In 1932 when we took our first trip as a family to Quebec we were living in a house owned by a Mr. and Mrs. Hansen on Baker Street, the house next to Caesar’s. I was in the hall starting for home one day when Yvette came in the front door with Yolande and Alan, I forget why she had come to get me but someone came running to tell us that our house was on fire. I jumped in the car and raced home to find the Heights fire dept. had the fire out but smoke was still pouring out of the window of the children’s room. Henry Ridout was fire chief and I knew him quite well as he had married one of the high school teachers. I asked him what the cause of the fire was and he told me it looked like it had started in a box by the wall that contained toys. Neither of us could fathom why a box of toys should catch on fire and I dismissed it from my mind. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that Yolande asked me quite unconcerned if I remembered the time she and Alan had set the toy box on fire. Whatever it was that burned made a lot of smoke and somebody, perhaps Goldie Caesar next door, called the fire department in time to prevent much damage except from water and smoke. The insurance company was very generous and neither we nor the Hansens sustained any loss, in fact the new things we bought as replacements were better than the old ones.
It was in either 1933 or ‘34 that Yvette taught a French class consisting of a half-dozen high school teachers. They met at our house in the afternoon after school as out for the day. The only two I remember are Mrs. Fitch, a widow who taught eighth and ninth grade English and Julia Royce, the speech teacher. Both of them had considerable difficulty pronouncing French words and they marvelled that Yolande, who was three or four years old at the time, could rattle of French with no effort. It was at the time Yvette was teaching her class that I had prepared some flash cards of French words and was attempting to teach Yolande to read by the “look-say” method. She learned to recognize a few words but I was unable to continue because I couldn’t find any books for her to read that didn’t deal with catechism or employ the past-definite tense, a form of the verb never used in speaking.
As the economic situation got worse we had to pay our rent with script which the Hansens agreed to accept. Finally, however, they had to tell us they could not accept any more. We would have to pay cash. Yvette went house hunting and succeeded in locating a big two storey house on Southern Avenue in Muskegon directly across the street from the Muskegon High School campus and Mercy Hospital which occupied the south west corner of the grounds. Mrs. Urch, the landlady, owned a number of houses in the neighborhood and had enough cash income that she could take our script and sock it away until better times. It payed a good rate of interest and was a good investment but few people had the cash to invest in anything. Many of the teachers had to discount the script to get merchants and others to accept it. We had traded in our DeSoto for a Dodge the year before we moved and I went to the offices of Standard Oil, Texaco, Conoco and others to try to get them to take script but they all refused. The price of gasoline dropped until it was only 8¢ a gallon. I could fill the tank for a dollar. The house on Southern had two apartments and we rented the one on the first floor at first but later moved to the second floor and the Caesars moved in below us. By this time, the rule that teachers had to live in the Heights was rescinded. We were permitted to live wherever we could find a landlord who would accept our script.
It was probably about three miles from where we now lived on Southern to the Heights High School so I had to get up considerably earlier to get to school on time. It took me a little time to adjust and I was late a few times which annoyed Mr. Booker who was a stickler for punctuality. He called me on the carpet. I had always been a late riser. The long walk in the early morning was invigorating and it was naturally better for my health. I ate lunch in the school cafeteria and started for home about 4:30 or five o’clock.
The house had originally been designed for one family with living quarters on the first floor and a stairway leading from the rear of the living room to a hall on the second floor, but a second stairway led from the entrance, which was on the east side, so very little alteration was necessary to make it into a two family apartment house. The old furnace had been removed and a pair of furnaces installed each with automatic stokers. I only needed to fill the hopper with coal once a day. So far as I remember no one heated with gas or oil yet and an important everyday chore during the winter was tending the furnace in the basement, shaking down the fire, breaking up the clinkers and removing the ashes which had to be carried out to the back alley for the city to pick up once a week along with the garbage and trash. With the automatic stoker we could regulate the temperature with a thermostat in our living room instead of having to go to the basement to fuss with the furnace when the room got too hot or too cold. We had to remember to order our winter’s supply of coal which was stored in a small enclosed room next to the furnace with a chute into it from outdoors.
The big lake moderated that temperature along the west side of Michigan so the winters were generally not very old tho we got a great deal of snow. I remember one morning, however, when we woke up to find a raging blizzard outside with the temperature at 20 below zero. I put on a heavy sweater under my overcoat and enveloped the lower part of my face in a thick muffler. Instead of the felt hat which I usually wore, I put on the toque with ear tabs which I had worn in Ann Arbor when the weather was cold. In spite of all the extra clothing the end of my nose and my ear lobes were white and hard (frozen) by the time I arrived at my class. I had a dark room for making blueprints with a sink in it and bathed my ears and nose in cold water until they thawed out. The skin peeled off after a few days. Not more than half the student body came to school that day.
Even tho I was crazy about symphonic music we still owned no radio that would enable me to listen to broadcasts of the Detroit Symphony or the New York Symphony. Ossip Gabrilowitch was conductor of the Detroit orchestra which, I believe, was on the air every Sunday evening during those years, while Walter Damrosch conducted the New York Philharmonic on Sunday afternoons. When either of these two orchestras were scheduled to broadcast, Harold Caesar invited us down to their living room to listen to the concert. They had a small, desk-top radio that they had had for several years. I didn’t miss a concert from then on. When the Baptists had a meeting, Harold left the door to their living room unlocked so I could go downstairs and enjoy the music all by myself.
Yolande turned five years old while we were living on Southern Ave. and started kindergarten at McLaughlin School, an old yellow brick building, since town down, located on a triangular piece of land resulting from the fact that Heights streets ran north and south while the streets in the central Muskegon area continued on in a north-west direction. I took Yolande to the school to enroll and Alan went along. He didn’t like it when we left Yolande behind and went home.