THE EARLY YEARS
My family was in the process of moving from Texas to Colorado when I was born in Brownwood on January 5, 1918. I was the last of nine children and for some reason my parents thought their kids could get a better education in Colorado than in Texas, so were migrating slowly. I don't know how long we lived in Brownwood, but I was six months old when we left, shortly after recuperating from pneumonia and smallpox. Dad himself vaccinated all the rest of the family and no one else contracted the disease. You may or may not know that it was a deadly scourge in many parts of the world for years but was finally completely eradicated in 1979 after a vigorous campaign of vaccination all over the world.
New Mexico is separated from Colorado by a range of foothills; although not high like the Rocky Mountains, were, nevertheless, quite formidable to cross by automobile in 1918. The pass over these foothills, in those days, was a real barrier to traffic and we crossed in an interesting way. The city of Raton lies at the foot of the pass in New Mexico. My dad had a Ford touring car, for you young people who don't know, a touring car is a two seater sedan, with a top of canvas that would fold up and back and down onto the body of the car; this model hasn't been made for 40 or 50 years. You have to remember that this was 1918 and cars were relatively few; mass production having started only about ten years earlier, and paved highways didn't exist.
As the story has been told to me many times, we proceeded up the pass in reverse gear; mom, dada and I in the front seat and the rest of the family (except Charles) walking. As I understood it, the car didn't have enough power to go up the hills frontward, but did have in reverse gear, so the kids walked and we drove in reverse. Of course when we got to the top everybody piled in and we continued on our way. Many years later Jack insisted that the real reason was that, since there was no fuel pump, and if we were driving head first, the gasoline couldn't run into the motor by gravity, so of course it would stop; hence, by going in reverse, it could. You can take your choice of which version to believe; but I like the first one better.
The first city we came to was Trinidad and we stopped there to rest for three years. My first memories are of Trinidad; one night a house, almost directly across the street from ours, burned down and I remember watching from our front porch. For many, many years there existed a brand of baking powder with a picture of the head of an Indian chief on the side of the can; I remember the head, but for the life of me, today, I can't think of the name of brand. Anyway, the kids were playing outdoors in a corner of the house and there on the window ledge was one of the cans showing the head. I also remember being on the train when we moved to Denver. I can remember I was with 2 or 3 women, who of course were my mother and a sister or two.
Left: Me - 2 years old
Right: Me - 6 months old
Dad had many occupations in Denver and one of my earliest memories, when I was about three, was him on South Broadway driving a horse and small wagon peddling vegetables. Later this memory was to get me in big trouble. Bob insists dad also had a small truck garden in North Denver at the same time but I have no recollection of that. I do remember living in North Denver, about 30th and Irving, at that time, and remember ducks that would walk down in a line to cross 29th Ave. to get to an irrigation ditch.
From there we moved to 2316 South Emerson Street. Denver had about 200,000 inhabitants at that time, with no other Annises, and we could get mail addressed to us at Denver, Colorado without any street number given. How times have changed. Now nobody at the P.O. would even look for us, but I can't blame them, considering that now Denver has over one million people. At that time there were only 4 houses on our block, on the east side of the street. Across the street there was an irrigation ditch, beyond that a big sweet corn field and on the other side of the field there was a big Catholic orphanage.
One time my brothers, the twins, built a rowboat in the basement; they were going to float it in the irrigation ditch, but when they tried to get it out it was too big to go up the stairs and out the back door. Then there was the afternoon our dog Jadda died. She was mostly Airedale and I remember her that afternoon, surrounded by our family and some neighbors, on the ground, unconscious and hemorrhaging from the mouth. Everybody thought she had been poisoned with ground glass; however I learned many years later that ground glass will not kill a dog; so to this day I have no idea what killed her. Most likely she had been hit by a car and was bleeding because of internal injuries.
Then there was the day Bob broke his leg. Jack was driving his stripped-down model T Ford and they were out on Happy Hollow Road, south of Denver and not too far from our house. I think there was a lot of loose sand on the road and they probably turned over - or maybe Bob just fell out; I don't know for sure.
Another time, on the 4th of July, the twins were at Overland Park; Mack found some gray powder and wondered: "Is this really gunpowder?" So to find out he tried to light it with a match. And it was; the flash burned his face, but not seriously, no eye damage, no scars. He was sufficiently impressed that he never tried it again.
