Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Prequel to my checkered photography career

Random image: Light The Night Walk,
Corporate Woods.

Random image: Dilapidated Joplin,
Missouri Santa Fe depot.

Random Image: Grandson Jacob Krafft in school per-

Random image: Old Sears store on the Country Club
Plaza, Christmas 1960

Country Club Plaza holiday lights.

Not a user-friendly winter has this been for Kansas Citians.

Imagine spending it in a car...


I never saw my dad until I was six years old. He was "in for the duration" of World War II, attached to an Army Air Corps unit in the South Pacific.

I lived with mom, grandma Miller and uncle Roy Miller (yes, I was named after him) on Spruce Street on KC's east side, and every night we would gather 'round the RCA table radio listening to reports of the war from Edward R. Murrow in London, punctuated with the deep baritone chimes of Big Ben in the background. We never knew exactly which small island my dad was on at any given moment. When we would hear of a "fierce jungle battle" or "planes shot down" over some tiny atoll whose name we had never heard before, we held our collective breaths.

But, like all wars this one too was finally over. Dad (a stranger to me, really) returned. For years thereafter this extended family still lived together, getting our lives back.

Then one day an old army buddy of dad's wrote with a business proposition: "Come to Michigan and help me build boats for all this post-war demand. We'll get rich!" Seemed like a good idea at the time, so mom and dad invested their meager savings in this venture, and away we went to Three Rivers Michigan.

Actually, we lived in a tiny cabin on a lake about 25 miles from Three Rivers. There were long fishing docks and boat launching jetties that extended out over the crystal clear water. The water was so clear, so clean in those days that I could shine my Ray-O-Vac flashlight into the depths at night and watch huge Muskies swimming about. That two years we were there was the only time in my life I ever gained weight. It was an outdoor paradise for an eight-year-old and all I did in the sweet summer months was fish, chase butterflies and explore the surrounding woods. And eat. Winter was a different story of course. We had to stock up on everything, laying in at least a two weeks supply from Three Rivers. The road to town was not much of one and the snow plow only came by every so often.

At length, the boat business went belly-up, so we packed all our worldly possessions into the 1939 Dodge and headed back to Kansas City.

It was a bad idea to come home, as it turned out, but probably the best of the alternatives at hand.

We arrived in Kansas City just in time for the tail end of the 1950 flood. Old timers will recall that there were two major floods back then: The one most remembered, and most severe, in 1951, and the one not so well publicized, in 1950.

We had no money. Dad had no job. Mom never worked outside the home and never drove.

So we took up residence in the car in Swope Park. I can pinpoint the exact location of our street camping days: On Gregory, 1,000 yards from the Union Pacific tracks.

Different world back then. No fear of getting caught in a crossfire between two rival gangs or a drug deal gone bad. In fact, the police actually watched over us.

There was no help available from the Red Cross or Salvation Army. All of their resources were stretched to the limit helping flood victims. Just when we thought we might get a break come spring, the 1951 flood hit.

The first part of that summer the temperature did not get above 85 degrees. It was dark, grey, sullen, and drizzled a lot.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but things were desperate. As a kid, it began as kind of a great adventure for me. Oh, it was inconvenient having to walk a few hundred feet to the public restroom and using the creek for a wash tub was a hassle, but overall it seemed, well, rather fun. At first.

The full realization of our plight hit me the day that we had to split a hot dog three ways for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

My dad finally got a job at a filling station on Troost. The building still stands and is sort of a maintenance shed for the University of Missouri at Kansas City. The bad part was, we did not have the money to get an apartment, so mom and I had to stay in the car all day, parked around the corner and out of sight of the owner. Later in the summer the weather turned hot and humid and I had what I now know was heat prostration several times.

This too passed, and eventually we were living once again with the extended family, with three additions. My uncle had married for the second time, so his wife Mary, her girl Cherie and their dog Blackie joined us all in a shotgun house at 1935 North Valley in Kansas City, Kansas. The street featured one of the steepest hills I had ever seen, a dream sledding spot, but really, really tough to peddle to the top in spring and summer.

When I got my own dog (who was constantly being harassed by Blackie), I wanted to take some pictures of him. I received a Baby Brownie camera for Christmas and shot a bunch of rolls of my little fuzzy, treasure pup that I named Spec.

One day I was rushing out of the house to ride my bike to the corner drug store to take my film in for processing. My uncle looked up from reading his newspaper and said "You know, you can process that film yourself."

Screech! Stopped in my tracks. What! I can actually perform this magical process myself? I was amazed, astounded and asked for an Eastman Kodak Tri-Chem processing kit for Christmas. My uncle Roy gave it to me.

Thus began my checkered photography career...

Epilogue: I did not learn for many, many years the reason we did not go to live with
grandma and grandpa Inman in Kansas City after our return from Michigan.

Grandma and mom did not get on well, to put it gently. They hated each other in fact.
Early on, long before the return from Michigan when we lived with grandma and grandpa briefly, she and mom got into an intense
argument which resulted in grandma hitting mom in the back of the head with an iron.

Pretty scary stuff for a kid to watch.

Mom carried the scar the rest of her life. I think that grandma probably did too...

1 comment:

  1. Roy, great reading as usual. Hollywood made a movie about Arthur (Usher) Fellig and his more or less living in a car. Well at least he had a darkroom in his trunk! You know him as Weegee.
    Have you got a screenplay in the works yet? If your successful with the screenplay, I don't want to play you, Johnny Depp would be better, but I will take a cut for the idea! Dale M.