Chapter 1 My Universe
A Chinese philosopher once said
"The Place of Your Birth is the Center of Your Universe"
The center of my universe was a place we lovingly called Dogtown. It was a friendly community just outside the corporate limits of Cincinnati, Ohio. The streets were not paved. There were very few cars or machines as we called them. Electricity was the only convenience we enjoyed, but it was heaven.
Most of the necessities of life were delivered to your door by a seemingly endless procession of delivery men and peddlers with a wide variety of horse-drawn carts and wagons. The daily newspaper was delivered with a two wheel, chariot type conveyance that permitted the driver to ride in a standing position, he folded the paper and threw it into your yard, as his horse trotted past. A bottle of cold fresh milk was placed inside your screen door before you ever got out of bed.
Perhaps the sounds of the horse, mingled with the tinkling sounds of milk bottles awakened you. Next to the bottle of milk, the bakery man placed a brown paper bag filled with Danish or cinnamon rolls, a tea ring or a loaf of bread that you had ordered.
After breakfast, you placed your Ice Card in your front window. It had a large number on the 4 sides. 0 10 25 50 clearly visible from the road. This indicated the size of the piece of ice you needed that day. You emptied the ice compartment of the icebox while the iceman chipped a piece of ice from a huge block, folded a burlap sack and with his ice tongs, carried it to your icebox. After the iceman came the vegetable peddler from the farmer's market with a wagonload of fresh produce and fruit in season. You walked out to the road, and selected your choice from the wagon. In the summer, when watermelon was in season, it was customary to plug a melon (cut a piece out of the melon) for your visual inspection as to the ripeness before the sale.
The postal service was not as efficient then. Mail was delivered to a row of rural mailboxes at the end of your street.
This was my family
Besides my Mom and Dad, I had two big brothers, two big sisters and one little brother. My biggest brother was Don, and my other big brother was Bill, his real name was John William - we just called him Bill. My little brother was Bob - his real name was Robert Matthew. My biggest sister was Ruth. My other sister was Marg.
Her real name was Margaret Caroline, but we just called her Marg. Dad always called her Peg. Ruth was going on 16. Don was going on 14. Marg had just turned 11. Bill was going on 8. Bob was about 18 months old. My earliest recollection occurred in Dogtown about the middle of May 1927. I was almost 5 years old at the time, which was the day I saw and heard my very first radio. I suppose that is why I remember the event so vividly.
Mr. Watson, the contractor that built our new house, said that he had just bought a new Atwater-Kent radio, and he invited all of us to come over to his house and listen to it. Mom thanked him, and said that we could come over after supper if that would be convenient. He said, "that would be fine." We didn't eat dinner in the evenings. We always just called it supper. After the girls cleaned up the supper dishes, we all started to walk over to Mr. Watson's house, he lived about half a mile away. We walked up Carlton Street and down Hawthorne, past Berling's Dairy and across Germania Ave.
When we arrived, Melba Watson answered the doorbell and said, "Hello, won't you please come in?" We all went into the house, and Mr. Watson showed us into his radio room. It was a small closed-in porch. The radio was on a small table. It was a long, steel box that looked very much like a toolbox. It had dark green, wrinkled paint on it. There was a little light in the center, and two black knobs on each side of the light. A big black horn was sitting on top of it. There were several wires connected to a car battery, in a pan under the table, and some other wires going to some other batteries on a shelf under the table. Mr. Watson said, "Those are called dry-cell batteries."
A twisted copper wire went from the radio, out the window, and was attached to another long wire, that looked like a clothesline. There was another wire out the window, which wrapped around a small pipe sticking out of the ground. We had a short instructional course on the science of wireless transmission of sound by radio waves or Ether waves.
