Kit Bag

Kit Bag

It’s back down on the farm again awakening to the sounds of a new day. The crow of a rooster, actually many roosters of varying varieties, from down near the hen-house  were relentless. One awakening was somewhat more alarming than usual… the screeching and snarling of cats, many of them. Followed shortly thereafter by loud thumps of footsteps coming in the front door, sounds from off the porch downstairs. The deep voice of my grandfather, “The kit bag, where’s my kit bag” he growled?

The Kit Bag term came back to me in a different form many years later. I lived with it in a career far removed from my younger days, when I spent my summer vacations on my Grandparents farm in Indiana. “Where’s my kit bag” became a common question heard almost daily while in pursuit of my occupation? This later kit bag reference involved a black leather bag that airline pilots used to store the myriad of things necessary to get an airplane, say… from Chicago to London. No small task that. Physically, it was about the size of a small desktop computer. It had two flaps on top that overlapped and snuggled around a leather grip handle. It was usually enhanced with lockable hinges.

This kit bag problem was exacerbated by the total number of them stored in one room at my Chicago crew base. For example: There were twelve thousand pilots at my airline when I retired, and hundreds upon hundreds of them, at any one location and perhaps a couple thousand at a few. They spanned the country, from Seattle to Miami, from New York to Los Angeles and from Chicago to Dallas. If you misplaced your kit bag you were dead in the water. Consequently, we found ways to mark them so they could be spotted more easily. I never saw two kit bags that looked alike. You just couldn’t put pictures of naked ladies on the outside of them. A good number of them, I’m fairly certain, kept pictures inside. I flew with a co-pilot once whose nick name was smut. He always had a selection he liked to share.

Back on the farm and my Grandfathers tah-do with his kit bag. After a little while, the snarling of cats began again, only this time it was a much bigger production. The banging and screeching lasted for what seemed to be a very long time. I didn’t then have a watch and couldn’t yet tell time anyhow. After a little while I ventured downstairs to investigate the commotion. I spotted my Grandpa about halfway across a field, heading for the White River Bridges. Grandpa had a burlap bag slung over his shoulder, and of course I had to ask, and to this day wished I hadn’t. He is taking the cats for a swim I was told.

It didn’t occur to me then, but when I figured it out later, it haunted me for a few years. It prompted a series of bad dreams that involved my being placed in a bag with a few rocks and then slung into a river.

In those days, in rural areas, feral cats were a problem. They were in favor during the winter to deal with the field mice that sought the warmth of the house, and specifically, the warmth of the pantry. About the growing numbers and their popularity in the summer, well, not so much?

Army Navy

soldierBoyArmy Navy: At first I hadn’t paid much attention, as I began poking through our old photo albums from seven decades ago. A very odd thing surfaced when checking out our kids in uniform series, which were taken over a period of several years when we were very young. Danny, my ever present partner in crime, always appeared in a sailor uniform, and I was always suited up in Army garb. How strange that was because we were both to serve in the military, in those same service related uniforms. Danny joined the Navy after High School and I joined the Air Force. It was called the Army Air Corp during the Second World War, and afterwards, the service branches separated and the Air Corp became the US Air Force. I learned to fly and my good cousin Dan became sea sick I’m sure. He left the Navy after his enlistment was up and I hung around in the Air Force a bit longer, trying to get the hang of this flying gig.

During this kiddie in uniform era, Danny and I shared a baby bed in the attic of 5217 32nd Street. From the attic, in the early morning hours before the adults were up, we would creep down to the bottom of the stairwell and steal a banana or two. The bottom of the stairs, theKissbecause it was cool there, was where potatoes, onions, bananas and such were stored. I say steal because we thought we were so clever to hide the peelings under the mattress. Like the parents wouldn’t notice, right?

There were some things we did in the attic that we got away with, or so we still believe. The house was heated by an oil stove located in a corner of the dining room below. There was a grate in the floor that allowed heat to gain access to our space in the attic above. What the parents never knew was, we would climb out of the baby bed and watch through the holes of the vent in the floor. And, we could see what was going on down there. It was especially handy, when on the night before Easter Sunday, we could watch our Easter Bunny’s hiding eggs. There were many things we saw and heard… it was a time before television stole a bit of our imaginations from us.

Then there were things we didn’t get away with. My Dad, was very proud of the paddle he had fashioned from a side piece of an orange crate. Remember orange crates? It was cut to just the right length, sanded smooth and painted a very bright red. A little hole was drilled at one end and then hung on the wall in the bathroom. It was a menacing sight to us and we were not very fond of the paddle looking down on us. An ever present threat, a reminder that good behavior was required… or else!

