Easter Bunny Cometh

Prelude:

Palm Sunday, a religious holiday, just happens to be the week before Easter when the Easter Bunny had been known to show up at our house. On Palm Sundays, everyone returning from Catholic mass carried a handful of cut palm leaves. I didn’t know at the time that palms didn’t grow anywhere near Detroit? Of course, since we were four or five years old, my cousin Danny and I looked forward to Easter Sundays, and it was for all the right reasons; sugar mostly, and lots of it. We could smell it out and often did.

Easter Bunny Cometh

Sharing the attic with our Aunt Inez was fun, she slept just a few feet away, and it proved to be especially convenient. There were some cardboard wardrobes that divided our sleeping areas and they were known to be a hiding place for stuff. So when the fresh palms appeared downstairs, tucked in behind a crucifix which hung above my parent’s bed, we knew then it was time to start sniffing around.

We had it all figured out. The year before we’d watched through the heating vent from the attic, which was conveniently located directly beneath the head of our bed. There was no headboard, so all we had to do was lean over and spy on the happenings downstairs. Danny and I learned a lot from that vantage point… some of the words spoken, for example, couldn’t be taught in school. It turns out there was more than one Easter Bunny and we liked watching them hide the eggs on the Saturday night before Easter.

Normally, on Sunday mornings, we would venture downstairs before anyone was awake and go out onto the front porch and get the Sunday paper. Back then, during the 1940’s, the newspaper portion was located inside the comic section. The Sunday comics were the main event for us, we weren’t into reading much then anyhow, except for a little Jack and Jill now and then. We would then turn on the radio at 8 o’clock and listen to a Sunday morning radio show, that read the comics to us out loud (this was back before television took control of our imaginations). You needed to pay the strictest attention because there were no repeats and no instant replays. The very last comic read was always Prince Valiant, my favorite. I loved the pictures and didn’t really realize why until much later, the cartoons were more realistic looking because they were illustrated. And the best part was, Prince Valiant took up most of the back page.

It wasn’t unusual for Danny and me to spend time in the attic during the day, our toy box was located there… at the head of the stairs. One day about mid-week, right after Palm Sunday, we detected that familiar smell and realized “Easter sugar is in the house!” Jelly beans, marshmallow chickens, candy corn, plastic grass in baskets wrapped in cellophane, all mixed together have a distinct aroma. Once you have feasted on raw meat you lock away the scent, never to forget it’s meaning. It was CANDY, RAW CANDY! So, we began our hunt for Easter. It was a very small attic and so it didn’t take us long. First we checked under Aunt Inez’s bed… there was nothing there. The cardboard wardrobe was next, it was loaded with shoes stacked in the bottom and there, back in behind some hanging winter coats, we found just what we were looking for, “two Easter Baskets.” As you might expect we had to take samples. We even took out the chocolate bunnies and bit off an ear or two before putting them back. By the end of the week, addicted to Easter and all sampled out, we finally realized that “We, might be in big trouble?”

On Saturday night, we again watched the Easter Bunnies work their magic. The following morning we were very surprised to find quarters and half dollars taped to some of the eggs, and there at the top of the front hall closet sat our Easter Baskets, which to our surprise, had been refortified. Easter Bunnies work in very strange ways.

Thank you Aunt Inez.

Even more Neighborhood

Even more Neighborhood

With Buttons and Bows

As time moved along, now shortly after the war ended (summer of ’45), to when we moved away from my 32nd Street neighborhood, in late 1950, I am left with vivid memories of solitary events and the kids that perpetuated them. Some were painful, and some not so. For example; my friend Bobby Baloon. I had great sympathy for Bobby, who lived just two doors down, not just because of his unusual name but because he lived with his grandparents and Uncle Frank. I never met Bobbie’s actual parents. In that regard we had a lot in common but we just weren’t aware of it. Bobbie did things that brought him a lot of attention, like he wasn’t particularly kind to animals. Most of those details I don’t care to relate. One day a group of us were playing outside a heating store across the street, where we found an open grate used by suppliers that allowed truck deliveries to their basement level. Three or four of us climbed down to inspect… then, after we are in the pit, Bobby yells “someone’s coming!” We begin the scramble to get out and I end up being the last. I grabbed hold of the iron grates lock plate and with my feet half way up the inner wall, just as I was set to haul myself up… Bobby slams the grate down onto my left hand, which is now caught in the locking mechanism and I am still in the pit. I learned then and there all about severe pain. The skin on all four of my fingers was peeled back to the bone from knuckle to knuckle. Now, if you can imagine this, and I know you’re thinking about it… the grate needs to be reopened to let me loose. I was allowed to re-live the experience. I keep the scars.

