While preparing for Bill Schuerr’s Memorial Service, Dec. 13, Larry and Ken reflect on their childhood and what made them true brothers
All little boys growing up in the 50’s were influenced by the cowboy characters, Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy and John Wayne. The good guys wore white hats and the bad guys wore black. Of course, both were always fighting the Indians. Larry, whose nickname was Skip, was no exception. He and his two younger brothers, Bill and Ken, were glued to the TV screen soaking up the many lessons to be learned about how to be a real cowboy. They were thrilled to have electricity and a TV in their small primitive summer cottage supported on posts. It was located in Lilymoor just outside of McHenry——a better place than the city for three boys to grow up.
In 1952, Skip’s dad bought the summer cottage from his half-brother who used it as a flop house, a place to get inebriated on the weekends. The goal was to convert the summer cottage into a year round home. Insulation, heat and indoor plumbing were non-existent, and they had to take a bucket to the hand pump on the front porch to pour the water down the indoor outhouse to flush it. The wood burning stove sizzled with scraps Skip’s dad brought home from his carpentry jobs.
“We’d wake up in the morning to snow on the floor,” Larry recalls. “With room for only one bed, we nestled close to one another for warmth. For Christmas each of us received two presents—-a piece of clothing and one toy and when the VFW came to the door with a turkey and a box of food, I saw my dad cry for the first time, “said Larry.
Larry’s dad, a man whose arms resembled Popeye, dug a well and installed a pump by the sink in the kitchen similar to what we had seen on the TV series, Lassie. After the wood stove was installed, the next ongoing project was to dig out a basement under the house. First, walls with windows were built. When Larry and his brothers got home from school, their job was to remove five wheel barrels of dirt through the basement window where later it would be hauled to the dump. This was a Herculean task for three young boys.
But at least the cottage was theirs, and the TV provided a mental escape to help them endure. There were trees to climb, sticks to turn into guns and plenty of new places to explore.
Ken, the youngest of the three, was often the target for taunting. When it was Ken’s turn to swing from the rope on the tree, Skip the chief, would tell him when to jump. Of course, the oldest brother was always right.
Ken would yell, “When should I jump?”
“Not now,” screamed Bill and Skip.
With their early understanding of physics, they would wait until the distance between Ken and the ground was greatest and then they would yell, “Now”.
As would be expected, they all got wounded regularly just like the real cowboys and Indians on TV and Dad, the medicine man, was an expert at making butterfly bandages. Going to the hospital was out of the question.
Another time, they ventured into a dairy farm behind them and visited the cows. Bill and Larry talked Ken into grabbing the tail of a Holstein cow to see what would happen. When the thrill of seeing their brother fly on the end of a cow’s tail passed, they yelled.
But the shock of being dragged by a moving cow, made Ken grab on even harder.
“Let go,” yelled Bill and Skip even louder.
But Ken continued to grab on even harder as he bounced off stones, sticker bushes and manure patties. Now that was enough adventure for the day.
Rainy days were really a recipe for disaster for the growing family who lived in the space of a double garage. Mom and Dad were playing cards with friends down the road and the three got to rough housing. It wasn’t long before they put a hole in the thin wall.
“Mom is going to kill us?” they screamed in unison.
“We’re dead meat,” cried Bill
Skip came up with an excellent solution. They would move the refrigerator to cover the hole——-Mom and Dad would never notice. With a great deal of pushing and shoving, the hole vanished behind the mayonnaise, mustard and sour cream.
When Mom and Dad came home, they asked who moved the refrigerator.
“Not me,” said Larry
“Not me,” said Ken,
“Not me,” said Bill
That left their little sister, Mary, cooing in the corner.
Digging out the basement was an ongoing project. By then real plumbing was installed and Shirley, their mom, decided to have a Tupperware party.
As usual, the boys came home from school and worked in the basement shoveling the dirt out the window. The boring, laborious work cried for adventure. The three Indians remembered seeing a special episode of Roy Rogers where——–
The memory was crystal clear in Skip’s mind and he diverted his attention from throwing dirt out the window to digging a large hole. He coaxed Bill, the cowboy, into climbing into it. Bill obediently jumped in. The Indians, Ken and Larry, buried their victim up to his neck. All they needed were cowboy hats and feathers—–until Bill’s piercing cry.
“Help! Get me out of here.”
The Tupperware party was in full swing upstairs as the ladies inhaled their Lucky Strike cigarettes, munched on brownies, and practiced burping their new lettuce containers.
But the call persisted, “Help, Help, Get me out of here!”
Ken ran upstairs and whispered in his mother’s ear. “We need you downstairs,” said Ken as innocently as possible.
“Go play,” said Shirley
“We really need you downstairs,” pleaded Ken
“Why?” said Mom
“We buried Bill,” said Ken.
Shirley politely said, “Excuse me ladies. It looks like I’m needed below.”
Stomping down the basement stairs, the first thing she saw was Bill buried up to his neck and then Skip standing in the distance with a shovel trying to be an innocent bystander. The spell was now completely broken—–the Calvary had arrived.
She grabbed a shovel and furiously began to excavate her middle son promising,” I’m going to kill you guys.”
In the next breath she called upstairs in a never heard before—- sweet voice, “I’ll be with you in a minute, ladies.”
She shoveled some more while Larry and Ken flew up the stairs at a speed that would have given the FLASH a run for his money.
Two weeks in the woods might give their mother time to settle down. They remembered many episodes about how to live on roots and bark.
But it wasn’t long before the Indians, forgetting the pain, escaped into the wonderful world of Roy Rogers, Dale Evans and Tonto—–with visions of future exploits dancing in their heads.
By Sue Schuerr/ with Larry and Ken Schuerr