Well, we made a plan, or maybe I made a plan and Danny just followed along. That was how it usually worked. Keep in mind, I was a year older and poor Danny suffered doubly, both from his bad ideas and then again from mine. My plan was to flush the paddle down the toilet and you can just guess at how that went. Getting the paddle down off the hook was a struggle, then, placing the red, wooden, sanded smooth paddle into the toilet, only made it wet. The spanking with the wet paddle didn’t make it any more pleasant. Poor Danny!

If we had only realized back then that our parents were of the same age at some point in their lives, we shouldn’t have expected to get away with very much at all. They knew what we were thinking… mostly.

The Dove

The Dove:

My early exposure to the sights, sounds, and smells of a small rural farm, at such a young age, couldn’t be bad. In fact, it was to be very enlightening for a little city kid. To awaken in the mornings to the sounds of farm animals, and the many other local creatures was an education in itself. It was always the coo-oo, coo-coo-coo, of the mourning dove that first got my attention when awakened to the day.  It is one of my favorites, if not the favorite, sounds from my youth.

Although it was on a small scale this farm was a fully functioning operational farm. Our grandparents lived a subsistence lifestyle, and had for most of their lives. Two horses worked pulling the plow in the spring, and summer, a mule was kept for odd jobs and a cow for their dairy. There were pigs, chickens, ducks and the geese, which we were terrified of. They would chase us all over the barnyard when we were caught off guard in their territory.

There was an orchard that contained every kind of fruit tree you could imagine and nearby, a stack of beehives that I thought were way to near the outhouse. There were hen houses where we collected eggs each morning. Not far away, and just outside of the orchard fencing, was the smokehouse which sat atop a root cellar. The dark and musty smells of the cellar were very stimulating to our imaginations. We felt there was something terrible living down there… in the dark of it.

A large deep vat of water sat out behind the farmhouse that collected rain water. It was a place where we thought we were teaching frogs to swim. We soon learned that frogs were born swimming and we were not to throw them down into the cistern again. If we did, grandpa threatened, “I’ll put you two in the root cellar for a few days, you won’t like that much, I guarantee”. He said that a lot.

There was also a large garden down toward the highway, and it was always on our daily schedule of places to pay a visit. It was a huge delight for us, where you could always find something sweet to eat ripe on the vine. There were blackberries, and raspberries, grapes of many varieties, strawberry bushes that ran for a quarter mile. What kind of heaven was this? There were also the root veggies of every kind and enough sweet corn to keep the neighbors down the road in good supply for the season.

The Mourning Dove [Zenaida Macroura], is a graceful, slender-tailed, small-headed dove that’s common across the continent. Mourning Doves perch on telephone wires and forage for seeds on the ground; their flight is fast and bullet straight. Their soft, drawn-out calls sound like laments. When taking off, their wings make a sharp whistling or whinnying. Mourning Doves are the most frequently hunted species in North America. (credit to

For sounds of the mourning dove Go Here!

The Farm

The Ronnie and Danny show made its first appearance down on the farm in the spring of 1942. It became an annual trek to the southern-most part of Indiana, where we got to spend a good part of the summer. The little town of Maysville was just a few miles west of Washington, on US Highway 50, just before the White River bridges. I remember vividly riding the train from Detroit. My grandfather Amann worked for the B&O railroad and I believe provided some sort of discounted fare for us. I remember not being able to satisfy my thirst drinking from the little paper cups, dispensed from a tall cylindrical container, next to a little water faucet recessed in the wall. I loved riding the train, the smells, the constant clickety-clack sound from beneath, and the occasional steam whistle blow, a sound you don’t hear anymore except in an old movie.

There was never a dull moment on the farm for the two of us. Danny wasn’t quite a running buddy yet… he still had the walker thing going. It was the beginning of a dozen year run, our terrorizing the barnyard and orchards, where we learned throwing stones at the beehive could be a painful experience. One didn’t do that more than once.

The farm didn’t have running water so we became quite accustomed to outhouse etiquette. The use of corn cobs, placed in bulk in a bucket, and the ever handy pages of an old Sears Roebuck catalog. You can use your imagination here. Saturdays became our bath of the week day, whether we needed it or not. The bath water was hand pumped right there at the kitchen sink. Grandpa kept a set of rusty scissors and hair clippers handy for whenever we might need a shear. It was a painful experience for the most part, it always involved some shedding of tears.

