Saturday, August 6, 2011

Chapter Eight - Look Again And Uncle George

To start this history from the beginning, go to the right hand column and click on June 2009 and then scroll down to Chapter One - Part One.

Chapter Eight

Look Again And My Uncle George

I was surprised that mother let me sell magazines again after living through my recovery from my fractured school. It wasn’t until many years later that I began to really understand the extent of a mother’s courage back in those days. Of course it took me several months before she agreed, and even then I had to promise that I would never cross a street again without looking both ways. I promised.

Every two weeks, I would sell two hundred magazines at ten cents a piece, earning $2.00 for myself. But I can honestly say it wasn’t the money that excited me. I turned most of that over to my mother anyway. I guess it was the fact that I could do it. Just like my brothers had done, I could go out on the streets of the city and sell two hundred Look magazines.

The first thing I would do was head for Broadway, which was about a half block from our house. Nevada, our street, was one block south of Alameda and that area of Broadway; this was where most of the business districts were located. I could go for miles in both directions, with small business areas every few blocks, some larger than others. If I went south I would go for four or five blocks and then go back north as far as 3rd Avenue sometimes.

There were times when I could hit all the cafes, bars, barbershops, and service stations in just a few short blocks, selling as many as 50 before I would have to head back home for more. There were times when I could get rid of another fifty before it got to be too late. The fact that the Weber and the Mayan movie theaters were also along that route was one factor setting me up for temptation. The other factor was my selling abilities. If there was a particular movie showing at either of these theaters that I wanted to see, I would plan my selling, working extra hard so that I could get rid of the first 50 and still have enough time go to a movie before I went back for another load. I added to my offense by telling my mother that I was just having trouble selling them. I remember the first movie I went to that cost me the price of the ticket as well the guilt I felt in deceiving my mother. The name of the first movie was Robert Mitchum’s first staring movie, “G.I. Joe.” It was story of Ernie Pyle, a war correspondent during World War Two. I suppose my sneaking off to go to movies was like most sins--the guilt wasn’t enough to stop me. I had to get caught, and that wasn’t until I had seen at least a dozen or so movies.

The usual routine, when I would come home, included me emptying my pockets so that my mother and I could keep track of the money. But on this one occasion I had forgotten to throw away my movie stub. What is interesting is that even when she saw the ticket, she didn’t realize what I had done. She picked up the ticket and jokingly said, “So this is where you’ve been all this time.” I will never forget the look on her face when I said, “Yes, Ma’am.” At first it was disbelief and then it was total disappointment. It made me feel bad enough that I can honestly say I never did that again. But, when I joined the Navy, I made up for what I missed by going to as many movies as possible when I went on liberty. But then, this is another story.

The area that had most of businesses was from Alameda to 2nd Avenue. When I was growing up we talked about going downtown and then there was down on Broadway where there was a Woolworth, J.C. Pennys, the two theaters and other various business. My Uncle George owned a barbershop almost directly across the street from the Mayan theater and it seemed like back in those days everybody knew everybody else, members of my family included.

Living on Nevada gave us certain things we didn’t have on Cherokee, and even though we didn’t dwell on it, we didn’t have luxuries. Even so, it was kind of fun adapting things to make things easier, like the string set up for controlling our bedroom light. It was nice to be able to be under the covers before we turned off the lights. When it was dark in our room, it was dark. It was the kind of dark where you couldn’t see your own hand when you were holding in front of your face. So you can imagine how scary it was for my brother Dave one night when I had a fever and I began singing in my sleep. Half away himself, he suddenly hear this quiet voice singing, “Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam.” I don’t remember if he allowed me to get to the part where the deer and the antelope play.

From time to time, I wonder if the next owner’s of this house were ever confused about some of the damage that I did to it. One day, when my Dad came home from work, he confronted me with the question, “Do you know what happened to the coal bin door?” At this point I suppose I ought to talk about the coal bin again. Back in those days most homes were heated by coal, so some of the newer homes included a small room for storing the coal. About once a month a truck would make a delivery of coal by opening window that served as a coal chute and, without going inside, they were able to dump the coal down in the bin inside. The coal bin was a dark, ugly room and in my logic had no reason to look good.

Anyway, my Dad asked about the door and my answer was, “What do you mean?” even though I knew exactly what he meant.

Obviously making every effort hold his temper, he said, “The door is covered with holes and I want to know how they got there.”

Like I said before, the coal bin was an ugly place, so I was wondering why he would care about what the door looked like. But I knew better than to share this logic with him or to even think about lying to him for that matter. So I said, “From my knife.”

His voice was a little louder when he said, “What knife?”

A few weeks before this confrontation, I had seen a movie that made a contribution to my fantasy world. And that, after all, was what we were really dealing with here. When something in a movie impressed me, I would do my best to find a way to act it out in some way. Like when I saw the movie, “The Desert Song,” I put a towel around my head so that could in back of me when I ran. Like the men in the movie, I yelled, “Ahh uh ah aw!” It sounded better than it looks on paper. But back to movie featuring the knife. In this recent movie one of the good guys had an extraordinary ability with a knife, but what impressed me even more was that he threw the knife underhand. Sometimes he would throw with such accuracy that he would pin the arm of a villain to the wall by sticking it through the shirtsleeve. I had the knife, but I didn’t have the bad guys to practice with. So I took an old long sleeved shirt and hung it on the coal bin door making sure that the arms were held out. This was my target, not make a lethal hit or even draw blood. The bull’s-eye for me was to get as close to the shirt as possible or into the shirt where he couldn’t move his arm to retaliate. It actually never crossed my mind about how much damage I was doing to the door. What was important to me was that I was getting pretty good at it, only making a killing blow once in a while. All of this is why my father asked me about the coal bin door.

I mentioned earlier that my uncle George owned a barbershop almost directly across from the Mayan movie theater. That was probably my favorite place to watch movies and all of this led to another event that stands out in my memory.

