News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion Columns

June 13, 2014

RONN MOTT: Looking back on yet another birthday

TERRE HAUTE — I have a birthday this week. And, I suppose that like some of you, I tend to look back over the lifespan to reflect on how it has been going.

I actually have a pretty good memory of those pre-school years and things that occurred to me, happened to me, and the elements of my home and where I lived.

The year I was born, Time Magazine named Adolph Hitler its Man of the Year. After all, he had turned Germany’s economy around, the people were prospering and the well-clad members of his paramilitary organizations, the SA and the SS, were marching in the streets of Berlin proclaiming future greatness. It would be later that any of us heard about the death camps and the treatments of the Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and the deeply religious.

I guess I was a happy child. We had a Beagle hound called “Queenie.” Queenie had puppies in the middle of winter, and my dad carried bottles of hot water to the barn and covered the young dogs in straw and warm bottles. I was too young to help, but I remember the incident very well.

Later that year, another boy from the Newport neighborhood and I decided to give the puppies a bath. We were about three-and-a-half years old and did not know what we were doing. We wiped out about half of the litter. I guess the terribly young age of the two of us kept us from being severely punished.

When I learned I had been responsible for killing the little dogs, I cried for about a week.

There were always some animals around, a milk cow and a couple of young goats my dad had promised to keep for someone. One of them didn’t like me grabbing his young horns and pushed me up against a fence and began to pummel me. When I was asked about the incident, I said, “Damned old goat butt me.” The gravity of profanity and the wisdom of an almost 4-year-old who, curiously, knew how to make people laugh, kept the questions coming.

I never asked why, but the two goats ended up at my grandparents’ farm. I didn’t miss them, but I was asked about the incident many times after that, and I never did learn, or understand, people were asking about it to hear my mild profanity and explanation.

My father, like many Americans, knew war was going to happen, and he decided to leave his hometown of Newport and move my mother and me to Clinton. My mother had many sisters living there and Dad’s thinking was that if he had to go to war, it would be a good place for me, my mother and the child she was expecting sometime late in the summer of 1941. (That was my brother, Gary, who arrived on schedule.)

Up the street from my house in Clinton were two or three very large empty lots, and that area was an automatic playground for little kids. The Shannon family — father, mother and three boys — lived in the block north of me. One of the boys was my age, and we became fast friends. His name is Larry Shannon, and it was really fun to have someone my own age to play cowboys with but, later, war would become our favorite game. I’m happy to report Larry and I are still friends.

Those blocks of South Eighth, South Seventh, and South Sixth streets were full of children. In the empty lot behind the house across the street from where I lived was a makeshift baseball diamond, and since the automobile traffic was extremely slight, the street at adjacent places was almost always a playground. My dad was hitting flies and grounders to the wood-be baseball players, and other activity was going on as well. My mother took time to count the amount of kids in the street, yard and adjacent lot. She counted 28. There was no television, of course, but we had very little opportunity to be bored and to find ourselves with nothing to do.

So, this week of another birthday, I remember those youthful enterprises and fun times with fond memories, and I didn’t measure my friends by those who wrote to me on Facebook or some other device. Our counting was done by people who lived near to us and participated in the activities we conjured up. Happy Birthday to all of those who had a part in my growing up in the south end of Clinton.

 Ronn Mott, a longtime radio personality in Terre Haute, writes commentaries for the Tribune-Star. His pieces are published online Tuesday and Thursday on Tribstar.com, and in the print and online editions on Saturday.

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