Every Saturday night there was an amateur talent contest down at Eastside Park in Washington. The park had two huge slides that just took a little guys breath away, when both climbing the stairs, and during the triple-bump ride down. Before heading for the park in later years, after cousin Dan escaped from his walker, we never forgot to take along a piece of waxed paper to sit on for the ride down.

The Jett family lived on an adjacent farm at the far end of a huge watermelon patch. They were relatives. My Uncle Hershel and Aunt Edna(my mother’s older sister) lived there with their three children, Don, Dick and Nancy. Their house was located alongside a railroad track, where great long trains would pass by frequently, both day and night. We used to sit on the porch and motion to the engineers to blow their whistles… as they always did. The Highway 50 crossing was about a half mile down their lane. I think the engineers loved blowing their whistles as much as we loved hearing them. I know I would have.

One early farm experience, I’m sure because we were the newest additions to the family, involved being awakened in the middle of the night. We used to sleep on what was called a pallet, an assortment of blankets and quilts, layered on the floor next to the bed. Where, we were often awakened by the bedroom lights coming on, and suddenly found ourselves surrounded, being examined by an unknown family of adults staring down. Why all this attention? As a parent now, I totally understand, our parents were celebrating our existence.

The Stage

The stage is set. The babies are in place, a variety of people are behind the curtain arranging the scenery. Someone is out front putting up a new marquee. The “Ronnie and Dannie Show” is about to open, starring little Ronnie Hart and littler Dannie Toni. But, wait just a minute, their names don’t seem right… not just yet anyhow. But, we can deal with that later.

Danny, almost a year younger than I, was already a resident of the house on 32nd street. I arrived a few months after he was born there, and we were to share the same bed for the next six years. The house was small by today’s standards, with one bedroom (downstairs). It had a total of four rooms, with a kitchen, a dining and a living room, plus some space in the attic. We had a small bathroom just inside the back door next to the booji, an enclosed back porch. Where, was stored, a washing machine with a clothes ringer attachment. Booji, pronounced BOO-GEE, is a polish name and I am uncertain about its spelling. The paternal side of my new family was Polish, and I learned a lot of polish words back then. I have forgotten most of them, but I remembered the important ones… like the swear words.

When your parents are long gone and you have a grown family of your own, you then are able to realize how much you meant to them. When they have built their nest around you, putting you on your own stage for their enjoyment, they are then able to relive their childhood vicariously through you. Their pleasure lies in watching you discover the sights, sounds and smells that surround you. Like, as with me, my first ice cream cone.

What are the similarities between Plutonium 232 and Butterfat? Answer: They will both kill you. Someone discovered this to be true and forever changed our unbridled enthusiasm for eating a good ice cream cone.

My first experience with ice cream cones occurred one late summer evening, when the smell of asphalt and tar could be seen rising from the streets surface. I remember walking with my Dad down to the corner store where much to my surprise four ice cream cones were ordered. We walked to the big white cooler where the doors on top were thrown open, ka-thunk, ka-thunk. In between the dipping’s the scoop was swished in a container that had a small spigot of fresh water running into it. I remember the smell of the coolers electric motor running. Once the cones were ready, a piece of waxed paper was placed over each one and we headed for home. The cones were special then in that they were your own and you didn’t have to worry about getting it all over you. It was part of the deal. You got hosed down later.

Danny was partial to chocolate and I liked vanilla. That preference remains today… why change a good thing?

The Genie

The Genie: My good friend Roy, perhaps my only friend, went to Redford High School and lived in a neighborhood near where I grew up in Michigan. Roy has become a first rate genealogist, not by trade or education, but by experience. A Finn, extended by a colony of Finnish immigrants that settled in the Upper Peninsula many years ago, has taken it upon himself to fill all of the squares in his family tree. He may have added a few extras… you know how them Finns are?

I discovered Roy in 1992 hiding in Bend, Oregon, where I had also taken my family to hide as well. It turns out that he was married to one of my wife’s best friends who also grew up there. It was only natural for us to become partners in crime. To Roy’s credit, and to establish his bona-fides, Roy was able to trace his Great, Great, Great Great Grandfather, to a border town on the Finland Russian border, near the coast. It turns out this relative was a fish. It is my belief we are all related to fish or birds somehow. I always had a passion for flying, so I think I know a little about my origins in particular.

We, of the Hart Clan, owe Roy a debt of gratitude for the following information. I suspect there is more to come. Especially so, since I have revealed his talents for dragging data from the bottom of the pond.

We thank you Roy!

Below are excerpts from 1900, 1920 and 1930 census records. (Keep in mind the borders of Germany and Poland, during the 19th century, were very fluid) the spelling of names was dependent on the census takers ability to spell and interpret oral testimony.

