October 25, 2014
By Michael Calvert
Dandelions as bright as my yellow crayon had carpeted the field outside my bedroom window. Beyond the field, a line of bright green trees separated a cloudless blue sky from the field of dandelions. It was a scene I could have painted the prior year at kindergarten. It was spring!
The last time I had stood on my bed to reach the window, gray snow had still covered the field under a cloudy sky. Pointed icicles longer than a ruler had hung from the eaves, and I was sure they would instantly kill me or my little sister Kathy if they fell on us.
One day in late winter, Mom put on my heavy coat, and Dad carried me across the ice that had refrozen on the sidewalk to Uncle Bill’s waiting car. Dr. Curran had ordained that I must have my tonsils removed. Mom and Dad assured me that the operation would be easy, and they promised a diet of jello and ice cream if I would be brave like a big boy. I would also be allowed to stay home from the first grade for a week while I recovered.
I was soon bored and eager to see my friends at St. Leo’s, but on my last day at home, I didn’t feel well. Mom put her hand on my forehead and declared that I had a fever. Then she felt the swelling in my neck, nodded ominously, and said, “Oh, Honey, you’ve got the mumps.” Before I had fully recovered from the mumps, red spots began to appear on my stomach and then my entire body was speckled with red. The German measles.
These afflictions kept me out of school for nearly a month. Mom and Dad scheduled an appointment with my teacher to discuss whether I should repeat the year. Ultimately I was promoted to the second grade. As an adolescent, I would have appreciated the additional height, deeper voice and earlier facial hair that would have resulted from repeating the first grade.
We had moved back to Columbus after a year in Indianapolis where Dad had taken a job with American Airlines and my sister Kathy was born a Hoosier in 1946. Mom said that Grandmother had discouraged Dad from taking the job and kept up a barrage of arguments for returning to Columbus. She was sure he could get a good position through their friends.
Mom had seen an article in the Columbus Dispatch about two-bedroom apartments on the south side where several relatives lived and she had attended St. Mary’s High. The Columbus Housing Authority had converted a row of barracks that had been thrown up during the war along Stimmel Road and Deckenbach Avenue into apartments for veterans.
Dad’s high school buddy Jim Curran drove Dad and Mom to the south side and over the Greenlawn Avenue bridge to take a look. A single row of long, low buildings were arrayed perpendicular to the streets. The apartments were freshly renovated, had new appliances and outdoor play space. The renovation included an imitation brick siding on the exterior, and a shiny battleship gray paint on all the interior surfaces, including walls, floors and ceilings. Mom said it was much better than a second floor apartment in an old house on the north side. Dad signed a lease for the end unit farthest from the street in the last of the barrack buildings. Jim, who always thought it was a good time for a drink, insisted that they celebrate their find with a beer at Planck’s Biergarten in the nearby German neighborhood. Mom reluctantly agreed on just one beer.
Mom and Dad considered themselves fortunate to find an affordable apartment. The returning veterans had created a housing shortage. Grandmother let it be known that it was unfortunate that it was on the south side of town where Buckeye Steel and other heavy industry had attracted working people to nearby neighborhoods. She concluded by saying, “Bob, this apartment gives you a place to live for a year, but you need to make your next move to Clintonville or Grandview where professional men live and schools are better.” Dad nodded agreeably, although he knew they couldn’t afford the rent there. Mom remained silent.
On my scooter, I sped along new asphalt walkways that connected wooden steps from each apartment to the street. Kathy followed on her tricycle. Mom filled the space between the walkway and the building with daisies, marigolds, and a couple of tomato plants. Kathy and I watched Mom’s morning glory blooms close in the afternoons. By the fall, they had climbed to the top of the strings Dad had tacked to the eaves. Grandmother brought rose bushes and cuttings from the English Ivy in her front yard to improve Mom’s plot.
In the space between the buildings, Dad taught me and my friends the basic rules of football. He organized games and played quarterback for both teams. We learned about the T-formation, the buttonhook pass, and the difference between a lateral and a forward pass.
These lessons were refined when we listened to the Ohio State games every Saturday on the radio. I also learned that beating Michigan in the last game of the season defined success even if Ohio State did not play in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.
Beyond the field of dandelions, dump trucks rattled and roared along Jackson Pike going to and from a nearby quarry with a conveyor belt that rumbled steadily. When a breeze blew from the southwest, we were reminded that the sewage treatment plan was nearby.
In another direction, there were several baseball diamonds with backstops and football fields with goal posts. Semi-pro teams with Wilke Meats and Omar Bread on their jerseys offered entertainment in those days before television. When there were no teams on the fields, Dad took my buddy Joe and I to home plate to teach us the strike zone and a proper batting stance. On the football field, he demonstrated how to score the point after touchdown with a drop kick through the goal posts even though it had already been made obsolete by the place kick.
On the dirt infields, hobbyists stood on the pitcher’s mound and flew their engine-powered model planes in circles above the bases turning slowly and holding wires connected to the wings. The planes, often models of U. S. Corsairs or British Spitfires, even took off and landed. Of course, some nose-dived into the dirt. All great entertainment for youngsters.
Dad had applied for a job sorting mail at the post office. He set up a cardboard rack of pigeonholes on our dining room table to practice for a timed civil service test and soon mastered the sorting process with the required speed and dexterity. He was assigned to the night shift, from 11 pm to 7 am, and he worked some weekend shifts. Mom tried to keep Kathy and I from slamming the screen door and talking loudly when Dad was getting his rest. Some days we went to bed before he got up to get ready for work.
“You’re living like an animal, Bob. You sleep all day like an animal in a burrow. You don’t see the sun for days,” Grandmother complained. “It’s unnatural.” Dad assured her that he would get a daytime shift when he got some seniority. Mom reminded Dad that her dad had worked nights at Creasy’s warehouse and her brother worked a difficult swing shift on the railroad.
Soon we had our first car, a maroon 1950 Chevrolet, one of the first low fastbacks in a series that GM continued in the early 1950s. Then I began to hear discussions about moving. On Dad’s days off, we drove through neighborhoods and subdivisions. Mom read addresses from the classified ads page marked with red circles. When Dad was lost, he pulled over and consulted a street map, and reminded us, “Don’t worry, I’ve driven all over the world.”
One Sunday afternoon in October, Dad hung up the phone with a satisfied smile and told Mom “Ed agreed to loan us the downpayment. We’re getting the house in Amvet Village.”
“Your brother is wonderful!” Mom said with her hands together in a prayer position.
Dad immediately called Grandmother to share the good news. Mom heard Dad’s tone change as he repeatedly agreed to whatever his mother was saying.
“Hells bells! She doesn’t think the house is in a good area. She said we should wait until we can move to Clintonville or Grandview,” Dad said loudly with his hands turned up. “We can barely afford Amvet Village.”
“But we’re buying that house,” Mom said staring intensely at Dad.
The last time I looked out my bedroom window that fall, a lone dump truck rattled past. The field had not been mowed since the summer and the grass was a mottled green.
Possible additions: Neighbors Mr. Vanderson, and the Humphrys, the Zangli’s, and the cinder driveway in back.