeah here it is Grant's. The first to take a passenger in an airplane was Charles Grant of Columbus, Ohio. [unintelligible flying machine] This was. When was this? 19 about 1910. 1910 October
Studs Terkel I think, if I can just read this one part. We can. Yeah perhaps just for now end the interview for now with this reading of this unless there are more things come to you. We on the air now? And you know Mr. Grant as you were talking about being the first air passenger you notice a copy of the Cincinnati Times Star April 25th 1940 this is the issue. But the article is for Herbert Lyle birthplace of American Airlines and there's a paragraph down below. That speaks the first authentic pass[anger] of an airplane was Charles Grant of Columbus Ohio and the time of Grant's flight. Oh, mechanics had been taken up. Mechanics were taken up prior to young Grant's life on October 12th 1910 at Cleveland but no passengers and it was the Curtiss machine that you flew. So it is your comment is authenticated. Well Mr. Grant.
Studs Terkel Charles Grant. Thank you very much for your for your thoughts and your reminiscences and let's call this chapter one. And when more thoughts occur to you about Bellows and his colleagues and other people you knew well I'll return again.
Charles Grant Well I have a number of very interesting scrapbooks here of the kind of stuff that I've been asked to pick up over the years you know and somebody from your organization might be interested in going through that
Studs Terkel We think of the the life on the sea or in this instance on the Great Lakes as being a very romantic life. We're sitting in the room with Captain Herbert Anderson for so many years a tugboat captain on the Great Lakes of Chicago. What's your reaction now Captain Anderson of life aboard the tug boat today in contrast to the day when you were working at it?
Herbert Anderson Well when we first started we worked. We'd only get off about once a week. And then we come down to every second night. And then we get thirteen hours and twelve. And now it's eight hours. So it really was hard when you were young. You, the long hours and now it's. Now it's easy on account of the short hours see. Of course they work pretty hard now too. On account of these these foreign ships coming in now.
Herbert Anderson Well you first start as a fireman or a deckhand. And you have to work three years before you can get your license and then you take an examination for the license. And then if you get your license, why then you wait till you get a job, see. You might have your license a long time before you get the job, see. But I happened to get my license in '07 and I got a job in '09. And, 'course I was working on the tugs before that as a deckhand and fireman. But then I got to be a captain see, and mine my my wage was a hundred dollars a month more than it was as a deckhand, see. And them days we had [unintelligible] in the boat. We sleep aboard and eat aboard see.
Studs Terkel Oh that's quite all right. Take your, I'm thinking Captain Anderson of the sites you've seen, memories. You you you were one of the heroes of the Crib Fire. There was, back in, when was this terrible Crib fire?
Herbert Anderson That was in 1909. I was a deckhand on the tug that time. We we, they hired a tug to lay by the Crib all the time because it was a wooden structure. We used to bring supplies and whatnot. And we had to break the ice around the Crib in the wintertime so they they were digging a shaft down. They were digging a shaft down to the tunnel and tunneled off the shore to the Dunne Crib that's further out. And we were we were hired by Jackson to take care of his crib. Well in the meantime the thing found the fire. It was all wood. And they had they had bunks up on the top floor and three cooks there. And had a hundred men lived on that crib. Of course they worked different shifts. And the thing was all made of wood. And as soon as it caught on fire. What a strong smell was when it just went up like a box of matches. Well we rushed over there from the other crib. And we saved everybody that jumped out of it. Down towards the water they had a lot of rock that had been taken out of the shaft. We saved everybody in sight. Those in the water. Those on the rock. I remember one fellow, there was three fellows on a big ice cap. And the the fellow sitting down with, he had no clothes on, all he had on was a black shirt. The impression was, his back was in the ice. We got it thawed, we pulled him. Towed the line and pulled him over to the tug. And we saved them. So we got 49 in all. And then we rushed into into Chicago where they had ambulances. And they took them to hospitals and whatnot. So the crib burnt right down. And they found, oh, 50 or 60 bodies after the place had burned down, you see. And they put them in gunny sacks and took them ashore.
