Saturday, June 27, 2009

Chapter Two Part Three

For a while I became talented in ways to get out of work, especially in special tasks. By the time I was old enough to do my part, Dad and Mom were use to being able to give a job to the older kids and they would get it done. So when they would give me a job they expected the same results, not realizing that I needed more instructions. The first time it happened I gave it my best effort, but fumbled around long enough for my dad to lose his patience and he would say, “Here Jack, you do it.” Other times it was Dave or Pat who took over. I quickly learned that the best way to get out of work was to deliberately fumble around with the job until it was given to someone else. Actually, that ploy didn’t last very long. Just one more experience to help me learn that I was not smart enough to outwit my parents for very long—most times not at all.
People my age will agree that neighborhoods were different than they are now. Everybody knew everybody and could be depended on to help each other when there was a need. We also had fun together—playing softball, touch football, kick the can, run sheep run, etc. Most of the time the parents were involved in these games. I remember riding on my dad’s shoulders when we played the hiding games.
Believe it or not, I can still remember most of the names from the Cherokee neighborhood. Our next-door neighbors were the Rankies and Mrs. Athey on the other side. Mrs. Athey had a sneeze that could break your eardrum if you were in the same room with her. We could hear her when we were in our house with the door shut.
In the wintertime we would shovel the snow from her sidewalks and, even though we would always turn it down, she would offer to pay us every time. We did the same for Mrs. Hamm, another widow who lived across the street. I wonder what happened to that kind of neighborhood. To be totally candid, I don’t know the names of my next door neighbors today. Of course part of that is my fault.
In 1939, when we moved to south Denver, we were much close to the congregation on south Lincoln (also known as South Denver or Lincoln Street), so we changed our membership. Sherman Street was located at 125 South Sherman and Lincoln Street was at 2005 South Lincoln. Our new home was at 2444 South Cherokee. Lincoln Street is a block east of Broadway and Cherokee is three blocks west of Broadway.
There were several families at Lincoln Street who also took us under their wing. There were the Hazlets, the Fritz (two families) the Barns, Chapins, the Chumleys and the Storm family. Ruben Storm was the song leader and was known for the loud volume of his voice. The preacher’s name was C.E. Fritz who was the first publisher, editor of the Rocky Mountain Christian Newspaper. His brother was C.A. Fritz was a doctor and also served as one of the elders at Lincoln Street.
I remember one couple in particular who were very unique. Their last name was Mebius and both of them were doctors, but I don’t remember what kind. He was at least six foot five and she wasn’t even five feet tall. Probably the main reason I remember them is because he scared me. To me he looked like Boris Karloff who was the actor who played Frankenstein’s monster. Both of them were always kind and friendly but I still stayed away from him as much as possible.
The Hazlet family had a farm out near Hayden, Colorado, which was at 50 miles from the church building on Lincoln. In spite of the distance, they were at services every Sunday. I always enjoyed visiting them because we could actually be around horses, cows, pigs and at least a hundred chickens. My enjoyment ended when I spent a week there to actually work. I had always had to work, but at the farm it seemed as if the work was never done, which provided very little playtime.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Chapter Two Part Two

