Chapter 1 The Family Page II of III
The three Drachman boys, Harry, Mose and Manny, limited in education, stymied by the responsibilities of being the bread winners for their mother and their sisters, never had opportunities to venture beyond the hills that surround Tucson until they were well along in years. Their horizons were very limited and perhaps the lack of confidence plus lack of opportunity caused them to decide that Tucson was to be their home always. Or they might have been very smart and knew that Tucson, for all its short comings, could provide them a good way of life. Actually that is what happened. Many other men in their generation, and in mine also, left Tucson for greener pastures beyond the hills, only to return a few years later regretting that they ever left the Old Pueblo.
Those Drachman men did pretty well. None became rich but they managed to raise their families in fairly comfortable ways. However, they were old style guys in many ways. As an example my father never wore anything but high top shoes. He never learned to dance. He wore very plain clothes. He never went to church in his life but believed that the golden rule was all the religious guidance needed. But he, on two different occasions allowed his theatre to be used by churches to conduct their Sunday morning services free of charge while their permanent buildings were being repaired from fire damage. He traveled east of Douglas, once in his life, when he was a first lieutenant and second in command of the Arizona Militia when it was sent to Albany, Georgia during the Spanish-American war in 1898. He did travel extensively up and down the West Coast and into Canada on one trip.
Mose was a little more venturesome, but he never saw the Grand Canyon until he was forty-five years old. Harry visited the east coast on several occasions as a representative of the Masonic Lodge of which he was a thirty third degree member. His three brothers were also members of the Masonic Lodge.
The three brothers were men of simple tastes and strong character. They were close to their families and to each other. Growing up in such surroundings was a real treat for all of us Drachman kids, of which there were ten boys who were very close friends as well as relatives. We had happy lives as youngsters in Old Tucson.
My brothers and I lived on the wrong side of the tracks during the early part of our lives spent in the old adobe family house at 233 South Main Street with its high ceilings, thick walls and screen porch.
The neighborhood on South Main Street was at one time one of the better residential districts, with many of the more affluent families living in that part of town. However, by the time I was growing up all but three of the Anglo-American families had moved to other neighborhoods. The Will Scotts lived across the street, and the Stevens family lived two houses north of us. The George Adkinsons lived across McCormack Street to the south.
The old Otero house, which has been moved and restored to form part of the historic area at the Tucson Community Center, was right next door to our house. Sabine Otero and his brother, Teofilo, with their families, were our neighbors.
Eventually our house became just plain worn out, what with the rear two rooms no longer habitable because of the rotting floors and the condition of the roof. One of the bedrooms had been converted into a kitchen where we practically lived. There was no heat in the house so, in the cold months, we kids dressed and undressed in the kitchen with the oven door left open.
The stove was an old wood burner with removable lids so the fire could be set and added to as needed. It fell to my brother, Frank, and me to keep the woodbox full. The kindling came from old wooden boxes that he and I had to break up. The mesquite wood was bought from Indians who made their living with their wood wagons and axes.
My mother was an outstanding cook. She made all our bread, setting the dough the night before and then baking it the next morning. We couldn't afford eggs so we had barrels and barrels of mush -- Cream of Wheat, Ralston's and oatmeal.
The kitchen was more like our living room. My dad wanted to be near my mother when he was home, and she was always in the kitchen. I well remember his teaching me to spin a top on the old kitchen floor. He also taught me to make kites, which I made and sold when I grew a little older. The price was $.10, and they took about twenty minutes to make. (I was also a hell of a marble player when I was a kid, and even today I can still shoot their eyes out up to about six feet. My knees and back can't take it like they used to, but I've won money at parties from some guy who thought he was pretty good with marbles.)
Most of my friends in the early days of my boyhood were Mexican neighbors. We spun tops, flew kites, played marbles, and fought kids from other areas, as if we were from the same family. I learned to speak "street Spanish" at about the same time I learned to speak English.
There were some tough kids in that south end of town, and fights were a common thing. My dad drilled into us the need for us to stand up and fight for our rights. I remember one day I came home from school with my shirt pocket torn. My dad asked me what happened and I told him some guy had grabbed it and had torn it. When asked what I did to the other boy, I explained that I did nothing because I was carrying with me a brand new geography book that the third-grade teacher, Miss Goldie Gibson, had allowed me to bring home.
