You may remember mentions of Ang’s friend Bud Roehm, and the story of how Ang and Bud found each other in North Africa in April-May 1944. This is a story my siblings and I grew up with, but it’s only one of many stories of these two buddies who remained friends for nearly 60 years — from early high school (1935-1939) all the way to the death of “Uncle Bud” in 1992.
In fact, Ang and Betty remained friends with many of their high school friends who are mentioned here in Ang’s letters and Betty’s diaries. The Adams and the Reardons shared a two-flat in Chicago before we moved to California in 1955. We had big reunions at one house or another when we traveled back to Chicago after 1955. Back in the 1960’s some of the friends gathered for “Lovers International” — occasional weekend gatherings, no kids allowed. This photo is from one of those gatherings.
Bud had a stroke in 1990 and died in September 1992, just before Ang and Betty celebrated their 50th Anniversary. After a 1990 Christmas visit to my family in St. Louis, Ang and Betty visited Bud and Barbara in North Carolina before returning home to California. The weather was bad everywhere, but they managed a short visit that was “very emotional” according to Betty’s diary.
I cried when Betty called me to tell me Bud died. “Don’t cry,” she said. “Stop it.” She was always so practical and matter-of fact. I am not. It felt as though an actual uncle had died. But all these years later, I realize that I really didn’t know much about Uncle Bud, other than my parents loved him and a few stories about them, and how much we loved visiting his house when we were kids.
I don’t even know when Harry H Roehm (1919-1992) and Angelo Adams (1921-1998) met and became friends. However, by the time they were at Lake View High School in Chicago, they were BFFLs — or best friends for life. People write long books about friendships that didn’t last as long as the nearly 60 year friendship between Ang Adams and Bud Roehm. I won’t attempt to tell all of their stories. I’ll tell just this one.
This post is about one Ang and Bud story for which I have documentation. Most of the documentation is from a Freshman theme that Ang wrote and then was published in The Green Cauldron, the University of Illinois student literary magazine. Betty mentions some information in her diaries and of course there were the corroborating stories told by members of Lovers International when we were allowed to hang out with them.
It’s the story about “The Top Hat Grill” and Ang, Bud, Benny and their five cent hamburger. In all the Ang and Betty memorabilia boxes I brought home, I couldn’t find The Green Cauldron. But I found a two page typed version, with an annotation by Ang -- see below. I suppose the two pages were an early draft of his theme.
(Using my old library research skills I found it online at the University library. I wrote to the University of Illinois Libraries to thank them for digitizing The Green Cauldron. Here's the link. The Green Cauldron. http://libsysdigi.library.illinois.edu/oca/Books2008-09/greencaldron/)
Ang’s annotation — or should I say, disclaimer — reveals two things to me. First, he really did think of himself as a writer. Having read his letters, I agree. Second, Betty was there for the whole story and knows the truth. Of course, as the amateur family historian, I wanted to know how much is true.
This much is true: Ang and Bud and their friend Benny had a grand idea for what could have become a national chain of hamburger joints. McDonalds anyone? They called their place "Top Hat Grill" and it appears that they opened two of them. Top Hat I and Top Hat II. Ang says the first one opened on November 15, 1937 in the back of his parents' store. I suppose it is possible that a 16 year old talked his folks into using the rear of their grocery story to open his first business venture. It is highly likely that the father of said 16 year advised him to close up shop.
In the published version of the story, Ang goes on to say that in January 1940, Bud and Benny return with a new plan to open "Top Hat Grill II" in an available space next to their alma mater, Lake View High School. See below for a copy of the page from the LVHS yearbook, with photo of Angelo Adams at the counter.
From Betty's diary in March and April 1940.
Friday March 1. Nearly convinced Mom about working for Ang.
[March 17. Ang's birthday]
Tuesday March 26. A opening Thursday
March 27. A isn’t going to open tomorrow
March 29. Ang came and we went to Grill
April 1. Ang called. He came in evening and we went to Grill & worked.
April 3. The Telephone Office called me for an interview tomorrow. A opened.
April 4. Telephone Office. I sure hope something happens. At Ang's all P.M.
April 5. To Ang's about 11:00 & stayed there all day. Good business.
April 6. To A’s again. Stayed till he closed. Fairly busy.
April 8. Worked at Ang’s today. Pretty busy all day. Got off at 9:00 & home by 10:30
April 9. Worked again today. Sure am tired. A walked me home. Nice talk.
April 10. Business not so good. Ang walked me home about 2:30
April 11. Rainy and dark today. Ang in and out all day. Same old crowd.
April 12. Didn’t have to go in until late because of Festival. Not very busy considering.
April 15. A not feeling so well. Called him
April 17. A’s dad on fire. Not particularly busy.
April 23. Ang called and asked me to come over. The place a mess. He walked me home about 5
These coasters were always around, sometimes on display. My note about them says they "were made for Top Hat Grill." I wish I asked more questions about them because it seems like a stretch to think someone paid to have these made. You can find things like these on Pinterest and other sites. Just another unsolved mystery.
Betty doesn't mention the Grill closing, but does indicate that both of them are working in the months before Ang leaves for school in September. They write to each other nearly every day while Ang is at school, but we only have Ang's letters and Betty's diary. I don't have his University of Illinois transcript, but the Green Cauldron published "freshman themes" and under his byline, it says "Rhetoric II, Theme II, 1940-1941." It was published in November 1941.
I do not have the “drawing” by Benny that Ang mentions, but I do have drawings by Benny. Betty had some drawings in an envelope, marked “Cartoons by Robert Benson.” Here’s two of them. They are almost painfully ironic; definitely prescient. (Note: I have searched but haven't been able to find a "Robert Benson" in any records after 1941.)
For the umpteenth time since Ang died in December 1998 I wish I had asked more questions. But thanks to the "internet machine" and Betty's diary I do know quite a few true things. In September 1940, Ang really does start college at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. He really does write a theme about Top Hat Grill and it really is published in The Green Cauldron in the Fall of 1941. Of course, Pearl Harbor occurs on December 7, 1941; Ang and Bud enlist in January 1942. And the rest is history.
But first, I want to end with this little postscript: A March 2, 1961 telegram from Bud, Harry the Hat, to Angelo Adams, congratulating Ang on his new job at Union Bank in Los Angeles. It's a good thing it came to our house and not to Ang's desk at the bank!
Joni Adams Sesma
Daughter of Angelo and Elizabeth Adams.