I saw my first airplane, on the ground, at Overland park. This was (still is) a big park on the south side of Denver; it was a long walk from Emerson Street so we didn't go very often. In the summer they had auto races every Sunday and one time I was there with Jack and Mack, and, to my surprise at least, a barnstormer flew around and finally landed. He was looking for passengers who would pay for a ride (or would it be flight?).
Emerson street wasn't paved then; just a sandy surface, and the street car ( electric trolley) ran east and west down the road from our house about a m remember walking part way down the road to meet my dad after work when he would be walking home from the car line. I would run and he would chase me and it was great fun.
My twin brothers were always best buddies but I can remember one fight they had out in the street in front of our house. Mack broke a broom handle on Jack's head. It may not have been a broom stick, but that is the way I remember it. Jack, to this day, denies any such fight. One other vague memory comes to mind which was the event when my father's youngest brother, with his wife and mother, came to visit us. They took a drive to the nearby mountains and on their return she is credited with the remark about her reaction to Colorado, "You can't see the scenery for the mountains." We have laughed about this ever since, and maybe I should explain to you, the reader down the line a few generations, why we thought this was funny. She was an old lady at the time, not long for this world, and was raised in a part of Texas, and here in Colorado all she could see were mountains.
We must have lived on Emerson Street a couple of years or so because I can remember first grade at Emerson school; I have recollections of taking a dime (10 cents) with me to buy lunch. One time I was in a pageant and I played the part of a little black boy, my sister Marnie blackened my face with burnt cork and I became Sambo. It was several years before I outgrew that nickname.
About 1924 my parents were able to buy a house in North Denver; that is they accumulated enough money for a down payment and made a contract with the owner for the balance. Thus we moved to 2935 Foster Court, just one block to the east of North High school. All of the houses on that block have long since been torn down and the land incorporated into the school yard. That first evening after we moved made a big impression on me; I walked with my brothers down Foster Court to Spear Blvd., then up 2 blocks to Federal Blvd. I was amazed at all the lights and traffic on the way.
Left: Cousin Catherine Slight - Jack - Jane - Me hanging on.
Center: Bob was a Highlander too
Right: Mack and Jack - Model T Ford
These were happy times; the years before the Great Depression ( which started after the stock marker crash in 1929). Foster Court wasn't paved then, neither was the alley which separated our row of houses from the other part of a row on the other side. Both bread and milk were delivered by one-horse wagons on a regular delivery route. I kept 4 or 5 pet Rhode Island Red hens in a pen attached to the garage next to the alley; built a tree house in one corner of the back yard; got a pair of roller skates for Christmas, and skated all around the block; ran down to the corner grocery store to pick up stuff for mom, and generally enjoyed being a little kid.
Left: Jane and Mary Annis
Right: Mom and Dad
Left: This is me - 9 years old
All Photographs 1927
When I was nine years old I started taking violin lessons; I can't remember the teacher or the classes bit I do remember practicing, many times with mom at the piano. We really did a rendition of Barcarole! The next year I was invited to join the Denver Post kid's orchestra where I played second fiddle. I didn't enjoy playing in the orchestra for the simple reason I really wasn't yet qualified. I couldn't read music well enough, which means I missed, and faked, a lot of notes which left me with a feeling of inadequacy. Shortly thereafter I had to stop taking lessons; this was during the depression and there just wasn't enough money for the classes.
Ashland school was on 29th Avenue, by shortcut about 3 blocks away/ It was a big three story building, one of Denver's oldest schools, originally built as North High School, but when the new North High was built on Spear Boulevard, a block behind our house on Foster Court. Ashland was changed to an elementary school, through the 8th grade. North was a 4 year high school then, but was changed to a 3 year high (called a senior high) after Skinner Jr. High was opened in North Denver. They made the change from 4 year to a 3 year high school the year I was ready to change to North so I had to go to Skinner for the 9th grade. (Are you still with me?) For me the outstanding thing at Ashland was the one year I was Captain of the color guard. It was our pleasure and great honor to march out every morning, lead the rest of the school kids reciting the pledge of allegiance, and raise the flag. We took it down every night too, but there was no pledge to say then.
I saw Charles Lindbergh pass by one day, in a caravan on Speer Blvd. as he was touring the country after his solo flight across the Atlantic ocean.
