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180115 January 15, 2018


Walking Home
Rainer Klauss
LHS '64

    In the summer of 1952, the man who owned our rental house on Overton Road unexpectedly gave my father two choices: buy the house or move your family out when the lease expires. It might not have been presented so bluntly, but that was the deal. Even though he didn’t want to rent it to us again, I don’t think animosity played a major role.  The ultimatum was most likely a “taking care of business” situation.  Because of its continuing growth in population, Huntsville still suffered from a housing shortage. Under those conditions of low supply and high demand, the landlord saw a chance to better his lot. Either he would unload the house for a good profit, or he would jack up the rent on the next tenant. He wasn’t going to lose any money.

    Whatever the asking price, my father considered it excessive, and he didn’t want to dicker.  Fortunately, like the landlord, local businessmen and real estate developers were alert to opportunities, too, and new subdivisions were starting up in various parts of the city. My father caught wind of such a project on the northeast edge of town. One weekend our family drove out to look at the subdivision materializing in the cove at the foot of Monte Sano and Chapman Mountain. Though it was far different from our cozy neighborhood in Mayfair, my parents must have envisioned promise there. Finally, we would be in our own house after a progression of provisional abodes. My father would have the independence he prized; my mother could set up her domain. Soon after the survey and decision, my father signed the papers to claim one of the houses.  That’s a capsule version of how we came to live in the small green-shingled house on Bide-A-Wee Drive; we would be pioneers who helped settle Darwin Downs.

    I had started the first grade at Fifth Avenue Elementary that September, so when we moved across town early in 1953, I had to transfer to East Clinton Elementary. My father (who checked and signed every report card I brought home through twelve years of education) took me to the new school to enroll me. We had surely discussed what I was to do when school let out, but things went awry that afternoon. I have no recollection of why, but my parents and I didn’t rendezvous as planned.  The situation was so confused and traumatic that I blanked out the details soon thereafter. What went wrong? I’ll never know. But a parental nightmare had become real life: we were lost to each other, and there was no Plan B.

    I remember standing outside anxiously watching the controlled chaos at the end of the school day. I waited a while, but no rescuers came.  It didn’t occur to me to ask anyone for help. A member of the school safety patrol or any adult would have led me back to the school office, the sensible place to begin addressing the problem.  Instead, after a short while, I came up with a Plan B: I would walk home. The only problem was that although I knew where to go, I didn’t know how to get there directly. I had only a dim sense of the East Clinton environs and points east.

    If I had stayed where I was, I probably wouldn’t even have a story to tell. Once the bustle and traffic diminished, somebody might have noticed the solitary little boy, or my parents might have found me. Once I started my walkabout, however, I was in the wind.

    I headed up White Street, which bordered East Clinton Elementary on the northeast, and walked toward the Huntsville High School building on Randolph Street. When I got to Wells Avenue, I turned left and continued a block or two farther until I got to what was then still the intersection of Wells and California Street, at the northwest corner of Maple Hill Cemetery. Then I knew exactly where I was and how to get home. 

    While our new house was being built, we had monitored its progress, and we drove along California Street (which I had always considered a ritzy name for a street in Huntsville) as a natural part of our trips from one side of the city to the other. The unusual nature of the cemetery landscape made me take note of where we were in relation to the house on Overton Road and the structure at Bide-A-Wee. It and the turn onto Wells at its NW corner became significant landmarks.

    I walked a short distance past the intersection, then turned left onto Coleman Street, and walked down the short hill to Randolph Street. I turned right there and followed it for several blocks, climbing the hill to Maysville Road and turning north onto it. I crossed Pratt Avenue and a block farther passed Bartee Lumber Company. When I got to the kink in the road where McCullough Avenue crosses with Maysville, I was within eyesight of Bide-A-Wee Drive. 

    What were my thoughts and feelings during this unexpected rite of passage? It far exceeded the longest walk I had ever taken in my life, along streets I had only seen from our car. There was nothing lighthearted about the experience. It took me way beyond my previous limits, but a kind of confidence accompanied me. I felt that everything was going to be okay. 

    After I came down the hill to our house and saw no car in the driveway, I moved to the side of the house where my bedroom was, hoping that a window remained unlocked. The yard sloped there, and I couldn’t reach it. Fortunately, the construction workers had left behind a sawhorse. I dragged it into position, clambered up on it, and balancing myself on the edge of the narrow board, pushed up on the window.  It opened!  I hoisted myself in, landing on the springy softness of my younger brother’s bed, its simple Army bed frame part of our original Ft. Bliss furniture.

    I was home. What happened afterwards constitutes another big gap in my memory, unfortunately.  I have no recollection of when my parents’ ordeal ended with their arrival at the house and their elation and relief that I had somehow gotten home. It was an extraordinary event that would have been thoroughly discussed, I’m sure, but it never became part of our family lore. There was no family story that began with “Remember when Rainer took that long walk home?” And regrettably, in all the years afterward, I never thought to bring the unresolved matter (for me, anyway) up for clarification. When I asked my older brother about it recently, he had no recall of a family disturbance at the time. For me, there is only the strong memory of the decisive (though foolhardy-- for what I put my parents through) action I took, bracketed by irrecoverable personal and family mysteries. 