I don’t have many specific memories about my time in kindergarten. I do remember milk and graham crackers. During the morning break, the kids who were able to pay a nickel were allowed to have milk and graham crackers. Needless to say, I was not among those who had a nickel. After all, a nickel a day amounted to 25 cents a week, enough to buy a dozen eggs and a loaf of bread.
On some occasions they would end up with extra milk and crackers and the teacher would choose a lucky child to get them. For me, the few times when I was chosen, the treat was so amazingly good that, even today one of my favorite snacks is graham crackers and milk.
Everyone in our family had certain jobs to do. Even though I was only five-years-old, I was expected to do my job. Some of these assignments were easier and even more fun than others, like feeding the chicken and gathering eggs. One of my more difficult jobs was cutting wood. Since our stoves burned wood as well as coal, getting free wood was a real blessing. My Uncle Dave, one of my mother’s brothers, was a plasterer before the days of dry wall. This means that strips of wood called laths were used to provide a base to hold the plaster on interior walls. Because of his work, he sometimes would have access to old laths when an old building was torn down. This wood was dumped in our backyard and that is when I received my assignment. Every day, after school, I was expected to take a small ax, cut the laths so they would be short enough to fit in our stove. Part of the job was to stack this wood in to neat piles. When I watch five-year-olds today, I can’t even imagine any of them with an ax in their hand. In fact, it is difficult to imagine them doing any kind of work.
Since Jack was the oldest boy, his job was to carry in the coal from the coal shed in our back yard close to the alley. Anyone who grew up in that era will remember that a coal bucket sitting by the stove was a common sight. Every morning, Jack would take the coal bucket out to the shed, unlock the padlock, fill the bucket with coal and bring it back to the house. This wasn’t a difficult job unless it was wintertime. Then, while the rest of us were able to stay in our semi-warm house, Jack would make his way through the snow to do his job. On one particular morning, it was so cold that the padlock was frozen and the more Jack tried to work it loose, the colder his bare fingers became. Before I tell you what he did, you need to remember that he was only eight-years-old. Bending down to the lock he tried breathing his warm air on the lock, and when that didn’t work he decided to try thawing it out by licking it. I doubt that I need to tell you that his tongue immediately stuck to the cold metal. There he was, all by himself in hip deep snow, probably below zero, ten yards from the house, his tongue sticking to the lock while he tried to yell for help. As you can imagine, he was able to yell loud enough to get anyone’s attention, and even if we had heard him we wouldn’t have understood what he was trying to say. He was yelling, “Mom!” but it came out more like, “Ahauh!” The final solution to this problem was leaving a piece of his tongue skin on the lock.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Chapter Two Part One - Cherokee, The Early Years

Chapter Two - Part One
Cherokee, The Early Years
Pal came to live with us during the first week we moved to the little house on Cherokee and he was part of our family for almost ten years. He was not a puppy when we first met him, having lived with another family who didn’t treat him very well. My Uncle Neville found him for us and I remember overhearing him say that the previous family had fed him things like potato peelings and other things that could have been described as garbage. So when we got him we quickly found out that he would eat literally anything.
Everybody probably thinks that their dogs are unique. But when I say Pal was unique, he defined the word. I will say more about him as we go along, but to give you a brief introduction to his strangeness. He would never play with a ball. He played with tin cans. We would throw the can and he would retrieve it with great joy coming back with a look of anticipation on his face, throw the can down in front of us and wait. If we didn’t react right away, he would do an impromptu dance, bar, pick up the can and throw it down again. As far as Pal was concerned, the only reason we wouldn’t throw the can is because we didn’t understand. We tried to get him to go after sticks, but when we threw them he ignored it completely.
This house was somewhat primitive, even in those days. It wasn’t unusual for houses in the country not to have indoor plumbing, but we were in the city. Our indoor plumbing consisted of a sink in the kitchen and a commode in the bathroom. That’s right, we didn’t have a bathtub or a shower. We took a bath in a number three washtub.
There was a large coal-burning stove in the kitchen and a small, potbelly stove in the living room. The kitchen stove was kept burning most of the time, even in the summer since it was also used to cook our meals. It wasn’t until two years later that we were able to get a kerosene stove, which allowed mom to cook without making the house a continuous hotbox.
Anyway, back to bath time. My mother would set a plank on two opposite chairs in front of the kitchen stove, placing the washtub on the planks. The water was heated on the stove then we would take turns getting into the tub.
So every Saturday evening we would take a bath. This is difficult for me to think of—going for a week without a bath or shower. It is interesting that I don’t remember being around very many people who were in obvious need of a deodorant. In fact, I doubt that deodorant was even available back then.
One Saturday a month we would dread the bathing ritual because it was also haircut time. On the other Saturdays you could hear one of us say, “I get to take my bath first!” This was because the water was fresh for the first bather. My mother would simply add hot water that was heating on the stove. After all, she didn’t want to waste water. On haircut Saturday we didn’t want to be first because we simply didn’t want our haircut to come after the bath. Otherwise, we would spend a good part of the week scratching our necks because of the left over hair. Not one of my most pleasant memories. My dad’s brother, Uncle George, owned his own barbershop and yet, the first time I got a haircut from someone other than my dad was when I joined the Navy. I suppose my parents felt like it was a luxury to go to a barber. If you think of this as extreme, you will be completely amazed to know that they felt the same way about going to a dentist. The only time I went to a dentist before I joined the Navy was when I had to have one of my permanent teeth pulled that had come in crooked. Of course the idea of resolving this problem with braces didn’t even cross their minds.
This house had two bedrooms—one for our parents and one for the four children. Unfortunately for her, my sister didn’t have her own bedroom until she was 12 or 13-years-old. The bedroom was big enough for two bunk beds. When we first moved here, Dave and I were forced to take the top bunks simply because we were the two youngest. Pat and Jack probably decided that age should have its privilege. But they found out that there are other factors. One night, when were sound asleep, I fell out of the top bunk and my mother decided the bump on my head was enough to take precedence over age. This was just one of many times when an injury led to certain privileges in my life. If you continue to read my reflections, you will find out about the other occasions.
Shortly after moving to this location I finally got to start school. My excitement lasted about a week before I began to miss my free time with Johnny, Rex and Bobby. Rosedale Elementary was about two mile from our house, which didn’t take us very long to walk. Even though I was only five-years-old, I was kept safe from traffic, etc. by my siblings. I was in kindergarten, Dave was in second grade, Jack in third and Pat in the fourth. Until Pat went to Junior High school we always walked together.
Back then the school system was more focused on quality rather than quantity. We started school at 9:15 a.m. and got out at 3:15 p.m. I find it interesting that the academic standards didn’t start to decline until the administrators decided to make the school days longer. Today it is not unusual for students to start their school day at 7:00 a.m. In our day, the school year started the day after Labor Day and ended just before Memorial Day. Now most schools start in August, not ending until sometime in June. Now they are even talking about lengthening the school day and even having school on Saturday. If these people have their way, parents will have even less time to be with their children. I wonder when we forgot that parents are primarily responsible for the training of their children. I suggest that those who make these decision need to take a hard look at the quality being offered rather assuming that the solution is longer school time.
I guess I need to get off my soapbox and get back to my history.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Chapter One - Part Five

