Chapter IV - Toby is killed
Don spent a great deal of time in the summer, down along the Little Miami River. He loved to sit and fish for hours. His favorite place was a concrete abutment under a railroad trestle that spanned Clear Creek - a branch of the Little Miami River.
Faithful Toby was on right his heals whenever he left the house. About the 3rd week in July, Don and Toby made another trip to the fishing spot. That afternoon Don came home earlier than usual. His face was all puffy and we could tell he had been crying. Bill said, "What's the matter, Don? Where is Toby?" Don started to cry again and said, " Tobys' Dead."
We just couldn't believe our ears. How could our beloved Toby be Dead? What happened? Don said, "We were walking across the trestle over the river when a freight train came down the tracks and blew the whistle. Toby and I were right in the middle of the trestle. I tried to get him down on the abutment with me but he just froze. He was paralyzed with fear, I couldn't lift him down and I had to get down under the tracks or I would have been killed. The train ran right over him, and tore him to pieces." The whole family sat around and cried all afternoon. It was just as though we lost a member of the family. He was one of us.
Last spring Mom planted a little Alberta peach tree in the side yard. She tended it and fussed over it like it was a pet. Then after Toby was killed, Don "horse traded" an old bicycle for a billy goat. Mom said, "Donald Braun what in the world ever possessed you to bring home a billy-goat? We can't keep that thing around here."
Don said, "Please let me keep him. Ralph said all it eats is grass." Mom said, " Well I guess you can keep it for a little while but you be sure you take care of it. Tie it up in the back yard."
Every kid in the neighborhood teased that goat trying to get it to butt someone. We had it about 3 days when it got loose and ate Mom's peach tree. Mom was ready to kill it. She was so mad she couldn't see straight.
A few days after that, while we were eating supper, we heard a loud crash and glass breaking. in the cellar. We ran down to see what happened. That stupid goat saw his reflection in the cellar window and thought it was another goat. He dove right through the cellar window and was hanging from the windowsill - his hind legs barely touching the floor. Don figured, after that latest episode, it was high time he got rid of the goat.
Ruth decided to leave St. Mary's high school after completing her sophomore year. She wanted to go to work and help the family. She was hired by the Model Laundry Company up in Madisonville, as a mangle operator, earning $12.00 a week for 44 hours. It was very hazardous work for a 17-year-old girl. The huge machine was like a gigantic electric ironer.
She worked there almost a year. Then got a much better job with the National Underwriters Insurance Company, downtown. She started there at $15.00 a week. One month after starting she was promoted to "Proof Reader." Her weekly salary was increased to $18.00 for 44 hours. It was customary to work until Noon on Saturday. All businesses were closed on Sunday except for amusements. Each Saturday afternoon we waited anxiously to see Ruth walking home from the "Traction Line" after cashing her $18.00 pay check, she would go the F.W. Woolworth, and buy three bags of taffy candy for us. The candy was ten cents a pound. There was a different flavor in each bag, vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. Even with a few extra dollars coming in, Mom was having a rather difficult time financially. Every one we knew was having one disaster after another. Even the Hazenfields were struggling to make ends meet.
Mr. Hazenfield wasn't able to afford to go on a long hunting trip like he always did in the past. Instead, he stayed home and converted their parlor into a small grocery store. Even this didn't help, because nobody had any money and all their friends and neighbors wanted to buy groceries on credit.
They couldn't afford to help every one. Credit was a dirty word in 1930. Everybody was ashamed to even say it. Mrs. Hazenfield set up a beauty parlor in her kitchen. It was the only one in Fairfax. She seemed to stay quite busy but it wasn't enough to meet their expenses. She would spend an hour fixing someone's' hair for 25 cents.
They moved the grocery operation from their house into a more suitable location on the corner of Elder and Waterson Streets. This was a regular store and it was a considerable improvement, and made a substantial increase in their income. Some storeowners lost a great deal money during the depression.
Most of the congregation at St. Margarets were so poor, they started putting trash in the church offering envelopes, to pretend they were not destitute, and were able to give something. Father Ansbury saved all the things that were taken out of the collection basket, mounted them in a large picture frame and hung it over the door in the vestibule of the church. Then admonished the people for having so much false pride.