I’m not sure exactly when my Aunt Gladys became a Christian, but when it happened she attended at Sherman Street with us. This was very convenient for her because she lived on Sherman Street about three blocks north. The Church building was at 125 South Sherman and she lived at 17 Sherman. All of this played a part in the event I’m referring to. The movie, “Buffalo Bill” came to town and since one of my favorite actors, Joel McCrea was in it I was almost obsessed with wanting to see it. So my mother agreed to let me go on a Wednesday afternoon with the plan that I would go to my Aunt Gladys’ house after the movie and then ride to church with her that evening. Sounded like a good plan, except it involved my being able to remember. When I got out of the movie I discovered I had spent all of my money and didn’t have enough money to ride the streetcar home. Come to think of it, I think this happened when we were still living on Cherokee, which was not within walking distance. Then I remembered that my Uncle George was across the street so I went over to ask him for enough money to ride the streetcar, about ten cents I think. When I walked into his barbershop he was obviously glad to see me until I told him why I was there. Now that I’m older I can understand his reaction. At first he thought I just came to see him and when he found out I wanted to borrow money he was obviously very disappointed. Back then I didn’t understand why he got angry with me, but I do now. He gave me the money and I rode the streetcar home, happy with the world. It wasn’t until I walked in the door and my mother said, “What are you doing here?” that I remembered the plan. It’s interesting how that carelessness on my part had such an affect on my relationship with my uncle. He didn’t treat me badly, but his treatment was never the same as it had been. Like most young children, I had no idea just how much power I had to make an adult feel good or bad as the case may be. It makes me wonder how many other lives I affected simply because I just didn’t know.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Chapter Seven - The Marlene Wars

Chapter Seven
The Marlene Wars
There were always reasons for the boys at Alameda Elementary School to pick sides. Of course the bullies were not that selective. Anybody weaker or smaller was fair game. But other than them, if it wasn’t an ethnic division, it was something like the smart ones against those of us who were dumb. Back in the World War II years, we could be called dumb since no one really cared about what was politically correct. We had more important things to worry about. Let’s just say, I was among the intellectually deprived.
We could also be divided by something as simple as where we lived, but then, not many rich kids attended Alameda, and there wasn’t much of a middle class, so that didn’t usually happen. There were probably other typical divisions, but us boys at Alameda discovered our own unique reason to end up on different sides. That reason was Marlene Bergman.
I still remember the way she looked in her skirt and the blouse that was always crisp and clean. Since it was 1943, girls seldom wore jeans, or, as we called them, Levis, especially not to school. She was the kind of girl you could pick out at a distance, pretty enough for me to know she was out of my league. She had long, flowing, blond hair—probably much prettier in my memories than in real life. But she acted like she was pretty and that was more than enough for us guys to be convinced.
The problem with Marlene was that all of us wanted to be her boyfriend, even those of us who knew it would never happen. But she did seem determined to add as many as she could to her list of ex-boyfriends. I realize now that the only ones on that list were the ones who were better looking. It seemed like one day she would be seen with one boy and then with someone else the following day. Sometimes it would be one boy in the morning and another one by the afternoon. Because of all this, it didn’t take long before the boys in the 5th and 6th grades were almost split down the middle—those who had been Marlene’s boyfriends and the rest of us who were still hoping.
My best friend, Bruce was on the A list which he wore like a badge until she dumped him, and when one of the other dumpees suggested that all the boys should agree not to pay any attention to Marlene, Bruce joined that effort. But there was a problem with that plan.
The rest of us were not ready to be taken out of the line-up before we had a chance to get up to bat. After all, I figured, because of this boycott, I might stand a better chance. I tried hard not to remember that she had never even said, “Hi” to me.
When Marlene found out what was going on, she made an all out effort to turn on the charm. It was powerful and I, for one, was not only convinced I would be next, but also that I would be the one to eliminate any need for a future line-up. I even remember feeling a little sorry for the others who were equally convinced. After all, the day after she found out about the boycott, she spoke to me. With a sweet smile, she said, “Hi, Johnny.” The only thing that kept it from being a momentous occasion was the fact that my name was Ronny. Oh well, I thought, she was looking at me when she said it.
So each one of us on the wanna-be list became Marlene’s army of protectors, which evolved into a confrontation between us and the wounded veterans. I’m not sure who came up with the idea of a contest, but it was developed after two fights broke out between the boys from both sides. I found out about the plan from Bruce.
“Are you going to fight?” he asked.
Someone has said that you are either a fighter or a lover. I’m not sure what they would call the third category that I was in. I took in an extra breath when I said, “Fight? Fight who?”
“You don’t know about the battle?’
I breathed a little easier and was intrigued. I certainly didn’t want to fight, at least not fight-FIGHT. However, since this was during the World War II era, we played a lot of war games, so I assumed he was talking about one of those. But this wasn’t the kind of battle Bruce was talking about. It was more like a contest with the A-list boys against the rest of us. Each of us were assigned a specific opponent and we were supposed to fight—actually to wrestle, until somebody was declared a winner when the loser said, “I give.” If the boys on the pro boycott team ended up with more winners than we did, then we had to agree to ignore Marlene. If we had more winners, then the boycott would be over. I have no idea who was in on the negotiations.
I never did like to wrestle because of the claustrophobic feeling it gave me when someone pinned me or held me down with their arm around my neck. However, I felt this was a matter of honor, and I was hoping Marlene would see that I was fighting for her, giving me a better chance to be her next boyfriend. The interesting thing is that I have no idea if Marlene even knew I was fighting, let alone that she actually saw me doing it. My opponent turned out to be my best friend, Bruce. We were friends, but we were supposed to do our duty. Since the teachers would have interfered, the battle took place after school, on somebody’s front lawn, two blocks from the school building.
As we squared off, facing each other, smiling just a little, I had already begun to lose heart for the whole idea. Deep inside, my honest self was telling me Marlene would never pick me no matter what I did—not even if blood was involved. So, when Bruce pinned me down, with his arm around my neck, it didn’t take long for me to come up with a way out. Laying there with my face pressed against the grass, trying to breath, I said, “I gotta’ go. If I come home late from school my mom will get mad.”
“Do you give up?” Bruce said.
“No, but I have to go home.” I tried to make it sound as logical as possible.
I don’t quite remember how I finally talked him into letting me go. But he agreed that we could finish our part of the battle the next day. But it never happened. In fact, neither army claimed victory. We all kind of lost interest in the whole idea, and eventually most of the boys went on with their lives, some of us waiting patiently to be chosen by Marlene. But you know what? I don’t even know whatever happened to Marlene Bergman. When I went on to junior high school she wasn’t there.
I wonder if she remembers the boycott.