Two houses from where we lived was where the Daniels family lived. Their son, Bobby was my age and if his mother was in the right mood, she would let us play together. Most of the time it was at his house. I’m not sure why she was so protective. His dad worked for Gates Rubber Company, which was, located about six blocks south of Wards. My family enjoyed telling the story about an occasion when were driving past Gates in my uncle’s care and I enthusiastically said, “That’s where Daddy’s Bobby works.” At my age it sounded ok to me.
Our house only had one bathroom and since it was downstairs my brothers and I hated going down the dark stairs at night. Not only was it scary, it also took longer to get back under the warm blankets. To be honest, I suppose laziness played a part as well. I’m not sure who was first in finding the solution to our problem. Since this is my story, I think I might as well blame one of my brothers.
In the wall, at the back of the closet, there was a small hole and I guess we figured that it didn’t really go anywhere. We were only able to use this hole no more than two or three nights before my mother discovered something all over the piano downstairs, right below the closet. As I mentioned before, she had a great sense of humor, but it didn’t cover this offense. Can you believe it, she actually spanked us. This was one of the first times I learned that laziness can get you in trouble.
Sometime in my early years my dad and my grandfather owned a small cafĂ©. I’m not sure what happened, but this venture must not have lasted very long because I have no memory of the place at all.
I don’t have any specific memories of when my parents decided to move. My Uncle Neville and Aunt Betty lived at 2137 S. Cherokee and my uncle found a house at 2444 S. Cherokee that he help my dad to buy. If I remember right, he paid something like $2,000 for the house. I do remember that I liked the new house because it had what I thought was a big backyard which allowed us to have a chicken pen.
So, in 1938, we moved from Lincoln to Cherokee Street. I was almost five-years-old. Shortly after we moved in was when Pal entered our lives.