There were buttons, slugs, and even bottle caps mounted in the frame. He said that it was a sin to have false pride. The church needed money desperately like everyone else, to help some families that didn't have enough to eat. It is not a sin to be poor. Then he scolded some of the people who were leaving the church after receiving the Holy Eucharist before he and the altar boys left the sanctuary. He said, "The next time you do that, I'll have two altar boys follow you down the Watterson Street with the censer and a crucifix".
When Don was almost 16, Buster Raye, showed him how to make snare traps to catch small animals. The idea that animals might have rights never crossed anybody's mind until years later. Hunting season started on the 15th of October. Don went over into Stein's woods to set several traps. Each morning he would roll out of bed before dawn. At first light, he would go out and check his traps to see if he had caught anything. Whenever he did catch a little animal, he would skin it, and stretch the pelt over a small board to dry and cure. He thought he was Daniel Boone. Bill and I always begged Don to let us go along each time he went out to check his traps. He never would let us go, saying, "No, its too dangerous." Finally our persistence paid off. One Saturday morning he said, "Well all right, you can come along this time, but just this once. So don't bother me to take you again." Bill and I followed him down Hawthorne to Southern Ave. - on the west side of Fairfax, in back of the potlicker's school. We had to inch our way across a huge fallen log that spanned a ravine. This was the edge of the primeval rain forest we called Stein's woods. Bill and I weren't quite sure that we really wanted to follow Don back into the woods. It was dark and scary. We dodged briars and brambles a little way. Then we came to one of the snares. There, hanging on the end of a string tied to a little sapling, was a big fat rabbit. Don untied the string then put the rabbit on the ground. He said, "I have to make a new fork for this snare; this one is split." He took out his Barlow pocketknife, and started to whittle a new trigger fork.
All of a sudden, the knife slipped, and cut the heel of his left thumb almost to the bone. He was really bleeding badly. He handed the knife to Bill and said, "Pull out the tail of my shirt and cut it off - I need a bandage quick"! Bill jerked out the shirttail but he was afraid to cut it off.
He said, "Mom will yell at us." Don screamed at him, "Cut it now!" Bill cut and tore off a big piece of the shirt, and helped Don bind up his hand. I picked up the rabbit and we started for home. Don was holding his hand real tight to slow down the bleeding. We ran home as fast as our legs would carry us. It seemed as though, hardly a day went by that Mom didn't have to apply a little carbolated mutton tallow on one of us.
We made it through the winter, but we were all glad to welcome the return of warn weather. On rare occasions meals became rather skimpy, but Mom knew how to make the most of it. We never went hungry. It just seemed like Mom could make a big pot of food out of nothing - like the bible story of the loves and fishes.
Dad always enjoyed playing practical jokes on me and Bill. One day when we came home for lunch, Dad told us that Roy DeMars, the bakery man, left a dozen chocolate eclairs for us. He put them up in the attic.
We knew that Roy didn't leave chocolate eclairs very often, but we didn't let that stop us. The only ladder we had was a stepladder, and it wouldn't reach up to the trap door in the attic, so we ran down to borrow a longer one from Mr. Mensel on the corner. He had a big ladder that would reach. Bill grabbed one end, and I took the other end. We had struggled to get it home.
When we started into the hallway with this humongous ladder, Don offered to help put it up through the trap door in the hall ceiling. Then they all started laughing at us for believing such an outlandish story. This was typical of the methods that Dad used to teach us to analyze problems, and come up with a solution on our own. At the time, I thought they were just practical jokes; but as I grew older, I realized that I had learned some very valuable lessons in problem solving. The childhood pranks taught me how to think for myself and, in the end, I developed a reasonable degree of self-sufficiency that has served me throughout my life.
October was my favorite month, because my birthday fell on the 9th, just three weeks before Halloween. This was a time of excitement for children. We had 3 days in which to engage in harmless mischief.
First was Doorbell Night on the 28th. That's when we ran through the neighborhood soaping windows, and ringing doorbells. Running away just as people opened their front door.
