This is part two of a two part series. You can read part 1, The Farewell Tour, here.
In the summer of 2018, I returned to my home town for a high school class reunion, not really realizing at the time I was embarking upon a personal Farewell Tour. What was supposed to be a simple event became more – a combination of an emotional reunion with the past and ripping a bandage off of a wound.
Highs and lows – tears shed, both happy and sad.
Reflection is a knife that cuts both ways, and deep.
I left the class reunion early the night before. That’s the beauty of having an informal event. You can leave when you want to and it’s not awkward.
Sunday morning in the hotel, I woke to see the mist hanging over the field in the sunrise and remembered where I was. I was anxious to leave, given that I was facing hours looking through a windshield on the road.
But I had unfinished business beckoning first.
I decided that I wanted to, no, needed to, drive by the old places I knew.
Correction – had known. Because I no longer knew them.
Change happens slowly, but after decades of cumulative change, a great deal is different. Eventually, nothing even looks familiar.
I also knew, in my heart, that this was my last trip. This was goodbye.
That’s why I had to take this final drive.
My life in Kokomo was broken into chapters.
I am omitting the chapter that actually caused my departure. Suffice it to say that it involved intimidation, abuse, violence, blood, guns, police and courts. A monster, pure evil incarnate. That location, individual and events are not reflected in this narrative at all. I have no desire to relive those terrible memories or to allow them the power of any space in my psyche.
I fully understand people who won’t, or can’t, talk about traumatic events or wartime atrocities.
What I will say is that I’m incredibly grateful for my mile-wide spit-fire stubborn streak.
It saved my life, and that of my children.
I knew I had to leave for safer realms, regardless of the cost – and I did.
I proudly view my wounds as battle scars. Witness to survival.
HE. DID. NOT. BREAK. ME.
My entire life in Kokomo up to that time had been preparing me for that life-altering day. That fork in the road moment.
I was being molded, shaped into what I would become.
Mom moved to Kokomo with Dad when I was quite young, before my first birthday.
Kokomo was named for an Indian, some say a chief, named Co Co Mo. The old Indian cemetery was known to have been located on the north side of Wildcat Creek between Washington and Union, right where the railroad tracks have been embedded for decades, extending from the old railroad bridge down the center of what is now Buckeye Street.
Chief Kokomo was reburied a few blocks further east within a decade of his death when a sawmill was being constructed where the old Indian cemetery once stood. We don’t actually know for sure that Kokomo was moved, but he was reported to tower above other Indians, being 7 feet tall, and a body of that description was first marveled at, then reburied in a cemetery now behind Memorial Gym.
By 1868, the train tracks had already replaced the sawmill, apparently, where the old Indian Cemetery once stood. At that time, Buckeye was aptly called Railroad Street.
This 1868 map of Kokomo shows the old Normal School where Central School would be build in 1898, standing tall and new between Sycamore, High (now Superior), Market and LaFountain (now Apperson Way.)
Part of the Old Pioneer cemetery shown at the bend of the Wildcat Creek subsequently washed away in floods and another portion was encroached upon by the football field. According to Kokomo history, the graves in the Old Pioneer Cemetery were reburied in Crown Point Cemetery in the 1870s. Who knows where Chief Kokomo, Kokomo’s namesake, really is.
Like so many other Indian villages, the Miamis were gone shortly after the settlers arrived and overtook their lands.
David Foster, Kokomo’s founder, when asked why he named Kokomo, Kokomo, said, “It was the orneriest town on earth, so I named it for the orneriest man I knew – – called it Kokomo.”
Well, now, that explains a LOT!
Legends of Chief Kokomo, assuming he actually existed, range from being a kind chief to a shiftless, lazy, alcoholic wifebeater. You can read about him, here.
Today, a monument honoring Kokomo is located in the Old Pioneer Cemetery, on a dead-end street behind the gym, in one of the oldest parts of town where his remains were ostensibly reburied.
It’s there that my history in Kokomo begins.
I found a picture of Mom holding me, standing at the monument to Chief Kokomo, dated June of 1957. Mom is wearing a winter coat, so this photo was clearly developed in June, but taken earlier.
I can’t believe Mom is carrying me and wearing heels. My feet hurt just looking at her.
This photo makes me wonder if this was when Mom and Dad first moved to Kokomo and they were out seeing the sights, becoming familiar with their new hometown. They rented an apartment on Apperson Way, just 3 or 4 blocks away.
Dad was always connected to his Native heritage. He attended and participated in powwows, even though they were illegal at the time, prohibited by law. In fact, powwows were illegal until the American Indian Religious Freedom Act took effect in 1978.
I remember attending powwows held along Wildcat Creek west of town with Dad when I was quite young. Dad gravitated to any essence of Nativeness. Mom had a picture of him in Native regalia someplace in the south when they were dating, apparently having danced. I’m not surprised that he found this monument, although it isn’t well-known or visible without actually knowing where to look.
Given that this was the first place in Kokomo documented in my life, I felt I needed to include it on my Farewell Tour. Somehow that seemed fitting. I was glad to see that it, along with other settlers’ graves have been preserved and cared for more appropriately than in earlier times.
Mom and I lived in two apartments in Kokomo before we bought a house after my grandfather’s death in 1962.
Our first apartment was located just a few blocks from the Pioneer Cemetery.
I have vague memories of living on the first floor of a 2-story house that stood across the alley from this vacant lot on Apperson Way between Mulberry and Walnut Streets.
I remember climbing into the bathtub with my shoes on, standing in about 3 inches of water, and not knowing what to do. That’s my first memory.
Mom looked amused and laughed, so I knew I wasn’t in trouble.
I remember waking up and standing in my crib, holding on to the wooden sides, looking at Mom and Dad sleeping. They didn’t sleep much longer:)
The train tracks ran nearby, and we heard the “choo-choo” often, with clock-like regularity.