Chapter One - Part Four

Even though there were a lot of advantages in being the youngest of four children, the baby of the family, at that age there was a down side as well. Monday through Friday were lonely days. But they would have been worse if it were not for my mother.
On the typical week day, my dad would go to work, my brothers and sister would go to school and I would stand and watch them leave, not looking forward to the day. I guess my mother saw how sad I was because she made up a game we would play just about every morning. After everyone else was gone, she would help me put on my coat and we would pretend that I was going to work. I went out the front door, rode my scooter around the house and come in the back door. My mother would have a cup of coffee waiting for me on the kitchen table. Of course the cup was filled mostly with milk. Through the years memories of that particular game has given me a warm feeling. It was just one of the ways she expressed her love to her children.
On some occasions, when my game with my mother was over and neither Bobby or Rex were available, I would resort to my other friend. His name was Johnny and nobody could see him. It is interesting that I don’t remember when he came into my life for the first time or even when he finally left for that matter. Maybe he is still around but I just can’t see him any more.
Johnny was so important to me that I even wrote a song about him. I would sit at the piano, hit one key and sing, “Johnny get your gun, Johnny get your gun.” That was it—no follow-up lyrics to say why he needed to get a gun or if he ever got one.
A block from our house on Broadway was the landmark Montgomery Ward building. In those days everyone called it Monkey Wards. Don’t look for that building because it was demolished in 1990. It was like losing an old friend.
Most people don’t know this, but the origin of Rudolph The Red Nosed Reign Deer was as a marketing concept of Montgomery Wards. In fact, I have memories of a special building (a one story annex) that was built south of the larger building. Its main purpose was to house the Christmas displays; toys, several electric trains running over miniature layouts and even larger moving scenes that displayed puppets skating, etc. But the star of all of this was Rudolph. After the story came out in book form, Gene Autry came out with his recording helping to make the story of Rudolph known in every household.
Just south of the building was the Merchants Park semi-pro baseball field. These leagues were very popular in places that didn’t have major league teams. Today I suppose these have been replaced by the minor leagues. The reason I mention this ball field is because I remember one occasion when my brothers and I sneaked in to the park. We didn’t really watch the game. It was far more fun to play under the bleachers.
Another memory I have involving that park isn’t actually about the park itself. Since we were only a block away from the entrance, the vacant lot on the corner became a parking lot for those who wanted to attend the games. Of course they had to pay to park there. The fee was ten cents per car. This was quite a bit if you realize that you could buy a loaf of bread for 8 cents and a dozen eggs was 18 cents. Part of my memory is of a man standing on the corner yelling, “Park your car here!” Adding to the significance of that memory, there was a radio program that had a character named, “Park Your Carcass.” Don’t ask me why—that’s show business. Because of that, I was convinced that the man on the corner was yelling, “Park Your Carcass.” In my four-year-old mind, it was all tied together.

Chapter One - Part Three

*I barely remember our dog at that time. Pepper had “fits.” Three or four times a day he would suddenly fall over, his body going into convulsions for a few minutes. When it was over, he would get back up, wagging his tail in anticipation as if he was wondering what was going to happen next. As far as he was concerned, nothing unusual had happened. Unfortunately, he had one of his “fits” when he was crossing the street in front of a car. The driver didn’t have any chance of stopping. I found out later that this was probably best for him because every time he had one of his “fits” they would last just a little longer and the convulsions more severe.
To be honest, I kind of liked our neighbor’s dog better than Pepper. I guess I should have felt guilty about that, but Pepper didn’t really do anything interesting. But Rex, a big German Shepard, ate ants. He and I would spend a lot of time playing in the front yard when my brothers and sister were at school. He would follow me up and down the front sidewalk as I pointed to ants that were traveling across the cement. I would point, Rex would lick, the ant would disappear, leaving a wet spot in its place.
Rex made a good playmate, but wasn’t much of a bodyguard. On one occasion he and I were playing our hunt and lick game and three older girls walked by. They started talking to me, talking about how cute I was. Hey! I was four-years-old, so I was still cute and cuddly. Anyway, I enjoyed talking to them until they began talking about taking me with them. Of course they were kidding, but in my four-year-old mind convinced me they were serious, that they were really going to take me away. One of the girls made it worse by pulling on my arm. Rex stood there wagging his tail and I began to cry. My tears had the desired affect—they felt bad, let me go and tried to comfort me. When they left, Rex looked at me as if he was wondering what we were going to do next.

