Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Ode to a Ballpoint Pen (which has run out of ink)

You spoke for me

When speechless

Many times I could not say

My heartsong.

Your lithesome lines

Boldly went

Where I, pour soul,

Dared not.

Now you lay there

Silently spent—

So will I be.

Away with you

I will cast you out

And find another

More bold, more beautiful

Who will not be so faithless.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Here sits the Write-Meister

Thinking, thinking, thinking

Why not write?

Thinking, thinking, thinking

Stinking thinking after all

An old familiar story

Thinking, thinking, thinking

Written down it

Does not erase the smell.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Lover—Not a Fighter

The only real knockdown-drag-out fight I remember was in 9th grade during art class. This classmate who shall remain nameless, mainly because I can’t recall his name, but who I later found out was a Golden Gloves boxer, punched me several times in the eye with his left, after which I dropped dazedly to my knees and, upon coming to my senses seeing, out of my “good” eye, Gladys Pokela with a cold paper towel, holding it on my eye while “chewing out” the boxer.

The fight started because I had accidentally smudged his “masterpiece,” followed by his reciprocating. And then the escalation began. I was more of a wrestler than a street fighter and threw my sudden adversary over 3 desks before he began using my eye as a punching bag. It was over fairly quickly and I have to say it was worth it. I had been trying to get “Pokey’s” attention all year.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A Teacher Who Wouldn’t Give Up

Mrs. Johnson, 9th grade English at Lincoln Junior High (which was right next door to John Hay) slapped Charles Smith right across the face the first day of class for something he said. Charles promptly returned the favor and ran out of the room with Mrs. Johnson on his heels. We all sat there pretty quiet for what seemed like a long time. Then in came Mrs. Johnson, followed a few minutes later by Charles. Apparently they had come to some understanding, because that is the only memory I have of 9th grade English, and Charles, one of the few black students we had at Lincoln, went on to be a star fullback on our High School team and then went into teaching and ended up as a high school principal (I saw him at our 40th high school reunion). I don’t know if he ever gave Mrs. Johnson any credit for encouraging him on his career path, but her dealing with an unruly student as she did, and her refusal to give up on him without a “fight” sure made an impression on me. I always did well in English.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

I Was an Honorary Jew

One of my old grade school to high school friends with whom I have lunch regularly suggested that I should write what it was like for a gentile growing up in a Jewish neighborhood.  I never gave it much thought during those years but in reflection have to acknowledge the impact it had on my later life.  I remember hanging around the synagogue on Friday nights on occasion listening to the singing of the Cantor and the chanting of the prayers in Hebrew.  In grade school we also celebrated Jewish holidays and had dramatizations right alongside the pageantry of Christmas and Easter where we dressed up in bathrobes to play shepherds.

I also worked for a time for a Jewish deli and catering service as a delivery driver.  I delivered a number of bar mitzvahs and would wait in the kitchen to take the leftovers back to the store, which gave me the opportunity to listen to the celebration and eat my fill of good kosher foods.

I also had a paper route delivering the Minneapolis Star and Tribune and in those days you had to “collect” for the paper on a weekly basis and hope you got there at the right time before the weekly pay was gone.  The thing I puzzled over and never learned about until years later were the older women who came to the door to pay me and I would notice these numbers tatooed on their wrists.  I never asked about them but I often think of the people I lived amongst and the number of my friends whose relatives were survivors of the concentration camps living in our close knit neighborhood.

