First Stop, Indianapolis - Last Stop, the House by the Water Tower.
Before we left Cleveland, my principal at Euclid Park gave me a journal so I could record our journey. I had a little green drawstring purse in which I kept a pencil, the journal and a wallet of folding money from babysitting. I was three weeks short of twelve. My friends on Hillsboro Road gave me a going away party. They thought I was going to Texas. So did I.
There were some interesting preludes to our exodus. The first was the misconception that we were going to Texas. My father had a job offer from a Hughes Tool subsidiary in Brownsville. For Texas, I was willing to leave the Cleveland Indians, the Cleveland Browns, Euclid Beach and the Cleveland Public Library behind. I had read some wonderful young adult adventure books about Davie Crockett and Jim Bowie and the birth of the Lone Star State. I was willing to let Steven Austin join Governor Frank Lausche on my favorite governor's list. Then my mother read something about the climate on the Rio Grande and bugs, and Texas was erased from the map. Except no one told me and I kept right on reading. In March there were some telephone calls of a secret nature between my grandfather Henry Clay Patterson and his brother Guy. Every family seems to have at least one rich uncle and he was ours. He was also the favorite character from my rather somber childhood, a rotund jolly man with an Irish face and an Irish name and a history as a bootlegger, which is where the money came from. Then one day a letter came from Aunt Edna Patterson (not the one who was my father's sister, but the one who was married to Uncle Guy and who made me wash my hands every time I sneezed). I do not remember the letter but I remember the little black and white photograph that was enclosed. For a long time I had it in an album until at age fifty I was secure enough to ditch the things I hated. If you are curious as to what it portrayed, Google Map 425 H Avenue in Coronado California. Google Maps will not let you make copies of the street views or I would post it here. It is now a two story house and probably markets for close to a million dollars even in the slump, but in 1951 it was what I considered a crackerbox and it definitely was not in Texas. Texas had Cowboys and Indians and Mexicans with Sombreros. H Avenue in Coronado had naval aviators. And thus, we were destined to be the only non-military family living on Commander Row. To get me into the Chrysler, my Uncle Guy promised me a piano would be waiting for me when we arrived, and my father swore we could stop at Carlsbad Caverns on the way. One of the promises was kept. The other was not. If in doubt, always trust the bootlegger. They made their fortunes delivering on their promises.
|Mark Hans V, Wikimedia Public Domain|
And now, to the story of the tray:
To understand the tray, you have to know a little bit about my maternal grandparents. I have a picture of them holding me outside of our house at 144th Street and Euclid, before we moved to Colonial Heights, and before Grandma Julia had her second stroke. She had been ill most of her life but the stroke she had in 1941 left her paralyzed on one side of her body and bed bound. Somewhere along the line, Grandpa had made her a tray and carved her initials in it -JMP- for Julia Mahalia Patterson. When I was a child I carried many meals to her, since she was bitter and frequently contentious and on one of her bad days, I was the only one with the courage to approach her. Toting her breakfast was one of my duties, and another was retrieving her wedding pictures and a few snapshots of my grandfather in his top hat from the Saint Patrick's Day parade after she pitched them out of the window. She was not too paralyzed to manage to lift the window and she made me open and close it regularly to keep the sash from from sticking. In late 1948 my grandmother died. My Aunt Edna Patterson suffered from pleurisy that winter and my mother gave her the tray, which was the only thing that saved it from the purge when we moved to Coronado. There was not a single item of my grandmother's that was spared except a little Sacred Heart pin cushion I kept out of sight in a cookie tin, and a few photos that my father insisted be kept for my sister and me, so we would know who our ancestors were when we grew older. My mother had no idea that the hated JMP tray had already made it to Coronado California and was stored in a garage near the water tower on C Street. I do not believe she saw it in 1973 when Aunt Edna died. For reasons that would require an entire post, my Aunt Edna Patterson left all of her personal property to my father, who had lived next door to the Patterson when he was a little boy and had been her deceased only child Pat's lifelong friend. My father selected a few items to keep and sold the surplus at a garage sale, apparently including the tray. I remember the sale because it was the occasion of my first date with my husband Chris Root, and we went to Coronado to pick up my ten year old son John who was helping his Poppa with the sale.