I remember trucks delivering blocks of ice to go in the ice boxes (long before there were electric refrigerators). They drove through the alleys of the neighborhood and we kids would wait for them and sneak a ride on back, also sneaking small pieces of ice to eat, until the drivers finally chased us off. In the summer we played in the vacant lots, looking for horny toads (they were actually horned lizards). We wore them, clinging to to our shirts like some sort of pin.
In the mid 1920's I remember watching my brothers trying to make a crystal radio set (long before the days of transistors, even before vacuum tubes). There was only one or two radio stations in Denver then so there wasn't much choice. The crystal (a real mineral crystal that you could find in the mountains, but I don't remember what kind of mineral) was about the size of the end of your little finger and attached to one wire. There was another attached to what we called the "cat;s whisker". It was a short piece of very fine wire with a small piece of wood fastened on one end to hold it by; and to change stations you had to look for them by moving the tip of the cat's whisker to another spot on the crystal. It was unbelievably simple; but since there was no such thing as a loud speaker we had to use earphones.
I used to like to watch the road graders as they periodically smoothed Foster Court, and finally one day, before we moved, they paved it with asphalt.
I always wanted, but never got, a Flexible Flyer; these were absolutely the ultimate, the greatest, of sleds. To this day they still are. In case you don't know what a sled is, I'll tell you: it's to slide on, down a hill covered with snow. There are few pleasures in life greater than this for a kid!
The year I was nine, in 1927, I joined the Highlanders, a group of pre-Boy Scout-age kids, aged 9 to 12. There must have been four or five hundred of us, and to control such a large group we were organized militarily into squads, companies and finally into a regiment with two marching bands. We had wooden rifles and drilled after school twice a week. At first we drilled downtown in the old, abandoned, East High School at 18th and Glenarm Place. A short time later the old school was razed to make way for the new federal courthouse. When that happened we moved over to our new armory at 6th and Logan. Towards the end of the depression we lost this building; and since I was out of the Highlanders by then I don't know where they went or what happened to them.
Early on there was an incident that made a definite impression, and taught me a lesson I never forgot. This is what happened: We had a commandant of cadets who had been in WW I, and was a retired major. His name was Grinstead and I admired him greatly. He was in charge of our drill sessions at the old East High School building; on this particular afternoon I went downtown on the street car with two companions, both Highlanders too. We got off at 16th and Glenarm and horsed around while walking over to 18th where the drill was. We got there about 10 minutes late, feeling pretty good and having a good time; probably feeling a little smart aleck too. The major wasn't a bit impressed and he read us the riot act - a real bawling out, as we used to say; he told us to never be late again, and then he sent us home. I can't remember being late ever again since that afternoon so long ago.
It is strange what little incidents will stick with you through the years. I recall three things that happened in the second or third grade at Ashland. We regularly had spelling lessons (I winder if schools still "teach" spelling?). Anyway I was confused and having trouble spelling gerunds, words ending in "ing", until one day it dawned on me how to spell "ing". I felt like I had invented the wheel.
Another time we were supposed to recite a poem so I was going to say: :Jane ate cake and Jane ate jelly, Jane had a pain in her ____, now don't get excited, don't get misled, for the pain Jane had was a pain in her head." When I got to the part where I said "Jane had a pain", the teacher interrupted me and told me to sit down; I never did get to finish my poem.
In the other incident we were supposed to tell the class something about our earlier life. So I told them my dad used to have a horse and wagon and a vegetable route. Well, the teacher told me to sit down because I was making it all up. Sometimes I just couldn't win for losing.
Nineteen thirty was the year I was twelve and for me the memorable thing that occurred was this: Eastman Kodak Company gave away a half million box cameras to kids who were twelve that year; and I got one. It was a sales promotion stunt, of course, but I didn't care why, I just dearly wanted one of the simple Brownie box cameras that took eight pictures on a roll of 620 film. Getting this camera really stimulated my interest in photography. I lost the camera in 1936 when I left home to go to college.
So 9th grade was at Skinner Jr. High; a big, almost new school. There are three things I'll never forget. We had an indoor swimming pool and the opportunity to take lessons as part of our gym class. I couldn't swim yet and I can't remember the coach trying very hard to reach us. Anyway on this particular day three or four of us were suppose to jump in at the shallow end, swim to the deep end, and then climb out. I managed to dog paddle to the other end o.k., but then I couldn't climb out and was really in trouble when a classmate jumped in and helped me. I've forgotten who this boy was but I'm still grateful for his help; I could have drowned for all the attention the coach or other students paid me.
