AuthorsDen.com   Join (Free!) | Login  

     Popular! Books, Stories, Articles, Poetry
   Services MarketPlace (Free to post!)
Where Authors and Readers come together!

SIGNED BOOKS    AUTHORS    eBOOKS new!     BOOKS    STORIES    ARTICLES    POETRY    BLOGS    NEWS    EVENTS    VIDEOS    GOLD    SUCCESS    TESTIMONIALS

Featured Authors:  Alan Cook, iMyles Saulibio, iDavid Arthur Walters, iWendy Laing, iPia Shannon, iLori Maynard, iBrainard Braimah, i

  Home > Blogs Popular: Books, Stories, Articles, Poetry     

Donald J McNeely

· Become a Fan
· Contact me
· Books
· Articles
· Poetry
· Blog
· Messages
· 19 Titles
· 35 Reviews
· Share with Friends!
·
Member Since: Jun, 2003

Donald J McNeely, click here to update your pages on AuthorsDen.


Featured Book
Shameless Shorts short story anthology
by ellen george

Shameless Shorts, Short story anthology featuring 18 authors, ISBN: 978-0-9815333-9-1, PD House Holdings, available on Kindle. ellen george is one of the contributors of ..  
BookAds by Silver
Gold and Platinum Members










Blogs by Donald J McNeely

Day by Day
5/8/2008 4:23:24 PM
this is a first few chapters of my autobiography. I would appreciate any comments or helpful suggestions. If you think it is a little mundane or kind of hard to read, I would like to know that too.



Chapter One






The North side of Chicago can be a very unforgiving place in the dead of winter even
for a six year old boy. I can still feel the biting wind on those long walks to school in early
morning, however just a little bit of sun in the afternoon to us seemed like a promise of
spring. So halfway home the scarves and heavy coats came off and we would run and laugh
and play like a million other school kids on any Friday afternoon in late February. A lot
of my earliest memories revolve around grade school, a small beach at Lincoln Park, and the
Lincoln Park Zoo. I spent many happy summer days playing in the icy water of Lake Michigan
and running through the zoo.

I was raised with two older sisters so I devised various ways to amuse myself and was quite
happy most of the time enjoying my independence and my solitude. I had one good friend that I
hung around with during most of my spare time, which, in the summer was most every day.
One evening my friend Steve and I decided to walk the four blocks to the zoo. Steve had heard
that although the snake house had closed over two hours before, the attendant would let you in to
watch him feed the snakes. Sure enough we got to the snake house about dark and the
attendant let us in as Steve said he would. I don't think either of was ready for what we were about to witness. We took our position front of the cage that held a giant python. He was moving around his cage in a somewhat menacing fashion, possibly anticipating his weekly dinner. From the side door the attendant emerged with a small lamb on the end of a short rope. At this point I looked at Steve and we looked at each other with a slightly puzzled expression on his face, as if to say, ďwhatís going on hereĒ. Next we heard a cracking sound and then another but paid little attention to them. At this point the bleating of the lamb increased to more of a scream, and as the attendant pushed the lamb into the cage, it began hobbling around on its two broken front legs. The attendant explained later that the lamb with four good legs was too fast for the python and the snake would get too stressed out trying to catch him and he wouldnít eat. The huge snake had no problem cornering his prey and soon had several coils around him. The noise was subsiding now, partly because the cage was closed, but mostly because the lamb was unable to breathe very well. Steve and I watched somewhat horrified but transfixed as the lamb started to disappear head first down the pythonís gaping mouth. The teeth, the coils, and the struggling lamb all worked perfectly together to enable huge snake to swallow the animal alive. The process was very slow and deliberate, but as the very large lump descended, still struggling but slowing considerably, Steve and I left without a word to the attendant who was busy cleaning up at the end of the cage.







During the long walk home Steve did most of the talking about the
spectacle we had just witnessed and how neat it was and what a great
story it would be to relate to all of our buddies around the neighborhood.
I of course agreed, but even at that moment I knew that I would never
repeat the story again in all of its gory details, until now, almost sixty
years later. The lasting impressions of that night would have a great
influence on my life in the years to come.

Although this rather bazaar incident in the snake house that night will
be forever etched in my mind, it is by no means typical of most of my
early memories of my life in that really unique neighborhood. I was actually
raised in a Polish area even though we were of Irish decent. One of the most pleasant recollections of this little neighborhood was the variety of smells one would encounter while walking only a few blocks down Shakespeare Ave. From the sweet aroma of fresh baked bread in the morning, to the spicy, pungent smell of homemade sausage, to the ever-present scents of all kinds of soups and stews. I never tired of strolling down these streets just to breathe in the all of the delicious offerings.

Even though I very seldom left my little neighborhood except to take an
occasional ride on the streetcar with my older sisters on a Saturday morning. We would ride all the way to the Loop and back for a dime apiece. However, my favorite way to see the city was from my Uncle Bobís beer truck. He would pick me up early in the morning and I would spend the day going from bar to bar, delivering beer. What I really liked about uncle Bob, he talked to me and treated me like a friend not like a little boy. Each little bar we would stop at was very much like the one before, but they were very friendly places. I would sit on a high bar stool drinking a six ounce bottle of Coke and feeling really important. Uncle Bob planned his day so he would conveniently be at one of his favorite places when it was lunch time, and I would be treated to a giant sized roast beef sandwich and French fries. As you might expect, that was one of the best parts of the trip. I never ceased to be amazed at the never-ending streets and neighborhood bars in the city of Chicago. The few times I made this trip with my uncle Bob, solidly placed him at the top of my list of favorite people, and I will always be grateful to him for treating me like a pal and showing me so much of this great city.








