Now I will add some more feelings about my early years.
My first memory was of being in a crib and pretending to make a rain storm – then things seem to have become encrusted with other tensions and concerns and my story disappears for a few years. We moved three times in a matter of just a couple of years, so my brother and sister remind me. I remember one home, on Hancock Avenue, that had a monstrous poplar tree in the front yard and positioned close to the street. It was a marvelous sight, stretching up to the sky and watching over us day and night. But, that tree was unapproachable – so remote that even my older brother couldn’t reach the branch closest to the ground and thus found it impossible to climb the tree. I remember feeling that I live in a world of giants, but the giants like my mother and father let me climb into their arms and I would feel whole and loved. The tree kept me at limbs length, and the leaves were dull even in the summer, and even worse after they turned for the winter.
Very soon we moved to another house, this time on Ryan Street and I developed a feeling that I was home. The house was not large but it had a front porch that extended the full width of the house, and a deep back yard that seemed to be full of wonders. But in the front of the house was a maple tree that over the years became an integral part of my life. The leaves on the maple tree are broad and friendly, not like the flattened greenery of a poplar. Also they turn color with the seasons and are like an ever changing display for the world to enjoy. This tree extended its arms to me and its branches were thick and while long at the bottom they diminished in length as they rose to the top. Thus it formed a living bouquet that found its nurture in the sun and rain, and made our home a point of beauty.
The trunk was sturdy and I found that by standing on a chair I could reach the first limb. This was merely the first step into a wonder world of branches, twigs, leaves, and security. This tree was next to the sidewalk that ran from our house to the city sidewalk, so anyone coming to the house would have to bow to the tree to get out of its way. It was a friendly tree, but still demanded, and received, due respect.
Mom and Dad warned me not to climb too far into the tree, at least until I got a little bigger and understood more about how to move from limb to limb. The grade school I attended was directly across the street from my home, so I could climb the tree right after school and stay there to feel it move and adjust to the wind that might be blowing. I also found a special branch that was curved just right so that I could lie on it and feel the strength of the branch support my body. One time I had a role in a school play and the nuns became very worried when they saw me climbing around the tree. They informed me that I had to be very careful not to hurt myself since I had a responsibility to be in the play. I tried to convince them that my friend the tree would not hurt me. They agreed to that, but also reminded me that it was the ground that could hurt me if I fell from the tree.
All summer I would use the tree for my special place, and enjoy the smell of the leaves and the sound of their rustling in the breezes. At night I could hear the branches rubbing and playing with each other as though this was their free time. As the summer moved on and turned to fall, the leaves also turned and created an ever changing display of colors. The weather continued to get colder and the leaves bid the tree goodbye and as they fell the wind picked them up and spread them around and they said – ‘We’ve done our job, and now we too will learn to play.”
The tree went to sleep as the snow fell, and then I could easily get onto the first branch as the snow built up all around us. The snow continued on and finally became deep enough so we could build tunnels in the drifts and throw snowballs and generally make good use of what the skies dropped upon us. Then as spring arrived so did the new leaves, and the cycle continued.
As time went on we all grew up and left home. My parents died at a ripe old age and the tree also finished its life. My brother donated the house to a nearby college for them to use for academic purposes. Unfortunately as time went on the College found less use for the house and let the property deteriorate. My brother decided he did not want to see our home become an eyesore, so he had the house torn down and the tree was removed. So all that is left at the site is a level field, but in my memory the tree lives on.
I think the shack is getting too hot – maybe we should open a door or something. The fire in the pot belly stove is alive and jumping. The city built this shack for us, and even supplies us with firewood. We certainly make good use of it in the winter when we use it for our gathering place to build up our hockey rink. Everyone is sitting around telling stories or reading dirty booklets. Of course John Turk is quietly taking the lead – he is really such a nice guy. I like him because he is so quiet, yet forceful with his ideas and his gentleness. He’s not very big, but large in his presence. Hank Nissonen is carrying on as usual – full of himself and all that he thinks we should hear. But, he is a hard worker and when we have to construct our ice rink from scratch that is surely what we need. Bobby Wills just grabbed the “green book” out of his hands and pushed him aside. “I’m not finished with it, you squirt” he sneered. Bobby can always be expected to be rough – especially on us smaller guys. Poor old Bobby Wills, usually so afraid to create a disturbance and always looking over his shoulder to see if someone is about to criticize him, yet he is the biggest guy of the bunch. My brother Warren is the tough one – possibly the eldest – and full of strong opinions. If ever I have some change I want to make I had better make sure he is on my side or it surely will be defeated. Pete Waisenen is the runt of the group, and kind of a mousey fella – you never can be sure where he will turn up next. But he really is a fast skater, and our hockey team is much better because of him.
