|Chuck's favorite game.|
|The old bank book.|
All these years later, I can still picture an evening spent sitting on the front porch with my mother and next door neighbor, Julie Walker, bent bobby pins in hand, pitting a bucket of those cherries. And it is that memory which brings me to the next jewel in my chest of treasured memories. The Walkers were the family that lived to our east and their backyard abutted our side yard and driveway. Julie was my age and had lost her father, Larry, when we were only about four years old. Her mother, Dorothy, then barely over 40 years old, was left to raise three girls and a son on her own, and although she never remarried, she carried out her parental duties flawlessly over the remainder of her life. I can still remember Dad and Dot, his affectionate name for her, having many conversations over the fence whenever he would be out working on the car or grilling out on our small, flagstone patio and she was outside working in her yard. As I’ve noted in prior postings, it was Dorothy who always provided the popcorn when the neighborhood kids would gather on their corner to watch 4th of July fireworks. Since we were the same age, it was Julie with whom I mostly played in the early years. Any given day we could be found swinging side by side in my backyard, vainly trying to touch the telephone lines overhead, making mud pies in the sandbox, sipping nectar from the honeysuckle blooms that covered the large bush at the intersection of our yards, or we might be huddled together in the dog house that sheltered Tippy, the Walker’s dog. On Sundays, we attended Sunday school together, and during the week we were in the same first grade class. The middle daughter, Becky, was only slightly older than me, and she too became a great friend through the years. She was the local tomboy and good friends with all the guys, perhaps by necessity since I can recall no other girls her age in the neighborhood. Becky could hold her own in about any sport and was proud of the fact that she was one of the best shots whenever we gathered to play basketball. The oldest sister, Jane, was my sister’s age, and they naturally struck up a close friendship of their own. Jane even accompanied us on vacation one year, but unfortunately, her fair skin was no match for the harsh Florida sun, and she returned home with a severe burn. Larry, the son, was quite a bit older than me, and by default assumed the fatherly figure in the family once Mr. Walker had passed. His passion was cars, and I never passed their house without catching him under the hood of his prized purple Duster, a car he still proudly owns.
Just north of the Walkers and adjacent to our backyard lived the Spillmans. It was another relationship carried out over the fence which divided our yards. So often Mom and Nettie would each be hanging laundry on the line at the same time and would invariably be drawn together at the fence to share the day’s gossip. Nettie was a fun-loving, boisterous woman, and I can still hear her calling out, “Hi, Scotty!” If she didn’t notice me, I would walk the length of the fence, rattling the woven wire with a stick until I managed to capture her attention. Her husband Johnny, on the other hand, was a much more quiet man. I never spoke much to Mr. Spillman, but my strongest memory of him is always seeing him in his work clothes. I know I must have seen him in other outfits, but I can not picture anything other than his green work uniform with his name embroidered on the shirt. I also have a vague memory of one day visiting with the Spillmans in their front yard when Johnny brought out a coffee can of assorted nuts and bolts and other assorted hardware for me to explore. It was like a treasure chest to me, and I sat there under their front tree, next to the coffee grounds they used as mulch, playing with these “toys.” The Spillman’s were the parents of three boys. The oldest, Mike, was quite a bit older than me, so he was relegated in my early mind to that group of people known as “grown ups.” Mark, the middle son, was a quiet young man with a large head of hair and a passion for gardening. Most evenings Mark could be found puttering about in the back yard mowing, weeding or planting flowers. I always expected him to pursue a life of gardening, but I do not believe that ever came to fruition.