Chapter Two




It was not long after that that we moved from Chicago to small town in Indiana. Even though I was still in grade school, somehow during the move I skipped a grade, which was fine with me and my parents were quite proud. It was only later that I realized that this ďdouble promotionĒ also had its down side. I would forever be a year and sometimes two years younger than all my classmates, the problems with this would not seem too important until a few years from now.

This new town of Muncie, Indiana was only about 200 miles from Chicago, but it was like being in a different world. Gone were the after-noon walks down Shakespeare Avenue and all the wonderful smells and sights. Gone also was the excitement of Lincoln Park and the cold waters of Lake Michigan. However I soon found out that living in a much smaller city had its distinct advantages. For instance I could walk to the downtown area in less than 20 minutes, walk to my school in five or ten minutes and explore all the interesting places around my house and still be in yelling distance from my back porch. My Mom worked in what passed as a supermarket back in those days and across the parking lot from our house so whenever me or one of my sisters needed anything, which was not very often, Mom was just couple of hundred feet away.

My Dad got drafted shortly after we had moved from Chicago, as the Second World War was well under way. I missed him a lot, mostly the time I used to spend with him in his upholstery shop in the basement of the Sheridan Hotel in Chicago. We all worried about him but life goes on, even in a small town. Mom was kept busy working full time at the store and trying to keep the house and the family together as best she could. Iíll have to admit she got lot of help from my two older sisters and I think from me also. We all had certain chores to do and they usually got done on time or just a little later. Mom was a great organizer and had a way of getting things done without having to beat anyone over the head to accomplish her objectives. My main chore in the winter was keeping the boiler in the kitchen banked with a good hot bed of coals, that boiler heated the water that heated the entire house through large and sometimes-noisy radiators in every room. The trip from the coal shed to the house was probably about 60 feet. A really long 60 feet through hard packed snow with a 50 pound bucket of coal, and it took five of them to fill the coal box next to the furnace. Iíll have to admit that it at times was too much for an 8 year old that didnít yet weigh 100 pounds. But somehow I got it done and every year it got easier, and the bucket got lighter.







As I slowly adapted to my surroundings I also made a couple of really good friends in my new neighborhood and we had time to do a lot of exploring before the
start of another school year. One of the most fascinating places was directly behind
our house, a very large ice plant. In the heat of Indianaís summers it held quite an
attraction to my newfound friends and me. I know now how the ice is produced, but back then all I seen was this huge machine which, every minute or so, would spit out this block of ice about the size of a small car and a large crane would come down with itís giant ice tongs and haul it away through two large doors with rubber flaps. I suppose a lot of the attraction of the ice plant came from all the machinery, conveyors, and cranes, but Iím sure a good part of it was the fact that it was very cold in there. Everyone wore heavy jackets and gloves and it felt really good on a hot summer day. We would usually stand just inside the doors until one of the men would come over and give us a couple big chunks of ice, and tell us in a friendly way that we better get out of there.

Most of my grade school years were spent in Muncie and I do have a lot of really good memories and some not so good. I spent most of my fourth and fifth grades trying to avoid the two biggest bullies in the school, Steve Vest and Jim Wise, yes I still remember their names and some of the things that they did to me. Looking back it all seems pretty petty now, but at the time it was very serious and it left a definite imprint on my very young and somewhat innocent libido.

My aunt Beulla and uncle Jim ran a restaurant just a few block from my house
and not far from the school , so I would get out of school as quickly as I could and
run down the back alleys to my auntís restaurant and wait until the coast was
clear, hi tail it for home. Of course this didnít happen every day but it happened
often enough to make my life pretty miserable for at least a couple hours.

The war was over and the troops were coming home, and thankfully my Dad
was one of them. The celebrations were really something to see in the little town of
Muncie, as they were all over the country. Of course everyone was looking forward
to the lifting of all the rationing on gas, sugar, oil, and a lot of other things. I was
happy to have peanut butter again. My Dad had worked at the Chevrolet plant in
Muncie before he got drafted, but he did not want to go back there. As I said
before my dad was an upholsterer and that is what he wanted to do. So Mom and
dad decided it was time to move again. I have to say I was all in favor of saying
goodbye to Muncie Indiana. My dad had met a guy from Elwood Indiana shortly
after he had returned from the war and I guess decided it would be a nice place to
live. So me and my two sisters starting packing. The move was only about thirty
miles, but I guess packing for a 30 mile move is no different than packing for a
3000 mile move, and it takes just as long. Late one afternoon, I was at some kind of
function at school and it was kind of late when I got home. My two sisters werenít
home and mom and dad were gone somewhere so I couldnít get in the house. I
really didnít worry about it too much, I figured they would be there in a half hour
or so. So I lay down on the wide cement wall around the front porch and waited.
There were so many things going through my mind. It was getting dark and I had
No idea what time it was, or where everyone else was. Thatís when I started to cry.
The only thing I could think of was that they all had went on to Elwood and just
left me there. I didnít panic, I just laid there and cried for what seemed like an
awful long time. Of course it wasnít near as long as it seemed at the time and all at
once they were all there and everything was fine again. There was some kind of
mix up, mom and dad thought the girls were going straight home and the girls
thought mom and dad were at home already. Anyway it was all resolved and we
left Muncie and we were in Elwood in about 45 minutes.




