Chapter II - My Big Mouth
The boys that Marg and I saw the day before were walking past the front of our house. As they walked by, I said, "Hey, Why do you potlickers go to school barefooted in your play clothes?"
This insulting comment triggered an immediate response. A rock the size of a golf ball bounced off my forehead just above my left eye. The blood was pouring down my face as I went screaming to Mom.
When she saw the blood running down my face, she almost went into hysterics. It was not nearly as bad as it looked. Mom washed my face and stopped the bleeding with a little piece of ice then put some carbolated mutton tallow on a clean rag, and tied it around my forehead. I told her, between sobs, that it was one of the Woods kids that threw the rock at me. I didn't tell her why.
After Mom calmed down, she took me by the hand and said, "Well, we'll just see about this!" We walked down Carlton Street, back into a little wooded area where they lived. When poor Mrs.Woods came to answer the door, Mom jumped all over her before Mrs.. Woods even knew what had happened. She said, "Their father will punish them when he gets home."
On our way home Mom said, "Now, young man, I want to know exactly what happened." When she called me "young man", I knew I was in big trouble. I told her what I said to them.
Then she started yelling at me for calling them potlickers. "I've told you a dozen times to stop calling those children, potlickers. You know, as well as I do that this would never have happened if you were minding your own business. It's entirely your fault. You are the one who should get a spanking if any one does!" I thought I had better keep my big mouth shut after that.
I realized that Mom felt bad, because she said she acted rude with Mrs. Woods, and she was on the verge of taking it out on me. I had to admit that, if I had not mouthed off at the kids going to school, the whole thing would not have happened.
Marg woke up in an unusually good mood and said, "Would you boys like to go with me to pick some wild flowers? We can go up on the pike, and try to sell them." Bill said, "Sure - if we can keep some of the money."
We passed three or four open fields that were just covered with beautiful wild flowers. We stopped at each one, picked little bunches of violets and daisies, and several other flowers that I didn't recognize. Marg said, "Be careful how you hold them, so they don't get wilted."
She very carefully tied each little bouquet with a piece of string, that she had brought along in the pocket of her dress, and folded a piece of paper around them.
We sat by the side of the road and, every few minutes, a machine would stop. We held the flowers up to attract attention to our enterprise and, after about half an hour, we had sold several bunches for a penny apiece. Then Marg said, "Now we can go over across the pike to Hitt's, and I'll buy you some candy." (I thought wonders never cease).
Mrs. Hitt was acquainted with every child in Dogtown. Each of us picked out a several pieces of our favorite penny candy. Then Marg put the other few pennies back in her pocket. Most candies were 3 for a penny. You might say Marg was frugal. Stingy is more descriptive.
After we left Hitt's, Bill said, "Let's walk down through Shanty Town, and look at some of the tarpaper shacks." I was a little leery of going down that little narrow lane. It didn't look very inviting. There was a lot of old junk stacked around the shanties. Marg was leading the way, so I didn't argue with her.
The area Bill referred to as "Shanty Town", was a row of makeshift dwellings on the West side of a narrow alley, that ran down next to Hitt's Candy Store. It went from Wooster Pike, down to the Little Miami River. It was hard for us to imagine that people could live in these structures made of cardboard and coated building paper we called "tarpaper".
Our infrequent trips down through "Shanty Town" were prompted more by curiosity than empathy.
We walked as far as the enormous cornfields next to the river, then turned and started back. On our way home, we saw some men putting up a big tent. A man, who was all dressed up in a Sunday suit, saw us watching. He came over and said, "Hello children." Marg said, "Mister, are you going to have a show here tonight?" The man sort of laughed and said, "No, we are going to have a revival tomorrow night. You children are welcome to join us if you like." Marg said, "O.K., Mister, we will."
We stayed around to watch them for a while. We didn't have the vaguest idea what a revival was, so we decided we would come back the next day. When the three of us got to the tent the next evening it was full of folding chairs, all lined up in rows. There were so many people, we couldn't find any place to sit down. We just stood in the back of the tent by the flap.
The man wearing the suit went up to the front of the tent, and started to talk to the people.
Then they all stood up and started yelling and waving their arms around. They were shouting praise the Lord. Marg said, "This is some sort of a church service." The man up in front of the tent said something to another man, and then motioned toward us. He came back to where we were standing and, very gently, took Marg by the arm, and led her up to the front of the tent. He asked her what her name was. She said, "My name is Margaret Braun". Then He said, "Margaret, have you ever been saved and born-again?" She didn't know what he was talking about. Then she became frightened, and started to cry. The preacher turned to the congregation and said, "Let us all pray for poor little Margaret Braun, so that she may be saved, and born again." Then they all started yelling and shouting. He didn't realize Marg. was Catholic. When we realized we were in a Protestant church, we tore out of the tent and flew home as fast as our legs could carry us.