|Me with my Texas Ranger rifle.|
|The slingshot with the glued arm visible at left.|
On the opposite side of our home, lived our true “next door” neighbors, the Pattons. I first came to know them when their nephew, Timmy, came for a summer visit from Colorado. Timmy was about my age, and we spent day after day playing with our Matchbox cars and singing songs of the time. I can clearly remember our rousing version of “Hey There Georgie Girl” by the Seekers, complete with an outstanding percussion performance on garbage can lids and a Frisbee. Because I came to know them through their nephew, for most of the years of my early life I referred to these dear neighbors as Uncle Bud and Aunt Donna, and I still view them with that same family-like affection. It was Bud to whom my mother turned when the sewer backed up into our basement while father was in Oklahoma for postal training. And it was Bud I consulted when, as an adult home owner, I was wanting to replace my patio doors which meant altering a header. He had the construction knowledge and was the most trusted person I could think to ask. Sadly, like the neighbors already mentioned, Bud has since passed, but Donna remains a close family friend and was there at the nursing home visiting my mother only days before she passed. She looks and acts just as I remember her in my youth, still maintaining her energetic spirit, bubby personality and her southern way of talking, including the term “youins” when addressing a group.
|The neighbors and family gathered in the basement to celebrate my brother's wedding. Bob and Ginny Garwood are on the left. Chuck is second from the right as is his wife Frances.|
There were so many others who were just as near and dear. There were the Sturms who lived two houses down. Each summer they would come and pick our grapes and Catherine would turn them into delicious jelly. Although I loved the jelly, what I most looked forward to was the circle of paraffin used to seal the jars. I would chew that paraffin with its hint of grape as if it were gum. And I can still recall with horror the morning their daughter Kay, who had spent the night with my sister, went into the bathroom, locked the door and had an insulin reaction. She collapsed, falling into the tub and hitting the hot water faucet. I can still hear her incoherent cries as the water scalded her legs, and my parents tried frantically to get into the locked room. In the end, they were able to unlock the door, get some sugar into her, and she emerged with only some burns on her legs. The years have claimed her entire family. Kay, her younger brother, Bill and both parents are now gone.
|The comical newspaper clipping featuring Dad.|
Across from the Sturms were the Garwoods, Bob and Ginny. Like most of the men of the neighborhood, I did not have much contact with Bob. I remember him as a large man with a ruddy complexion who was a photographer for the local paper. Only this year was I was reunited with an old newspaper clipping showing Bob’s picture of my father demonstrating the effects of overzealous celebrating on New Year’s Eve. I don’t know the circumstances of the actual picture, but it was a comical warning to potential holiday revelers. My most vivid recollection of his wife, Ginny, was that she was passionately in love with the singer Tom Jones. In those days, the Welsh musician had his own television show featuring a segment each week in which Tom came back on stage, loosened his bow tie and sang some sexy song. Usually by the chorus the tempo suddenly picked up and Tom would dance and gyrate wildly, throwing the women in the audience into a mad frenzy. When he would do the same thing on tour, the aroused women would throw their underwear and room keys onto the stage. Ginny wanted to be one of those women, so my cousin Dewey, a doorman in Las Vegas arranged for Ginny to see a show and to meet Tom in person. Ginny did not squander the opportunity. In time, she and her daughter, Mariam, traveled to several shows across the nation, often meeting with Tom, dining with him, drinking champagne together, singing with him after hours in night clubs and keeping up a correspondence that lasted through the years. I don’t know if she ever threw anything on stage, but she obviously made quite an impression on the man, nonetheless.
|Ginny Garwood (left) eating fish with Mom.|
In those days, Ginny was the neighborhood Avon representative. One morning a large group of us kids decided to have a big game of Cowboys and Indians. Ginny, being well-supplied with small lipstick samples, decided to use them to apply “war paint” to each of the Indians, striping each of our faces with various shades of red. Since that day I’ve never been able to look at a lipstick sample for what it was truly intended. To me it will always be a tube of face paint. The Garwood’s oldest son, Nick, was my brother’s close friend and partner in crime, even traveling with us on an early vacation to the Ozarks. I say partner in crime because I can still remember the police stopping by our house one afternoon to inquire about some mischief in which Nick and my brother, Jerry, had engaged. I don’t remember the details, but it involved BB guns and was nothing serious. Now in their 60’s, Jerry and Nick’s remain good friends.