I used to say to my high school friends that I was the only “goy” in our school elected an honorary Jew.  I don’t know if the election was actually ever formally held, but that is still my story and I am sticking to it.  I don’t know if my surroundings and my friends had anything to due with my taking 3 years of classical Hebrew in seminary from a professor who had studied at Hebrew Union and claimed to be a “Jewish Baptist” but there you have it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Horse Tank

We called our refrigerator the “horse tank.” It had been a long time since any horses had come to drink. The tank was a 6 foot long by 3 foot wide wooden box connected to the well by a metal pipe. Fresh cold water was always flowing in whenever the pump was working. Grandma used to send me to get milk, cream, or butter from the refrigerator aka horse tank. I remember reaching way to the bottom and coming up with nearly frozen fingers and forearm, gripping one of the requested items. It felt good, especially on hot summer days. This cold storage storehouse also held treasures: soda pops and bottles of beer to be offered to anyone who happened by at “break times” from the fields. This was the same tank where my grandfather rescued the big white tomcat I was intent on drowning after I caught him snatching the last of my pet rabbits out of the box I had made for them in the barn.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fun on the Farm

Fun on the Farm

We made our own fun growing up on a farm with lots of cousins, grandparents, uncles and aunts. Sometimes our grandpa or Uncle Ralph would take time to hitch up a wagon and take us for a ride around the farm yard. Especially in winter when there was no field work to be done, but only “chores” and repairs on equipment to be made, Uncle Ralph would sometimes help us hook up a makeshift train of sleds and pull us behind the tractor clear around the barn and through the cow pasture.

When I was old enough I got trained to drive the tractor and pull the hay mower or hay rake or hay wagon during the summer. One time I remember my Uncle gave me permission to go to the tractor shed and start up the tractor and bring it around to where he was working. I got the tractor started all right but when I was ready to back it out of the shed I somehow put it in forward gear instead of reverse. When I let out the clutch that old Farmall tractor lurched right into the back wall of the shed pushing the wall about three feet out at the bottom.

Trembling I got down from the seat and went to tell my uncle what I had done. He didn’t say a word but went to the shed, got up on the tractor, backed it out, went around to the back of the shed, and proceeded to push the wall back into place. A two-by-four appeared for a brace and after a few nails were hammered into place the shed would stand for another decade or more. I was much more careful driving that tractor after that. And I don’t remember my uncle ever again asking me to go get it when he wasn’t present.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Town Where I Lived

A decade ago a huge twister roared through Charles City, Iowa, the town where I spent most of my summers and then lived with my grandparents during 7th and 8th grade. The tornado destroyed most of the downtown on both sides of the river, including the little neighborhood near the river bridge where our house was, the house I helped my grandfather paint one summer, the house where we played checkers and listened to the radio in the evenings. Gone! The Shell Station on the corner. Gone! The bridge was still there, about the only landmark I could recognize.


   The dam where my Grandfather and I fished for bullheads

CeCe High School, a few blocks away, is still there, now a middle school when the new high school was built.


The old suspension bridge spanning the Cedar River I used to ride my bike across to get to the park where we played and where picnics and carnival rides were held, and bonfires during Homecoming. All that is left of that bridge is a bent support structure on each side of the river.


I hardly recognize the place but the memories live on in the present.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My Grandmother Was a Wonderful Woman

My Grandmother Hamilton was a wonderful woman

FE Hamilton Family-1

My Dad grew up in a family of six boys. By the time I was on the scene my grandmother still had one of her boys at home, my uncle Wayne, who was three years older than me. He used to let me tag along with him and his friends. My grandmother used to make him play with me. Actually I considered him like the older brother I never had. Some of my memories include the 1930 something Willys auto that had to be “cranked” to start that my grandfather kept in the garage out back near the outhouse, which many houses on the edge of town still had before indoor plumbing was available. I remember at least once my uncle taking me for a “forbidden” ride in that old Willys.

Wayne Hamilton-1

My grandmother Bertha, or as Wayne sometimes called her teasingly, “Bert,” always had a substantial garden. When I would stay with her, toward the end of summer, she would take me out to the garden and we would pick a dozen or so ears of sweet corn, “shuck” them together, boil them in a big kettle, and sit down with a big brick of butter and eat them all for lunch. This could be one reason for my difficulty with my weight while growing up.

