The following missive was written by my friend, Tom Fiske:
I still have the scar. It is about 72 years old and, since I am blond, going white-haired, it hardly shows. But I know it is there, and I just checked to be sure I was bearing it nobly.
It was about 1940, and a boy I went to school with who lived down the street from us in Louisville, Kentucky, had thrown the lid of a tin can at me. Its edge was sharp and it sailed right at my head, opening a one inch slice in my scalp.
Of course, blood streamed down my face and I thought I was severely wounded. Gilbert Goldberg, the boy who cast the first can lid, apologized as my parents came by. They were out for a walk and stopped to have a look at me. About that time Gilbert’s folks came out to see how much damage their son had done.
Having had two other older sons, my parents knew that scalp wounds bleed profusely, but don’t mean much. They seized on the opportunity to introduce themselves to the Goldbergs and reassure them that they were not going to call the police or a lawyer. Over their lives, my parents maintained a “good neighbor” policy they had learned in Sunday school, and chose to make friends (while I bled to death).
I didn’t know it then, but my Kentucky ancestors served under 1) Col. Daniel Boone and 2) General George Rogers Clark when Indians were paid to scalp American settlers. So, they had lots of experience with scalping. Of course they probably had never run into any Jewish Indians.
Gilbert and I were friendly after that and I think he and his family moved to another neighborhood.
How did I stumble across this feeble memory? I finally got a look at the 1940 census. On it I discovered the names of long-forgotten streets and families I once knew. These were the families of kids with whom I went to school. I was probably in the second grade as a seven or eight year-old skinny little blond boy – with blue eyes.
I found the home of David Seubold, who proved his manliness by plunging his bare arm into a garbage can full of ashes and cinders from a coal furnace. Unfortunately, the can had just been taken out to the curb. Under the first three or four inches of cool gray ashes were glowing hot embers. He yanked his arm out of the ashes with a howl and was soon on his way to a local hospital for treatment of his severe burns. The rest of us kids with him were fascinated by what we saw and talked about it for days. Who needs TV with that kind of action going on?
The building next door to us housed a family whose father was head accountant for a machinery company that had once been owned and run by my grandfather. I don’t know any connection to my family, but there must have been one.
Down the street was a woman from Oregon with a son, William. Their last name was that of my cousin, a man named Castleman. I will have to look into that family. It is not a widely used surname.
My Great-Uncle Charles was on a street two blocks away. Dad used to take me over to see him and listen to his stories about being a riverboat captain on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. He was a lonely old man and my Dad recognized it. He just went there to help the old guy get through his last days.
The census pages were full of memories. Eventually, I found our family. We were a low to middle class family in a small house. A mother, a father and three little boys – all gone now, except for me.
I waited for about thirty years to look at the 1940 census. I’m old enough that I will probably never get a look at the 1950 census, so 1940 is “it” for me. And now that I have seen it, I’m not so sure it was the best thing I could have done.
Except that maybe Gilbert Goldberg might read this story and know for sure that I forgive him.