Growing up not knowing
Most stories have a beginning,somewhere in the north around Chicago or Detroit maybe. This story happens in the south, to be more precise around Florida ave and broad st in Tampa,Florida.
I can remember it as if it were yesterday.We lived in many different homes, but this one was a simple block two story concrete apartment and looked just like the one next to it. The floors were all concrete varnished with some kind of stupid color mixed up with other colors .The concrete floors helped in the summer months which lasted around 12 months a year. You could sleep on the concrete and stay nice and cool. The winter month or two was another story with only one small natural gas heater down stairs in the living room. The rooms were big and simple not much wood work to talk about the doors were thin wood most of which had holes in them from the previous tenants. All in all it was a place to live, if you didn't know any difference like most of the hundreds of kids that lived in the compound. The large block buildings were staged with grass court yards for the kids to play football ,marbles etc. We even had a park close to our section with a four foot chain link fence around it we used to just jump it. Yes you are now in the River-view Terrace Projects, a sprawling two hundred acre compound with hundreds of two story buildings linked together like a jig saw puzzle.
In the early 1950's this place was all white the colored projects were about six miles just south of us off Central ave. Of course there were several compounds of projects in Tampa and they were all run by the Tampa Housing Authority and each compound had a manager on site.
We were so luckey as kids the elementary school was only about three miles from the projects, a brisk walk in the morning with about 20 other kids from your section. There was a patrol boy or girl stationed at some of the major streets but not all of them. These kids were all six graders kinda what you would call the kiddie cops back then. Cleveland Elementary School was the only school that the project kids went to.
I think I was about seven years old then, in the second grade where I would stay for two years caused I liked it so well. Mrs Cakes was the teacher, she would let me sing in front of the class almost everyday. Donald Beavers and I would sing Elvis songs, little did I know that was just to keep us busy until school was out.
We had sports at school as well, Mr bell was the coach at the time and a nice man. Mr Bell didn't smoke and got quite up set when he caught me with a pack of Camel cigarettes I had taken from Jessy Davis one of my brothers friends. The coach was not to happy from the glare and the fact he made me run several times around the track. I think he sent a note home with me but I don't remember if it made the trip very well. I was to meet Mr Bell again in just a few years for he left the school and was now the warden at Lake Magdalen Reform School.
My brother Fred was about seventeen then I think he was still living with us then. One of Fred's friends was Jessy Davis who also lived in the projects just the next subdivision over from us. Jessy and his mon and dad had moved to Tampa from Covington,Ga a small town just south east of Atlanta,Ga. Mr. Davis learned some skills in Georgia that he brought with him and shared with Jessy's friends. Old man Davis made all the homemade beer in his house and from time to time you would see the nice policeman leaving his house with all his well made beer, I guess it was hard having to make beer for the cops too. You could find pretty much anything you wanted those days within a block or two.
The projects were full of colorful people,one such man lived next door us kids always called him hunch back because he had this Hugh lump on his back and walked kinda bent over.
Oh we didn't mean anything by it he was a nice man. Now Mr. Tar was older than dirt all he ever did was set on his porch and play an old four string banjo. Us kids used to listen to him for hours and hours but he would never let us go into his house. He was a nice old man I wish I had ask him more questions, he served in WW 1 and really didn't like to many people but he liked us kids. What I didn't know yet was about to follow me through my life, a kids life should be fun growing up not having to defend his little brother and mother.
My mother had met a man from a couple doors down and had a baby,Joe Almond was his name and not very likable all. The baby died at birth and I think we all paid for it. Me and my little brother Kirby stayed outside most of the time it sure seemed like it anyway. Shortly after Joe became my step dad he led me outside and we walked to the street. Broad street was the main street running between Florida Ave and Nebraska Ave a long,long way apart then. He had me stand by a car while he walked up to the driver and started talking to him, the next thing I saw was a tire iron coming out and Joe had smashed in the side of this man's face, I didn't know what was going on and it wasen't very nice either. I think he went to jail for this but not very long. I'm not going to talk about this man anymore because he wasn't a very nice man and I wished him dead.
I think that was the same year I broke my left arm by falling from the monkey bars in the little playground just in front of our house. Tampa General Hospital, that was a giant hospital build on an Island in the middle of Tampa bay. While we were there in the emergency room an ambulance came in with a couple people who had been all chopped up from a car accident I guess. Whay I didn't know at the time was that this would become a standard picture for me in the years to come. seeing more in the first seven years of my life than most people had seen in there intire life, this was preparing me for a life solving problems.
I tell you being a kid and having a little brother was a pain in the but, he was all over me and my broken arm. My little brother brother Kirby was about tow years old at the time and didn't know his real day but he was my little brother and I loved him. I think that staying home for the week or so until my arm was good enough to return to school was a punishment in its self. Me and Kirby my little brother grew up on Broad street, we lived in a couple different houses there after moving out and coming back at least three times.
Life in this place wasen't all bad, every year that I can remember a nice bunch of men would come and round up all the project kids and take us to a circus somewhere far away . After the cirus we would all get a big orange sack full of toys and stuff. For years I never knew who these people were but there were some of those nice policeman there that I had seen in the projects before. Ma told me that the nice men were from the Shrine Circus in town, they sure were nice.
It seemed like we moved to the community of Sulphur Springs just a few miles away and across the river. I had been there before several times, Ma worked at a store call McCormick's where I would walk the few mils to see her because my sister was being mean to me or so I thought. Several times over the next few years we moved back and forth to 8518 Mulberry St. I didn't really understand why, but it was always about Joe Almond the man ma had married in the projects. I really don't want to talk much about this guy but it didn't feel right and a lot of things happened to all of us that wasen't very good.
The next few years where nothing but a repeat of the first couple years until I was about thirteen years old. I know that most kids my age have to do what there parents tell them but I was fed up and decided to leave Tampa and live with my sister in Duluth, Minnesota. I had been up there when I was five to see my real dad and we stayed with my sister Janet and Mel in Duluth for about two weeks or so.
I'am getting off tract a little bit,but I had plans to hitch hike north on highway 41 into Chicago and than make my way north from there. I was smoking a cigarette with my two friends Ronney and Widget setting on top of the Sigh Ave bridge. I will never forget that day because it was hot and I had a white T-shirt on. I told the boys I'll see ya later and started walking east from the bridge to Florida Ave that was Hwy 41 and I knew it went north, so off I go.
Maybe one day I will tell you what happened on the trip, but not today only that this was my summer of 42.