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.