After a life of black and white Ames reveals a colorful past
Lemoine Ames at Eskaton Cameron Park.
Democrat photo by Pat Dollins
After spending a lifetime in black and white, the vibrant and colorful Lemoine Ames, 92, has memories as vivid as a color wheel.
For more than 70 years, Ames was a pressman at the Sacramento Bee, where he started as a paper boy in 1930.
Soon after, he was handling the machinery that cranked out the newspaper he used to deliver.
There were three presses running, Ames said, and the newspaper was printed on one gargantuan roll of paper.
“Everything had to be kept a certain temperature or the rollers wouldn’t print,” he said.
He can sympathize with the oil spill clean-ups, for Ames once had to clean up some 200 pounds of ink that was spilled on the roof of the Sacramento Bee, a former brewery. Ames was in charge of the black ink that came in 20,000 gallon tankers from Oakland. Apparently the ink was transferred from the tanker to the presses with a fire hose, but on that day, all those gallons spilled.
“I cleaned it up with shovels, power tools … it was a mess,” Ames recalled, then reminisced about how he always wore a suit, white shirt and tie to work and home. At the Bee, he changed into work clothes and a heavy-duty apron.
“No one knew I was a laborer; I looked like a business executive. After the spill, 60 men took a shower together, scrubbing the ink from their pores,” said Ames.
He doesn’t blame the ink for some seven bouts of cancer he has suffered and survived.
His one malady is that he is blind in his right eye, the legacy of a childhood accident. While playing with a wagon, a wire poked his eye. Ames said it wasn’t that painful; there are few nerves in the eye.
Being a soldier
At first he was rejected by the U.S. Army, then they drafted him anyway. Ames spent some four years in the military, two of them at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and two years in Italy during World War II.
“They sent me to war with no eyes,” Ames commented. Already blind in one eye, and the sole support of his family, losing another eye, or death, would have been devastating.This resulted in a battle with the United States government that lasted some 60 years. Just recently, Ames was awarded a small settlement for the error that occurred when Ames was forced to serve despite his disability. His neice, who works for the state in an investigative capacity, helped him to secure his due.
“Everyone thought that I would get in trouble pursuing this, but I was in the right. They had my money; they said it had been lost in their own department,” Ames said resolutely. He never gave up the fight.
Though Ames didn’t have much enthusiasm for being drafted (he was worried about his family), he seemed to have done well, training some six men in artillery from start to finish, then going to Italy. “They transferred me around like a baseball,” Ames said matter-of-factly. “but I did love Napoli, where I went. I used to say “Buon Giorno” to everyone, and learned quite a bit of Italian.”
He said he met the local farm people and they were just wonderful.
Ames’ father died when he was 12 years old, so he became a breadwinner and father at a young age, looking after five younger brothers and sisters.
“I have the equivalent of an eighth grade education,” Ames said. “I was never bitter about it. What was my mother going to do? She was a wife and mother … there were no decent jobs for women, and besides, she had us to look after.”
So Ames grew up fast. His family lived in Sacramento, and the Bee was located in the lower end near the Delta King.
Ames recalled that he was born in San Jose, and that his father worked as a leading chef. He says that his given name, Lemoine, is Welsh, and reflects that for some reason, Lemoine is a popular name for towns and cities.
Ames remembers in San Jose his father taking him and his brother out in a horse and buggy. He and his brother were 11 months apart, and people would always say: “Are they twins?” — and his father would say “yeah, twins 11 months apart.”
From San Jose, the Ames family moved to Grass Valley, where they were farmers, and Ames remembers picking tomatoes and selling them.
They wound up in Sacramento, and the rest is history, for Ame’s opportunity at the Sacramento Bee turned into a lifetime of pride in his work and a career in black and white.
When life starts spanning the decades, the stories are too numerous to relate; the memories ebb and flow. But the most wonderful memory of Ames’ life is that he loved, and he loved without reservation.
A portrait of his first wife, Joyce graces Ames’ apartment at Eskaton Cameron Park Lodge, and she is indeed, beautiful. Ames said that she could sit on her long dark hair, but in this painting, it is pinned up in a chignon.
Ames’ eyes light up, remembering a spectacular, loving life with Joyce, including cruises, travel and parties with the mayor. She had a great job as an official court reporter for the city. Though they had no children, they were married for some 24 years, until she died of stomach cancer.
“She was Scandinavian, maybe Finnish, but I don’t remember right now. But she was beautiful and successful, and we loved each other dearly,” Ames said, little tears forming as he recalled their love and life.
He also dearly loved Jean. They did not marry, but were together until she passed away. She was from Florida, and besides photos, he has a great memory of her perched on the back of a comfortable, afghan-covered chair in his apartment. Two cuddly little puppies face each other. It turns out that they are magnetized, and when they kiss, their lips lock together magnetically, and their tails wag.
So now Ames is alone, except for a neice and the cuddly stuffed puppies, but he has an apartment full of pictures and mementos of a life lived without reservation.
The printer’s ink is long gone from his hands, but the memories are colorful … and indelible.
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