A young man, Bill, lived with us his senior year at Sandwich Township High School, because he didn’t want to move to Aurora with his family his final year in school. He ate with us, brought his friends home, probably used the family car and was an active part of the family.
We didn’t have heat in our house’s upstairs in the winter. My Dad told Bill that he slept upstairs in the cold and there was room for Bill to sleep there, too. Later, my Dad said they both took hot water bottles upstairs when they went to bed, opened the windows, and kicked frozen water bottles out of bed in the mornings.
My brother and I were very small and slept in the downstairs bedroom, heated with a coal furnace, with Mom between us.
Bill fit right into the household. One Sunday, my Dad needed help taking my brother to Dr. Dakin’s office to have a wound stitched, and our willing guest went along to help. My Dad, who was supposed to hold my brother’s arms and head still, passed out, crumpled on the floor. So Bill ended up doing triple duty, sitting on my brother’s legs, holding his arms and head while the doctor worked his magic.
Dr. Dakin’s office was on the southeast corner of Eddy and Railroad streets, with one big waiting room and one big office that had an exam table. People didn’t call for appointments, they just went to the office and waited their turn. I don’t even remember a nurse or receptionist. I just know if you called him at home with a problem, he’d meet the patient at his office.
Our buddy, Bill, joined the Navy at the beginning of World War II. My folks and he exchanged letters to keep in touch.
I remember him coming to visit, wearing a navy blue uniform, when he was on a short leave. Mom sat at one end of the kitchen table, my Dad at the other end, and Bill sat on the side with his head down, talking softly. He smoked a cigarette and his hands were gripped together and shaking under the table. I just watched from the dining room.
My folks said he told them of being on a big ship off the coast of Africa. He was so upset because he’d seen our troops getting off the ships, turning upside down in the water because their backpacks were so heavy.
After that, he transferred to the submarine service. All of our mail from him in World War II was on small, shiny paper that had been photo-copied from his handwritten letters. There were always some words blacked out and we never knew what was missing. We sent lots of letters, too.
He stayed in the Navy at least 20 years, always in submarines, even a nuclear submarine that I think the folks said went under the polar cap.
When he retired from the service, he settled in the Napa Valley with his wife and two daughters. After being on the move so many years, he told me, he didn’t even want to leave the city limits.
It was many years later that I heard some really good stories about his youth.
When residing in Sandwich, Bill, his older sister and mother lived with his grandmother, who opened and operated short-order restaurants in different locations in Sandwich. This was during the Depression, when lots of folks lived together.
In fact, one of my Mom’s best friends told us about one of her first jobs after graduating, as a census taker. Both she and Mom were in their late 80s or early 90s at the time, visiting and talking about old times.
Mom’s lady friend told of going into Bill’s grandmother’s restaurant and asking how many people were living there. Now, all four of the family might have been living in a back room of the restaurant, but Mom’s friend never found out.
It seems Bill’s grandmother picked Mom’s friend up, carried her to the front stoop, and threw her to the other side of the sidewalk. Well, Mom’s friend gritted her teeth and couldn’t wait to tell her Dad what happened, thinking he’d take care of the problem.
When they were seated at the dinner table that night and she complained about her treatment, he quietly commented, “Well, some people are very private.”
At another time, the grandmother was running a restaurant in the hotel, bordered by Main Street on the east, Center Street on the north, and railroad tracks on the south. The family was living in the hotel, as well.
It was May 1934, when the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Zephyr was going to run from Denver to Chicago, nonstop, at what was expected to be record-setting speed.
It was reported that all grade crossings in Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois were guarded by railroad employees and others. Maintenance crews combed the tracks, and all passenger and freight trains were cleared from the main rails, too.
During the trip, the silver-colored train with three conjoined cars went 90 mph for 129 consecutive miles in one area, got up to 112.5 mph on a 19-mile stretch between Yuma, Arizona, and Schramm, Colorado, and ended up averaging 77.6 miles per hour for the whole 13-hour trip.
Now this is when Bill, maybe 10 to 12 years old, was living at the hotel, a great place to view the speeding train. Bill’s buddy, Dick Lash, told me about their venture in the 1970s when I waited on him at the Scent’s Newsstand in Sandwich.
It seems Bill and Dick wanted to be really close to the railroad tracks to see the train speed by, but everyone was saying that the train would be going so fast it would “suck you right in.”
The two youngsters solved that problem. They found some rope and tied themselves to the posts of the porch that was on the south side of the hotel, maybe 40 feet from the tracks.
They had a great time until Bill’s grandmother found out the youngsters had cut down the clothesline she needed to hang out the family laundry. I can only imagine what happened next.
Is it any wonder our friend, Bill, could live anywhere with anyone and do it with a smile?
He and his family were so loved, enjoyed and admired by our family.
There was a time, close to the 1976 presidential election, when Bill phoned my Dad. He wanted my Dad to know he had served under Jimmy Carter, a Naval officer, and felt Carter was an outstanding officer and great person. My Dad could have voted for a Democrat that year.