The first time I ever heard of Joseph R. Biden Jr. was on Friday, Dec. 18, 1972. I was in the newsroom of the old Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, working on my Sunday column.
Suddenly, editors and other executives were running around, making phone calls and generally being frantic.
The Sunday Bulletin Magazine, a full color weekly publication distributed with the newspaper, had already been printed in a distant plant (Buffalo, N.Y., I think.) The main article for Sunday was about the newly-elected senator from Delaware, Joseph R. Biden, Jr., who had just turned 30 and was the second-youngest person ever elected to the Senate.
The full-color photo on the cover of the magazine was of Biden with his wife and two children. And word had just come to Biden that his wife and their 18-month-old daughter had been killed, and his sons, age 3 and 4, injured, when their station wagon was hit broadside by a flatbed tractor-trailor on Route 7 in Hockessin, Del.
Biden was in Washington, interviewing prospective staff members, when he was told about the accident. He rented a plane to fly home. He was sworn in as a senator at his sons’ hospital bedside.
He began commuting to Washington from Delaware almost every day so he could be with his sons in the evening. After the boys were up and around, he continued the long commute whenever possible.
I don’t remember what the Bulletin editors did about the magazine situation on that terrible Sunday, but I became more aware of Biden than I would normally be of a senator from another state.
I probably already knew more about Delaware than the average Philadelphia rowhouse kid, because my mother had a friend from her teens who married a well-driller from Delaware. How they met, I don’t know.
But his family also included oystermen from the Delaware Bay. I remember as a little boy that occasionally one of the men showed up at our house in Philly and dropped a gift, a water-dripping burlap bag of oysters, on our kitchen floor.
We would then have a week of dinners of raw oysters, fried oysters, oyster stew, and any other oyster recipe my grandmother knew how to cook.
President Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. is not a native of Delaware. He was born in Scranton, Pa., on Nov. 20, 1942. But the family moved to Claymont, Del., when Joe was 11.
In those days, smart-aleck Philadelphians would say that all of Delaware was divided into two parts: The northern half belonged to DuPont and the lower part to Frank Purdue.
There seemed to be a little truth to that, with the chemical dynasty dominating the north and many chicken farms to the south.
A guy who sat next to me (alphabetically) in many classes at Philly’s Northeast High School had, later in life, a job at DuPont just reading dozens of publications every day, looking for possible uses of DuPont products. Another Northeaster had a radio career that began as a disc jockey in southern Delaware, whose job also included broadcasting live reports from a weekly chicken auction.
Sorry. I digress seriously. But these things are what I think about when I read about Joe Biden in the White House.
Visit columnist Jim Smart’s web site atjamessmartsphiladelphia.com.
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