Chapter Three


Elwood was a much smaller town than Muncie, only about 12000 people.
However I was sure I was going to like it just fine. Our new house was a little
smaller than the one in Muncie, where I slept most of the time on the back porch
at the old house, I now was sleeping on the couch in the living room. I lost a lot of
my privacy but I didnít worry about it much. My mom said it was only temporary
anyway and I would get my room soon enough. My dad had bought two houses
next to each other and the other house was smaller than ours. The people who
moved in there was the Harney family, Gene, Eugenea, and their daughter. We all
became the best of friends. It was easy to make friends in a small town and me
and my sisters soon met quite a few nice kids to hang around with and go places
with, even before we all went back to school.

My dad rented a small store front on Main street, just west of the downtown
area, and that is where he set up his new upholstery shop. It was very nice and I
spent a lot of time there in the years to follow. I was old enough now to be of some
help in the shop. Stripping down the furniture to be reupholstered, hauling out
the trash, and trying to kind of keep the place clean.

I had made several really good friends from around our neighborhood. Among
my best friends were Byrd Hunter, yes that is his real name, Mourie VanBuskirk,
Toy Groover, Gene Phillips, and Jim Quick. Of course I had more than these, but
these were my closest friends. I will lightly touch on each of these close friends
and try to explain the influence they had on this 11 year old boy.

Byrd was by far my very closest friend. We shared everything, including our
deepest secrets. Sitting on the curb in front of his house weíd compare stories

about everything from sports, to cars, to girls. Even though we were in the same
grade, Byrd was over a year older than me and he already had a girl friend. This
alone accounted for almost all of the things we talked about. He told me things
about girls that I was just beginning to understand, and even though he had a
little more experience than me, I listened to everything he was willing to share
with me. The descriptions and the way he tried to explain his feelings to me was
something that I really tried hard to understand. The feelings that he was having
were just as new to him as they were to me. In a year or so I would understand a
lot more about girls and what makes them so much different.

Mourie was a lot different than Byrd in a lot of ways. He was more athletic and
into sports of all kinds. We would spend hours kicking field goals over the phone
wires in front of my house. Mourie was also older by a year or so but he didnít
seem that interested in girls or maybe I just didnít notice. He was forever trying
to get us organized into teams for an after dark game of ďslipsĒ, kind of a stepped
up version of hide and seek. We would divide up into two teams of four or five or
however many there were. The only rules were boundaries set up by all of us,
usually about a four block area. One team would stay at home base, and the
other one would take off in different directions within the boundaries. Nothing
was off limits, sheds, garages, out houses, nothing. Of course the object of the
game was to find the other team in the allotted time, usually about two hours.
The ultimate victory was for the hiding team to stay hidden for the entire two or
three hours.

Toy Groover was over two years older than me and very wise in the ways of
the world, or so I thought at the time. I must admit that he taught me a lot of
things in just a short time that would have taken me years to find out for myself.
We would walk down an alley that was five or six blocks long, that came out very
close to the school. It was in those five or six blocks that Toy taught me how to
smoke cigarettes, it took me just a few days to get the hang of it. It was not so
surprising, as both my mother and my father smoked. But Toy was still a friend
and I didnít hold that against him, at least for now.


Gene Phillips lived almost right behind us across the alley. He was a very
good friend and me and Gene spent many summer afternoons just hanging
around in my old garage or riding our bikes down around the old tin plate
factory and exploring the underground passage ways that were left when they
tore the old factory down. Gene seemed a little shy and kind of quiet, but we
still got along pretty good. Another reason I spent time over at Geneís house
was because of his sister Joan. I almost immediately had a very serious crush
on her. I am sure now that she didnít feel the same but she treated me very nice
and was always friendly. In Elwood at the time they were having quite a few
bicycle thefts and they encouraged everyone to take their bike up to the police
station and get their name engraved on the handle bars. The engraving took only
a few minutes and the cop never batted an eye when I told him to engrave on

mine, ďDon and JoanĒ.when I showed it to her she said she was flattered that I
thought about her that way, but nothing more.
I had that bike for several years after that, and when the bike was ready for the
junk pile, I took the handle bars off and hung them up in the garage.
I would keep them almost 20 years, it was quite a crush.


Jim Quick was something else. Jim was a couple of years older then
me and a lot wiser, or so I thought. Jim was a cheat and a thief, among
other things, and for some reason I thought that was alright. I guess
now they would call it cool. Please note that the following incidents are
not something I am proud of, but at that time I felt that it was exciting.
One such incident took place just a few houses down from Jim. There was an
elderly lady that lived in a very nice old house. She lived alone and didnít have
a dog or any pets at all. She didnít go out much, and when she did her daughter
would come and get her and take her somewhere. I didnít know all of this, but
Jim knew when she was leaving and about how long she would be gone. it
was on one of these occasions that Jim and I planned on burglarizing the old
ladyís house. I had no idea what we were after or why we wanted to break in to
the house. But Jim had a plan as always, and we proceeded to remove a screen
from a window and opened it, and we were in. I just kind of watched while Jim
rummaged through dresser drawers and jewelry boxes trying to find something
of value. The only thing we found was some small change and a ring with an
unusual insignia of some kind, which I found out later was a Masonic ring. I
think I still have the ring , simply because I couldnít think of an easy way to
return it. It wasnít long before I realized that this was not the kind of friend
that I needed right now and we soon drifted apart. It was probably a good thing
because the way were going we were both going to wind up in serious trouble.