The story fast-forwards to 1987 or 88. At the time we were living in Joshua Tree, California, with sons Michael and Russ. My son John had died in 1980 of congenital heart disease and his sister Jolie was married and also living in Joshua Tree. My husband's mother Roberta had recently become a widow and was living in Alpine and I was a prosecutor in the Morongo Basin satellite court in Joshua Tree, which did not try felonies until 1990. I was in pre-trial motions in Barstow when the clerk in Rufus Yent's court handed the telephone to the judge. Sharon was rolling her eyes and Rufus Yent was laughing when he motioned me to sidebar. "There's an older lady on the telephone who says she's your mother-in-law and she has an emergency. She wants to know if you think 78's too old to get married and if it's o.k. with you, are you available on Saturday. Apparently no one is answering the phone at your house in Joshua Tree." No surprise there: my husband never answered the phone when I was not home and the caller i.d. identified his mother. Thus, Roberta Root, age 78 married her 83 year old neighbor Troy Gough, a retired WWII Navy CPO who had been captain of the now-defunct Coronado Ferry. Before he died in the late 1990's he sent his mahogany furniture to me because Roberta hated it. He also sent some items she was planning to throw in the trash. Among them was a tray with carved initials that were not Troy's. It took me a while to recognize it as possibly the tray I had not seen since I was twelve. I asked him about it the last time I saw him before his death. Troy, God love him, spent his off time from the Ferry Company going to garage sales. He had bought it at a sale in Coronado for his late wife Grace who was bed-ridden. And thus, while the tray had not made into the trunk of the Chrysler, it made it to my house in Joshua Tree. And there is indeed a morale here. Sometimes our past follows us whether we want it to or not.
I remember writing every penny spent in my little book, including the traffic fine my father had to pay at our next destination --Coffeyville, Kansas. There is a line written about the Scottish Borders by Sir Walter Scot that goes 'every valley has its battle and every stream its song'. If Scot had lived in Kansas in the 50's the lines would have read, 'behind every billboard there's a copper and every giant oak, a stop sign.' Most people call them speed traps and this one was so egregious that it provoked my sense of fundamental fairness. It also demonstrated to me that when issues of write and wrong occurred, my moral compass was with my grandfather,
I have no idea if the pair of con-artists we encountered in Coffeyville were endorsed by the townsfolk or acting on their own ingenuity, but there had to be at least some collusion by public officials, since the stop sign we encountered was completely obscured from view by a very large tree. In my mind's eye, it is a thick mature oak tree, but it might have been a willow. The point is the same:with the stop sign placed as it was, it was not visible, and it was on the main drag through town, the route used by travelers. At the far corner across the intersection a preteen boy sat on a bicycle, and he was the spotter. The officer he worked with was parked about a third of he way up the block on the intersecting street in front of a coffee shop or bakery. We did not see the stop sign or hear the boy whistle for the cop, but he did shout rudely at my father, ordering him to stop the car. "You're in big trouble now, Mister," he announced with the aura of a Herman Goebbels at a train station. He stood beside the policeman as he wrote the ticket, his hands on his hips and a snotty grin pasted across his face. According to the policeman, we had two choices--wait until Monday and appear before the traffic judge, which he explained would not do us any good because he had a witness, or we could pay the $20 ticket and drop the money or check in the mail box. He showed us where the nearest letter drop was and where there was a drugstore in case my mother needed to buy an envelope or stamp. To him, it was a business enterprise. To my grandfather, it was an outrage. He wanted to go back to the motel in the town we had just left and book in for another two nights just to fight the ticket. Because my parents had committed to arrive at Aunt Peg's house in Enid on Sunday, my mother wrote the check, but my father regretted acquiescing and talked about it for years. It was the only ticket my father received in seventy years of driving. And there is, of course, a moral to this story: there are small injustices that do not seem worth fighting at the time, but giving in is often more expensive in the long run. If truth be told, I have a very low opinion of rural Southern Kansas. I just Googled 'Coffeyville, Ka' and 'corruption' for the heck of it, and guess what? As a former major crimes prosecutor, I am pleased to read that the issue is being addressed. Sixty three years late is better than not at all. Frankly, though, I'll take my chances in the land of Oz.