I had to do some deep-sea — and even some ice fishing — of my memory before I was able to come up with what I am sharing in this column. Much of it had been buried at depths of my brain that were difficult to catch.
At 770 S. Meridian, Wichita, Kansas, between the years 1949 and 1954, I lived with my dad, stepmom, my brother, Roland, who was two years older than me, and four step-siblings born during the years 1947 and 1954. My dad had married my stepmother, while my paternal grandmother had taken care of us.
At the end of his tour of duty in the Army in 1945, he had met our stepmom at a church she was visiting in Wichita and convinced her that he needed a mother for his two sons. He told her that my brother and me had been living with his mom in Wichita for the past two and a half years, because our mom had dropped us off at grandma’s and run off with a sailor after going to a USO dance.
My stepmom was a farmer’s daughter in Hepler, Kansas, and still living with her parents, six brothers and one sister on their farm when she and our dad met. My stepmom convinced my dad to try the farm life and moved us to the farm about five miles outside of Hepler.
Within the next three years, we kids were introduced to a lifestyle we loved: animals, crops, driving farm vehicles at a young age, etc. But the best part was having several step-cousins close by to interact with and attend school with.
However, for the adults it was a different matter. Farm-wise, which we kids didn’t understand as much as the adults, life was more of a challenge. The first summer, cinch bugs destroyed much of the crops. The second year, grasshoppers did the same. And the third year, we got to experience a tornado as it ripped through the farm, destroying the above ground tractor shed, chicken house, parts of the main barn and house, while we hid in the below ground tractor shed. Oh, and I almost forgot. The most important house destroyed — the outhouse. Until another one could be built, we had to use areas behind buildings and what was known as the “honey pot” at night. We also got to enjoy sleeping in tents for a few months while the house was repaired. And with my step-granddad’s six sons and my dad, the repairs didn’t seem to take long.
As the reconstruction phase neared an end, my dad made the decision that he wasn’t “born to farm” and convinced my stepmom to move to Wichita. They purchased our house, which had a huge garage, nice front porch, and a fishpond in the backyard.
When we first moved into the house, my brother, who was 9 ½, and I, at 7 ½, were the two oldest kids and so we were the ones who had to help with a lot of the chores. Within a couple of months, my stepmom had convinced dad to clean out the old fishpond in the backyard and fill it with goldfish and pond lilies.
So, the story gets very fishy from this point on. Our stepmom found a local pet supply store and bought goldfish. She then took us to a nursery and bought some pond lilies, after which she had us fill the pond with water. We didn’t have a garden hose and had to fill bucket after bucket with water from the basement and carry it to the pond.
For the next several years my brother and I, along with some help from our two older step-sibs, realized that our chores, twice a year, would include cleaning the fishpond and transferring the goldfish, which also included other fish added now and then.
So, as the weather was forecast to be nice enough, we transferred the goldfish from the basement tin washtubs to the backyard fishpond, where they would stay from around the end of April or first of May, until the first week or two of September.
Shortly after, my older brother ran away and hitchhiked to California from Wichita at the age of 13, in order to go live with our birth mom. She had suddenly shown up one summer evening in 1953 with her husband and son, and I was allowed to choose to go live with them also the following year.
I stayed in touch with my step-siblings for the next few years and discovered one day that the goldfish seemed to be dying of something. The pond was filled with dirt and made into a garden; something I wish they had done years before.
— Allen Stark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org