Chapter Six - From Cherokee & Beyond

It is interesting to me that when I have a surge of nostalgia I usually think of the years when we were living on South Cherokee. And yet, we lived there from 1938 to 1943, a little over five years. From Cherokee we moved to 48 West Nevada and lived there from 1943 until 1950, a little over seven years. I suppose Cherokee has a little extra appeal to my memories because they were during my younger years.
Our years on Nevada probably have as many good memories that are eventful because this was kind of a second phase in my growing up years. The house on Nevada was completely different than the one on Cherokee. In the first place, it had a basement, which included the bedroom where my brothers and I slept. Since there was only one light in the ceiling of our bedroom, we had to feel our way down the stairs and into our room or when we had to get up in the middle of the night, there were times when we would stub our bare toes on something. So we rigged our own version of a remote control. We tied a string to the chain hanging from the ceiling light that split in two different directions. One string hung by the entrance to our room and the other we could reach from our beds.
There was a large, unfinished room, which served as a laundry and furnace room. At the opposite end from our bedroom were two rooms, a workshop and a coal bin. The furnace burned coal and was equipped with a stoker that automatically fed the coal into the furnace. For us, this was more or less state of the art because we only had to fill the stoker about every other day in the wintertime.
One of the main differences in this house was that it also had a bathtub. After taking a bath in the number 3 washtub for five years, the bathtub was a real joy. The upstairs consisted of a kitchen with a breakfast nook, a gas stove for cooking which meant that the house could be kept cool in the summertime. The bathroom door was next to the kitchen and in the back corner bedroom was my parents bedroom. On the other side of the bathroom was a walk-in pantry, the size of which some women today would like to have.
In the front of the house was the living room and my sister’s bedroom was next to it. At the front entrance was a very small foyer, just big enough to put my mother’s piano. On the piano was a wind-up mantel clock that had a scary sounding gong that counted out the particular hour.
Now that I am able to look back with more mature objectivity, I can see that my sister was the one who sacrificed her privacy more than the rest of us. By the time she had her own bedroom on Nevada, she was already 14-years-old and, even then that bedroom wasn’t much bigger than some of the walk-in closets of today.
In those days, I thought of my sister as an aggravating, bossy pest. But, once again, I realize now that even though she probably enjoyed telling us what to do, she was also very proud and protective of her brothers.
As a family, we always liked to tell the story about how, when were on Nevada, she would come to the front door, see us playing in the vacant lot across the street and yell, “Jackie, Davy and Ronny!” Then, before we could answer, she would slam the door. I think it must have aggravated me more than my brothers. They were probably wise enough to know that she would not be yelling at us unless she had the full authority of our mother behind her. But I just didn’t like to be told what to do, especially by a sibling. So, the scene would go something like this: She would open the door, yell, then slam the door and I would yell back, “What?” There would be a slight pause and I scream, “What!” again. Then I would say to my brothers, “She makes me so mad! She thinks she’s our mother!” After all of that, we would always go in and it was always my mother who told her to call us. I still didn’t like it.
When we moved we had to force Pal into my Uncle Neville’s car and then, when we got to the new house, he wouldn’t come in. We finally tied a rope to his collar and drag him in. After sleeping in our bedroom the first night, he was no longer afraid to come in.
Our new house was located near two Denver landmarks on Broadway. One, the old Good Heart Laundry was about a half block down the alley from our house on the corner of Broadway and Dakota. That building is still there. The other landmark was the Montgomery Ward building which was a few blocks south on Broadway. It was torn down sometime during the 90’s I believe. In fact, just about every building and house on the west side of Broadway, with the exception of the laundry has been torn down, including our house.
One of our next door neighbors was an older lady, Mrs. Underwood. She probably stands out in my memory because she was such a nice lady. Sometimes people say that someone is grouchy because they are old. Mrs. Underwood was a contradiction to this premise and people like here have cause me to conclude that a grouchy old person was typically a grouchy young person. Of course the exception is when dementia is involved.
When it snowed, either Jack, Dave or I had the job of shoveling the sidewalks and this would automatically include Mrs. Underwood’s walks and the same was true when we mowed the lawn in the summer time. I wonder how many kids have this kind of opportunity today.
It didn’t take us long to get to know our neighbors on Nevada like we had on Cherokee. The main difference, however, was that the adults didn’t get out and play games at night like we did on Cherokee.
Moving from Cherokee to Nevada was the first time I had to go through the heartbreak involved in leaving friends behind. But, once again, looking back with the wisdom of years, I can see now that one heartbreak can open the door to other friends and other blessings. In my case, the move to the house on Nevada led me to the best friend I ever had outside of my family. In fact, as the years went by, he became like a brother to me. As my story continues, you will see his name come up again and again, many times directly involved in the events of my life, even after we became adults.
I actually met Bruce Graydon through another friend. In 1945, when we moved I was in the last part of 5th grade and I was enrolled at Alameda Elementary School on the corner of Bannock and Byers. The building is still there, but they turned it into a condominium several years ago. When I started at Alameda, one of my fellow 5th graders was a boy named Billy McGee. They had known each other before Bruce had moved away and went to another school. Shortly after that, he and his mother moved back to the Alameda school district and became a student there again. I actually met him during the summer before school started. Not only do I remember the time of year, but I remember the exact spot where we met. I was doing some kind of errand for my mother and I was walking north on the west side of Broadway just north of Nevada. Billy and Bruce were walking south on Broadway. Other than the introductions, I don’t remember what else took place on that occasion, but it began a friendship that, at this point, has lasted 67 years.
I’m not sure exactly how or why Bruce and I became such good friends. I think part of it was because he could make me laugh so easily. In my life there have been three people who have been able to make laugh easily. One was my brother Dave and the other two are my son, Bret and then Bruce. But beyond that, Bruce and I seemed to make a connection in several ways. Even when we had arguments, we resolved them very quickly.
One of the things I admired about Bruce during our time at Alameda Elementary School was the way he handled girls. While I was totally awkward around girls, almost afraid of them, he seemed to be totally at ease with them and girls seemed to be attracted by his “I don’t really care” attitude. We have many memories about our encounters with the opposite sex. Possibly the one that stands out is the “Marlene Wars.” We will take a look at this as we continue.