I recall hearing the sirens the day Dad was in an accident, too. Mom somehow knew something was wrong. I remember that she was afraid and then being held awfully tight as we were driven to the hospital in the police car.
It was at the hospital that day, as my father lay unconscious in an oxygen tent, teetering on the edge of death, that another woman with a child walked into the hospital room looking for her husband too.
Then, those two women discovered that my father was the husband of both women, and the father of both children, born 5 months apart.
It’s nothing short of a miracle that they didn’t kill him on the spot.
His heart was evidently in pretty good shape, because he didn’t die of heart failure either.
Dad with Ellen and David either in late 1955 or 1956.
Dad with me in about 1956.
Not only was my father out of work for months due to being badly injured, my father and mother’s relationship abruptly ended at this point.
Dad was a passenger in the automobile accident, according to the newspaper, sailing through the windshield. Seat belts didn’t yet exist. Afterwards, and after Mom booted him, his life-long drinking problem got worse. He went home to Ellen in Chicago.
It’s somehow ironic that Mom rode to the hospital in the police car fearful of losing her husband to death, and she lost him alright, but not at all in a way she could ever have imagined. If the accident was a surprise, I’m betting the “other” woman was an even bigger shock. At the end of that life-changing day, I’m guessing Mom had no idea what had just hit her and rolled over her life like a run-away freight-train.
Somehow life moved on. It had to. She had me to take care of.
Mom found a job as a bookkeeper at Mid-States Electric and soon, we moved to a new apartment.
Apartment at Mulberry and Webster
Just Mom and I moved a few blocks away to an apartment in a large house owned by Mrs. Crume.
Divorce at that time, as well as being a single mother carried its own level of stigma. As a single mother, I think Mom felt safe there. Privacy, but someone in the same house and close by, if needed. A door connected our apartments and was always unlocked. Renting from an attentive, watchful widow lady reduced the chances of wagging tongues about an attractive single woman.
Mrs. Crume became a second grandmother, of sorts, especially after my grandmother died in January of 1960.
My poor Mom, when it rains, it pours.
First losing her husband in a terribly humiliating way, rife with betrayal, and then her mother died.
Mrs. Crume had grandchildren my age and I loved living there with built-in playmates.
This yellow house stands on the corner of Taylor and Webster. Our entrance was the covered porch on the side, looking much the same then as it does today, except painted white.
Today, the street is paved, but at that time, Webster Street, on the side of the house, was brick and one way going to the right.
I can’t tell you how many skinned knees I had from roller-skating.
There used to be hedges along the sidewalk. I played house with my dolls in the gaps between the bushes.
I must have been about 3.
I pushed my dolls up and down the sidewalk in the baby carriage that I received for my 4th birthday.
I remember this particular doll. She may still reside in the attic, having taken up residence in the grandkids toy box at Mom’s for decades. My kids played with her. Someone used an ink pen to give her eye liner.
I particularly like these pictures because while Dad isn’t in the photo itself, his shadow as the photographer is clearly visible. That mirrored my life with him after he and mother split. A shadowy never-there but never-entirely-gone either presence.
They both loved me, but their relationship was clearly in the past, although it wasn’t for lack of my father trying. He would occasionally arrive late in the day, hoping to spend the night. Sometimes he did – on the couch. I don’t think that’s at all what he had in mind.
Four years later, in August 1963, Dad would be gone from this earth forever.
I stirred up mud pies with my doll dishes in the tiny hidden space between the steps and the house.
I also had a little halter for my pet chameleon. The halter and leash got pinned to a chameleon-sized pillow and I took the chameleon with his pillow outside to keep me company while I made mud pies.
My life was NOT dull!
I was crushed when my chameleon died.
Sometimes Mom and I “camped out” on the couch in the living room and had picnics on the floor. My son now owns that comforter. Mom and I recovered and retied the comforter when I was a teen. Mom complained about having to stay home from a date to recover it with her mother when SHE was a teen.
Mom made many of our clothes. I was so proud of this matching mother-daughter outfit. We made them together. I’m sure I was a BIG help.
Mom and I shared a bedroom which was above the porch roof and I was ABSOLUTELY POSITIVE I heard Santa and his reindeer on the roof!
With my discovery of the tree the next morning, decorated with ornaments and colorful lights, I had sure and certain EVIDENCE that Santa indeed HAD in fact been on the roof😊
Not only did Santa deliver and decorate our Christmas tree, he found us again on Christmas Eve night.
Me after running downstairs on Christmas morning in my too-big Native bathrobe with mother’s bathrobe belt. Yep, Santa had been there all right!
This was the house where we lived when I started elementary school – 1st grade at Lincoln School. Kindergarten was only available in private schools. We certainly didn’t have the money for that.
By this time, Dad and I had been attending powwows on the riverbanks, far from prying eyes, for several years. There, my hair was braided and tied with leather braid-ties, and I learned to “dance” in the Native way. I wore a beaded belt and a fringed, hand-made leather jacket of sorts.
Powwows were special because it meant I got to spend time exclusively with Dad during times when he visited. Mom stayed home. Dad nipped on a flask slipped into his pocket much of the time.
I didn’t know what was in that flask, and I didn’t care. I loved powwows – the music, singing and drums along the riverbank – and loved going to them with Dad! Those secret powwows spoke to a secret life, unknown elsewhere. The people at the powwow knew things that other people didn’t. I was at home among my people – no questions, no judgement, always welcomed with open arms.
I proudly proclaimed to my teacher at school that I was part Indian. Keep in mind that this was before the 1964 Civil Rights Act that prohibited segregation. Separate was not equal, and never was.
Concerned, the teacher called my mother and told her that she needed to stop me from telling people that I was mixed-race. Indian was not “white” and there were laws about such things.
