My name is Jean Ellen Davidson and I was born in 1937. My childhood was spent at 6561 Washington Circle in a home that was built for my father and mother. Gordon McLay Davidson and his wife, Doris. Gordon was the oldest son of Walter Davidson. Walter was one of the founders of the Harley-Davidson Motor Company and its first president. Gordon was the Vice President in charge of manufacturing. I am a middle child. I have an older sister named Barbara and a younger sister named Christine.
According to my mother and my relatives, I was a very independent child who marched to her own drum from little on. The Highlands was my turf. I knew every yard and every neighbor. I had a cousin who lived next door and I had an aunt and uncle one block away who I would run to whenever I felt my own parents didn’t understand me which was very often. I would pour out my heart and they would hug me and tell me I was ok. I had another aunt and uncle in the next block. I walked to and from Washington grade school and even walked home for lunch. I would cut through all the yards and if there was a fence, I would climb over. Whatever was the shortest distance to the school or wherever I was trying to get to. I only came home to eat meals and then I would gobble my food down as quickly as I could so I could get back outside. One time, I decided to take some flowers to a teacher who I liked. I picked the prettiest ones on the way to school. She liked them so much she called my mom to thank her. Of course my mom told her we didn’t have those kinds of flowers in our yard. I was in trouble a lot. I knew which neighbors were nice and which ones didn’t like children running through their yards. I had my list of these neighbors and when Halloween came, I knew which windows to soap. All the time I wasn’t in school, I was playing down in the creek or in the tunnel that went under Lloyd St. We were let out of school early on some Wednesdays to go to Bible school but instead, some of us naughty kids would crawl in the tunnel and see how far we could get before we would get scared and try to get out as fast as we could. In the winter, I spent all my time down at Elmer’s pond which was flooded and turned into a skating rink. Elmer would sit inside his shed with a stove going so we could warm up if we got too cold. I always had to be home when the street lights came on. Other than that, no one knew where I was. I guarded my turf. If a new house went up, I took it as a bad change in my turf and would get some kids together and we would try to disrupt the building. Many times we would get caught and when I got home there would be a policeman sitting on our couch telling my mother that I was turning into a juvenile delinquent. I thought I was defending my turf against outsiders. Across the street from my home was the apple orchard. We used it as a sledding hill and would see if we could go so fast that we would jump over the wall into the street. That was the true test of bravery, especially when cars were coming. My poor mother…. I am sure I worried her all the time. But one time when she was elderly and in the Wauwatosa Congregational Home, I hugged her and apologized for being so naughty when I was young. She smiled and said, “People loved you because You made people smile.” I am sure that is not true of all the people who had to cope with me.
Once in awhile, my father would get really mad at me. Our house was big with a front stairway and a back stairway. We even had a bathroom that you could enter from both sides. He would chase me around and around. I would be running and stay just out of his reach but knowing that sooner or later he would catch me, and I would be in trouble.
One time, I decided to save up for buying my horse ranch out West. Every night I would sneak into my parent’s bedroom and steal the money from my dad’s dresser top where he would keep his change. Did I not think that he would notice? One day I was sitting on my bed counting my stash when in walked my Dad. He was not happy with my actions but I showed him the plans that I had drawn of my dream ranch and he ended up just laughing but he did take all his money back.
I walked everywhere. I never would have asked for a ride. I love animals and always have. I used to walk down to the zoo when it was at the Washington Park. I would be down there all day and then walk home when it got dark. I don’t remember anyone asking me where I was going or what I was doing.
At night, I had my favorite hillside down the block and I would go there and sit on top of the hill and have long conversations with God. I would share all my thoughts and dreams with the hope that all the ups and downs of growing up would make sense. Was I ever afraid out alone in the dark? No, I felt I was surrounded by my friends which were the stars and the moon.
There were two movie theaters that were on the edge of my turf. The Tosa which is now the Rosebud and the Times. Saturdays, if I wasn’t trying to get to Joy Farm or a horse stable to go riding, I would look for some neighborhood kids that were around and we would go to the movies. It was fun and someone was always trying to sneak in.
One time I decided I would save all the dogs and cats from the Humane Society. Next to the apple orchard was an empty lot so I started digging a large hole. I was going to keep them all there. Of course they wouldn’t make any noise because they would know I was saving them. I worked and worked on my plan until one day it rained really hard and the dirt collapsed. I was always trying to rescue animals. One time I stole all the little turtles that were for sale at the local hardware store. I stuffed them in my pockets and then started walking home. By the time I got home a policeman was talking to my Mom. Of course, the hardware store knew whose kid I was and told the police to talk to my Mom. I was always bringing home animals. Many of them my Mom would let me keep for she was just trying to cope with her middle child who just so happens to be me.
In the alley behind my home we all gathered for baseball. We made all our own rules and solved all our differences ourselves. We played flashlight tag at night and had all the freedom you can imagine. There were no adults around to try to organize us. It was great. If you got hurt you went home or if you were doing something you weren’t supposed to be doing, you pretended you weren’t hurt.
I wanted to be a boy so I got to play with the boys in the neighborhood. We played down next to the creek. I had to prove I could play football, baseball, and wrestle as well as them. I even cut all my hair off and bought boys shoes and called myself David. I was so happy when people would look at me and say, “Are you really a boy!” My poor Mother….. I think my Dad thought it was kind of funny, but my mom would have to explain to her friends that I was different. I even went so far as not wanting to wear a shirt because boys don’t wear shirts. That only lasted until I turned 12. I had a birthday party and of course only invited boys. One of the boy’s father went up to my mother and said, “Don’t you think it is about time you make your daughter wear a shirt?” She tried, but I would take it off as soon as she wasn’t around.
Up on 68th and Milwaukee Ave. on the corner was Meyer’s Drug Store. As kids we would walk there on our way home from school and have an ice cream cone. We also would buy comic books there. Mr Meyer would look stern and not smile at us very often.
I would also play down near the stone quarry. We weren’t supposed to go near it but that made it more of an adventure. We never told anyone we were down there. It is now all filled in and developed.
I went to Longfellow Jr. High which was part of the Wauwatosa High School. I still walked to and from school and walked home every lunch time. In fact, all through high school, I still walked to and from school before and after school and the lunch time. Once in awhile I would stay at school for lunch and a group of kids would walk down to the village candy store called Neimans. I liked walking home. I would walk with whoever was going my way and it didn’t matter if he or she was popular or not. I know there were clicks in high school but I never got caught up in that scene.
I don’t have any memories of summers in the Highlands for my family moved to Pewaukee Lake the day after school got out and didn’t come back to town until the day before school started.
I could go on and on about the fun of growing up in the Washington Highlands. It is funny that I knew every kid in the Highlands but the parents were never a part of our activities.
I was googling The Washington Highlands to see if Elmer’s Pond and The Apple Orchard still remained…places I played as a child. I remembered Doris Davidson and Gordon Davidson many a time rescuing me from the cold when I was sledding at the Apple Orchard and giving me hot cocoa and taking me home.. I happened to come across your story and was amazed when I started to read it. Other readers should know that you became my aunt when you married my Uncle John. It is so strange for me to read your account of growning up in The Highlands because my life was nearly identical. This was such a lovely surprise to find your story…it brought back so many wonderful memories. I laughed reading about your mother’s frustration with your antics growing up…I remember the stern face Doris got when would march across the street to rescue a very frozen little girl and drag me and my sled back across the street and put the pan on the stove to make me hot chocolate while calling my mother to report I was safely in her custody. And my memories of hearing Gordon say “yes dear, I’ll drive her home after the cocoa” even though he really wanted to just read his newspaper. Thanks for the wonderful memories.