Brother Ed

Brother Ed

Where to start? I have two brothers, the eldest, Bob, is about 17 years older, so he wasn’t around daily. He was alwanys in the military when I was young, so visits were infrequent. But I was the most popular kid on the block because I always had a surplus of actual Army gear. I had web belts, canteens, helmets, bayonets, even a dummy M1 rifle!

My other brother was just seven years older. Young enough to share a room for ten years, old enough to be a different generation. Yes, my father introduced me to some life-long activities. And my older brother was almost mythical. But Cork shaped me in ways that are incalculable.

He taught me the basics of printing, years later I turned those few months into a nearly professional experience. Hey, in a country of blind men, the man with one eye is highly respected!

I have been so inspired by his faith, his inventiveness, and his ability to make images. I have almost forty years of being paid to assess talent, Cork has 5 times the talent in almost every media. I am in awe of his abilities. Plus, he taught himself the fiddle. A Diestler with musical ability!

The three sons were different in many ways, but we shared a strange affliction. We suffered from embarrassing middle name syndrome. Bob had it worse. His middle name was Carroll. He did not find the song “A Boy Named Sue” comforting.

Ed’s middle name was my mother’s maiden name. That could be cool, if the name was cool, but it wasn’t. Edwin Elgin always brought a chuckle. He was apparently named after a watch.

My middle name was actually my first name for several days. My mother got the document and switched the names because she didn’t like the sound of “Milton John”. Unfortunately, I didn’t like the name in either position. Years later I pretended I was named after the blind English poet “John Milton.”

The naming situation was solved by my mother. For years she would call us by our nicknames. To come to dinner she would repeat all our names in the proper age order. It didn’t matter that Bob had moved out years ago. Even when I was the only one living at home I would hear, “Bobby, Corky, Johnny, dinner is ready!”

Our nicknames simply added a “y” to the end. Only two people (and their children) still call me Johnny.

Wait… What happened to Edwin Elgin? Well, TV happened. There was a television show. I think a Western, that had a child actor who looked like Edwin, and his name in the show was Corky.

I am the only person that still calls him “Cork”. Sometimes Bob still calls him Corky, but not generally to his face.

Cork is now approaching 80, and I want to put down some things about him, things that I remember.

He was born in 1943, during World War II. It was a difficult time for our family. We didn’t own a home, and lived with relatives. My father had gone to the Bay Area to build Victory ships, and my mother was left in Fargo, ND with three kids, one of them a baby.

My dad had quite a few sisters, but none were well off. The Depression was still strongly felt in the Northern Midwest. My grandmother Kari, my mother’s mom, was still alive, and my Mother was very attached to her. Unfortunately, Kari was not in a good place either. Her first husband had simply disappeared, her second husband died in a winter accident, and she never remarried after that.

Rumors about men that went off to war, or went to work in distant factories were very painful, and relationships suffered.

The final straw was when the only girl, my sister Gayle, contracted Scarlet Fever. In some cases it was just a bad sore throat, in others, it was a killer. Cork was only a year old when Gayle died, so he never really knew her, but Gayle was Bob’s well loved little sister. My mother was devastated.

The events around Gayle’s death was the final straw for my mother. She packed up Bobby and little Edwin, and took a train to the West Coast.

My father found a two bedroom apartment in the Wartime Housing Authority, and moved everybody to Richmond, CA.

Growing up in the “housing” was similar to some inner city neighborhoods in the east. Each building had four apartments, accessed by one porch, or stoop. Two apartment next to each other, and two apartments on the second floor.

It was very much a “mixed” neighborhood, with families coming from all across the country. Henry Kaiser had made dozens of trips to convince workers to move to the coasts in order to build ships for the war effort, and he had also build accommodations for them to live.

On the East coast the apartments were generally older, with many problems. These apartments were brand new, small, but with very nice oak floors, and solid construction. They were so nice that we were the last ones to leave in 1954!

Cork was just one of the gang of kids that lived in the housing complex. Each building had four families, and there were dozens of buildings in the neighborhood. Between the buildings, in the back, there were simple play structures, swings, slides, and sand enclosures.

Cork had become one of the dozens of marble players. There were “purées”, “cat’s eyes”, opaque glass, and “steelies”. They carried their marbles in cloth bags, or folded western neck scarves.

A circle was drawn in the sand, and everyone who was playing shot an “ante” into the circle. The “ante” was supposed to be a valued marble, but often it was a sacrificed double in your selection. Then each player placed a “shooter” marble in his fist, and with a thumb flick aimed to knock out of the ring the “ante”. The “ante” was now yours, and if you were lucky the shooter marble didn’t stay in the ring.

There were lots of local rules, how close you could get, the size of the shooter marble, etc. Fights often occurred because rules changed from neighborhood to neighborhood. And there were traveling “marble sharks” that were so good they would “take all the marbles”.

When you were bored with marbles, you took out your “tops”. Flung by a wound string, you would try to destroy the other tops with the metal spike on the bottom.

The biggest thing was to play was Cowboys and Indians. No political correctness in this decade. Roles were reversed several times in the day. The play was to chase each other, shoot, and then die very dramatically. Television was brand new and lots of Hapalong Cassidy type of shows were regular.

Merchandise marketers were just getting started, so “branded” Pearl handled pistol sets from several different shows appeared on the belts of backyard cowboys.

We didn’t have much but Cork had a vest, a hat, and twin cap guns on his hips. A roll of caps was a great toy, small bits of powder embedded in paper roll. If you had some surplus rolls, and you were brave… you could always put the roll on the sidewalk and hit it with a hammer. The whole roll would explode with a much louder noise, sometimes in a cloud of smoke with shredded paper.