1900 US Federal Census, Bradford City, McKean County, PA

21 Blaisdal Ave.
John B. Hart
, head, b. Jun 1870, age 30, married 6 years, b. Germany P (sic), immigrated 1890 and naturalized in PA, in the U.S. 10 years, painter and decorator
Anna, wife, b. Jan 1876, age 24, married 6 years, b. Germany P (sic), immigrated 1890 and in the U.S. 10 years,
Raymond, son, b. Mar 1894, age 6, at school
Edmond, son, b. Sep 1895, age 4,
Bernard, son, b. Oct 1898, age 1,

1920 US Federal Census, Detroit, Wayne County, District 0509

626 Woodrow Ave.
John Hart, head, owns his home,  age 55, immigrated 1887, naturalized 1896, birthplace – Poland/Germany, father born Poland/Germany, mother born Poland/Germany, speaks Polish, occupation – painter, self employed
Anna Hart, wife, age 45, immigrated 1887, naturalized 1896, born Poland/Germany, father born Poland/Germany, mother born Poland/Germany, speaks Polish, no occupation listed.
Raymond, son, age 25, single, b. PA, painter- house
Benard, son, age 25, single, b. MI, crane operator, auto factory
Joseph, son, age 19, single, b. MI, steamfitter, factory
John, son, age 8, attends school, b. MI
Lewis, son, age 6, does not attend school, b. MI
Vernice, daughter, age 17, does not attend school, b. MI, bookkeeper- factory
Margrette, daughter, age 13, attends school, b. Mi
Francis (sic), daughter, age 11, attends school, b. MI
Elizabeth, daughter, age 7, attends school, b. MI
Catheiline (sic), daughter, age 3 years 6 months, b. MI

1930 US Federal Census, Dearborn, Wayne County, District 884  

2330 Neckel St.
John B. Hart, head, owns home valued at $10,000, age 64 (b. abt. 1866), married, first married at age 28, born in Germany (both of his parents b. in Germany), speaks German, immigrated in 1888, naturalized American, employed as a painter.
Anne Hart, wife, age 53, first married at age 17, b. Germany (both of his parents b. in Germany), immigrated in 1879, naturalized American, no occupation listed.
Bernard Hart, son, age 31, single, b. PA (both of his parents b. in Germany), occupation – electrician automobile (?)
Margaret, daughter, age 23, married, age at first marriage 19, b. PA  (both of his parents b. in Germany), switch board operator for telephone co.  (NOTE: no husband listed on this census page for Margaret)
Frances (?), daughter, age 21, single, b. MI (both of his parents b. in Germany), no occupation listed.
John Hart, Jr., son, age 19, single, b. MI, (both of his parents b. in Germany),  no occupation listed.
Lewis, son, age 16, single, b. MI, (both of his parents b. in Germany), attends school, no occupation listed.
Catherine, daughter, age 13, single, both of his parents b. in Germany), attends school, no occupation listed.

The Grands

The Grands: My paternal grandparents on the Hart side, were immigrants for the most part,  and weren’t really Harts to begin. They were from Poland and had settled in the Johnstown, Pa. vicinity in the late 19th century. Their family name was Bukowski. They moved from there to Detroit seeking work, but I do not know when that was or how many of the family were yet to be born in Michigan. There were 13 children in all, but I can only remember 11 names. Their name change came as a result of not being able to find work in Pennsylvania. It was because they were Polish or so the story goes?

Irregardless of when they arrived in the motor city, they all suffered the ravages of the depression era. it changed how they went about their business for the rest of their lives. My Dad, John Jr., was born in 1910 and his education ended in the 8th grade. Thereafter, he worked for his father as a house painter and found other odd jobs to help support the rest of the family. Grandpa Hart Sr., died in 1935 and my Dad joined the new Civilian Conservation Core(CCC) instituted by the Roosevelt administration to combat the economic challenges of the depression. I never knew my Grandpa Hart. Grandma Hart lived for another 15 years, and for the last few lived with her younger son, after he returned from serving in the second World War. This was my Uncle Louis, known to his nieces and nephews as Uncle Lula. We all loved him dearly.

My Grandparents, on my mothers side, were the Amann’s from Maysville, Indiana. Maysville was on US Highway 50, about six miles west of Washington and just before crossing the White River bridge. Maysville had a Church, a general store and a railroad crossing.

