April 19 • Fireworks at Mackay Stadium!

…how it began

KF_headshotSchool starts but it’s still summer in my new town of Reno, and Dad wants to go to the stadium at the university by our house on Ralston Street and watch the fireworks! They’re put on every Friday all summer by a night club downtown owned by a guy named Harold, so it’s called “Harold’s Club.” In a few years he’d quit putting that little comma up high between the “d” and the “s” but that wouldn’t happen until 1949.

It’s Friday, so dad and I are walking down University Terrace toward the university. Mom’s staying home with my sister Merilynn, she’s still in a bassinet. We walk past my friend Bill and Margaret Eddleman’s house and then around a big curve. There’s a rock wall on the south side of the street and no sidewalk. Just below that wall the Orr Ditch is flowing full. The wall was built a few years ago as a government project to keep men working after something called the “depression,” when everybody was out of work. I heard that they also built a big lake with an island in the southwest corner of Reno by the old airport that was turned into a golf course. We’re going to go to there someday. I’ll tell you about that when we get there. I’ll write about it.

But tonight is fireworks, and they are free to watch. We walk past Mr. Goodwin’s house, a friend of Dad’s who owns the Kentile floor covering business in Reno. He’s the president of Reno’s banjo band, and there’s about 20 guys out in his front yard playing banjos and we can hear them from around the corner.

We get to Sierra Street and cross it and walk down to Virginia Street. It’s the main highway to a town called Susanville. We keep walking to University Street, the next street, and go through some big granite pillars with dates on them, a gift to the university when every graduating class donated some landmark with their class’ date on it. Then we turn left and go up the hill into the university itself.

There’s a couple of cannon at the top of the hill, and two twin buildings, called Morrill and Stewart Hall. We keep walking up past a big grassy park about as big as a couple blocks downtown. Dad said it’s called the “Quad,” or Quadrangle. Dad says MackayStatuethe Quad copied a design by Thomas Jefferson for the University of Virginia’s campus. All around it are a bunch of old brick buildings where kids go to learn something. There’s a statue of a guy named John Mackay at one end of the Quad, put there by his son Clarence who also paid for the stadium that we’re going to, so they named it after Clarence when it was built in 1908. Then we walk past a building called Lincoln Hall where a lot of guys live.

Mackay1Then we cross a dirt parking lot to the stadium – Mackay Stadium – and go in. It’s all concrete steps like seats on the west side where everybody sits. And there’s no lights, so it’s starting to get pretty dark. Across the stadium is another grandstand for the kids that go to the university to sit on. Behind that, on the left side of the picture, is a “fieldhouse” where all the lockers and showers are for the ballplayers. It’s getting dark and everybody is excited about the fireworks starting to begin.

There’s a loudspeaker system that’s pretty crackly but it works, and a guy in a whiteHarolds Club Buick suit gets out of blue Buick woody station wagon with bull horns across the roof, and he starts talking in the middle of the field. And here my nose is getting long like Pinocchio’s because this is supposed to be 1946 but the Buick is a 1949 so I must be fibbing, but hey, I’m only six years old.

The guy in the white suit and Stetson hat is Mr. Smith himself – Harold – and he welcomes everybody to the fireworks show. Then RoaringCampthey play some music by some guys called the “Sons of the Pioneers” over the loudspeakers and make it pretty plain that he wants everybody to come to Harolds Club soon. Even the kids can go, because he shuts off gaming in the “Roaring Camp,” the name of his western museum, every Saturday morning between ten in the morning and noon, just so us kids can go in the museum. We can’t go other times because there’s people gambling.

OldMackay2The fireworks start soon and they’re really neat. It seems like half the town of Reno and Sparks is there in the stands on both sides of the field. The stadium is pretty full, and it holds almost 2,800 people on the west side seats. A lot of people brought blankets and are sitting on the grass on the football field. And they’re all “ooh”ing and “ahh”ing with the fireworks that go on for about a half-hour. They’ve been going on all summer, and tonight is the last night.