Then there was Damage Night on the 29th. There was very little, if any serious damage done to peoples property. It mainly involved hanging chairs and other objects up in trees or on utility poles. Anything that had been left out in yards was considered fair game.
Infrastructure, in the way of plumbing, had not made its way to Fairfax at that time. Some of the larger boys took delight in turning over the outside toilets in the area. We referred to these as "Breezy Two Seaters". Most could accommodate two bodies, in dire emergencies. This "trick" did not bode well with the unfortunate homeowners, who had to carefully reposition them the following day.
What is now referred to as "Trick or Treat" was called "Beggar's Night". Children dressed as beggars, and pretended to be begging for treats of candy or fruit. One of the most exciting aspects of "Beggar's Night" was the search through closets for discarded adult clothing that was suitable. We even added a few rips to make them appear more destitute.
We searched for old corks to burn, and used the soot as make-up. The older girls delighted in acting as make-up artist, with powder and lipstick. The evening was much more festive in those days.
I wasn't old enough then to go out alone. Marg got me all dressed up, and blacked my face with a burned cork. Then she and Bill took me around the neighborhood for a little while. After they brought me home, they both took off for Mariemont. That's where all the good stuff was. Someone decided that the term "Beggars Night" should be changed to "Trick or Treat". Much of the happy, carefree advent of Halloween was lost in the mid 1940's.
Some realized the money making potential of selling costumes, and other paraphernalia that was deemed appropriate. It was gradually commercialized, with expensive costumes and monster masks. Then the sadistic elements of our society, who were opposed to this holiday, began to put harmful objects into the treats. Needles, bits of glass and even razor blades have been discovered imbedded in treats given to children. Grandma McCarthy died on the 15th of October. A short time after that, Mom told us that Grandma left her a little bit of money in her will. It wasn't much but it would help to make the back payments on the house and get new clothes for all of us to start back to school.
We all went down town to the "Big" store and got complete new outfits. We even got raincoats. They were called slickers. They were not very good they stuck together and smelled like fish oil.
The ultimate status symbol for a boy in 1930 was genuine leather Storm Boots with a small pocket on the side of one boot for your pocketknife. I got a pair of genuine cowhide leather "Storm Boots" with a knife pocket on the side. I didn't get a knife to go in the little pocket, but after badgering Dad for about a week, he finally gave in and said, "All right I'll get you a knife."
When Dad got home from work the next day, I jumped him as soon as he walked in the door. "Did you get my pocketknife?" He said, "Yes but I know I shouldn't do this. If you hurt yourself or hurt any one else with it, I'll take it away and you will never get another one." I promised him that I would take good care of it and be very careful not to get hurt. When I slipped my brand new Barlow knife into the little pocket on the side of my genuine cowhide leather Storm boot, I was ten feet tall. I strutted around stiff legged all the rest of the day - showing off my new genuine cowhide leather storm boots and especially the knife pocket.
A few days later, Toy came over and asked if Bill and I could go up to the lagoon and mess around a while. We asked Mom if we could and she said, "All right but be careful and don't stay long." After we got to the lagoon, Bill told me to wait on the dock while he and Toy went into the woods to check out a minnow pond to see if there were any tadpoles in it or something.
While I was sitting on the boat dock, I opened the flap over my knife and slipped it out to admire it just a little while. It had dark bone plates riveted to the sides. They were highlighted by the name Barlow engraved above them. The solid brass bearing plates separating the stainless steel springs, glistened in the sunlight. I carefully opened the large blade and thought, I would just play a little mumbly-peg while I was sitting there on the dock, waiting for Bill and Toy.
I did the "palm-up" and the "palm-down" then the "fist-up" and the "fist-down". My knife felt like it had perfect balance. Then I tried to do the "long- drop". That's like the "palm-up" but you toss it higher. That's when I heard the splash! I suddenly realized that the spaces between the planks on the dock were considerably wider than my knife. I was horrified, I started screaming and crying, as I watched my brand new knife plunge into the lagoon beneath the dock. I yelled for Bill and Toy and they came running back to the dock. They thought I was in some kind of trouble. We examined the possibilities of getting the knife out from under the dock. It had been so constructed that nothing or nobody could ever get under it. Bill said, "I can't believe that you could sit there and play mumbly peg. Just how dumb can you get." Can't you see that those planks are spaced wide enough for a knife to fall right through".
