I grew up in Rock Island Illinois. My father was a middle school English teacher, and later a guidance counselor after receiving his Masters Degree. My parents purchased this house in an established neighborhood on 22nd street only seven or eight blocks from the bustling downtown district when I was about 18 months old. (My brother took this picture of the house we lived in when he went back for a visit a few years ago.) It looks much like it did when I grew up in it, except there was a chimney back then that is no longer there, and the house was ringed with bushes as well I remember my cousin fell out of a first floor window once and landed smack into the bushes and didn't even get a scratch. (Knowing my brother and my cousin it may have been more of a bet than an accident.)
I lived in this house until I moved from Rock Island in 1975. I loved this house. We had a big family of eleven people, and except for the fact that this house only had one bathroom for all those people, I never felt like this house was too small. We played many games in the full basement (in fact don't tell my mom, but we used to ride our bikes around and around through the rooms during the winter when it was too cold to ride outside.)
One of my favorite places in the house was the attic. Actually it became a favorite place out of necessity; my older brother used to trick me into going up there and then shut the door on me. The door was so big that I couldn't get it open from the attic side, so I would be stuck in the attic until someone noticed that I was up there. I found that my dad had stored old books up there, and I would pick out a book and snuggle up by one of the windows that faced 22nd street (the ones up under the eaves in the picture) and read until someone came looking for me, or it got so hot that I just couldn't stand it and had to bang on the door till someone opened it.
We lived in a great neighborhood in which to grow up. Most of the houses were single family dwellings with a few duplexes and apartment complexes interspersed among them. Everyone knew everyone else and we all took care of each other. Kids were respectful of adult authority because most of the adults were your parent's friends (who were your friend's parents by extension) and had the deputized authority to punish you for any infraction of the rules. In fact some neighbor's parents were more strict than ours so we knew to be on better behaviour when playing in their yard.
The city was laid out with paved access alleys between the streets. When not needed for garbage pickup or parents to stow their cars in their garages, these alleys were the domain of the neighborhood kids. We played very intricate games of kick the can or capture the flag that lasted all afternoon. Sometimes we even had bike and go-cart races down our alley because we were lucky enough to live on a hill. The boys in our neighborhood made some of the most amazing go carts out of the refuse they confiscated from the trash before the city trucks made the weekly rounds.
There was a huge estate of property that The Hauberg family had deeded to the city as a park that still sits directly cater-cornered across the street from our house. This was our domain. It was everything from fairy wonderland for the girls to viet Kong jungle for the boys all summer long. It had some of the most amazing rope swings that my older brothers and their friends constructed across gullies that I was too terrified to use, but loved to watch other kids swing across.
My brothers played war games all over these woods. In fact my younger brother broke his arm in one of their elaborate "training exercises" that my parents never did find out all of the details about because good soldiers never tell.
In the winter, the hills coming down from the back of the estate were the greatest sledding hills one could ever imagine. Some were even dubbed suicide runs, only to be used by the more daring of our brothers. All of us were known to sled down the long hill from the gatehouse down to 23rd street, knowing just when to strategically fall off our sleds so that we didn't shoot out into the street.
We had free reign of the entire neighborhood, so long as we came when my parents called us home. Every family had a different method to call kids home. One family up the avenue had a cowbell. One family just had a loud holler. My parents used a coaches whistle; two short blasts and one long blasts was the signal that it was time to come in for dinner or at the end of the evening. It was funny, we could tell the difference between mom's whistle and dad's, and we knew that if dad whistled it meant get home right now, while mom's meant better wind things up within ten minutes.
It may have been a simpler time then. The public school (Lincoln Elementary; sadly now just an empty shell) was six blocks straight down 22nd street and we all walked to school from Kindergarten on. The Public Library was three blocks beyond the school and I remember walking there from almost the time I was old enough to go to school, often by myself. In fact we kids walked downtown by ourselves or in groups during the summer to see movies at the Capri (they had 25 cent matinees on Saturday of kid movies; can you just imagine?) and the Fort theater before it became an adult theater. Or we would walk to the Drug store for a soda at the soda fountain.
We often walked down 12th avenue about seven or eight blocks to 15th street where there was a little corner store that sold penny candy. I can still remember walking home with our little bags of wax lips, candy dots and red hots.
I loved my childhood. There were many things that happened that have left me with bittersweet memories, like the death of my close friend Jeff Ramsey when I was 12, and the death from cancer of my father just a year later, but I have many more happy memories of living in Rock Island, and I don't think I ever had better friends than the ones I had in elementary school and middle school.