In those days a lot of junior high students studied Latin; it wasn't a required subject, but it was highly recommended, so I took it. I wonder if schools still offer Latin. Looking back on it I'm not sorry I did; as it turned out I believe it helped me a lot much later. However it was hard for me and I was about to fail, so my mother studied with me every day for the rest of the semester and I passed o.k.
Skinner was about twelve blocks from my home and I walked both ways, winter and summer. I also remember, due to the perpetual scarcity of money, I wore one dollar sneakers all the time. I don't have many good memories of the two years at North High. We thought it was a big school, graduating about four hundred students every year. My favorite classes were both shop courses; one in carpentry and the other in machine shop. English was the easiest because we were required to read a certain number of books; for me that was a cinch because I gladly read everything required, and more; so always got an "A". The worst classes were the two I failed; dramatics and geometry. Besides the acting part we were required to read a certain number of plays. This I just could not do, and to this day reading a play is just about the most boring thing I can think of. I was surprised (call it naive) when I got the failing grade, though, because the teacher was a good friend of an old family friend, and I thought because of the roundabout friendship she would pass me. How wrong I was! It was many years later that I discovered that students don't get grades, they earn them. The geometry was just my nemesis; no excuses. mathematics is just not my thing and I barely got through algebra. The only part of math that interested me was logarithms. I really liked it, but now I would have a hard time defining it or to explain why it is so useful. Well, I know why it is useful, but it never was to me until the last few years when I was really studying photography. Now I'm so old I just can't cope with it.
I should tell about the only problem I had at North because it may give you some insight into my character; you might find some good in it, and you might not, depending upon how you interpret it. I hated with a passion the gym classes and in the 11th grade I finally refused to attend. Sports (except equitation), then and now, do not interest me. At least one thing I liked; I did go out for track because I liked to run, but I intensely hated baseball. For one thing I couldn't play very well; but the real problem was that before a game they always chose up sides. The two captains for the game took turns picking their team mates and I know you can guess who was always the last one to be chosen. I don't have to explain what this did for my ego.
Another problem was the showers. I didn't mind the showers actually, it was the locker rooms that caused the problem. Do you know the smell of a men's locker room? I'll take the smell of a horse stable or even a cow barn anytime to a locker room. The result was that I wouldn't go, and when the administration found out about it I was called to the assistant principal's office. A. J. Martz was his name. He carefully explained that the gym class was compulsory, no attend, no graduate. I carefully explained why I didn't want to go. He said I had to go if I wanted to graduate from High School; no exceptions. I said no matter, I won't go. The result was that for the rest of the year, during time for gym class, I sat it out in his office. This is how the school year of 1934-35 ended, as far as I was concerned, the end of my school career.
It was this year or the year before that our family lost our home on Foster Court. Looking back on it , it seems incredible that it happened so late in the depression. The owner of the house didn't want to foreclose, and begged us to stay, if we could just give him something every month. The irony of it is that we rented a house at 26th and Federal Boulevard and paid $25.00 a month for the privilege. I never understood why this happened and I suppose it must have, somehow, involved family honor.
In late 1934 or early 1935, Charles, meanwhile, bought 100 acres in southern Oregon, a mile and a half south of Canyonville, to be exact, and moved there with Frances and Rosemary. The place was located just inside the mouth of the canyon, with a rushing stream, lined with wild blackberry bushes, alongside the highway. There was a three-room cabin, but no electricity or running water. Water came from a spring close to the creek, and there was an outhouse down the hill from the house. Cooking was done on a wood-burning cast iron stove that also supplied heat in the winter. There was about a half acre of garden land along the creek, but the rest of the land was low, coastal mountains covered with Douglas fir trees, ferns and azaleas. A few months before they moved to Oregon they made one of their infrequent visits to Denver. We were living in Westminster, one of many small incorporated towns that surround Denver. Of course my problem at North High came up in conversations, and Charles, with his usual magnanimity invited me to come and live with them in Oregon. I don't know if he really expected me to accept his invitation, but I thought it was a great idea; so plans were made and I left home at the beginning of the 1935 summer vacation.
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