Growing up on Sycamore Street

Looking west on Sycamore. My house is the one on the right at the corner of 15th St. and Sycamore.

Most of us have memories of the neighborhoods where we grew up, if you were fortunate enough to live somewhere during an extended period of time during your childhood. My most vivid memories are of Sycamore Street, 1502 Sycamore, to be exact.

Before this time, my first memory is in Hopkinsville when I began elementary school. We lived there for a couple of years and then we moved to Murray and then back to Hopkinsville, this time in a house just outside of town - my one and only time living in the “country.” A lot of those memories I shared when I wrote about my brother Mike.

My father, brother and I moved back to Murray when I was 11 and beginning the sixth grade. We rented a house on 11th Street for about a year. The house on Sycamore came up for sale and it was across the street from my father’s good friends, Roy and Alexa Starks.

Lexa (what most called her) had taken it upon herself to be there when we moved into our rental house and to be sure my father had hired a capable woman to come daily for cleaning, laundry and to prepare our dinner meal, which he did with Lexa’s approval. It was very unusual, especially in the early 1960s, for a father to be raising two children on his own.

When the house on Sycamore became available, I am sure Lexa put a lot of pressure on my father to buy this house and he agreed. This house now looks nothing like the house looked then. When my father died, the couple that bought the house did a lot of renovating and then the current owners have also made quite a bit of changes.

When we lived there, the house was a one-story, three bedroom, one bath home with a screened in side porch and a walk-out basement. The house sits at the corner of 15th and Sycamore streets and the driveway was accessible to both streets. I was given the largest bedroom and I remember some of the furnishing in our house were pieces that were slightly damaged. As I have shared before, my father was an REA Express Agent and his job was to receive shipments sent by train and deliver them to businesses. When some of the pieces would be damaged slightly, the stores would not take them and the company sometimes did not want them, so my father would bring them home. I laugh now remembering a table with one leg shorter than another that was always “off balance.” I think of it now as “having character.”

Lexa was very happy to have us across the street and we were very happy to have her and Roy there also. I depended on Lexa for a lot of what “girls” need to know and for shopping, etc. And it was a wonderful neighborhood for children, even though Sycamore could be a fairly busy street for traffic.

On the south side of Sycamore starting at 15th St. lived Tip and Betty Miller, who are still living in that same location. Their son Rick was my brother’s age and Gaye was a few years younger. Roy and Lexa lived next door to the Millers, and they had a daughter, Gina, who was several years younger than my brother. Next door to the Starks was Joyce and Barbara Weaks, who later sold their home to Allen and Mary Ann Russell.  Next door to the Russell’s, at that time, were James and Agnes Payne. Their daughter, Sherry, was a few years older than me and their son Steve was about the same age as my brother. Continuing down the street toward 16th Street were the McCoy’s, parents of Jerry and Steve. Across Sycamore, on the north side, was Dr. and Mrs. Converse and their daughter Cathy and son Carl. Cathy was a year younger than me. Then there was the Suiter family, which consisted of several children, and just east of them was the Elkins family whose daughter Pam also a few years younger than me. Going down 15th Street was the home of the Knight family. They had two sons who were about my brother’s age and a younger daughter, and their father was a Murray City policeman.

Those are the one that I remember as being consistent neighbors and ones that I came into contact with the most.

In the early years of our family moving to Sycamore, I was never without someone to play with. I probably spent more time with Cathy Converse and Sherry Payne. The two of them were not too fond of each other and sometimes there could be some rather loud arguments, as both had tempers. I would be caught in the middle and would try to play the negotiator to end the disagreements. Pam Elkins would sometimes join in with Cathy and I. If I spent time with Sherry Payne, it was usually on my own to avoid any conflicts. I also spent a great deal of time with Eddie Suiter who was a year or two younger.

When the spring weather started turning warmer and the evenings became longer, we would all play outside until it turned dark and sometimes a little after. As soon as dinner was over, most of us would gather outside.

Burton Young, who lived on 16th Street, not far from where Sycamore ran into 16th Street, would join us many times.

It was such an innocent time of life. We had no video games or phones to occupy our time. We only could receive a few television stations with an antenna. So when we could, we would spend our time outside. As is became dark, the activities included catching lightning bugs and the boys introduced us to the art of throwing a rock in the air and watching the bats dive for it. Sometimes there was an occasional game of ball or some other sport.

We all knew that once it turned completely dark, we were to be home. No one locked the doors to their house. I don’t remember ever seeing a key to our house. My father, I am sure, had one, but I never saw one or used one.

