The Beat Goes On

I was not there on that night when Emma’s knees finally buckled. Agnes said that she fought it hard—she held on for dear life—as she slowly slid to the floor.


When the ordeal was over, Emma moved in with my mother and Agnes. Her ex-husband cut out for California.


The slumlord who owned our sagging Third Street tenement raised our rent. My grandparents searched and searched for another place to live. Eventually, they landed an arrangement that was good for them.


A few blocks east of our tenement area was a friendly old neighborhood of ‘morning’ houses, vacant lots, flats and small apartment houses. My grandparents took on the job of managing and handling the upkeep of two separate four-unit buildings in the neighborhood—in return for a two-bedroom flat, rent free. My
grandmother did the managing—collecting rents. My grandfather did the upkeep and maintenance. The location was Southeast 15th and Salmon. And I was delighted. I happily shared the second bedroom with some storage boxes.

Next to our building was a large vacant lot heavy with undergrowth and two old walnut trees, still standing. It was a great place for kids to climb trees or to play “Cowboy and Indians” or “Cops and Robbers.” (Same game. You stalk the other guy with your “rubber gun.”)


In the new neighborhood, I soon learned that every kid above a certain age owned a “rubber gun.” You had to make your own. That was part of the mystique. Some were ornately carved and decorated.

The way you made one of these toy weapons was simple. Pick up a piece of scrap wood, about three- quarters inch thick. Cut out or whittle the outline of an old western long-barreled pistol. Carve a notch in the end of the barrel. Tape a clothes pin on the back of the slanted pistol grip handle. That was it.

Ammunition for this wicked, single-shot weapon came from worn out inner tubes. (In the days before tubeless tires, old blown-out inner tubes were easy to find.)

I cut an inner tube into half-inch bands. Huge, thick rubber bands. I loaded the gun by hooking a band into the notch at the end of the barrel, stretching the rubber back over the edge of the handle and inserting the band into the grip of the clothespin. At that point, the clothes pin would hold it tight until I squeezed my hand. Then— Snap! Zing! Away it would go, a good, straight 15-20 feet. Sometimes more.

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