Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Life in the Fifties
We all have little snippets of memory that pop up every once in awhile, things that apparently made an impression on our minds at that moment. I do an inventory of some of my snippets when I am reminiscing with family and friends about the good old days.
Colorado seems to be my first memories. Living in a log house on a mountain ranch, carrying wood three or four sticks at a time to the wood box beside the kitchen stove and fireplace, riding with Dad as he checked fences, playing on an old saddle he cinched to the corral fence, and climbing up into the timber above our house with Mom, smelling the timber while we watched chipmunks play on the rocks.
I remember the apartment, converted from an old bank, we lived in behind Dad’s barbershop in Harrold, the hot nights when we drug the mattress out the back door, trying to find a breath of fresh air on those still evenings. I remember the old walk- in bank vault in the apartment that we used for a closet and I used as a playground and hiding place. I remember my baby sister Deb trying to crawl into the shop and our dog Mike blocking the door, not moving even when she would pull his hair and hit him. I remember riding my pony on summer days, pausing at noon for lunch and tying Dynamite up to the clothesline pole while I ate. I have pictures of my cousin Dave and me on Dynamite while he stool on the cover of an old cistern, like the ponies do in the circus. I remember sneaking across the vacant lot beside the barbershop to peek in the back door of the movie theatre, trying to watch the movie on that huge screen. Mom usually caught me before I saw too much of the flick. Since our bedroom window and the shop window both looked onto the mainstreet, we saw everything that happened, teenagers racing up and down the street, fights that spilled out of the bar late at night, and the awe-inspiring blizzards that swept through Harrold.
I remember living in my grandma’s house one winter, having to check the fuel oil tank beside the house, running a yardstick down through the bung hole to see if we had enough fuel to last until Dad’s next paycheck, of huddling around the oil burner in the dining room when it stormed, of sleeping under a mountain of blankets in the cold bedroom at the far end of the house. I remember Mom washing clothes on her wringer washer in the tiny dirt-walled basement at grandma’s, scared to go down there until someone, usually me, checked out the spider population. We got our first TV in 1957, a black and white Motorola, purchased from Parkie. Keloland and Public TV were our choices. I spent a lot of time on the roof adjusting the antenna, trying to clear up the snowy screen. Lawrence Welk and Gunsmoke were Saturday night highlights. Marty Winckler and I built a rope bridge between our clothesline posts, and it worked pretty well until one side gave out and we both tumbled to the ground. I had two pairs of boxing gloves and the kids in the neighborhood would congregate in our backyard and box each other with huge gloves that were the size of pillows. Nobody was ever hurt.
I remember moving into Parkies 1 ½ story house when Dad bought the store, and taking on the job of stoking the coal burning furnace each morning and cleaning out the “clinkers” that had formed in the fire pot each night. A truck hauled coal to our house from the elevator and dumped it into our basement bin through a window in the foundation. The heat came through a large grate in the middle of the living room floor and drifted to the ceiling where it finally got to the upstairs bedrooms through smaller grates in the ceiling. Cold mornings usually meant dressing downstairs on the big grate. The windows in my room were so bad that snow would accumulate on my bed if there was a blizzard. One winter, as I came down stairs, dressed to do chores, Mom called me into the kitchen and pointed at the sink. There, stuck between the wall and the sink splashboard, was a three foot garter snake. Mom never said a word, just got out a big knife and handed it to me. I dispatched of the snake before Dad woke up. Don’t know if he ever knew about it. Believe it or not, these memories and many others are what we now call the ‘good old days’, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.
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