Dan Amann, my grandfather, was an orphaned immigrant from Switzerland who also arrived in the late 19th century. He was raised by an Amish family in the area. He grew up farming and continued with it along with working as an oiler at night for the B&O Railroad. He was a hard worker and also did some gospel preaching at the Washington Church of Christ, filling in between changes at the parsonage. I remember him as being well read and suffered no fools. He was stern with his five daughters as they grew, they had no social life outside of church activities. I believe this resulted in their all leaving the farm at a young age to seek life and riches in the big city.

All but one made it to Detroit eventually. My mother, Mildred, the middle of the surviving girls, left school after the tenth grade making her way to the big city to attend beauty school. The other, the oldest, only made it as far as Indianapolis. She had abandoned her three children, for reasons unknown to me, that were living on an adjoining farm next to the Amann homestead. I never experienced this Aunt as a happy person, except for Christmas of 1945, just after my 5th Birthday. She moved north shortly after that holiday, where, at her home, I enjoyed having my first experience with chocolate pie. You don’t forget things like that at five years old.

Grandmother, Laura Amann(Colbert was her maiden name), was from a large family of Colberts in the area surrounding  Washington.  I feel certain if I were to dig deeper into family history, I might find that they were also immigrants of the 19th century.

Dan and Laura Amann had ten children and only five survived beyond infancy. It was a time before penicillin(the anti-biotic that made Madam Currie famous). Rheumatic Fever and Flu epidemics were hard to combat during this period in America, taking a heavy toll on rural families.

The Postcard

Unknown to me the postcard arrived at 5217 32nd Street in late October or early November, 1942.

Addressed to Mr & Mrs Hart on 32nd Street, It Read:

“Hello all,
Having a swell trip. Will write when I reach destination. Give Ronnie
my love and sorry for having to leave on last Fri so sudden.
But that’s the way this life goes I guess,
Bye Harold

The return information at the top left of the card read:   Corp HW Kuhn, USMC, enroute

The card was postmarked from Salt Lake City, Utah on Oct 27, 1942.

There wasn’t another communication with Harold until I called him forty-five years later. This too is another story for later. We were virtually neighbors in Southern California at the time. It’s a good story.

The family history that unfolded after our first meeting was very enlightening. Similarities of when and where we both grew up involved our having attended the same school system and living in the same neighborhood. Our handwriting was nearly identical… no doubt the result of the “Palmer Method” being taught in our early grade levels.

The Find

The Find: Years ago while occasionally looking through our family photo albums, I never took note there were no photos of me as an infant? The earliest dated pictures I have are dated January of 1942, sitting in a bathtub, which would make me 13 months old at the time. Another series of photos dated February 1942 shows a picture of my maternal Grandmother, Laura Amann, holding me and an infant in her arms. These are both 32nd Street pictures taken in what I remember as our front room. The infant turned out to be my cousin Danny, who had been born three months earlier in the 32nd Street house.

As best I can determine, at this time, I hadn’t been officially adopted. I guess I could be considered a found child and was helpfully placed by a Lutheran orphanage, or so the story goes. There are several versions. So the truth of the matter is, I really don’t know the sequence of events… as all of the principals are no longer available for comment?

I have one cousin left from that era, on the paternal side of my parents, that also lived on 32nd Street, just one block away. I sought her out recently, I was told she used to be my babysitter and her best memory was that I was brought to the house by my birth mother. My cousin was told it was after an incident where I had been scalded by a caretaker. I have no remembrance of that incident or any scars to show for it.

But, I did find my disappearing birth mother forty-five years later, shortly after discovering I was adopted. That story comes later.

The Sheeny Man

The Sheeny Man

Our last horse drawn attraction of that era, was the sheeny man. We could hear him calling from the next block up… “Sheeny Man Coming” and then toot his little tin horn. His wagon would be seen often enough, but his collections didn’t seem to be on a regular schedule. It was wartime and he would patrol the alleys where we played kick the can, sometimes hours on end. The alleys were distinctively large, paved and generally a safe place to play. Our sheeny man was a kind soul and liked to tease us. We would reward him from time to time with a handful of cherries off of the tree in our backyard.

The sheeny man was looking for rags, paperbags, newspapers, junk metals of any kind. So we would on occasion see some very interesting salvage. And during the war, I’m guessing, the sheeny man contributed to a huge national salvage operation. involving the collection of scrap metals. These materials were then turned into tanks, airplanes or machine guns… all went to the war effort. The factory where my Dad worked, just a few walking blocks away, made wheels for every kind of war machine you could imagine. We as kids had great imaginations in that regard. The most visible difference of the Sheeny man’s rig was that this wagon had balloon tires and he used a long handled whip with a short string attached at the end. It helped manage his one horse engine and, his engine wore bells.