My dad asked me if I knew where that boy was, and when I told him I thought he was still playing marbles two blocks away, he told me to go up there, find him and not come home until I had whipped him. He followed me part way and then stood a block away and saw to it that I completed the job. When I sent the kid home with a bloody nose, I was told that next time I should not come home leaving such things unsettled.
A very short block away from our home, on the corner of Meyer and McCormack, there were two Chinese grocery stores and two saloons. We always traded at Suey Yen's store, which operated in Tucson for over sixty years. In those days it was common practice to receive "peon" as a small gift from the Chinese merchants. It usually consisted of a piece of candy or some little trinket, given as a gimmick to encourage you to return as a customer.
The two saloons on Meyer Street were rough places catering to pisanos, cowboys, and the lower element. Fights were common and many times ended up in the street, only a few feet from our backyard gate.
A half block further east on McCormack was the dead-end Sabino Street, better known as Gay Alley. Gay Alley was Tucson's legalized red light district, and with its more than 250 prostitutes, didn't do much in a beneficial way for our neighborhood. The super madames, who seemed to be the bosses of all the "houses," and the individual madames, lived on McCormack across from where Gay Alley ended. They could look right down the two-block-long street and keep an eye on the action. Gay Alley was about twenty feet wide, with a narrow sidewalk on each side on which the small adobe houses or apartments faced.
We kids, of course, were forbidden to enter Gay Alley, not only by our parents but by a common understanding that it was no place for us. Some of our chums would go there to pick up change running errands for the "ladies" and their customers. I don't know at what age I found out what went on there, but I can assure you it was when I was very young and couldn't understand it when I was told.
We used to have to go right by the entrance to Gay Alley as we walked to and from school. We walked right past the home where the "madame of madames" lived and often heard some rather colorful language. Someone finally decided that that end of Gay Alley should be closed off from view, and the city constructed a red corrugated iron fence across the south end of the alley so we kids wouldn't be exposed to such goings-on as we went to and from school.
Prostitution was outlawed about 1916 in Arizona, and Tucson lost one of its largest employment centers. Nearly all of the girls left town, I was told, but I remember a few who remained in the city. Some had families in Tucson, and some had become attached to one of their customers and wanted to remain near him.
I knew of one who lived with a fairly prominent man for many years. His family was very well respected, and after Gay Alley was closed he and his lady friend established a household and lived together for many years.
I knew of another who married a local man and had a daughter by him who still lives in Tucson. I doubt if she has any idea of her mother's profession.
Still another remained in Tucson and continued to ply her trade in one of the illegal "houses" that operated in Tucson off and on for years. She had a daughter who was a lovely little girl. Nearly every afternoon after school mother and daughter would meet on the corner of Congress and Scott Street in front of the old Jones Drug Store. I knew both of them quite well, and I know that the daughter, who lived with another family, never did know what her mother did or where she got the money she would give her regularly. Many people knew about this situation and respected the mother for her great interest in her child.
My mother was not happy living in such a neighborhood and the first, and about the only, argument I can remember my mother and father having was over her desire to move to another part of town. For my dad this was the only home he had known since he became an adult. It was his mother's house, which he had moved his wife into when they were married. He saw nothing wrong with the neighborhood, but my mother kept the pressure on, and in early 1916 we moved to a house on South Stone Avenue and 14th Street, which was owned by Dick Brady from whom we rented.
I hated to move. I loved that old Main Street home. The day we moved I left my baseball bat in back of the front hall door on purpose so I could have an excuse to return and get it. I remember returning one afternoon and going into the old place all by myself. There was no furniture, but still it was home. I was ten at the time, and it was the only home I had known. I walked into every room in the house and reluctantly left it for good.
The old Elysian Grove was located only a block from our Main Street home, and with the passing of the Grove, which my father operated, we had no interests in that part of town, except for the Mexican kids whom I was crazy about. For several years I would come back and fly kites, play marbles and visit in their homes.
Old Main Street was quite a thoroughfare in its day. It was very wide and eventually the streetcar line was extended to run down Main from 17th Street to Congress Street. In the mornings on one or two days each week the fire department would exercise their fire horses at a full gallop, pulling the shiney red wagon with smoke pouring from its chimney. And that was exciting!
