Stories from the 5 Cunico Boys

Aunt Jean asked the children of Christopher Modesto Cunico and Louella Elizabeth Barth to jot down memories of their childhood for a Family Tree book she was authoring. She and Uncle Chuck drove to Marseilles from Orem, Utah in the summer of 1984 for a Cunico reunion she coordinated. What timing. because my father (Barth Sr.) found he had inoperable lung cancer that December. He died in May of 1985.

Here's one of the last pictures of all five boys together.

left to right Chuck, Barth, Bill, Tom, Bob


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Charles Christopher Cunico

My early childhood thoughts are mingled with my parents;tyle="font-size: 10.0pt; font-family: Verdana">We listened to Uncle Bob and his “Topsy Turvy Time” on the radio, which by the way was on at 4 p.m. Then it was into our p.j.’s and upstairs to our bedroom. The shades would be pulled down and the door locked. Dad always came home after Bill and I were in bed. Puck Trager, the police chief, rode a motorcycle with a side car attached. He would often give Dad a ride home. Otherwise, Dad walked home from work. We never saw Dad very often, usually only on Saturdays and Sundays.

Many nights I would wake up and speak to Bill, only to have my voice echo. I would scream and Dad would come in to see what the trouble was. I would tell him there was somebody in the room, or someone was under the bed. Dad would try to tell me there wasn’t anybody in the room but do you know I never believed him.

I also had this frightening experience because of the way Mom and Aunt Mary acted one day when the fire siren went off in town. That eerie fire siren went off and Mom ran out of the house with Bill and me right on her heels and Aunt Mary came out of her house. We met in the middle of the street. I remember watching them looking up and down the street and saying, “It sure didn’t come past here.” Aunt Mary said, “Lou, shall we go look for it?” From that kind of talk I thought whatever they were looking for must fly up and down the street. So we packed into Aunt Mary’s Buick. They drove around until we wound up on East Bluff Street where Codo’s lived. A lot of firemen were tearing the burning tar paper off the side of a garage. Some of the firemen were stomping on the paper. Mom and Aunt Mary said, “They caught it in time but it is about dead.” I’ll tell you it was all I could do to watch them kill that black thing. I was scared.

On occasion we were left home alone and Uncle Virgil or Aunt Mary was across the street if we needed them. One day I found a car jack in the kitchen and I jacked up the gas stove. The only thing was I didn’t know how to let it down. So, I got Uncle Virgil to come and help me because I knew I was in trouble if Mom saw the gas stove with one leg off the floor. He let it down and told Dad that one more notch on that jack and I would have snapped the gas line and blown the house up.

One time Mom and Dad were going to be gone for a few minutes. The stove was going in the living room and I remember the belly of the stove got cherry red, creeping up to where the pipe ran across under the ceiling into the wall. The pipe was so hot the wall paper on the ceiling started to come loose and flap from the heat wave. Bill and I didn’t know what to do. It seemed like Mom and Dad were gone a long time. Either Bill or I decided we had to put the fire out or the house was going to burn down. So we were going to throw water on the stove. Dad and Mom came in before we did that and closed the damper. I remember watching the redness of the pipe leave. I told Dad what we were going to do and he told me, never to do that, as it would have caused an explosion.

Gramma drove a 1911 or 1912 black Chevrolet touring sedan. The car had no side windows. I remember only one long trip in this car. Grampa, Gramma, Mom, Dad, Bill and I went to Nappanee, Indiana in it. On the way back, someplace around Joliet the car had stopped and it was raining hard, I had been asleep. Dad and Grandpa were out buttoning up the isinglass windows. Gramma was out in the road with a flashlight flagging down cars to get help. Whether they had a flat tire or engine trouble, I don’t know.

This car was sitting in the yard one day. Since I was built low to the ground, and cars at that time were quite high off the ground, I could see the battery hanging down on the ground. I told Gramma, “Your battery is on the ground.” She said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” Gramma never gave me credit for knowing anything. Grampa told me she went over to B.P.E. Garage and she made Vic Ellena or Jack Pomatto let all the air out of the tires and put new air in them because the pump had a sign that said “Fresh Air” on it. She believed the air in the tires was old.

I was with her one day and she said we were going to the post office to get a book of stamps. She was counting out pennies on the kitchen table, moving them with her fingers as she counted. She counted to twenty – however, I counted nineteen. She put one penny aside. I said, “Gramma you counted wrong.” She said she didn’t make a mistake. So down to the post office she went. She asked the postmaster for a book of stamps. The postmaster said, “Mrs. Barth, you are a penny short.” Hearing this I said, “Gramma, you left the other penny on the table.” Gramma did not like this as I was always admonished that little boys should be seen and not heard. She was nice to be with but very stern and strict with me. I learned fast to not make a peep unless spoken to.