Chapter Four


The summer was over and we were back in school and the daily routine was
different than in the summer. I still saw all my friends but school took up a lot
of our time. My two older sisters, by the way their names are Doris and Jean,
started making a lot of friends of their own and as they were two and three
years older than me, we kind of went our separate ways most of the time. Mom
went to work in a factory called Monticello Mfg. to help out as Dads upholstery
shop was just getting started. I went down there a couple of times and all I
remember about it was that it was very dark and hot in there. They made rake
tines, like you use to rake leaves. I suppose they made other things, but that is
all I remember seeing.
About this time in my life I started noticing girls more and more, but I was
so shy that there was no way that I would approach a girl even just to say hi or
something. So there was no way that I was going to talk to a girl unless she
came up to me and started a conversation. As luck would have it, that is
exactly what happened. Her name was Bonnie and she was my very first love.
I would ride my bike over to her house, about seven or eight blocks, almost
every night after supper and we would sit out on her front porch and talk.
Only once did she invite me in to meet her folks. Her dad seemed very nice but
not very talkative. Her mom was pretty quiet so we didnít have much to say to
each other. I knew Bonnie felt kind of uncomfortable but it was like most
households back then. Her family was not well to do, as they say, about like my
family I suppose. Anyway we spent most of our time together out in front of
her house just talking and enjoying each otherís company. I donít remember
exactly when our first kiss was, but it was quite an experience for me and I
think for her too. After that, we did a lot of kissing and a little fondling I guess,
everything seemed to be coming in such a rush, not that I was complaining,
this continued for some time until I finally got up the nerve to ask her to go to
movie with me. I guess this was officially my very first date and I still recall
everything about it except the movie we went to see. I rode my bike to her
house and then we walked to the theater. We had plenty of time so we just
enjoyed the walk and the fact that we were out in public and not on her front
porch. She looked very nice in a soft grey sweater and a black skirt. She was
not at all with the ďinĒ crowd at school and I was even less popular, but I was
very proud to be walking down the street with her. In the movie, we sat in the
back, even though there were plenty of seats everywhere. I sat beside her with
my arm around her shoulder and her head leaning very close to mine. To this
day I have no clue what the movie was about or who was in it.

I continued to see Bonnie but as time went by I saw less and less of her. I still
went over to her house now and then but we soon drifted apart. It was not
like we had broken up, we were still friends and that was fine with me and
with her also. Although I was barely fifteen, I was very interested in cars and
I couldnít wait until I was old enough to get my drivers license. I would lie in
bed at night and fantasize what I would be doing a year from now when I
would be old enough to drive. Little did I realize that it took more than a
license to drive, first and foremost you had to have a car. That was when I
started planning and saving for the time that I would be able to buy a car. If
you are old enough to remember that a Ford Fairlane sold new at the
dealer for around eighteen hundred dollars, you can figure what a fifteen
year old used car would sell for and that is what I was saving for. I had a
pretty good paper route that made me eight or ten dollars every two weeks.
My route was the downtown area which was the best route you could have
As far as getting paid on time and the tips, especially at Christmas time. I
had several customers that gave me extra money around Christmas, but one
in particular was the Silver Dollar Saloon, owned and operated by a man
named Louie Sullivan. The saloon was upstairs over a jewelry store and
some other businesses. I would climb the narrow stairway up to the saloon
and put the Elwood Call Leader on the bar next to the cash register. The
week before Christmas when I delivered the evening paper Mr. Sullivan
was there at the register when I laid the paper on the bar. He wished me a
merry Christmas and I said thank you and told him I wished him a happy
holiday. After he picked up his paper he reached into the register and took
out a twenty dollar bill and laid it on the bar and said this is for you and for
all those days you came all the way up here just so I would have my paper to
read while I was having my supper. Needless to say I picked up the twenty
and tried to think of something to say accept thank you, which I guess I said
at least ten times in the next few minutes. He came around to where I was
standing and patted me on the back and told me I was doing a fine job and to
keep up the good work. I thanked him at least two or three more times as I
started down the stairs. Mr. Sullivan gave me much more than twenty dollars
that day in his saloon, that pat on the back and a ďwell doneĒ was something
I would remember for a long time to come, long after the money was gone.
Mr. Sullivan would never know that his twenty dollars made up almost half
of what I would spend on my first car.

