Pencil Stubs Online
Reader Recommends


Some of My Earliest Recollections of Father

By Leocthasme

Some of my earliest recollections take me back to 1540 Mississippi Avenue. I was born there on May 18th, 1924. I don’t remember that particular incident, but I do remember the location. That old 1890s Victorian, three story, house was owned by my mother’s parents. It was right across the street from Lafayette Park.

Mississippi Avenue was at the eastern end of the park. It was a beautiful area in those days, a square, bounded by Lafayette avenue to the south, Park avenue on the north side, and Missouri avenue on the west. At that time almost all the homes facing the park were old 1800s two and three story residences.

Mom and Dad were married in 1923, and they lived on the second floor of that massive house.

Shortly after I was born, my dad got sick from the effects of ‘mustard’ gas in World War One, and thus he could no longer work. And Mom, who was a graduate nurse, went to work at the International Shoe Company’s Sole Leather Plant, which was right down the street on Mississippi Avenue just north of Park Avenue.

My earliest recollections of my father were of him taking me for walks in the afternoon over in Lafayette Park. At the other end of the park, on the corner of Missouri and Park Avenues, was a little confectionary where he would buy me an Ice cream cone. I loved those walks and Dad was like a real pal in my young years.

When I was born, it seems my dad’s mother; a wonderful, humorous, carefree, Irish gal got the first word in as to what my name was to be. The attending doctor asked for the information to put on my birth certificate. And, my dear grandmother rose right to the occasion. She informed the doctor that my name was the same as my father's, ‘Leo’, however she also knew, that no matter how many repetitious names popped up in family history, no family member was ever named a Junior.

There are a lot of Francis William, William Francis, Leo, Gregory, Mike, and even a common John or two, but always in combinations that never permitted a Junior. Thus my name, given to the doctor to record, was Leo Curry Helmer. My father’s given name was Leo Basil Helmer. In grandma’s humorous Irish mind there would be no Junior, but in true Irish tradition I would be named after my father, he being Leo B, and now, I would be Leo C, not Junior. The Curry was grandma’s family name. To this day I am proud to be her namesake.

And, I am sure Dad, deep in his heart, knew I was a real Leo Curry, and no matter what name I was called, I would be able to take care of myself.

Dad finally became so sick that he had to go to the Jefferson Barracks Veteran’s Hospital, and Mom decided to move in with her mother and father at the Arsenal Street Address. Dad died in the VA Hospital in April of 1936. I was only 11 years old at the time, but to this day I have never forgotten him and his very short influence on my life.

Left: Dad and me (from an enlarged crop of a family gathering pic that showed the photographs on Mom's mantel.)
Right: Dad in his WWI uniform.

As early as I can remember, Mom's dad made wine and beer, Dad made gin, and a lot of other relatives made beer and other alcoholic beverages. At an early age I was ‘helping’ grandpa make his beer and wine. And, by the time I was 4 years old, I could tell you how Dad made gin.

Dad’s gin making consisted of 8 quarts each week. That was made by walking down to the drug store on the corner of Mississippi and Park and buying one gallon of 180 proof straight grain alcohol, one gallon of distilled water, and Juniper Oil. Some gin makers might have used tap water, ‘bath tub gin’ but Dad was more upbeat, and considered city tap water not worthy of his creation.

Crazy laws in those days, no way you could buy liquor or beer, but the drug stores could sell straight grain alcohol. This was considered ‘medicinal’ and a common drug store item. Each week the relatives would bring back the quart bottles for refill. Dad would boil them out, and refill them. He made 2 gallons of Gin each week. The gallon of alcohol was mixed with the gallon of distilled water, and poured into the quart bottles. Each bottle was given a ‘shot’ of 3 drops of Juniper Oil and corked up for the anxious relatives.

Early on, at maybe the age between 3 and 4, I developed a total dislike for police officers. In the late ‘20s Saint Louis had no Police Academy nor was there much police training. Most ‘cops’ got their jobs because they knew someone at city hall. The majority of them walked beats through the neighborhoods. And, of course, they knew most of the families on their beat. They for sure knew that there was booze at 1540 Mississippi Avenue. If nothing else you could smell it when the wind was right.

A couple of these ‘wise morons’ would come by and threaten Dad if he did not give them some wine or beer or whatever. They would threaten him with jail, but Dad knew better, he was breaking no law. He was not selling alcohol, nor was anyone else in the family. But, there were two ‘tough guys’ who came by about once a week and would threaten and pummel Dad to try to force him to give them some wine or gin. Being the Irishman he was he would refuse them regardless of what they did. I saw this, and I already knew that Dad was sick from the war, and when he was pushed and punched around I got into the act to kick a shin or two. Of course I was little and I was pushed away, but Dad NEVER GAVE IN to any threat. I suppose I learned something there.

My father always expected me to be the best, I guess. This letter to Mom has him telling her that my average of 81 wasn't up to the level he wanted me to achieve. I, myself, felt quite lucky to get that much. But Dad was a mathmatician and somewhat of a perfectionist. He began teaching me little math tricks when I was only four, nearly five.

This portion of the first page of a letter to me shows the date clearly. This is the year before we lost Dad, but he always kept his spirits up when corresponding with us, me especially.

The section of a letter to me and the envelope from the VA Hospital are part of the memorabilia still in my posesssion, which includes a 48 star flag that was draped on Dad's coffin. It is still ceremonially folded in the traditional triangle. The 21 gun salute ceremony, I can still remember.

Dated envelope from Dad while in Jefferson Barracks Hospital
(Note the 2 cents standard postage stamp.)

Excerpts from "Life is Fun When You Live It" an autobiography by Leo C. Helmer

Click on author's byline for updated bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.


Refer a friend to this Story

Your Name -
Your Email -
Friend's Name - 
Friends Email - 


Reader Comments

Name: John I. Blair Email:
Comment: What a wonderful reminiscence! So many rich details and colorful lore and fond memories.You inspire me to try this with my own memories of my Dad. No homemade gin, but a lot of great stories to be told. Thanks!



Post YOUR Comments!

Please enter the code in the image above into the box
below. It is Case-Sensitive. Blue is lowercase, Black
is uppercase, and red is numeric.

Horizontal Navigator



To report problems with this page, email Webmaster

Copyright © 2002 AMEA Publications