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Life Was Simpler Then Than Now

There are infrequent moments in history when many who were of age remember where they were when they read or heard the news.

On one of those days for Americans 75 years ago this month, a Jamestown High School junior walked to his after-school job at an ice-cream store on the northeast corner of East Second Street and Hopkins Avenue.

Observing that everyone was sad, he inquired why.

“Did the president die?” he asked.

He wasn’t being serious, so it hadn’t occurred to him that the answer was “yes.”

Life in general was simpler then than now.

When Fred was 10, his parents bought a cottage on Chautauqua Lake.

Thereafter, he along with his parents, his elder brother, Bob, and their dogs — Jackie, then Dusky — spent their summers at Cheney’s Point.

Fred and other children didn’t watch television or play with their cell phones.

Days were spent outdoors in the sun and in the water. The elements didn’t exactly hasten the natural darkening of Fred’s hair, which in those years was white.

Yes, white. Not blond.

A lifelong friend once quipped that it made him look angelic, which was to his advantage.

For other reasons, Fred liked the white in his hair so much that when it returned later in life, he never stood in its way.

And yes, it turned white. Not gray. Just as his father’s had.

When summers wound down, the family returned to the only home — other than the cottage — that the parents ever owned.

It stands between Dunn Avenue and what was then called James Avenue.

Across James Avenue was the municipal golf course, now the site of Jamestown Community College’s Jamestown campus. Nearby was the neighborhood’s victory garden.

Fred’s father and his maternal grandparents immigrated to Jamestown. The four grandparents’ birth names — Elf, Gustafson, Cederquist, and Johnson — reveal they all came from the same country.

Like many immigrants from there and elsewhere in those years, they didn’t teach their children much of the family’s original language. The customs, though, were passed along, in spirit, in song, and in food — especially the food at Christmas time.

The family wasn’t wealthy, yet it was fortunate.

This was an era when many had endured hard economic times. Some were unemployed for a long, long time.

And it hurt. It hurt a lot.

Yet unlike many people, Fred’s father, a Navy veteran, bore no lengthy unemployment burden during his adult life. A tool designer, he began working at Dahlstrom Metallic Door Co. at age 23 and remained there until retiring on Valentine’s Day when he was 67.

Fred’s mother kept the home, and volunteered at her sons’ schools and as a gray lady at WCA Hospital.

The boys attended elementary school at Public School No. 7, between East Second and Falconer streets. They later attended Washington Junior High School and JHS.

On Sundays, they walked down Falconer Street to Sunday school at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Falconer, where they were baptized and confirmed.

On other days, they played with neighborhood children.

Many of them maintained those friendships through organizations such as the East Side Fellowship Club.

Years later, Fred surprisingly ran into one of those neighbors at the Post Office on Guam when he was in the Marine Corps.

Decades later, he could walk into the Italian festival at St. John Roman Catholic Church, on Jamestown’s east side, and know many in attendance.

And a few years before his unexpected passing 20 years ago this month, an older regular at the JCC fitness center engaged a younger one in conversation, insisting they had met.

The former knew how he “recognized” the latter when he heard the latter’s name.

“You’re Fred’s boy,” he said. Identifying himself only by his childhood nickname, he added, jokingly, “You tell him that (nickname) says you look just like him, only smarter.”

He declined to give his real name, because he said Fred would know the nickname.

Which he did, with a smile reflecting affinity to the east side.

Fred Elf is Randy Elf’s father. This column is the companion to the author’s March 21, 2020, column on his mother.

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