Monday, February 7, 2011

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.

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