Saturday, October 21, 2000

Fond look back

A boyhood in 1940s Hamilton

        HAMILTON — Tony Lamke knows the old Hamilton.

        It's lost now, gone forever in a rush of time, but its characters and places exist firmly in his mind.

        The 1955 graduate of Hamilton Catholic High School has written a memoir, My Pal Grubby, about growing up with a friend named Charles, nicknamed Grubby.

        By recalling their childhood experiences, Mr. Lamke saves pieces of the city's past that will die with his generation.

        Though he lives near Wilmington, where he graduated from Wilmington College in 1960, his roots will always be in his hometown.

        Mr. Lamke grew up in a time when Germans influenced Southwest Ohio heavily and people ate sauerkraut on New Year's Day for good luck. (I did this as a kid and still do on occasion.)

        “I can recall that the day after a muddy football practice, Charles would still have mud in his ears,” Mr. Lamke said. “The other guys tagged him with the nickname Grubby. He was not very smart, but he had a new adventure every day, and he made my childhood very exciting.”

        The book is only 101 pages, but it gives a glimpse of Hamilton in the 1940s.

        “I consider myself very lucky to have grown up in the city during and after World War II,” he said. “It's not safe to walk down those same streets today. But it was my neighborhood, my home, and I feel fortunate to have been there at that time. My family did not own a car. Most families didn't have cars. The war had a lot to do with that. But we really didn't need a car. Like my dad, almost everyone walked a few blocks to work. To this day, my interest in cars is slim. Dad always said, "A car is a luxury we can live without.'”

        Downtown thrived. So did factories and family stores.

        “Our part of the city was called "Second Ward,'” he said. “We lived in a world where both parents remained part of the family until death. We ate good food, mostly German, and we entertained ourselves, which might have been the key.

        “This was St. Joseph's Parish — blue-collar, German Catholic, beer-drinking, hardworking people. Loyalties were to family, country, church and the local saloon, not necessarily in that order.”

        Mr. Lamke's description of his retired neighbor is humorous and instructive. The man walked to a neighborhood saloon every morning and returned with a bucket of beer. But he'd drink all the beer before he reached home, and would have to return for refills.

        The book explains the meaning of the lost term beer bucket: “A bucket rounded at each end, about six inches deep, with a handle in the middle and a lid on each end. It looked like a miniature horse trough.”

        His German neighbors “worked hard and played hard,” Mr Lamke said. “Most married the girl or boy in the same neighborhood, and most set up housekeeping in that neighborhood and never left. Both sets of my grandparents lived within three doors of our house, and we saw each other daily.”

        Today, he would be called culturally deprived, he said, “but I called it home, and knew nothing better.”

        His memoir captures the place and freezes it in time.

        It may be ordered for $9.95, plus $2 postage, from Dutch Creek Press, 3045 Hale Road, Wilmington, OH 45177.

       Randy McNutt's column runs on Saturday. He may be reached at 860-7118 or at The Cincinnati Enquirer, 4820 Business Center Way, Cincinnati, OH 45246.


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