Chapter V - Move to Norwood
The fearful day came. A huge moving van pulled up in front of our house. Three men got out, came into our house, started carrying the furniture out, and put it in the truck. I didn't know it at the time, but I was destined to see a lot of moving vans in the next decade - one each year.
After our meager possessions were loaded on the moving van, we started to walk down to the traction line, and go to our new house. We rode on for a while. Finally we arrived at a place called Norwood.
It was a city surrounded by Cincinnati. They said it was only six miles from where we lived before but, to a nine-year old boy, it was an alien planet six light years from home. Every thing I knew had disappeared in less than one hour. As far as I could see there was nothing but concrete and blacktop. Even most of the horses and wagons were gone. There were cars, trucks and streetcars everywhere. I realized then how my grandfather must have felt when he was a little boy, taken from his home in Germany.
He, too, was just nine years old when he, his big sisters and a little brother were put on an ocean liner to sail clear across the Atlantic Ocean to a new land, where children his age spoke a language he could not understand.
I was only moving six miles to a different house. He moved six thousand miles to a whole New World. We had to climb about four or five concrete steps. The big old house was covered with some stuff they called stucco. It was a two-story house on Carter Ave.
Our school was called Saint Elizabeth's. It was only about six blocks from our house. The church was right next to the school. The teachers didn't ring hand bells when school started. The school was more modern than St. Margarets. It was equipped with automatic electric bells that were connected to clocks, and automatic locks on all the outside doors. After we got settled into our new house,Ruth took all four of us up to be enrolled. Bob was starting in the first grade.
On my first Sunday in Norwood, I was walking home alone from Mass. As I passed the front of the Drug Store on the corner, I spied a pile of newspapers. There on top of the papers was a big handful of change. I thought, boy the gods are smiling on me today.
I scooped up all the change and tore across the street yelling, "Mom, look what I found!" My euphoria evaporated when she said, "You didn't find that money. People put it there to pay for the papers. Now you can just turn right around, and put every penny right back where you got it". There was $1.80 lying on that pile of papers. In 1997dollars, that would be the equivalent of $30.00.
As I relate this true experience, I can't help but wonder at the changes in the morality of our society over the past 6 decades. How long would $30.00 remain on top of a stack of newspapers in front of a drug store. (Even the thought of it is almost hilarious today). Many hungry people passed that money, yet resisted the temptation to steal it.
I didn't like the new school. It was so much bigger and more intimidating than St. Margarets. The work was completely foreign to me, and we only had 6 more weeks of school in which to get caught up. It just seemed hopeless.
To make my life even more difficult, we had a boy in our class by the name was Jack Sneur. He was the third grade bully. He hit me in the face one morning just after the bell rang, (because he didn't like my looks) when we were forming the line to go into school. The Nun didn't see him do it, but Bill saw him. The next morning Bill walked up next to Jack and smacked him in the face just as the bell rang and said, "That's for hitting my brother."
Jack started to cry, and told the teacher that Bill smacked him in the face. Bill was sent to the principal's office for a reprimand. When he went into the office, Marg was there for misbehaving in her class. The Braun kids were becoming a major headache at St. Elizabeth's.
While Bill was waiting for his lecture, he spied a BB gun in the corner that had been confiscated from some hooligan. The principal saw Bill looking at the BB gun and she said "Don't even think about it!" She made Bill stay after school with Marg for half an hour.
Every elementary school bully recruits a cadre of followers. Those that can't whip him, join him. They were waiting for me and Bill. We were out-numbered 2 to 1, so we took off running for home.
When we got in front of the drug store across from our house, Bill dashed out into the street, without looking, and was struck by a car. He was flipped up into the air. Somehow he landed upside down, between the bumper and the radiator. His head was just inches from the pavement and his hair was actually touching it. We lifted him out, and he hardly had a scratch. He was shaking all over, and crying he thought he was going to die.
Mom heard all the commotion, and came flying out to see what happened. When we saw that Bill was not hurt too badly, we lifted him and carried him into the house.
Life in Norwood wasn't all bad. We had made quite a few friends, but the everyday activities were worlds apart from the life we knew in Fairfax.