We all took a seat. Mr. Watson turned one of the knobs. The little light came on, dimly, and the radio started to hum. After a minute, it made a loud squealing and crackling noise. He said, "They call that static, I'll have to tune it in." He turned some of the knobs back and forth, and the noise almost went away. He turned another knob, and the big horn made some more funny noises. "That's Morse code, they use that to send messages to ships, and to send telegrams." Then, a man said, "This radio broadcast is coming to you from the NBC Studio in New York City. I have just been informed by wireless that a young American aviator by the name of Charles A. Lindbergh has just landed in Paris, France.
He has made the first non-stop solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. He flew his plane from New York to Paris, France in little less than thirty-three hours. The name of his plane was the Spirit of St. Louis. Please stay tuned." All of the adults started yelling like this was great news. I was too little to appreciate what I had just heard.
When the paper man brought our paper a couple of days later, we saw pictures of Mr. Lindbergh standing under the wing of the "Spirit of St. Louis." He was dressed in his flying suit, with a leather helmet and goggles, just like he wore on the solo flight to Paris.
One evening shortly after that, we were all sitting on the front porch. We usually went out there right after supper to take advantage of any cool breeze that might be stirring.
Suddenly, we heard a humming noise coming from the sky, way off in the distance. Dad said, "Listen, that sounds like an airplane engine." We strained our ears, and looked up to the sky. The purring built to a crescendo. Then we saw a small airplane (They were called aeroplanes at first) flying very low, just above the treetops. Our house was just a few miles from Lunken Airport. As the plane flew over, we could plainly see the pilot in the open cockpit. He was wearing a leather jacket and a leather helmet with goggles over his eyes. There was a white scarf trailing behind his head.
As he flew over, we could see the words "US MAIL" painted on the bottom of the wing. The pilot could see us waving, like a group of people marooned on a speck of land in the ocean. He waved to us, and then rocked his plane in a wigwag motion to say good bye. His engine roared louder as he climbed into the clouds. Sighting the "Mail Plane" was a daily event that culminated almost into breathless anticipation after that. The adult fascination with this new technology of airplanes and radios dominated virtually every conversation. This was a new age of mind-boggling inventions. It was an era when men were still cutting ice out of frozen rivers, and hauling with mule teams to store in small, super-insulated ice houses to be used through out the long, unbearably hot summers.
It was a time when young, daredevil pilots tested their skill against the hazards of newly developed gasoline engines. Their flimsy airplanes were constructed of thin sticks of wood, covered with linen and coated with several coats of "dope", - a varnish-like material that caused the linen to shrink to a smooth, metallic finish. This covering could be penetrated by twigs and torn like paper. Every weekend, when the weather permitted, young daredevils, as they were called, thrilled spectators with their aerobatics.
They flew close to the ground, and skimmed the tops of barns - the stunt was called "Barn Storming". The bravest, or more foolhardy, would climb out on the wing of a plane in flight and hang by their feet from the landing gear. Their shock absorbers were Bungee cords wrapped around the wheel struts to cushion the shock of landing in a cornfield. Airports were very few and far between.
The very best friend that Bill and I had was a boy named Toy Hazenfield. He was a year older than I was. His real name was Erwin Jr., but he was nicknamed Toy. He was the only boy and his father spoiled him rotten. When Toy was a baby just learning to talk, his father just called him "BOY". When the kid tried to say Boy, it sounded more like Toy, so they continued to call him Toy, he was always Toy, to us.
He was a slender boy with straight coal black hair that his mother always tried to keep parted in the middle. He had three sisters - Helen, Evern, and Velma Jean. Toy was his father's pride and joy. Nothing was too good for Toy. This paternal adoration gave Toy the impression that, if he wasn't the King of Siam, he ought to be.
Every time we played any sort of game, Toy always decided what game we were going to play and, of course, he was the only qualified leader or captain. He refused to accept any idea that smacked of servitude. Bill and I objected most of the time, but he always got his way. Mom said it was sel-fish of him to act that way, but we could blame his father for spoiling him.
The Hazenfields lived in a big two-story house on the next street over from us. It was called Simpson Ave. They had a porch in front, like ours, with a swing suspended from the ceiling. I loved to swing in that swing.
