Chapter VIII - Growing Up
Stein's woods, that primeval rain forest which held such terror a few years earlier, was downgraded into a simple wood lot, consisting of a few mature trees and two acres of scrub trees and saplings.
I was still spending a great deal of my free time shadowing Ilene Kahn, but the romance was only in my head.
Don enlisted again in the CCCs for six more months and was sent to Fort Knox, Ky. Bob was in the wood school building another year. Little Betty started in the 1st grade. Ruth was still a proofreader with The National Underwriters Insurance Company downtown.
Mom and Dad were struggling with all the financial affairs as usual, but we were all healthy and happy.
The Hanlons - Uncle Ed and Aunt Mary and the kids - came over on the 4th of July, and we hhad a great time celebrating. Mary was Mom's only sister. Pat and Jack Hanlon liked to visit us in the summer.
They thought we lived away out in the country. Actually it was only a three or four-mile trip from their home. They lived about a mile or so from Tom Watson's infamous dump.
We were always happy to see the Hanlons. Pat was seven months older than I. His right name was Edward after his father. He was nicknamed Pat because he was born on St. Patrick's Day.
They each got a brand-new bike just before we got our Elgin. Uncle Ed brought a big box of fireworks for the celebration after supper. He had pinwheels, roman candles, cherry bombs and cannon crackers, ladyfingers and sparklers. In the afternoon before supper, we got out the ice cream freezer. We made a gallon of fresh peach ice cream. That was always a happy chore! The ambrosia inside was being magically transformed into a delicious treat. Mom added chunks of ice, and pieces of rock salt crystals, into the space between the steel cylinder and the wooden pail that contained the steel cylinder. Salt was used to lower the temperature to produce freezing. It turned out to be a grand and glorious 4th of July!
Marg and Bill had me worried sick about how awful and mean my new teacher was going to be. Some of the older boys gave her the nickname "Red", after seeing wisps of red hair peeking out of her headdress. I was very pleased to learn that Sister Mary Anita was neither a drill instructor nor a dragon lady. She was very kind, and also aware of my vision problems. She said, "Edward, I know that you have trouble seeing the blackboard.
You may walk over and stand as close as necessary to copy your assignments". 53
When our seating arrangements were given us, I was hoping that I would be closer to Ilene this year. Of course, that didn't happen. She was in the first desk in the first row on the girl's side of the room. I was almost as far away from her as I could get.
Some people bought our house the first part of May. They told us we could stay until school was out. We moved into a big, white house on Plainville Pike, just half a mile away. Our new house was a roomy, two-story frame, with plenty of closet space for a change. The transition was probably made with less angst than any thus far. We even discovered Mariemont Farms. This was a rather large dairy farm that milked about fifty or more cows. I presume they furnished whole milk to Berling's dairy in Fairfax. Berlings wasn't really a dairy - it was a milk-receiving and processing plant.
We still had our old friends. Bill and I added a few more names to our growing list of new friends - the Riley Brothers - Charles and Bud. They live on a large farm between Indian Hill and Shademore.
The most interesting aspect of their acquaintance was that they rode a pony to school. They tethered them to a chain-link fence separating the schoolyard from the interurban rail line. The ponies got a lot of unwanted attention most of the time.
Charles was the oldest. He rode a beautiful Welsh Pony. It was awfully big for a pony. It looked like a horse to me, but he insisted it was a pony. Charlie's younger brother rode a little Shetland pony.
You would think that the kids in school had never seen a horse before. Bill and I walked up to their farmhouse one Saturday. They had a hundred-acre farm up on Walton Creek Road. It was a rather traditional farmhouse of the period, with a huge barn and several out buildings.
Mr. Reily was a blacksmith. He was sort of a farrier for the wealthier residents of Indian Hill., looking after the care of riding horses in the area. We were treated to a show and a very valuable lesson in metallurgy.
Mr. Riley made most of the horseshoes for farmers in the area. Farm tractors were a long way off at that time. It was really interesting to watch how he fired up the forge, and put iron rods in the coke fire. He pumped a bellows, and the iron rods glowed almost white hot in just a few minutes. He picked up a big hammer, and held the red-hot bar over his anvil. With eight or ten whacks, he had a horseshoe! He said, "Now, I have to put the nail holes in it." The horseshoe was still part of the iron rod. He put it back into the fire, and asked me if I would like to pump the bellows. I said, "Yes sir!"
He took the shoe out of the fire, and laid it on the anvil. With a long, thin punch, he made a row of nail holes while the shoe was cherry red.
Then he picked up a long chisel and, with one whack of his hammer, he separated the shoe from the iron. He dropped the red-hot horseshoe into a bucket of water. I asked him why he did that. He said, " I need to chill it quickly, to harden the steel. If I didn't do that it would be softer and wear out much quicker". That's called quenching. Watching Mr. Riley work with that red hot metal taught me a great deal in just a few minutes. After we became oriented in our new surroundings, Sister told us auditions were going to be held in the lunchroom to evaluate any latent musical talent the students might have. This included piano and singing ability.