When we got home, we told Mom what happened. She said, "Well, it serves you right! If I had known what you kids were up to, I could have told you what a revival was, and you would not have been so frightened. The next time you plan to go off some where that you are not sure of, you will ask for my permission before you have the wits scared out of you."
In those days, many traveling shows went from town to town, during the summer, erecting a huge tent to perform a live stage show. They were called "Medicine Shows". There was always some entertainment such as juggling acts, or a girl playing a xylophone. Pitchmen would circulate through the tent selling salt-water taffy, or some kind of "cure-all" elixir that was even good for snakebite. It came to be called "Snake Oil". One tent show that came through Fairfax for several summers was called "Bartone's Ideal Comedy Company".
We never had 10 cents for admission, and we knew better than to ask for it. There always seemed to be a line of children lying on the ground on their stomachs with their heads underneath the edges of the tent. We were often among them. The watchman was kept busy chasing the children away from the tent.
Marg. and Helen Hazenfield were old enough now to join the Girl Scouts. Helen's dad drove Helen over one evening to pick up Marg, and take them to the Girl Scout Club. I thought that becoming a scout was just about the same as being inducted into the Hall Of Fame. Helen and Marg each came home with a little, green beret with a gold pin on it, and a yellow neckerchief that had a slide to hold it closed. Marg was all excited about being a Girl Scout. She held two fingers in the air and said, "On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty." Then she recited the Girl Scout pledge that she had just learned. I was very impressed, and proud of her, at the time. I almost forgave her for her domineering attitude.
A few weeks after Marg joined the Girl Scouts, she started to walk with Helen and Evern Hazenfield up to the lagoon in Mariemont. I wanted to go with them, but she had other ideas. She kept saying, "You go on back home. We don't want you tagging along behind us all the time." I said, "You're not my boss. I can go if I want to." "No you can't. You get home, right this minute, because Mom wants you." "She does not." "Yes, She does." With that, she held up her two fingers and said, "Scout's Honor".
By this time we were up on Wooster Pike, more than half way to the lagoon. Who can argue with some one that pledges their sacred honor? The idea that she was pulling my leg never crossed my mind. I turned, like a soldier marching in a close order drill formation, and headed for home.
"Hey Mom, Marg said you wanted me." "I don't want you for anything, Go on back out and play now - I'm busy." I said to myself, "that's the last time I'll ever believe anything she tells me, even if it is on her ole scouts honor."
There was an empty lot next to our house. It was usually covered with weeds all summer long. On one Monday morning, before school was out.
I was sitting on the steps of my front porch watching several men walking all around the lot measuring it with a long tape measure. They were putting stakes in the ground. I said "Hey Mom, there's some men in the field next door they're measuring the field or something." She said " I know son, Mr.Watson is going to build a house there. They are measuring the place where the house is going to be. " The men went home after they put the stakes in the ground. A little while after the men left, I saw an old mule walking down Carlton Street, dragging some kind of big pan that was turned upside down. A man was walking beside the mule, steering it with two long leather straps. He had the leather straps tied together and flipped over his head and they were lying across his shoulders.
When the man saw me on the steps, He took off his hat and waved it at me and said" Hello young man." I waved back and said " Hi, mister." When the mule got to the vacant lot, the man yelled "Gee Nelly" and the mule turned right and walked into the lot. The thing the mule was pulling had two long handles on the back of it. I said, to the man what kind of a thing is that. He said, "That is called a Slip Scoop. When I lift the handles a little bit like this, it scoops up dirt and we can dig a deep hole with it. You call that excavating.
I just lift the handles a little bit and yell giddup Nelly, that means let's go.
The mule pulled the slip scoop until it was full of dirt. When the scoop got to where the stakes were, the man would flip it over with the long handles and pile the dirt up along side of the hole he was digging.
I asked him why don't you call that a flip scoop, you have to flip it over all the time. He said I think you ' got something there.
Whenever the man wanted the mule to turn left, He would yell, "Haw" Nelly" - that means turn left to a mule.
Mom said that man is digging a hole for the cellar of the new house. (We always said cellar instead of basement) The man and the mule worked all week digging the hole. It was unusually hot for the first week in June. I got to sit out there and watch them work.
Mom made a pitcher of lemonade. I heard her call me and I ran inside. She said, "Take a glass of this lemonade out to the man digging that hole next door before he melts."
I said, "O.K. Mom." I grabbed the glass and ran out to the hole. He said "Shooy - It's hotter than Blue Blazes isn't it son." I said, "It sure is. My Mom told me to give you this before you melt."
