My parents were strict disciplinarians. Even though mom would do most of the spanking, all of us kids were more afraid of dad. I can only remember two or three times when he spanked me, but I think his temper is what frightened us. Because of this, all he had to do most of the time was give us a stern look and that was enough to make us behave. We knew we would not get a second chance. Mom would get angry, but she was always in control. Using a switch, that we usually had cut from a tree ourselves, her spankings were short and stingy. When we were in church she would use the well-placed pinch, which was more aggravating to me than painful.
Even though we were certainly not perfect kids, I can honestly say that none of us ever talked back or got sassy with our parents. I can’t even remember wanting to say anything disrespectful to them. I’m not sure about the other kids, but, for me, showing that kind of disrespect to parents just was not an option. After all, they were our parents—mom and dad.
Our kitchen was also equipped with an icebox. Not a refrigerator, an icebox. Putting a block of ice in the top compartment of the box would keep the food placed in the middle section from spoiling. Of course, we had to place a pan underneath the box to catch the water dripping from the melting ice. Two or three times a week the iceman would drive his truck down the alley. His customers would place a large card in the window that had different numbers on each corner—25, 50, 75 and 100. If the corner, pointing up showed the number 25, this meant the customer wanted a 25 pound block of ice.
On hot summer days we would follow the ice truck, hoping to get the small pieces of ice that had been chipped from the larger blocks to make the size the customer wanted. Sometimes the iceman would chip enough to give us all a piece. He was almost as popular as the ice cream man. But since the ice was free, there were times when he was more popular because we seldom had money for ice cream.
When I think of our icebox there is one special memory that comes to mind. Sometimes, on rare occasions, my mother was able to make a pie. Having a cherry tree in our backyard helped to make this luxury possible. Since we had six people in our family it was very easy to cut the pie into six pieces. Sometimes, on the day after we had our piece of pie for supper, we would look in the icebox and find a piece of the pie still there. Even though we knew whose piece it was, we would always say, “Whose piece of pie is this?” Most of the time my mother would say, “Yours if you want it.” I didn’t think much about that back then, but now I recognize it as the symbolic epitome of the kind of mother she was. Because of her sacrificial character, she never hesitated in her willingness to put herself last when it came to her children. This kind of attitude is rare today since the majority of wives and mothers seem to be more interested in making sure that they get their piece of the pie—even to the point of demanding.
In our younger years, some people thought Dave and I were twins. We were blond and had fairer skin than Pat and Jack. I suppose they got most of their genes from my father’s side—French and Indian and Dave and I showed more of the German traits from our mother’s side.
Even though Jack was only one year and three months older than Dave, he always seemed so much older than his two younger brothers. Being the oldest son, I believe Dad had a lot to do with this. More was expected out of Jack, even though Pat was the oldest. Even though we all had certain respect for who he was, in many ways Dad was a tyrant and I believe Jack suffered more under this tyranny than his siblings. As I look back I can see evidence that Dad enjoyed finding something that he felt gave him an excuse to jump all over Jack. In a sense, Jack was never allowed to be a little boy.
Dave was two years and two months older than me and yet he spent more time playing with me. So, in many ways, I was closer to Dave in those years than I was to Jack. However, even though I would do just about anything to please Dave, doing something to please Jack was at a premium. It didn’t happen very often in our younger years. Recognizing that I could be as aggravating as most little brothers, I’m sure this was the main reason it was so rare.
Dave and I spent as much time as possible playing in our own dramatic scenes. Sometimes these dramas would go on for two or three hours. I’m not sure if we were influenced by the movies we saw, but we seemed to be able to anticipate what the other one was going to say as if we actually had a script. For me, these dramatic playtimes were more exciting and fun than playing cars, airplanes or with other toys.
Our devotion to these dramas is a little surprising because we didn’t get to go to the movies very often. While most of the neighbor kids went to the movies every Saturday, we were lucky if we even got to go once a month. This was another thing about our mother that I didn’t understand. She simply didn’t like for us to go to movies. I don’t think it was because of the money because a ticket was only nine cents. This included a double feature, a cartoon and the week serial. We could buy popcorn for five cents a bag and candy for another nickel. All of this for less than a quarter. Years later I found out that she and her sister were allowed to hang out at the local movie theater, which was called the Jewel, located on the 23 hundred block on Broadway. This was where she met Dad and since this was during the end days of the Roaring Twenties, I’m sure that she and her sister, 16 and 18, were a little “wild.” Of course, I would not define this term by today’s standards.