|Evelyn knitting and singing while selling her brooms.|
One of the more colorful families comprising the neighborhood lived at the far end of the street. Harry and Evelyn Davis were a blind couple with a pair of sighted children. To supplement their income, Harry and Evelyn sold brooms on the corner a few blocks away. Singly or together, they would head off in the morning pushing their broom cart down the middle of the street. I always made sure to call out a greeting, but that was the extent of any conversing I ever had with them. Evelyn, who I recall looking and dressing like a Russian babushka, would always be singing as she returned home late in the afternoon. While this couple always seemed friendly and harmless, their son, Gilbert, gained a reputation as the neighborhood bad boy and bully. I don’t think Gilbert acted out of meanness, I just think he was more mischievous than anything. One day he may be throwing firecrackers at you, but the next day he might unwrap a roll of pennies and throw them down the street to watch kids run after them. Being one to never turn down money in any form or denomination, I was one of the kids he could always count on to chase his pennies like a dog pursuing a tossed ball. That is how I came to be in possession of the only steel penny I’ve ever owned. Today that 1943 zinc-coated, steel penny sits in that same coffee can as the Hearld’s silver dollar.
|My prized steel penny. Thanks, Gilbert!|
One of my best friends growing up was Bob Phillips. Bob was a year older than me, but we spent a lot of time together in the summer. I would ride my bike up and down the street in front of his house, or circling in his driveway while whistling “Oh, Susannah” until someone inside heard me and alerted Bob to my presence. I don’t know why I chose this method over knocking on his door, but that is just how it evolved and was unique only to Bob. For anyone else, I would ring the bell or knock. I picture Bob in one of two ways. In my mind’s eye, he is either shooting baskets or he is riding his green Schwin 5-speed bicycle. Bob loved “popping” wheelies and would often ride most of the way down the street tilted back on his rear wheel. One summer he got a bike with an extended fork welded onto the front, turning his simple bicycle into a chopper style. I was very envious, but after trying to ride, or more importantly steer this modified bike, I learned it was more about looks than practicality. I quickly abandoned my hopes of a chopper of my own. Bob also had a penchant for spitting, and in the early mornings as we stood waiting on the school bus, he would position himself over a manhole cover and challenge himself to spit down one of the small openings. He way have been a good athlete, and even was a starting forward on the high school basketball team, but Bob was the clumsiest friend I ever took to the lake. I was much smaller and could weave my way through low hanging branches and shrubs with ease, but Bob fell victim to every loose stick or upraised root he passed. He spent about as much time on his rump as he did on his feet, but it was all great fun. I came to know his parents, Herb and Joanne, through visiting with him, but I never developed the closeness with them that I did with my more immediate neighbors. I do recall, however, that we always enjoyed shooting baskets with his dad in the evenings.
|My sisters and me sitting on the step with a neighbor, possibly Jeff Smoot.|
The list of names could go on and on. There were the Flicks where I accidentally learned to ride my tricycle on two wheels - a style that would mark the remainder of my trike days. Or the Kirshner house on the corner where their son, Rick, along with Bob Phillips and myself would wire firecrackers and hook them to a switch from a rocket kit, cover them in Vaseline and set them in the birdbath to blow up toy model ships or scare the feathers off of some poor, unsuspecting bird. The Hensons lived in the corner house formerly occupied by an odd, little hearing impaired boy we called “Little Ricky,” and that is where I learned to shoot a pellet gun at targets in the garage. The Galligans, the Wilsons, the Walsmiths, the Bryants and the Smoots were some of the other families with kids with whom I played. And there were the mystery neighbors, as well. Mr. Cinco, whom I rarely saw, worked on his large model airplanes on the other side of a cedar privacy fence that lined our backyard. I could only hear their engines, but I could never get a good view of one of those planes. There was also the gentleman behind us that I knew only as the “Bachelor.” But whether they were well known to me, or just passing acquaintances, each was a special part of my childhood. While my family may have been of modest income, I carry with me a wealth of memories that money could never buy. And although the parents have since passed, and the children have married and moved away with their new families to neighborhoods of their own, I shall forever keep those memories safely secured within my heart, just as I keep that silver dollar stowed safely away in an old coffee can.
(A discussion of the neighborhood itself will follow in my next posting. Those of you who grew up with me on Indy's east-side, please feel free to add your own comments and memories.)