There was a neat public park on the south end of town that had a small swimming pool. It was awfully crowded during the summer.
They had a concession stand that sold candy and soft drinks. One of the best candy bars was a vanilla taffy called a French Chew. My favorite drink was called Lithiated Lemon. It tasted almost the same as 7 UP.
I played Hooky in the 3rd Grade
We had a next door neighbor by the name of Fishback. They had a boy named Joe. He was Norwood's version of Arnie Prindle whom we left back in Fairfax. Joe's conversations were a little more adventurous than Arnie's. He never talked about anatomy, human or otherwise. He just wanted to go places, and do things, that were a little beyond the scope of a normal third-grade student. I was walking home from school with Joe one Thursday afternoon. He said, "I got 75 cents for my birthday. My dad gave me a quarter, and my grandpa gave me fifty cents. What do you say we go downtown tomorrow morning instead of going to school? There's a real good double feature at the Lyric Theater. We'll have plenty for carfare and lunch. We can get home the same time as we usually do." The more Joe explained the plan, the more convincing he became., so I agreed to go.
I thought it would be a great adventure. Friday morning we started off to school. Then we detoured to catch the streetcar. We could sit through a double feature, have a delicious Jack Salmon sandwich at the Hub Café, and nobody would be the wiser. We got off the streetcar at 5th and Main Sts. about 8:30. Then we spent the next hour looking into the department store windows.
About 9:45 we walked back to the movie. By the time we got back, a queue started to form in front of the box office. I was standing there in line, minding my own business, when a terrifying thought crossed my mind. This is the day that Mom was going to go to town to meet Dad to do some shopping. It had completely slipped my mind! I turned around to tell Joe of this tragic revelation, and saw my Mother, thirty feet away, looking at me as if her face was ready to explode. She walked up to me, grabbed me by the arm, lifting me off the ground with one arm, and shaking me at the same time. "What is the meaning of this? Just wait until I get you home, young man!"
Her verbal abuse was punctuated with one of her favorite expression she used when totally infuriated. "If I have to say such a thing, infuriated is too mild a term to express her state of mind at that particular moment. She turned to Joe and said, "You, young man, had better head for home this very moment. Your mother and I will have a long talk about this." My sole activity for the next 2 weeks was limited to eating, sleeping and homework. Play, was a dirty four-letter word that I had erased from my memory.
Dad worked for the Railway Express Agency. Every year he would apply for a free pass to ride on a train, we could go anywhere in the United States. The summer of 1931 was unusually hard.
Dad was distraught over loosing our house. He said that he was going to take Bill and me on a train ride as sort of a vacation. He had saved a few dollars out of his pay, and we were going to leave the first week in August. When the time came, we caught a streetcar and went downtown to the Union Terminal.
It was a big, beautiful building, made of white limestone. It wasn't quite finished, because the workmen were still putting the finishing touches on it. Outside was a wide sidewalk with flower gardens surrounding a beautiful fountain. Inside, were several enormous chandeliers suspended from the ceiling. The corridors were lined with pictures called murals. They were made with a zillion little pieces of tile of all different colors. Dad said they were called mosaics. The pictures depicted the different kinds of work that people did at the time the building was erected.
We walked down a long sloping hallway to the place where the trains ran through the bottom of the building. It was very noisy with the sounds of steam coming out of the locomotives and baggage wagons rattling up and down the ramps.
We were very excited to be going on a real train. We sat on a bench and waited for our train to pull in on track # 10 - that was where we were. Dad said there were thirty-two different train tracks in the terminal. The trains could connect with other trains in other cities, going any place in the United States or Canada, and even down to Mexico.
We weren't going to Canada or Mexico. Dad said we were going south, down to the Gulf of Mexico. "Here comes our train now. Stand back until it stops!" Bill and I stood on the edge of the platform, and craned our necks to watch, as our train came chugging slowly into the terminal.
After it stopped, a loud blast of steam came out of the bottom of the engine. Dad told us, the engineer does that to keep the pressure in the boiler from getting too high. We had to hold our hands over our ears, because it was so loud.
