*************************** Growing up in Chicago ***************************
We first moved to Chicago on the south side in the 5500 (5527) block of south Racine Avenue. Although I do not remember, my sister advises that we did attend school there for a short time. From our conversation, it seems that my sister also had a somewhat difficult time in school due to our moving so often. We would miss some schooling and also have to deal with ever differing subject matter or level of learning of the different classes. From what I can determine, we most likely attended the Holmes school. Some things I remember was that there was a candy store a few blocks south where we could buy a cone with rainbow sherbet. I also remember fishing for the first time in the lagoon of the park located one block north. I do not recall who took me fishing. I do not think it was my father.
A short time later, we moved to the west side of Chicago (2nd floor - house at left below - 2820 Arthington Street) when I was eight years old. Both my mother and my father obtained jobs. Things were looking up. My sister and I became latch key kids. The Chicago schools were very different from the suburban schools. One of the differences was that they taught the use of cursive writing earlier. Another was that we moved from room to room for the different subjects. I can remember more of my life here as we lived here for a relatively long time. It was here that most of my youth was spent.
As our parents both worked, we were somewhat on our own. We also had chores. My sister and I did the dishes. We made our own lunches on all but Sundays. My sister was responsible for keeping the house clean. I took out the garbage and brought up the fuel oil (for our space heater) during cold weather. I also was responsible for getting ice for the ice box (no refrigerator). We would shop for day to day items such as bread and milk at a grocery store around the corner (same block). Every other week, we would go to the A&P with our mother to stock up on most other foods, such as can goods and other non perishables as it was a mile trip in each direction. We pulled a wagon to carry what was purchased. Saving a dollar or two was far more important than the time it took to walk so far.
Within the first month, I got in a lot of trouble for not doing my homework and my mother had to come to school. I insisted that I never was given any homework and the teacher never assigned any. It turns out that it was written on the blackboard in cursive, which I didn't read. And the class was aware that the assignments were on the board but the teacher never pointed out that fact to me. I followed one year behind my sister who was always well liked by the teachers and I believe always got good grades. I was always in trouble with my teachers. Most often, my sister would be called into my school room by my teachers to carry the message to my mother as to my "unacceptable conduct" and poor grades. I on the other hand barely passed anything, although I have always been very bright, perhaps too bright. As far as I recall though, I did not fail any class until high school. I have always read a lot and have self taught myself many things. My parents were told that my problem was that school bored me. Relative to history and geography, I usually knew more than the teachers and made the mistake of correcting them when they said something that was not exactly correct. I also was very good at math. Early on, I cut classes and played hooky. I also had a difficult time with the teachers, and to some extent with class mates, as I could not pronounce words with "Rs" properly plus a number of other sounds. As is typical of kids, they made fun of me. But not for long.
The first couple of years while living in Chicago, my parents sent me to stay with my grandparents during school vacation in an effort to keep me out of trouble and because my mother got a job. My sister stayed at home as she was always the perfect angel. One summer was spent in Berwyn and I spent my time exploring and I believe that I did stay out of trouble. Another summer, I stayed in Brookfield near the Hollywood RR station (the stop for the Brookfield Zoo on the Burlington route), which is located south of the zoo and between Salt Creek and the Des Plaines River. I and another boy my age spent the summer exploring and going to the zoo. We would wake each morning by the roars of the lions as they awakened. We would walk the banks of both the creek and river and found "Hobo" camps and an old mill foundation which we called the fort. We both had BB guns and would battle various make believe enemies from the fort. It was one of my more fun summers. By the time I returned home, I was familiar with everything within the zoo and for miles around.
Shortly after moving to Arthington Street, my parents got me a small two wheel bike. I had not quite reached the point where I could ride it very well when it was stolen from in front of the house. I was soon to find out that this is what happened to anything not securely in hand. Sometimes, even when in hand. I soon learned the ways of the neighborhood and found that I could have fresh fruit and cookies, etc., without requiring any money. Of course, one did need to exercise a certain amount of care and subterfuge. I must say, I became very good at it. We lived on the Chicago west side. It was the western edge of an area referred to as "Little Italy" which was home to many men that became well known in the history of Chicago.