Then he stopped to eat his lunch. When I handed him that glass of ice-cold lemonade. He said, "Tell your mom a thousand thanks boy. There's nothing better on a hot day than cold lemonade."
They finished digging the cellar on Friday afternoon. The man put some long stakes in the ground and tied a rope around them like a fence, to keep the kids out of the hole.
If he expected that little rope to keep us out of that hole, he sure was in for some disappointment. He got help from a higher power. That night, the heavens opened up and it rained Pitch Forks and Hammer Handles all night long. Saturday morning was clear and the sun was shining hotter than the day before and the cellar hole had four feet of water in it.
Bob Schlottman was on his way home from confession at church on Saturday afternoon. His mother, Hilda, made them go to confession almost every week just to be on the safe side. He needed all the help he could get. Bob was dressed fit to kill, in his best school clothes. He always went past our house on his way home.
Bill and Toy Hazenfield were standing next to me on top of the big pile of mud that was around the hole. When Bob saw that big hole full of water, he just had to have a closer look.
He climbed up on the pile of mud where we were standing and reached out to grab the rope to keep from sliding. Then his feet flew out from under him and we heard him yell, "Oh Dear God!" just as he slid into the hole.
The water was clear over his head. There was about six inches of gooey mud in the bottom of the hole. When we fished him out, he was completely covered with mud from head to toe. It was hard to recognize who he was. He was crying all the ways home, because he was sure his mother would half kill him for ruining his clothes.
It took all the rest of June for that hole dry out enough for the workmen to begin laying the blocks for the cellar.
Bob wouldn't come near it until the carpenters started framing the house. Each time he passed the house he acted as though it was haunted.
Some time after that, Ruth was getting dressed to go out. She had just bought a new pair of patent leather shoes. She had one and was running around the house looking for the other one. She came outside to ask us if any one saw it and there was her baby brother, Bob, down in the muddy hole using her new shoe for a boat. He thought it floated pretty good. Ruth screamed, "Robert you bring that shoe here to me right this very minute." She was fit to be tied, she had to wear the wet shoe several hours before it dried out.
One morning in August, While Mom was getting me dressed, she said, "You might be able to start to school with the other kids in September. We will have to ask if you can be enrolled now, since you won't be six years old until October, after school has started." Mom took me down to school to talk with Father Ansbury and Sister Mary Eucievious. She was the 1st grade teacher. I was really scared. I didn't know what was going to happen. They asked me a lot of dumb questions like, "Edward, can you tell us where you live?" "What is your fathers name?" "Do you know where your father works?" Do you know your ABCs?" "How high can you count?" "I can count clear to a hundred," I said proudly. My brothers and sisters are teaching me my ABCs, and counting up to a hundred. They said, "He is ready to start school. He will do fine. We will be looking forward to having him at St. Margaret's."
When the big day came, Marg took me by the hand. We all started off to school. I was very excited. Marg showed me to my classroom, and talked with my teacher for a few minutes. Then we went into a hall, separating the third and fourth grades. There was a long washstand, where the whole class washed their hands at one time - after recess, before, and after lunch.
There were rows of coat hooks along the walls. This was called the "Cloak Room". Our school was called Saint Margaret of Cortona. The first four grades were in a wood building in the shape of a U. It had a concrete courtyard in the center. My room was almost as big as our whole house. There was a huge furnace in the back of the room, with a large box of coal and a box of kindling wood near the furnace. It was very much like the furnace in our cellar but there were no pipes sticking out of it.
The teacher would put a little coal in the furnace whenever it got chilly. She had great big sleeves on her habit, and it was difficult to keep from getting soot on her sleeves. The boys sitting close to the furnace would help when they could.
My teacher was very nice most of the time. We always had to call her "Sister" whenever we spoke to her. When some of the boys misbehaved, she would walk down their row, stand next to their desks, and just stare at them. If that didn't get their attention, she would smack their desk with a ruler she always carried in her big sleeves.
When Sister smacked your desk with that ruler, that meant you were in a lot of trouble. You might even have to take a note home to your Mom. That always got their attention. Our mom didn't like to get notes from any teacher. I learned that the hard way. She would cloud up and rain all over us in a minute. We always marched into and out of the classroom the same way.
Sometimes, after lunch, Sister would read a chapter of a story to the class. I liked that time most of all. She would change her voice to sound like the characters in the book.
School wasn't near as much fun as I thought it was going to be. Sister didn't like it when we wool gathered. That's what she said we did looking out the windows, or not paying attention to what she was trying to teach us.