The conductor walked up, put his hand next to his mouth and yelled, "All Abooooaaarrrd." We climbed on the train as he waved his signal lantern to the engineer. PSHISSSSS. The connecting rod on the drive wheel started to move. The train jerked violently and we started to roll out of the terminal and on to the tracks of the Southern Railway System.
The part that I liked most about the train ride, was pulling into the depot in a strange city at night, and seeing all the pretty lights and people, milling in and out of the station. We wondered where they might be going.
The cars, moving through the town, added to the exciting view. Each time we stopped, we checked to see how long the train would be there. If there was enough time, we could got off and stretch our legs.
We pulled into Nashville, Tennessee early in the morning, and we were surprised to see the orange color of the earth. It was really fascinating! The train was going to lay over for almost an hour, to take on a supply of coal and water, while the Red Caps took care of the baggage.
We got off and walked around a little while, took in the sights near the depot, then turned and walked back to the station. They called it a depot down there. We got back just in time. The conductor grabbed hold of the iron bar next to the door, swung his foot up on the step, and yelled, "All Aboard for Chattanooga, Huntsville, and Mobile, Alabama."
He pulled up the hinged step as he waved his kerosene lantern toward the engineer, who was looking out the window of the locomotive. That was a signal to start.
The engine let out a blast of steam, like a big exhausted sigh, and jerked. Then we started to move again. When we left the depot and got past the outskirts of town, the train started picking up speed. It was going faster and faster. The wheels were going klickity-klack, klikity-klack.
Whenever we approached a little town, the engineer always blew several loud blasts on the whistle. Dad said the whistle was not only a warning that the train was coming, but it was also a signal to men who worked on the railroad. The manner in which the whistle blew, sent a message on ahead.
Before there were two-way radios, people used lights and whistles to send messages, like the Indians used smoke signals. Whenever we stopped at a station or depot, the conductor would walk through the cars and say, "Tickets-tickets, please." The conductor punched little holes in the tickets, and handed them back. He just looked at our pass, handed it back to Dad, and he put it in the band around his hat. Dad never left the house without his hat. I believe it was the first thing he put on when he got out of bed, and the last thing he took off when he went to bed. The Pass could not have been in a safer place than in Dad's hatband.
This is the Gulf of Mexico. It is part of the Atlantic Ocean It goes all the way from Florida, around Texas, and over to Mexico. There was water as far as we could see. There were huge steamboats. Dad said they were called freighters. We watched a long line of men unloading green bananas off a freighter, from South America.
The bananas were as green as grass. Dad said they had to ship them like that so they could ripen on the way to the United States. If they waited until the bananas were ripe, they would all be rotten before they got to the stores.
We walked around the docks a while, and then walked over to a banana warehouse. The bananas were stored there until they could be loaded on to freight trains. While we were looking around, two groups of men came out of the building. The first group was holding their hands in the air. The men following them had guns pointed at them. They were evidently under arrest. Dad said they were most likely caught smuggling contraband into this country from South America. The men with the guns were US Customs agents.
It was getting pretty late, so we started back to the depot. Dad said, "We don't have enough money for a hotel, so we will just have to sleep on the train." We were getting hungry again. We found a grocery store and bought a pound of bologna, a loaf of bread, and a bottle of milk. We each had two sandwiches, and a drink of milk. We had to drink out of the bottle; we didn't have any cups. We put the leftovers back in the paper bag and walked back to the depot. After checking the timetable we discovered that we had about two hours to wait before the train pulled out. It was already on the tracks behind the station. Passengers were supposed to wait on the benches inside the depot until the station agent told you that you could board the train. We took another tour along the docks to watch the gigantic cranes unloading the freighters. Our visit to Mobile Alabama lasted about five hours.
When we returned to the depot, Dad walked around and found the conductor, and started a conversation with him. You could tell from their conversation, they both loved trains. Then Dad said, "Say, Cap, my boys are dead tired. Is there any chance we could get on board now?" The Conductor said, "I'm not supposed to, but go ahead and get on board". We thanked him, and climbed on the train. Then we flopped in a seat - totally exhausted. In less time than it takes to tell, we were cradled in the arms of Morpheus.
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