FE Hamilton Family-3

                     My Uncle Dean

My grandmother was a devout Seventh Day Adventist who used to tell me the most frightening tales from the Book of Revelation that filled me with images of the agony and suffering of those who rejected Christ. But she always kept my attention. She was in many ways a simple woman who tried to live her faith and always spoke of Jesus as though she was speaking of her best friend. She was also one of the kindest persons I ever knew. I never heard her say a negative word about another, which amazed me in later years knowing that her firstborn, Francis, died an alcoholic; her second, Edward, also an alcoholic, died after spending the bulk of his adult life in prison; my Dad, Floyd, gave her years of grief from his alcoholism, though he finally recovered and led a somewhat happy life; her 4th son, Robert, the light of her life, became an Adventist missionary to Pakistan, then returned home to divorce his wife and marry a young “adopted” Pakistani girl brought back with them; Dean, the 5th son, returned from the Korean War and was killed while walking along a highway at night in a drunken state; but my Uncle Wayne, after the usual rebellious years, some of which I witnessed, graduated from high school, spent a distinguished career in the Air Force, married a wonderful woman and raised a family and now lives retired in Iowa. We keep in touch through my mother but only see each other on occasion these days.                                                              FE Hamilton Family-2Floyd H Mpls and Wayne H-1

But I wanted to get this down in writing before I’m gone as a testimony to my grandmother Hamilton, who also had a hand in raising me and who loved all of her sons and grand children with the love of her best friend, Jesus.


    My Uncle Wayne and me at my Dad’s funeral in 1976

Monday, September 21, 2009

“El Gotago”

Milan Charles City

It was the summer of ’49 in Charles City, Iowa and it was hot. I had just finished seventh grade at CeCe High, the combined junior and senior high school in this small city of 10,000, kept in being by the dwindling number of family farms surrounding this north-central Iowa community and the Oliver tractor plant where my “town grandfather” worked in the foundry all his working life. My Grandpa Williams, the farmer for all of his working life, had given up and moved to town, leaving only my Uncle Ralph to support his family of five kids at what amounted to “share cropping.” He only lasted a few more years before his “sale.”

I lived with my grandparents while my parents were going through some “hard times,” due to my dad’s drinking and my mother’s being fed up with his drinking. Seventh grade at CeCe High was my 3rd school in that grade and I was glad to see summer come. Kids could work for money in those days without worrying about child labor laws, and since we were poor (this revelation came later) I felt fortunate to get a job at the local nursery, which was more of a garden farm. We weeded and picked carrots, green beans, onions, and especially potatoes. That last crop was hot, sweaty, dirty work and we were paid by the bucket, 9 cents each as I recall. But I got to keep all the money I earned, as long as I saved some for school the next fall.

There was a whole crew of kids, minimally supervised by a couple of adults. And since we only got paid for what we produced, we did not need any outside motivation to keep us at it. Among the crew was a family of migrant workers who spoke a language I did not understand. Nor did they understand mine, so we communicated through signs and gestures. That did not stop one of the home town boys from getting “familiar” with one of the girls regularly behind a shed on the property. I was especially interested in this girl with the beautiful brown skin, dark hair and eyes, and melodic voice. I was intrigued with her laugh as well, as she kept gesturing toward me with her arms billowing out amid her shouts of what sounded to me like “el gotago, el gotago.” I kept asking her and her brothers what she was saying. I tried to find out from some of my other co-workers what these strange words meant, so that I could laugh at the joke along with them.

But no one would enlighten me. In fact, it was several years later that it dawned on me what she was saying. It was a good thing too, for I had had enough teasing about that while growing up. It wasn’t “el gotago” she was saying, but “El Gordo,” “Fatso” in our idiom. That beautiful little brown-skinned, dark-haired, dark-eyed girl I had hoped so much to impress was making fun of me, the “fat one,” El Gordo.

Kids can be insensitive and mean in any language and culture, I guess. I wonder about that girl, if she remembers that encounter, or if people tend to remember only the hurtful things said to them and not those they say to others.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

My Grandfather’s Hasty Exit

                  Gr&Gr Williams                                   Wms Family Fun-1

My grandfather, John Wesley Williams, would have been classified as an alcoholic by today’s standards, I suppose. But he wasn’t even known as a drunk, except at times when he went to town and came home “sick,” as Grandma Williams sometimes said. She would read him the riot act.