Chapter One - Part Two

My very first vivid memory was from when our family was living at 575 S. Lincoln in Denver. This was a two-story house, and my brothers and slept in the bedrooms upstairs. This first memory is of looking out the upstairs front window. It had just finished raining—the lawn a lush green giving me a feeling of contentment that is still with me when I remember.
Little did my parents realize just how spiritually significant it was that they decided to move to this house on Lincoln. Living next door was A.J. Rhodes, the preacher for the Sherman Street Church of Christ.
Part of my memories is about when my father was still drinking. He was, in fact, very close to being an alcoholic and frankly, he really wasn’t being much of a husband or father at that time. I didn’t know it back then, but my parent’s marriage was close to coming to an end.
Religion played a very small role in our lives. We were attending an Episcopalian group. My only memories of that group were that we had fun. In fact, I have a clear memory of one of their dinners when I was standing on the stage in their building and I sang, “Barnacle Bill, The Sailor.” I also remember that this embarrassed my mother. One part of the lyrics said, “He was all lit up like a Christmas tree.”
From time to time, my father and A.J. Rhodes would talk to each other over the backyard fence. Several things helped to make these conversations fruitful. As I said, my parents marriage was in trouble, so, without really knowing it, they were searching for something. My dad enjoyed singing and in spite of his injured right arm, he was able to play the guitar. A.J. knew about dad’s singing and one evening he used this knowledge to work in his evangelistic favor.
Sherman Street was going to have a Gospel Meeting, the speaker was a brother Cook, but I don’t remember his first name. Anyway, back in those days congregations would prepare for their Gospel Meetings by practicing their congregational singing. During the course of their conversation, brother Rhodes asked my dad if he would like to come to the singing, which was going to take place on the following evening. My parents did attend and that was the beginning.
In addition to brother and sister Rhodes, there were other families who more or less adopted our family. We lived across the street from the Hoagland family. The Rhodes, the Hoaglands, Homer and Suzie Ward, Dan and Mary Ward, Jay and Maxine Selby, John and Ellen Brown, John and Mildred Lewis, Marvin and Vylabelle Crowe and many others I am probably forgetting. Two weeks later, during the Gospel Meeting, both of my parents were baptized into the Body of Christ. So, someday, when I get to heaven, I am going to find A.J. Rhodes and thank him for helping to change our family. Little did he know that he was helping to start and kind of dynasty. Even though me and my brothers and sister were not happy to make this change, eventually all four of us became Christians; all of our children are Christians, as are their children. All three of dad’s sons became preachers, also serving as elders as well. In the next generation there are three preachers, one elder and two deacons. Of course, none of the females held any official position, the spiritual leadership they provide is obvious to those who know these women.
Dad’s great-grandchildren have continued the legacy, every one of them becoming Christians and totally involved in the Lord’s work. His great, great-grandchildren are being trained in the same direction.
I can’t help but point out that because of dad’s decision, literally thousands of others have been brought to Christ during the past 70 years. This, of course, is counting the ones that Jack, Dave and I have taught as well as those in the following generations who are continuing to teach and convert others.
It is interesting to note that the friends and family members who criticized dad when he was drinking, etc. were the same ones who were critical when he changed, calling him a religious fanatic, etc. He was never able to convert any of his brothers or sisters.
If my dad were still alive he would be embarrassed that I talked about his drinking, etc. But with what he was able to accomplish after he became a Christian, he had no reason to be embarrassed. Except maybe that his real name was Ippie, and that wasn’t his fault.
Now, back to more of the trivial memories.

