East Side Misadventures
An essay collection of boyhood memories from Depression- and WWII-era Madison
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The Purloined Egg
Kenny was the biggest kid in my eighth grade class and he chased me home every night. Being big, he was slow and I, being small, was fast and Kenny never caught me. Finally he gave up trying and we became friends. Kenny lived with his mother, stepfather and stepbrother and, with the exception of the dinner table, he came last in the family.
The Teasak girls lived next door to Kenny on Williamson Street and I lived about six blocks away on Northern Court. Rose Mary was a big girl, teased and tormented in school but a big help to her mother, Sal, in the restaurant. Her sister, Ruby, was as outgoing and brassy as Rose Mary was shy.
Kenny and I and the gang hung out at Sal’s until she got busy and kicked us out, then we headed down to the basement where we peeled potatoes and played the jukebox. The mechanics rigged the jukebox in the basement so we could trip the lever and play songs without depositing a nickel.
One night as I left I grabbed a couple of hardboiled eggs on my way up the stairs. I cracked the first one as I reached the sidewalk and to my chagrin it wasn’t hardboiled at all. It was raw and broke all over my shoes. Sergeant McCartney rode by on his three-wheeler Harley Davidson servi-car motorcycle and told us to go home. Sergeant McCartney was a smart-aleck cop who was always harassing us. He turned the corner and drove east on Williamson Street. I stepped out in the street and lofted the remaining egg in the air east on Williamson. It seemed to take forever for the egg to complete its graceful arc. When it landed, it was with a splat squarely on the back of Sergeant McCartney’s neck. I was transfixed. I couldn’t believe I hit him.
Everyone scattered to the four winds while I just stood there watching McCartney turn his motorcycle around and head back toward me. When I came to my senses, I bolted down Few Street. As I said, I was fast, but I knew I couldn’t outrun a three-wheeled motorcycle so I headed for the boxcars at the lumbermen’s supply. I lost the good sergeant in a few shimmies up one car and down another.
A few days later, I went up the alley between Main and Williamson to see my friend Kenny. I found him pinned to the partition between the garage doors by his 1931 Chevrolet Cabriolet Coupe, which he had recently bought from Ruby’s grandmother. Kenny was in obvious agony. The bumper of the car had pinned his left leg to the jamb and he couldn’t get enough leverage to push the car away. I got in the car, put in the clutch and it rolled backward. Kenny leaned painfully against the fender and explained what happened. His half-brother, Muggsey (then nine years old), was told to keep his foot off the clutch and the car lurched forward, trapping Kenny. Muggsey was afraid he would get yelled at, so he took off, leaving poor Kenny.
Standing south, Kenny’s left leg pointed east so I knew we were in trouble. Kenny didn’t want his mother to know about it so he asked me to drive him to Dr. Shieb’s office on Atwood Avenue. I did, but every bump or tar line in the road made Kenny grimace. I helped him into the waiting room and Dr. Schieb’s nurse let out a gasp. She said he had to go to the hospital and called an ambulance. I rode along for the thrill of it and we raced to Wisconsin General on University Avenue. Kenny’s mother was called. She told him that he always got in trouble when he hung around with me. I left and took a bus back to Dr. Schieb’s office to pick up the car.
It was a beautiful July afternoon, so I decided to take the car for a little spin around the Square. At this point I should tell you that I was fourteen years old and although I had been driving for a year or so, I had no license. I saw Ruby and Rose Mary and stopped to say hi. Ruby wanted to go for a ride, so she piled in the front seat, leaving the rumble seat for Rose Mary.
We drove around the Square a few times with the windows down, enjoying the warm afternoon. As we headed east on East Washington, who did we pull up behind but Sergeant McCartney. I pulled over and he started writing tickets before I even got out of the car. He said one ticket was for expired license plates (the car had been in storage for three years), and one was for no operator’s license. He then made a big mistake. He said he should give me another ticket for having such ugly girlfriends.
With that, Ruby was out of the car and in his face, and saying something like, “There are a lot of girls uglier than we are!” and generally reading him the riot act. Rose Mary had gotten out of the rumble seat and backed away from the confrontation until the motorcycle stopped her retreat. I got Ruby away from Sergeant McCartney before we got in real trouble, collected my tickets and the three of us started walking home. After about twenty yards I looked back and Sergeant McCartney was looking on the ground and patting his pockets. I then looked at big, shy Rose Mary. She was beaming with a huge grin on her face while tossing up and down the keys to a Harley Davidson three-wheeled motorcycle. We turned the corner and took off in a dead run.
My grandson was born in July about forty-five years later. Ruby called me that day and said that Rose Mary had died and she wanted me to come to the wake. A strange request since I had long ago lost track of them. I went to a Catholic church in Richland Center and Ruby took me up to Rose Mary’s casket. She looked peaceful and shy, hands clasping her rosary beads. Then Ruby signaled me to lean close—and handed me a worn set of a Harley Davidson three-wheeled servi-car motorcycle keys.
“I found them in Rose Mary’s purse,” she said.
Ron Hoppmann’s stories are part of a memoir he’s written with writing coach Sarah White of First Person Productions. Hoppmann was born on Madison’s east side in 1934 and attended Marquette Elementary and East High. He spent three years on active duty in the Marine Corps, attended college in Colorado, and owned Bord & Stol furniture in Madison. Hoppmann, a father of three and grandfather of nine, can often be found swapping stories at C’s Diner or the Hubbard Avenue Diner in Middleton.
Sarah White writes about the journey of writing a memoir in her blog From Memory to Memoir.