I suppose that this might be a good point to explain my heritage, as best as I am aware. My father's father was French Canadian, and his mother was born in the USA of French Canadian parents. My mother's father was born of USA English/Cherokee/Chickasaw parentage, and her mother was of USA parents of Irish decent. The point is, we were not Italian. (My parents on the left) Almost made us foreigners where we lived, although it was somewhat mixed with other nationalities as well. Everyone spoke a certain amount of Italian as it was the predominant language of the neighborhood. This was especially true of swearing.
Okay, where do I fit this in? For a few years, I suffered from a mild case of Epilepsy. I would have an episode every once in a while without warning. Sometimes this would cause a problem in school as the teacher would think I had fallen asleep or was putting on an act. My parents took me to a doctor after one such attack caused me to fall from the upper bunk bed to the floor. I took medication, and eventually was cured. Although Vera once came home to find me on the driveway in a trance (perhaps an attack). Never since.
As we now had small amounts of money every week, enough to go to the show and buy a few things, we generally went to the show (movie theater) on Saturdays. Usually, the entire group (all the children within a few years of age of each other living within a block or two - sometimes as many as twenty or more of us) would head off to the show. On the way, when we went to a theater on Roosevelt Rd, we would walk through a large grocery store (Hillmans, in the basement of Sears) and obtain cookies, candy, and fruit. As much as we could stuff in our shirts and pockets. As I wore knickers sometimes, I cut holes in the bottom of the pockets and could fill the britches with a whole lot of stuff. That way I could even bring snacks home for use during the week.
In addition to our going to the show, our entertainment included playing baseball in the empty lots, school yards, and at Douglas and Altgeld Parks. During the colder months, we would play basketball against the JPI (Jewish Peoples Institute) team. We had no chance of winning, but we were able to take long showers with hot water after the game - a treat for all of us. And they were glad to have the practice.
As there was a junk yard just a few blocks away, we were constantly obtaining items for personal use. One very desirable item was roller skates. Even just one skate was useful. With a skate, a piece of 2x4, and an apple or orange crate, and a few nails, and you could build yourself a scooter. It also was a source of income by bringing items home for sale to the junk man that made his rounds periodically through the alleys with a horse drawn wagon while looking for usable items. Ice and milk were also delivered by horse drawn wagons until after the war (WWII).
Sometimes we would go to the Maxwell Street Market (right) which was somewhat of a ghetto type shopping area where you could find just about anything imaginable. Purchasing was based upon bartering until buyer and seller could agree upon a price or you could trade something of value. As much of what was sold was stolen property (unofficially), bargains were plentiful. Of course if you in turn could steal it, so much the better. There were regular shops nearby that sold many items at low prices. My last purchases made on Maxwell was a porkpie hat and a shoulder holster.
During the summer, we would ride the street cars to go to the beaches of Lake Michigan in Chicago. Most often to the Oak Street Beach (shown) and to the North Avenue Beach (the fanciest - they had changing rooms and a snack shop) and 12th Street beach (the closest but smallest). During the colder season, we would go swimming at the Sears YMCA on free days.
Although Douglas Park had a pool, most often it was closed due to Infantile Paralysis (Polio) scares, so we would do our swimming in the lagoon at Douglas Park. When we did this we hid our shoes in the bushes (nearer the way home) and had our clothes on so we could swim to a far side in case a policeman appeared.
We also would go to Riverview, via the street cars (4 cents each way), on two cent day, when all but a few rides cost only two cents to ride. If we had enough money, we would ride the "BOBS" and go through "ALADDIN'S CASTLE". The castle had hidden doors in dark passageways, slanted floors, a rotating drum you had to pass through, distorted mirrors, slides, and other fun things.
Altgeld Park had a gym, ball fields, Bocce Ball courts, and hot showers. For a time, I went to gymnastic classes. I also somehow got the attention of the son of the manager of the Merchandise Mart (I suppose it was part of a doing good - big brother type thing). He took me under his wing and I was given tours of the businesses at the Mart, including radio station studios and other places of interest. Some of what I remember is watching radio broadcasts, being introduced to Paul Whiteman and Peggy Lee and listening to them rehearsing.