That summer and the following two summers I worked on a farm that
was owned by my oldest sisterís husband and his family. It was only a couple
of months in the summer but I made some extra money and it was kind of
nice to be away from home for a while. One thing that made it special was the
fact that I could drive the tractors and the trucks whenever there was errands
to run or a field that needed plowed. I did anything that needed to be done
that John didnít have time for. John was my sisterís husband and we got
along really good even though he was a real hard worker and expected the
same from me. One afternoon when there was nothing really pressing to do,
John told me to hook up the sickle bar to the little Ferguson tractor and mow
the roadsides about two miles down on both sides. I donít mind telling you
that this was not one of my favorite chores. For one thing the old sickle bar
was in bad shape and was hard to keep it cutting for more than an hour or so.
As I started mowing and it was doing a pretty good job, I started having
problems with it clogging up and stopping the blades. After stopping
a couple of times it loaded up again and I was getting madder by the minute.
I jumped off the tractor and went around to the sickle bar and was trying to
get it freed up. The harder I worked the madder I got so I hauled off and
kicked the thing as hard I could, but as I did my foot slid off of the frame I
was kicking and my shin hit the angle iron brace above it. The pain was
unbearable and I quickly went through all the cuss words that I knew and
a few that I made up, but that didnít help the pain in my leg at all. I sat there
in that ditch for about a half hour just thinking about what I had done. The
pain in my leg had subsided down to a dull ache and nothing was broken.
It was there in that side ditch when I, at fifteen and a half years old, vowed
to myself never to lose my temper again if I live to be eighty years old. I am
now, 72 and I am proud to say that I have kept that vow, at least up to now.





Chapter Five


I worked several different summer time jobs including de-tasseling corn
for a large seed corn grower in Tipton county. They hired many teenagers to
ride on these huge wagons pulled by a tractor and pull the tassels off of the
corn stalks so they wouldnít cross pollinate. It was hard work and some long
hours but the pay was pretty good for a kid. Of course that job was very
seasonal as the tassels had to be at their peak of ripeness for it to work.

My dad had a really nice 1942 DeSoto coupe of which he was very proud.
It was one of the last ones that they made before all of the plants were
converted over to the manufacturing of tanks and army trucks and such. As i
remember, at that time things were pretty tight around the McNeely house
and it wasnít unusual for us kids to go off to school with very little breakfast
other than piece of toast and maybe an apple to have for lunch. Even though
my dadís shop was starting to make a little profit even on a hit and miss
basis, and mom was working at the factory every day, things like school
supplies, movies, and ice cream were somewhat of a luxury. My dad had two
weaknesses, one was fishing, and the other was playing cards at the local
taverns there in town. On a nice day he would put a sign on the door that had
a little clock with hands that said what time he would be back and lock the
door and go fishing. There was a little pit called Murreyís just a few miles
out of town that he would go to and fish for bluegill and largemouth bass.
I used to go with him whenever I could and we would take the small row
boat out and fish until it was almost dark. Sometimes we caught quite a few,
but most of the time I wouldnít catch anything, but dad usually pulled in a
bass big enough to keep and we would put the boat back and head for home.
Those days at that little pit provided some of the fondest memories I have
of the time I spent with my dad. The other vice my dad had was gambling,
not the big-time casino type, but the hearts game at a table in the back of the
ďComebackĒ saloon. These were not really high stakes games but you could
easily win or lose twenty or thirty dollars in a game that lasted six or eight
hours. Sometimes after school I would ride my bike down to his shop just to
see if he needed any help stripping down furniture and if the sign was on the
door I knew he was fishing or at the saloon playing cards. Not often, but
sometimes I would stop by on my way back and go in the bar, and the
bartender would just look at me and if dad was there he would nod his head
toward the back. And if he wasnít there he would just shake his head no and
I would leave without either one of us saying a word, but when he was there
I would walk back to the table and he would see me instantly because he
never sat with his back to the door. It was usually in the afternoon that I
would find him there, and I would tell him I wanted to get a hamburger or
something and would he give me fifty cents or a dollar. He never yelled at me
or even told me to go home, but he looked down at his money he had left on
table and if it was quite a bit then I got a dollar, if he was down to just some
change I would get the fifty cents and say thanks and leave. I didnít do this
too often because I kind of felt kind of sorry for putting him on the spot in
front of his friends.
Me and my dad always had a really good relationship, he never raised
his voice at me or treated me like I didnít matter, even working in the shop
with him he was very patient with me. There is one incident that I must
include in this journal, that is something that I have never told anyone not
even my mom, or my sisters, or any of my friends. I kind of think my mom
must have said something to my dad to the effect that she thought he should
try to spend more time with me and less time with the guys at the card table.
Anyway a week or two later a circus was in town and my dad asked me if I
would like to go and never having seen a real circus before, I said sure. So
that night me and my dad and nobody else, no sisters, no mom, just me and
dad
went to the circus. I was pretty excited about going somewhere with my dad
and nobody else. When we entered the circus grounds there was at least eight
or ten concession tents along each side of the entrance to the big tent selling
everything from cotton candy to tickets to the girly shows. One of the small
tents had a sort of a roulette wheel that you would spin and you could win a
prize or some cash if it landed on the right spot on the wheel. My dad, being
the gambler that he was could not resist trying his luck at the wheel. He tried
spinning for the cash payout, and hit one of the double down slots, which
meant he had to put more money down. Anyway he did this a couple of more
and still hit the double slot. He already had ten or fifteen dollars invested and
with just one more spin he was sure to win the jackpot. He reached into the
watch pocket of his pants and pulled out a small wad of bills. He handed it to me to
count it. I did as he asked and told him there was sixty dollars. He gave it
to the man at the wheel and told him to give him one more spin. He spun the
wheel and of course it came up to the double down slot once again and of course
he had no more money. I will never forget the look on my fatherís face as we
turned away from the gambling booth and headed for the main entrance to
the big tent. As dad went through his pockets to find the two dollars for the
tickets, I reached into my pocket and got two dollars that I had and offered
it to him for the tickets. I immediately knew that I had done the wrong the
thing by the look on my fatherís face. He was already ashamed at what
happened at the gambling booth, and then for me to offer to pay for our
tickets made it even worse. Needless to say neither one of us enjoyed the
performance much that night. On the way home dad told me that the
money he lost was for the payment on his car and he didnít know where
he was going to get it now. He ask me not to tell mom or anyone else how
he lost the money, he was going to tell mom that he lost it out of his watch
pocket while we were at the circus. I promised him I would never tell anyone
what had happened to that money. Even now, sixty years later, I still feel
that I am going back on that promise.
The next morning I rode my bike down to the place where the circus
was and they were taking down the big tent and loading everything in huge
trucks to go to their next town. I stood and watched for a while as everyone was very busy, I tried to see where that little stand was where the roulette wheel was set up, but everything was so messed up that I couldnít tell where anything was. For all I know that part might have already been loaded into the trucks, so I headed back home, not knowing what I was going to do even if I had been able to locate the stand that cheated my dad out of at least sixty dollars. When I got home I told my mom that the circus was packing up and would be gone that that night. She told me that her, my two sisters, and me were going out to that circus ground and go over it inch by inch until we found the money that my dad had lost. So the very next morning we all went down the circus grounds and began a very organized search for a small wad of money that may have fallen out of someoneís watch pocket. We were there three or four hours until my mom was satisfied that it was not there or someone had found it before we got there. We did find some small change and a small bracelet that some little girl had lost. But of course we never found any trace of the sixty dollars. I have often wondered just how many people like my dad were taken in by the con man and the crooked wheel at that little stand.
A couple of weeks later I came home from school and there was an old Nash four door sedan in our driveway. I went on in the house to see who was here that was driving that old car and my dad was sitting in his chair in the living room so I went into the kitchen. I asked my mom whose car that was in the driveway and all I got was a sign that meant to talk softly. Then she told me in hushed tones that it was our car and that it would serve us ok for a while. I started to ask her what happened to our little DeSoto and she shushed me again and said she would tell me about it later. She had no way of knowing that I knew exactly what happened to the DeSoto, it had been repossessed and dad had somehow got the old Nash to drive to work and to make some of his deliveries from the shop. Me and my dad never talked much anyway but here lately he hadnít said more than a few words to me since that night at the circus. I knew he felt bad about the car and I hoped he knew that I would keep our secret forever if I had to.