I was surprised when Sister Mary Anita told me that I had been selected to sing for our choirmaster. Bill had been in the choir for a year, and he taught me some of the Latin words to several hymns. At that time, all the hymns were sung in Latin, with the Gregorian chants. Bill always wanted me to go with him to choir practice because it was always dark and scary when he came home. I was never permitted to go inside with the choir because I might disturb them.
When it was terribly cold I almost froze to death, waiting for a solid hour. My audition with Mr. Less was scheduled on a practice night. I was scared to death. Even though I didn't know what any of the words meant, I knew how to pronounce most of them. Eventually, I learned to translate many of them.
Mr. Less asked me if I knew how to pronounce the words to the Hymn "Panis Angelicus". This hymn was used by many choirs to test voice range. If a boy could sing it in the soprano key, he could sing most anything in church. The title translates to "Bread of Angels". It was sung only on special occasions during the most solemn part of the Mass - the Consecration of the Holy Eucharist. Bill sang this aria at Midnight Mass last Christmas, after Jack Horne's voice started to change. Jack Horne was the pride of St. Margaret's Choir for several years.
When I finished my audition, Mr. Less said, "Mr.Braun, you may join your brother in the soprano section of Saint Margaret's Choir". I was so thrilled, I couldn't wait to get home and tell Mom the good news.
This summer brought about the birth of the first "jitneys" in the area. These were a crude forerunner of the soapbox racer. They consisted of a board wide enough to sit on, four wheels, a 2 X 4, and a piece of clothesline for the steering gear.
The power train was a friend, willing to push you to the nearest hill, where gravity could take over. Brakes were a luxury that few could afford. Keds did most of the braking.
The creative energy of small boys across the country was turned to this latest craze. Thousands of faithful little red wagons fell victim, and were cannibalized for the wheels and axles. Good ball- bearing wheels were sought after like the Holy Grail in this money-less society.
The tapered produce hamper served as a simulated hood, and it was highly prized. The fad was so widespread and intensified that General Motors was producing Soap-Box Racer Kits, containing four, ball-bearing wheels, and all the necessary hardware to construct a good soap-box racer.
The vast majority, however, were constructed at little or no cost. This was an example of what a ten-year-old boy can do with four wheels, a board, and a piece of rope.
Little League Baseball is born
In the spring, Sister Mary Anita told us that we had a visitor from the Cincinnati Reds baseball team. The man said "The Reds" were going to start a club for school children. Members of the club would be admitted to Crosley Field on certain days during baseball season to see the Reds play. This club was called, "The Knot-Hole Club". The name depicted the days when Baseball Diamonds were enclosed behind wooden fences and children would watch the game through knotholes in the fence.
Each of us was given a membership card. The club also had new kind of hats that were called baseball caps. The new caps cost twenty-five cents. They were white, with a big "C" on them.
The caps were made available from Sister Mary Anita. Children that were not able to pay for their caps at that time, were permitted to pay what ever they could, when they could.
This was the birth of Little League baseball, as we know it today. It took several years to develop into organized teams. The Cincinnati Reds Knot-Hole Club is the egg from which it was hatched in 1934.
Shortly after this visit from the Reds player, Sister Mary Anita, with the help of Sister Mary Emmanuel, The Principal (Mother Superior) and several other Nuns, not to mention Father Ansbury, arranged a field trip to Crosley Field. In 1934 a field trip to Crosley Field was tantamount to an African safari. Grades 1-4 were given the afternoon off. Grades 5-8 planned this unprecedented field trip. This would require two streetcars.
My search for illusive pennies started once again, but I knew that no one was going to swindle me out of it this time, like they did before.
Some of the children (mostly girls) chose not to go. They were permitted to take the afternoon off. After lunch we all formed a line -two abreast and started up Watterson Street to the streetcar line. Two chartered cars were sent to take us to Crosley field. I was standing next to the sliding window in the back of the car. As we traveled through the inner city, several black boys were hanging on the outside of the car hitching a ride.
All of a sudden one of the boys reached into the car and snatched my new baseball cap right off my head. Then, he jumped off the car and ran away. I was fit to be tied. He ruined my whole day. And to make matters worse, The REDS lost the game. We all enjoyed the game even though I wasn't able to see very much of it. The field trip to Crosley Field was the main topic of schoolyard conversation, for days.
Once in a while, on Saturday afternoon, we would go up to the Mariemont Farm and watch them milk the cows. They all walked into the milking room and into their stanchions, as though they had been trained.
Joe Longbottom came over and asked Bill and me if we would like to go up to Mariemont Farm to see their big bull. We said, "Sure"! Our house was on the corner of Plainville Pike and Britton Avenue. Britton was rather short. It dead-ended (terminated) at the dairy farm
We walked back to a huge animal cage, made with two-inch galvanized pipes. There, in front of me, stood the most enormous bull that I had ever seen! I could not believe my eyes!