I remember the coffee grinder which hung on the wall and how nice the smell of the coffee beans was when they were being ground. I also remember the old time remedies used on me when I was sick which Mom always said that Gramma used.

I remember Mom washing clothes in the kitchen, at our house, and Gramma coming over giving Bill and me windup race cars which she said Santa Claus had left at her house.

I remember the last time I saw Gramma – or so it seems. We, Mom, Dad, Bill and I went over to Gramma’s house. Gramma was in the kitchen – whether I was in her way I don’t know but she said something to me. I told her she was full of prunes. Shortly afterwards Gramma died and I always felt for a long time after that if I hadn’t said that she would still be alive.

It was a sad day for me, I will never forget when Mom came back home and said Gramma had gone to Heaven. Bill’s remarks were, “Goody, now we get the car.” Grampa took me into the parlor to see Gamma in her coffin. He lifted me up to kiss Gramma goodbye. To this day I can see Gamma laying there and I still miss her. I honestly believe she took me because Mom was always sick. I don’t remember her having Bill over there – maybe it was because he wasn’t very old at the time.

Grampa and Gramma had a Chick Sale – two holer in their back yard. I remember a bathtub on the back porch that had just been delivered. Mom and Dad didn’t have one then. This must have been when he installed a bathtub, toilet and Holland furnace. I was only seven or eight and Grampa had me on the roof with him and he was putting down shingles on the bathroom addition. Gramma came to the ladder and gave Grampa a bacon and tomato sandwich. She must not have known I was there because she only had one sandwich. But Grampa shared with me after Gramma went down the ladder.

Easter time Grampa would come over and tell Bill and me the Easter Bunny had been to our house. He would take us out in the back and also in the front of the house and show us the rabbit tracks (he made) in the dirt. He also told us the bunny buried money in the dirt. He helped to uncover the dimes he had planted along side of the rabbit tracks.

Grampa also helped Dad remodel the front room. He built an arch way and remodeled the stairs. Apparently this was when they took out the heatalator stove in the front room and installed the Holland furnace, because I remember the hole for a register they cut up stairs over the bathroom, they were working below. I almost fell thru that hole upstairs as I was looking down thru it to see what they were doing.

On the Fourth of July, Grampa and Dad would shoot firecrackers and skyrockets off in the big lot after dark. Bill and I got to watch out of Mom and Dad’s bedroom window because we were ready for bed.

After Gramma died, Grampa had me stay to his house at various times. I got to crawl into that big feather bed he had. I remember how nice it was to sink into it. It wasn’t too long after Gramma died that we moved into the house with Grampa.

Bill and I were over to his house all the time when he got home from work. Grampa would be shaving while I cranked the Victrola and played the Jillian record he had. We sometimes got out the big books he had on horses and looked at the pictures. We knew he would take us to the picture show with him. This show house was along the Rock Island Railroad tracks. After the show we would drop into Orsi’s Candy Store. Bill and I would look at all the candy while Grampa called Dad to come and get us. He never ever bought us any candy. I’m sure he could see our tongues hanging out.

I remember when Mom apparently went to Youngstown, Ohio. Dad said we could stay up as long as we wanted. We would go to the bedroom window and look for Mom. Dad told us Mom was taking care of a sick lady. Dad cooked our meals while she was gone. One meal I remember most; Dad took a frying pan, put in pork and beans, cut up weenies, threw in some eggs and mixed it all together. It didn’t taste too good. Sometimes Dad would come home with a sack. He would have Bill and me reach into the bottom of the sack where he would have suckers. The last sack, I remember the bottom felt squishy. Instead of candy it was balloons. Mom finally came home.

Bill, Mom and I went on the train to Brookings, South Dakota. It was a long trip. Uncle Tom Maher drove us to the farm in a Model T. We played in the tall corn while there. Bill got lost in it and when we found him he had heat exhaustion. Bill also chased a chicken and hit it with a board killing it. I told Mom I didn’t know how the chicken got killed so I got a spanking. We returned home after a nice visit.

Whenever Bill and I made too much noise Mom would get nervous and faint. Mom showed me how to mix Ginger, Sugar and water together to put it to her mouth when she was lying on the floor. Whatever this did, it seemed to help. Mom would get up on her feet. Every time Mom fainted I would get scared.

When we had loose teeth Dad would pull them out with a small pair of pliers that we called his radio pliers as they were in a drawer of a table on which his radio set. One day I had a loose tooth, Mom apparently decided not to wait for Dad. So she tied a string around the tooth and tied the other end to the door knob. This door was between the kitchen and the stairs leading upstairs. She would tell me to open my mouth – then slam the door. She tried this several times, and it hurt. My tooth stayed in until Dad got home.

I remember I used to have real bad sore throats, all the time in the winter time. When I got ready for bed Dad would put a rag on top of the heatalator and on that he would place a strip of bacon. After the bacon was heated he would put it around my neck. It felt real good when warm but clammy the next morning. Mom would rub mustardrole on my chest, roll up a newspaper and blow sulfur on the tonsils, and stuff Vapor Rub up my nose. We had real thick quilts on our beds to keep us warm.

