In the Beginning

I grew up on the east side of Wichita, Kansas.  We were right outside of the City Limits and the view from my house was mostly the Beech Aircraft Plant number 1 on Central and the Beech parking lot that was right behind my house.  My daddy was in the Navy in WWII and I was a "Baby Boomer".  In my neighborhood, there was no shortage of kids to play with.  In fact, many of our ball games on the vacant lot up north had more kids in the outfield than most professional teams had on their roster.   We all went to Minneha and it was from kindergarten to the ninth grade when I attended there.  I guess the last three grades were technically Junior High but who even thinks about such things at the time.  We walked to school and so long as you got home before the 3:30 shift change you could do so mostly safely.  There were no old stupid dogs in my neighborhood.  If they ventured out between 6:30 and 7 AM or between 3:30 and 4 PM they died in the road.  That happened a lot...

The neighborhood I grew up in was called Travel Air City as it was built right before the war to house the expanding workforce for Beech Aircraft.  By the time I had grown up, it was known as Dog Patch after that Al Capp cartoon city.  I think that appellation stuck mostly because of all the Oakies and Arkies that settled there because of the cheap housing.  Someone tore down an apartment area called Beechwood and hauled the large buildings to my neighborhood.  It improved both areas.  A lot of the rest of my neighborhood was trailer courts and shacks.  At least a couple of years in my life I too was a part of the trailer trash as we lived in an 8X38 foot trailer when we moved back after Vietnam.  We were going to Wichita State University and in love so we didn't care much where we lived.

A lot of people don't remember who was their first friend.  I remember clearly that Harvey Blinn was one of the first guys I knew.  He lived two houses south of us on Byrd Street and I think our being friends was mostly because we were both from families where the girls out numbered the boys.  I think he had 5 or 6 sisters and I had two.  Harvey was a year older but I feel confident in saying that I was a bad influence on him in a lot of areas.  Harvey and I maintain a correspondence with each other even today and have had a chance to visit in the last year or so.  

One of the influences in my neighborhood was Minneha.  My Kindergarten teacher lived next door,  The Head Custodian lives across the street and there was a kid in about every grade that lived on my block.  There was a joke about a little frog there.  When someone would ask "Who Did That?" he would hop out and say, "Petty did it, Petty did it!"  Damned if he wasn't right more often than not.  I was a pretty intelligent kid that would probably be on Ritalin today.  My attention span on old ideas was short and there was no limit on new ideas for things to do.  I guess Harvey, Ronnie, Eugene, Denny L. and Wayne needed more to do to enliven their lives.  The Wichita Flash was there to help.  When my sisters started at Minneha, it was in a very small building at Central and Webb Road.  They expanded to a new building up Webb Road and had to build a new Elementary School because of all the kids born right after the war.  I think that it now has been absorbed into the Wichita School District now and even is a "Magnet" school what ever that is.

While there were a lot of people involved in the Education process in my neighborhood, there was also a lot of people that worked at Beech.  Most of the people that lived in out neighborhood may have started at Beech and walked to work, a lot of them moved to Cessna or Boeing for the money.  When they moved up, a lot of them moved out.  Not all, but many moved away from there and the neighborhood deteriorated with the arrival of poor folks from Oklahoma and Arkansas.  A lot of them seemed to be in the roofing business. The men would travel to places far away if there was a major storm and then draw unemployment all winter. Most of them left large families in the shacks and sent home what little money they didn't drink while in other cities.  

I can't even begin to tell you what sociological influences were the greatest on the kids where I lived.  I was almost 7 when we got our first TV and we were too poor to go to many movies.  I did listen to radio on those hot summer nights but I think I spent more time outside than anything else.  Because of the lights in the Beech parking lot, our yard was lit up and we played outside a lot during the summer.  Kick the can, hide and go seek and just mischief kep us busy most of the time.  I don't remember being bored a lot as we always found someone to play with or something to do.

I don't remember when I got my first bike, but I do know that we all had one.  We were like a gang of bikers riding the darnedest collection  of old iron anywhere.  We roamed the neighborhood and often rode the roads way north of our homes.  I can remember riding one time at least 5 miles north of our neighborhood and having to dip my front wheel in the water in a ditch because there was no grease in the bearings and it got so hot it darned near froze up.  When we got home the bearings fell out and we never did find enough to make that wheel work again.  

I guess I want to share with you that even if we were poor, we were rich in friendships and blessed to attend a school where a good education could be had even if it was by osmosis mostly.  For me, my salvation was one of the best libraries ever.  I could go in there and find books that took me all over the world.  I traveled every battlefield in the Civil War and WWI.  Those places I didn't read about in WWII were places we were taken by the war stories of our fathers.



1 comment:

  1. It's too bad kids today don't have the freedom to play outside like we did. I can recall being gone all day, but had to be home by sun down!
    Good post, stirred some memories of my own childhood.