Visitors to 725 Custer Avenue
Just a little addendum to Part 2.
One thing I remember about living at 725 Custer Avenue is the people who “Just happened to be in town, so thought we’d stop by and say hello.” Mom & Dad always welcomed them with coffee and what ever else they could cobble together in a hurry.
Uncle Franty and Aunt Bernice: Uncle Franty was Francis Gatewood. I was as tall as him when I reached the age of 12 – one of my cousins once referred to him as a “tough old Banty Rooster.” In the 1920s, he was a boxer and hosted a “stable” at his home in rural Decatur, a place that trained young boxers and then sent them into Omaha to compete. He was a veteran of the Flying Tigers of WW II. Too short to be a pilot, he became a mechanic and kept those guys in the air. He once told me that he picked up a rock at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, put it in his pocket and it went around the world with him. Sure wish I knew where that rock was now. He literally (I assume) sailed the seven seas. He said being on a ship in the ocean was like being at the bottom of a bowl of water – you had to look up to see the horizon all the way around. He also worked for his dad as a thoroughbred race horse trainer.
Uncle Franty (and this makes me a card carrying Redneck) married his Aunt some time in the late 40s or early 50s. The story is that Bernice (we always pronounced her name so it rhymed with furnace) married my grandpa’s brother, Harry. This was her second marriage. They had two daughters and divorced, for reasons unknown to me. Bernice’s oldest daughter, Mary, wanted to learn how to ride horses, so she was sent out to the Gatewood farmstead to take riding lessons on certain weekends with her dad, my Great Uncle Harry. He would take her back to Omaha on Sunday afternoons. On one Sunday, Uncle Harry was not able to get her back to the city, so Uncle Franty was asked to fill in as Mary’s chauffer. Following this, Franty and Bernice began dating and later married. They never had any children of their own, But Uncle Franty raised Mary and her sister Wanda as his own. Uncle Harry, tragically, died of cancer when the girls were pretty young.
Ray & Tamsey: For most of my first 13 or so years, I thought Ray and Tamsey were my Aunt and Uncle. It turns out that Ray was my dad’s cousin, and not my uncle, although Dad once told me it was okay to call them Uncle Ray and Aunt Tamsey. When I knew them, they lived in Iowa, in a small town south of Sioux City. I have no idea where they might have been going when they dropped in to see us, but they usually stayed long enough for coffee, sandwiches and cookies in the mid-afternoon. Being “just a kid”, I usually said hello and then headed out to play with my friends. I must have overheard something during one of their visits, because I remember that for a long time, during my night time prayers (after “Godblessmommyanddaddymyrnasuzie, etc …andeveryoneondowntothegoldfish…) I added “Please bless my cousin Nancy and her husband and their children in Morrocco and please help them get back to America safely.” As hard as a try, I can’t recall what was going on in the lives of Nancy and M’Barak during that time. But, my prayers were answered because they eventually got back to Nebraska and raised their family here. It’s interesting to me that I can’t remember what was worrying me, but I do remember the prayer. I wonder how many of my prayers were answered that I don’t even remember praying?
A weekly visitor to 725 Custer Ave for a time via television was my dad’s cousin (Ray’s brother) Joe. He appeared regularly on ‘Bowling For Dollars’ on a Sioux City station. Bowling For Dollars was aired on Sunday morning, so Mom and I only caught the last 15 minutes of the broadcast when we got home from Sunday School and church at the Lyons Methodist Church. But Dad, (a lapsed Catholic) could always fill us in on how Joe was doing. One day we came home in time to see Joe being awarded a brand new Ford Mustang convertible for winning the bowling tournament.
Back in 1995, Ray and Joe visited me at my home at RR 2, Herman. I was collaborating with my friend Beverly Lydick on our book A Time To Speak: Personal Memories of WWII. Joe was visiting from Florida and took the time to grant me an interview regarding his experiences as a pilot. He had been shot down and spent time as a POW at Stalag 7, Musberg. Joe talked into my tape recorder, pretty much nonstop for about an hour and a half while I scribbled notes. When we were done, I turned to Ray and said, “How many times have you heard this story?”
“Never.” He replied, “This is the first time.”
(Special note: Musberg (and Cousin Joe) were liberated by the unit my Father-in-law, Jack Carson, was in. Lots more stories about his experiences some other time…)
Another visitor my mom always welcomed with her usual “Come in! Come in! Come in!” chant was our Aunt Babe. Aunt Babe was the widow of Mom’s late brother, Milton, who died of cancer before I was born. Once, when Mom and I were browsing through some old photo albums, I commented on some 1920s pictures of Aunt Babe, “Wow, She really looks like a Flapper.”
