March 6th, 2012

GROWING UP ON THE WEST SIDE

I am sure everyone remembers their formative years.  The town or city we grow up in is a big part of those formative years.  Most of my “growing up years” were here in Cimarron Kansas.  Over the years I have seen our local kids highly recruited by many large companies all over the United States.  I have been told that work ethic expected in this area is much different than many other areas of the country.  We are raised to not only work, but to show up for work and do our job as well as possible.  That is not always the case in workers from other areas.  

My family was very poor when I was young, living on the west side of Cimarron.  I think that growing up poor in Cimarron is much different than growing up poor in a large City.  At the same time, growing up rich in Cimarron would also be much different than a large City.  I also believe that very few ever felt they were rich, even if they were.  I could be mistaken, but I would also bet that no one in our small town goes to bed at night without having eaten at least enough to wake up the next morning not starving to death.  I certainly hope that is true.  Do I think that some have a lot less than others?  Of course I do.      

We have always heard terms related to different areas of a town; the wrong side of the tracks, snob hill, uptown and downtown, just to name a few.  As we grow up we “settle” to our own level of comfort or we try to attain a level that is more than likely higher than we “belong”.   I do not like the term “settle” in this case, but as youngsters, we don’t really think about the term, even if we are familiar with it.

As such, kids are really kind of ignorant to the concept of different levels, or of levels they should or should not try to attain.  For the most part, just as for adults, they gravitate towards the kind of people they feel the most comfortable with and enjoy being around.  Now I am not completely stupid and realize that many cannot achieve acceptance to certain groups they may lean towards, but that is part of growing up and part of life in general.  Get over it.

On the west side of Cimarron, and I am only familiar with the north side of the tracks and just a few blocks north of the highway, there really wasn’t a group that was considered unobtainable, or a group that we avoided.  We were of different ages, but all pretty much the same type of kids. 

I remember many names as I grew up.  Dick and Janet (?) Benton, Bill Koehn, Doug, Pepper and Rod Sears, Jim, Jerry and Don Whitaker, Denis Wallace, Scooter (Marvin), Bill and Doodle (Jim) Kramer, Bud, Mike and Karen O’Grady, Wes and Connie Koehn, Greg, Mark, Scott and Suzanne Nicolet, Carl and Margaret McKitrick, Mark Rohrbuagh, Tom and Dennis Tuggle, Bob Hilliard, Mary and Gene Benton, Delaine Jantz, and of course Tom, Pete and Joetta Thomas, to name those I can remember right now.  I know I am forgetting some and I apologize for that.

Some of the guys were as rough and tough as you could ever imagine.  There were many times that we circled our wagons and had rock fights.  Not small rocks; big rocks that could knock you out if you took one in the wrong place.  We always chose up sides and you knew there were certain ones that you hoped would be on your team.

One of the best was Bill Kramer who later became the Gray Co. Sheriff.  Bill was a great athlete.  He could punt a football a mile, but what I remember most was his accuracy when throwing a rock.  He only missed when he wanted to.  You always wanted to be on the good side of Bill just in case you ended up on the other team.  Don’t get me wrong.  Bill was very easy to like and I always considered Bill a good friend.

The older boys were the official trainers for us younger ones.  When it was time to learn how to ride a bike, they took the task into their own hands.  I don’t know if you recall the small bikes that had no brakes called pedal bikes, but that is what was used in teaching us to ride.  The older guys would tie two ropes on the handle bars and pull you fast down the “one block long” streets we lived on, and would whip you towards the highway.  Not having brakes put a different spin on the ordeal.  If you hadn’t mastered learning to ride, or if you hadn’t wrecked yet, you just laid the bike over on its side before you ended up on the highway.

Snow was always an event that we all looked forward to.  Tuggle’s hill was so steep that the City outlawed us from using it for sledding.  As such, we had to use the smaller hill a block west of the stop lights.  Speed was always the key to a good ride, but we had nothing at the end of the street to stop us.  In later years they would put up hay bale barricades.  You had to use your toes to stop your ride before you entered the highway, or like the pedal bikes, lay yourself and the sled over to the side.  I have told the story many times of one of us not getting stopped and going under a semi-truck going through town.  I don’t recall who it was, and to be honest, I am not sure if it was even true.  It may have been one of those tales that was told enough times that it eventually it became a fact.  If anyone reading this knows more about this, please let me know.

Fights did happen on the west side.  I remember seeing fist fights that would come down the street and back up the street, blood scattered on the sidewalks along the way.  We would have to watch from the house.  Dick Benton’s dad (Myron?) had been a golden glove boxer at one time.  He did not like the fighting on the streets so he set up a boxing ring in his basement.  Everyone was given lessons on defensive boxing at one time or another.  I have had a few experiences since then where I wish I had listened to his instructions a little better.  He did know his stuff.

