The Schuerr Brothers & Their Nine Lives

Visions of Cowboys and Indians Dancing in their Heads                           By Sue/Larry/Ken Schuerr

Today, April 28th, 2018, we have a Celebration of Life for Kennith Schuerr. We will remember him as a wonderful husband and father who loved to laugh and lived life to the fullest.  He enjoyed reminiscing about his childhood. Below are some of those stories.

All little boys growing up in the 50’s were influenced by the TV cowboy characters Roy Rogers, Hop-a-long 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 was no exception. He and his two toe-headed stair-step brothers, Bill and Ken, were glued to the TV screen soaking up the many lessons to be learned about being a real cowboy.  They were thrilled to have electricity and a TV in their small, primitive summer cottage supported only on posts. It was located in Lily Moor just outside of McHenry, a better place than the city for three growing boys.

In 1952, Larry’s dad bought the summer cottage from his half-brother.  The goal was to convert the summer cottage into a year round home. Money was a scarcity so the transformation took years. The  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  water down the indoor-outhouse to flush it. The wood burning stove sizzled with wood scraps Larry’s dad brought home from his carpentry jobs.

“We’d wake up in the morning with snow blowing through the eaves onto the floor,” Larry recalls. “Only one bed would fit in our room and we nestled close to one another for warmth.  For Christmas each of us received two presents—-an article of clothing and one toy. One evening, the VFW showed up at our door with a turkey and a box of food.  It was the first time, I saw my dad cry.”

Larry’s dad, a man whose arms resembled the cartoon character 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.  The next ongoing project was to dig out a basement under the house. This was a Herculean task for three young boys. First, walls with windows were installed. Then Larry and his brothers, Bill and Ken, would  dig out the basement by throwing the dirt out of the window.

But at least it was their place, and the TV provided a mental escape from on-going chores. There were trees to climb, sticks to turn into guns and plenty of new places in the country to explore

Ken, the youngest of the three, was often the target for taunting. When it was his turn to swing from the rope on the tree, Larry, being the chief, would tell him when to jump. Of course, the oldest brother was always right.

Ken would yell, “When should I jump?”

“I’ll tell you when,”  said Skip.

“Not now,” screamed Bill and Larry

With their early understanding of physics, they would wait until the distance between Ken and the ground was greatest and then yell, “Now”!

As would be expected, they all were wounded regularly just like the real cowboys and Indians on TV;  Dad, the medicine man, was an expert at making butterfly bandages and other repairs to their frequently wounded bodies.

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 to see what would happen.  When the thrill of seeing their brother fly on the end of a cow’s tail passed, they yelled.

“Let go.”

But the shock of being dragged by a moving cow, made Ken grab on harder.

“Let go,” yelled Bill and Larry even louder.

But, Ken continued to grab on even harder as he bounced off stones, sticker bushes and manure patties.

Rainy days were 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 boys got to rough housing. It wasn’t long before they put a hole in the tender wall.

“Now, what do we do?” said Ken

“We’re dead meat,” cried Bill

But Larry, the ringleader,  came up with an excellent solution. The three would move the refrigerator to cover the hole——-Mom  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, she asked who moved the refrigerator.

“Not me,” said Larry

“Not me,” said Ken

“Not me,” said Bill

That left their little sister, Mary, gurgling in the corner.

Digging out the basement was an on going 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 of the window. The boring, laborious labor cried for adventure. Larry remembered seeing a special episode of Roy Rogers where——–

The memory was crystal clear in Larry’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!”

Shirley politely said, “Excuse me ladies,” It looks like I’m needed below.” She was angry about missing the latest gossip tidbits.

Stomping down the basement stairs, the first thing she saw was Bill buried up to his neck and then Ken and Larry standing in the distance with shovels trying to be innocent bystanders.  The spell was now completely broken—–the Indians were on the run with past wallops in memory.

She grabbed a shovel and furiously began to excavate her middle son promising retribution,” I’m going to kill you guys.” In the next breath she called upstairs in her sweet voice, “I’ll be with you in a minute, ladies. ”She came close to excavating Bill while Larry and Ken flew up the stairs and out the door in ear shot of her impending promise, “I’m going to kill you kids.”

It was hours before they returned home for dinner. But it wasn’t long before the trio once again escaped into the wonderful world of Roy Rogers, Dale Evans and Tonto—–with visions of future exploits dancing in their heads.

The Cowboys and Indians of the 50’s Bill/Larry/Ken

My latest interview with Ken in March, 2018.