We get a Coke at the stand that some bunch of guys, Dad’s friends, run, the “Lions” or “Tigers” or something like that. I’d get to know them pretty well in years to come, because Dad got involved a year later in the “Friendship Train” collecting stuff to send to a town called Berlin somewhere in Europe that was blockaded by another country and the people were cold and starving. Two brothers named Sewell built a grocery store down the street, and loaned it to Dad and his friends to collect groceries and clothes and stuff. But that’s a year away so I can’t write about it yet. I’ve just got to grow up faster so I can write about the Friendship Train and the Lake Street Fire and some other cool stuff that hasn’t happened yet.

But, tonight’s tonight, 1946; we’re in Mackay Stadium and about to walk back home to Ralston Street.

Come back again, we’ll walk somewhere else!

(By the way, Dad says if I’m going to steal pictures I’d better say where I got them; some of the pictures, of old Mackay Stadium, are from the University’s Special Collections archives. I don’t know where they got them…)

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April 9 • School starts! Yippee… 


karlatwhitaker

From the beginning…

This is a big day for me. I’ve lived here on Ralston Street for five weeks and am finally starting school! The school is just down the hill but Mom says I have to take a ride from Mrs. Cook who lives up the street and is coming by the house any minute. We’re going to pick up Cecelia Molini (Pearce) and Marilyn Burkham (Bell) on the way. I had no way of knowing this in 1946, but I’d know Tom Cook, Marilyn and Cecelia for the rest of my life.

The school is huge, kind of a dove-grey building in what grownups call Spanish DotenPostcardMission design. It’s called Mary S. Doten after an old teacher. There’s another three of them almost alike; one over by the fairgrounds called Orvis Ring, another teacher; McKinley Park down by the Truckee River named for the president and Mount Rose a way out of town south on Arlington Avenue. Named for the mountain, I s’pose. They are all about 35 years old now. There’s another elementary school right downtown called Southside, and some out in the boondocks (that’s a new word I just learned!) like Brown and Huffaker and Galena and Franktown. Dad said that there are 18 school districts in Washoe County, Reno is just one of them.

It’s a nice school, I can see that as Mrs. Cook drops us off and cries about something, don’t know what that would be. The front is like a courtyard with wisteria and a fountain bubbling around the flagpole. The teachers get together and plant flowers in the beds. All the rooms have big windows, and there are huge white glass bulbs SchoolLighthanging from the ceiling. There’s a great big “auditorium” with a stage at one end, the room big enough to hold every kid in the school. Which is about 240 kids. Downstairs are rooms for the kindergarten, where we’re going, and a boiler room where Mr. Minetto the janitor lets us put our galoshes in the winter to dry off while we’re in school. Next to that is a lunchroom, big enough for all of us at once with benches and tables. Most of us bring our lunch in metal boxes with Mickey and Donald on them. We have Thermos bottles but they break all the time.

Our teacher is Miss Parker. She’s really cool. There’s two kindergartens, one morning and one afternoon. We do all kinds of neat stuff. Now I’m forgetting what grade I’m in as I write, kindergarten, first with Mrs. Smith and second with Mrs. Angus. I know in all the rooms are these old desks with tops that lift up for our books, a hole in the top for an ink jar, which we don’t use anymore, and a seat that folds up. There’s a bunch of them bolted together so they stay in a line.

Above the blackboard are letters, in some kind of weird cursive shapes that I guess that we’re going to learn. I still print stuff like I am doing now. We do the “Pledge of Allegiance” every morning, and on Fridays we do the Nevada state song. We’re pretty good singers. And we’re learning all kinds of stuff, about Nevada, the other 47 states and some other countries like England and China. Mom always says we have to clean our plates because the people in China are starving. Her logic eludes FireMagnoliamy little brain but we keep eating. We have movies once in a while in the big room upstairs about ranching and farming, and some firemen came by once and let us play on the engine and showed us how to be safe. Some of the students from the university up the street called “fraternity” men came and sang to us. They’re really old guys.

We have “Bank Day” every week. Our teacher puts up a blue sign that says “Tomorrow will be Bank Day,” and turns it over the next day to read “Today is Bank Day” in red. Most of us put in a quarter every week and save quite a bit of money in a school year. Each year a man comes to take our classes’ pictures and we all are supposed to wear our good clothes and stand still on the front steps of the school. Looking back at all those pictures we’d usually see about 30 or 31 people in each class, which was about normal.

