I thought I'd write for awhile about my Dad's family and how my siblings and I were brought up and how it influenced our lives. First, I want you all to know that I know that I am not the smartest man in the world and you'll have to forgive me for my grammar and spelling which sometimes even spell-checker can't figure out.
We lived in the southern area of Baltimore which was called "Pig Town" for most of our childhood. Pig Town was a lower to middle class income area. Most people had jobs working for the railroad or the many factories in the area.
We lived in row homes all our lives. I'm talking about homes that were about fifty feet long by eighteen feet wide and,if you were lucky three stories high. Every house had a front "stoop" and a rear "stoop". The row houses in Baltimore were from a different era. At the turn of the century none of them had indoor plumbing and there was an outhouse in the back yard. When indoor plumbing was introduced suddenly a three bedroom home turned into a two bedroom home with a toilet.At first we never had a bath tub (at least I don't remember one) in the house. We had to go to a bath house which was really a shower house which was strategically located in the center of a neighborhood. Even though I was very young, I can still smell the steam and the small bars of Ivory soap they used to give you. When did we go there? Why,every Saturday of course!
In the summer every window in every house was open and no one had screens, air conditioners were unheard of. Old people sat by the window twenty four hours a day and if they weren't there they were either sick or dead. No one got away with anything because everyone was watching you and you could get spanked by a concerned neighbor(one of those old people)as well as your dad, if your dad was pissed off enough about what you did.
There were ten of us not counting mom and dad. We lived in neighborhoods where people watched out for one another but it wouldn't be unusual to have two fathers watching and instructing their sons on how to fight as the boys "duked it out" in the middle of the street. No one liked strangers or cops and immediately became suspicious when an unknown or a "prowl" car came into the neighborhood. We never heard gunshots and all of us learned how to fight. We usually handled things with our fists or just yelled at each other a lot.
It was a time of very hot summers where in the evening everyone sat outside on the front "stoop". The kids played curb ball, kick the can and red line. The snowball man came around once a night and I can still hear the screams of small children yelling "wait a minute!" to the drivers as they attempted to get their attention. Dad always seemed to have enough money so we all could have a snowball which tasted wonderful on those hot sticky nights. During a thunderstorm we would lay down in the gutters and let the cool water run around us on it's way to the sewer. I know, I know, it was filthy but none of us ever got sick and it felt so good! We were not rich but I really don't remember going hungry. There were some rough times but we always seemed to have enough.
Sometimes during the summer we went to camp. That's right camp! The city government had a program called "The Fresh Air Camp". The poorest of the poor was sent for two weeks to the Appalachian Mountains where we spent our time swimming and have cookouts over a campfire.I remember,as my sister Mar would say "we would cry when we got on the bus to go and cry when we had to go back home!" Once we got there the first thing that had to be done is we were all deloused. They put us in a shower and spread some kind of blue disinfectant over our whole bodies. There wasn't any shame in this everyone had to go through it so we didn't know who had "cooties".
My dad could probably be best described as "street wise". He did what he had to do to get by and if that meant that he had to swindle and steal then that's what he did. I won't go into any specifics here but lets just say that it was pretty humiliating if you happen to be with him when he pulled one his thefts. Okay, I'll just tell you about one...he would go into one of Baltimore's biggest department stores go to the shoe dept. take a new pair of shoes out of the box, try them on and if they fit he would take his old shoes and put them in the box and place the box back one the shelf.Now, you might say that he was poor and didn't have the money and at times that would be right (the fact that he didn't have the money,it's never right to steal), but sometimes when he did this (and many other things) he had money in his pocket.I remember him telling me many years later after he had spent money belonging to me that once he had started spending my money he found it so easy to get and hard to stop spending until it was gone. Maybe once he had started to steal he found it so easy that it was hard to stop. I don't mean to smear my dads name but thought I'd just let you know how it was.
I can remember going to the movies for the matinée at the Horn Theater almost every Saturday. It cost 5 cents to get in and we stayed there most of the day watching the Three Stooges, Superman, a whole lot of cartoons and a feature film which was usually a western starring Roy Rogers or Hop-Along-Cassidy.We never bought popcorn or candy while we were there. We usually took something from home like a sandwich or a bag of tomatoes that we had to sneak in because we weren't suppose to bring anything into the movie.
My dad never got along with my mom's parents. When I was really young (five years old) we lived right across the street from my grandparents and dad and them were at it constantly. Once, I remember that we had our electricity turned off because we didn't pay the bill (it happened sometimes) and our next door neighbor felt sorry for us because of the amount of kids we had. The neighbor allowed my dad to put an extension cord from our house to theirs so we could have electricity. My grandma saw this and called the electric company and reported my dad and the neighbor and we both had to pay a fine. I don't know what started this feud but it cost us any kind of relationship that we could have had with our grandparents. I barely remember them or any of my aunts or uncles. As a matter of fact we didn't know any of our aunts or uncles on either side. I don't know how many cousins I have.
When I became a teenager my dad started to look at me differently. I was no longer a kid to feed, I suddenly became an asset. When I was fifteen I was told I had to get a job to help support the family. I went to work at a local department store as a stockboy. I worked everyday after school and on Saturday. I made twenty five dollars a week and my dad took twenty. I know you are going to find this hard to believe, but I had to buy my lunch on Saturday and any work clothes I needed with the five dollars I had left. What was I giving my dad twenty dollars for? Why, for rent and my meals! (I was fifteen). After a few months I wasn't needed at the store any more and was let go. Dad wanted me to quit school and find a full time job. I resisted telling him that I wanted to get through high school so I could get a good job. His answer? "I raised you as big as you are and all I had was a six grade education, you certainly can make it with an eight grade education!" I didn't agree and refused to leave school.
Our relationship deteriorated and it got so he wasn't talking to me except to criticize and it got so I hated to see him come home. My mom intervened and I sent to my oldest sister's home to live. I lived there for a year and I must admit it was probably the happiest year of my life.
After the year I moved back home and dad continued to badger me so after a year I decided that I had to do something. I quit school in the ninth grade and joined the Navy which at that time was the best decision I ever made in my life. To give you an idea as to how bad it got I had to go to the airport by myself on the day I left home. As I stood in the doorway of my home with my suitcase I said goodbye to my father. He wouldn't take me to the airport. I was taken there by my recruiting officer who told me that in all the years that he recruited sailors this was the first time he had to take one to the airport when they left home. As I said goodbye dad looked at me and said "I'll see you in a couple of weeks." I told him that boot camp was three months long. He looked at me smugly, like he couldn't wait to say the next sentence and said "I know how long boot camp is but the Navy is looking for men, and you're no man!" I left home and took a bus to the recruitment center. I stood off to the side at the airport as families said goodbye to their sons and brothers with tears in their eyes.
Dad was right. I wasn't a man when I joined the Navy but I don't think any son would like to hear such words from his dad especially when the son knew that his whole life was about to change and was scared to death that he was going to fail. I guess my dad's final comments made me determined that I was going to make it and I guess that, in a way, I have him to thank for that.
I became a man in the Navy. I got my High School Diploma which opened up a whole new life for me.
More thoughts later.