A side issue, I began smoking at about ten. Most everyone did. You could go to the store, tell them you were buying for your dad, and get a pack for 15 cents. Or you could buy them one at a time for 1 cent each. Occasionally, I would smoke cigars, and even chewed for a short while. The big man thing to do was to smoke a "Dago Rope" which was a really strong Italian cigar named Parogi.
To my good (I like to think), I attended summer bible school most every year. As most of my friends were Catholic, and their folks made them go to church, I also attended often. Even went to catechism classes. Each summer, the Catholic church (Mother Cabrini - right) sponsored a carnival/fiesta on the far end of the block. They would close off the street for one block (Francisco, between Polk and Arthington), had a few rides, vendors, and games. It only lasted a weekend but everyone went to it. We all had fun and I always ate the Italian food offered and cooked in big pans right on the street. Speaking of food, periodically our group would pool our money and buy baking potatoes. We would build a fire in the empty lot, throw in the potatoes, let them cook awhile and them pull them out of the fire and eat. them. It was a big treat for us.
The general area that represented where I lived and played is shown on the left. As I was somewhat successful in obtaining things of value, I was approached by a fellow school mate and we joined in partnership in the business of selling bicycles. We would take the electric train (the el - for elevated, as most tracks in the city were on elevated tracks) out to the affluent suburbs and ride back with like new bikes. We would sell them at very reasonable prices and had a thriving business. I did this for two summers. After awhile, the police questioned us but could not really prove anything. From that point on, I went to the police station with each new bike and reported where I had "found it abandoned", which was always described as nearby. The police knew better because, until I started selling discounted bikes, no one in our neighborhood could afford bikes, let alone new or like new ones, especially something like a Schwinn, and the fact that "I found" so many. Besides, no one in their right mind would leave a bike unattended. If it wasn't claimed it became mine - the police did not hold the bike, I did. In those days they did not auction off "found" property but allowed the finder to keep it. I kept a really fancy knee action Schwinn Black Phantom for myself. Eventually, it was stolen from me. I think the police may have looked the other way as the station was completely "on the take" with the Mafia. (this is something I learned in later years).
Our modus operandi would consist of going to somewhere like Riverside, getting bikes and heading towards the city for a block or two and then, instead of heading back to the city, going farther from the city and taking them to a forest preserve area and hanging them in trees for a couple of weeks. Returning and then riding back via a different route through other suburbs such as Maywood and Oak Park.
That's me on the seat. The one on the handle bars is Bill (John Blessing), nick named "Hickey" as he came from Tennessee, spoke fast and with a stutter, and a strong southern drawl. For whatever reason*, we became best friends and kept in touch for many years, He and I were the ones that traveled many places together on our bikes and motor scooter. More about us later. Our interests also started to differ from most of those of the neighborhood. We found other activities and went to different places beyond our neighborhood. I gradually restricted my friendship to just a few, mostly Bill and my girlfriend. Bill had nothing to do with any of my enterprises. Bill should not be confused with Bill Porcelli, Jim's younger brother who was not included in most of our activities due to being several years younger than most of us.
*I think it may have been because he was made fun of and picked on as I had been. As I "took him under my wing", he was accepted without any further problems. (I was in very few fights, but could take care of myself. When I fought, I fought to win and I do not recall losing any fight after my first several months of moving to Chicago). I was somewhat successful at not being harassed nor becoming involved in physical disagreements.
If I recall correctly, my last neighborhood fight was with a boy named Joey who had recently moved to our block. He started a fight with me and when it ended, I had him pinned to the ground and placed a knife at his throat and said something like "The next time we fight, you better win, because if you lose, I'm going to slit your throat." The few fights I had after that time were in different neighborhoods.
I had no fights at all in high school as I offered to do the homework for the school tough guy. Only once did a couple of guys grab me to beat me up or attempt to get money, but fortunately my new "friend" happened along and told them I was his friend and no one ever approached me again.