Mom took me outside and showed me the sign planted in the grass between the sidewalk and curb beside our apartment. She asked me if I knew what it said. Thinking I was quite smart, I said yes, “No parking.”
She read me the words, slowly, one at a time, and they said, “Colored people not allowed.”
She explained that if I continued to tell people that I was part Indian, that we would have to move and I would not be able to go to Lincoln School anymore.
I could tell from Mom’s demeanor that this was very serious.
I didn’t understand.
I remember asking why, and how Mom struggled to answer.
I also remember crying and being told I couldn’t talk about going to powwows with Dad either, because powwows were “against the rules.” So was dancing.
I was devastated and terribly confused. Why was Dad doing something “against the rules?” I had to mind the rules. Why did Mom let me go to something against the rules? And why were powwows against the rules anyway? No one answered my questions.
Mom didn’t think I should go to powwows after that. Dad insisted.
I didn’t talk about that anymore – for many years.
I was old enough to know something was wrong, but not exactly what that something was, or how.
While the yellow house was rather traditional, some of the other houses in the neighborhood were anything but.
I loved this house cattycorner across the street then, and still do.
It’s not in great shape anymore. I always thought the top looked like a witch’s hat, but I wasn’t frightened. I think I began my love affair with architecture and turrets right here.
This building across the street and down a few doors was the “old folks’ home” at the time. Note the slide fire escape, still in existence from the upper level in the rear.
I used to cross the street by myself, looking both way first, of course, and visit with the residents. They loved that. Now I realize that not many had family and I never saw visitors. These elderly people were being “warehoused until death.”
I often colored pictures in my coloring book and took them as gifts. I would go back to discover my artwork taped to the walls beside the residents’ beds. I was thrilled!
One day I told the nurse that I had no more pages in my coloring book, and the next time I visited, she miraculously had found a HUGE new coloring book, plus new crayons too. At that time, I didn’t understand the depth of her kindness.
With what seemed an unlimited supply of crayons and pages to be colored, I became a coloring-machine, mixing my own colors and being mindful of the lines! Sometimes I colored the backgrounds too and experimented with layers of color, scratching through the top layer.
Then one day the inevitable happened. I went to visit one of my favorite grandpas, and the bed was empty…
My grandmother had died in January of 1960 and my grandfather in June of 1962. At Christmas, Mom became a homeowner and we moved on Christmas Eve! No pressure that year for Santa😊
Mom assured me that he would find us, but I wasn’t convinced.
Somehow, he came through!
Merry Christmas, Sycamore Street
We only moved about three and a half blocks away, but then, it seemed quite distant.
The house on Sycamore Street, originally built in 1925, looks amazingly like it did then.
The house was divided into two apartments. Part of the reason Mom bought this particular property was so we would have income from one apartment to help pay the mortgage. Our entrance was on the side and we lived upstairs.
The best part? I had my own bedroom!
Our house shared a driveway with the huge brick house next door that had a ballroom on the third floor. I’ve always wondered if our house was the gardener or servants’ quarters, but it was too nice for that, and too close too.
Digging around in the photo collection as well as at the County Assessor’s office and at Newspapers.com, I pieced together events that formed our neighborhood.
In either 1865 (newspaper) or 1875 (assessor’s office,) Robert Haskett, a bootmaker and businessman in Kokomo build the stunning 3 story house next door to the east. The map, above, shows this portion of Kokomo on a map dated 1868, and the house on Sycamore doesn’t yet exist.
This 1877 map shows the Haskett land, outlot 12. It’s interesting to note that David Foster still owned a substantial amount of land on the larger map, and that “New London and Kokomo Pike” was a tollroad with a bridge someplace in what is today Foster Park. Kokomo Pike became Park Avenue that intersects with Defenbaugh.
Apparently at one time people tried to build and live on land that eventually became Foster Park. Kokomo had a devastating flood in March of 1913 where Wildcat Creek came within 10 feet of the railroad bridge, threatening to wash it away, and expanded to nearly a mile wide. I’d wager that if homes were built in Lowe’s Addition, on Fremont and Rose Streets, they were permanently abandoned at that time.
The old Haskett mansion at 524 West Sycamore has two floors that total 3390 square feet, and the third floor ballroom, now considered attic apparently, would have been half of that again. When I lived next door, the ballroom had been abandoned for years, looking like guests just walked out after the last New Year’s Eve gala, shut the door and it wasn’t opened again for half a century.
Today, the mansion, as I used to think of it, is taxed at a value of almost a quarter million dollars, where our old house next door is taxed at $82,000. Of course, our house is half the size and not nearly as fancy. I’m not sure I’ve seen actual curved glass windows since. The Haskett home was truly magnificent.
Robert Haskett and his heirs died, and the mansion along with its property was sold out of the family, then subdivided. Orchards covered most of the land between Sycamore and Walnut and on west where our house and others would eventually be built.
Property tax records indicate that our house today has a total of 1566 square feet, 1 fireplace, 4 bedrooms and 2 baths. It was built in 1926, has 8 rooms total and stands on .129 acres. Apparently, the upstairs fireplace has been walled up, because there were two fireplaces when we lived there.
According to the Historical Society and home assessment records, this was the first house built when the Haskett property was initially subdivided.
Ironically, currently our house and the Haskett house next door are once again owned by the same people.
My bedroom was the window on the second floor to the right of the front porch roof. There were functional fireplaces in the front of the house, both upper and lower – clearly before central heat.
There used to be stately maple trees in the front and side yards.
Today, the pine tree in the rear, probably about roof height when I lived there, soars above the house, and the maple trees are gone.
The maple tree on the left side came crashing down on top of the house in the devastating 1965 Palm Sunday Tornado. I remember Mom grabbing me by the hair, which was the closest thing she could get ahold of, and literally dragging me down two flights of steps to the basement.
I walked up the hill in the driveway to knock on the door and see if anyone was home. I didn’t know what I was going to say, but it didn’t matter, because they weren’t.
