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‘I remember’: At 86, James Hill recalls his Richmond childhood

By James Hill, Special to the Richmond News

Editor’s note: James Hill lives 45 miles northeast of Dallas, Texas, his home since 1956. After 57 years in a place where work was easier to find than it was here, his memories of growing up in Richmond remained with him. He sent a story about his childhood memories and reminiscences, then followed up with photos. Some of those are printed here. We’ve edited his story to conform to newspaper style and available space, but made every effort to keep the spirit of his memories intact.
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My name is James Hill.  I was born on Ralph Street in Richmond on April 3, 1927. I have a sister, Evelyn, 12 years older than me, and remember the family next door was named Due.
They had a son Herbert, about my age, and we played together. Years later, he became a barber in Excelsior Springs.
Our family later moved to East Lexington.  The house was on the hill east of Institute Street.  I remember the CCC Camp (Civilian Conservation Corps, a relief program spanning the Depression and war years from 1933 to 1943) east of us, and the young men working on the gravel road.

Richmond native James Hill, a resident of Dallas since 1956, is pictured with his son Mike.

One day, my sister and I were standing outside and saw this group of men on Lexington shooting a large machine gun at a small house on the south side.  Later, when they left, we went down and found a large amount of .50-caliber shell casings.  There were some other people there.
There were large holes in the front, and you could see through the back.  I never knew what happened there.
My father worked in his brothers’ coal mine, east of Lexington Street and Highway 13.
He was a good man and did not smoke or drink and worked all of his life for his family.  I loved him very much.
I remember when I went to school at Woodson, my friend Jack Pointer’s dad ran the store on the corner.  I remember the football games in the cold, behind the school and moving to South Tribble Street when I started the seventh grade and the old wooden building behind the high school.
I also recall when I and some other boys were hired to clean the building.  The janitors had gone off to war, and we were paid very little to do their job.
I remember the young pretty girls with their summer dresses and bobby socks and saddle shoes.  I remember Barbara Gore, a lovely girl who I was in love with, but I don’t think she ever noticed me.  Oh well, that’s how it goes.
There was the time my girlfriend and I were in the coffee shop, drinking Coke and dancing to the songs “I’ll Get By” and “The House Where She Lives” on the jukebox.
There was the old jail and courthouse across from the post office, and I remember the library in the Women’s Club Building.
The I remember my paper route, delivering The Kansas City Times in the snow and cold weather, and waiting for my papers in the newspaper building, looking at the old linotype machines.
I remember when I was 10 years old, being baptized in the old red Baptist church. I remember when we moved to my parents’ own first house at 117 W.  Royle St., and how proud we were.
I haven’t forgotten going to work for Mr.  Slaughter at his shop across from Ewing Chevrolet. Our job was to install windchargers at farms in Ray County.  We wired the Exchange Bank building and repaired radios, too.  He taught me a lot and was a kind man; may God bless his memory.
When I was 16, I had a friend, Andy Wilkenson, who ran the projectors at the Farris Theatre.  He taught me how to operate them. Then when the Vogue opened, Myron Clevenger sent me over to run the machines.
When that theater closed, I was asked to run the machines at the Farris, replacing Andy, who went to the war.  I was too young to hire, so Mr. Slaughter covered for me.  The theatre paid him and he paid me.
When I was 17, I kissed my mother goodbye, got on the bus to Fort Leavenworth to enter the Navy.  I went to Electrician’s school and was sent overseas with Acron 55, to Simar, PI.  From there I was transferred to the Naval vessel U.S. Trinity, AO-13.
We loaded oil off to other ships while the Japs were shooting at us.  In 1947, we brought the old ship home.  While we sat on the San Fransisco harbor, I remember us watching the Army firing at the prison on Alcatraz.
We went up the river to Richmond, Calif. to decommission the old lady.  She was built in Newport in 1924, and was the third oldest ship in the navy.
In 1948, I came home to my old hometown.  I was walking down Camden, at the corner of Royle, when I looked up the street to my house.  My dog was laying on the porch.  He saw me and came running.  He jumped in my arms, licking my face, barking and growling. Who says dogs don’t remember?
I went to work in Kansas City for a few months, drove a truck for Steva Stone, then drove for Matt Waller. Eventually, I got my own truck, started electric work, wiring houses for my dad’s brother, worked for Mr. Snider at Snider Electric, and then at Neon Sign.
Mr. Snider took over the appliance store next to the Waller Café.  We put in some of the first television sets in town and the first air-cooled air-conditioner in the café on the south side.
It was a different world then. I remember the ice cream plant on Camden Street, the Rexall Drug, the small café, and the jewelry store.  I remember my grandmother, who passed away at 109, and my grandfather, who was a brakeman on the old steam trains of the Wabash Railroad.  I remember hearing the steam whistles late at night.
I remember the radio shows on our Atwater Kent radio, with the big bands broadcasting live from the big ballrooms, places like Frank Daily’s Meadowbrook Ballroom on the Pompton Turnpike in Cedar Grove, N.J., and the Glen Isle Casino in New Rochelle, N.Y.
The hotel ballrooms all across America, sad to say, are no more.  I remember lots more, but I don’t want to use up too much space.
I do remember getting married in 1953 and standing at my wife’s bed in the hospital in Excelsior Springs and holding our new lovely baby girl.  My heart was about to burst.
I remember us leaving Richmond Dec. 27, 1956 (a very cold day) and heading to Dallas, Texas.  There were no jobs in Richmond or Kansas City, but lots of them in Dallas.
I lost my wife in November 2010 and I miss her a lot.  She was 87.  My kids are OK.
As I sit in my chair, the night is falling. I am almost 86, the days are getting shorter.  I close my eyes and return to Richmond.  As the tears run down my face, I stand at my father’s, mother’s, sister’s and grandmothers’ graves.  I say, some day, somewhere, some sunny day we will meet again.
I turn and walk to the west, and downtown.  As I walk, I pass the old service station, the grocery store, my old school building, the big houses, the F.G. Weary home.
Down the hill, I walk past the home of Bill Yates, the bank president, and see Miss Kirkpatrick, my math teacher, in her Model A Ford Coupe.  I remember the large ruler she whacked my knuckles with when I had the wrong answer.
I stand in front of Central Drug and the office of Dr. Gay, which was in the rear of the store, and remember the day my mother took me there to check me out for the measles.
I remember the day the women were shot at the Town Tavern, and the people outside.
I remember my brother-in-law Vaughn Thomas, the tax collector, looking out his window in the courthouse.  I remember my first bicycle, bought used from Blair’s Western Auto.
And my first car, a ’35 Chevy Coupe, purchased from Ewing Chevrolet for $75.
I look around the town and say “goodbye old friend, I will miss you.”  I open my eyes, sitting in my chair.  It is dark outside.
I see my wife’s photo on the wall; I miss and love you, my darling.  Fifty-two years of the good and bad times. Somewhere I hear a voice saying, “Come on home, come on home, come on home”. God bless Richmond, the town that I love, and all the people in it.

From Texas with lots of love,
– Sincerely, James

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