by Roger M. Goetz
THE TALE OF TWO HOUSES
During the middle of May, 1948, we were in Ames, Iowa, because Iowa State College had offered a professorship to my father. For three days, my parents went house hunting. They looked and looked and couldn’t find anything they liked. Finally, though, they found a house they thought they would like to buy just west of the campus. It was in the general area of N. Hyland Avenue and Oakland Street and the asking price was $21,000.
Going up and down the stairs inside was enough for me: I didn’t like the house. And when I went back outside and looked around, I thought the neighborhood had a foreboding look about it. I felt quite uncomfortable about moving there. I can still remember the physical sensation my looking at the neighborhood gave me. It was akin to the discomfort of having your clothes dry out on your body after you’ve been caught in a light rain.
About a week later, Dad offered them $17,000, which was refused. On June 3, they heard that the house had sold for its asking price, so it was necessary to go house hunting again.
I was glad they didn’t get that house.
Dad headed to Ames on June 7 to house hunt, and the trip cost $32.24. Mom reported the results of that trip in her diary:
The only desirable one in the whole town was the Friedrich house [at 822 Ash Avenue] which we had seen in May, for $24,000 and hadn’t liked too well (cause we hadn’t looked at it carefully enough). Chas. offered them $22,000 on the 10th and the offer was accepted by telephone on the 14th, but [the house] won’t be available until Sept. 1st.
It has 4 bed rooms, 1½ baths, breakf[a]st room, den, screened porch, recreation room in basement, large living room, white woodwork – lot 75 x 175. In Glen Ellyn it would cost about $30,000.
When my parents bought the house, it came with tenants in the basement. The south half of the basement was a separate two-room apartment consisting of a bedroom-sitting room and a kitchen with eating area. In another part of the basement was their bathroom with a toilet, sink, and shower. This bathroom is not one of the 1½ baths mentioned above. There was an outside entrance to the basement which they had to use.
As long as we had tenants living there, we had to be careful not only to walk quietly, but to talk quietly so they wouldn’t hear what we said through the furnace vents. It was some years before my parents decided to stop renting it out, to the relief of the whole family. The tenants were an Iowa State student and wife, and later two Iowa State coeds. I think my folks needed the money because of the problems connected with selling the house in Glen Ellyn.
I shudder to think what would have happened if my father’s offer on the house west of campus had been accepted. My entire childhood would have been almost totally different. Fortunately we lived at 822 Ash Avenue.
About 1961, when I was a college student at Iowa State, I was over in that area going to see a friend and saw the house we didn’t get. I still felt a vague unease about that street. Weird!
The purchase of the Friedrich home took care of one matter: where to live in Ames. But there was a far more difficult matter ahead: selling the house in Glen Ellyn.
Mother’s financial journal listed some of the expenses involved in getting the house ready to sell (she marked all of them with an asterisk):
June 10 - Paint $1.00
June 12 - Paint and turpentine $2.90
June 12 - Plaster & sandpaper $0.87
June 17 - Paint $2.50
June 18 - Soil-off (a liquid cleaner for painted surfaces) $0.60
June 18 - Paint $5.12
June 19 - Paint and sealer $7.14
June 21 - Paint, sandpaper, plaster $4.14
June 22 - Paint $2.68
June 23 - Paint & brush $3.73
June 24 - Paint & brush $2.85
June 24 - Window shades $6.38
There is one other expense that must be related to getting the house ready for sale:
June 26 - Liniment $0.34
By the time the house was ready to put on the market, Dad would have used up most, if not all, of the supply of liniment on his sore muscles. I can almost smell it now.
Mom also described fixing up of our Glen Ellyn home to get it ready to sell:
About the eleventh [of July] or so, Charles started redecorating the house. First tried to patch cracks and then match the paint, but after a week decided to paint the whole room instead . . . .
In the very beginning Roger said, "Why don’t you paint the whole room. It’s easier." and that’s what he [Charles] ended up doing.
I helped him paint – mostly radiators, and we worked long and hard every day until 3 p.m. on June 25th. One night we got to bed at 3:45 and it was 1 and 2 more than once.
The 25th, Charles called the real estate people to look it over. Some said $22,500 and some $27 and 28, 000. After a week at 28, Chas. told them to lower it to $23,000 and 2000 for the lot we own adjacent to ours. 28 was unreasonably high. It may come down some more. About 9-10 parties have looked it over so far, but no offer.
Chuck missed most of this activity, for on June 16, he left for his annual two weeks at Phantom Lake Camp (YWCA) in Mukwonago, Wisconsin.
Mom had paid the registration fee of $2.00 on February 17 and the camp cost of $36.00 on June 4, of which $17.00 come of out of Chuck’s own pocket.
Regarding this, Mom wrote in her diary:
I gave him [Chuck] 4 cards so he could write us and he insisted on 11 because he was going to write every day. Hadn’t heard a word from him when we up for Visitor’s Day on the 27th [Sunday].
When we packed he said, "This year I’m going to keep my suitcase neat" and the first thing he said when we came was that his suit case was neat – and there was a reason – he hadn’t changed clothes except underwear once and daily socks.
He didn’t get along very well with his counselor and wanted to come home with us, but we made him stick it out, much as we wanted to take him with us.
I distinctly remember when Chuck got home from camp. Why? Because the very first thing he did when he came in the house was to tell me he’d missed me. And I’d missed him.