Between our old home and the Grove the Wishing Shrine was located. When we were children it was nothing more than a mound of tallow made over the years from candles burned by worshipping neighbors who regarded it as a sacred place. Tin cans served as candle holders to protect the flame from the breeze. Every evening at dusk Mexican women and children would go there to light candles. This was not an organized endeavor but a traditional custom. My Uncle Harry, who was born in Tucson in 1869, told me that as far back as he could remember the tradition was carried on by neighbors. It was said that people who have troubles of heart or health burn candles at the Wishing Shrine while praying for their love and/or improved health for their loved ones.
There are several versions of how the tradition started and why this particular location survived for well over a hundred years. One version concerns a priest who fell in love with one of his parishioners and took his life on this spot because he could not find it in his soul either to relinquish his position with the church or to live without his sweetheart.
Another version contends that two men were in love with a lovely damsel and decided to have a duel to determine which would win the maiden fair. Both were mortally wounded at this location, and the young lady started burning candles there every evening in memory of them.
In any event, the tradition is still carried on, and Teofilo Otero, who owned the property, gave it to the city, providing the city would create a permanent shrine and build a wall delineating the area and identifying it as a permanent sacred shrine. Large candelabras have now been installed. Any evening one can visit the Wishing Shrine and find candles burning there. At the time of religious holidays hundreds of candles are placed there by worshipping neighbors.
While my dad operated the Elysian Grove he always employed some type of musical group to play for the show productions or provide music at the beer garden as roving troubadours. These musicians were invariably Mexican. How they could play the old favorite numbers of those days, such as La Paloma, Quatro Milpas, La Golandrina and many more.
They were very fond of my dad, and many nights we were awakened at one or two o'clock by the gentle strains of the popular melodies of that time. The musicians would gather around my parents' bedroom window and serenade them for thirty or forty minutes as they were wandering home from the Grove.
Just prior to the closing of the Elysian Grove a film producer came to Tucson and worked out a lease with my dad and his partner for the old pavilion to be used as a studio for the production of moving pictures. The company, under the name of Chinese Six, also constructed a set for which they used hundreds of yards of white, lightweight canvas. One or two pictures were made at the Grove, but the company soon was having financial troubles which eventually caused them to default on their lease. My dad ended up with enough canvas to build a circus tent, so we kids made small tents of it and also used it as sleeping bags for our hiking and camping trips while we were Boy Scouts.
The man who lived across the street from us, George Adkinson, was a cattleman and owned the first automobile I ever saw. Its engine was under the front seat and had to be cranked from the side of the car. He and his family took Sunday drives, much to the envy of every kid on the block. And I think our parents were envious also. But our family was much too poor to afford an automobile, or for that matter even a horse and buggy.
Occasionally my dad borrowed or rented a buggy and took us for a drive along the Old Santa Cruz River, which used to run nearly year-round then. A favorite spot was Silverlake which was just a mile or so south of the Grove, along the Santa Cruz River. It was later washed out by one of those early-day floods and became only a pleasant memory.
The lesson my father taught me about not walking away from a fight was not the only one my brother and I learned when we were very young. The S.H. Kress Co. opened its store on Congress Street about 1915. "Brud" and I visited the downtown area occasionally, even at that early age. We went into the Kress store, and we couldn't believe our eyes. Never before had we seen such a feast of beautiful and interesting things. This was the first variety store to open in Tucson, and it really impressed two kids from the wrong side of the tracks. We were most intrigued with the tiny electric flashlight bulbs they had. We each decided to steal one.
When we got home we showed them to our father, and, of course, he immediately wanted to know where they came from. When he asked us where we got the money to buy them, we fessed up and admitted we had stolen them. Well, we got a lecture and were told that the next morning we would stay home from school, and go with him to see the Kress manager to return the stolen flashlight globes.
I well remember walking to town with "Pop." I was wishing the store was ten miles away as I didn't relish the idea of facing the store manager. Brud and I went in and asked for the manager who was in his office. We were showed into the office and stood before his desk with the two bulbs in our hands. We had to admit we had stolen them and now were returning them. He thanked us and walked down into the store where our father was waiting. Our ordeal was over, but never to be forgotten, believe me!