He was a hard-working farmer, which probably kept him from being a full blown drunkard, but he did love the trips to town, and always managed to stop for a visit at the local tavern. He’d always ask if I wanted to stop for a soda pop when I was with him, and of course I always did, not realizing that I was being a willing accomplice to his actual reason for stopping.

I didn’t quite understand what was happening at the time, but one trip to town resulted in one beer leading to just one more, and then another, and so on, and Grandpa accusing the bartender of “short-changing” him (along with a choice epithet which I am not writing down); whereupon the bartender leapt over the bar, ‘Billy club’ in hand, forcing a hastily mumbled apology and an even hastier exit.

I have other memories of Grandpa which are more pleasant to remember which I will tell another time.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Long Journey of Awakening (Part One)

They say you arrive in this world kicking and screaming, yanked from your mother’s womb, held upside down and smacked on your bottom, and then wrapped up and deposited in a little glass covered coffin called a bassinette in a room full of other strange little beings which is called a nursery, watched over by a few huge beings called nurses.

I don’t remember any of that. Maybe, like Rip Van Winkle, reputed to have slept through a revolution, I just floated through all the trauma of being born in a state of unconscious bliss. I do, however, have a vivid memory of being yanked out of my comfortable extended family cocoon at age four, when my mother arrived with a husband, dragged me into the back of his ’40 Ford blue coupe, and drove me from Charles City, Iowa to Minneapolis, whimpering on the floor of the back seat every inch of the 120 or so mile journey. That was what you might call an awakening, a rude awakening.

I fell into my new environment, or was dropped into it, and had to sink or swim. I learned to float. It was World War II, and my stepfather, Floyd E. Hamilton, soon to be known as “Dad,” having been rejected for military service as “4-F,” went to work for Northern Ordinance Company, making munitions for the war effort. All I knew was that we moved several times and that Floyd was gone all night and slept all day. He worked the graveyard shift for the duration of the war.

I survived the transition and kindergarten and finally settled into my next comfort zone in North Minneapolis, beginning first grade at John Hay school and remaining in the same upstairs apartment of a four-plex and at the same school for the next six and a half years. I gathered around me all the comforts of childhood. My best friend, Gary Lundquist, who was three years older and had a glass eye, which I often watched with fascination as he removed it and dropped it in a glass of water. The neighborhood became part of my extended family. The Fitermans across the hall, Plymouth Avenue containing every business required for daily survival, especially the Homewood Theatre and Brochin’s Delicatessen, the synagogue where I used to sit outside and listen to the singing of the cantor and the prayers in Hebrew, and my school, where I found acceptance and encourage-ment from teachers and friends, and where my first real girl friend appeared. Twyla Holznagel and I were 6th grade hall monitors for the whole year, capped off by my first real date, all the way to the Orpheum downtown on the streetcar, with hamburgers and malts at Bridgman’s after the movie. My dad gave me $10 which covered the whole event. I had it all. Now life was really going my way.

Then came 7th grade at Lincoln Junior High. Yanked out of my comfort zone again. The regimentation, having to swim naked in gym class, the one-way traffic to get to classes, the kids from other grade schools, especially Skip Lindsey whose hand I accidentally sliced with my pocket knife, all combined to bring about little cracks in my universe. Midway through 7th grade, in the middle of winter, I was picked up and deposited in New Brighton, near my dad’s work, for almost the remainder of the school year. This would have been a total loss, except for the 4-H Club I joined—and Karen Kota. Or maybe it was because of Karen I joined 4-H.