Wintertime Fun, Car Hit & Suspense

Wintertime provided its own opportunities for dangerous fun. The one that sticks out in my memory the most was hitching rides on the rear bumper of cars in the snow. Of course the old style bumpers made it much easier to have something hold on to. Back in those days plowing neighborhood streets didn’t usually Because of these conditions, a car would come down the road very slowly allowing us the time we need to grab the back bumper, squat down sliding along on our shoes. Sometimes we were able to ride this way for as long as a city block. There are many reasons why this was dangerous, but the one thing that happened a lot usually ended with nothing more than skinned knees, and sometimes knuckles. This happened when you hit a patch that wasn’t covered by snow and when our shoes hit the asphalt this had an immediate braking effect causing us to pitch forward on to our knees. Since it usually included holes in the knees of our jeans, it made it difficult to hide this from our mom. As a father and grandfather, I shudder to think about the other things that might have happened.
I will probably think of our other dangerously fun activities as my story continues—some of them when I was an adult.
At this point of trying to remember, I am wishing that I had started writing the biography sooner. Even though I spent 5 and a half years at Rosedale, I can’t remember many more events that took place during those years. But there are two other things I should probably share.
One is my friendship with Ray Hogman who lived a block north of us on Cherokee. He was an only child who spent a lot of time at our house because both of his parents worked. One thing in particular about him is that we argued a lot. Not only did he seem to know how to push my button, I think we enjoyed our arguments. The only time these disagreements would turn into something physical was when we resorted to pushing and wrestling. Even though I have to admit that I felt like it sometimes, we never actually hit each other. To give you some idea about how much he could aggravate me, I need to tell you how one of our arguments got me in trouble.
My parents never allowed any “bad” words of any kind. Not only did this include the euphemisms like heck, darn, etc. we couldn’t say “blast it” or “blast you.” On one occasion, we were playing in the front yard of my house and Ray did something that pushed me so far over the edge, I yelled, “Blast you, Ray!” Just as I finished that verbal explosion, my dad came around the corner of the house from the backyard. That day didn’t end well.
There was one particular weapon that I had that gave me an advantage he didn’t have. When he was a very small boy, he had fallen and cut his head just below the eyebrow above the eye. By the time I knew him, the permanent affect of this injury was already there, which caused his right eye to be slightly slanted. Of course this kind of scar had a stigma at that particular time in history. From the right profile, the scar gave him an oriental look, which, in most people’s mind, made him a “Jap,” especially if they didn’t know him. I knew this was a sore spot with him so I would call him, “Slant-eye,” when he made me angry. This was not only mean On my part, but it wasn’t fair because he didn’t have an equal insult for retaliation to use against me.
I probably wouldn’t be telling about this, except for how it led to one particular occasion when he was desperate to retaliate. It was about a year after I had been hit by the car and my accident was well-known in the neighborhood. If fact, I wore it like a badge, enjoying it when someone would say, “He had a fractured skull and a concussion of the brain.” I’m not sure why, but “concussion of the brain” seemed to make it sound worse. Anyway, on this one particular occasion, Ray had me angry enough to cause me to say, “You stupid, slant-eye!” Ray reacted immediately, pushing me to the ground.
“Don’t call me that!” he yelled, standing over me.
Being pushed to the ground insulted my dignity enough to cause me to repeat my meanness. “You’re a dumb, stupid slant-eye!” I said, looking up at him defiantly.
Ray sputtered in anger, standing over me with clinched fists. “Yeah, well you’re a dumb . . . you’re a dumb, stupid, . . . , a dumb, stupid, car-hit!”
I stared up at him and he stared back, both of us kind of frozen. I finally broke the spell with a frown that was slowly turning into a grin. “What?” I asked.
Still angry, Ray said, “A car-hit! You’re a car-hit!’
In quick order, my frown went to a grin and the grin to a laugh, until I rolled over on my side, saying, “Car-hit?” over and over, between laughs. Ray kept staring at me, obviously trying hard to keep a straight face. He was losing the battle.
I continued to roll back and forth laughing, “Car-hit! You called me a car-hit!”
Ray’s frown held out for another two seconds before he broke up too and soon, we were both laughing at each other laughing. From that day on, we continued to use car-hit as a joke, but I never call him slant-eye after that.
One of the highlights of our day was being able to listen to the radio—not like radio is today. This was during the golden age of the radio drama and comedies like “Fibber Magee & Molly.” In some ways I feel sorry for those who missed this era, having their imagination stifled by television. A television program is limited to what we see, whereas radio’s view was expanded by our mind's eye where there was no limit. When we heard Fibber Magee open his closet there was no way that television could compete with radio even when our eyes were closed. The dramas included shows like “Lux Presents Hollywood,” “One Man’s Family,” “I Love A Mystery,” “Intersanctum,” “Grand Central Station,” “Suspense,” “Let’s Pretend,” “Lights Out,” “Mister Keene, Tracer of Lost Persons,” etc. Our mother wouldn’t allow us to listen to some of these programs because of the nightmares they triggered. Just like when I went to see the movie, “The Mad Ghoul,” there was part of me that wanted to hear these shows. But, inevitably, I was always sorry at night when I went to bed and the lights were turned out. In those days there was no such thing as a night light.
In addition to “Fibber Magee & Molly,” there were other comedies like “Red Skelton,” “Burns & Allen,” “The Great Gildersleeve,” “Our Miss Brooks,” “Henry Aldrige,” “Amos & Andy,” etc.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Chapter Five - Dangerous Fun

