The summer before I started kindergarten my mother ran off and my dad was nowhere to be found. My little sister and I hadn’t eaten in a couple of days. I carried her to some good neighbors and asked if they had a extra sandwich or some leftovers they didn’t want and maybe they would feed her. Mighty fine folks in those days. They took her in. When they asked me if I wasn’t hungry, I said “No. I had just finished off a big plate of boiled cabbage.” It was a bald faced lie, but even in those days I had a foolish pride, though being barefoot wearing only a pair of dirty ragged shorts, I can see now I didn’t have much to be proud of.
I didn’t hang around to watch Cherri, my sister eat, but instead went down the block to the corner drugstore. Back in those days drugstores also had a place where you could order and eat ice cream. That was my destination. I climbed up on a stool and the kid working behind the counter asked what I wanted. I pulled out my six shooter finger and told him that I was Jesse James and would shoot him if he didn’t give me a strawberry ice cream. The young man (who seemed old to me at the time) had the wisdom to believe me. Which is just as well because I’d have surely plugged him. He must have been a brave person as his hand didn’t shake much when he set the dish of ice cream in front of me, topped with whipped cream, crushed nuts and a cherry. After I had eaten and was walking out the door, he said, “Oh and Jesse? We don’t have a lot of business here, so only rob this place once every summer.” I agreed, but you know, I think that was the best ice cream I’ve ever had in my life.
I left Cherri with the Bowens and they raised her as their own for fourteen years, until dad remembered her and tracked her down. Me? I went on home. Figured if I cleaned the place up, maybe either mom or dad would come back. I guess Mrs. Bowen called my grandmother. She came and got me. Now times were hard back then and she couldn’t afford both my sister and I living with her. So the Bowens kept Cherri and I lived with my grandmother until I went into the service.
Like I said, there was some mighty fine folks back then.