By Easter I was, miraculously, back in Charles City from whence originally yanked, living in a house which my parents and maternal grandparents, Grandpa and Grandma Williams were buying together. I was again deposited, parentless, but with my favorite people. All my cousins, aunts and uncles, and both sets of grandparents were close by. Small town life suited me. So I quickly adapted, did well in what was left of 7th grade at CeCe High, spent the summer working in a local nursery and other yard jobs, and went into 8th grade with gusto. A full sports agenda, football, basketball, track, along with lots of friends, especially Gary Hawbaker and Tommy Wick, made for a well-rounded year. And of course there was omigodgorgeous Donna Beasley, in whose notebook was slipped a gushy valentine from a “secret admirer,” after which I endured her sitting with her girlfriends whispering and all of them throwing giggly glances my way, followed soon after by a “visit” from her 9th grade boyfriend, who wanted to make sure I was clear on the consequences of any future advances I had in mind.

Yes, 8th grade was a year of finding my comfort zone again and re-establishing my roots in family and community. I went to confirmation class at the local Lutheran church, hung out with my uncle Wayne, who was three years ahead of me at CeCe High, frequented the Dairy Queen and the A & W Drive-Inn, located strategically at opposite ends of Main Street, and made good but not great grades. Then came the fateful summer of ’57.

My parents and grandparents on both sides had planned this once-in-a-lifetime cross country trip to the west coast. My Uncle Wayne was going too. This was going to be great. Grandpa Hamilton had just purchased a shiny 1948 Plymouth and my dad a 1946 green Chevy. Uncle Wayne was the designated driver for the Plymouth and my dad commandeered the Chevy. We piled the luggage in racks on top of both cars and headed out. We must have looked like the Clampetts, the only thing missing a sign saying “California or Bust.” We did it all that summer. Mt.Rushmore. Yellowstone. Reno. Beverly Hills. The Redwoods. Las Vegas. We stayed with my uncle Bob in Portland and visited the famous rose gardens, where I remember encountering a fawn lying in the grass, who allowed me to pet him for the longest time. We spent a couple of days with distant relatives in Merced, California, and with my Grandpa Williams’ sister Mattie in Pomona. That was just about the most wonderful summer ever. Almost all of it.

As we were preparing for the return trip back to good old Charles City my dad and Grandpa Williams got into this horrendous argument, which resulted in the two of them not speaking to each other for the balance of the journey, as well as for the next four years. Another by-product was the severing of the agreement to purchase the house in Charles City, which was now my home, and another abrupt “yank” out of my beloved surroundings back to Minneapolis. Déjà vu all over again. Oh well, at least we moved back to the old neighborhood and I dropped back into Lincoln Junior High just in time for 9th grade.


CeCe 8th Grade Basketball Team (minus yours truly who was taking the picture).  That’s Gary Hawbaker & Tommy Wick in front on either side of the big guy.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Skippy Smells

Skippy’s been gone again

And it’s no problem for me

Discerning where he’s been:

Down by Glenwood Creek—

His favorite spot to forage

And roll in dead fish—and reek!

But he’s home again

And sometimes I still see him

Wiggling and spreading it all over me—

That rotting smell.

How I wish I could hug him and give him his bath—

Putrid odor and all.

Milan and Skippy 43 45-3

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The End of the Story

I come from Minnesota
Where Minnehaha falls
Lakes freeze over in winter
As well as your eyelids
And stories of Paul and Babe
Fill young minds to overflowing
And where you grew up
In real neighborhoods and
Fannie Cohen would call your mother
Whenever you misbehaved
And where surprised New Yorkers would come
Wondering where the cows were
That they were told wandered the streets
And where Minnesotan is spoken
And is definitely distinct from Wiscan-zan or Io-way-an.

But I’m not going back
Because I found it is true
That the sun shines
Every day in California
And I have a bridge I’d like
To sell those New Yorkers.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I Grew Up With 10 Cousins

Ever since I was 8 years old, the day after school let out for the summer, my mother would take me to the Greyhound Bus Depot in downtown Minneapolis, after ensuring that I had clothes for the summer, an ample sack lunch packed, and a couple of dollars in my pocket, and send me off to Charles City in north-central Iowa, where I would spend 2 glorious months on the farm with my grandparents, at my Uncle Ralph’s farm working my tail off (as I experienced it) in the fields, with my Grandma Hamilton and Uncle Wayne in “town,” and usually spending a week with my Aunt Mae and cousin Janice in Vinton, Iowa.