Our House On Cherokee

Chapter Five
Dare Devil With Strings
At the end of summer when my dad’s garden had done all the growing it was going to do for the year, our backyard became a wide open playground. I found several ways to amuse myself in that area. What made it nice was that my dad collected a lot of things that he kept in our backyard. He eventually found some kind of use for what he collected. I remember one time in particular when I found something he was able to use. When I was walking down the alley I saw some things that someone had set out to be picked up as trash. Among this pile was paint can. I figured that it was probably empty, but when I picked it up I could tell it still had something in it. I pried it open and found it about 1/4th full of paint. I wasn’t sure, but I thought my dad might be able to use so I took it home. I felt very good when I found out that he used it to paint our bathroom. I learned that every little thing helps.
Sometimes I was able to find things in my dad’s backyard collection. I’m not really sure what he had in mind when he added an old wheelbarrow wheel to his assortment of things, but it didn’t take me long to think of something. I became a dare devil with the wheel an iron bar and a beat up old cooking pot that still had its handle. Putting the pot over my head like a helmet with the handle under my chin, I stuck the iron bar through the wheel like an axle and I had my own dare devil machine. With my hands holding both ends of the bar and my feet providing the power, I was able to run and role around the yard like a tricycle with feet. It didn’t take me long to realize that this worked pretty well, so I decided to add to the fun. Gathering pieces of plywood and boards, I built a makeshift wall at one end of the yard, took my running tricycle dare devil contraption to the other end. With my dare devil helmet pot on my head, I bent down over my dare devil machine and headed full speed toward the wall. My thoughts were that the helmet would protect my head from injury. It worked. I didn’t get a scratch on my head. However, I can’t say the same for my knuckles and by the time it was over both hands were bleeding. I know—not too smart. But it was still fun and the blood was a badge of honor and my bravery.
That wasn’t the only occasion when I didn’t think things through before taking action. I liked to see things float down, like from a tree, etc. So I took some string, climbed a tree, let the string go and watched it float down. It was fun, but after climbing the tree a couple of times I figured there ought to be an easier way to get the string high enough to float down. So I came up with a plan. I found a rock about half the size of my fist and carefully wrapped the string around it. Going out to middle of the yard, I took aim and threw the rock up as high as I could. By the time the rock reached its maximum height, the string came loose and floated down just like I hoped it would. However, the string wasn’t the only thing that was coming down. While I was concentrating on the string, the rock came down and hit me on top of the head. This time the pain kept me from thinking of the blood as a badge. But none of these injuries kept me from trying something else, even when it was dangerous.
Now that I am looking at things from a more adult perspective, I can see now that we did a lot of things that were potentially very dangerous—of course some more so than others. One in particular causes me to think of many questions. The first question is who was the guy that first thought of making a match shooter out of two different kinds of clothespins and why did he do it. Since you can’t buy wooden matches that will light by striking it against anything, I guess it will be ok to explain how it worked. I am not even sure if anyone sells anything except “safety matches.” Anyway, the two styles of clothespins were the ones with a spring that allowed two pieces of wood to fasten (pinch) together to hold the clothes to the line and then the style where a slice was cut out of one piece of wood allowing a person to hold the piece of clothing by simply jamming it down on the line. We would take apart the one with the spring, turn the spring around, carefully cutting the groove that held the spring a little deeper. After altering the spring, we would jam this part into the other clothespin. This allowed us to use the spring as a kind of trigger and firing pin, After we placed the match into the shooter with the head of the match securely jammed against the spring, we would press down on the trigger and at the same time it shot the match toward our target, it would also light it. It wasn’t very accurate, but it usually did light the match and propel it away.
Most of the other questions involving who, what, when, where, why and how about this invention can’t really be answered. We had no idea what this inventor had in mind, but it didn’t take us long to develop our own reasons for changing harmless household products into dangerous toys. Since it was during the war years, many of our games involved guns, shooting, getting shot, flying imaginary airplanes, etc., we made the match shooter part of these games. One game in particular involved cardboard boxes, newspapers, packing material and lots of imagination. We would build makeshift fighter planes out of the boxes with wings, etc. After building our airplanes in the alley behind our house, we would wad up the newspapers and packing material and put it all inside the fuselage and under the wings. The two planes were set up about 15 feet away from each other. Then, each pilot would get into the cockpit and we would have a dogfight, using the match shooters as our firepower. The object of the game was to shoot a match at the other plane, trying to set it on fire. In addition to two pilots we had an observer. It was his job to make sure the pilot of the burning plane would know about the flames. I’m not sure where this idea came from, but when the observer would see the flames he would start singing, “Go tell aunt Rhoady, go tell aunt Rhody, go tell aunt Rhody the old gray goose is dead.” Like I said, I’m not sure where this came from, but it was probably from one of the many war movies that came out during those years.
Even though I do believe movies provided a great service to our country, I believe they also glorified war to a dangerous degree. And I can’t help but wonder how much those movies contributed to the racial prejudice against all Orientals. These movies more or less trained us to hate the “Japs,” the “Krauts,” and the “Wops.”
In all fairness, the contribution of movies toward racial prejudice may not be as powerful as I have indicated. After all, prejudice against black people in our country doesn’t seem to need any help from the media.
As I was writing about match shooters, I was curious about what other people might remember about them. So I “googled” it and sure enough there it was on several locations. Some of the sites even had pictures detailing how to make them. Hopefully nobody reading my words will try to make one. Believe it or not—they can be dangerous.
Back to the dangerous things we did for fun, one of the things we discovered was a way to make our own explosive devices. Even before firecrackers were made illegal, it wasn’t very often that we could afford to buy them. So we improvised, making things that made noise but were not destructive. This endeavor also involved “un-safety” matches. It was very simple. We would take the heads off of 4 or 5 matches, a large metal nut and two bolts. After screwing one bolt into the nut just enough to fasten and yet leave room to hold the match heads. When the match heads were in this small container, we would take the other bolt and screw it in until it was securely fastened to the nut. Now we were ready for the noise. Going out to the paved street or some other hard surface, we would flip this device up into the air in such away that the end of one of the bolts would hit against that surface giving us the desired noise. Of course the larger the bolts and nut, the more match heads could be used and the louder the resulting bang. It is probably best that we didn’t have access to the really large bolts, etc.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Chapter Four

