The Night We Locked Our Door

The night we first locked our door I knew the world had changed… never to be the same again.  And I was right.

Life on Cherry Street in Knoxville was peaceful and placid… no two ways about it. Occasionally a car would bottom out coming south down Cherry as it crossed Jefferson and make quite a racket.  The ponies on their way to get hitched up to the ice cream cart at Kay’s on Magnolia would break the silence of morning with the clickety-clack of their steel shoes. They would leave an occasional odious pile to remind us they had been there….as if we didn’t know.  No one cleaned it up.  It was eventually washed away by a hard rain…but until then it was a constant reminder that they had come our way.

In summers, we boys played baseball from morning to dusk.  Then dinner was followed by Kick-the-Can or May I.  One night Mr. Valentine, in whose front yard the home base can for our game resided, bought all of us a popsicle as the pony man returned to Kay’s after a long day on the streets.  A popsicle, a fudgesicle, a creamsicle or a hunkie…our choice… for everyone!  “He’s rich,” I thought.  He has to be; he wears a suit and tie to work…everyday.

As the summer sun set and night crept in, the cacophonous sound of the Park City choir of crickets wafted through the air.  Lightening bugs came out and we put them in a jar, trying to make a night-light.  It didn’t work no matter how many we collected.

This idyllic childhood was, however, interrupted in 1949 by a series of seemingly disparate yet confusingly intertwined events.  First, the body of my uncle who had been killed in WW2 some five years earlier was returned from its initial burial site in St-Avold, France to be buried at Lynnhurst Cemetery. After not being told for years what actually happened to this hero of mine, his funeral was confusing and unsettling.

Also, the rumblings of another war were mixed into the veiled discussions between my Mom and Dad.  Awareness of the conflict between North and South Korea emerged in my impressionable mind.  As the rhetoric between the two Koreas increased, reports of the impending war went from bad to worse and tension in the internal world of my mind escalated.

A few months later I heard Jack Humphries, the paperboy on East Fifth Avenue, say that a war in Korea was certain.  It was only five years since the last one, WW2, ended….or did it.  What is this world all about, I wondered.  What does our…my future look like?  Then there was a house break-in close to our neighborhood and a murder across town causing a young boy’s world to drift further into confusion…and fear.

These events seem commonplace today.  Our newscasts and newspapers, assuming you still read them, are replete with global conflicts, wars, egregious acts of violence across the globe, and malevolent acts by world leaders.  Chaos abounds.  Our homes are laden with door locks, dead bolts, alarm systems, video surveillance, and motion detectors. Yet we don’t feel safe. We have grown accustomed to our costly imprisonment.  We have learned to live in this different world.

However, at that time and place, early in the 50’s, we had not learned to live peacefully in the midst of this upheaval.  So…the day after that break in, Dad put a latch on the front door and locked it.  Somehow I felt safer.  But for me the world changed that night, never again to be the same.

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  1. tommy j t ucker on August 26, 2011 at 11:30 am

    Ross, What a beautiful article. I have often told a similar story many times to younger folks. Most of them couldn’t fathom leaving doors unlocked 24/7. I like your writing. T Tucker

  2. wilbur f. curtis on August 26, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    Being raised on Magnolia Ave., between Chestnut and Cherry st’s I can relate to everything in this article. Ross always does an excellent job in his writings.

    Wilbur Curtis

  3. Fred Clayton on August 26, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    Ross, your article brought back some of the same memories and thoughts to me that you so well expressed. We played the same kick-the-can, may I and even hop-scotch on the sidewalks and streets of S. Van Gilder in Park City in the late 40’s and early 50’s. In summer of 1950 a bunch of us kids in our yard suddenly heard several aircraft flying above, and I asked my father what was going on. He said it was connected to the new war that had broken out between North and South Korea. It was scary to hear this. And what was even more scary later in the year was an attempted break-in our house one night when my father was on grave-yard shift at the John Sevier Southern Railyard. My mother, sister and I were awakened by a shot from next door. Our neighbor had fired a shotgun at a man who had taken a screen off one of our windows and was trying to open the window. The intruder ran off maybe with a few buckshot in his skin. From then on we locked windows and doors and even car doors for the first time.

  4. Howard Williams on August 28, 2011 at 1:23 am

    Ross..I too want to compliment your article. Both for its content and for your charming writing style. I remember after locks became more common, a skeleton key would still open nearly all of them. I think everyone had one. Not sure if I even thought about being safe as I thought I was isolated from trouble. Truth was a lot of shady characters frequented Burlington area joints and their nefarious activities were only a stone’s throw away! I lived near Chilhowee Park and can remember vividly the F-86 Sabre jet aircraft flying practice bombing runs over the park lake. They were so low over my house that you could see the pilots in their cockpits. After the war started my uncle flew 50 missions over Korea leaving an indelible impression in my young mind. I know I’m rambling but activities like Kick The Can, Sock Ball, Annie Over, getting hunks of ice from the ice man..all trigger much nostalgia which hasn’t been that long ago. Thanks again for creating Knoxville Heritage! Really do enjoy it!

  5. Evelyn Latham Lingerfelt on November 18, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    A very good article. I lived on Jefferson Ave. with Joyce and Bud Lobetti for one year from September 1963 to May 1964. I was only 16 and attended East High School that year. Joyce, Bud, and I took turns taking care of my sister Joyce and Bud’s young son Charlie. This brought back some good memories, and… we locked our doors every night!

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