Frances Schutze

From The Little Bastard

Published by Anchor & Plume Press, October 2014

Now just because I’m telling you all this, you shouldn’t think we were cru­el. It isn’t healthy not to be jeal­ous in a neigh­bor­hood at that stage in your fam­i­ly life. And there was so much fam­i­ly life at just that stage in The Gardens.

The Gardens was a slum-cleared block about six streets from the river­front, built sort of like an Italian vil­la, with all the court­yards and shrub­bery on the inside and the build­ing form­ing a cin­derblock fortress all the way around.     In the sum­mer, the dis­ci­pline was espe­cial­ly good. Moellie, the head cus­to­di­an, would fill the wad­ing pool up high if our kids kept the hand­ball court clean. If they strewed the court­yards with a few papers and card­board box­es, Moellie only filled the pool part way. If our kids took into their heads to tear through The Gardens play­ing war games, with those bombs they’d make out of paper bags filled with sand and water, throw­ing rocks every which way and mak­ing fox­holes by the bush­es, Moellie left the pool as dry as a side­walk for a week. But in sor­row for our kids, Moellie would turn the hose on most of them every time he watered the grass that week. We lived in live­ly armistice with each oth­er most of the time.

Almost all of us were in our ear­ly twen­ties, with a baby or two, except Esther McQuinn and her hus­band Joe. Joe worked at the same depart­ment store with sev­er­al of the oth­er Gardens’ hus­bands. At night, Joe would walk home from town, maybe with Art Gordon and Jerry Baugh, or with my hus­band, on his way home from the mill. When the boys came through the areaway into the hand­ball court, they’d start tak­ing off their shoes. They’d bare­ly get their feet sunk into the reviv­ing rip­ples of the pool before their kids would be upon them, descend­ing like fierce air­men from the brick walls, the trees and the cement bench­es, ris­ing from the water and shim­my­ing down the iron bal­conies of our porch­es, to wel­come their dads home.

About this time Leo Werner, head buy­er of menswear at Barr’s, would appear in his shorts from the porch of his apart­ment across the way. He’d always pro­ceed with slow, plump dig­ni­ty to the edge of the pool and just then his four-year-old daugh­ter Lucy Lee would pop up from the waves to trip him almost flat into the water. Leo would roll over his body in the cen­ter of the pool, and turn Lucy Lee over too, and she’d get her spank­ing. But that was just rou­tine, and five min­utes lat­er Lucy Lee would fly into the house to get Leo his beer. It wouldn’t be The Gardens on an August evening if Leo were not lying out there in the mid­dle of the wad­ing pool with Lucy Lee rid­ing his chest and hold­ing his beer for him between swal­lows.

Then the six-o-clock church­bells would ring from all over the down­town. And while sup­per fin­ished, most of us would come out to sit around the pool too, and some­body would remem­ber to bring the beer. Finally we’d all go in to eat, with our kids fol­low­ing along beside us or run­ning on ahead. All except Esther and Joe McQuinn who had no kids to fol­low them home. We usu­al­ly left them out there alone sit­ting with their feet in the water and look­ing a lit­tle lone­some. Sometimes Joe would yell after us: “You just wait! We’re going to have a fam­i­ly too!”

But they didn’t and they didn’t.

Time was when the boys came through the areaway from Barr’s and through the oth­er gate from the Stove fac­to­ry, they’d holler over towards Joe – “Hey Joe, how are you and Esther doing on that baby?” and in those days Joe and Esther would call out cheer­ful­ly, “Still nego­ti­at­ing, give us time!” And for some time after­ward the slo­gan of our court­yard was, “Hey Joe, are you still nego­ti­at­ing?”

They had been wait­ing for that baby near­ly four years. We no longer kid­ded them about it. Esther and Joe were only twen­ty-five, but after all that wait­ing, they looked old­er than any of us.

~

Frances Margaret Schutze (1916–2002) was a grad­u­ate of the University of Michigan and taught ele­men­tary school for 15 years. The descen­dant of Kansas pio­neers, Schutze wrote a gos­sip col­umn for a LaBette coun­ty, Kansas news­pa­per under the pseu­do­nym Betty LaBette. During her tenure at a Missouri radio sta­tion she wrote fill-in pat­ter for DJs and radio plays includ­ing “Shoestring Pagoda.” Later in life she was the author/illustrator of near­ly 50 pic­ture books for chil­dren, hand-pub­lished in extreme­ly lim­it­ed edi­tions. She had four chil­dren and four grand­chil­dren.