Chapter Six


I went through the first couple of years of high school with no problems at all. I was regularly on the honor roll with all Aís and Bís without ever taking a book home that I could remember. I felt sorry for my sisters, especially Jeannie, she carried a huge armful of books home every night. She did make good grades but she really worked for every one she got. I was still really shy around girls so the few friends I had were the ones that I made when we first came to Elwood, and the main one was Byrd. He had gotten his driverís license the year before me because of the age difference and he was driving his dadís 37 Chevy. We went everywhere in that car, but the most popular spot was a restaurant called the East Star Inn, of course it was on the east side of town. The specialty of the house was their giant breaded tenderloin sandwich and I have yet to this day found one that tasted that good. The place was owned and run by a guy named Ed Crim who was a real tyrant when it came to the help but he put up with a lot of crap from all the teenage boys. Me and Byrd got to know him pretty well and he always treated us really nice accept kidding us about girls, mostly me because Byrd had a steady girl friend. We would usually stop there on our way home from the skating rink in Alexandria which was about ten miles east of Elwood. Of course the main reason we went there was because thatís where the girls were. We would sometimes sit and talk to a couple of girls but they lost interest when they found out that Byrd had a steady girlfriend and I was just a little short guy with big glasses and funny looking hair, but I didnít mind, I was just along for the ride. On the way home we would talk and kid around about me being such a ladiesí man and things I needed to do to make it with the chicks. It was all in fun but Byrd had a way of letting me know what to do and how to act around girls without lecturing me or putting me down in any way. We lost Byrd just a year ago to complications from his diabetes. I can still see him sitting behind the wheel of that old 37 Chevy or sitting across from me in a booth at the East Star. I loved him like the big brother I never had.

It was late in November and the holidays were coming up. Iím sorry to say that I didnít look forward to Christmas like most kids. We did have a tree and some decorations that my sisters enjoyed putting up around the house. There was never any extra money in our family for really extravagant gifts of any kind. It was not that mom didnít do the best that she could with what she had to work with, but I still was usually disappointed on Christmas morning. When I look back on those Christmases, I realize that I could have enjoyed them a lot more if I could have focused on the real meaning of the holiday instead of what I was getting out of it. The big thing I was looking forward to was my sixteenth birthday in January when I would at last be able to get my driverís license. My birthday was on the 6th of January, and just a few days after that my mom took me up to get my learners permit. I had been driving tractors and other vehicles, including Johnís little ford coupe, on the county roads for the last couple of years, so naturally I thought I knew all I needed to know about driving. My mom didnít understand what the big deal was about getting a drivers license, mainly because she had never had a license, and never had any desire to learn to drive. The next thirty days seemed like an eternity, but they finally went by and mom went with me and John in his little Ford coupe to take my driverís test. Of course I passed the test with flying colors and I was rewarded with my very first operatorís license. From that day forward, my life changed dramatically.