Soon, however, we would be missing our father, for he had to start work in Ames on Monday July 5. It would be a time of strain also for my mother as she further noted in her diary:
Yesterday [July 2] Charles took the 5 p.m. train to Ames, and I hope we can keep the yard looking nice while he’s gone. He’ll have to rent a room until we move out in Sept. and I feel sorry for him – also for me taking care of things alone for 2 months.
It turned out, however, that Mr. Friedrich had Dad stay with them at 822 Ash without having to pay rent.
A week after Dad left, I asked Mom for a dollar so I could go downtown and buy something. When I did this, as her diary entry dated July 9, 1948 - Friday recorded:
Chuck said – "Roger – we’re not as rich as we used to be. You shouldn’t squander money like that."
That comment took it’s toll on me. I knew that we would be moving to Ames before long, and I had this playing card collection.
Several of my friends and I collected them, not decks for playing games, but individual cards for the pictures and designs found on the back. Often similar pictures or themed pictures would come in sets of two or three cards. On the rare occasion we had a set of five similar cards it was like dying and going to heaven.
From time to time we would buy packets of different playing cards at the dime store and then trade them around whenever we got duplicates. Also, we kids sometimes went knocking from door to door to ask the people at home if they had any old playing cards they didn’t want. That supplemented our stash.
By this time I had a collection of about 800 different playing card backs stored in two or three Chicago Motor Club cigar boxes, but after Chuck’s remark, I decided it would be an unnecessary expense for my parents to move them with us to Ames. So about a month later, I gave them all away to friends.
When I got home, I told my mom what I’d done to save money.
"We’re not that poor!" she exclaimed. "We could have taken them with us."
I felt really bad at hearing that. I’d given away one of my most prized possessions for nothing. I considered trying to get them back but decided it would be impossible to separate my cards from their cards. Besides, I didn’t want to be labeled with the pejorative term "Indian giver" that kids back then were quick to hurl at one another with a sneer.
One other significant thing happened to me during that time as mother set forth in her diary entry dated July 14, 1948 - Wednesday:
I took Roger [by train] to Chicago to see Dr. [George] Pike who snipped the tissue that connects his [Roger’s] upper lip to the upper jaw. It came way down between his 2 front teeth and there’s a gap between the teeth which the dentists (Holmes and Pike) think result from the malgrowth of tissue. Put in 2 stitches – gave a local anaesthetic, and Roger was a very good boy.
I was very glad to have that $15.00 procedure done and pleased when the gap between my two front teeth disappeared.
From my perspective, however, Mom left out the two most important memories of this occasion. Both were connected with the trip home.
The first memory happened while we were sitting on the train waiting for it to pull out of the station: the train on our left began to creep slowly and silently forward. When that happens, your eyes play tricks on you and you think the train you’re sitting on is moving backward. At the same time, however, there is no physical feeling of movement, so you get butterflies in your stomach.
The other memory was that my mother started getting frantic that the train didn’t leave and didn’t leave. Why? By the time we finally pulled out, the three tissues the dentist’s office had given her to staunch the flow of my blood from the incision had become soaked and useless.
"They only gave me three tissues," Mom said with pain in her voice. "I wish they’d given me more." Then she got a fancy lady’s handkerchief out of her purse and gave it to me to use. It worked better than the rather flimsy tissues had.
As always, I enjoyed looking out the window when the train became an el as we called the train on an elevated railway.
By the time we pulled into the station in Glen Ellyn, Mom’s hanky was pretty much soaked. But at least the bleeding had stopped!
As a child, that train depot was an important place for me. It was only about six or seven blocks from our house, and my friend Gary Cook and I often entertained ourselves in the summer by going down there to watch the trains come in. The diesel engines were bigger and more impressive, but the steam engines were more fun to watch.
The next day, July 14, at 3:30 a.m. we got a phone call that Dad’s father, who had been in the hospital in Freeport, Illinois, since July 9, was sinking rapidly and that Dad’s brother Melvin, who lived in Milwaukee, and his brother Walter, who lived in Chicago, were leaving immediately to drive to Freeport. At 4:00 a.m. Mom called Dad to tell him. At 6:15 p.m. Uncle Walter was home and called Mom to report that he’d left Freeport four hours earlier because Grandpa was better. July 17, Grandpa went home from the hospital.
Thursday, July 29, Dad came home from Ames and the next day the four of us left on vacation to go visit my mother’s parents and sisters in Wisconsin, going by way of my father’s parents. We got home early evening on Monday, August 2.
Dad left for Ames on Tuesday, August 3, and Mom noted in her diary a few days later that "Chuck has been acting like [he’s] his own boss ever since. It gets me down."
Another strain was that the house in Glen Ellyn wasn’t selling, so Dad starting advertising the house in two publications:
August 16 - G. E. News $1.20 [Glen Ellyn News]
August 19 - Tribune $12.00 [Chicago Tribune]
August 19 - G. E. News $0.65
August 28 - G. E. News $0.65
August 30 - Tribune $15.00
Dad came home on Saturday, August 21, to stay until we moved to Ames on August 30. And the house still wasn’t sold.
The sale of the house is set forth in Mom’s diary entry dated November 17, 1948 - Wednesday:
Our house in Glen Ellyn is finally sold on a contract basis. $3500 down and $125 monthly from now until doomsday. It sold for $20,000. We’re in debt over our ears, having paid Friedrich $22,000 for this and didn’t get cash for ours.
One would have thought the tale of our two houses was now over, but it wasn’t.