In addition to traveling to get bikes, I also traveled all over the city to museums, zoos, the Art Institute, major shopping areas and just plain travel from end to end of the city. (In this respect, I guess I could be considered somewhat of a loner). In those days you could take the "el" (an elevated electric train system that traversed the entire city and many suburbs). It only cost three cents to ride but I usually just climbed up the structure from the outside onto the platform and got to ride for free. When I was young, heights never bothered me, now I have a problem climbing a step ladder. I also was thin enough to fit between the structure meant to keep people out (at some stations and at least for a while). Many things in my life have changed. Larger around the middle and less able to deal with heights.
Some of the things we did to pass the time was to jump on freight trains and ride until they slowed down enough to get off and then catch another for the way back. Sometimes when we were playing along the railroad, a troop train would be passing. During the early part of the war, the troops were heading out, most likely to a combat zone. We would wave and yell and they would return the greetings. As the war ended, the troops were returning home and they would throw foreign coins. To this day, most of my German and French coins were those thrown to us by the troops.
Sometimes we would hang on the back of trucks and do the same thing. Usually we got on and off the trucks (on the tail gates) at stops. The first time I jumped off a moving truck, I did not realize that you had to jump in the direction of travel and simply pushed myself off the gate and bounced and rolled all over the street and got all bruised and scratched up, plus I hurt like hell. But then so much of life is a learning experience.
In many areas of the city, the streets were raised so as not to be muddy due to the low level of the ground relative to the normal water table. This made the streets and sidewalks about two to three feet higher than the house lots. There was an empty lot across the street from our house where we would play ball, have our fires (for baking potatoes, or just to have a fire). There was a natural slope from the alley into the lot. On the sidewalk side there was a slope but it ended abruptly at the sidewalk. We chipped out part of the side walk to make a continuous slope so that we could ride our bikes into and out of the lot easily. One of our activities was to start from the alley and ride as fast as we could and then use to sidewalk slope and our speed to catapult our bikes into the street. The object to see who could be sky borne the highest and go the farthest before hitting ground. A lookout would warn of any cars coming down the street. On one such occasion, the warning came too late and I landed on the hood of a car. The driver was almost sick from the occurrence. I wasn't hurt but one of the wheels was bent beyond repair.
We also would play cops and robbers on the parked box cars (railroad trains). When there were refrigeration cars, we could hide in the ice compartments. We also would play cops and robbers on our block and jump from house to house on the roofs (accessible from the back porches). Most of the homes were two story. Most had roofs that were separated by just a foot or two with a three foot gangway. Some of the more normal games we played were, kick the can and running bases (a form of baseball that didn't require a bat or ball and could be played in a limited space) at the corner intersection and at the alley intersection. Sometimes we would wedge cans on our shoes and run through the alleys making a racket. We also played three feet off the mud pile, relievio, and of course baseball, both on the street and in empty lots. As we got older and tougher, we would play at the park ball fields. We also would get beer (a quart was only nineteen cents) and have parties in the local park. On hot days in the summer, we opened the fire hydrant and played in the water. We would tie a board across the opening to cause a spray. I do not recall as to when I began, but prior to having a car, I would go roller skating at the Madison Gardens Roller Rink. I also do not recall if I went alone or with a friend, but I do recall learning to skate quite well, including some dances. The fact that I always skated the couples makes me think it may have been with my girl friend. Perhaps one day, I will recall. I had my skates until the 1970s.
A description of the various games and activities, and where they were played are covered in another chapter.
Sometimes we would remove the packing from the train wheel assemblies (an oil soaked string mass used to provide lubrication) and spread it across the street near each corner. When a car would enter the street, we immediately ignite the substance (for some reason it was called nippy shit) and there would be an impassable flaming barrier at each end of the block. The car would then be trapped until it had burned itself out or until someone called the fire department and they put it out.