Studs Terkel Saved 49. I thinking Captain Anderson, sites you've seen we read of the 1915 Eastland, the ship the Eastland going down. Now you didn't see the Eastland go down but you saw the aftermath didn't you?
Herbert Anderson Well I seen at that at that time all the people. All the people was off her. And they were trying to find, find some bodies that went down the river. You couldn't see much on the boat only. They were cutting her open and, and she was lying there. And all the other boats had to pass on the other side of the river. So until they started to wreck her and the wrecking come there. And they straightened her up and bumped her out. It took some time I forget how long it took. I don't remember how long it was. It was quite a while.
Herbert Anderson Oh yes the Iroquois fire. Yeah I was a kid I was working for a fellow we were sweeping chimneys. And we come into it this. We come from Oak Park. And we come right down there just about. The time that we're taking the bodies out. I think that was about 1901 wasn't it? I'm pretty sure it was. Yeah we were right down Randolph and Dearborn there where they were taking the bodies out of the theater and laying it, stacking them on the sidewalk. That really was tough.
Herbert Anderson Yeah.
Herbert Anderson Yeah that's a long time. Well in 1911. We're we were taking a boat over from Chicago to Michigan City. And and we would go fishing in the wintertime. And the fellow owned it. He was he was a tug captain too. And I was going to run it over there so. He was going along with us that day. And we got out about 14 miles. And she sprung a leak. And she had a good lifeboat on her. So we got the lifeboat ready and we had to get off her. I started to row back. So we rowed back to the four mile crib if you know where that is. Four of us. She sunk. The boat sank. And we got, we got off on the crib and they gave us something to eat and something to drink. And they kept us there all night. And the wind was south southeast and it was raining when we came back but the wind went northwest. In about two hours and a regular snowstorm and gale come up. So if we hadn't made that crib at that time we'd have perished because we'd have went the other ways.
Herbert Anderson These two fellows owned that boat and there was, they lost everything they had only working men, see. And I never got to go fishing. That's the first time I ever went was going fishing and the last time. Because she she wasn't a boat built for that kind of work. She gave up the sea and come down. You ever on a boat when it come up and come down? It hits.
Herbert Anderson Huh?
Herbert Anderson Yeah well I don't know the. Old steam was pretty good but of course the diesel is cheaper because they can, well they shut it off, that's all it'd do it. The steam you had to watch it. Keep the fire going.
Studs Terkel Well you've given us a pretty good picture. You know, these thoughts. I like these little things you gave us. Thank you very much. Anything else you care to say that you haven't said yet?
Herbert Anderson Well I don't know much of anything else. I I was a young fellow when I started. I was only 24 years old when I got a tugboat to run, see. And some men get, are older. The younger you start the better better you are in that business. We've had men that, probably be a deckhand until they get up to 50. They don't seem to make a go of it see. So the younger
Herbert Anderson Of course some days I didn't know [what I was until the start of highschool?] I don't remember high school when I was going to grammar school, only a rich man's school, which you had to pay. We didn't have any high schools. And college I never thought anything about that. So I got I went to work anyhow that was all. At the trades see. And there were a lot of men and I had run tugboats. That a, one fellow he couldn't read ice on an ice wagon, but he was a good man at his trade. So, it's just like now everybody's talking about education. Who's going to do the labor work [with his tool?] if everybody gets educated.
Herbert Anderson Yeah, that everybody gets so smart they won't want to work. I had a, I got a daughter-in-law that went seven years to night school. And she she she passed out last June in Northwestern. She got her diploma for a Bachelor of Philosophy. Whatever that is I don't know. The young folk would probably know what that is. But anyhow, she got chaser around with some guy and she got a divorce from my son, see. So I said to my son I said as you [unintelligible] go to school what good is it. If she had got a if she had got a degree in housekeepin' and raising a family or home makin' then I would have said something. But she had to get so damn smart that they ain't got time for the home see.