In 1937, when Bruce was four and Duane was five, they hopped on board a car-hauling semi and headed down to Topeka, Indiana.
“Our Uncle John (Hughes), from the Gulick side, drove a truck that hauled cars,” says Duane. “Not a big truck like you see now. It only could haul three cars. He was making a delivery to Indiana so we rode with him down to our grandparents’. ”
It’s not like the boys hitched a joy ride without their parent’s permission. If you remember, in the mid-1930s Gladys was having trouble making ends meet. Roland wasn’t home and she’d lost her welfare. She needed help caring for her three young children.
So in 1937, when Duane was about to start first grade, Gladys arranged to have him and Bruce live with Roland’s parents in Topeka and one-year-old Jerry to live with her mother and step-father in Lansing.
Can you imagine how hard that must have been for her? And can you imagine how a trip in a big truck was for two young boys?
I wonder if Roland went with them?
“No, we went by ourselves,” says Duane, matter-of-factly.
“Were you scared? Were you sad about leaving your mother? Were you nervous about living with your grandparents? Had you ever met them before?”
I’m so curious about the feelings of these young boys, but the only answers I get are, “oh, I don’t remember” or “that was just so long ago.”
Instead I get factual data.
“I went to kindergarten when we lived outside Lansing near our Uncle Ralph,” says Duane. “Then, when we moved to Topeka I went to first and second grade. I remember the grade school and high school were in the same building and we all played soccer together at recess.”
Because there was no kindergarten in Topeka, Bruce didn’t go to school.
“I remember those two apricot trees out back,” says Bruce. “We each had a tree we were supposed to keep clean underneath. We had to pick up the bad apricots.”
“One thing I remember is every Sunday morning before church, we’d go to the gas station and get ice and Grandpa would make ice cream,” says Duane. “Every Sunday morning.”
“Remember cranking that thing, Duane?” asks Bruce. “We’d crank it until it’d start getting thick, then Grandpa would take over. We did that every Sunday.”
At that time, their grandfather was the mayor of Topeka.
“Their house was a big house right across the street from the church,” says Duane. “We thought Grandpa was the most important man in town because we lived in a pretty big house and Grandpa was the mayor.”
Now Duane wonders, with a laugh, if maybe they just passed around the mayoral position amongst the businessmen in town.
“Whoever they could force into the job,” adds Jerry. “Although being the blacksmith, he probably was the most important man in town.”
“Well, Grandpa’s shop was always full of men,” says Duane. “I remember Bruce and I were down to the shop, and if they had a particularly mean or ornery horse Grandpa would always send us home. He knew there would be a lot of cussing going on.”
When I ask how they remember their grandfather’s personality, neither Bruce nor Duane have many recollections.
“He may have been a little gruff,” says Duane. “I remember being at a church dinner and pulling a chair out from behind a girl. I was swiftly evicted.”
“He wasn’t too tall,” says Bruce. “He was like the rest of the Amos’s, maybe 5’8” or 5’9”. He was a husky guy though, probably from all those years of blacksmithing. I’m sure he was pretty strict about things, but I don’t remember him being overly strict with us. ‘Course Duane and I were such angels…”
The boys also don’t remember much of their grandmother Beatrice.
“I remember she was small, and she had dark hair and skin,” says Duane.
“That’s where Bruce gets his handsome, good looks,” says Jerry. “We always thought he must have been from the mafia, he’s so dark.”
They’ve always gotta’ get that teasing in.
And of course, there’s the train trip Duane and Bruce took with their grandmother to get their tonsils out. They went all the way to Chicago because Beatrice’s daughter Dorothy was a nurse there.
In 1944, their grandmother Beatrice died of cancer. By that time Duane and Bruce were young teens and had been back in Lansing for many years. They remember Roland going to her funeral but he didn’t take them, perhaps because it was too expensive.
A few years later, after Duane graduated from high school, he once again went down to Topeka. This time he went to learn the blacksmithing trade. By then Arthur had remarried to Hazel, the town’s postmistress, and they lived in the house most of us know from our childhood memories and pictures.
“I went down after high school and lasted six months,” says Duane. “That little town of 500 people—there was just nothing to do. I didn’t have a car. I was so bored.”
“Yep, when I graduated from high school, my grandfather thought I should come down too. He thought I should learn some blacksmithing,” says Bruce. “But Duane told me not to. He said I would be too bored.”
So, apparently the big city Amos Boys were no longer cut for small town living! We’ll hear more of that in the months to come.