There used to be a garage in the rear where a concrete parking area is today, at left, with another unsheltered parking space at right.
My freshman home-room class constructed our homecoming float on a farm wagon for the parade made from colored Kleenex stuck into chicken wire in that garage. I can’t remember what it was, but we had a lot of fun making it.
We were terrified that it would rain.
Where the white lattice fence stands today at the rear of the property used to be a concrete block wall separating our driveway from the neighbors to the rear.
The concrete block chimney was added at some point for the furnace, a boiler when we lived there. Our radiators clanked and Mom was always afraid the boiler would explode.
The door, arched roof and trellises look exactly the same today. And I do mean exactly. It’s difficult to believe they haven’t been replaced since we bought this property 56 years ago. I’m not positive they’ve been painted since Mom sold it 47 years ago.
Lilly’s of the Valley grew in the flower bed below the trellises along with the rose bushes I bought Mom at Woolworths one Mother’s Day. I wonder if any of those plants remain.
Even the unusual lock appears to be the same on the door. Where’s my old key???
I wonder how many people have lived here since Mom sold the house in 1972.
The little window above the inaccessible decorative balcony was my closet, which also housed the door to the attic.
Today, this home is in the Old Silk Stocking historic district, as it should be.
In 1972, when Mom married my stepfather, she sold this house and we moved to the farm.
Across the street. Saying goodbye. Forever this time.
The Sieberling Mansion
Down the street a few blocks the old Siebering Mansion, build in 1887, is now the Howard County Historical Museum.
The stately Sieberling Mansion declined for years due in part to exorbitant maintenance costs. Now, it’s beautiful again and is stunningly decorated for the holidays. I can’t find a copyright-free photo, but just google “Sieberling Mansion Kokomo Christmas decorations.”
Mom and I used to drive the old mansion neighborhood during the holidays, enjoying the display every Christmas season. It seemed like the residents had an implied competition to see whose home could be decorated the most beautifully.
As a child, looking out from behind frosty car windows into the inky night as we slowly inched along the crunchy snow-crusted streets, the colored lights outlining these mansions took on a magical other-worldly quality.
Best of all, that entertainment was free and something I looked forward to every year.
Oh, the innocent joys of childhood.
Lincoln School Years
I spent my elementary years at stately Lincoln School.
Each year, we would graduate to the next grade, and move from one room to another. By third grade, we graduated to “upstairs” classrooms.
There was no room for a cafeteria in that old building, so we all walked home, ate lunch, then back again. Occasionally we would have lunch with our friends at their houses. That was a special treat.
Sometimes we would hold hands with our friends, swinging our arms, as we walked each other home.
Today, the new Lincoln School looks very different. You’ll excuse me if I say it lacks character😊
Every student looked forward to 4th grade where the entire school was caught up in the spring-time spelling bee competition and festivities which crowned the royal court of the best spellers.
Yep, that’s me bottom right, wearing white dress gloves, looking extremely self-conscious and not exactly knowing what to do with myself. I was in the spelling court. I still remember the word that was my downfall. I forgot to say “capital I” when spelling the easy word, I’ll.
The court members were all my friends of course, but my special, brilliant friend, Marianne was crowned the queen – in the center behind me.
Marianne is the friend buried in the Crown Point Cemetery. She passed away on my birthday. Unaware, I dropped into her Mom’s house the morning of her death, and directly into a scenario straight out of hell.
Marianne and her sister, Linda, were my best friends for many years growing up. I don’t ever remember not knowing them.
We neighborhood girls used to have slumber parties. This is Marianne putting on makeup and drying her hair (yes, that’s what that thing is) sitting at Mom’s vanity.
The Larsen’s lived just over on Walnut street. The area above the garage in the rear was a “playhouse” for the kids. That was our favorite place for slumber parties because it was so spacious.
The neighborhood seemed huge at the time, but in reality, it was only a block or so wide and 3 or 4 block long.
I was too young to walk home from Lincoln School and stay after school by myself, so I had a babysitter, “Mrs. Cooksey” aka “Cookie,” a widow who lived across the street from the school in the house below.
I loved Cookie. We had fun and she let me push the old lawn mower from time to time, probably because if I was behind it pushing, there was no possibility that I could get my appendages into the blades and hurt myself. It made a fun whirring noise. She didn’t think mowing was nearly as much fun as I did.
We picked dandelion greens, cleaned, cooked and ate them.
Cookie also had a wringer washer in the basement and I was allowed to help turn the crank too. What fun!
That machine looked a lot like this one, below, except her tub was white metal.
The water drained onto the concrete floor, discolored from years of washwater, and we used a straw broom to sweep the hot, soapy bubbling water into the drain. I made a game of that, seeing if I could sweep all of the bubbles into the drain😊
How do you make chores alluring to a child? Make them fun, of course.
I was terribly sad when Cookie eventually went to work at the hospital. I stopped by to see her for years. She came to see me when I nearly died of meningitis at that hospital when I was 10.
As I got a little older, I did stay alone after school, but Mom wasn’t cracked up about that all day in the summer.
For some reason, the older I got, the more she didn’t want me staying alone. Imagine that!
Mrs. Jones lived in this house. She had a son a couple years older than me, Jimmy, and Jimmy had a friend, Tony. And well….you get the idea. Tony was my boyfriend for quite some time in high school. He left to become a preacher. I went to Europe. Sound like a country song? Tony wrote and sang country songs too.
Jimmy had a band, The Barons, who practiced in Mrs. Jones’ basement. That woman had the patience of a saint.
Suffice it to say that I absolutely LOVED going to Mrs. Jones’ house. The entertainment there was infinitesimally more interesting than lawn mowers and washing machines.
Walking from home to either Lincoln School, or later Pettit Park or Lafayette Park Schools in middle school, I had to walk past a little neighborhood convenience store called Chuck’s Pantry.