Chapter Seven



The first big change came in just a few weeks. My friend Gene Phillips folks had a dry cleaning business downtown and Gene told me they were looking for a delivery driver for after school and on weekends and he told them I might be interested. Might be interested was the understatement of the year. I went up and talked to them that very same day and was pretty amazed when they gave me the job. I didnít even ask how much the pay was because I didnít really care, I probably would have taken the job with no salary. The delivery truck was a brand new Chevrolet panel truck and it was really nice.





Chapter One






The North side of Chicago can be a very unforgiving place in the dead of winter even
for a six year old boy. I can still feel the biting wind on those long walks to school in early
morning, however just a little bit of sun in the afternoon to us seemed like a promise of
spring. So halfway home the scarves and heavy coats came off and we would run and laugh
and play like a million other school kids on any Friday afternoon in late February. A lot
of my earliest memories revolve around grade school, a small beach at Lincoln Park, and the
Lincoln Park Zoo. I spent many happy summer days playing in the icy water of Lake Michigan
and running through the zoo.

I was raised with two older sisters so I devised various ways to amuse myself and was quite
happy most of the time enjoying my independence and my solitude. I had one good friend that I
hung around with during most of my spare time, which, in the summer was most every day.
One evening my friend Steve and I decided to walk the four blocks to the zoo. Steve had heard
that although the snake house had closed over two hours before, the attendant would let you in to
watch him feed the snakes. Sure enough we got to the snake house about dark and the
attendant let us in as Steve said he would. I don't think either of was ready for what we were about to witness. We took our position front of the cage that held a giant python. He was moving around his cage in a somewhat menacing fashion, possibly anticipating his weekly dinner. From the side door the attendant emerged with a small lamb on the end of a short rope. At this point I looked at Steve and we looked at each other with a slightly puzzled expression on his face, as if to say, ďwhatís going on hereĒ. Next we heard a cracking sound and then another but paid little attention to them. At this point the bleating of the lamb increased to more of a scream, and as the attendant pushed the lamb into the cage, it began hobbling around on its two broken front legs. The attendant explained later that the lamb with four good legs was too fast for the python and the snake would get too stressed out trying to catch him and he wouldnít eat. The huge snake had no problem cornering his prey and soon had several coils around him. The noise was subsiding now, partly because the cage was closed, but mostly because the lamb was unable to breathe very well. Steve and I watched somewhat horrified but transfixed as the lamb started to disappear head first down the pythonís gaping mouth. The teeth, the coils, and the struggling lamb all worked perfectly together to enable huge snake to swallow the animal alive. The process was very slow and deliberate, but as the very large lump descended, still struggling but slowing considerably, Steve and I left without a word to the attendant who was busy cleaning up at the end of the cage.







During the long walk home Steve did most of the talking about the
spectacle we had just witnessed and how neat it was and what a great
story it would be to relate to all of our buddies around the neighborhood.
I of course agreed, but even at that moment I knew that I would never
repeat the story again in all of its gory details, until now, almost sixty
years later. The lasting impressions of that night would have a great
influence on my life in the years to come.

Although this rather bazaar incident in the snake house that night will
be forever etched in my mind, it is by no means typical of most of my
early memories of my life in that really unique neighborhood. I was actually
raised in a Polish area even though we were of Irish decent. One of the most pleasant recollections of this little neighborhood was the variety of smells one would encounter while walking only a few blocks down Shakespeare Ave. From the sweet aroma of fresh baked bread in the morning, to the spicy, pungent smell of homemade sausage, to the ever-present scents of all kinds of soups and stews. I never tired of strolling down these streets just to breathe in the all of the delicious offerings.

Even though I very seldom left my little neighborhood except to take an
occasional ride on the streetcar with my older sisters on a Saturday morning. We would ride all the way to the Loop and back for a dime apiece. However, my favorite way to see the city was from my Uncle Bobís beer truck. He would pick me up early in the morning and I would spend the day going from bar to bar, delivering beer. What I really liked about uncle Bob, he talked to me and treated me like a friend not like a little boy. Each little bar we would stop at was very much like the one before, but they were very friendly places. I would sit on a high bar stool drinking a six ounce bottle of Coke and feeling really important. Uncle Bob planned his day so he would conveniently be at one of his favorite places when it was lunch time, and I would be treated to a giant sized roast beef sandwich and French fries. As you might expect, that was one of the best parts of the trip. I never ceased to be amazed at the never-ending streets and neighborhood bars in the city of Chicago. The few times I made this trip with my uncle Bob, solidly placed him at the top of my list of favorite people, and I will always be grateful to him for treating me like a pal and showing me so much of this great city.








Chapter Two




It was not long after that that we moved from Chicago to small town in Indiana. Even though I was still in grade school, somehow during the move I skipped a grade, which was fine with me and my parents were quite proud. It was only later that I realized that this ďdouble promotionĒ also had its down side. I would forever be a year and sometimes two years younger than all my classmates, the problems with this would not seem too important until a few years from now.