And Mom said, “Yes. That’s exactly what she was.”
Babe remarried at some point, and she and her new husband, Bob, dropped in occasionally. She and Mom’s relationship was maintained mostly through Christmas letters, birthday cards and any other Hallmark occasion, always signed, “Babe and Bob.”
Mom once confided in me that there was no love lost between Babe and my Grandma Anderson (Babe’s mother-in-law.) And that, even as Milton was on his death bed in the hospital, Babe refused to speak to Grandma. She would brush past Grandma, giving her the cold shoulder and share a cigarette with Uncle Milton. (Can you imagine? Smoking in a hospital room?!?!)
Tom & Marybelle: Tom & Marybelle were high school sweethearts who got married and raised a family of seven sons. They classmates of Mom’s (Class of ’36) and Tom happened to be a cousin of my dad’s. Dad and Tom used to go riding on a motorcycle together to try and beat the Nebraska heat. Tom & Marybelle were responsible for getting my parents together back in 1940 or so and the two couples were lifetime friends. Mom, Marybelle, and two other friends, Norita and Evelyn, were famous in our family for the strange photos they posed for. I wish I could find them and post them for you, but if I stop now and go looking for them, it will derail my train of thought… There is a series of old black & whites of the four of them perched on something. Anyway, the one I remember best is Mom in her bathing suit – sitting on a snow drift – I think Evelyn took it. The last one I remember was taken in the early 1970s in Marybelle’s back yard when the four of them were in their late fifties – so they climbed on it and took up various perches on a swing set and laughed and giggled while the picture was taken. Tom & Marybelle didn’t stop “dropping by” after Dad passed away. They picked up Mom and took her for an evening out to dinner and maybe dancing at the old Peony Park ballroom in Omaha. I hope they knew how much it eased her loneliness during the years of her widowhood.
Delaine: I always looked forward to summer visits from our cousins (Mom’s niece and her family of three) from Colorado. Delaine and her husband, Kem, had three kids: Sue, Gary and Ann. Sue and Shirl were close in age and Gary and I were the same age, and Ann was 3-4 years younger then me, but I adored her. She took gymnastics back in Denver and I was constantly asking her to do her tricks, like walkovers, handstands, flips, and backbends. She was so supple. I once tried to do a walkover and, of course, I couldn’t get my back properly arched so I landed flat on it and got the breath knocked out of me.
One evening, Kem & Delaine and Mom& Dad went out for the evening and left Shirley and Susan in charge of us “little” kids. I don’t remember what Gary and Ann and I were doing that got us into trouble. I would guess we were supposed to be lying down and going to sleep (the three of us slept together on the living room floor) and we were finding things to giggle and laugh about instead. After numerous attempts by both Shirl and Susan to get us to settle down, Susan finally said, “That’s it, I’m calling the police.” I watched in horror as she picked up the phone and dialed a number. Then I heard her say, “Yeah, this is Susan B______, I’m staying in town for a few days with my relatives and we’ve got some kids here who won’t behave.” She paused and listened for several minutes, tossing in a few “Uh-huh”s and “Yes, sir”s and then, “Yes, I will. I’ll tell them.” When she hung up the phone, I looked over at Ann and she was flopped down flat on her back with her arms crossed, rolling her eyes and she said, “Oh, ha ha ha, very funny. I know you didn’t really call the cops.” I don’t think I’ve ever been more relieved in my life! I think we did settle down a little after that.
Every once in a while a strange car would pull up to the curb outside and an unknown man in a suit and tie would check himself in his rear view mirror, run a comb through his hair, get out, straighten his jacket and stroll up to the front door. This was one time Mom didn’t run to the door with her welcoming “Come in! Come in! Come in!” Sometimes she waited until his second knock. She‘d walk to the screen door, not open it and the stranger would flash a charming smile and say, “Good afternoon! I’m so-and-so with the Fuller Brush Company and would like to demonstrate some of our new products for you?” Mom’s answer was always the same, “No, I don’t need anything today.” And sometimes she’d close the inside door before walking away. I don’t remember any time anyone was allowed in to demo his product.
I know there are countless visitors to 725 Custer Ave that I’ve left out – like Shirley’s friends and my friends. Those are memories for some other time.
So… back to 1973 or so next time.