One of the responsibilities I had at home was to do the family laundry, which was a challenge since we didn’t have a clothes washer or dryer. I was never one to tell my Mom no when she asked me to do something, so I readily agreed. My Mom would put the clothes in a large basket and separate the loads by placing a newspaper between them. Usually, 2 separate washer loads would do the trick. I put the basket, laundry detergent, and a sock holding the quarters and dimes in my Radio Flyer wagon and took it to the uptown laundromat.
I actually enjoyed this task, because my Mom would give me a quarter for the laundromat’s candy machine. Purposely I always added too much soap in the washers. I got a kick waiting for the soap suds to start flying out of the wash machines. There was a plastic bottle that you could spray some liquid in the washer to reduce the soap suds, not sure what the fluid did to the clothes. When I finished with the laundry, I loaded up the wagon with the clean clothes and trudged back home.
I liked to do a lot of fishing. The best place to catch fish was above the little dam on the Turkey River. Carp and suckers were thick in these waters. For bait, we would use night crawlers. At night my neighbor would stick an electric prod in the ground forcing the big worms to the surface where we would pick them up and put them in a can with dirt.
Another activity I enjoyed was trapping gophers. The county placed a bounty on the little rodents. Livestock would injure their legs stepping through their tunnels. The county paid 25 cents for each gopher foot brought to the courthouse. I couldn’t pass that up. I bought several traps at the hardware store and went to work. Behind where I lived was a large open field littered with gopher hills. I carefully set and placed my traps in the tunnels, threw a little dirt on them to conceal it, and anchored them with whatever I could find. Usually, I found a stick, but on occasion, I used a golf club to keep the gophers from escaping with my traps. I would check my traps before and after school. Collecting the feet in a large glass jar, I would run to the courthouse, dump the severed feet on the counter and received a quarter for each one.
Golf became my favorite sport, and I played whenever I could. Dad joined the Four Oaks Country Club in Elkader. I would ride my bike to the golf course every day except Men’s Day and Lady’s Day. On Lady’s Day, I could play after 5:00 PM. If I showed up before that time, the same lady would be waiting for me and chew me out every time. If the golf course were to busy for me to play, I would practice my putting and chipping on the practice putting green.
One time, I got a call from a lady who wanted to pay me to take her son golfing. I met him at the golf course, collected the money from his mom, and we played 9 holes. He must not have enjoyed it, I never saw him there again.
My Dad loved to take me to play all the area courses. I bet we played every golf course within 45 miles of Elkader. One time, we went to the golf course in Fayette. We have never been to this course before. It happened to be Men’s Day, and they wouldn’t let me play, but I could caddy for Dad. They had some 9-hole tournament and agreed to allow him to enter it. Since all the foursomes were filled, he would be playing alone with me keeping his score. Before Dad played the first hole, he had consumed quite a few beers. After we started, we came to a shared tee box with another hole. Apparently, we went the wrong way, and we finished the round. I noticed something was wrong when I totaled his score, he had a ridiculously low score for how he was playing. He was thrilled and announced at the clubhouse what he shot, and he won the tournament and received a nice prize. Being so young and scared, I didn’t have the heart to tell him he only played 7 holes.
My brother Doug came home from the service and purchased a new Ford Maverick. It was a 3 speed with the shifter on the column. He took me to see Elkader play for the state championship in softball. I remember it being freezing but thrilling to see our school win the tournament. Doug was going to Gates Business School in Waterloo. I remember staying with him once, I believe at the YMCA and attending my first professional hockey game.
For Christmas, I got a pellet gun that shot .177 caliber pellets. I used to sneak in the neighbor’s barn at night and shoot the pigeons that would roost on the rafters at the top of the barn. The neighbor got angry when I missed hitting the pigeons and shot holes in the barn’s roof. He told me not to do that anymore, but I still snuck in the barn to shoot at those birds.
I also like doing tricks on my bike. I wasn’t satisfied with doing just wheelies all the time, so I invented what I called the wheel-o. I would put my feet between the bike’s fork and front tire, abruptly stopping the front wheel from turning. The back end of the bike would quickly rise up, and you could do a front flip. I soon realized this was not a real smart thing to do.
I still had my mini-bike, but I got tired of riding in the confined area that I was allowed to. Sometimes, late at night, I would meet my friend who lived on a farm out of town. He also had a mini-bike, and we would drive on the gravel roads as fast as we could go. It was especially thrilling for me because my bike didn’t have lights.
There was a Catholic cemetery close to where I lived. I dreamed of racing my mini-bike on the dirt road that circled the outskirts of the cemetery. I went to the Rectory and talked to the Monsignor to see if it was ok for me to ride my bike there and he said, “Sure, it’s ok.” So away I went racing around the dirt path. I happened to look back and saw a police car chasing me with his cherries flashing. We both stopped, and he told me that it was illegal for me to be riding my mini-bike here. I said to him I had permission from the Monsignor, but he didn’t buy it and told me to walk my bike back home. After he left, I got on the bike and drove it back home.
My Dad also took up bowling as an activity during the winter. He and I bowled together on 2 men’s leagues when I was 13. Everyone else on the teams was over 60 years old. I felt a little out of place, but I liked to bowl, so I enjoyed it. I was the designated score keeper for both teams when we bowled. I remember getting a spare on my first frame in the league, using a 6-pound ball.
Mark was a next-door neighbor of ours. He was a few years older than me and was friendly to me. I thought he had the coolest car. It was a pale blue 2-seat midget convertible. Occasionally, he would give me rides in it. During the summer before he started his senior year in high school, he had purchased many yards of rope. He had strands and strands of long rope spread out that he began to braid together to form a large pieced-together rope. I asked him what he was doing. He told me he was building a bridge to cross the Turkey River by our houses. He was going to connect one end of the rope to a tree on our side of the river and connect the other end of the rope to a tree on the opposite side of the river. He also mentioned that a wagon attached to the ropes would transport us across the wide river. His plan didn’t make any sense to me, but he was heavily into boy scouts, so I figured he knew what he was doing. He was looking at me when he said he needed a volunteer to test it. He said I was small and would be perfect for it. I reluctantly agreed. He finally finished making his rope and tied one end around the tree closest to us, but school was about to start up again, and he didn’t get the other end attached yet. The night before school was to begin, someone tried to burn the high school down and was somewhat successful. The fire started with the big curtain in the auditorium. The school was postponed for one week as they brought in temporary buildings. Turned out Mark was the one who set the fire. There were accomplices, but they were never caught, and Mark kept his silence. I don’t know if Mark didn’t want to go to school or he wanted the time to finish his project. I was glad I didn’t have to test his bridge across the river.
The next blog will feature my “Posse.”