And this was when Edwin Elgin became Corky, then I was born.

Naturally, with all those kids in the neighborhood there were a few that were not so nice. In fact, some were downright terrifying. There was one slightly older kid, that was called “Icky”, not to his face, but everyone knew him as Icky. Even his mother used it sometimes.

Icky often had a kitchen butcher knive tucked in his belt as he terrorized the neighborhood, broke up marble games, yelled and chased kids to their homes.

He chased Cork home one day, holding a Red Ryder BB gun. At the last few steps he aimed, and fired it at Cork, and it hit him in the back of his earlobe. Shot in the ear by Icky! Shot in the back by Icky! How low can you get?

I believe the police was called, and they knew about Icky. I have this memory of me being old enough to watch through the front window as I pulled the curtain to the side. People were standing on the stoop and in the front yard. I don’t know if Icky was there. I had drunk half of my glass of milk. Left it there on the window sill, then I went out on the stoop to see better. The curtain returned to its normal position, hiding the half drunk glass of milk.

The memory might have disappeared if that was all that happened. Several weeks, or maybe even months later, I happened to move the curtains to look out the window. There was my glass from the day of Icky, and there was this “icky” blob of dried milk in the bottom of the glass. I had no idea that milk would do that over time. It smelled bad, and looked worse. I was afraid that I would get in trouble so I took it outside and threw it in the trash. We had one less glass in the kitchen, no one noticed.

Dodging the bad guys in the neighbor was easier if the mothers weren’t friends. One of my Mom’s friends was Trixie and she had several kids, with near the same age as Cork.

Unfortunately this child was Public Enemy Number One as far as Cork was concerned. I asked him once, “What was the scariest event in your childhood?” He said, “Being chased by BJ. I knew that if I was caught that I would suffer a terrible beating. My only hope was to get to my stoop, get through the screen door into the safety of the living room.

“BJ was on my heels, I was just inches from out-stretched arms, grasping fingers… I vaulted sidewalks, plants, I think I even vaulted the three steps of the stoop to get to the screen door.”

“Locking the screen door, I turned to see BJ’s face pressed up against the screen. A wild animal sneer on her lips, like some lion at the zoo, pressing against her cage. Barbara Jean showed her real colors that day.”

Cork went to Nystrom Elementary, and Roosevelt Junior high, had lots of friends, but was always short of funds.

There was always the option of collecting empty soda bottles, on serious days you could fill a wagon with empties. As he got a little older he could work in the bowling alleys as a “pin-boy”. Bowling was still not fully automated, so it was perfect for small young kids to put the fallen pins in the rack, ready for the next ball.

Serious money could be made at almost any time that was available. At one time, Richmond had almost a dozen bowling alleys, many within walking distance of the housing complex. Cork was not afraid of work. He owned three different print shops in his life.

Cork was not always upfront with his purchases. He had his own money, so he bought what he wanted without asking permission. For awhile he was focused on something called a “doodle-bug”. It was basically a tiny frame, simple fork handlebar, and a lawnmower engine to give it power. It was not a street machine, no license plate.

Fortunately our neighborhood had a network of back alleys behind the houses. One could get pretty much anywhere with only periodically getting on the street. The doodle-bug sounded like an angry bee, but all you found see was a head and shoulders on the other side of the back fence. And maybe a little dust from the six inch tires. It was a very small scooter.

Cork could not keep it at home so he left it at at a friend’s, a pattern he repeated when he bought his first car for $50. I’m not sure how many cars he purchased before he could actually park it in front of the house.

About this time Cork joined the ranks of “diddy-boppers”, young men with chino pants. “knobby” shoes, and a unique “waterfall”/“ducktail” hair style.

I’m not sure how it got started, but I think it began with the “flattop”. This was a close cut around the sides, but the top of the head was combed straight up for about an inch, then carefully cut as flat as possible.

So if you start with a flattop, then keep growing the sides, combing it back to a ducktail at the back of the neck, pretty soon you had the waterfall. You made the waterfall by taking two fingers and pulling down the hair above your forehead, “Elvis Presley” style.

Cork looked very sharp, but had to use almost a jar of Dixie Peach Pomade once a week. Sometimes on Thursday night you would get your hair “conked” for the weekend, but you would have to wear a “doo-rag” on your head to protect the style. My mother started crocheting “doilies” for the furniture, to protect them from the grease.

One of my memories is of Cork getting up in the morning without a “do-rag”. The top of his head had the greasy flat-top, but the hair at his temples were normally greased back to his neck. In the morning the hair stiffly came straight out above his ears and drooped to his jawline. He looked a little like a greasy clown. I wanted to be just like him.

I wouldn’t say that he was a full fledged delinquent, but he did run with a bad crowd. Sometimes he had to babysit me, so I got to know a lot of them by name. Not their real names, only their nicknames.

Unfortunately you didn’t get to pick your nickname, it was given to you. Some were cool, most were cruel. Cork didn’t go by Cork, or Ed, or even Eddie. He was known as “the Deacon”, or “Deke”. That was one of the cool ones. “Piggy” was not cool, nor was Alfred E. Newman.

Growing up in the 50s was filled with massive social changes. Television became a centerpiece in homes. The icebox turned into a refrigerator. We even had a freezer program where we bought three months of food packed into a huge coffin-like freezer. Every teenager wanted a transistor radio. Fat-tired bicycles were out, narrow English racers were in.

Cork led the way for me to enter the 60s, then he left, and joined the Army. He married just before he got out of the Army, and I had to figure out high school by myself.

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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