We didn’t know anything about it yet, but we’d have peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches with milk from Old Home Dairy or Crescent Creamery each day. I learned later that peanut butter probably killed quite a few of us at our young age but I don’t remember that. And the lead-based paint and the asbestos in the school and the mercury from thermometers that we all rubbed on dimes to make them shiny probably got a lot more. But our classes never seemed to get any smaller so I guess we were just lucky.

school busWe got to know the kids from the farms and dairies and ranches west of Reno. They came in on a bus every morning. There were also a few kids whose dads worked in the hydroelectric power plants west of Reno on the river. A fair number of our classmates’ parents worked on the ranches outside of Reno, and they would live with relatives during the week then go home to their families’ houses for the weekend so we didn’t see them. And there were quite a few kids – usually about ten every year – whose mothers were in Reno for a “divorce” which we didn’t know much about then – they came to school throughout the year and would stay for a while then disappear as fast as they came. I often wondered what happened to them!

We started getting into music and plays – some of us would “try out” to be a character in some show and get dressed up in some weird costumes sometimes and PumpOrganhave to remember what we were supposed to say. And we had singing, usually at Christmas, which we called “Christmas,” and sang carols to our parents in the big upstairs room. Miss Miller, the fourth-grade teacher, had a pedal organ that you had to pump with your feet to get any music out of. I was too short, but she played it pretty well. We sang a lot.

Anyway, it wasn’t long before we were all walking home, up the hill, through the autumn leaves.

My dad and my uncle John are building me a new bike, out of old bike parts because bikes were hard to get after the war. I’m looking forward to that, and soon I’ll be another year older so I can go more places around Reno and have a bike and be able to write down some more of what I’m seeing. I’ll try to take more pictures too…

Come back once in a while and read some more!

write the six-,  soon-to-be seven-year-old, at kfbreckenridge@live.com

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April 2 • Knockin’ around town on a Saturday

  How it began, click here… 

1941_chevvyI’m writing again, in my best handwriting, trying to practice as I’ll be starting kindergarten next week at Mary S. Doten, just down the Ralston hill from our new Reno house. It’s a Saturday morning; Dad and I are off in the Chevy to handle some of his chores, and I’m tagging along.

We take off on Fourth Street through town to Alameda Street. Across the Truckee to the south is the same street, called Wells Avenue because a rancher named Wells used to drive cattle up the street and across the river to the slaughterhouse a block west of Alameda. My uncle John, who just got out of the service, opened a Flying A service station on the northwest corner, almost next to the slaughterhouse. He has a nifty Harley Davidson motorcycle “tricycle” with a box on the back and his station’s name on the back of the box. My grandmother hates motorcycles and people who ride them. Uncle John promised me a ride on his Harley one time and my mother told him she’d kill him if he did that. Women I’m learning at age six are hard to understand.

There’s a neat little store across Fourth Street, Akert’s Market it’s called. There’s a fun guy in there named Ben, probably in college now, who wants to open a store that sells booze and call it “Ben’s Liquors.” My mom told me not to use the word “booze.” Oh well.

Dad said that the city was going to build a fire station on Morrill Avenue, a couple blocks to the east. It would replace the old fire station almost across the street, called “Reno East” which is a duplicate of the one at the dead-end of California Avenue on Virginia Street. This is a busy area of town, East Fourth Street, with a lot of nice stores, hardware, auto parts, lot of auto stuff and garages. Mr. Blakely, a friend of dad’s since high school, operated Eveleth Lumber kitty-corner from my uncle’s service station. It makes custom cuts of lumber and is in high demand from people building houses needing weird stuff like handrails. It is part of a sawmill up the river toward Truckee.

We got back in the car and left to see my dad’s friend Mr. Menante, another schoolmate. His family owns a shop by the railroad tracks on Virginia Street, that takes the tires off cars and “vulcanizes” new rubber and treads onto them and they put them back on your car, to save buying new tires. Dad said it was a wartime thing. Mr. Menante’s business is called Reno Vulcanizing, pretty original. His plan is to move further north on Virginia Street to his partner Mr. Besso’s family ranch, and build a new Reno Vulcanizing shop on what will become Sixth Street.