It was owned by…Chuck…of course.
I loved that little neighborhood store. Sometimes Mom would send me on an errand there – usually to buy a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk. Chuck knew all the neighborhood kids, and we all knew exactly how much each and every candy bar cost.
Amazingly though, whatever pennies we had in our change was always enough for a candy bar!
Chuck’s never seemed large, but it looks even tinier today. The grey addition to the left, behind the truck, didn’t exist originally.
Kokomo had a public swimming pool, but an entrance fee was required.
The Reservoir, located 4 or 5 miles east of town, was free.
On hot summer evenings, Mom and drove to the Reservoir, parked along the road and with lots of other overheated folks, splashed and played in the water. There were no lifeguards. That’s Mom in the black suit and me with the pigtails.
There’s little resemblance today. No swimming is allowed now.
There weren’t guard rails then either.
The Reservoir is the Kokomo water supply, created by a dam across Wildcat Creek which also helps to control the worst of the flooding.
My Dad used to take me fishing along the dam.
I’m actually amazed that my mother allowed playing on the rocks in front of the dam. Given that she didn’t fish, I’d wager she didn’t know until afterwards when the photos were developed. Fishing was an activity I got to do with Dad alone – cherished memories today.
I drove past the dam site and it bears little resemblance to yesteryear.
The only place I can actually see the dam itself is through the trees from the bridge.
I might also mention that various locations at the Reservoir were favorite parking places for teenage couples. And for patrolling police. It wasn’t unusual to find yourself staring into a blinding flashlight, not that I’d know from personal experience of course😊
I’m guessing some things never change.
Walking to School
In 7th and 8th grades, I attended Pettit Park and Lafayette Park Schools, respectively, for one year each. Both were long walks from home.
Given that the kids who had attended those schools during elementary school had already established relationships and a social hierarchy, those of us transferring in from Lincoln School (to Petit Park) and Petit Park (to Lafayette Park) were landing in uncharted waters.
I didn’t attend either school long enough to establish much of a connection, but the next 4 years would be spent downtown at Kokomo High School. All students who went to KHS transferred from another school, and there were several, so high school was the great equalizer. The playing field was once again level, which is another way of saying that everything was in flux and opportunities were everyplace just for the plucking. At least, that was my perspective.
A new crop of both friends, and boys.
New friends, classes that could be selected, clubs, special interests, sports – you name it. Middle school was in many ways an extension of elementary school where there was little choice for personal expansion. High school by comparison was a smorgasbord – the last stop on our journey to becoming adults.
Of course, that was the whole reason for the class reunion – we left walking across a stage and carrying diplomas.
I passed the same landmarks every day for those 4 formative years.
There were no school buses. We walked to and from school, about half a mile for me, regardless of the weather. Heat, snow, rain; it didn’t matter.
There were two ways to walk, either through the center of town along Sycamore Street, past the courthouse, shown below, or one block to the south, along Superior Street.
The courthouse build in 1937 and many of the same buildings are still there, with new businesses as residents of course.
The Woolsworths store is gone, but I loved that place. The grey building above at right bears no resemblance to the Woolsworths of yesteryear, with its huge plate glass windows that were painted jovially with Christmas and holiday scenes by high school students each winter.
Woolworths stocked items I could actually afford. Many of Mom’s gifts came from there, including a parakeet that “she” wanted. At least according to me, she wanted a parakeet.
Looking south along Buckeye, above, the old train tracks ran down the center of the street, crossing Wildcat Creek in the distance.
We always had to be careful not to turn our ankles crossing the tracks. They were still in use back then.
Walking a block south along Buckeye, to Superior Street, where Buckeye ends today, we can see the bridge. These train tracks were laid where a sawmill once stood, and that was constructed over the old Indian cemetery.
Looking north from the intersection of Superior and Buckeye, above, the tracks run through downtown a few blocks to the depot where the class reunion was held.
The buildings along Superior walking east toward the high school are mostly gone now, morphed into parking lots. Absolutely nothing, other than the train tracks, looks familiar.
As students, we ate lunch in the mom and pop places that used to line the storefronts along Superior.
Around the corner on Union, Finn’s Camera and Drug Shop, of all places, was a favorite offering grilled sandwiches, flavored Cokes and frozen candy bars. Amazingly, Bob Fenn, the proprietor could do math in his head.
Coneys and grills that couldn’t accommodate very many students at once dotted the downtown landscape, but somehow dealt with the noon rush. Two separate lunch “hours” in which students had to leave, eat and be back for the next class within 55 minutes.
The high school did have a cafeteria, but not many students ate there. Those with cars drove elsewhere, along restaurant row on Markland mostly. Burger King, home of the then-new Whopper and Whaler sandwiches was always a favorite. The guys loved the, “It takes two hands to handle a whopper,” jingle, smiling smugly at their private joke, while the girls collectively rolled their eyes and laughed nervously, if at all.
The old Armstrong Landon Building, rebuilt in 1923 after a fire burned the original, still sports its exterior fire escape. At 6 stories, it remains the tallest building in Kokomo. The building occupies the full quarter block of Main and Sycamore. Until the building was demolished where the parking lot is today, the back of the Armstrong Landon Building wasn’t visible from Superior.
Looking at an aerial photo, I think about half of downtown Kokomo is now parking lots. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing or a good thing, but it’s definitely different.
In many places, new buildings have sprung up with lovely art and murals documenting Kokomo’s history.
As we walk down Sycamore, in another block, we’ll be in front of Kokomo High School.
The approach only looks slightly familiar, like a long-ago vague reminder of someplace I once was.
On the right, a newer building has been added, with the original technical education building (woodworking and shop) set back further to the rear, near Wildcat Creek.
Slightly further on the right, the main building stands, but from this persepective, it’s hidden behind the trees.