Dad and his brother Ben were working for a distant relative that everyone called “Old man Carter.” I think he was something like a third cousin. He was involved in building several theaters in the Denver area. They included the Jewel, the Mission, the Santa Fe, the Oriental and possibly others that I can’t think of. Anyway, this relative owned these theaters and Dad and my Uncle Ben managed some of them. There was always a family rumor about “Old man Carter” being connected with the local mob. The fact that he was eventually murdered gives some support to that rumor. All of this makes me wish I had asked my dad more questions.
The times when we were allowed to attend a movie was when the whole family went. On rare occasions we were allowed to go with a friend to a Saturday Matinee. This was always a little frustrating because the serials always ended with a cliffhanger and I knew I wouldn’t find out what happened.
I don’t know about my brothers and sister, but movies always to enter another world. From the time when the curtains were opening until the “The End” credit, I was totally involved in that other world. I’m sure some movies were better than others, but it didn’t matter to me. Every movie allowed me to escape.
Our dramatic playing was another way for me to continue this distraction from the real world. These times, like the movies, allowed me to become someone else for a while. I suppose it was no surprised that I ended up acting in a limited sense, and, no, I’m not talking about my preaching.
On very rare occasions, we were able to get Jack to be involved in our dramas. However, when our friends came over neither Jack or Dave would even mention this kind of playing. This is when we would play all of the typical games, etc. that most boys play. I’m not really sure why, but Dave was the only one who was able to fit in to these special dramas.
On the occasions when Dave and I would be allowed to go to a theater alone, we would inevitably get home late because we would stay and see the movie again. During those years you could enter the theater in the middle of a movie and when it got to the place where you first walked in, you could simply stay and keep watching.
I’m not sure why, but our mother seldom allowed us to go to a neighbor’s house to play. Even though there were rare occasions when we were allowed to play in other kids backyards, most of the time, when we would ask Mom if we could go, she would usually say, “Why don’t you ask them to come over here?” It was probably a matter of trust, but I’m not sure if she didn’t trust us or simply wanted us to be close by. In some ways she was very protective and in other ways allowed us to be independent.
In those days there was no lease law in Denver. So Pal was able to go with us when we went to the store or other places for our mother. We would ride our bicycles along the sidewalk with him trotting along in front of us, his tail looking like he was leading some kind of crazy band. Sometimes he would carry an empty tin can in his mouth, which would cause people to laugh as we passed by. I’m not sure who trained him, but when we would get to a street, he would never cross until we said he could.
Pal’s peculiarities included certain phobias. He was afraid of loud noises, he wouldn’t get into a car unless we picked him up and put him in. If we visited other people’s houses he would never go in no matter how hard we tried to coax him. As I mentioned before, our Uncle Neville only live about three blocks from our house, not far to walk. However, when we would ride in his car and didn’t tell Pal to stay home, he would run along side of the car, running the entire three blocks. On one occasion Uncle Neville clocked him running at 35 miles per hour. There is lots more about him which we will cover later.
Those first years on Cherokee were difficult and yet, very simple. We never went hungry, but by every definition, we were poor. We didn’t know we were poor. As far as we were concerned, the poor people lived in a house on the corner of our street. We even called it the poor people’s house. It was even smaller than our house, sitting way back from the street, allowing the front yard to take up most of the lot. To me, the house didn’t look big enough to have rooms, not big enough to sleep in or to set a table to eat on.
The yard was usually littered with trash and pieces of scrap metal. The sides of the house had a scraped look, making it look as if it had been prepared for painting but no one had ever bothered to paint it. If there had been a lawn in the front yard it would have looked nice. But other than a few scattered clumps of ugly, green stems, it was mostly dirt. When I walked by that house I always felt sorry for the people who lived there even though I never saw them. It is interesting that as I walked away I was walking away on shoes that had pieces of cardboard cut out to cover the holes, and yet I felt sorry for them. I knew that my dad would eventually be able to put half soles on my shoes as soon as we got enough money to buy the material.
We didn’t have much, but our lives were mostly uneventful. And then came the war.