Now for some nice memories: There was a song written in the late 1940’s that won an academy award for best new song. The song was written in 1947 and won the award in 1948. The title was “Buttons and Bows”. Well, there was this little blonde girl that moved onto my street that year. Her name was Gloria Sykes. She had a younger sister named Dorothy. Gloria wore her hair in long pigtails and she was the prettiest girl I had ever seen. She was beautiful, a bit strong minded, but beautiful just the same. Little boys weren’t supposed to think girls were anything but icky and you were supposed to avoid them at all costs or suffer the pain of your peer’s displeasure. It turns out Gloria was a very talented singer. One day, in class, she got up and sang that most popular song of the day, “Buttons and Bows.” Dinah Shore had been singing it on the radio and it was the number one song on the charts. It was a magnificent performance and my heart was a flutter.

We enjoyed each others company although Gloria could be very bossy. I recall us often roller skating at night,  under the street light down near her house. I was always fascinated by her talents. The Sykes family only lived on the street for a little over a year. But before they moved away, Gloria and I had been invited to Bobby Foreman’s Birthday party. Toward the end of the party a game of spin the bottle was introduced and when it was her turn she chose me to kiss. It doesn’t get better than that, having a girl choose to kiss you, at the age of 8.

I didn’t know the Sykes family had intentions of moving until, one day, they just disappeared. I was sorry that Gloria didn’t return to Sill School the next year. I’d spent most of that summer down on the farm for our annual pilgrimage to Indiana.

A couple of years later, after my Grandma Hart died in November of 1950, we moved to Dearborn Township. In January of 1951, I entered the 4th grade class at Edsel B. Ford Elementary School, taught by Mrs. Knuth, and there sitting front row center, where you would expect her to be, sat Gloria Sykes with her big bright eyes and blonde pigtails. I wondered if anyone knew she could really sing.

More Neighborhood

Neighborhoods, then and now

firstDaySchoolIn January of 1946 at age 5 I started going to public school. The school building itself was constructed in 1905 and although it had seen better days, it was still magical to me. Sill School, which was located on the corner of Herbert and 30th Streets in West Detroit, was only three or four blocks from our house. I can clearly remember the large, vertical, glass paneled doors that ran the length of the Kindergarten classroom that were sometimes folded fully open. The doors themselves were well padded as if chaos were expected to break out at any second and they didn’t want we precious little tots to get hurt.

We were quickly introduced to all of the things that could hurt you. Scissors for example, paddles with little balls on strings of rubber that could do great damage to one’s eye, if we could ever figure out how to make them work. There were little twirls on sticks you could wave in the air until you hit someone in the face. The paste was also very tasty, as was the glue. It came in little bottles having rubber caps that had a slit you could lick when no one was watching. We pretty much had to taste everything.

Going to school was great fun. Most of the kids on my street went to the Catholic school so the duty of my early escort fell to Ray Knuff, who lived across street on the corner of Devereaux. After a few weeks I learned to manage finding the school playground on my own. We kids never actually went to school… we went to the playground. The school was conveniently located there.

On the corner, across from the school playground was another of the many little grocery stores in the neighborhood, which catered to our appetites for anything sweet. They also marketed all the gizmos we absolutely had to have. Things such as Yo-Yo’s, squirt guns, bubble gum… all the necessities of being young. Often there would appear, in front of the store at the most opportune times (say lunch time), an older kid with a pocket full of yo-yo’s. He would perform all of the tricks one could imagine and then some. Around the world, walking the dog, baby in a cradle and of course making it sleep… for very long periods of time. He was amazing. It was almost as if he were working for either Duncan or the Cheerio Yo-Yo Companies? OK, I get it now… some seventy years later, he was working for the Yo-Yo guys?

Sill School, the playground, the candy store and the Yo-Yo guy are no longer there. But, what is left for me is a boatload of childhood memories. “To each his own”, we each have our own memories and it’s great fun to share.

30th and Herbert Streets

oldSillSchool-location

Neighbor Hoods

Neighbor Hoods

A district or area with distinctive characteristics is defined as a neighborhood. I would add… “The streets,” where I grew up near 32nd and Devereaux in Detroit, had more distinctive characters than characteristics. How about having kids named Bobby Baloon, Ray Knuff(who walked me to kindergarten at Sill School), Donnie and Rita Morgel lived on the corner, and living next door was Wally and Johnny Nabozny. Gloria and Dorothy Sykes moved in down the street, where we roller skated under the street light. Gloria didn’t stay long, but we would meet up again later… in a different neighborhood. It’s worth mentioning that this will be a totally different story… a very good story at that.

Our street was alive with war games and night patrols, “Hide and Go Seek”, played from the telephone poll on the corner of Devereaux. Who can forget, “Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie, who’s not ready holler I?” There were street showers from fire hydrants, provided by city firemen on hot summer days, when the asphalt was near melting. Visits to Kronks Gym, where (in the nude) we learned to swim, while upstairs, the famous Joe Louis practiced his uppercuts and left jabs. Kronks Gym was, and still is, a truly historic site in the history of the sport of boxing in Detroit.

My cousin Leo and his family, the Bronikowski’s, included my Aunt Vernice and Uncle Tony, his brother Jerry and their sisters Pat and Rosemary. They lived one block up toward McGraw and Warren Avenue. There were two older brothers, Tommy and Ray that were in the Pacific theater serving in the Army. Leo, who was a little older than me by a few months, had a twin brother Leonard that died at birth.