I created this layout of the campus of both yesterday and today.
The old Central School which had been repurposed for the high school is gone, replaced by a parking lot, as you can see above.
Perhaps the greatest of ironies is this photo though. Across from the school, off of school property but as close as humanly possible, used to be a row of buildings. I have no idea what was IN those buildings, because that was pretty much irrelevant. One might have been a pool hall. The sign swinging from the brick building on the corner from rusty hinges read Katz Korner, I think.
It was on that corner that the rebel boys hung out. Think James Dean and Fonzie. Yep, rebels all, they stood there and SMOKED. Cigarettes of course, nothing else. Those boys were often referred to as “hoods,” although I’m not sure why. It was supposed to be a disparaging moniker, but it didn’t keep the girls who walked by in clusters, on the OTHER side of the street of course, a respectable distance away, from glancing furtively across the street, pretending they weren’t in the LEAST interested.
Those unruly bad-boy males on the “tough” corner struttin’ their stuff were both very interesting and tantalizingly dangerous. It’s like they had gone over to the dark side, but the dark side was very much a curiosity.
Cigarettes were only “naughty” but anything else would have been illegal. Which brings me to the ironic part – the parking lot that has replaced those buildings belongs to the KPD, Kokomo Police Department, whose headquarters are in the brick building.
I got a good chuckle out of this.
Karma strikes again!
Kokomo High School
The front of the original KHS building looks much the same, although this building was obsoleted as a high school years ago. It’s now named Central Middle School, but make no mistake, this is not the original Central School that stood across the street.
Inside, the stairs were wood, and we ran up and down the 3 stories like they were nothing. Lockers lined the hallways. Students had 8 minutes between classes to get to their locker, switch out their books and be seated in the next class before the bell.
And we made it, too, almost every time.
Otherwise, you got sent to the office for being tardy.
These were also the stairs where we girls made a stand in order to be allowed to wear pants, as in slacks, especially in the winter. Before that was allowed, we had to wear skirts or dresses and hose. Who remembers garter belts?
Sorry guys, these were miserable.
Keep in mind that we walked to and from school every day, often a mile or more and this was before the days of pantyhose which would at least have helped a little with warmth.
Bottom line, the old-school school administrators felt that dresses were more respectable than pants. I mean, only rabble-rousing females would EVER wear pants – right??? But we were cold and miserable – and I was very proudly a rabble rouser.
I’m sure this confession stuns all of my readers.
“Someone” started a rumor that the girls weren’t going to be wearing panties on a specific day, which of course means garter belts, hose and nothing else. The boys clustered excitedly around the bottom of all of the stairs, waiting for, then twisting their their necks nearly in a knot to watch the females climb the steps.
I remember by boyfriend, Don, saying to me, “You’re REALLY NOT going to do that, are you?”
I gave his class ring back.
Whether we did, or didn’t, wear panties that day, is irrelevant. We clutched our skirts close to us so that the boys couldn’t see (as if they could have anyway,) which had the intended effect.
In an amazing change of policy, that has nothing to do with the protest, of course, the girls were quickly allowed to wear pants, but only in bad weather…and NOT jeans. Of course, that was a slippery slope and by the time I was a senior, pants, especially bell bottoms were VERY COOL!!! Skirts and dresses were a thing of the past.
However, my name with school administration from that day forth was officially “mud.” It’s probably in my “permanent record” along with a list of my further transgressions, most of which make me extremely proud.
If I had a graduation picture, I would proudly photoshop “mud” on my forehead and post it here.
Across Apperson Way from the main building stood the gymnasium.
Standing on what remains of the old Central School steps, I spy Memorial Gym across the street beckoning like an old inviting friend.
It was here that graduation took place.
Let’s just say that graduation was a battle for me as were activities leading up to graduation.
I was an (ahem) unconventional, noncompliant student😊
Among other things, I wanted to take an advanced placement college prep course. My male counselor whose approval I needed declined the request, saying, “We’re not going to waste a perfectly good AP seat on a girl. You’re just going to graduate, get married and go to work at Delco. We’re saving those seats for boys who are going to actually do something with their lives.”
He might as well have waved a red flag in front of a bull.
Hell hath no fury…
The dean wouldn’t listed to reason. My mother wouldn’t take me, so I walked to the school board meeting…and spoke.
The board was patronizing and said they would “see about things.”
I stood firm and said I was not going away until they decided, and I refused to sit down.
I was shaking and alone, but stood absolutely still, firmly rooted, unflinching, at the podium. I had to hold the sides to keep them from seeing that I was shaking and terrified. I was on the verge of tears, from nerves, and I was afraid I was going to be permanently expelled.
I was beginning to wonder what I had done. What was I thinking? More to the point, what was I to do next?
No one blinked.
I knew my goose was cooked. But since that goose was already in the oven, no need to stop now…
I noticed that a reporter from the Tribune newspaper was sitting nearby, taking notes, and seemed interested. I ever-so-slightly waved at them with 2 fingers, not letting go of the podium, and smiled just a bit.
She was the only even slightly friendly face.
The reporter moved a few seats closer, watching intently.
The board members glanced up and noticed.
I got my seat in that class, I’m sure because that path was much easier than dealing with a female malcontent who refused to leave or sit down. Still, I can’t help but wonder how many females didn’t and became discouraged.
That condescending, discriminatory attitude and resulting restrictions became a self-fulfilling prophecy for generations of females and minorities.
Females were SUPPOSED to, expected to, graduate and get married and go to work in the factory at Delco. We were NOT supposed to want to pursue a college education unless we wanted to be teachers, or nurses. Those traditional female occupations were OK, but NOT engineers or anything that competed with males. Heaven forbid.
Furthermore, I missed part of a semester due to health issues but completed all of my requirements with outstanding grades. In fact, I graduated near the top of my class.