The dark bone plates glistened in the clear water of the lagoon. I cried all the way home. Bill said, "Boy, Dad is really going to be mad, and I wouldn't blame him." When I told dad what I had done, he just looked at me and shook his head and said, "Didn't I tell you that you were too young to take care of a valuable knife? Now you will just have to wait until your 10th birthday. I don't want to hear the word pocketknife come out of your mouth until then, do you understand? Perhaps by then you can learn how to take care of one." I didn't get much sympathy from Mom either. She said, "Son, all we can do is try to tell you what we think is best. If you won't listen, then you'll just have to feel". That phrase has become my life-long motto
[If you won't listen-you'll have to feel.]
Our traditional Sunday dinner was one period during the week when no one was away at work. The whole gang gathered around the dinner table to devour Mom's scrumptious pork tenderloin roast, with all the trimmings - then engage in a heated debate of the current events. The Sunday before Thanksgiving, Mom said, "I think it would be nice if we could have a nice big turkey for Thanksgiving." Dad said, "Well, there's no reason why we can't. It's too late to order one from the butcher shop. I'll bring one home, and we can fix it ourselves." Mom said, "Oh Will, we can't fix a turkey". "Sure we can". (Mom always called Dad "Will").
Thanksgiving, in 1930, was a great deal like it was when the Pilgrims feasted three centuries earlier. There were no such things as frozen food or huge super markets. If you wanted a turkey dinner, you could buy a live turkey, kill it, and dress it yourself. Nobody did it for you, unless you ordered one from the butcher shop about 2 weeks ahead of time, which most sensible people did. Dad brought home a big tom turkey on Wednesday evening. After supper we sat around, and planned the execution. We had killed chickens before, but this huge turkey was a different matter!
Dad said Don could hold the turkey over a chopping block, while Bill stretched its neck with a piece of clothesline. Then, Dad would chop off the turkey's head with a hatchet. It all sounded pretty simple. Don thought the turkey would just drop, when its head was cut off, but he was sadly mistaken. When the turkey lost its head, it started flapping its wings a mile a minute. Then Don dropped it! It was running around and slinging turkey blood all over the place.
Marg screamed and ran into the house. After a little while the headless turkey gave up and died. Dad hung it on the clothesline for a while, until most of the blood drained out of it and then started on the nasty part.
Mom had a large pan of scalding hot water waiting for it. When she put the turkey in the hot water, the smell almost choked me. He smelled worse than Toby when he was wet, and that is bad. Eventually it was cleaned, dressed, and put into the oven. We didn't have a regular oven. It looked like a large metal breadbox which sat on the kerosene stove. I never could figure out how it worked, but Mom sure had the right combination. We had a fabulous turkey dinner. Mom and the girls spent the rest of the day cleaning up the mess we made.
I was just 8 years old at the time and, even then, I could notice the changes all around us, as a result of the stock market crash the year before. I noticed many more men, knocking on people's doors, asking to do some little chore in order to pay for a bite to eat.
Many songs were written expressing the plight of people who were literally starving. I can still remember a few words to one song in particular that Bill and I sang together: "Hallelujah I'm a bum, Hallelujah bum again, Hallelujah, give us a handout to revive us again" - and "Brother can you spare a dime?" Another song depicting the state of the economy was "Shanty Town." Hobo camps, or jungles as they were called, dotted the railroad tracks all across the country.
December was bitterly cold. Mom and Dad were having a terrible time trying to make ends meet. We always managed to have enough to eat. Sometimes, when we ran out of coal for the furnace, Dad would take Don and Bill down to the railroad tracks, which ran out of Claire Yards, to gather scraps of coal which had fallen off of coal cars.
Each of them would gather all that they could carry in a burlap sack. Dad wasn't forced to do this very often. Usually we could get enough to hold us a day or two until he could get money to buy a few hundred pounds. Coal was $3.50 a ton.
