I called my sister to tell her it is Steamboat Days, just to make her jealous. There is nothing like our annual celebration where she lives. She subscribes to the Winona Post, and had been reading about the steamboat sign on the corner of Huff St. and Hwy. 61. Her idea is to spiff it up and on the deck put statues of William Shakespeare and Ludwig van Beethoven pointing to the downtown — sort of involve all the elements — the Marine Art Museum, History Center and rivertown downtown represented by the steamboat, and the summer festivals represented by the statues. She also said that if the city goes with her idea, she’d like to come out and launch the sign by breaking a split of Champaign over its bow.
Another reason I called her was to tell her that a childhood neighbor of ours had died. She didn’t remember her. My sister is six years younger than I am, which is a great deal when you’re a kid. She speculated that she was probably not allowed to go that far down the block when this girl I went to school with was living there with her family.
She did remember, however, that our father didn’t like the family very well, but didn’t know why. So I had to tell her the story.
My brother, who is a couple of years younger than I am, and I, were raking the front yard. My dad was a great believer that in a big family everyone had to pitch in. To which I always replied, being the oldest, that he should have stopped with me and saved himself a lot of work. My brother, being young and not so savvy, just said, “I didn’t ask to be born!”
So, we were raking. We lived at 9 Arthur Street, which was the first house on the street. Kitty corner from our house was the neighborhood store, which later became a liquor store. But at the time of this story, they sold bread, milk, cigarettes and beer, everything you need in a working class neighborhood, where families only had one car, if any, and grocery shopping was done only once a week. Our proximity to the store meant that we had a continual parade of people walking down the street past our house.
As Jay and I raked, two or three of the kids in this particular family from down the street came by after their trip to the store. Being kind of bullies — girl bullies — they decided to pick on my brother, and grabbed his rake and ran around with it, and he chased them to no effect. This made me mad, so I ran after the girl with the rake, by name of Bobbie, grabbed her arm and twisted it until she dropped the rake. She and I were both surprised at my bravery and the strength I was able to muster.
They went racing home, Bobbie crying and screaming that I broke her arm. We went back to raking. But pretty soon, down the street came their mother. I kept my head down, thinking she was going to the store. But no, she was coming to our house. Oh, oh. My father answered the door, and Bobbie’s mother lit into him using language I didn’t hear again until I was well into high school. She finished her tirade and marched back home.
Dad called Jay and me into the house. Double oh, oh. I bet with myself that I should go on the offensive. “Did I break her arm?” I asked. “No,” he said, and in my memory he added, “you should have.” Then he handed me a dollar bill, four times my weekly allowance! We didn’t talk about it again. I probably spent the entire dollar on penny candy at the corner store. Happy Father’s Day!