By the time I was five years old we had moved into a rent house just down the street at 164 Springfield Avenue. We had a crab apple tree in the yard and there were lots of kids to play with. I learned to ride a bike, and my first solo ride was terrifying. After lots of practice with Dad running alongside to coach and steady me, he simply let me go! My screams were high pitched and I navigated through tear-filled eyes, but suddenly felt the exhilaration of being able to do it myself. I crash landed into a bush and started bawling all over again.
Our rent house was sort of dull cream color and had a very small unfinished third floor attic that harbored paper wasps and lots of spiders, at least one family of squirrels, and an occasional mouse. One fall I collected several Praying Mantis egg cases in the back yard. They looked like this:
I stored them in the attic and forgot all about them until the next spring, when the creatures started appearing all over the house. Seems that after hatching they prospered, finding all the bugs up in the attic to their liking.
The street was rather narrow, well paved with blacktop, and cobblestone gutters. Some streets, such as Cooper Place, a lane only one house down, were paved entirely in cobbles. Big elm and oak trees lined both sides of the streets, forming a delightfully cool canopy for summer play. It was funny that we did not miss air conditioning. I don’t think I even knew there was such a thing as an air conditioner, but we did have fans of every description, large and small, oscillating and fixed, quiet and thunderous.
The “Junk Man” (aka Garbage Picker) also drove a horse cart, a bigger one than the Ice Man’s. He tried to beat the garbage trucks to the booty. He clanged a bell as he moved through the neighborhood. Scrap metal was piled in the middle of the cart, and side racks held gleanings of every description. Next to the drivers seat was a big foot-driven grinding wheel with which he sharpened knives and scissors. My Grandfather didn’t like him, and I’ll tell you why later on.
The garbage trucks were noisy and had chain drives (they doubled as snow plows in the winter). Garbage men walked ahead and actually fetched the garbage cans from the side or back of the house and afterward returned them. One man sat on the big bucket lift that ran the entire length of the curb side of the truck, right leg dangling down and ready to jump out even before the truck stopped. Such a heroic figure! How I wanted to be a garbage man! Good stuff that had escaped the Junk Man was stored up on top of the cab of the truck or hung from the street side for safekeeping.
My first day of Kindergarten at St Mary Grammar School was memorable. My uncle Wilbur (“Googs”) took me to school, with my mother, in his little 1937 Chevy bright yellow and black roadster convertible that sported a rumble seat (I always sat back there—no seat belts, of course) and a big spare tire on the rear. As much as I looked forward to school, all confidence left me when they abandoned me to the care of Sister Dianna. I think I cried unabashedly almost every morning for a week or so, as did many of the other children. Then one day I remember feeling self-conscious when I was the only one left crying. That probably broke up my behavior pattern, and all the other memories of Kindergarten are pleasurable, especially pretending to sleep during recess and drinking chocolate milk from half-pint glass bottles.
A Greek girl named Helen lived a door down the other way. She must have been three or four years older than me, but she was beautiful and definitely my first love. I think she knew it and played me along by paying attention to me at times. Then she would ignore me and it would drive me crazy. One day I almost got up the courage to try to tell her how I felt, and she sensed what I was trying to say and said “I’m much too old for you.” I must have been seven or eight years old at the time and it hurt a lot. A few years later the pain returned when I saw her holding hands with a big guy.