Living through the winter before automatic heat, was extremely difficult. Very few people had any rugs, except in the parlor or living room. The rest of the floors were covered with a 9' x 12' linoleum. There wasn't anything such as vinyl tile, or anything like it. Our winter days were very short. We didn't have a radio, or any other type of indoor entertainment, with the exception of board games like Checkers or Parcheesi.
The days were pretty much regulated by the sun. The day ended when the sun set. We had supper around 5 o'clock, and then played a game or two. Then it was time for bed. We crawled in under a massive pile of covers because by 9:00 o'clock, the house started chilling down for the night.
Dad had to go out into the cold every night, and walk a mile in all kinds of weather to catch a "Night Owl at 11:00 o'clock to get to work by midnight. He had to work out on the loading docks in the cold, sorting freight at the Railway Express Agency. In order to try to keep warm, he would wrap a wide band cut from a flannel blanket, similar to a cummerbund, around his chest and abdomen. He had to ride the streetcar home, after working outside all night in the freezing temperature, often walking a mile through deep snow.
On many bitterly cold days, he would be almost frozen stiff when he walked into the house. Mom always made sure the house was good and warm by the time Dad got home. He could stand over a warm register in the floor, long enough to thaw out, and wrap himself around a good warm breakfast.
When we crawled out of bed around 7:00 in the morning, the entire house was like a huge meat locker. Each one of us would grab a blanket and run to the closest available register which came from the cellar, sometimes sharing the heat with two of us cowering over a single register. Of course, Mom was always the first one out of bed, and down coaxing the fire in the furnace to start taking the chill off the house. We would all shake and shiver, until our blood became warm enough to circulate.
A kerosene stove takes forever to boil a pot of coffee. It was on one of these frigid mornings that I thought I was big enough to light the stove. I not only lit the stove, but a curtain as well. When I screamed for Mom, she ran into the kitchen, yanked the burning curtain down to the floor, and stamped the fire out with her bare feet. She was able to extinguish the fire before it did any real damage.
Snow was always a big problem, there was no such thing as snow removal equipment in those days. The only means we had of disposing of snow was just to wait until it melted. No one in Fairfax even thought of getting it off the streets. Most people shoveled it off their sidewalks. Don and some of the bigger boys could earn a few pennies cleaning off people's sidewalks.
Most cars were able to get through the snow reasonably well, because they were built so high off the road. Any road that was not passable was blocked off and turned into a sled or toboggan run. Young couples would gather in groups on these hills. It was the traditional winter sport. Huge bonfires were started at the top and bottom of the runs. A group at the top would be getting warm for the trip down the hill, while a group at the bottom would be soaking up a little heat for the trip back up the hill. Three or four teenagers would pile on a huge bobsled, screaming as they went down the hill
Mom told us that the building and loan company that held the mortgage on our house was becoming very insistent that we keep the monthly payments up-to-date. This was next to impossible, especially during the winter, when we had to have coal and kerosene to heat the house. For the past several years, Mom and Dad would fall behind in the payments during the winter, and then try to catch after the weather got warm. That arrangement seemed to be quite satisfactory with the Building and Loan until lately. After Christmas, Dad received a notice that the mortgage on the house was in danger of foreclosure. He said" Well there is just nothing we can do about it. If we can't make the payments, they are going to take our house away from us. We will just have wait and see what happens. Then, if they foreclose, all we can do is to start looking for another place to live".
One afternoon around the first of March we got home from school, and found Mom crying very hard. We asked her what was the matter, and then she tried to explain between sobs, that we had not been able to keep up the payments on the house the way the building and loan company wanted. She had received the notice of foreclosure that stated we had to vacate the house in 30 days.
Mom and dad started looking all over town to find a place to live. Each time they thought they found a decent house, the question arose, as to how many children there are. It seemed that nobody wanted to rent a house to a family with 7 children. After they had been turned down several times, she decided to tell a prospective landlord that she had 4 children. Ruth, Don, and Marg weren't children anymore. They were adults. Finally a man told Mom that he had a house on Carter Avenue in Norwood that he would rent to us.
That was quite a relief for the adults but, for us kids, it was another story. We had never lived anyplace that was nearly as congested and noisy as Norwood was going to be. Mom said it was it best we could do at the time, and we would just have to learn to make the best of it until we found something nicer.
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