The Soule canal ran along the north side of our homes, just a block north of the highway.  The canal had a bank on the south side that held in the water when the canal was being used.  We called the canal “The Ditch Bank”.  The north side of the ditch bank was our favorite territory for exploration.  We had Blue point, red point, yellow point and the dug-outs.  Eventually, there was a dam built north of the ditch bank with a waterway that runs through the golf course.  That took out a couple of our “points” and the completion of the new golf course took the rest away except the dug-outs.  The dug-outs eventually went away as they expanded the fairgrounds.

When it rained hard, water would run west down the ditch and would dump out on the highway right at the city limits.  We would ride the water as far as we could and had a ball doing so.  It was a lot of fun but very dangerous.  I would venture to say that if a parent allowed this to happen today, they would be in big trouble with the law.   

The Wallace back yard was our football field.  It was a pretty tough field to play on.  The kickoff always went to the north towards the ditch bank.  There was a wire clothesline just at the bottom of the bank.  We played tackle football so you had to run hard both on offense and defense.  Coming down the ditch bank gave you a chance to really pick up speed.  I remember Bill Koehn receiving a kickoff early one evening, right at dusk.  He started running as hard as he could but forgot about the clothesline.  We knew the meaning of being clothes lined long before we ever heard about it on television.  We were really scared as we thought he had killed himself.  I turned out he was fine, but he never made that mistake again.

My family owned the salvage yard clear on the west side of town.  I remember jumping car to car, playing war with empty bullet cartridges as well as crawling through the tire pile on the east side of the salvage yard.  There were many times that kids from different parts of town would come and join in.  It was a terrible place to have to work, but it was a good place to have a good time. 

For the most part however, we just plain had fun on the west side.  We were proud to be West Siders.  Perhaps it was a different fun than other parts of town, but lots of fun just the same.

Some of the names I mentioned earlier have passed away; Bill Koehn, Delaine Jantz, Dennis Tuggle and Bill Kramer are the ones that I know about for sure.  However, we all did survive growing up on the west side of Cimarron.  It was not always easy; it was not always fun.  Most of the kids I knew went on to be good people and assets to this and other communities.  Some had kids and grandkids that are still right here in Cimarron.  Some of the kids and grandkids have scattered to many other areas.

In closing, there is no other place I would rather have grown up.  I have found since getting older, that it doesn’t matter where or how you grow up.  It makes little difference how you are or aren’t accepted, or the level you attain in society in General.  How you are treated does not matter in the end; good or bad.  You are still the one in charge of what you turn out to be.  How you treat people may be good or it may be deplorable.  You are still the one in charge.  If you happen to be one of those deplorable people, it is your responsibility to take the blame for your actions and change the way you treat others. 

Hopefully, we can all say that we have lived the kind of life we are proud of.  Hopefully, we can stand before the Lord with a clear heart and know that we did all we could for our friends and family.  If you cannot stand with a clear heart, there is still time to correct you failures.  You can still make things right with those you have slighted.  Be the kind of person you really know you should be, as the rewards are many.  Punishments for failing to do so are just as many.  It is never too late to start changing for the better.

Pete Thomas

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COMMENTS

If you cannot reach me by clicking on the "COMMENTS" link, please email me at cimarronkansas@hotmail.com with "GROWING UP" in the subject line.

I enjoyed this muse Pete, and feel it's great to "leave" to your kids and grandkids. How lucky they are to have you sharing such neat memories and great words of wisdom to live by. So very proud to be called one of your friends, what a Legend you are!!!! thanks lil buddy:) janie
Loved your muse Pete. Could relate to about being judged being poor or rich. So glad when I left Cimarron right after High School to move to Dodge City & thought I can make friends that will accept me as me & I did. Lived in a "hippy house" without the drugs but lots of parties. My big brothers Larry Burkhart ,Sammy, Bobby &big sisters always made sure I was safe & got no hassles from anybody. Was the time of my life to be finally accepted as me & not judged but something was missing. I missed Cimarron & talked of the simple life we had growing up there. Making up our own games playing tag at the park,, the sledding in the wintertime, going to the football games & cheering for my "secret crush" for dong a good job. LOL The town dances, small town movies, etc etc. When I did come back home to my Grandparents urging I was pregnant but held my head high knowing what was coming from the town. In my time of need the town came together for me & it felt so good to know that. I received gifts from people who wouldn't have given me the time of the day when a kid. I felt blessed then to have come from Cimarron.

When you mentioned playing at the junkyard it brought back so many memories of going out there with Grandpa when looking for parts & sure wasn't worried about getting my hands dirty. Us kids would try to play hide & seek or try to climb to the top of the piles of metal not realizing we could get hurt. LOL Thank you for bringing back some of those memories Pete.  Cindy Salem Daniel.