For breakfast Mom would cut up the homemade raisin bread in squares over which she put sugar and milk. Sometimes, we got cornflakes and most of the time rolled oats. I remember during the winter, how the cream in the milk delivered on the front porch would rise out of the top of the milk bottle. This would belong to Dad; he would cut it off into his bowl of coffee.

I remember a Christmas when Bill got a big yellow street car that clanged when pushed and I got a big red hook and ladder fire truck. Also we each got a garage made out of lumber with doors that opened. We used to like the smell of the wood. Bill and I played on the linoleum in the living room with these toys. Mom and Dad were listening to the radio and Mom started getting nervous and upset because of the racket Bill and I were making. These two toys were taken away from us and placed above the medicine cabinet in the kitchen – never did we get to play with them again. Dad told me later, when he came out to Utah to fish, and I had mentioned it to him it was the first Christmas I remembered. One Christmas he was walking to town, Christmas Eve, to get some medicine for Mom, from Trowbridges Drug Store. On the way he found a ten dollar bill. So he walked back home and talked with Mom whether they should but medicine and groceries or buy Bill and me some toys. They decided to buy us a toy apiece. This was when Mom was pregnant.

I remember Mom asking me if I would like another baby brother and I said yes. Next morning Mom was upstairs, still in bed, with my new baby brother, Tom. He was fat and I had to lift him and also change his diapers. I don’t remember when the other kids were born.

I remember the only time I saw Dad’s Father. I was sitting on the curb in front of the house. A man came out of the house, walked toward me. He gave me a ten dollar bill and said to give it to Mom. He appeared to me as tall, slender and wearing a hat. He left me, walked across the street and headed east. I never saw him again. I later found out he was dying of cancer. He had tried to give the money to Mom but she refused, so he had given it to me to give to her.

I remember when we moved in with Grampa one of Bill and my chores was to shine the silverware. We also shined Gramma’s silver percolator. I asked Mom why we didn’t use it instead of putting it back in the closet. Mom told me when it was percolating it sounded like Gramma gasping while she was dying. We never used it.

Grampa bought Mom and Dad a big 1925 Brown Studebaker. Dad once said is was used by a funeral parlor. It had a thermostat on the radiator cap and flower vases on the door posts inside the car.

Grampa next bought a 1929 Green Chevrolet. It looked like a cracker box. Dad had nothing but trouble with the valve stems breaking and the timing chain breaking.

Grampa’s next car he bought for Mom and Dad was a beautiful Black 1941 Dodge. Mom told me once (whether in jest or not) Grampa was part Jew – because he always dickered before he bought. Before she took Grampa over to B.P.E. Garage to see this car, she had told Jack Pomatto to be sure to increase the price he wanted as Grampa was sure to Jew him down. I know Grampa was this way as I remember the day he took Bill and me to the Ritz show house and the sign in the ticket window said, “All seats 10¢” and said he was buying all seats.

When I was in the fifth grade, Dad finally got his World War I Veterans bonus from the government. The Veterans had marched on Washington D.C. in 1929 for a bonus. Dad bought Bill and I each a cornet. Bill always said he wanted a clarinet but I convinced Dad he meant Cornet. Gramps paid for all my cornet lessons - $1.50 from the fifth grade thru high school. He came to all the concerts. He bought me a more expensive trumpet ($75) when I was suddenly moved from fifth chair to lead trumpet.

Grampa took Bill and me to Chicago. I believe I was nine and Bill was seven. We went by Interurban all the way to Chicago. The little depot stop was on Lincoln Street near the Illinois-Michigan Canal, just before DePhillipe Field; a new high school was built there. On the way over Grampa told me to lie about Bill’s age, so that Bill could ride free. After we finally arrived in Chicago, we started to board a city street car. Grampa said, “Charley, bend over and pick up that pocket book real fast and put it in your pocket.” After we got seated on the street car Grampa said, “Shall we see if there is anything in the pocket book?” He opened it and there was $40 and we were going to spend every nickel of it. Grampa knew where he was going in Chicago. I found out later he had lived there. We first went to Riverside Amusement Park where they had Roller Coaster rides, a house of mirrors and a Ferris wheel. There were some rides Bill was too young for. Grampa asked me if I wanted to go on them, and if I did we would have to lie about Bill’s age so he could go. No one said Boo and I always felt relieved that I didn’t have to lie. We rode on every ride they had. Then Grampa asked me if I wanted to go to the Lincoln Zoo which was real nice. So we boarded a Double Decker bus; we hadn’t gone very far when the bus had to stop at a four-way intersection because of a traffic jam. Since we weren’t moving, Grampa took us off the bus and we walked a block past the traffic jam and got on a