One of my favorite things to do with Leo, you’ll see for obvious reasons, was to go visit his Aunt Minnie. She lived on the next street over behind a Mom and Pop grocery store, which was right across the alley from our house. They had a huge glass cabinet full of candy, sitting just inside the front door. Aunt Minnie always had a few pennies to share when we appeared on her street and then onto her front porch. I hope we weren’t too obvious. I don’t to this day remember what Aunt Minnie looked like… but, I remember how great the pennies looked in our hands as we made our way to the candy store. It wasn’t long after the war that Aunt Minnie moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana. And, I recall in later years, while we were driving down to our summer visits on the farm, as we passed through her city, I wished we could stop and visit… hoping she might still have a few pennies left.

One of the more memorable events I have of my cousin Leo (on 32nd Street), was when his brother Tommy came home from the war. Leo came to get me one day saying… “Wait till you see this, it has blood and everything!” We climbed his front steps and went into what was probably a parlor with a huge piece of furniture sitting against the back wall, what one might call a buffet, with large sets of wooden drawers. Leo pulled open the bottom drawer and there lay a large sword encased in an armored sheath. He lifted it out and pulled on the handle revealing dark purple and red stains on the blade about half way down. Leo then said… “That’s real Jap blood Ronnie!” In those days people weren’t as sensitive to an ethnic slur, we were then enemies after all.

It wasn’t long after that my cousin and his family moved away from 32nd Street. Their new house was located on the corner of Minock and Joy Road, a newer neighborhood not too long a walk to Rouge Park. Where, in the summer, we would swim all day in the largest set of swimming pools I had ever seen. What great fun that was.

Another treat, when staying over at cousin Leo’s new house, was having breakfast in the basement eating powdered sugar covered doughnuts and drinking coffee. I never knew until then that some kids were allowed to drink coffee, and some kids even smoked cigarettes. Leo’s sister Rosemary showed us how to do that. Smoking wasn’t something I ever grew fond of, but I remain fond of my Bronikowski relatives that welcomed me into their extended family so many years ago.

I remember my cousin Leo as a good swimmer, and sadly, he died a couple of years ago in a swimming accident. We really had some great times together, along with my cousin Danny. The two of us together at that age were bad enough, but when the three of were together… it had to be pure chaos for the parents.

Paying respects to old friends and family should be required while growing old, and I feel grateful to have this opportunity to share the fondest of memories in their honor. It is a reminder to me that even though the years and life events have separated us to this extent, our memories of the happy times of our youth can still remain so vivid. I am so thankful for that.

Neighbor Hoodsto be continued

Employment Letter

I’m jumping ahead in time here while at at the same time looking back. I received an offer for employment almost forty years ago that I want to share. As you may have noticed, I have had a unique history of friends of various persuasions over the years. None quite so creative as my cartoonist friend (that was also my college art teacher). My friend, Cartoonist Ray, was also responsible for my attending the Academy of Arts College in San Francisco many years ago, during one of my many airline furloughs. (letter pdf link here)

The letter reads:

Dear Mr. Hart,

We have been informed that you have been furloughed from ONA. It is our pleasure to announce that we have an employment opportunity for you in our popular Sky Kitchen… a new innovation in short commute flights. It is our unique concept to provide the short flight passenger with a quick, but nutritious, meal compensatory with the time limitations. We are therefore offering each passenger a quickie meal comprised of a chilled glass of Carnation Liquid Breakfast and Croutons. Our present need is for flight personnel who are capable of breaking open the individual packets and thoroughly stirring the contents into a pleasantly chilled glass of two-percent milk and subsequently artistically placing the croutons on the surface in a pleasing manner. Uniforms will be provided (pink and magenta jumper with yellow silk shirts and formal black tie for the men, none for the women), and we have established a six week training school for acceptable students. We guarantee work within six weeks of graduation at a handsome salary not unlike other unemployed individuals at the present time. We shall look forward to your application and processing fee of fifty dollars, payable by return mail.

Sincerely,

A. Skinner
Proc Food Sky Kitchen
Dept Y

My recent reply to my friend:

Ray,
I don’t know if you recall my temporary employment with PSA Airlines almost forty years ago(see attachment). I really enjoyed that job. It only lasted a short while and it was fortuitous, as a trained cabin crew member, acting in the capacity as Gourmet Purser, that I could also fly the airplane if need be. The truth of the matter is, the position and career only lasted for one flight. It seems our food service caterer supplied us with fouled croutons. It was shortly after we served the cockpit crew their inflight snack that I noticed the unusual attitude of our airplane as having assumed a near vertical position in a nose down trajectory. I quickly found myself, due to the forces of gravity, standing on the cockpit door. I let myself in. The pilots were doubled over in some sort of pain. I wrestled the Captain from his seat, took control and landed the Boeing 727 at the Vacaville Nut Tree Airport. Whereupon, I called my cartoonist friend Ray Salmon and explained the situation.

He said what letter?