Chapter Four
Cherokee And Rosedale
The elementary school we attended was called Rosedale and I attended there from Kindergarten through part of the fifth grade. In the 40s grade levels were identified as grade 5 b and 5 a. After I was hit by the car, I missed a half of year of school, so I was what they called a mid-term student. This meant that while other students ended the fifth grade at the end of May identified as being in 5 a, I was ending 5 b. My mother had decided that it would good if she kept Dave out of school to be at home with me as I recovered. So he was also a mid-term student.
During my years at Rosedale several things happened, but two events stand out that were potentially life-change for me. One had to do with a test the school wanted me to take. Everybody probably has a story about how they were misunderstood in school. I’m no exception. As good as our mother was in so many ways, she did have some peculiar ideas that bordered on eccentric. She never wanted her children to stand out for any reason—good or bad. If anything happened that might put us in the spotlight, she was uncomfortable and even somewhat suspicious. So when the teacher sent a note home with me, asking my mother’s permission for me to take special test, my mother automatically assumed that the teacher was saying that I was dumb. Because of this, she refused to give her permission. Unfortunately, from that day forward, I was convinced that I was not as smart as the other kids which gave me a “why try” attitude. It wasn’t until I was in college that I finally found out that the teacher wanted to test me because she thought I might need to be in an accelerated program at school. Naturally I can’t help but wonder if I would have been a better student if my mother had told me sooner.
On another occasion, Rosedale had a talent show and I decided to tryout. By the time I reached the fourth grade, I found that I could make people laugh by imitating certain sounds with my mouth—cars, animals, airplanes, etc. So I thought this might fit in a talent show. However, when I tried out the teacher in charge wasn’t impressed. But, instead of simply telling me no, she said she wanted more singers in her show and asked if I knew a song I could sing. My dad sang and played the guitar, and one of the songs he sang was called “Old Shep,” a very sad song and I had listened to him enough that I was able to remember all the words. So I sang that song for the tryouts, convinced that I was wasting my time. To my surprise she put me in the show. I honestly couldn’t believe that anyone would be entertained by listening to me sing.
On the night of show, several of our neighbors attended. Because of the sadness in the song, several of the little girls cried which made my act a little more noticeable that the others. For a few weeks I was a semi-celebrity. It didn’t last very long because popularity was based on the sadness of the lyrics. However, a couple of days after the show, one of our neighbors came to our house to ask my parents if they would let her be my agent, to have me sing at different events around town. I honestly have no idea what would have been involved, but it didn’t matter because my parents said no. It is interesting that I don’t remember being very disappointed, but I still wonder what it might have led to. I am thankful that my parents were wise enough to decide against it. It wasn’t until many years later that I had a short-lived stint in show business.
Another thing I remember about Rosedale was my friendship with a girl named Floy Dean Ragsdale. She died of leukemia when I was in the fifth grade. This was my first experience with the death of someone I had spent a lot of time with. It was also the first time I realized that death wasn’t just something that happened to old people. I handled it by pretending it wasn’t true, by not thinking about it.
In those years, the extent of our involvement in sports was finding a vacant lot, choosing up sides and playing ball—mostly softball and baseball. Sometimes we did play touch football, but we usually played that in the street. I’m not sure why we didn’t play it in a vacant lot. Of course, the game was interrupted from time to time when cars would come down Cherokee Street. One street over, toward Broadway was Bannock Street. So, when a car would interfere with our game we would yell at them as they passed by, “What’s the matter with Bannock?” We were too young to be reasonable.
One of the vacant lots was right next door to us. It wasn’t very big, but it was big enough for a soft ball game of workup. I don’t know if the majority of people today know what the rules of workup are. It was best if you had enough people to cover all of the positions and have two or three people as batters. A batter could stay in that position unless they were struck out, put out at a base or was left on a base with no one to bat him in. When the batter was put out then the one who had been playing catcher would move up to be a batter and the one who was playing pitcher would become the catcher—thus the name, workup. Another way that a batter could be put out was if someone caught his fly ball. Then the batter would change places with the one who caught the ball. This was a faster way for someone out in the field to get up to bat.
Two games of workup stand out more than the others. I was playing center field, which was usually a boring position in most workup games. So, to keep from getting bored, I had a big/little book to read when things were slow in the outfield. Since they don’t have big-little books today I guess I had better describe them. The contents were the same as comic books but instead of a magazine format, these were like small books—thus the name, big/little books. As I am trying to describe these books I know that most people are probably thinking, “What?”
Anyway, on this particular occasion I was out in center field reading my big/little book. The batter hit a high fly ball and as I was reading the ball came straight down, hitting me on top of the head. I was afraid the other players would be upset with me, but they were too busy laughing for them to be upset. On another occasion it was my sister who got the laughs. She was pitching and the batter hit a line drive directly into her stomach. It knocked the breath out of her and as the air was leaving her lungs, the sound she made was like, “uhhhhh, daddeeeee!”
During the months I was recovering from my fractured skull, the doctor told my mother that I needed to be very careful not to get a hard hit to my head. It seems the concussion had caused some kind of fluid to build up near my brain and a hard blow could have caused that fluid to do possible brain damage. A few months after the accident Dave and I were walking down Bannock street about a block from our house when a neighbor decided to be a bully and since I was the smallest, I was his target. He shoved me causing me to lose my balance and I slammed my head against a cement wall in front of a neighbor’s lawn. This is the only time I ever saw Dave hit somebody in anger. The blow to my head probably wasn’t hard enough to do any damage, but Dave didn’t know that, and even though I know it sounds like an exaggeration, Dave hit the bully hard enough under the chin that it actually lifted his feet off the ground. I know some people still wonder if I did end up with some kind of brain damage. If I did, it wasn’t from this occasion. The only result was that the bully backed off and never bothered us again. Having witnessed what Dave had done to him, I can’t say I blame him. This wasn’t the only time one of my brothers came to my rescue.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Chapter Three Part Three - Streetcars & Teddy and Other Relatives