The administration did NOT want me to “walk” with my graduation class because of my absence, suggesting instead that I attend the “night graduation” for those who had been disgraced into going to night school. Like, you know, girls who had gotten pregnant and were not allowed to attend school with the rest of us because they might pollute us with their lack of morality. (Sarcasm.)
I flat out refused.
I was not allowed to order a cap and gown. That was fine, I said, because I would simply walk in my street clothes – specifically, blue jeans and a rather tight-fitting tank top. I was good with that.
Another battle was brewing.
Apparently, Indiana University had an entirely different opinion of my worthiness – because as if a magic wand had been waved, when the high school was notified by letter that I was receiving an academic scholarship from Indiana University, one of only two awarded – I was suddenly allowed to participate in the graduation ceremony.
As the graduates names were called, their scholarships were announced. It might have been my imagination, but there was a pregnant pause just before my name.
Then it was my turn to walk.
All I can say is that I proudly strutted across that stage, head held very high, waved to my family in the stands, accepted my diploma from officials who were absolutely NOT smiling, reached out to shake each of their hands whether they wanted to or not, including the school board members who assuredly remembered me, smiled by best, brightest smile at them, said “thank you,” and proudly walked off the stage holding my diploma in the air.
Like I said, I’m absolutely positive “mud” is my official name.
Suffice it to say, I not only won the battle, I won the war.
These weren’t my only battles with the administration at KHS, but the ones of which I’m proudest. I hope in some small way they paved the path for others who followed.
Literally, no one, not even my mother supported me, and I was utterly terrified.
My mother’s favorite saying to me was always, “If you would just behave.”
I didn’t and couldn’t. Thank goodness.
I doubt she thinks that any more😊
Of course, while graduation was the pinnacle of our years at KHS, most of our time spent in Memorial Gym was for sports or gym class.
Basketball games were played inside, with football outside, behind and to the right on the old Kautz field.
The student cheer block, also known as yell block, consisted of coordinated dressing in red and blue with white gloves, cheering and yelling. We practiced in the gym and executed our synchronized “yells,” directed by the cheerleaders, during games when we cheered wildly for our hometown team, the Kokomo WildKats.
The football field was located by Wildcat Creek that ran behind the school and is gone now – only the track and one set of bleachers remaining. The official high school is now Haworth, the “new school” built south of town back in the 1970s.
Kokomo High School, as we knew it, is no more.
The old Central School building, built in 1898 stood across from the main KHS building and housed fun classes, like art and debate, for example.
I loved art, although I wasn’t fond of my overly-attentive teacher. I still have one of my leaf pencil drawings.
The Central School floors were well worn wooden planks, as were the stairs and everything had an echo quality.
Only steps to a parking lot where the school used to stand remain today.
I walked into the parking lot, and noticed something VERY interesting through the trees.
What is that?
Why, it looks like a Fairy House???
The Fairy Houses
We did NOT have Fairy Houses when I lived in Kokomo. Two exist today and they look like they emerged directly from a storybook. They are amazing!!!
Believe it or not, this is a convenience store named Storybook Express with a drive-thru and it’s stunningly beautiful. Can you believe those words together in one sentence?
I want to live in this version of a hobbit house!
Standing in the parking lot, a lovely garden and statue grace the corner.
Manetoowa, honoring the spirit of the Native Miami people.
The perennial garden surrounding the statue is luscious. A time capsule rests beneath the statue itself.
This is amazing!
Oh gosh, look at the cute little chimney, behind the statue.
Even the “fence” by the street is incredible!
I bet that’s Kokomo Opalescent Glass, too.
Looking across the street, I notice the old YWCA building where I spent many Saturday mornings as a child. In elementary school, I “helped out,” checking skates in and out so that I could attend the Saturday morning activities for a reduced rate. The Y had trampolines and crafts and best of all, swimming. Not to mention a pop machine with cream soda. Soft drinks were something we couldn’t afford, but part of my “pay” was one soft drink every Saturday.
The high school didn’t have a pool, so students swam at the Y – walking, or rather, running the block back and forth with wet hair that froze stiff in the winter, and YES, we still made our 8-minute class switch!
There’s one more Fairy House in Kokomo as well.
This one on Markland was for sale and I’m not even going to show you what they did to it.
Tying Up Loose Ends
About the time I graduated from high school, Mom married my wonderful stepfather, sold our house in Kokomo and moved to the farm. I adored both him and the farm, writing about him here and here, and my wonderful memories of the farm, here.
I did not visit the farm during my Farewell Tour. I said my goodbyes there years ago. The house burned after Dad died and Mom moved to town. Like with this journey to Kokomo, I knew that my last trip to the farm was indeed my last visit ever. “Home” is not there anymore.
Having driven the length and breadth of Kokomo for two days, I had visited just about every place that held poignant memories for me, other than the chapter I omitted – except one.
The house on Mulberry Street at the corner of Indiana.
I didn’t want to, but I needed to return one last time.
My heart started pounding the inside of my chest as I drove down those streets lost in memory.
The House on Mulberry Street
Perhaps I should say where the house on Mulberry Street once stood.
If I close my eyes, I can still see it – standing in its stately grandeur. Stained glass windows restored after being found long-buried beneath the attic floor. A beautiful wooden spiral staircase climbing gracefully inside the front entryway bathed in rainbow light from the colorful windows. The wooden banister rubbed smooth from thousands of hands over a century.
Today, this is the view.
The townhouse apartments across the street look almost exactly like they did back then.
I remember the old woman who had lived there seemingly forever warning me just before we bought the property about the rumor that the house was jinxed. “Haunted actually,” she said. “Cursed.”
Finally, taking me into her confidence, wide-eyed, she revealed the dark secret. That no one ever left there married. Ever.
We shouldn’t buy it, she warned, or we wouldn’t either.
