Some of the photos in this album are “originals” from the year that my family spent in Omaha in 1955-56. But the final 10 color photos were taken nearly 40 years later, as part of some research that I was doing for a novel called Do-Overs, the beginning of which can be found here on my website
Before I get into the details, let me make a strong request — if you’re looking at these photos, and if you are getting any enjoyment at all of this brief look at some mundane Americana from 60+ years ago: find a similar episode in your own life, and write it down. Gather the pictures, clean them up, and upload them somewhere on the Internet where they can be found. Trust me: there will come a day when the only person on the planet who actually experienced those events is you. Your own memories may be fuzzy and incomplete; but they will be invaluable to your friends and family members, and to many generations of your descendants.
So, what do I remember about the year that I spent in Omaha? Not much at the moment, though I’m sure more details will occur to me in the days to come — and I’ll add them to these notes, along with additional photos that I’m tweaking and editing now.
I attended the last couple months of 6th grade, and all of 7th grade, in one school. My parents moved from Omaha to Long Island, NY in the spring of my 7th grade school year; but unlike previous years, they made arrangements for me to stay with a neighbor’s family, so that I could finish the school year before joining them in New York.
Our dog, Blackie, traveled with us from our previous home in Riverside, and was with us until my parents left Omaha for New York; at that point, they gave him to some other family. For some reason, this had almost no impact on me. It was a case of “out of sight, out of mind” — when Blackie was gone, I spent my final three months in Omaha without ever thinking about him again.
Most days, I rode my bike to school; but Omaha was the place where one of my sisters first started attending first grade — in the same school where I was attending 6th grade. I remember walking her to school along Bellevue Avenue on the first morning, which seemed to take forever: it was about a mile away.
As noted in a previous Flickr album about my year in Riverside, I was a year younger than my classmates; but I was tall for my age, and thus looked “normal” at a quick glance. But because I was a year younger, I was incredibly shy and awkward in the presence of girls. Omaha was certainly not “sin city,” but by 6th grade and 7th grade, puberty was beginning to hit, and the girls had grown to the point where they were occasionally interested in boys. The school tried to accommodate this social development by teaching us the square dance (and forbidding the playing of songs by Elvis Presley, whose music was just beginning to be heard on the radio). I was an awful dancer, and even more of a shy misfit than my classmates; I continue to be an awful dancer today.
My bike ride to school was uneventful most days; but the final part of the ride was a steep downhill stretch on Avery Road, lasting three or four blocks. My friends and I usually raced downhill as fast as we could; but one day, my front bicycle wheel began to wobble on the downhill run, and my bike drifted uncontrollably to the side of the road and then off into a ditch. I got banged up pretty badly.
But this accident was nothing compared to my worst mishap: a neighborhood friend and I enjoyed playing “cowboys and Indians” in the woods near his home (and his younger brother usually tagged along). I had a bow and a few arrows for our adventure, and we often shot at trees a hundred feet away. Unfortunately, the arrows often disappeared into the underbrush (because we were lousy shots) and were difficult to find. Consequently, one of us came up with the clever idea of standing behind the “target” tree, so that we could see where the randomly-shot arrows landed. Through a series of miscommunications, I poked my head out from behind the tree just as my friend shot one of the arrows … and it skipped off the side of the tree and into my face, impaling itself into my cheek bone about an inch below my eye. An inch higher, and I would not be typing these words … (meanwhile, my friend’s younger brother grew up to be an officer in the U.S. Air Force, and he tracked me down on the Internet, decades later).
In the summer of 1956, my parents decided to spend their summer vacation prospecting for uranium (seriously!) in the remote hills of eastern Utah, where my dad had grown up on the Utah-Colorado border. This entailed a long, long drive from Omaha; and it involved leaving me and my two sisters with my grandparents near Vernal, UT. My grandparents lived in a very small mining village outside of Vernal; and while they had electricity and various other modern conveniences, they also had an outhouse in the back yard. Trips to the “bathroom” in the middle of the night were quite an adventure. On the way back to Omaha at the end of this vacation trip (with no uranium ore having been found), we stopped for a couple of days of camping somewhere in the mountains of Colorado; you’ll see a couple of photos from that camping trip in this album.
There were no lizards in Omaha, and thus no opportunity for lizard-hunting with my slingshot—which had been a significant hobby in my previous homes in Riverside and Roswell. Indeed, there was almost nothing to shoot at … and I couldn’t find anyone with whom I could play (and hopefully win) marbles, to use as slingshot ammunition. But for reasons I never questioned or investigated (but about which I’m very curious now), there was a small vineyard in the field behind our house, and I was able to climb over the fence and retrieve dozens of small, hard, green grapes. They turned out to be excellent ammunition … but I never did find any lizards.
A few months before my parents left for New York, I told them about the latest craze sweeping the neighborhood: “English bikes,” with three speeds, thin tires, and hand-brakes. I desperately wanted one, but Dad said it was far too expensive for him to buy as a frivolous gift for me: at the time, English bikes had an outrageous price tag of . I was told that I would have to earn the money myself if I wanted one … and the going rate for young, scrawny kids who shoveled sidewalks, pulled weeds from gardens, and did babysitting chores, was 25 cents per hour. That works out to 100 hours of work … but I did it, over the course of the next few months, and when I got to New York, the first thing I did was buy my English bike.
Toward the end of my 7th-grade school year, everyone in my class was subjected to a vision test: we were lined up in alphabetical order, and one-by-one read off a series of letters that we could barely see on a large placard taped onto the classroom blackboard. Because my surname starts with a “Y,” I was usually near the end of the line … and by the time I got to the front, I had usually memorized the letters (because they never bothered to change them, from one student to the next) without even realizing it consciously. But on this particular occasion in 7th grade, for some reason, they decided to line us up in reverse alphabetical order … and I was the first in line. For the first time in my life, I realized that I could not see anything of the letters, and that I was woefully near-sighted. When I got to New York, my parents took me to an optometrist to get my first set of glasses (and, yes, all of the neighborhood kids did begin taunting me immediately: “Four eyes! Four eyes!”) … and I’ve worn glasses ever since.
Three years after I arrived in New York, the glasses saved my vision when a home-brewed mix of gunpowder and powdered aluminum blew up in my face in the school chemistry lab (where I had an after-school volunteer job as a “lab assistant”). I suffered 2nd-degree burns on my face from the explosion, but the glasses protected my eyes. That, however, is a different story for a different time.