There was a long vacant lot between our house and theirs. It was about two hundred yards over to their house. We had a path worn between our houses that was as clean as a hound's tooth. Bill, Toy and I were constant companions.
Mrs. Hazenfield was a huge woman, pretty much like our Mom. She was very excitable, the least little catastrophe or cataclysmic event could send her waving her arms, and getting the vapors. It required at least one ice pack for her throbbing head, and a thirty-minute litany of, Oh My God! Oh My God! Oh My God. Her vocabulary was reduced to these three words.
Mr.Hazenfield was a great hunter. I never did know what he did for a living. He went on long hunting trips, and always brought home some type of live wild animal as a pet. On one trip to the Florida Everglades, he brought back a live alligator, it was about a foot long. Toy put it in their fishpond.
The fishpond was about six feet in diameter, and had several lily pads floating on top of it with a few goldfish. We often sat next to the pond, and watched that alligator, he would float motionless like a little stick in the water. Whenever a bird landed on a lily pad to get a drink, the alligator would drift over and snap! That bird would fall in the water.
It happened so fast, you were never sure just what you saw, but the bird always fell into the water, and disappeared. The alligator grew to about 18 inches long and crawled out of the fishpond and disappeared. There were reports that it was seen several times after that but he never got it back. Mr. Hazenfield had a stuffed pheasant trophy, on the mantel in the parlor.
After another trip to the Northwest he brought home a young eagle. Toy tied a piece of clothesline on the eagle's leg and tied it in their garage. He also had some pigeons in the garage. He didn't know that eagles liked pigeons, but not to play with.
One morning, after he put the eagle in the garage, he went out to feed them. All that was left of his pigeons was a handful of feathers. He took a long handled shovel, and smashed the poor eagle. Toy's grandfather was staying with them for a while, but he was old and sick. He died not long after he came to stay with them. When he died, he was laid-out in their parlor instead of a funeral home. His body was in a casket inside a wicker Catafaulk. It had blue flowers woven into it. That is the only one I ever saw.
Toy came over one morning to tell Bill and me about some big sewer pipes that were lying over on Watterson Street, so we went off to investigate. There we found a long line of huge concrete pipes, big enough for us to stand in and run through.
We thought we had found a great place to play. Our little village was a rather under-developed, metropolitan "no-mans land" - a place that time forgot. The storm seewer pipes were an indication that progress was about to over take us in the not too distant future.
Trying to conjure up things to do to keep us occupied was somewhat of a real challenge. Those huge pipes presented a temptation we could hardly resist. About two weeks had past when Bill and I went over to Toy's house to ask if he was allowed to go over on Watterson Street to play in the big concrete storm sewer pipes. The rainy weather had delayed the job for several weeks. The pipes were still lying where they had been delivered a month earlier. Toy's mother said he could go, but to be very careful and don't get into any mischief. The phrase, "Be careful" was cited by our mothers at the end of every sentence.
We walked up to Hawthorne and when we got to Berlings' dairy, Toy said, "Let's go in and watch them filling the milk bottles." Toy's suggestions were always considered by him to be military commands, as though he was in charge of our squad. Grunts seldom argue with the officers.
The door to the milk processing room was standing wide open. We climbed a few steps and stood in the doorway watching all the hectic activity. Bill asked the foreman, "Is it O.K. if we stand here and watch for a little while?" "The boss said, "All right, but you kids must stay outside. Don't come into the plant, and stay out of the way."
There were about a million milk bottles moving down a long track that had rollers on it. The bottles were washed twice with scalding hot water, then sterilized with several blasts of live steam. After that, they were allowed to cool before going past a machine that squirted an exact amount of milk into each bottle. The bottles were not filled quite to the top. There was about an inch of space for cream to settle on the surface. Milk was not homogenized until the late 1940's. There was just enough pure cream for two cups of coffee. As each bottle was filled, another machine popped a paper cap into the bottle. From there, the workmen put the bottles into wire racks and moved them into the cooling room, where they were chilled for early delivery the next morning. The milk wagons left the dairy very early every morning, just as the sun came up.