I was the oldest of 11 cousins in four families.  So except for Janice who was only 2 years younger, I watched come into the world (and sometimes babysat) my Aunt Thelma’s four boys and my Uncle Ralph’s 5 kids.  As I was the oldest, this gave me certain “rights.”  I could organize my cousins into a baseball or a football team depending on the season.  And of course I got to be the star quarterback as well as coach and manager.  That is, until my Uncle Pete, observing one day, decided to enter into the “scrimmage” in which I was demonstrating my prowess, and take me out with a cross body block.  Another lesson learned in growing up with my cousins.

Milan Cousins-1

                                        Milan Cousins-2                                                                           Janice & Milan-1

Ralph Wms Kids 63

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

American Flyer

Milan American Flyer-1

I wanted an electric train since before I could remember wanting anything. Every Christmas I would write a letter to Santa and always at the top of the list was “I’ve been good almost all year and I’m sure you just were so busy getting things to the kids who needed things but could I please this year have an electric train for Christmas?”

I’ll never forget it! Christmas morning, a month before my 12th birthday, some years after I had stopped writing to Santa, under the tree was this unbelievable three-passenger-car-and-a-baggage-car-and caboose American Flyer with a black locomotive that puffed smoke train set with switches and crossings and other accessories. I finally got it! Then my dad wouldn’t let me play with it until he had finished.

Monday, September 14, 2009

My Grandfather’s Coin Purse


Real leather—not cheap imitation

A metal frame—hinged—with clasp

Still works

Opening with a finger-flip

There’s the button-down pocket


“D’you wanna get a soda-pop?”

Those trips to town recalled

With warm sensations arising

From somewhere deep inside.

Out would come the leather treasure pocket

Never failed me.

I have it now—carry it with me

Just like he did—(He’s gone—cancer got him at 76)

Leather separating from metal

And grain nearly worn off in places

Speaks volumes.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I Come From Minnesota


I come from Minnesota

Where Minnehaha falls,

Lakes freeze over in winter

As well as your eyelids;

And stories of Paul and Babe

Fill young minds to overflowing.

And where you grew up

In real neighborhoods and

Fannie Cohen would call your mother

Whenever you misbehaved.

And where surprised New Yorkers would come

Wondering where the cows were

That they were told wandered the streets.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

My Grandmother Williams

Cecil Livermore-1

My grandmother Cecil Williams had this special way of referring to her three sons-in-law and one daughter-in-law. She would, in the midst of a normal conversation, if one of “them” came up, curl up her lips, bare her teeth, screw up her face so as to make it perfectly clear her meaning, snarl “That Pete!” or “That Floyd!” or “That Vern!” Or in an even more caustic manner “That Mattie!” It never failed. My grandmother was an equal opportunity criticizer of sons-and-daughters-in-law.

                              Grma Williams-1

Friday, September 11, 2009

My Aunt Mae and the Three Sisters From . . . . . . .

My Aunt Mae’s house in Vinton, Iowa was usually one stop for about a week in my summer vacation.  She had one daughter, my cousin Janice, who will appear more prominently in a later posting.  I always had a pleasant experience visiting her home.  Her husband, Vern, was a wood carver and enjoyed showing off his birds and animals.  My Aunt loved to garden and we always ate lots of vegetables.  I had a good relationship with each of my mother’s sisters, but there was something that happened, some weird demonic force that took over, when the three of them got together.  They always seemed to end up with hurt feelings, angry exchanges, one of them not speaking to one or the other for a period, sometimes a lengthy one.  I always tried to steer clear when there was to be a “get-together of the three sisters from H . . .”