Mr. Menante told me how my father shot him with a pistol in their senior year in high school, which cost my dad his appointment to Annapolis, which is a big Navy school back east. Turns out they were in a play and my dad’s character shot Mr. Menante’s character, but the gun misfired and bent my dad’s trigger finger so it wouldn’t straighten and he never got to that Navy school. Mr. Menante was a fun guy.

We got back in the Chevy after dad made arrangements to get the tires fixed, and drove across the railroad tracks to have coffee – ugh – how grownups can drink that stuff is beyond me. Dad parked the Chevy at kind of an angle in front of Tiny’s Waffle Shop south of Commercial Row. We went to see Mr. Southworth in his tobacco shop on Douglas Alley. My grandmother, after my grandfather died in 1906, married Mr. Strausburg who was a stockbroker and owned the little building, his office on the second floor, Southworth’s Tobacco on the street level. Mr. Southworth was a nice guy, had a cigar-store Indian in the window that would piss some people off in years to come. Likely not the Indians. But, this is 1946 and I don’t know anything about that yet. (Three years later Harolds Club would put up a mural with Indians all over it, and more on the roof of the building, but I didn’t know that yet either…)

We went into Tiny’s for coffee, and a bunch of Dad’s friends were in there at a big table. I met Mr. Tripp, who worked for Mr. Smith at Harolds Club across the street. His job was making little plastic name tags for the ladies who worked in Harolds Club, with their first name and hometown. Mr. Tripp, I think his name was Walt, was a nice guy, had a couple of sons my age, and wanted to open his own engraving shop – “Tripp Plastics,” he’d call it. Mr. Smith I understand was going to help him get started.

Mr. Cobb was in Tiny’s at the big table. He was a sportswriter from Virginia City who worked at the newspaper, over on Center Street. He was also the announcer at the Silver Sox baseball games in Moana Stadium, a long way out of town to the south, and he told me that he’d let me sit in the booth some night during a game. He was a nice guy. I soon met his two sons and daughter, tell you all about them one of these days.

All dad’s friends were nice men. One was funny, his name was Mr. Maffi, and he and his partner Mr. Lyons owned a service station at the end of California Avenue across the street from the Lake Mansion, which I’ll have to study to learn more about and write about it another day. Mr. Maffi came to our house on Ralston Street later today to help dad adjust the furnace in our new house, which originally burned coal but was converted by Mr. Maffi to burn oil. Dad and Mr. Maffi, (and Mr. Sala, our next door neighbor; I’ll write a lot about him in the future), had to leave to get a furnace part and probably some more beer (surely Sierra!), and Mr. Maffi, who had a glass eye, took his eye out and put it on the kitchen table and told my mother, who had a limited sense of humor, “Here, Floie, (for her name was Flo), I’m keeping an eye on my beer.”

Dad and Mr. Sala laughed, but Floie (Flo) fainted, right on the kitchen floor, cold as a mackerel. Mr. Sala went next door to get Mrs. Sala to help out. Floie soon returned to consciousness, and Dad, seeing this, went out the front door with the other guys to Mr. Maffi’s pickup and took off down Ralston Street to get the furnace part. And some beer.

As I recall, they discussed Mr. Maffi and the occurrence further that evening.

I’m worn out from writing; I’ll start school in a week down the hill at Mary S. Doten, and maybe I’ll learn how to write cursive so it will be easier to read. Come back in a week and we’ll stumble off around Reno some more, maybe visit my new school and my new friends, all neighbors, Tom Cook, Cecelia Molini (Pearce), Jimmie Ceander, and Marilyn Burkham. And another new friend that I’m going to introduce next week, Cedric Parkenfarker from up University Terrace. Cedric has the ability to look into the future, which will enable me to write my 1946 memories, but interject what happened in the future, like Marilyn Burkham becoming known as Ma Bell. And I’ll get my Brownie Hawkeye fixed so I can add some pictures again…it’s busted today.

See ya soon…………

 contact the six-year old at kfbreckenridge@live.com

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