One afternoon I was walking home from school with Bill and Marg. There were several boys walking behind us. One of them yelled, "There goes those Catlickers, lets get them." Bill said, "That big kid is Herman Burris-let's get out of here." He didn't have to tell me twice. The mere mention of the name Herman Burris, stirred up images of bloody noses and black eyes. He had an infamous reputation for starting fights. We never really got into a fight with him or his "gang". We thought he was just a big bully, but no one wanted to find out if the reputation was all talk and smoke, or if there really was fire under the smoke. They chased us most of the way home, throwing small stones at us, but we managed to keep out of range.
When we related this harrowing experience and narrow escape from Herman Burris, Mom didn't seem nearly as upset as we were. She said, "Their parents just go to a different kind of church than we do. They called you Catlickers because we are Catholics. Some people don't like Catholics, and the children hear their parents saying mean things about them. Then the children pick it up and cause trouble. That is why I have told you a thousand times to stop calling those children Potlickers. That's just a mean way of saying Protestant. They don't believe the same as we do about church, but that's no reason to get into fights over it."
One evening when we came in for supper, Mom was sitting on the sofa reading the Cincinnati Post when she said, "There's going to be a motion picture about three little pigs down at the Taft Theater next Saturday. Would you kids like to go downtown and see it?" We all yelled, "Can we, Mom?"
The prospect of going downtown was always a reason to celebrate, regardless of the mission. Going to see a movie increased our expectations even more. I had never seen a motion picture.
I was more interested in the possibility of going to F.W. Woolworth's 5 and 10-cent store, and getting one of those scrumptious banana splits, like we had the time we went down to meet Dad. Saturday morning we got up early and took our baths. We usually took our bath on Saturday night, but this was special. We were going to town today. We didn't have a bathroom. We all had to take turns bathing, in the kitchen, standing in a big wash tub.
We got all dressed up. Marg combed our hair, and Mom even made us clean the mud off our shoes. Then after we were all spruced up, we each held hands, and started up to the pike. Mom told Marg to hold on to Bill and me, and to watch out for us. Mom was carrying Bob. He could walk part of the way, but he wasn't quite four years old yet. Mom and Marg took turns carrying him. He could walk for a little way, until he started getting cranky again.
When we got to the bus stop up on pike, where all of the mailboxes are lined up, we sat on the little narrow bench, and waited for the bus. The mailman must think everybody rides the bus to work, and they can pick up their mail on the way home. Mom sat down with Bob, and the three of us took turns sitting until the bus came. We only had to wait a few minutes. We all climbed on. It was a great big, old, dark green bus with words printed on the side with yellow paint. Inside there was a long row of wide, yellow seats on both sides of the aisle, which looked like they were made out of straw, or something like it.
Mom dropped a dime and four nickels into a tall box that had little windows in it, so the driver could see how much money you dropped in the box. The bus driver pressed a little lever on the side of the box, and the money disappeared. We rode the bus for a long time - about thirty minutes. All the while I kept inquiring, "Are we there yet?" "No, just hold your horses. We'll be there shortly." "The bus driver turned his head toward us and said, "End of the line".
Most bus lines terminated in a large area in front of the Federal Building on Government Square - one block east of the Tyler Davidson Fountain. The phrase, "Government Square", was seldom used. The core area was usually referred to as "Fountain Square".
When we got off the bus, Marg took Bob by the hand. She said, "Bill, you hold Ed's hand, and stay close by me." We walked down 5th Street, and crossed Main. The theater was on 5th between Sycamore and Broadway.
The Taft Theater wasn't a regular theater like the Palace or the Lyric. It had live stage plays. It was unusual for them to show a motion picture.
The bus fare and the theater tickets each cost ten cents for adults and five cents for kids. The movie was a story about three pigs and a wolf. A lady was up on the stage telling the story, and the pigs and the wolf were running around on this big white screen. There was another lady, up on the stage, playing the piano, to help the lady who was telling the story.
We laughed all the way home about that dumb wolf falling down the chimney into the pot of hot water. After we left the theater, we walked back to Vine Street. There were more machines than we ever saw in all our life. They were all over the place. We saw a lot of men working on a real high building. Mom said, "That is the Carew Tower; they call that a Skyscraper. When they get it finished, it will be fifty-two stories high. That will really scrape the sky!"
Then we went to Woolworth's, where we each had a big banana split. After we finished, Mom wiped the surplus ice cream off our faces. We got back on the bus and went home. It was a great outing. That was the very first motion picture that I ever saw. There were other movies in town, but we were so isolated, it was like being in another world.
In a very short time the silent pictures would be phased out, and there was to be a virtual explosion of talking pictures and movie theaters built in almost every subdivision. The general admission was just 10 cents for children under 12 and 25 cents for adults. The price of admission included cartoons, cliffhanger serials, and news reports, as well as updates on popular science.
To Chapter 3
Back to Introduction