Chapter One Part One

I don’t know why, but I wish I had asked my mother what day of the week I was born. I just know it was on July 19th, 1933, and it was in the Denver General Hospital. Eight years later I had another experience that made me wonder if being born in that particular hospital was a good thing. I will say more about that later.
My family was living on West Cedar Street, but I, of course, have no memories of that house. I do remember than my oldest brother, Jack, told me later that when they brought me home from the hospital the family dog snapped at me. Jack said my dad almost killed the dog.
I was the youngest of four. My sister, Patsy Ruth, was born on August 15th, 1928. Then came Jack Warren Douglas on February 10th, 1930 and David Neville Phillip on May 22nd, 1931. You may have noticed that both my brothers had two middle names. I always felt I was short-changed in two ways. First of all, I only had one middle name and that name was such an embarrassment to me that I was always reluctant to tell people what it was. I was told that my mother named me and I’m not sure why she gave me the burden of being Ronald Leroy. If you take a hard look at all this, I am certain you will understand why I felt short-changed. Jack had two cool middle, tough guy sounding names, especially Douglas. Dave was named after my mother’s two brothers. I’m sure he wasn’t that thrilled with the name Neville, but Phillip was at the same cool level as Douglas. Of course, as we were growing up we were called Jackie, Davey, and Ronny. I was so glad when I finally outgrew that variation of my name becoming known as Ron. Not as cool as Douglas or Phillip, but certainly better than Ronald Leroy or Ronny.
There was a lot that happened during the first four years of my life, but I only know about most of these things from what I was told. The most significant thing happened when I was eight months old. My dad was in an automobile accident that almost destroyed his right arm. If my memory serves me, he had something like five compound fractures and on top of that, when they pulled him out of the wreck they laid him on a lawn that had been freshly fertilized. It is not surprising that he developed gangrene in the injured arm.
They didn’t know much about gangrene back in those days and it seems even the medical staff was afraid of it, like it was contagious. So when they put my dad in the Denver General Hospital he didn’t receive the best of care. Today, most hospitals have an ICU (Intensive Care Unit). In 1934, Denver General had what they called the 48 Hour Ward. This simply meant that patients in this ward were not expected to live for more than 48 hours. I can only imagine how discouraging that must have been if a patient knew they were in that ward. My dad was in the 48 Hour Ward for eight weeks. The doctors wanted to amputate his arm, but he refused.
As an example of how primitive things were, part of the treatment for gangrene was sterilized maggots. Their job was to get rid of the diseased flesh. Dad said he could remember picking the maggots off his body. Adding to the other mistakes, someone ordered that his arm be put in a cast. Because of the gangrene, the pressure of the infection began to build up causing the pain to be almost unbearable. So, if you can imagine this, he was left alone long enough to allow him time to leave his bed (actually falling out of the bed), crawl over to the sink, and pull himself up where he found an old double-edged razor blade. He never said how long it took him, but after he lay back down on the floor, he began to shave away the cast to relieve the pressure. He would have lost his arm or possible died if he had stayed in this hospital. It seems he had a good friend who had connection with the Veterans Administration and since Dad was a veteran he was transferred to Fitzsimmons Army Hospital. They saved his arm, but he right arm and was so crippled he had to learn to write with his left hand. I have no memories of him with a normal right arm.
My dad was born in Lumberton, North Carolina and was saddled with a name that was even worse than mine. He had no middle name. He was named after his father’s best friend. Believe it or not, his given name was Ippie. That’s right, IPPIE! Is it any wonder that, when he was old enough to be in charge of his life, he had it legally changed to Jack I. Carter? When he was asked what the “I” stood for, he would never say. I never felt like I had much in common with him, but I guess we did carry a similar burden. His brothers were named Wesley, Ben and George—all cool names, and he had to suffer being known as Ippie. When my brothers and I got older we made a joke, saying that our mother could be called Mrs. Ippie. My dad didn’t laugh.
By the way, my mother’s name was Ruth Ellen and her maiden name was Colglazier. From my dad’s side we were part French and Cherokee. Mom added to the mix with German/Jew. She was 17 when she married my dad and by the time she was 23 she had four children, all born within four years and eleven months. When I was eight months old, my dad not only had his accident, but I had my first bout with pneumonia. I’m still not sure how she was able to handle all of this. If I were to write her story the title would be, “Too Much, Too Soon, With Too Little.”