As a boy of about seven, I lived in Amo, Indiana for a year or maybe two. I don’t recollect exactly how long because keeping track of time back then as a child seemed unimportant. Still, after living in the big city of Indianapolis, I often wondered, “How in the hell did we end up in a backwater, country place like Amo, Indiana?” In time I learned that my father, James, who was a self-employed roofer with no formal education, was born in Hendricks County, just west of Indianapolis where Amo, Indiana was located. So, although the area was unfamiliar to my family, it was familiar to Dad. But this I know, I wouldn’t have given Amo, Indiana a second thought if it had not been for the place where I lived.
THE PLACE WHERE I LIVED
The siding on the house where I lived in Amo consisted of unpainted, warped, wooden boards beaten down by harsh weather and sun. An occasional glimpse of white on some of the siding-boards made it clear that the house used to be painted white. The house was an elongated, one level structure with five rooms: The front bedroom, where Dad and Mom slept, followed by three smaller bedrooms, where my siblings and I slept, a no consequential bathroom, and a kitchen. My family didn’t have a regular living-room in the house with a couch, end-tables, lamps, and all that expensive stuff. Dad and Moms’ front bedroom at the end of the hallway served as our living room. After supper, when the dishes were cleaned and put away, my siblings and I congregated in Mom’s bedroom to watch television. Sometimes the picture came in clear but other times it didn’t come in at all. Among my siblings were my sister, Judy, who was one year older than me, and three brothers, Jack, Larry, and Gary. I was the second oldest in the family which meant I was older than all the boys. Our favorite shows to watch were “The Jackie Gleason Show”, “The Ed Sullivan Show”, and “The Rifleman” staring Chuck Connors. But come bedtime, when our shows were over, Dad and Mom abruptly rushed us out of their bedroom to our bedrooms. At the end of the row of bedrooms laid the bathroom, and then the kitchen. The kitchen had a backdoor that led to the backyard. It was the only door in the house that we ever used.
On one side of the house ran a black-topped road and on the other side a six-feet high railroad trestle where trains traveled day and night. The black-topped road rarely saw any traffic. Every now and then a car traveled up or down the road. The road ran all the way up to the small town of Amo about two miles away where we went to school. On the other side where the railroad trestle ran, we enjoyed about eight feet of yard between the house and the trestle. Next to the side of the house where our bedrooms lied, a makeshift, lean-to had been erected. The lean-to had a tin-roof that covered a hundred-gallon drum of fuel-oil. Fuel-oil heated our house during the winter months. In the night, when it rained, the tap-tap-tap, tap-tap-tap of rain drops hitting the tin-roof put me sound to sleep. And when the trains roared by in the night, even though the whole house shook, I slept soundly. Consequently, ever since childhood I have loved the sound of a train in the night. It always gave me cold chills when I heard a train’s whistle blow in the night.
Through the week, my siblings and I walked the two mile track up the black topped road to the small town of Amo and our school. On the black-topped road we passed a lot of other houses that looked like our house and people that looked poor like us. My siblings and I walked to school with a lot of other kids that lived in those houses. We traveled that road four times a day going to school, coming home for lunch, going back to school, and coming home at the end of the school day.
Occasionally I noticed a black family along the black-topped road but not too often. Black people, for whatever reasons, didn’t like living in Amo, I thought, because their numbers were low. A little black boy always came out of his house to walk to school with my siblings and me. I thought maybe it was because he felt safe walking to school with us. Whatever the reason, I didn’t mind. Mom taught my siblings and me not to judge people unfairly. At the school in Amo, too, I noticed that there were very few black students. It wasn’t like Indianapolis where our school included lots of black kids. Even though I was young, I still noticed that black people in the Amo community and at school were treated poorly. One day, I remembered, at the grocery store with Mom, I saw that the white store owner made a black family get out of line to wait on a white family first. I thought that was a very cruel thing to do. As the black family stepped aside, I asked Mom why they had to wait for others to go first, but Mom told me, “Be quiet.” Unlike today, racism was unconcealed. Back then in Amo drinking fountains and restrooms even had “whites only” on them.
On the other side of the black-topped road laid a huge cornfield. Corn stretched as far as the eye could see. I love corn on the cob cooked in its hull. When butter, salt, and pepper were added, it tasted so delicious. The corn on our table came from the large cornfield. The man who owned the cornfield gave my family permission to pick all the corn we needed for our family to eat because Dad fixed his roof. There were days when my family made a meal of nothing but corn on the cob, tomatoes, and Mom’s homemade corn bread, and I remembered being perfectly content with a meal like that.
The backdoor of our kitchen led to a 50-yard-long backyard, which was the area where we played. Our backyard ran into the neighbor’s back yard of identical size before getting to their house of identical structure as ours. However, the neighbors didn’t have a garden. No fences of any kind surrounded or separated our yards. Our twenty-five-yard wide, grassy-green yards ran up to the edge of the black-topped road. Many days mother could be heard yelling from the kitchens backdoor while she cooked, “Where is my saltshaker?” It was always found in the tomato patch where my siblings or I had left it after eating tomatoes and cucumbers but mostly tomatoes. Running parallel to the garden was mother’s clotheslines where she hung hand-washed clothes. Her knuckles were often red from scrubbing clothes in a large, metal-tub with washboard. At the front of the house, which looked more like the back, laid another garden—a turnip garden—followed by a large field of weeds and then a large open field on the far side of the railroad track in front of the neighbor’s house on the black-topped road sat an old, rusty bridge. Before getting to the bridge, the cornfield abruptly ended on the topside of a downward slope that continued to level off as it approached the creek that flowed underneath the bridge. We called the area under the bridge down where the cheek flowed “the bottom.” The cheek measured roughly twenty-five feet wide, I believed. At any given time, the water was only about eight to ten inches deep except when it rained- it was a little deeper. I waded across it even on rainy days. Even when all else was silent in the bottom, the sound of running water remained constant as the creek searched for a place of rest. I remembered that the creek’s water was always ice cold even in the summertime. The water was so clear that I could see hundreds of different sized, round-shaped stones on the bottom. The running water had worn all the rough edges off them. The stones had rings of blue, orange, green, red, and various other colors running through them. I often wondered about the process that allowed those colors to enter the stones. It had to have been a miraculous process, I reasoned. The bottom area was wooded on both sides of the creek. In contrast to the creek, the wooded area, once entered, seemed quiet and at peace. On the weekends while Dad worked, I hunted squirrels and rabbits down in the bottom with my four-ten-gauge shotgun. We were poor and couldn’t afford meat, so it was always a godsend when I brought home wild game for our kitchen table. Of course, I only hunted animals that were in season.
On several days’ squirrels or rabbits, depending on what was in season, graced our kitchen table that otherwise would have been barren of meat. Of course, we always had corn on the cob, tomatoes, and Mom’s homemade corn bread with our supper meal. But when I hunted, I generally got two to three animals. I cleaned them and Mom soaked them in salt water. Salt water, she explained, drew out excessive blood from the meat.
After soaking, Mom cut my bounty into pieces: front legs, back legs, backs, and heads. Then she floured the pieces and fried them in hot grease in her iron, black skillet. She placed the cooked pieces on her large, white platter to be displayed on the kitchen table. Mom was an excellent cook, and she kept every edible piece of meat: heart, kidneys, liver, and the heads. Many people would probably cringe at the thought of eating a squirrel’s head, but those people, I surmise, had never really gone hungry. The squirrel’s head had a lot of meat on it: the tongue was all meat, the cheeks had a hunk of meat on each side, and the skull when cracked open contained the brain, which tasted good. I always felt content when I could provide meat for my family’s table.