When I was five, we moved to a new house in Evanston on Hinman Avenue. It was larger than our house on Maple, but not large on the scale of houses in Evanston. It was in the same block as Miller School, a grade school, where older brother, Norm, started his educational endeavors, and I followed the following fall.
I had already taught myself how to read, so was started in the second grade. Reading was one of my passions. I had discovered that in a book I could go anywhere in the world and learn about other people, how they lived, and what they did. It was a way to escape from the painful aspects of my growing up years. Norm dubbed me, “Bookie,” only one among many other unflattering names he constantly dreamed up.
Some unique things happened on Hinman Avenue that happened at no other place we ever lived. There was a balloon man who came by every so often carrying a fistful of gas balloons in many colors. As he came down the street, he blew a shrill whistle to attract attention. Bobby, who was four when we moved there, would almost go berserk when he heard that whistle. He would race around the house, upstairs and down, calling out to anyone who would listen, “B’loon man! B’loon man! B’loon man!” He would keep it up until finally he got the attention of my mother, or some other adult, and got his “b’loon.” Sometimes the rest of us would get one too, but nobody cared about “b’loons” the way Bobby did.
One year the balloon man came by on Memorial Day. We were just starting out to go to the Memorial Day Parade, so my mother bought us all balloons. We must have looked quite festive as we walked along toward downtown Evanston, holding all our balloons. But soon, Bobby, in his excitement, lost hold of his balloon and began to cry as it floated slowly and inexorably upward. Frannie, who was the generous one of the family, said “Here, Bobby, you can have my balloon.” Bobby accepted it with a big smile, and his tears stopped.
But after another block or two, he lost that balloon too. Norm, who was not generous, but was bored with hanging on to his balloon, grumbled “Here, take mine, I don’t want it anyway.” Once again, Bobby was enthralled, but as we were nearing downtown, that balloon got away from him too. I wasn’t generous either, but I felt sorry for Bobby and gave him my balloon. “Hold on tight,” I cautioned, but before we had gone another block, that balloon followed all the others.
Bobby stopped still, and, for a moment, looked as if he might cry again as he watched his last balloon float away into the sky. Apparently he was pondering the loss of all his balloons and trying to make sense of it. My mother was impatient and said “Come on, Bobby, we’ll miss the parade.” Bobby, with his eyes on his balloon, still visible far above, gave a huge sigh, and stated firmly, “God wants all my b’loons.”
Another wonder of our life on Hinman Avenue was a hurdy-gurdy man who would come by once in a while with his music box, and a little monkey that sat on top of it. He wore a red felt vest with gold trim, and a cute little pillbox hat that he would doff whenever anyone gave him a coin. I loved that monkey, and used to save every penny that came my way in preparation for the day that the hurdy-gurdy man would come by.
A soon as the hurdy-gurdy man established his position on the corner near our house, I would grab my pennies, and rush out to where he was. When I held out my hand, palm up, with a penny in it, the monkey would reach out his little hand and take it. As he picked it up, I could feel his little fingers brush against my skin and felt a shiver of delight. His little hands were so human, with perfect little nails.
I always wished I could have spent more time with him, but as soon as my pennies were all gone, the hurdy-gurdy man would pack everything up, pull on the leash so the monkey would jump up on the box, and away they went.
Years later, at Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey, I saw another hurdy-gurdy man with another monkey, in the same kind of little suit and hat. When I gave him pennies, and felt him take them out of my hand, I was transported back to Hinman Avenue, and once again flooded with joy at the touch of those little fingers on my hand.
Another thing unique to Hinman Avenue, didn’t interest me, but it fascinated Norm. Until they finally put in a stop sign, there were frequent collisions at the corner near Miller School. We could hear them from our house, as the metal on metal sound of the crash was loud and distinctive on our quiet street. Norm would rush out to see what had happened, to find out if anyone was hurt, and to watch all the activity of the police and the ambulances, if any. He became quite a connoisseur of auto accidents.
While at Hinman Avenue, it was decided that I had to have my tonsils out. When my mother told me about it, she referred to the operation as “tonsils and adenoids.” I had a vague idea of what and where tonsils were, because Norm had had his tonsils out a year or so before, but was vague on just where or what adenoids might be.
When Norm had had his tonsillectomy, my parents decided to have him circumcised at the same time, since it hadn’t been done at birth. When he heard I was going to have my “tonsils and adenoids” out, he said darkly, “Boy, will you be surprised when you find out where your adenoids are!”
The most exciting thing that happened when we lived at Hinman Avenue was that we acquired a car. It was a 4-door Franklin, and was convertible. They were called “touring cars. It had no permanent windows. The ones it had were made of ising glass, and snapped in when they were needed—not a quick process.
My father often took us for rides in the Franklin, usually out in the country somewhere, often for a picnic. We loved it. I remember one particularly exciting day when my father thrilled us all by reaching the terrifying speed of 37 miles per hour—the fastest we had ever gone!
The part of the house that I loved the best was the library. It had a fireplace at one end, windows at the other, and a beautiful Persian rug on the floor. The walls were lined with books. It was my haven. I spent many hours there lying on the rug, looking at, or reading books. I was sad when in the summer I was seven, we moved out to Geneva, Illinois, in the Fox River Valley.