I also remember being able to take the train out to the country where my father's parents lived (about 50/60 miles). I would take my 22 caliber rifle and target shoot. They would feed me lunch and I would head back home. It was about a two to three mile walk to where the train would stop (not really a station but a crossing where they would stop if someone was there or if you asked ahead of time for them to stop). No one thought anything of a 12 -14 year old with a rifle in those days.
I seemed to be constantly in trouble at school (Erickson - left). I would have to bring my parents to school. I would get suspended, and finally at the end of 5th grade, I was thrown out of school and transferred to another (Shepard - right). That worked out well as I don't think I had problems after that. I was the school paper editor. I won a scholarship to the Chicago Art Institute. I won recognition for a Chicago Fire Prevention Art Contest. (At a 25th reunion, I was told that I was voted most likely to succeed. That was a surprise to me). While in 7th grade, my old school burned to the ground. For some reason, the police questioned me about it but I really knew nothing. Apparently it was arson and I was considered a suspect. (Imagine that!). I had long since not had any feelings regarding the school. Although we never had a Columbine or other event, we did have a classmate that drowned. His family was extremely poor and the school got up a collection to pay for a suit and burial. I think because of our age and closeness of the class, it did upset us. I guess that I was starting to change (just a little), as one of the boys broke a leg and I helped him get to and from school (meant that I left home early and got home late - a "sacrifice"). On a lighter note, when I graduated, I had a big black eye as the result of a fight (bad timing). My folks were furious. I also had gotten a Mohawk haircut (yes, we had them too). That did not please them either.
Some of the things that I recall is that the school offered lunch for a very low price. We also could purchase a ˝ pint of milk for one cent. They had a school library and I read many of the books. Mostly adventure and biographies. I also recall not being real happy with my art teacher as she refused to return some of my art work. I also created an Indian village which she kept (clay figures, wood utensils and weapons, and wigwams, etc.).
All things considered, I hardly ever did things that would please my parents. After I retired and continued working two days a week as a consultant, I would stop to visit my mother on the way home (Chicago to Dixon via Crest Hill). At one such visit, she told me that she did not want me, she never liked me, and I was nothing but trouble. She did not say anything about changing her feelings since. Looking back, I realize that I was physically abused during my childhood. But it was like being poor, I thought it was all natural and everyone went through it (at least boys), and especially me for all the trouble I got into, although my sister never had a problem. I wonder what came first, the chicken or the egg? Anyhow, I like to think that eventually I turned out alright. I can understand how she had felt when I was young, but I guess I expected that she would be pleased with how much I had changed and what a successful life I had attained (my opinion).
With respect to thinking I may have been abused, It seems that I could count on receiving a beating at pretty regular intervals. I have always thought that it was simply because I was always doing something wrong. Could be, then again, perhaps not. My father would hold me down across my parent's bed and my mother would beat me with my father's belt. Sometimes using the buckle end. I never made a count but I know it was painful and certainly more than a dozen strokes each time. They stopped when I got to be 15 or 16 as I then threatened to retaliate. (I do not recall my words, but I think I can guess close to what they were. I will not repeat what I think). Apparently they believed me. And I suspect that I would have done something had the beatings continued. I have no idea as to what they knew of my activities nor any reputation that I may have had. Or perhaps they just changed their ways.
Relating to the beatings and anticipation of them, I ran away often during my youth. Mostly just for a night or two when I would find a hallway to sleep. Sometimes further away. One time I tried to purchase a ticket (bus) to Kansas City but was stopped as I hesitated about whether it was Kansas or Missouri. The police called home and my father came to the station and took me home.
Another time, I actually got to Knoxville, Tennessee and stayed there several days before being returned to Chicago.
As WWII began in December of 1941, a number of us assisted members of the Civil Defense, most likely in 1942 and 1943. During a mock air raid, the Air Force dropped different colored weighted ribbons from bombers flying overhead, and we as spotters, ran to locate where they fell, give the color, and then a report was called in to headquarters. Exciting and fun at the time. We had helmets and other items. Really felt like we were worthwhile. Meat, sugar , gas, and quite a few other things were rationed. Other items became scarce, such as soap, toilet paper, candy, and I don't recall what all.
