Jerry's View: 116 North Russet
Editor's Note: President Emeritus Jerry Robinson wrote a book titled Listen To Your Father. We offer an excerpt here about his life growing up in Portland, Oregon.
116 North Russet
By Jerry Robinson
I was a short, skinny, little guy with hand-me-down clothes and crooked teeth. But I didn't care; I was having a good time. I loved our life on Russet Street. The house, circa 1905, was rundown when we moved in. We didn't run it up. It was a two story, four bedroom, one bathroom frame house. It had a large front porch and kitchen, with a pantry leading down to a dank basement; a wood-burning, central-heating furnace with one big register; and sliding doors in the wall between the living and dining rooms. Mom and Dad slept in the downstairs bedroom; the rest of us slept upstairs.
Doris and Bernice slept together and shared a bedroom with Marion and Evelyn.
One room served the four. George slept with Albert, and Russell and I slept together in their room. In fact, Russ and I slept together for 16 years.
It was a shattering moment in my life when Russell, on reaching 18, announced that he wanted his own bed. What a shock. What rejection.
Behind the house, a huge Gravenstein apple tree hung over our rickety one-car garage. We really used that tree. It was great for shade and climbing, and was a prolific bearer of the best-tasting apples. Even though Mom warned us we'd get the molly grumps, we'd eat those apples from when they were the size of a green golf ball till fall, when they turned a beautiful crimson and cream color. We didn't care that the apples were often wormy; they tasted delicious and filled our bellies.
Sometimes we sold them on the street corner for 50 cents a box. Dad also grew a big garden. That, too, helped sustain us through a lot of hungry months. Mom canned peas, string beans, beets, tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots. Two green gage plum trees along the west side of the house always yielded a sweet reward for us kids, and there were six walnut trees bordering the driveway.
Gathering the walnuts in the fall was an exciting annual event. Russell and I would climb the trees and shake the limbs till they showered the ground with their treasure. Then the rest of the family gathered the harvest. We peeled off husks till our hands turned green, then dried the nuts in the upstairs heating register. 23 Out front was a row of rose bushes which Mom tended lovingly in the summer. It was her beauty spot.
When the iceman, junkman or milkman came by in their horsedrawn wagons, she sent us out to scoop up manure from the street for her American Beauties. There were few cars then and they didn't travel very fast. The street was our playground. It was Macadam, a great surface for roller hockey, kick the can, run sheep run and one-o-cat. We used an old baseball covered with friction tape. We also had a small patch of grass that Dad nurtured with a sickle and garden hose where we played mumbledy peg with our jackknives. Only rich people had lawn mowers. There were no school buses.
We had to walk about two miles to Woodlawn Grade School. I didn't mind, except in winter. Then I'd put on my Lindy aviator hat with goggles, my black, leatherette, fleece-lined jacket and my oxfords with the moccasin toe, and hike through the rain or snow to class. When the leather wore out Mom would buy, for 10 cents, rubber half soles which we glued on. Pretty good clothes, we got them every year with welfare vouchers at Meier & Frank department store. But the glue on the rubber half-soles always came loose, and they would flap up and down as I walked. The jacket hit me just below the waist. My corduroy pants and long underwear would get soaked. When I got to school, I had to take off my pants and stand in front of a heater until I dried off. The dye from my jacket always turned my skin black.
When I was nine Dad bought me eight-inch, high top leather boots. What a thrill. I loved them. I rubbed bacon grease into them every night, so they smelled terrible. When eventually I wore holes in the bottoms, Dad took them to Albina Shoe Repair. Each night I'd ask if they were fixed. He kept saying, "Not yet." So on Saturdays I'd hike two miles to the shop to find out why. Through the window I could see them next to a sign that read: "Shoes not claimed after 30 days will be sold." I went back three times. They were always there. The fourth time they weren't. I was heartbroken. I guess that's why I always made sure my kids had boots. I still love boots, big clodhoppers. They just make me feel good.
A CD of Listen To Your Father is available through this newspaper for $25 + tax. Mail check to P.O. Box 66769 Seattle Washington and make sure you ask for Listen To Your Father CD. Also include a return mail address.