Bill said, "We've seen all of this before. Let's go play in the pipes." Toy said, "OK." We headed down Watterson Street and cut across the field next to Mrs. Theobald's house. As we walked through the field, Mrs. Theobald yelled at us again, just as she always did. She yells at everybody that goes past her place. She is really strange. Mom said her husband was killed in France during the war, and she had a nervous breakdown right after that. She has never been quite right since, but she is harmless.
We were running in and out of the huge pipes, when we heard the wail of police sirens. We ran back and hid in the pipes, and watched as five big police cars came screeching to a stop, right in front of Mrs. Theobald's house. Police and G-Men poured out of the cars and surrounded the little yellow house across the street. They had shotguns, pistols, and machine guns.
The police chief held a big megaphone up to his mouth and yelled, "We have the house surrounded. Come out with your hands in the air, and no one will get hurt." Just then someone stuck a rifle out of a window and shot a policeman in the face and killed him. The police opened fire and riddled the house from top to bottom.
It looked as though it would be a pile of kindling wood. Bullets were dinging off the concrete pipes we were hiding in. The police never dreamed they had such a terrified audience
While all this was going on, poor Mrs. Theobald came running out her front door waving an American Flag. She was running around in a virtual hail of bullets. She was yelling "American Victory, American Victory" at the top of her voice. She thought WW I was going on in her front yard. When the shooting paused, a white shirt tied to a broom handle was stuck out the window. The police and G-Men moved in and escorted 3 men to the patrol cars and drove away.
When we were convinced the war had ended, we rushed over to examine the yellow house that was shot up, then we realized the spoils of war lay all around us, in the form of brass shell casings. We gleaned the area, and filled our pockets. Toy found a whole bullet - a big, fat one. He said, "Let's go over in my cellar and shoot it." We went into their cellar through the side door, and picked a likely spot to perform this thrilling experiment. Bill and I sat on the floor, while Toy got a claw hammer out of his father's big toolbox. We were sitting in a triangle of sorts, with the soles of our bare feet touching each other. Toy raised the hammer over his head, then Bill said, "Aim for the back - that's what makes it shoot." In the split millisecond between impact and detonation, the hand of God must have reached down from heaven, and turned that bullet on end. If ever there was a Guardian Angel, there surly was one sitting barefoot amid three children that morning. The explosion that followed sounded like a bomb went off. The slug went straight up through the floor. The terrifying explosion was immediately followed by blood-curdling screams from Toy's mother.
She was ironing clothes in the kitchen directly above us. She went completely berserk, screaming and running back and forth through the house, waving her arms and yelling OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD!
Toy's three sisters were almost as bad. Mr. Hazenfield went down the cellar steps in one long leap. He picked Toy up and rushed him to the doctor. When Toy and his father got back home he said that Doctor Campbell told him the powder burns looked much worse than they really were. His condition was about the same as a sunburn and could be treated as such. Mrs. Hazenfield said that when the explosion occurred, the ironing board jumped a foot off the floor. Then Mr. Hazenfield dug a 45-caliber slug out of the bottom of the ironing board. After several icebags to relieve her throbbing head. Toy's mother began to realize that the world had not come to an end. 7
After she regained her composure, she started across the field to give Agnes Braun a piece of her mind and let her know just what her darling boys were up to. When mom heard the story she was horrified, she couldn't believe her ears. When it sunk in, she jumped all over Bill, - he was the oldest. "What's the matter with you? Don't you know any better than to hit a bullet with a hammer? Do you want to get killed?"
Bill and I were crying and repenting all afternoon. The whole issue was revisited time and again with each member of the family as they came home.