Being an explorer and ever looking for a means to pick up extra spending money, I located a warehouse (I 'm sure that it was storage for black market items belonging to the Mafia) which contained some of those difficult to find items. I started selling limited quantities throughout the neighborhood. I'm sure that the "owners" knew about what I was doing, but being "small potatoes" and just a kid, they probably felt that leaving me alone was better than doing something that might have led to exposure of their activities. I also have considered that they had to know about my various other activities as well and may have felt that I would become an asset when I got older - who knows? I also got a job at a local grocery store and when they received soap or toilet paper, I always immediately bought some for home.
FYI: If you check on the life of Sam (Mooney) Giancana, one time head of the Chicago Mob (Mafia - Cosa Nostra), you will find references to his holding meetings behind Claudio’s bakery at California & Polk, at Louie’s gas station at California & Lexington, and at the Little Wheel tavern at California & Lexington. However, I believe that it was Arthington (one block south of Polk) and not Lexington (one block north of Polk). I lived on Arthington just west of California from 1940 until 1952 (our group of guys called ourselves the “CalArts”). I purchased bakery goods at Claudio’s, got gas and filled my tires (bike and car) at Louie’s, and bought beer and pizza at the tavern (I never even knew it had a name). At a younger age, we would sometimes throw stink bombs (film rolled up in paper and then ignited) in the side door when they held meetings and then run and hide. On a personal note, the mob arranged for my father to start his own business - the state would not give him a permit - the mob got one for him*. We neither feared nor thought anything of the mob/mafia members. A few lived in the neighborhood. One time, we were a "safe house" for a shooting victim for several days - I don't know the circumstances and I never asked any questions.
* My father never said much about it, but I knew that he had a meeting at Claudio's and that after the meeting he said he was going to be able to have his own business. I also knew that he made payments for the permit. Anything beyond that, I have no knowledge. I personally think being a safe house the one time may have had something to do with getting the permit. It was well known that a favor received meant a favor owed.
Getting back to Bill (Hickey) and I, we traveled many places together. All around the city and suburbs. We would camp out in the forest preserves and avoid the police by storing our belongings and sleeping in hammocks in the trees. After the police made their final rounds and locked the chains to the parking area, we would light our fire in the shelter, eat dinner and just talk or whatever. For two years, we had a small jon boat that we had "found" and traveled up and down the creek. We would sink it and load it with rocks so it would be available the next time we wanted to use it. We also went to state parks on our bikes, traveling in excess of 120 miles one way. We would sleep in school yards or cemeteries at night while in transit. They always had nice grass and were away from traffic. Plus, who would go to a cemetery at night?. We sometimes rode into the night using kerosene lanterns for light and safety.
Learning a few lessons. Sometime after the end of WWII, an uncle (Cliff) who had been a Navy flier, lived with us for a short time. While with us, he intentionally, or not, taught me a number of things. Manners: not to reach across the table, but ask - he stuck me with a fork. He taught me to play chess along with an important lesson - you must first learn how to lose before you can become a winner. Odd, not really. Valuable lessons which I have never forgotten. This is the same person that taught me that the best defense is a good offense. I will always be grateful. He taught me many other lessons that I have used in my lifetime.
I attended a technical high school (Crane Tech - an all boys school at the time) in Chicago. It had a bad reputation, not scholastic - attitude. Some other high schools would not allow our pupils to attend athletic games at their schools as any game was always followed by fights and vandalism. Being a technical school, there were many "shop" courses. Never being much of a hands on person (until later in my engineering career), I failed at every shop task. I was the only freshman to fail wood shop - twice. Eventually, I threw in the towel and quit school at age sixteen, both as a result of my dislike of school and other personal factors in my life at the time.
I also had a "steady girl" during my teenage years. I have to say, I never have stopped thinking of her. She was truly my first love. She passed away several years ago (1980). Something that I had never mentioned to anyone (until recently), but as it is part of my life, if I am to tell "my story", then here it is. Tootsie (Nancy Porcelli) and I had a little girl who was given up for adoption. We had asked to be married but as we were both under age and our parents refused, it did not happen.