I think it was about that time I lost Teddy. I don’t remember when he came into my life or who gave him to me. But, for a while, he became more important that my imaginary friend Johnny. Teddy’s fur was supposed to be white, but it didn’t take long for him to turn a dirty grey when I carried him around everywhere I went. Even though he was a stuffed toy teddy bear, I remember thinking of him as being just as real as any of our other animals.
I have vivid memories of the times when my mother decided that Teddy needed to be white again. After surviving the washing machine, he would end up hanging by one ear on the clothesline. During those times I would spend several hours checking to see if he was dry yet, so that I could take him back into my life again
Eventually, he didn’t survive another washing and he ended up as several pieces of fuzz. Looking in retrospect, I remember that everyone in my family shared in my sadness, not because Teddy was important to them but because I was important to them.
World War II brought many things to our lives. We learned what rationing was. Sugar, gasoline, chewing gum (?), and rubber, are just some of the things I remember. There were some things we couldn’t get at all, such as bananas. I still have no idea why gun was scarce during that time.
The war also introduced me to patriotism. Everywhere we went we were bombarded with the importance of being patriotic. It was in the movies we saw, the radio programs we heard and even in our comic books. It was all around us and it was exciting. It affected me so much that, even today, my emotions are stirred when I hear the national anthem.
By the end of the first year of the war we had learned to hate three countries—Japan, Germany and Italy. The Icons for these countries were Tojo, Hitler and Mussolini. We even had a dart game with pictures of these men as targets. To hit Hitler gave us 100 points, 75 points if we hit Tojo and 50 point when we hit Mussolini. Unfortunately, some of this propaganda resulted in some ugly things. Japanese Americans were sent to camps in the name of national defense. These were people who had been born in our country and yet, they were rounded up and even had some of their property confiscated—the ugliness of politics and propaganda. I guess you could say it was like a government-sponsored racism.
One good thing that came about in those years was the unity it brought to our country. It not affected the country and the individual states, each neighborhood worked together, and just about every individual found a way to serve even to the point of sacrifice. At school we had scrap metal drives, paper drives, rubber tires and drives for every kind of vital material. To explain what these were, students in each grade at school would go from door to door collecting all these materials and then take them to the school. I guess I could look it up, but I don’t really know why paper drives were so important. To make it interesting, every school was in competition with the other schools and we were as excited about this as were when we competed in sports.
Before the war, just about every child could identify every car on the road with few exceptions. Of course, back then the majority of those were either Ford’s or Chevrolets with a few Buicks, Chryslers thrown in, and every one of them looked different. Not only could we identify the make of the car but also the year it was made. Then, as the months went by into the war, we were also able to identify the airplanes that flew over. Anybody could identify Lockheed P 38 Lighting with its twin booms and the cockpit between them. The Curtis P 40 was known by several names: as Warhawk, Tomahawk, Kittyhawk but probably best known as the Flying Tiger. Then there was the P 51, Mustang also known as the Thunderbolt. We could also identify the bombers, like the B 17 Flying Fortress, the B 24, the Liberator, and later, the B 25 Mitchell, and the B 29 Super Fortress which replaced the B 17. We knew them all.
I have other memories of Ford and Chevrolets. They were the cause of many arguments between my mother’s two brothers. Uncle Neville never owned anything other than a Ford in his lifetime. Uncle Dave was loyal to Chevys during my younger years. He eventually went to Buicks and finally to Chryslers. Every time our family would get together and that gathering included my two uncles, they would find something to argue about. Most of the time it was about cars, but sometimes it would be about things like trade unions. Being in construction, Uncle Dave was a union man and Uncle Neville was not.
The loyalties to Ford and Chevy spilled over into the world of kids. You were either a Ford man or a Chevy man. I’m not sure where it came from, but a popular put down was, “A Ford is nothing but a tin can with cardboard wheels.” Then, of course, there was the old standby that would be said to Chevy owners. “The reason they are called a Chevy is because they shiver all over the street and lay in the garage.” This was funny back in the 40s.
There was another member in my mother’s family. My grandmother had married a man name Walker and they had a son name Hugh. I’m not sure, but my grandmother divorced this man and married my grandfather, Charles Colglazier. They had four children and Hugh was their half brother.
Uncle Hugh caused me to believe that every family probably had a family member who was strange—the black sheep. By the time I met him, he had already established a family in Oregon, abandoned them, moved back to Colorado and married another lady name Neva. In all fairness, I need to include some of the details that brought him to this point.
When he was in Oregon he was working as a lumberjack. There was some kind of an accident and he ended up with a broken back. Unfortunately, this disability caused him to lost his ambition. While recovering he was being paid full compensation, not having to work at all. He got accustomed to getting something for nothing and, even after the compensation ended, he never made any real effort to hold a job for very long. I never found out how it happened, but Neva was slow, with an IQ of someone in elementary school.
Uncle Hugh and Aunt Neva didn’t come around very often, but when she did visit us, she always showed up unannounced, riding her bicycle to our house. Even though cleanliness was not very important to them, my mother always treated them well. Sometimes if was very difficult to be patient, especially with Neva, but my mother was always tolerant with her. My mother would never fail to ask Neva if she had eaten and Neva was always hungry.
In those years, it was not unusually for tramps to come by and ask for something to eat. We didn’t call them tramps to be unkind. They were not called “homeless.” They were either known as tramps, hobos or bums. These were the men who rode the rails—sneaking on to freight trains to hitch a ride from city to city. My mother never failed to feed these men. She would tell them to go around to the back door and a few minutes later she would come out with a plate full of food. I grew up thinking that this was something everyone did.
Since my parents didn’t own a car, streetcars were an important part of our lives. I find it interesting that I don’t remember the first time I was allowed to ride a streetcar by myself. I’m sure I couldn’t have been more than 8-years-old. Since we only lived three blocks from Broadway, it only took a few minutes to catch a number 3 that ran down Broadway from Hampden in Englewood, a suburb south of Denver and then to the middle of downtown. Of course we could transfer to a number 5 at Broadway and Alameda and it would take us to University Boulevard near Louisiana. A number 6 would go east from Broadway on 6th Avenue, but I don’t remember where it turned around. Number 14 ran from the middle of downtown, straight east on Colfax, turning around a few blocks from Aurora, a suburb of Denver. Of course there other routes that went to other parts of the city, but I don’t remember their numbers.
Like most families, we have stories that we have told over and over again. More than one of these was when Dave and I were going to take a streetcar somewhere. We used the number 3 streetcar more than any of the others since it covered most of Broadway from one end to the other.
Sometimes you could find a place to sit and sometimes you had to stand. Of course, back in those days, we were trained to get up and give our seats to any female or older person if it was crowded. That’s the way we were taught, so we didn’t give it much thought. That’s just the way it was. Because of that, my brothers and I usually traveled standing up, holding on to a pole.
I don’t remember where my brother and I were going that day. It was probably some errand for our mother, like going downtown to pay the light bill or to the coal company near Gates Rubber Company.
During the Word War Two years, very few people had checking accounts. Even though paying with cash was inconvenient, it did eliminate things like overdraft charges and credit card finance charges. We didn’t have much money but at least it all went for things we could actually use. This makes me wonder just how much money the average person would have if they had never even thought of getting a credit card. Some people would probably be able to finance a small country.
Anyway, Dave and I were waiting for a streetcar to go on an errand for our mother. I was probably around 10 and Dave was 12. As brothers do at that age, we were playing around, pushing each other, tickling, etc., and just as the number 3 stopped for us, Phillip had done something to me. Before I could retaliate, he jumped on board and headed toward the back of the crowded streetcar. Quickly dropping my token in the strange looking box, designed to accept them, I went in search of my brother with revenge on my mind. I finally found him holding on to a pole.
It didn’t take me long to evaluate the situation. His grip on the pole is what got my attention. His four fingers were wrapped around the pole, but his thumb was sticking straight up, giving me an obvious target. It would have been best if I had thought about it a little longer before I took action.
My intention was to grab hold of his thumb and bend it backwards—a good way to get even, I thought. I knew I had to move fast, so I quickly reached out and bent the thumb. It didn’t cause him any pain at all. The thumb I was bending belonged to the man standing next to Dave. It not only caused him pain, it also caused him to look at me as if I had lost my mind. I immediately started to apologize, but from the look on his face I could tell he still believed I was crazy.
Dave was enjoying every minute, laughing long and loud as I tried to explain myself. The last I saw of the man was when he was getting off the streetcar, holding his thumb, still looking at me as if he had no doubt there was something wrong with my mind.
This event is just one more reason why I feel sorry for people who have missed out on the fun of traveling by streetcar. I mean, it’s not much fun traveling alone in a car. Maybe it would be a good idea for everyone to travel by streetcar again. It might not be as convenient, but I bet it would cut way down on road rage.
We rode on the Number 3 streetcar more than any of the others. It traveled from the middle of downtown Denver, down Broadway, and then turned around in Englewood, a block north of Hampden. I have lots of memories involving the number 3 route. With one exception, most of them were good.
Going south into Englewood we had to pass a mortuary on the west side of Broadway, and passing it became something I dreaded for many years. It all started with a vacation to Glenwood Springs in Colorado. As far as I was concerned, this small mountain town was about an inch this side of heaven. My mistake was when I went to see a movie called “The Mad Ghoul” during one of the weeks we were there. Since I was the “little boy” of the family, at first I was told that I would not be allowed to go. “Scary movies” sometimes caused me to have nightmares. But somehow I was able to talk my dad into letting me go—something both of us lived to regret. Since the cabin was small, he and I had to share a bed and neither one of us got much sleep that night.
The movie involved a mortuary where the ghoul had to go and get a new brain from time to time. So, my young mind made me decide that these places were where the ghoul lived, and if I would pretend not to be aware of these places, I would be safe. When the Number 3 would pass the ghoul’s house in Englewood, I would make sure I was looking east. This way, I was able to stay safe. He wasn’t going to get my brain.
I enjoyed taking the Number 3 going north because we passed a lot of movie theaters. First, there was the Jewel Theater, where I had my first date. I wasn’t old enough to realize that a girl would not enjoy watching a documentary called “Memphis Belle.” Looking back now, I am able to appreciate her willingness to tolerate my choice.Her name was Donna Meacham and, even though she was considered to be my very first girlfriend, she wasn’t my first love. I mentioned earlier that Arthur Golden was our preacher at Sherman Street and that he came to visit me in the hospital. But the reason he was important to me was because of his daughter Joann. I’m not sure why, but I was totally enthralled with her. It might have been because she and I were in a wedding together.

