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"Sheltering the Creative Spirit"

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Taos, New Mexico USA

 

 

   

                                 Frank's Boyhood Home on Bijou Street, Colorado Springs

 

  "BIJOU STREET BEGINNINGS" 

                    Excerpt from Frank Waters: Man and Mystic

 

With
Charles Hathaway and Frank Waters
 

                                                           

                                                  Frank and Charles Hathaway, 1992

        C.H.:    Part of my route home from Columbia Grade School took me along the Santa Fe Railroad tracks and down Bijou Street in Colorado Springs.  And one day along the way I noticed a strange looking boy with an odd-shaped hat on.  It had a slopey, sloppy brim; and it was always creased in the middle.  Today they call this an "Irish walking hat."  Well, for several days this boy was ahead of me until I caught up with him.  Then I found that his name was Frank Waters and he lived on Bijou Street.  Frank says he doesn't remember this hat, but I'll never forget it because it's what attracted me to him.  That was a hat!

        Eventually, we became friends and walked home together.  I was a half-year grade below Frank at Columbia, but we were all in the same room.  And he was of that group of fifth graders to whom one tended to pay more attention than one's own because there were many, many brilliant boys and girls in that class, and their subjects were always more interesting than our own.

        While listening to their class work one day, I heard a commotion.  Someone entered the room and talked to the teacher.  The teacher called Frank, and he hurriedly went from the room.  Months later Frank told me that he had been called to the death of his father.  And he used to describe in detail hearing the death rattle.

        On the way home from school after we became friends, Frank liked to talk about books, especially one with Jean Valjean in it, this was Les Miserables.  Poor Jean Valjean was twenty years or so with a spoon that he'd got, and he'd dig through these rock walls and dig and dig and dig.  This Les Miserables Frank read is a wonderful two volumes with beautiful white covers that he gave me, they were his Granddad's books.  And Frank had both of them signed.  I later offered to give them back to Frank, but he said he didn't want them.  He was always reading books like that, even in grade school.  Heavy books that I could never wade through.  It just fascinated him: this Jean Valjean who would dig for twenty years to get out of prison.

        I think Frank was a . . . . is the word masochist?  He always liked suffering in his books.  He used to take these cold showers in the morning, too: just ice water.  If he could get anything that would make him suffer, he'd do it.  And you get that in his books.  In his first, Fever Pitch, he's got suffering, and in most of the rest.  Frank himself went down there in old Mexico and suffered in the heat and let a mule fall on him, and then wrote about it.  He'd do anything so that he could write about how beautiful it is to suffer.  I think he's kind of nuts that way, if you want my honest opinion.

        Mrs. H.:  I still say, and I'm not prejudiced you understand, that Frank is the best descriptive author whom I have ever read.

        C.H.:    Well, he ought to be.  He suffered enough to tell about it!

        F.W. (laughing):  You may have something there.

        C.H.:    There was also somebody by the name of Altsheller, and his books were good.  One of them was The Long Knives.  These were about the Alleghenies in the early days and killing bears and animals and killing Indians.  They were just wild books that appealed to young boys at that time.

        And then Frank got into the first one of Tarzan!  And he got me on Tarzan, and we got the Tarzan craze.  Boy, they were good!  I tell you, we lived right in the jungle there for quite a while.  Then we moved on to Zane Gray books.

        There was a theater on the west side of Tejon Street, which actually I guess was the old Opera House.  And one time we went to see Shakespeare's Hamlet there.  They were not too greatly endowed with scenery, I suppose, because as I recall Hamlet came out and sat on an apple box.  He did have a sort of robe on and he was dressed in black tights.

        I didn't know what he was doing, but to hear Frank tell about it afterwards!  How this fellow got out there in these old long stockings that moths had eaten holes in and his mother had sewn on him.  Oh, Frank really put him down in the gutter, I'll tell you.  He went on and on about the poor Hamlet that the moths had eaten.  He sure took Hamlet apart.  That was Frank Waters' first review.

        Where he got it I don't know, but one time I went over to Frank's room, and he had a punching bag there and he'd learned to punch.  And he could really slap that thing around.  I couldn't do anything with it.  But he could make that punching bag go.

        At his house just beyond his granddad's big workshop out back was a small tool shed.  And by cajoling his grandfather we were allowed to use this as a harboring place or a den.  There was a window out the side toward the fence where no one could see you come in or out, and we did get permission to use two by fours and build a lookout house on top.  I'm sure it must have ruined that corrugated roof, but he had it up there.

        Inside, we had very little decoration, but I recall two very large tanned -- they must have been boa constrictor -- skins, they were brown leather.  They hung from the top clear to the floor.  Then we had some sort of a big Indian rock hatchet.  I don't know where Frank got hold of these things, but we put them up.

        There wasn't much in there but a wooden floor, and we would try to tumble.  Frank could stand on his hands and walk, but I would always fall over.  So we were not very good athletes.

        But Frank's cousin, Big Joe, must have played on the Colorado College football team because he had this sweater.  It was the most atrocious thing: it was orange and black striped like you have in a penitentiary.  And Frank used to wear this atrocious black sweater until I guess the moths ate him out of it.  You remember that thing?  Those stripes were just like penitentiary stripes.

        Frank told me that his Grandfather Dozier was a bit eccentric.  It came about one time when we were down in the basement and here was a very large cylinder with gauges on it.  I said, "What's that?"

        He said, "That's Granddad's light system.  He fills it with carbide, and then you pour water in it like they do in miner's lamps on their caps.  And then it comes up and lights the house."

        "I never saw anything like that," I said.

        "Well," he said, "Granddad got mad at the electric light company and said he'd put in his own lighting system.  And he did."

        We weren't supposed to be in there, but sometimes we'd go into the room where his Granddad's great bookcases were.  They were full of all these wonderful books, Frank said.  They were all on mysticism or something.  Frank would just revel in trying to tell me about them, but I didn't know what he was talking about.  I guess he knew what was in them.

        One time Frank got a forbidden book, and he gave it to me because he didn't dare let his mother know he was reading it.  It was all about what a young boy should know.  After reading it some, I never read any more 'cause I said, "This'll scare the hell out of you!"  Remember that big old black book?  I don't know what ever happened to it.

        F.W. (laughing):  I got rid of that black book about the time they started giving lectures on sex in high school.  They would march us down to the theater to see these pictures.  Well, this was interesting.  Because I joined all the rest of them.

        They had a nurse standing in every aisle.  You'd suddenly get up feeling faint, and there'd be these other kids fainting in the aisles.  As we'd stagger back up the aisle just about to collapse, the nurses would come down the aisle and grab us and hold us and snap these ampoules of smelling salts and jam them under our noses just in time.  I made it up the aisle almost the whole way.

        Oh those people!  What a brutal way to educate anyone about life.

 

Video of Frank and Charles Hathaway, Early School Days in Colorado Springs , 1992, is available for purchase in the FWF Shop page
 

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