Never knowing what became of Cecelia is one of those things that has haunted me all the years since. I had tried investigating but got nowhere. Things were handled differently then than now. Another thing to mention, I was told if I ever had contact with her (Nancy), I would be jailed, otherwise I am sure that we would have married when we came of age (certainly when Nancy reached age 18). As a matter of fact, we had pleaded to be allowed to marry and to raise our child. I have continued now and then to search, but always to no avail. This is an entire story/chapter in itself. On January 22, 2009, I spoke with Cecelia for the first time. January 29th, I received a letter from Cecelia. We have been in constant communication since then. We planned an initial meeting for warmer weather and finally met in person on May 30th. A family gathering was held on April 3, 2010, at which time members of her mother's family plus mine, met with Cecelia.
HOW? After much research (including considerable "indispensable" help from my sister Virginia), a listing placed by Cecelia's husband was found.
I am looking for birth mother, I only know the last name of Porcelli. I was born July 26, 1948 at 4:45pm in Cook county Chicago Il. The doctors name was David D. Turow. I was taken to Catholic Home Bureau also known as St. Vincent's Home in Chicago Il. Date I was given up for adoption was Jan.17,1950. #201238. The only thing I know of my birth mother is she was married to a guy named Porcelli who died before I was born.
Unfortunately, the contact e-mail address that was no longer in use. The operators of the site with the listing provided a telephone number which was currently being used by others. However, a search of prior users (of that number) gave a number of names, which upon further researching of each, one name was ultimately revealed to be Cecelia's husband. The searching of various records eventually turned up an obituary of Cecelia's husband who passed away in September of 2008. That document provided still more information. Although I could not obtain a phone number for Cecelia, I was able to contact a neighbor (obtained through tax records and then the phone company) who then spoke to Cecelia, and the rest is history. Cecelia has a son, Chris, who has a daughter Jasmine.
On with my story.
The first time I spent more than a few hours in jail (or its equivalent), was because of something Bill and I had done. Bill got hold of a check and I forged the signature and wrote a note for cashing it. Bill cashed it using the note (typical in those days). It had belonged to his uncle, who lived with them at the time, and when Bill was questioned about it, he confessed. His grandmother reported the incident to the police and instead of just giving us a hard time and a good scare, they reported it to the postal authorities and it became "a federal case". I spent three days in the juvenile detention center and Bill spent a week. At the hearing, we were given a lecture and released on probation. That was when I determined if I was going to do something with consequences, never to do it with anyone else, and never confess or tell anyone what you have done. Although I was not pleased with Bill for confessing, we remained good friends and continued to get into less severe trouble.
Relative to our summers of traveling, after being fired from my first job, we used my unemployment money and would live off the land. We slept in a canvas lean-to and ate what we could find in the fields, such as corn & melons. We would fill our gas tank by draining the hoses at closed gas stations. We spent money only when necessary. Our last stop (not planned to be the last), was at Devil's Lake in Wisconsin. One of the advantages of having a side car is the ability to carry more things, as well as a passenger. You also can take a left turn (I think it was left - how soon we forget) at high speed but a right turn required a low speed. While driving down a winding hilly road, we took a turn too fast and ended up going over a cliff. That ended the traveling and the use of the Cushman. If I recall correctly, I think we lived on $14 per week (unemployment).
After I obtained my first car, a 1941 Plymouth ($100 on time payments), we started doing other things as well. One of my favorites was to speed past a police car at night so that they would give chase. The license plate was unreadable and the brake lights were disconnected. As we knew all the streets, alleys, and empty lots, I would turn into an alley which ended with a T intersection and slam on the brakes at the last moment at the T. I would make the turn but the police car would not. We would avoid that area for several weeks. Sometimes I would use an empty lot from the alley to street. By the time the cops backed up or got to the end of the alley, it was too late to catch us. Pretty stupid, but great fun at the time. And of course, it made great points among our group. I did not get a drivers license until after the first time I was arrested for speeding. Things were very different then. Another speeding ticket was gotten when I accidentally knocked over a police motorcycle when I passed a line of cars on the right and was going too fast to avoid hitting it. The cop made me sit and wait for about a half hour before writing the ticket . He was one mad guy. I tried to get away but got caught up in traffic. All things considered, I got off easy. I presume that the guy getting a ticket got off without one. I might add here, that by that time, Don's family had moved and the family that moved in downstairs from us ran a small trucking company. As I got tickets at a somewhat regular rate, he offered to pay my fines if I would go to the payment center (at Navy Pier at that time), so once a month I would drive to the pier and pay for any tickets from his drivers or myself - his money.