After school, the Indians would go down to Lily Lake to skate around the Lake below our house. It was rather slushy. Larry, whose nickname was Skip, was skating toward the shore wearing a heavy old winter coat with a hood that pulled tightly around his head. Suddenly the ice broke and he sank into the water. Ken, remembering what he saw on TV, laid on the solid ice to keep from sinking himself, and extended his hands forward to help Larry get out. After a struggle, he emerged and quickly rushed to the safety of home escaping Hypothermia. Thanks Ken for saving my future husband.

Our adventures often entailed a dangerous challenge. Ken was the youngest and smallest of the three Indians.  They were having fun jumping off the pier while avoiding pockets of water. But little Ken, while jumping, ended up missing his target and slid torpedo-style under the ice. He was disoriented and unable to figure out up from down.  He imagined himself being Houdini the character they got to know on TV. Like Houdini, Ken finally managed an escape and with the assistance of his big brothers managed to get home, escaping hyperthermia.  Barb would like to thank them for saving her future husband.

Living in the country, one of the favorite sports of the three boys was to climb trees. Mary, who was younger than Ken by three years, wanted to climb the tree too. She was eager to experience a little adventure herself, being the only girl in the family. She climbed the tree successfully but was unable to get down. The thought of descending what seemed like a mountain to her was more than she could handle.  She sat there for hours while her brothers tried to coax her down, with no success. They finally got hungry and set out for home. Mom said, “Where is your sister?” “Oh her, um, she’s stuck up a tree,” they said nonchalantly afraid of getting punished. Instead of serving dinner, she fetched Mary out of the tree.  Kirby, Mary’s husband, would have said, “Thanks for saving my future bride.” No thanks to the three boys or she would still be up a tree.

Grandpa lived next door to the Schuerr family. His house was a haven for the brothers who loved nibbling off the many fruit trees in his yard. That day, they were playing War Games. Ken had stuffed his pockets with tasty ripe plums. Skip, being almost four years older, tackled his enemy– and crushed the plums in Ken’s pocket. Wow, it looked like real blood. “It sure was sticky and gooey,” said Ken who wobbled home to the chagrin of his mother.

Grandpa decided to build a small pool where he enjoyed watching his fish while cooling off.  The boys loved it too. But it would not contain the water so eventually Grandpa replaced the water with sand and in the winter, the Indians filled it with snow. Now the war game was to jump off the roof and land in the pit.  If they missed it, they would be hurt by the surrounding concrete blocks. Little Mary, while watching her big brothers jump said, “I want to try it.” She managed to climb to the top of the roof and holding her breath with fear and trepidation, she successfully jumped into the round sandpit.  But once was enough for Mary who had proved herself in the eyes of her big brothers.







The Power of Words


Our family continues to pass along the reading torch.

Do you remember some encouraging words you received from a parent, teacher, coach or friend that helped shape your life today? Conversely, you may have received some negative words that shaped you as well. I recently read a book entitled Just a Minute by the founder of Compassion International, Wes Stafford.  In it, he discussed the power our words can have on young people and how our influence even briefly can help shape a life.

In my childhood,  I recall an old black typewriter where I started coining my stories often about my brother, Bill.  I even started a local neighborhood newspaper with a joke section about Fords being junk. My Dad, a Chevy owner, said “You’re a pretty good writer—maybe you’ll become a journalist or a teacher.” My mom shared her love of music by playing lullabies on the piano for us and introducing us to classical music.  With words of affirmation, they both encouraged me to love reading, writing and music.  My children grew up with the same passions and have surpassed me in their skill level. Larry read to them each evening went he got home from work. It was break time for me.  He started with C S Lewis’ Narnia series and continued with Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.  Now Larry didn’t just read to them, he acted out each character giving them a voice and mannerisms. He had Gollum down long before the movie came out, and when Thorin Oakenshield  died, they all cried around the dinner table.  I remember one time I drifted off to sleep while reading a magazine. All of a sudden I woke up in a panic and ran down the hall to the kitchen where I heard,” Fire, Foe, Arise.” I thought the house was on fire. My heart was in my throat—— but it was only a line dramatized by Larry from The Lord of the Rings. 

All three of our children were in plays and musicals and Aaron still acts regularly in them. They grew up with a passion for the arts and parents who encouraged them with affirming words and actions.  The power of our words played a key role in their lives.

Conversely, negative words can also shape young lives. But that will be continued in another blog.  Feel free to comment.