Hannibal, Missouri is where I was born and raised. My first memories are of the house we had at 1709 Vermont. The house was a basic four room single level structure with a kitchen, dining/living room with hardwood floors, and two bedrooms and a single bath.
Father single-handedly built an additional room on the back of the house that became the bedroom for my younger brother and myself. Father built the room using tongue and groove pine lumber and wood he scavenged from discarded rifle cases from the National Guard Armory where he worked. It was a nice big room with a closet and two doors. One opened into the girl’s bedroom and the other onto the back porch, just off the kitchen. My sisters, Jean Ann and Pam occupied the girls’ bedroom, while my brother, David, and I shared the boy’s bedroom.
In later years, when my mother’s sister Aunt Charlotte came to live with us, an extra bed was put up in the girls’ room. After Charlotte got married and moved to her own home, Aunt Pat came to live with us. Charlotte and Pat were mother’s sisters, and Pat was only a few years older than me, and I thought she was beautiful. She seemed like an adult to me, since she was already in high school. I was infatuated with her.
I was in Cub Scouts during those years, and took very seriously earning my merit badges. I studied really hard to be able to advance to each next level. It was a singular achievement for me when I earned my Arrow of Light, and advanced to Webelos. We still lived in that house when I joined Boy Scouts a few years later.
The house at 1709 Vermont was on one of Hannibal’s many hills, with Minnow Channel, a small creek, below us and to the North. The creek flowed into Bear Creek a few blocks east, and finally blended with the Mississippi River on Hannibal’s east edge.
We fished, swam, caught crawdads and skipped rocks on the creek’s waters throughout my early years. We made frequent trips up and down the stream, walking barefoot in the water, collecting arrow heads and looking at the rocks in wonder. There were many impressions of leaves and small fossils that had been trapped within the rock eons ago. They were fascinating, and they caused much excitement when we found a large fossil imprint, as we wondered at how they could have been created,
There were imprints of snails, vegetation, and all manner of ornately designed shells. We wondered how sea shells could have possibly made it all the way to Missouri, in the middle of the country! We frequently found Indian arrowheads encased in dark gray shale that lined the creek. I don’t know what happened to all those “treasurers” I collected back then, but suppose they were discarded as my interests turned to other things.
One of the little tricks I learned from other neighborhood boys was to make a fishing pole out of a willow tree twig. Willow is a very flexible wood, bending with the slightest pressure. In fact, it bent so easily, that if you got a good-sized Blue Gill or Sunfish on the line, it made it a lot of fun to try to land it. But, if you got a catfish, which is a strong fish, and fights pretty good, the willow pole was useless because it would bend completely double without breaking, and you’d have to grab the fishing line itself to catch the fish.
There were several tall, old trees in front of our Vermont Street house, lining the narrow lane as it passed by our front yard. Mother had whitewashed the trees up about four feet from the ground. How grand they looked! Three of the trees were hollow at the base, and we could back into the hollows and actually stand inside the trees. This was a great place to hide during hide and seek, or when you wanted to give a passerby a good scare. They offered great places to hide secret stuff, too.
One time, during the spring, father built a concrete goldfish pond in the side yard, and we took great delight in watching the fish grow. Later that summer, however, when it got hot under the blaring sun, the water in the pond heated up so much the goldfish died. We children were completely devastated, and the pond was subsequently filled in and covered over.
During the winter, when there was snow on the ground, father would hook up the garden hose and spray the side yard. This created a big ice rink as soon as the water froze, and gave us many hours of fun playing on the ice. We built many “forts” out of snow in the winters at the house, and snowball fights were the order of the day after school, and on weekends.
We also had a large lot behind the house that father planted the vegetable garden in each spring. We had to all work in the garden pulling weeds and hoeing it regularly, but we got lots of fruits and vegetables from it, including sweet corn, beans, potatoes, beets, squash and melons. Harvest time was a busy time for everyone, as mother taught us to snap beans, shuck corn, and prepare all sorts of food that she canned for the winter.
The canned food was nearly lined up on shelves arranged in the basement, which had only an outside entrance. During the winter we would have to scoop the snow off the basement door to go down for canned food! This was a chore none of us liked, but being the oldest of four children, it usually was my job. We never complained, however, when the canned food was served up nearly as fresh as when we canned it.
Another of my chores, during the summer, was to help mow the lawn. This was in the days before powered mowers. We had a push type reel mower. The handle of the mower came up to about my chin, which made it hard for me to push. But, father took great pride in keeping the blades sharp, and well oiled, so the mower worked as well as could be expected. Of course, when father mowed with it, he went as fast as he could walk, and you could see the grass clippings just fly into the air!
I don’t think I was much help in mowing that big yard, but it was important to father that I learned to work and take care of my responsibilities. So, I usually mowed the front yard, which would take me all evening after school, and he mowed the biggest part of the yard. There was no allowance for doing this in those days, it was simply considered a “chore” and was my responsibility to take care of as needed.
I was anxious to reach my twelfth birthday, because at that age I was eligible to become an independent sales representative for Grit newspapers. Grit was a weekly publication that carried a lot of national news. Shortly after turning twelve, I ordered the minimum number of newspapers, using money I had been saving, and set out to build my business. Each week a big bundle of Grit papers were mailed to my home, and I would then sell them to neighbors.
Going door to door by bicycle in my neighborhood on Saturdays, I built my route up until I had several loyal weekly customers. I remember being so proud when I received a very handsome sales trophy from Grit, after reaching a certain level of customers! I proudly displayed that trophy in my bedroom for several months until it got broken and had to be discarded.
The old bicycle father had bought me was requiring a lot of maintenance. It was a used adult bike when I got it, and I was so short, father had to put big wooden blocks on the pedals so I could reach them. As I grew, the wood blocks became smaller and smaller, until I could finally reach the pedals themselves. But, over the course of those two years, the inner tubes had become so rotten that I was constantly putting rubber patches on them, and still ended my paper route having to push the bicycle, because one of the tires had gone flat!
I sold Grit for a little over two years, running my route every Saturday, winter and summer, until it just didn’t seem likely that I was going to be able to build my route enough to be worthwhile. I gave up the route, converting many of my customers to direct mail service. Although I enjoyed that newspaper route, and the neighbors I delivered Grit to, I had the opportunity to become an usher at the Tom Sawyer theater downtown. That was exciting! It is, however, another story.