The stories that everyone is chattering about each have elements of truth in them, but are also richly embellished – specially the stories about our diving with our makeshift diving helmet. That’s the one where I panicked while underwater, threw off the helmet, and we darn near lost it.
Wow – that gust of wind really shook the shack and I can feel the cold air pouring in around the rattling windows. The fire is great, but the stove is too large for the size of the shack.
But it is time to lay another coat of ice onto the rink. The temperature outside is well below freezing and it has been over an hour since the last flooding of the rink. We have to build up an inch or more of ice before morning or we won’t be ready for our game. Warren says – “Okay, Bobby, it’s your turn to go outside and get to work.” We have a hose connected to an outdoor water faucet, but of course we have to leave a low flow of water in it or it would freeze shut. Bobby reluctantly starts to pull on his boots, but the door bursts open and there is Bobby’s father with his face livid. “I told you that you are not allowed to be here tonight, and you lied to me. Get your boots on and out you go with me.”
We all just sat there taking it in, and were distressed for Bobby. He darn near was in tears, but he did follow his Dad out of the shack. We felt so helpless to be able to do anything for Bobby.
So we finished off the night with our flooding the rink, sleeping and watering in turns. We built up the required amount of ice and played our game. It was great to be able to do that, and we had many more games over the winter.
The gang continued to meet over our high school years playing baseball, football and of course hockey. Usually we played our games together, but one winter night a couple of years later John Turk accepted an invitation from another group to go tobogganing in the moonlight. They were from another part of town and John was the only one from our bunch that went out that night. They went to some hills outside of town that were not familiar to us, but John really wanted to be with them.
The worst thing happened. Tobogganing at night on a strange hill proved too much. We found out later that John was in the front of the toboggan when it careened into a barbed wire fence, and that was the end of him and the heart of our gang. We all gathered the next day at Mrs. Turk’s house and mourned our loss with her. Fortunately we all had each other to help build our great memories with John, and our gang stuck together as we reconstructed our life without John.
Well, here it is Hallowe’en, and we’ve got the whole evening ahead of us to have some fun. We are hanging around in John Turk’s house – his mother always has something nice for us to eat. John is his usual calm self, examining everything carefully and quietly leading us in the directions he enjoys. Hank Nissonen has his mind on a whole world of things to do, but not sure of any of them. Of course Warren, my older brother, is the powerhouse, knowing exactly what should be done and ready to go. Jack Tervo, the tall and thin one, is busy talking things over with Glen Bettens and Bobby Wills – I wonder if Bobby’s father knows he is out tonight? He sure keeps a close rein on him. Eddie Shea is older than the rest of us, so we eye him with caution.
Well, we figure we should start by going out and checking to see how many folks have left clotheslines up for us to use. We figure if someone leaves those lines up on Hallowe’en, then that is their gift to us. A few of us have pocket knives available, so we are all set in that area. However, we also feel the need to stock up on candy and the like, so we decide to go up to Water street and do a little ‘trick or treat’ first. Can’t have a good night if we aren’t properly provisioned! So we head out, and are very polite as we knock on the front door and ask for some goodies. Of course, while this is going on, a couple of the guys are in the back yard cutting and gathering in the clothes lines of our benefactor. We continue down the street until we are satisfied with things, and then move up to the next street.
So, now we have all this clothes line in our possession, and have to decide what to do with it? We walk up to Hancock Avenue and the answer slowly develops. Many of the houses have an iron picket fence in the front yard, and of course each fence has a swinging gate in it. A little checking shows that the gates are easily lifted off their pins, and thus are freed from their confinement. But so what, what will we do with the gates? Gazing down the street we observe that it is lined with utility poles on which the telephone wires and electric power lines are mounted. The poles are wooden, and each has a series of metal pegs that are arranged so that a person can climb the pole. Of course, the first peg is about 7 or 8 feet above the ground to prevent the casual trouble maker from easily climbing the pole.
Now, wouldn’t the whole appearance of the street be improved if each pole was decorated? Of course, and we have the perfect decoration for the poles – iron gates. So now we have work for everyone to do. One team sets about gathering the gates and distributing them to the base of the utility poles, another team ties clothesline to each gate, and a final team boosts a climber onto each pole. So, one by one, the gates make their way from the fences to the poles. The climber passes a clothesline over the top peg of a pole, and the rest of the team raises the gate to the top of the pole.
This goes on uninterrupted for the better part of an hour, and then we are done. We then can gather together on the street and admire our handiwork – we have really made Hancock Avenue into a delightfully decorated street, and we hope the homeowners will appreciate this when they view the scene in the morning. At this time we figure we’ve had enough fun for the night, and head off to our homes.
P.S. It turned out that this was the only year we did that decorating. On the following year when we went back to the street, we found that all the gates had been removed from the fences by their owners, and safely stored away for the night.