Toy's mother uttered a few words in condemnation of the Braun kids, that she wouldn't normally use in church. She apologized for getting carried away in the heat of the moment. Mom said, "Velma, you shouldn't talk that way in front of the children." We were taught that any language that was profane, vulgar or obscene was not to be uttered under our roof, or anyone else's for that matter. Only ignorant, uncouth people talked that way.
We had new neighbors move into the little house on the corner of Carlton and Elder Streets, just 4 doors down from our house. Their name was Prindle. They had an 8-year-old boy named Arnold - we called him Arny.
He was almost 9, going on 17. As proof of his maturity, he carried a small piece of "plug" tobacco in his hip pocket. He intended to chew it some day. Arny considered himself to be an expert in a wide variety of subjects, especially girls. His conversations had a habit of drifting off onto the human female anatomy, whenever the opportunity presented it self.
A short time after the Prindles moved in, another young couple moved in next door to them. Their name was Fedderman. They had one child. She was a pretty little "dishwater " blonde named Sally. She was the sassiest little 8-year-old girl ever to grace the streets of Dogtown. Arnie really delighted in teasing her. During one of his educational discourses, referring to the female genitalia, he said, "Girls don't have anything." Sally challenged that statement immediately and said, "We do too have something." Arnie said, "Well then prove it." Sally said, "I can't." Then he said, "I double dare you to prove it or shut up." "I'm not allowed - my Mom would kill me."
Sally was not one to back down from a "double dare " especially from Arnie Prindle. She said, "Well then, I will prove it, but you other boys have to get back on the side of the road." The three of us retreated a safe distance. Then Sally hiked up her dress and pulled out the top of her bloomers about four inches for a split second, and said, "See, so there, you smart-aleck." Arnie wasn't sure just what he saw. He said, "Well she don't have a peetail, but I didn't see anything else either."
This became another puzzling mystery that would have to go back on the shelf with all the other girl stuff to be resolved at some future date.
Marg was officially delegated the authority to take charge of her younger brothers when ever it was necessary for Mom to be away from home or take us on any kind of an outing. Marg always took her position of authority very seriously. She was not above usurping her authority in this "straw boss" position. However she did a great job of keeping us in line and out of trouble.
I had not as yet started to school so Melba Watson agreed to babysit me and Bob on those days until Marg got home from school. Marg was to take us over to Watsons in the morning and pick us up as soon as she got home.
We started out Thursday morning. Marg held me by the hand and carried Bob on her hip. We were walking up Carlton behind several boys on their way to school. They were following a couple girls and teasing them. I said to Marg, "Are those kids Potlickers?" She said "Yes but you keep your big mouth shut - we don't want any trouble. Didn't mother tell you to stop calling those children Potlickers? She would be mad if she knew you did." I had no idea what a potlicker was. I didn't think anybody licked pots. I just heard other kids call them that.
I hated to go to Watsons in the mornings. Mr.Watson never left for work until after we had arrived. As soon as I walked in the house, he would take hold of the collar of my coveralls and lift me up so that my toes barely touched the floor. Then he would say, "I'm going to hang this one on a hook." They had a row of coat hooks on the wall in the cellar stairwell. It was dark in there. I thought sure he was going to hang me on one of those hooks. As soon as I started to cry, Melba would say "Oh POP stop that." Then he would let me go. I did enjoy watching Mr. Watson while he was eating his breakfast. He always ate ham and eggs with toast and coffee. He put so much pepper on his eggs, it looked as though they had been painted.
They had one of the new electric toasters. You had to be very careful not to let the bread linger too long or it would burn. We always toasted our bread holding it over a flame like toasting marshmallows.
After Mr. Watson poured his coffee, he would put a chair next to his and set me in it. He always drank his coffee out of a saucer. He didn't drink it, he slurped it, making a loud noise. You could hear him all over the house. He would make a funny face and say aaahhhh.
Early the next morning I took up my favorite seat on the top step of our porch, watching the world go by, as children passed our house on their way to school.
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