Thursday, September 10, 2009

My Uncle Ralph

My Uncle Ralph was a Sergeant in the Army in the Second World War, stationed in the Aleutian Islands, where our country expected the Japanese to invade us from. The Aleutian Islands are within spitting distance of Russia, even closer than Alaska, which I guess means that my Uncle Ralph was closer to Russia than Sarah Palin. Ralph was the oldest in the Williams family. When he came home after the war he took advantage of the GI Bill and went to school one night a week for a couple of years to learn how to be a better farmer. He married and raised five kids and every summer as soon as school let out my mother put me on a Greyhound Bus from Mpls to Charles City, Iowa, where I “worked” on the farm and lived with my Uncle. One summer I was paid a dollar a day for helping out with mowing and baling hay, shocking wheat, gardening, and babysitting as his family grew, so my Aunt Mattie could do her work as a farm wife. My uncle survived as an Iowa farmer, which amounted to being a “middle-class share-cropper,” until the early sixties, when he, like so many other small farmers, had to sell all of his farm equipment and move to “town” where he finished raising his family and got a job as a delivery truck driver. He died many years ago, but I often think of him and the many things he taught me.

Ralph W-Sgt WWII

                            Ralph W-Farmer

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

My Aunt Thelma says she “raised” me!

I guess she did, at least for the first 4 years of life on the farm in South Dakota, while my mother worked in Sioux City. Here is a photo of “moving day” with Aunt Thelma and me, which must have been in 1940 or 41, and then a more recent one of the two of us. The Williams family, my grandparents and my mother, Aunt Thelma, Aunt Mae, and Uncle Ralph were an important part of my support system for many years. My mother and Aunt Thelma are the only two left now. I honor each of them with my memory and now my blog


                                        Aunt Thelma-1

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Lesson I Didn’t Learn in Grade School

I had a collection of more than a thousand comic books. I not only collected them but I read them voraciously and almost constantly, when I wasn't in school, playing with friends, or doing "chores." My mother worried that I was spending too much time with my comic books. My favorites were Wonder Woman and Classics Comics. One day I remember a word exercise in 2nd grade. The teacher gave the class a number of difficult word definitions. The one she gave me was "a race of giants." I quickly responded, to her amazement, with "Titans! She asked me how I had come to know that word. I said I read a book about Titans. I didn't tell her it was one of my comic books. So I learned that not every pastime is a waste of time.

Monday, September 7, 2009

My Musical Career

In 7th grade I signed up for band and decided to try learning to play the cornet. My family moved in the middle of the school year and I never had the opportunity again, partly due to two more moves in the next 2 years. I taught myself the guitar on my mother’s Oahu, and became pretty good on the harmonica, but never achieved the virtuosity I had imagined.

In college I took one quarter of a group piano class, but then dropped that. I was a boy soprano in grade school and was chosen to perform with the all-city chorus at the end of the 6th grade school year. I continued singing in our church choir as a tenor and even performed a few solos.

Never having taken formal music training was something I always mildly regretted. I did please myself when in my thirties I taught myself to play one hymn on my church’s Hammond organ, but could never get the foot pedaling down.

I have always been drawn to music but never had the passion to stay disciplined to learn one thing really well. I guess that makes me a sort of musical dilettante.

Drake & Des Moines-Hootenany

A “Hootenany” in Des Moines, Iowa in 1960 something

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Memories of Teachers

I remember my teachers in snapshots and sound bites, as I remember my life. Mrs. Eldred, my 2nd grade Sunday school teacher at Emmanuel Lutheran in North Minneapolis was a large woman whose favorite line was “Jesus loves you.” I don’t remember getting any hugs from her—I don’t remember getting many hugs from anybody in those years—but I felt the love in Mrs. Eldred’s class.

Mrs. Tippie I encountered in 6th grade at John Hay School. We were all well-warned that this tall, slim, stern woman would hang any of us out of her second story classroom window by our shirt collars if we misbehaved. Somehow, I don’t remember any of us ever misbehaving. The power of a story!

The photo below looks like it is a picture of a school I attended.  Actually it is, but the building is what used to be Lincoln Junior High, now an elementary school, I believe.  In the foreground is the subject of the photo, the blacktopped playground.  This is where the grade school I attended, John Hay School, from 1st through 6th grades, used to stand.

