|WHEN I WAS YOUNG
The current reminiscing about cowboy
heroes and great movies set my memory banks spinning back to happier times,
back to those great days of the depression when we didnít have food for
the next meal, back to the time when Dad worked in a coal yard for $12
a week, said week consisting of 12-16-hour days, six, sometimes seven days
a week, back to a time when there was no welfare, only something called
"relief" but very few people took advantage of it because there was such
a thing as pride and pride forbade the concept of accepting something for
There was no such thing as television,
not even the word; shucks, very few people had radios. My Uncle Raymond,
a WWI vet who had absorbed too much mustard gas and was doomed to die of
"consumption" at the age of 45, was staying with us and he brought the
first radio into our house, bought with his veteranís pension. It was a
Stewart-Warner, ran on storage batteries and could only be heard by means
Uncle Raymond would probably be classified
as an alcoholic in these modern times but we kids knew him as a loving
uncle and didnít mind the reek of alcoholic fumes which emanated from him.
He and Dad concocted a mixture known as applejack and bottled it and stored
it in an upper room in the rambling farmhouse in Ohio we occupied at the
time. Then, one hot July morning we made a trip in our Model-T to visit
relatives in Indiana. When we returned home on Sunday evening, we found
that the applejack bottles had exploded from the heat and the walls were
dripping with the evil concoction. Never did I see a sadder, more downcast
man than Uncle Raymond.
I seem to have wandered from my theme.
Without TV and radio, and no toys, kids had to improvise to provide their
entertainment. My favorite toys were a rim from a buggy wheel and a stick
about 12-15 inches long. With the stick I could roll that rim as fast as
I could run with Old Elf, our German Shepherd, by my side. I also took
tin cans and stomped on them until the metal wrapped itself around my shoe
heels thus making a pair of "shoes" that I could clomp on for hours making
the goldarndest noise that eventually drove my Mother into a screaming
Then there was the fun with Old Elf,
gentle as a kitten with us kids but if you came uninvited into our yard,
you should be prepared to have a leg taken off at the hip.
Living on a farm as we did at that time,
there were all kinds of things to do, like the experiment I performed with
our old cat. Dad made the statement at some time that no matter how you
dropped a cat, no matter how close to the ground, he would always land
on his feet. This became a challenge to me, to prove or disprove. I took
old Tom out to the barn, climbed into the haymow and flung him to the ground
below. Lo and behold, Old Tom did, indeed, light on his feet! Very interesting.
I climbed the ladder again and tossed him with more enthusiasm but the
results were the same. The next time, Tom was a little harder to catch,
perhaps because he realized what was coming. This time I tossed him from
a point half way up the ladder. No change. Finally, I put him to the supreme
test. I flung him down from where I stood on the ground. Aha! Tom wasnít
so lucky this time. He lit on his back with a loud "meow" of protest and
lit out for parts unknown. Theory disproven. Cats will not always light
on their feet. For several days, Mom and Dad were heard to wonder why Old
Tom seemed to be so sickly but no one could answer their questions.
Later, after we migrated to Indiana,
I learned to play basketball, baseball, softball, and football. No one
was happier about this than Old Tom
Then Dad came up with the brilliant
idea of a garden. Now, a garden during the thirties was really a lifesaver
but Bill and I didnít see it that way. As we hoed weeds on a hot July day,
we could see our neighborhood friends playing ball in an adjacent vacant
lot not far from our garden. It didnít help much when Dad broke out his
garden plow, a manual job meant to be pushed along. Dad had fashioned a
couple of long metal attachments that fastened to the garden plow on one
end and to me and Bill on the other end. Then, with shouts of "Giddyapp,
there, Bill, Haw, Bob", away we went, tilling the endless rows of vegetables.
Our friends in the next lot over, stopped their play to watch us as we
toiled beneath the hot summer sun. And they didnít forget to chime in with
their own shouts as we came within their range. Things like "They look
more like jackasses than horses to me". On Saturday afternoons, of course,
we got a break and were permitted to visit the local theatres for the matinees.
The Lyric Theatre offered a cartoon, a Three Stooges comedy, a serial featuring
Tarzan or Flash Gordon, Pathe News, and the feature, a Roy Rogers movie
or Gene Autry or Tom Mix or Buck Jones, or Hopalong or Jimmy Wakely. The
whole thing was just a nickel. Or was it more? That seems so unbelievable
I canít believe it myself. I forgot Ken Maynard, Lash Larue and many others.
After the movie we invariably stopped
at the local hamburger joint for a bowl of chili and a hamburger with a
cold coke to wash it down. No Macdonaldís or Burger King back then. Nothing
but pure, unadulterated goodness in those meals. And the entire afternoon
cost us 20 cents.
Some time later, we managed to get a
Silvertone radio. Silvertone was the Sears brand name. Then we became radio
show addicts, much as people today are TV fanatics. During the daytime,
Mom loved to listen to the soaps including such shows as Ma Perkins, Just
Plain Bill, Stella Dallas, Helen Trent, Betty and Bob and others I have
long since forgotten. There was also a contest called "Queen For A Day".
In the evenings, the entire family gathered around to listen to Lum and
Abner, Amos ĎN Andy, Fred Allen, Fibber McGee and Molly, Jack Benny, The
Great Gildersleeve, The Kraft Music Hall with Bing Crosby and a character
known as Bob Burns and his Bazooka, One Manís Family, I Love A Mystery
featuring Doc, Jack, and Reggie. the same three actors who were on One
Manís Family. One thing about radio, your imagination could take over and
you could see, in your mindís eye all of the action and it was so real.
For news, there was only one newsman for us and that was Lowell Thomas.
For years his "Good evening, everybody" and "So long until tomorrow" were
heard every evening at 6:00 p.m.
Gradually, the depression loosened its
grip, spirits lifted, people began to laugh easier and more often, and
jobs became more plentiful.
Bill got a job with something called
the CYO, Catholic Youth Organization, and was gone for a while. I caddied
at the local golf course in the summer, set pins at the bowling alley in
the winter. During the summer of 1941, I worked on a farm for Mr. Lunsford.
I would ride my bicycle out to his farm, about a ten-mile ride, work from
7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. then ride home. For $2 a day. I pitched hay, shocked
wheat and rye and helped thresh the grain. One Saturday, I got sick while
pitching hay and had to go home at noon. When I came back for my pay, Mr.
Lunsford handed over $10 for five days. I told him he owed me another dollar
for the half day on Saturday. He insisted that our agreement was $2 a day
and if I didnít work an entire day, I got nothing. I brought Dad back the
next day and he convinced Mr. Lunsford that he owed me another dollar.
Bill joined the Navy at the end of 1941.
I had another year of school to finish and signed up the following November,
For me, the Depression was over.