Always the highlight of the summer was when Lexa’s sister would come for a visit from Arkansas. She had three children and the oldest son was a year or two older than me, the daughter was a year or two younger than me and the youngest son was the age of my brother. They would spend about two weeks each summer in Murray and we would all have such a fun time together. We would go to the movies, shopping and of course, playing outside for most of the day.

In the winter when it snowed, our driveway proved to be a good place to sled. We could start at the top of our driveway on Sycamore and slide down and come out on 15th Street. One particular winter, it had snowed a great deal. Driving on Sycamore between the two hills from Meadow Lane to 16th Street was something that most people avoided when covered with snow and especially ice. Roy Starks and Tip Miller used saw horses and ropes and blocked the street at the top of the hill near Meadow Lane and at the top of the hill that was in front of our house allowing all the kids and some of the adults to spend several hours sledding between the hills without the worry of traffic. I am sure that would never happen today. With the four-wheel drive vehicles, there is not many streets that some do not attempt to drive. Someone would now call the police because I am sure it is unlawful to block a section of a street.

There was a creek that ran behind our house and my brother and some of his friends would play in the woods along the creek bed, but the girls usually did not follow along. One summer, some of my girlfriends and I decided we wanted to camp out in the woods. Several came to my house the afternoon of the intended camp out and we set out to find a spot and clear it for our sleepover. We found the perfect area and began to move sticks, limbs and rocks out of the way to make a smoother area to sleep, but it wasn’t long until one of us saw a snake. We left the woods at a fast pace, never looking back. The sleepover took place inside my house. I do not remember venturing into the woods after that day.

Our house had a walk-out basement and that was where the washer/dryer was located. After I married and had moved out of the house, my father mentioned, in passing, about the snake in our basement. I immediately stopped him to explain more because I knew nothing about a snake in our basement. Apparently, there was a black racer snake that took up residence in our basement for several years, but my father decided not to tell me because he knew I would never go down into the basement if I knew. He was very right!

When I turned old enough, in my father’s eyes, he decided I could help keep the grass mowed. Our yard wasn’t small and it was also full of hickory nut trees. There were only push mowers then, but at least they had a motor. When I would mow over those hickory nuts, they would bounce all over the place and hit my feet, legs and arms. I was not very agreeable when it came to mowing and therefore, my father did not ask me to mow often because he probably did not want to hear me grumbling and complaining.

While living in this house, I experienced my first date, my first time to go “steady” with a boyfriend, prom dates, slumber parties held in this house, graduation from high school and many other memories of my teenage years.

To this day, I never drive down Sycamore between 15th and 16th streets without thinking about my days growing up in this neighborhood, and remembering those who have passed before me.

***

I was sad to hear about the death of Lochie Hart. One of my first interviews for the Lifestyle page was with Lochie. I spent several mornings at her house on the Murray State campus where we talked about her father, George Hart, and her mother, Lochie.

I knew who Lochie Fay was, but she and I had never had an opportunity to sit and talk and I very much enjoyed spending time with her. She and I found we had many things in common. She had such a love and admiration for her parents and I think she enjoyed our time talking about her parents and growing up in Murray. She was certainly proud of her children and grandchildren and I know she will be greatly missed.

Her parents certainly contributed to this community and helped shape it into what it is today and Lochie was very proud of that fact.

I was also sad to learn of another passing, Opal Hart. When I first met Opal she was working at Sears with John Emerson. When I began Pier 1 Imports, it was next door to Sears in the Bel Air Shopping Center and most days I would see and talk with her and John. We shared many stories and laughter about being in retail and the things you are confronted with.

I remember one particular day I walked over to Sears to go to their back room where they had a drink machine. As I walked by the counter, I noticed a bedspread/comforter laying on top of the counter and I could tell it had been used. Several days later, I continued to see that spread laying on the counter and my curiosity got the best of me and I had to ask about it. Opal informed me that someone brought it back after they had owned and used it for 10 years. I was appalled, but she said Sears had a policy that customers could return anything at any time. I guess the owner of this spread undoubtedly believed that it didn’t matter how long you had owned something, it was still alright to return it and order a new one at no cost.

That type of customer service is no longer around and if Sears continued that policy, it might explain some of why they are now not in business. Opal and I laughed about that spread for many years. I was so proud for her when Mr. Emerson retired and she took over the ownership of Sears. Opal was a dedicated, customer-oriented woman who loved doing what she was doing.

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