The older I get the more I appreciate what I had while growing up in Timber Lake. In the 70s, there were no worries about where kids went and what they were doing. Parents knew by a quick glance at the clock where kids could be and often trusted that others would be watching if the commotion wasn’t in their back yard at the moment. Back then the village truly did raise the child.
Having been born in 1962 and graduated from TLHS in 1980, those innocent days of roaming the neighborhood took place throughout the 70s. One thing that stands out in that time are the many different male influences in the community that left small yet lasting impressions. While moms were also caretakers of my generation, they deserve a story of their own. Close relatives of both genders are also a separate tale. Growing up as I did without a father, it is the smiles, words and time of these men that I craved like a hamburger and fries at Alf’s Café. I can feel it like yesterday some 30 years later.
So, let’s start in “the” neighborhood and work from there. I grew up about 50 feet from the quonset building of Paul Goins from which he sold household appliances. This made Paul a direct pipeline of LARGE cardboard boxes. I always had one or two cut up in the house for various buildings occupied by many Johnny West cowboy characters of the day. Boxes were also used outside for forts to ward off all the imagined terrors of the neighborhood. You haven’t lived until you have napped in a Maytag box on a hot summer day with the smell of fresh cut grass in the air. Paul never complained about discarding the waste when weather or a new plan made it necessary to get some fresh “walls”.
Across the trailer park in the other direction lived State Game Warden Art Rehn with his wife Rose. Art always had a smile for any kid and if you were lucky he would flex his arm and make his bikini clad tattoo do a little shake. He was an expert snow fort maker, making one that I remember to be four or five feet tall. Art would occasionally take me along to put out food for the pheasants during the winter. I would often get to drive the yellow ski doo snowmobile until it would become stuck in the snow. Shoving, sweating and pulling, he would get us going again with some small advice about what had happened but never a complaint. I always felt like a partner and not a kid on those days. This is likely the reason that I have never shot a pheasant in my life as well.
At the end of the trailer park to the west was the home of Boyd and Sally Thompson. I played there often with their youngest son Kelly and remember how grand I thought the home was at the time as it had a basement apartment, fine furniture and the first “stand alone” outdoor basketball court I had ever seen. Boyd would always take time when he was not working to stop and see what we were up to. I remember his smile best when we would bring a wagon load of pop bottles to his store and sell them for comic book cash. Again and again with a smile, he would count up our collection and readily fork over our “cash haul”. Boyd would always make you feel like taking your sticky, dirty, rescued-from-the-ditch pop bottles was one of the more important functions of his day.
One block to the east were Kelvin and David Lawrence, sons of Pepsi and Tootsie. Pepsi worked late at the Lucky 7 so I didn’t see him around their house too much. However, those times he was home and we were in the yard playing baseball were a treat as he would join us with little hesitation. They had one of those classic lots from another era with a tree for first, a bare spot for second, a corner of the garage for third and somewhere in the neighborhood of where you left your bat was home. Pepsi was my first glimpse into the looking glass world of actually having a dad to play ball with in the yard. I can close my eyes and see him vividly smiling, running, teasing and generally being one of the kids for a short wonderful time.
Lee Roy Thares lived with his family immediately to the south of the Lawrence property. His wife Pat babysat me when kindergarten was not in session and his son Steve was just a year older than me. Admittedly, Leroy was a bit scary to me but in a good way. To this day, I have not seen any bunch of kids work like his did during the summer lawn mowing season. When he moved through the house or yard where we were playing a game of “kick the can” or monopoly, I would always take a deep breathe and hold it until he said something smart and smiled. Now, I think I was rather hoping he would have an order, job or some sort of discipline for me. While Pepsi gave the “dad as a kid” view, Leroy definitely gave me the “dad as supreme authority” experience.
I walked by Francis Card’s house every day on my way to school. His son Mike was often the leader of a snow day board game between anyone in the neighborhood willing to play. Their house had a laundry chute that was somewhat impressive to a boy who had to cross a parking lot to a laundromat. One of the off again, on again activities of some of my friends and I was coin collecting which occasionally caused me to cross paths with Francis at the bank. We would go in and buy roll after roll of coins of various denominations, take them apart at home in search of buffalo nickels, wheat pennies, mercury dimes and old quarters. Like Boyd, Francis would smile, quiz us about our business like it was important to him and not just a nuisance that our rolls were never returned in the crisp uniform manner they had departed in our grubby little hands. We may have been the reason for the invention of the see thru plastic coin roll.
Andy Aberle’s house was a couple blocks over to the south and seemingly always a wild affair of some sort or the other. Regardless of the adventure of the day, I never heard Andy raise his voice. Someday, I may write a story or two about the misadventures of his son Wayne. Today, if I heard someone say “dad as a saint”, I would smile and think of Andy. The first time I ever saw anyone run in public for simple exercise it was him. He would jog to work in his long coat with his briefcase. The phone number of the Aberle house is one of two that I can still call from memory of those days.
The second phone number belongs to the Cudmore residence over on the west side of town. Their son Scott was and remains one of my best friends. Countless hours were spent at their house and in their yard. While Grover rarely joined the competition, he was around a lot and always took time to watch and ask how I was. Little conversations of small talk that made a young boy feel like someone was actually, honestly interested in how things were. The first riding mower I ever drove was Grover’s. I always left his presence feeling better than when I arrived, even when I really felt good. Grover will always be the “dad that cared”.
Ed Schweitzer lived next to Cudmore’s but I didn’t get to know him until he started helping with Boy Scouts in the mid 70s. He was always as ready with a smile, joke or tease as he was to help take us on the next camping trip. We could always count on Ed to help us out or give us some “friendly advice” when confronted/caught in various “situations” of questionable mischief. To Ed goes the title of “dad as volunteer”.
Honorable mention on this “who’s who” of my memory lane goes to Allen Hellesund, Ole Hulm and Pete Long. Allen for smiling as he lifted the hood, checked the oil, and cleaned the windows on my mom’s car at the Texaco station giving us the reassurance that we had the once over from the man wearing the Texaco star. Ole and Pete were consistently good for a pat on the back and a kind word that made me feel like I was the only kid they were ever interested in.
Another day and another time, I will address the last two on this list. My Scout Leader Dean Aasheim and my Football Coach Ben Ehly both deserve more detail than one short paragraph can give. By no means does this belittle the memories above, the simple fact remains that this story is about the little things and the brief encounters. The influence of these two was far from brief and even yet a greater distance from little.
In the end, what did I learn and what do I carry with me today from those times? I walk through life with a conviction that the little things can make a big difference in someone’s life. It only takes a minute or two here and there for all of us in the village to help raise the child. Today, this means complimenting good service at a fast food restaurant, a good game played by a neighbor’s kid or simply taking interest in the kids that cross your path. None of us knows the baggage carried by the other and we should not have to. Simple, brief kindness comes from within and should be given without first taking judgment.
Being far from perfect, I feel very fortunate to know and to have known this list of individuals who passed on their kind
ess to me. They have become guideposts on a road far from over and worlds away from those days. With these memories, I travel and live a far distance from the cornerstone of who I am which was built in part in those quiet homes and neighborhoods of Timber Lake in the 70s. Because of these men, the distance is short as I consider myself just a few “smiles from home”.