    The other day, I retraced that circuitous journey in my car. It was 1.5 miles from East Clinton to my house at 1924 Bide-A-Wee Drive. It had seemed a much longer trek to a seven-year old boy. 

    With thanks for the wisdom and cartographic acumen of Gudrun, who suggested a map of my walk might be beneficial to the readers who weren’t / aren’t familiar with that historic part of Huntsville.


        Memphis, TN -  I have had a couple of responses to my request for bus stories and I will print them in the order in which they were received. If you get inspired by any of them and wish to tell your own tale, it will be graciously received. I should remind you that any of you from any year or any school are invited to share your own memories with the rest of the group.

    An odd winter storm spread across the nation this weekend. I hope all of you are safe and warm.

My Bus Travels
Joel Weinbaum
LHS '64

    Last week's issue touched several old memories. First, the country was divided as I recall into North-South, and East-West bus routes. Greyhound was assigned the North-South routes, and Trailways was assigned the East-West routes. Maybe that is how Trailways got its name considering the early wagon trails west. Greyhound may have come from the dog tracks located in Boston and Miami. Anyway, only one time do I recall traveling south by train to visit my grandmother in the west end of Geneva Co., of south central Alabama just above the Florida line. Somebody had to meet us somewhere because the train did not get close to where she lived. I remember eating in the dining car and was impressed with the formality of the table with table cloth, finger bowls for cleaning your hands at the table, and fancy dinnerware. And the dining porter had a very interesting way of replacing the table cloth with a fresh cloth with very little disturbance to the table setting. An older brother was thirsty and drank the water from his bowl before being told that is was for cleaning his hands. He survived.

    Years back when Krystal had the white porcelain metal store fronts, they would most likely be next to a downtown bus station, or at least nearby.

    Your 1960 Jamboree trip was all by two lane roads and may have put you on the famous Route  66. I’d have to look that up. My scout camp experience was Camp Westmoreland on Shoals Creek near Florence. A lot of families were in near poverty back then. You were blessed to get that sponsorship and may have been foreboding with your career with the Air Force. I was discharged from the Navy at Treasure Island, San Francisco, July, 1966. I flew into Travis AFB on a military chartered flight from Honolulu arriving on a Wednesday afternoon. The four days to process out had me there over the weekend which made the delay even more excruciating. I had come back from over 18 months in the Pacific. To top that a national airline strike had just occurred which grounded all civilian flights out of SF. An older brother was stationed at the Joint Base in Albuquerque so I called him to tell of my plight. Said get on a bus, a Greyhound Scenicruiser as it turned out, and come to Albuquerque, and he’d figure something out. That was an exhausting 24 hour run. I remember stopping in Flagstaff, AZ for breakfast. Had a typical breakfast, eggs over easy, a little cold, a little greasy. Got to Albuquerque, my brother had bought at some point a new split-window VW bus and announced we were going to travel the west in a big loop. In those higher elevations, top speed was about 55 mph with its small air-cooled engine and reduction gears those buses had. Tagged up with ten National Parks, 6 days, 3,300 miles and about $35 in gas that we split. We camped some, drove through the night some, slept in the bus some. And we played tagged with a quintessential Chevy Chase Vacation family traveling in there oversized station wagon. First encountered the family at one of our stops. We got on the road before them, later they roared past us. Next stop there they were. Back on the road, they roared past us again.  They were on the same track we were.

    But one unpleasant bus ride stopping at Double Springs Greyhound Station, where the Civil War statue is with the broken sword, we went inside. The smell of hamburgers and onions got the best of me and my mother finally gave in to letting me buy one. Ate there in the Cafe, got back on the bus, got down the road about ten miles and i threw up. My mother offered to clean it up if the driver had a towel. He said he would take care of it and instructed us to move to another seat.

    All in all, the numerous times traveling by bus in those early days was a fun experience. And the smells at the bus station were of particular note, along with the interior of the bus. The driver was in uniform and had all the authority for directing passengers, loading luggage and freight, stopping to pick up road side passengers, and the exercise of discipline over everyone on board.

    Pictured below is a camper model without the pop top. His bus was strictly passenger and more maroon. That was definitely a fun trip and it also allowed me to debrief after being out of the country for so long.


From Our Mailbox 


Subject:    Silver Sabre Yearbooks

Beth McNabb Weinbaum 

LHS ‘65

Dear Tommy,

    As you know, Joel graduated from Lee in 1964 and I graduated in 1965. We neither have a Silver Sabre from 1964 but would love to have one that someone might not want or need any longer. We have the CD from both years but it is not the same as having the print version. Please put out a request and get the contact information. We will take it from there.

Subject:    Cagle's Store
Collins (C.E.) Wynn
LHS '64

    Is anyone familiar with a business, probably a store, named CAGLE's that was somewhere in Madison County 1937-1941? My mother's diary from then has many entries about going to "CAGLE'S". Thanks

    Also, does anyone know of a source for maps of older postal routes (i.e. RR4) Huntsville?



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