Stelean Peck and her parents were members at Sherman Street and when she got married to a soldier during the war, they asked me to be the ring bearer and Joann Golden was the flower girl. Because it was a military wedding, I wore a small uniform. Then, when the photographs were developed, the adults kidded me about it being my wedding. Part of the problem is that Joann wasn’t as enthralled with me as I was with her. I doubt that anyone at that time had any idea just how painful all of this was for a 9 year-old boy. I have no idea what ever happened to Joann.

After passing the Jewel, it was several blocks before we came to the Weber Theater and three blocks after that was the Mayan. It wasn’t until years later that I learned we had mispronounced Mayan. To us, it was the “May-On.”
It is interesting that passing those theaters didn’t frighten me. After all, those were the places where the Mad Ghoul had really lived.
Our family depended on other people in the church to give us a ride to church. As I look back, I find it surprising that we were able to get by without a car for so many years. On some occasion, when money was extra tight, Dad would get up early and walk several miles work. And then, he would still find time to work in his garden when he got home in the evening.
Uncle Neville was the one person in our family who had money. We thought he was rich, but he actually just had a good job with the phone company. During the depression he was one of the few who had a steady job. I remember that he always had a nice care. He was a hard and fast loyal Ford owner. In his entire life he never owned anything but a ford. On the other hand, his brother, our Uncle Dave, drove a Chevrolet and then later a Buick and finally a Chrysler. Since Uncle Dave and Aunt Gladys never had children, they were better off financially that my parents. With the exception of our Aunt Betty, Uncle Neville’s wife, they were usually very generous in helping our family from time to time. Aunt Betty was very selective in her giving. Looking back now, I can see where she used her money to try and gain control of my brothers and sister and me. She made it difficult for my mother to ask for help. For example, when I had pneumonia at eight months old and dad was in Fitzsimmons hospital, mom needed a ride to go see Dad. Aunt Betty took my mother’s last quarter to help pay for the gasoline. But she was always ready to take us kids to places that were fun, buying fun things and even taking us on vacation to Glenwood Springs. She was a strange lady—so nice to us on some occasions and very cruel at other times.
She was a smoker and on one occasion she asked if I would like to see her blow smoke out of her ears. Naturally, since I was only about six or seven-years-old, I fell for it. She old me that I would have to stare at her ears without blinking or looking at anything else. Then, while I was staring at her ears, she took her hot spoon from her cup of coffee and touched it to my arm. It wasn’t hot enough to cause a blister, but it still hurt. She thought it was funny.
One year, when she took my brother and me to Glenwood Springs, she bought a big box of comic books, but she wouldn’t let us read any of them on the trip from Denver. Then, during the week at Glenwood she only allowed us to read one comic book a day. At the end of the week there were several left in the box that we never did get to read. Like I said, she was a strange lady.
She had the opportunity to find joy in helping to make things easier for my mother and yet, it seems that she made every effort to do just the opposite. She finally divorced my uncle and ended up as a sad, lonely old lady.