Her story revealed that one man, long in the past, had locked his supposedly insane wife away in the attic, a hostage, and she cursed both him and marriage.
I smiled, and while I appreciated her grandmotherly concern, I thought those stories were amusing. I was glad my house, which was approaching her century birthday, had character.
I wondered about the attic though, especially when we were working on the restoration.
The elderly neighbor died shortly thereafter, but I thought of her words often as I found odd things buried there – and in the basement, under the floors, slid in-between the walls and under the insulation that was added decades later.
“Our” corner stands vacant now, memorialized only by the garden where the tree and sidewalk to the front door once stood.
Today, these keys, found in the walls, resurrected into ornaments, are all that’s left.
This grand lady was the first house I ever owned. My husband and I bought it because it had so much potential. Translated – it needed a whole lot of work and we could afford the property.
We were convinced that we could do anything.
We were was young and starry-eyed in love. We had vision and a plan for the future.
We would restore our house, raise our family and finish law school.
We would live happily-ever-after.
We worked towards our dreams which were slowly becoming reality. Long hours at work and school along with laboring on the house were paying off.
We could see the finished product through the hours, days and long weeks of back-aching work as we transformed this neglected gem into a much-loved beauty.
We found old newspapers and packages secreted in the walls, along with a very steep hidden stairway secreted in the rear of the house – barely wide enough for one person. Is it possible that those stories were true after all? Something wasn’t “normal,” that’s for sure.
But walls weren’t talking. And our friend was dead.
We kept on working, and working, and working. Restorations of old houses are never “finished.” Take my word for this.
I turned the corner and pulled my Jeep up in front of the property which looks very different today.
I can’t see where the house once stood. Thankfully, it’s shielded from my eyes by the newly planted trees between the sidewalk and Mulberry Street.
However, this small walkway from the street used to lead to the steps that led to the house on the other side of the sidewalk that’s no longer there.
Now, I just see a chilling reminder of a life and hope snuffed out – the walk that leads to no place.
Or maybe to another time.
To the days of wooden banisters and falling asleep in his arms in front the fire crackling in the winter fireplace.
Those long-lost days.
I pulled down the alley to see if I could get a better view from the back. The neighbors bought the lot after the house was no longer there and built a garage. Today a flag waves over children’s playground equipment.
My husband would have been proud that the American flag flies on this land – he was a veteran – a special ops Green Beret in Vietnam.
After I returned home, I brought myself to look at Google maps where I can still see the footprint of the foundation of the house that once stood there. Of course, eventually the basement was filled in and the rubble removed, but the scar upon the earth and seared into my soul still remains.
I wish I hadn’t looked.
I want to remember the beautiful memory garden instead.
I cannot tell you more about this chapter of my life – because I simply cannot.
I will write about this one day, if I can, but that day is not today.
The pain is still palpable and raw. In all these years, I’ve never been back. Never stood here. Never weeped.
When mother and I drove to town, we went out of our way to avoid not only this street, but the surrounding blocks as well. No words were ever spoken – sometimes just silence and tears as we glanced in this direction, then away quickly again, pretending like we hadn’t.
One of us would bite our lip. Neither of us would say anything. We didn’t look at each other, because that would have been to acknowledge something we both were trying desperately not to.
Just look in the other direction and drive straight away.
“I think it might rain,” someone muttered.
I must admit, she and I both wondered if that story about haunting and being cursed was true. If so, that spell was broken, because now all that’s left of that house and that life is a void.
It was all I could do to muster the courage to drive by after all these years – because it meant reliving that devastatingly heartbreaking chapter of my life. Pulling the bandage off the still-bleeding wound. Allowing myself to feel. Praying I wasn’t sucked into the vortex.
I knew this was my last visit, forever, and I needed closure. I needed to say goodbye. I never really got to say that before.
Finding phlox growing along the fence in a beautiful perennial garden that looks exactly like the phlox my Dad grew on the farm is soothing to me. I’m glad the current owners restored beauty, albeit differently.
It was like my Dad was reaching out to me over the years to comfort me – yet again.
It was my Dad’s quiet, steady voice that was able to reach me through the horrible fog all those years ago when my life was scorched to the bare earth and the husband I loved was ripped from my life.
I tried to rebuild my life in Kokomo, but it became increasingly obvious that I needed to leave. I was going to say, “for better opportunities elsewhere,” but the simple truth is I just needed put the past behind me so that I, we, my children and I, could build a future without ghosts that could not live and would not rest.
US 31 connects Kokomo, known for years as “Stop Light City,” to the outside world. What was once a bypass became a congested road lined by factories, businesses and malls. Those of us who lived there didn’t think much of it.
Today, there’s a bypass around the bypass, but I elected to drive 31 once again. After I moved away, it was 31 that brought me home again – and now, it would be 31 with its no-longer-familiar businesses upon which I would take my final exit.
My life had changed. I slowly morphed into a new creature. I think of an injured caterpillar that spun itself into a protective cocoon, then eventually hatched into a new creature, a butterfly.
I spread my wings and flew away.
Kokomo too has changed. Now that my folks are gone and I have no relatives there, there’s nothing in Kokomo to lure me back again. Nothing remains for me now.
For my family, Kokomo was a stop along life’s bumpy road where I lived for a quarter century and Mom for twice that long.
I wasn’t born there, but spent many years unconsciously honing the strength and skills I would need to survive, and then to leave. The strongest steel is forged from the hottest fire.
The best part for Mom and me, both, was the peaceful time on the farm with my stepfather. For her, a salvation. For me, a hiatus. God only graced me with Dad for a few years, but his quiet strength and peaceful presence remains with me wherever on this earth I journey.
Neither Mom nor I left family in Kokomo, so it’s not a place that will be cherished as a “heritage” location by our descendants. There’s no reason for them to return either.
As far as descendants are concerned, that’s the very best part of what I took with me.
Together, we crafted our future.