I learned to drive at an early age, probably no later than age 12. Before I obtained my motor scooter, and sometimes after, I would occasionally drive a car to where I wanted to go. All it required was an unattended car with an unlocked door or open window. In those days, you could by-pass the ignition switch with a key or small screw driver. It was seldom that I could not find such a car. I even took one to a drive-in theater once.
Our core group (the CalArts) continued to do things as well. On one outing (1949 or 1950), we were driving up to Wisconsin for a camping trip. There were five of us (I think it was Don, Jim, Johnny, George (J), and myself). The car got a flat tire and while two of us (Johnny and me) changed the tire, the other three went for a walk up the highway. They stopped in at a farm house where no one was home. There was a truck with the keys in it and they decided to go for a drive. They were driving slowly when we over took them and we stopped to pick them up. As the change of vehicles was taking placed, a car from the other direction slowed and made a U turn. We figured it was the farmer and took off but were over taken by them. There were two big guys and they got out and were headed our way. It just so happened that I had a rifle in the car which I had cut the stock and made it to look like a machine gun. As the farmer approached the window (I was driving) I raised the weapon and asked if there was a problem. The farmer took a quick look and said "no" and left.
That seemed to be the end of it, until, as we drove into Madison, I noticed a police car pull in behind us and then another. Another couple of blocks and there was a police blockade. Oh s___! They put us in police cars and took us to the jail. They called the farmers and apparently told them we were from Chicago because it appeared that the farmers were afraid to press charges.
(Chicago at that time had an inflated reputation of being populated by gangsters and murderers). While in the cells, some of the guys banged on the bars and sung loudly (too many gangster/jail movies). As the cells were located in the same large room as the radio and desks, they told us to stop but the guys kept it up. Eventually, the police gave up and let us go, with the promise that we would stop in on the way back. Ha, they must have been kidding or were really naive. We went home a different way using secondary roads. (Not my only roadblock- another in Wisconsin and one in Mississippi). The CalArts had other adventures away from home, but less stressful.
It was during this general time period that I luckily avoided doing something that undoubtedly would have altered my life in a big way. I and another friend (not Bill) found ourselves in a difficult situation. In the process of extricating ourselves, I drew a gun and would have shot an opponent (it was six against the two of us). except that the gun didn't fire as it had not seated properly the last time I had cleaned and reloaded it. I immediately used it to beat off the one I tried to shoot and quickly reseated the gun at which point they all ran off. I had not hesitated to kill someone, albeit in self defense. At that time of my life, I don't think it would have bothered me if the gun had fired. I am glad it misfired as the outcome would not have been good, no matter what the result of the event. I imagine I would have evaded any consequence as we were not in our neighborhood and it was an untraceable gun. I am sure others in our group would have found out eventually, and from experience I knew what that could lead to. I might also have found it to be an easy way to deal with certain situations in the future rather than in a more acceptable manner. It was the first time I had pulled the trigger while pointing at someone. I carried a hand gun from about 14 on, and although I had occasion to expose it, I never had to point it. Just knowing I carried one was enough to bring potential situations to a close (and I presume that no one wanted to find out if I would use it). That may have been what made it easier for me to have "friendships" in some of the other nearby neighborhoods. Everyone had free passage on the main streets but not necessarily so on the side streets. I had no problems for several "neighborhoods" in every direction.
Had the gun fired, I would not be writing about it, even if I had not been caught! (No statue of limitations - HEADLINE: "60 year old murder solved")