JohnHay School Site

Saturday, September 5, 2009

The Rabbi

Three houses down from our apartment building at 915 Morgan was the Rabbi’s house. Almost invisible from the sidewalk because of a tall fence of bushes, it was the back yard that drew our attention. Of course, we never actually saw into it, because there was a tall wooden fence with no missing boards. We heard that that was where the Rabbi hung his kosher chickens to “bleed out”—hanging from the clothesline—every week on Thursday, in preparation for Shavis. The house was not so memorable. But the mystique of it was.


It was wartime and we all did our part!

Friday, September 4, 2009

My Poor Schwinn

I was 9 and it was a Schwinn. My stepdad Floyd put it together and gave me a lesson and turned me loose on it to ride the neighborhood. A bit wobbly but with great and courageous anticipation of riding like a Pro, I put one foot on the curb, swung the other leg over the saddle and took off. “Oh! Oh! Here comes a curb and I am heading right for it. What now?”

Curb and front wheel came together—front fork bending back—kid flying over handle bar. “My bike is ruined. My riding career over before it began.” I limped back to the apartment house and made my way to our second floor apartment, feigning as much injury as I could muster, fearing punishment but even more, disapproval of ‘kid stupid’. My stepfather took one look at the bent fork, another at ‘kid stupid’ and promptly took bike fork, heated it and bent it back into shape. He was an accomplished machinist and knew things: Smart stepdad—stupid kid. But he never said a word to let on the least disappointment.

I had that Schwinn until I went to high school, and except for one other near death experience with a Model “A” on Olsen Highway, I never hit another tree. But that is another story.

I couldn’t find a single picture of that bike, but below are a couple  of photos of our neighbors across the hall in our 4-plex.  First is the Fiterman family.  That is Marilyn in the front on the right.  We re-connected after more than 50 some years at our high school reunions.

Fitermans Mpls-1

Below are the Connors, who “took over” for the Fitermans when they moved to the “suburbs.”  I used to “babysit” for Michael.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Walking Home From the Homewood

Sometimes I would stay through a double-feature at the Homewood Theatre, or just stay through the second showing of the same movie again. Then it was the long walk home from Plymouth Avenue—after dark. Actually, it was only about three blocks, but there were monsters and evil creatures hiding behind every bush and tree, and this required extra vigilance on my part to get past the scariest places on the trip, until I got to the streetlight on “my” corner and could run the last 30 yards. But then, the front of the 4-plex where we lived was not well-lit and I had to go to the back to enter. I’m not even going to mention the back stairway leading to the basement and our 2nd floor apartment—going to shovel coal into the furnace early in the morning is another story.


Above: The Backyard Gang

Below: Neighborhood Hoodlums

Neighborhood Hoodlums

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Memory of Getting Ready for School

I remember a shopping trip with my mother in Minneapolis when I was in 1st or 2nd grade. This was the last chance for her to get me ready to go to school in the fall, for she was a "working" mother for all my growing up years. We had to take the streetcar to downtown, which was known in those days as "the Loop," and where the only department stores could be found.

She took me, sometimes literally dragged me, to Dayton's, Donaldson's, J.C. Penney and Sears, and whatever others sold clothing. I do not remember any details of the trip, except for the trauma (for her mostly) of her shoving me on the streetcar, watching the door close, and then running alongside it for a block to catch up, waving and screaming at the top of her lungs the whole way.

Milan & Mom & Dad ball game

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

My Dog Skippy

Milan and Skippy 43 45-2

I Knew I Loved Him

My little dog Skippy was not a thing. He was my little brother. I was an only child. Skippy came when I was 4. He was a brindle-colored Boston Terrier with a big head and large round brown eyes. He slept with me and was always there, except for the times he would “escape” and come home after rolling in dead fish down by the creek. He would be gone, sometimes for a day or two, and then would show up to take his punishment, which was usually a swat or two followed by a huge hug.

I knew—really knew—I loved him when I had to have him put down when I was 12, after a horrible fight with another dog that tore out one of his eyes. I laid in bed grieving and not eating for three days.

Milan and Skippy 43 45-3