The foreman told us that the dairy had bought some wild mustangs at a government auction in Arizona. These wild horses had been broken to a saddle out there, and were due to arrive any day. The following Saturday we all went up to see the new mustangs. Once again I was selected to try to ride the first one.
Go ahead, Ed - you can do it. I figured if Hoot Gibson and Tom Mix could do it, why not give it a try. Maybe I was a better cowboy than I thought. After about 5 minutes of encouraging persuasion, they convinced me that I could ride one. I had ridden ponies all by myself at the Zoo and at Coney Island a few times, and I rode Bud's Shetland pony up on their farm. All you have to do is hang on tight. OK, you guys win. I'll take that little brown and white one, over there. The foreman said "I'll get him for you. He is the gentlest one of the bunch." I climbed up on the mounting stand. It was a wood platform about three feet square and two feet high.
The foreman shortened the stirrup straps. I swung my right leg over my mustang, and slid into the saddle. The foreman held the reins until I got situated. Then he said, "All Set?" I responded, "Yea, I think so." No one ever told me what the word mustang meant. I didn't know a mustang from a moose. The instant the foreman released the reins, I believe my tame little mustang thought he was in the starting gate at Churchill Downs. He tore out through the pasture like a streak of greased lightening, doing about 35 mph, with a terrified little kid hanging on for dear life.
He crossed the pasture, and headed up the hill toward the woods. He was deliberately running under low branches, trying to scrape off whatever was hanging on his back. We sailed down out of the woods, and he headed for the horse barn. The barn had a double pair of Dutch doors - the kind that have separate tops and bottoms. The top half of one door was closed. The other pair was open. I couldn't believe, that the horse put his head down low, and headed for the door with the top half closed. I slid off a split second before he went under that door, scared out of my wits. I was crying like a baby. Every time I hear the word "Mustang", A cold shiver runs down my back.
The heat that summer was almost unbearable, with the thermometer at 90 degrees or above all through the last half of July and most of August. When people went into a theater or a church, there was a person standing at the entrance to hand each person a paper fan mounted on a small stick that served a handle. Air-conditioning wasn't even in the dictionary at that time. The only relief from the stifling heat, was the same for people as it was for wild animals - shade or water.
The thought of families swimming in muddy ponds or swimming holes seems almost ludicrous now. But, during the Depression, it was a very common practice. Every Sunday, a great many cars were overloaded with adults and children standing on the running boards - their swimsuits dangling from the projecting door handles of the cars.
Tom Longbottom, Joe 's oldest brother, owned a 1932 Model A Ford coupe with a Rumble seat. This model was designed to accommodate the driver and 3 passengers. One in front and 2 in the Rumble seat. On more than one occasion there were as many as ten of us hanging on to it, going to and from one of our favorite swimming holes - Remmington, Bass Island and Shademore. Most of these swimming holes were actually tributaries of the Little Miami and Great Miami Rivers. That meandered through Southern Ohio.
We thought Remmington was probably the best. It was located off Camargo Road about 10 miles North. There were several small shelters on the riverbank, where people could change into their clothes and or swim suits for those that had them. Many just went in sort of "Come as you are" in old clothes.
The main attraction for me was a huge tree right at the waters edge that had a large branch projecting out over the water with a heavy tow rope tied to the branch that made a perfect swing. We could pull the rope back onto the bank and then swing out over the water and drop in. The only drawback was one rope and twenty kids waiting their turn. It was worth the wait.
Many of the more daring and experienced young men would swim in one of the many gravel pits located along US 32 through Newtown. These pits were filled with water 30 to 40 feet deep. Every summer these pits would claim the lives several young men in spite of the posted signs-
"Swimming prohibited." Keep Out.
These young swimmers, convinced they would live forever, would dive into deep into these pits. The deeper they went, the colder the water was. The rapid change in temperature often induced paralyzing leg cramps, pulling them down into this liquid grave.
I came very close to becoming one of the drowning victims. Tom Longbottom and Don took several of us boys down to a shallow area in the river. Tom and don were swimming about 50 yards up stream from the kids.
Several boys wanted to swim across to the other side. They told me there was a narrow channel in the middle that you had to swim across, but it was easy. I waded out until the water was up to my chest, then I jumped and started to swim behind the others. No one ever warned me of the danger of letting down to check the depth of the water. That's precisely what I did, then could not get back on top to start swimming again.
One of the boys noticed that I was having trouble and in danger of drowning. He yelled at Don for help. Don raced down to me and grabbed my hair just as I went under for the third time. He pulled me to shallower water and hoisted me up so that his right shoulder was in the pit of my stomach. Most of the water drained out of me on the way back to the bank. I was sick and scared but he saved my life. The last Sunday in July the living room floor was covered with kids reading the comics. The Sunday paper was treated with a great deal more respect back then. It wasn't stuffed with trash.
We were in somewhat of a stupor, after consuming our usual scrumptious Sunday dinner.
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