Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Club House

When I was very young my family shared a clubhouse in the country with two other families. There was a large group of cabins along the Big River called Giessow’s Cottage Farm. My grandparents, aunts and uncles had cabins here too. It all went back several generations.

No one had heat or running water. We took a huge metal milk barrel that had a spigot to a community well for water. The windows were just screens with stainless steel covers you raised with ropes.

Our cottage had one small room with an L shaped area around it. The small room had a wood burning stove. In the winter my brother and I slept on bunk beds in the room while the adults froze in the surrounding area.

My father was famous for spontaneous fun and we’d end up out there with no previous planning. He worked for the Brunswick company and he’d bring bowling pins to burn in the stove. I remember the grown ups complaining when the yearly rent went up from $50.00 to $150.00. This was for three families.

Bill Mason , Bob Kornacher , John Chapman , Glenn Tintera , Norman Mason , Peter Patterson , Jim Haislip  comprised a recording Jazz band in the 50s called The Dixie Stompers. Bob Kornacher’s family shared the cabin with us. He was one of my dad’s best friends.

Bill and Georgia Shearer were the other family. Bill was a pianist and I'm told he was good. They had a baby grand in their apartment on Pershing. Years later, after the  Shearers divorced, Bill moved in with my dad and all of a sudden there was an upright piano in his small Laclede Park apartment.

A couple of years ago I was teaching a skydiving class in Sullivan. During lunch I sat with the friends and families of my students at a picnic table. Someone called a woman there Susan. I looked at her face and involuntarily asked, “Susan Kornacher?” She said that was her maiden name. I told her I was David Udell and chills went down both our spines. She was Bob’s daughter. I hadn’t seen her since we were kids but I recognized her.

She invited my family to a party. There were lots of my students there. I brought my mother. Bob, his wife Florence and Georgia were there. Bill had died years before. My mother had a great time.

Susan took me on a tour of the house. The walls were covered with water color paintings of the clubhouse. I think her grandfather did them. They used to hang on the walls at the clubhouse. It was a museum of my childhood.

At the clubhouse they had a giant orb of a speaker someone got from a ship during the Korean War. It was strung outside of the cabin and their 78s blared from it. My dad had an old navy canvas hammock he strung way up in the trees. He’d climb way up there drunk at the end of the night to sleep. I have no idea how he pulled it off.

When I was three I admired a large military knife Bob owned. Its handle was painted pink with fingernail polish. He said it would be a gift to me but not until I was old enough. When I was four!

We had canoes at the river. Canoeing is in my blood. My grandfather died from a heart attack when I was four and I inherited an expensive fly rod ‘n’ reel. I never saw it though. One night my dad and his buddies went out canoeing with it. The boat overturned and the rod was lost.

After my folks divorced my mom still took us out there. It was then that I started to notice things like painted hand prints on the door and vividly painted structural beams. They’d always been there. I told her it was all very hip for them to have done that in the fifties. She told me color didn’t begin in the sixties. Not to mention their crowd were all artists and musicians.

I’m sure my mom will make a lot of corrections about all of this.

My girlfriend Valerie’s last boyfriend Brian Casserly is probably the best trumpet player I’ve ever seen. He’s the 50 year old kid in a Dixie Jazz band called Cornet Chop Suey. The name comes from a great Louis Armstrong song. We went to see them at Carondelet Park. Between sets I met the trombone player. It was Jimmy Haislip. I had no recollection of him from my childhood. He recognized my name and referred to my dad as the gentile giant. Whenever Valerie sees him he asks about the Udell boy.

Pictures are from several generations out at Giessow’s. My grandpa, his boys, and my uncle Bill’s wife Gladys - My dad is on the left. My grandma and great grandma Geegee. My grandpa (left) showing off his catch. My little brother Patrick and me March 1962.




Tony Patti said...

David, put a title on this post. Otherwise it will disappear into the archives without a trace!

Doggie said...

Yeah I remembered that after I left the house

Anonymous said...

the way you guys always pronounced it i thought it was spelled Geesaw's.whatever happened to it? Geo

Doggie said...

You're correct about the pronunciation. Joanie and I went years later. We had to find the secret dirt road that led to it. Luckily the chain was down. When we got into the property relatives of the old owners were still running the store. The old playground and clay tennis court were a pool and the cottages were all huge houses with electricity, AC and water. It still had the small cable car that took you into the Big River valley. Tony and I had an experience with Bobby Udell out there when we were teenagers. If Tony doesn't object I might tell it.

Valerie Pennington said...

Brian is only 48, so he really IS the kid in Cornet Chop Suey.
I do remember that Jimmy was just recovering from heart surgery when you met him, looked up from his lawn chair and said "Well, you're not as tall as your dad was."

Anonymous said...

Oh wow- I forgot Brian and Valerie dated after she and i did...


Joe Udell said...

David, We would stay at Uncle Charlie's Giessow cottage which was the last cottage on the bluff overlooking the Big River. My brother Mike and I would always sleep in the bunk beds in the kitchen. I recall their was a barrel that collected roof rain water which was hand pumped into the kitchen sink. We were told to never drink the rain water. Do you recall the pummel horse on the playground? I could never get the hang of it.

On a side note, 'Final Four' Basketball is upon us and has reminded me of your father getting us into St. Louis Hawks practice sessions. I remember sitting on the floor a few feet from the court.

Doggie said...

I do remember the horse and that giant Maypole in the playground. There were boats on swings that remind me of the 1904 fair. Grandma and Grandpa's cabin was next to Uncle Charlie's cabin on the bluff. They had that beautiful deck that stuck so far out from the hill it was scary. The valley always looked like my idea of of the French of German countryside. It impressed my girl friend Joanie when I took her there. Grandma used to give us sweet pickles like they were candy. You ought to see the place now.

Sue Pickering said...

My name is Sue Pickering. I googled my dad's name to show someone at work about him and I stubbled on this blog. My dad's name is Bob Kornacher. Hi David! It's little Susie Kornacher again! I too was SHOCKED when you recognised me out at the skydiving venue. I'm reading this and the memories are just flooding in. I went back out to Giesow's several years ago to show a friend of mine. I was devastated to see they had put in a pool and took down our "dangerous" playground. God David do you remember the sound of those iron handgrips clanking agaisnt the "maypole"? How none of us ever got killed by one of thise things is beyond me, but boy were they fun! I miss the trips down to the river in the cablecar, sitting there in the hot sun slowly descending down the hill with our live preservors around our necks. Waiting for the thrill of the rope swing and the lazy canoe trips down the Big River to sandbars for lunch. Those were the days. Georgia Shearer recently died and your mom sent some pictures to my mom of all of us at the cabin. I remember all the sights, sounds and smells like it was yesterday. Maybe we can take our kids out there some day and lay in the field on blankets and look at the Northern Lights.....

Anonymous said...

Hi my name is Ken, I too spent many of summers out at Cottage Farms. My grandmother had a place out there from the 50s to probably like 1990. My mother and uncle spent their entire childhood summers out there. It is truely a one of a kind place. I took my family down there last year for a weekend. It was just as I remember as a young kind. Great to hear there are others with such great memories of the place too.