This new town of Muncie, Indiana was only about 200 miles from Chicago, but it was like being in a different world. Gone were the after-noon walks down Shakespeare Avenue and all the wonderful smells and sights. Gone also was the excitement of Lincoln Park and the cold waters of Lake Michigan. However I soon found out that living in a much smaller city had its distinct advantages. For instance I could walk to the downtown area in less than 20 minutes, walk to my school in five or ten minutes and explore all the interesting places around my house and still be in yelling distance from my back porch. My Mom worked in what passed as a supermarket back in those days and across the parking lot from our house so whenever me or one of my sisters needed anything, which was not very often, Mom was just couple of hundred feet away.

My Dad got drafted shortly after we had moved from Chicago, as the Second World War was well under way. I missed him a lot, mostly the time I used to spend with him in his upholstery shop in the basement of the Sheridan Hotel in Chicago. We all worried about him but life goes on, even in a small town. Mom was kept busy working full time at the store and trying to keep the house and the family together as best she could. Iíll have to admit she got lot of help from my two older sisters and I think from me also. We all had certain chores to do and they usually got done on time or just a little later. Mom was a great organizer and had a way of getting things done without having to beat anyone over the head to accomplish her objectives. My main chore in the winter was keeping the boiler in the kitchen banked with a good hot bed of coals, that boiler heated the water that heated the entire house through large and sometimes-noisy radiators in every room. The trip from the coal shed to the house was probably about 60 feet. A really long 60 feet through hard packed snow with a 50 pound bucket of coal, and it took five of them to fill the coal box next to the furnace. Iíll have to admit that it at times was too much for an 8 year old that didnít yet weigh 100 pounds. But somehow I got it done and every year it got easier, and the bucket got lighter.







As I slowly adapted to my surroundings I also made a couple of really good friends in my new neighborhood and we had time to do a lot of exploring before the
start of another school year. One of the most fascinating places was directly behind
our house, a very large ice plant. In the heat of Indianaís summers it held quite an
attraction to my newfound friends and me. I know now how the ice is produced, but back then all I seen was this huge machine which, every minute or so, would spit out this block of ice about the size of a small car and a large crane would come down with itís giant ice tongs and haul it away through two large doors with rubber flaps. I suppose a lot of the attraction of the ice plant came from all the machinery, conveyors, and cranes, but Iím sure a good part of it was the fact that it was very cold in there. Everyone wore heavy jackets and gloves and it felt really good on a hot summer day. We would usually stand just inside the doors until one of the men would come over and give us a couple big chunks of ice, and tell us in a friendly way that we better get out of there.

Most of my grade school years were spent in Muncie and I do have a lot of really good memories and some not so good. I spent most of my fourth and fifth grades trying to avoid the two biggest bullies in the school, Steve Vest and Jim Wise, yes I still remember their names and some of the things that they did to me. Looking back it all seems pretty petty now, but at the time it was very serious and it left a definite imprint on my very young and somewhat innocent libido.

My aunt Beulla and uncle Jim ran a restaurant just a few block from my house
and not far from the school , so I would get out of school as quickly as I could and
run down the back alleys to my auntís restaurant and wait until the coast was
clear, hi tail it for home. Of course this didnít happen every day but it happened
often enough to make my life pretty miserable for at least a couple hours.

The war was over and the troops were coming home, and thankfully my Dad
was one of them. The celebrations were really something to see in the little town of
Muncie, as they were all over the country. Of course everyone was looking forward
to the lifting of all the rationing on gas, sugar, oil, and a lot of other things. I was
happy to have peanut butter again. My Dad had worked at the Chevrolet plant in
Muncie before he got drafted, but he did not want to go back there. As I said
before my dad was an upholsterer and that is what he wanted to do. So Mom and
dad decided it was time to move again. I have to say I was all in favor of saying
goodbye to Muncie Indiana. My dad had met a guy from Elwood Indiana shortly
after he had returned from the war and I guess decided it would be a nice place to
live. So me and my two sisters starting packing. The move was only about thirty
miles, but I guess packing for a 30 mile move is no different than packing for a
3000 mile move, and it takes just as long. Late one afternoon, I was at some kind of
function at school and it was kind of late when I got home. My two sisters werenít
home and mom and dad were gone somewhere so I couldnít get in the house. I
really didnít worry about it too much, I figured they would be there in a half hour
or so. So I lay down on the wide cement wall around the front porch and waited.
There were so many things going through my mind. It was getting dark and I had
No idea what time it was, or where everyone else was. Thatís when I started to cry.
The only thing I could think of was that they all had went on to Elwood and just
left me there. I didnít panic, I just laid there and cried for what seemed like an
awful long time. Of course it wasnít near as long as it seemed at the time and all at
once they were all there and everything was fine again. There was some kind of
mix up, mom and dad thought the girls were going straight home and the girls
thought mom and dad were at home already. Anyway it was all resolved and we
left Muncie and we were in Elwood in about 45 minutes.















Post a Comment

More Blogs by Donald J McNeely
•  Day by Day - Thursday, May 08, 2008  
• nocturn - Saturday, April 26, 2008
• nocturn - Saturday, April 26, 2008
• just checking in - Saturday, April 26, 2008


Authors alphabetically: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Featured Authors | New to AuthorsDen? | Add AuthorsDen to your Site
Share AD with your friends | Need Help? | About us


Problem with this page?   Report it to AuthorsDen
© AuthorsDen, Inc. All rights reserved.