I have always been fascinated by meeting new people and hearing their life stories. This trait served me well during the 40-plus years I wrote for seven newspapers and five radio stations.
At the age of 5, I watched with total awe the building of a large house next door to our home on Leesburg Avenue. It was being constructed by Mr. and Mrs. Cary Deere who had retired from farming. No matter how many spankings mother administered to me or how many threats of taking away privileges, she wasn’t able to keep me away from the construction of that house.
The huge hole for the basement was especially interesting to me and when I could steal over there, I’d stand on the edge and marvel at the size of it. In my childish mind, I fancied being able to float from where I stood to the depth of that crater, never once picturing the drastic injuries such a feat would inflict on me. When you are 5-years-old, nothing seems impossible to you…
Finally, the house was finished and it was beautiful and spacious. Tragedy awaited those nice new neighbors. Mr. Deere was riding in a coupe one afternoon with friends and fell out in the road and was killed. After Mrs. Deere followed some years later, the house was leased by the Montgomery-Ward Company as a home for its managers and their families.
I was thrilled beyond words! These were people who came here from other states, staying a year to three years and they were all charming neighbors.
World War II was declared and the first family, Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Clark had a son who was serving in the navy. Ralph, Jr. came home on leave whenever he could. The Clarks also had a teenage daughter Rosemary and she and I often played duets on her piano. I was about 9 at the time and my one goal was to become a teenager myself! Rosemary made many friends here, especially Marilyn Milner who lived down the street. They often talked of the fun they had together and I was itching to finally get to that wonderful stage!
Mrs. Clark became seriously ill one winter and my mother — (the “Florence Nightingale” of Leesburg Avenue) nursed her back to health, carefully following her doctor’s orders.
Mr. Clark’s father, who was in his 80’s came to live with them. He was a builder who made some comfortable lawn chair for their backyard and I would often sit there with him. He was very kind and told great stories.
Finally came moving day for the Clarks and I was sad to see them go. Mother assured me there would be other nice people to follow and she was right. Into our world next came the Boodt family, from Port Huron, Mich., Earl and Shirley Boodt had two growing boys and a third son came along just before they moved away.
The boys were ages 7 and 13 and they were great fun. They brought out their croquet set, installed it in the side yard and we were out there batting balls through wickets by the hour! Walt went to Boy Scout Camp and when he came home, he taught us the songs he had learned and we sang them with gusto every evening on my front porch, swinging the evening away in our porch swing. It was good that my parents were usually taking their evening ride at those times because it could have been a bit much to hear “A Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall” sung all the way through to “no bottles of beer on the wall.”
Sometimes, we went to a Saturday matinee at the Fayette Theater. Other times, Mrs. Boodt, weary of hearing croquet balls cracking into each other, would come outside carrying a picnic basket filled with egg-salad sandwiches, fruit and a thermos of milk. We’d repair to the woods behind our houses and share the repast with the squirrels and birds.
Mr. Boodt was a camera enthusiast. At the slightest provocation, he’d haul out his home movie paraphernalia and bore whoever unlucky enough to be visiting with home movies dating back to the days the boys were just learning to walk. (This embarrassed his sons greatly.) It didn’t matter who the visitor was, out came the tripod and screen and the bored callers tried to evince enthusiasm. I noticed special displays of boredom the evening the preacher came to call. Seeing tots in their highchairs trying to manage spoonfuls of cereal did not qualify Earl Boodt for the Academy Award. He was so into his avocation, he turned the upstairs bathroom into a dark room.
With my older siblings out on their own by this time, our parents decided it was time to sell the house. I was crushed. It was the only home I’d ever known… our neighbors were like family. The house sold in a remarkably short time.
Unfortunately, our new home at the other end of town lacked a good two weeks’ time for completion. Our neighbors came to the rescue. Mr. and Mrs. Boodt offered me their guest room, (I felt like a queen in it.) and my parents found shelter two houses down at the home of other neighbors.
I had so longed to become a teenager and little did I know of the problems I would encounter. It was not all Cokes after school at the drugstore and Friday night sock hops in the gym or crowds of us cheering to victory our own Blue Lions Football team.
Finally came the day our new house was ready for us in a neighborhood where we didn’t know anybody. I had wanted to grow up and would soon enter high school.
I was never to forget the wonderful friends we had made with the Montgomery-Ward managers and their families. We corresponded for several years. I finally learned that living often meant saying goodbye.
Jean Mickle is a local resident who writes columns for the Record-Herald.