Sunday, June 18, 2017

A Childhood Along South Audubon Road

Robert Kistner, or Bobby as he was known in the 1930s and 1940s, grew up at 263 South Audubon Road.  He was the youngest child of William and Inez Kistner. His twin sisters, Teresa and Dolores did not live in the house for long as they were both married by the early 1940s. His older brother Jack enlisted in 1942 for service in World War II so little Bobby was practically raised as an only child. He recalled that there were few other boys in the vicinity other than Dickie Gilmore at 262 South Audubon so he frequently played with many young girls who lived nearby. In an unpublished memoir, he jokingly tells that the young ladies enjoyed dressing him up and adding him to their stories. In the fall, they would rake leaves to create floor plans and play house.

Mr. Kistner noted that his bedroom, the smallest in the double, was at the rear of the home and without a closet so his parents added a chifforobe for his clothes.  He also had a small desk in the room where he displayed his rock collection. He remembered that his parents received many items delivered to the home including milk on a daily basis, eggs weekly, and sometimes fresh bread. A fruit vendor passed through the neighborhood and rang a bell so that folks would know where he was parked. Bananas and oranges were expensive in those days so the family only purchased these items once in a while.

For entertainment, he was allowed to go to Saturday matinees at the Irving Theater. Mr. Kistner recalled one amusing incident in 1939 when he decided to purchase some popcorn after the cartoons were over and instead of going home as he was supposed to do, he stayed for the next film, Gone With the Wind. His parents became frantic when he did not return so his father rushed to the theater and walked up and down the crowded rows to try to find his son. He finally found his wayward child and just as he was about to reproach him, young Bobby told his father, "Dad, the Yankees are about to burn Atlanta." The elder Kistner was intrigued and sat down next to his son and watched the remainder of the film. Mrs. Kistner was not happy with either of them when they finally returned home.

Mr. Kistner noted that World War II "was our constant companion." After his brother enlisted, the family constantly worried about his fate. Some Irvington soldiers did not come back from that conflict. Mr. Kistner recalled the day his brother left because he was in second grade at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School and the parish was in the middle of construction for a new church. His brother Jack came to the school to say good bye and he tried to reassure Bobby that he would be okay. It was an emotional departure, but it was a joyful day three years later when Jack Kistner returned home upon the conclusion of the war.

The Kistners moved out of the double in 1948. In the spring of 2017, Robert Kistner and his daughter, Elizabeth Bodi, returned to Irvington so that he could visit his childhood haunts. With a gleam in his eyes, he told both funny and touching stories as he pointed to various houses in the area.

  Mrs. Edwards lived at 261 South Audubon Road. She collected beautiful antiques. 
  The Wettles resided at 269 South Audubon Road. I used to play in that backyard. 
  The Weidekamps were a large Catholic family who dwelled at 266  South Audubon Road. 
  Dr. Lamb, a dentist, lived in the large brick house (5631 University Avenue) on the circle. The Lambs always had a beautiful harp sitting in the parlor window.  

He spoke wistfully of his parents and his siblings and I watched as his daughter carefully helped him across each crevice in the sidewalk and up each step. It was a beautiful spring day not unlike those in Irvington seventy five years ago.

Birthday Party 1939: Friends gathered in the backyard of the Wettle home at 269 South Audubon Road. The home most visible is that of the double at 261-63 South Audubon Road. The children pictured are (left to right starting with the girl in the light top):  Jo Ann Windisch, Flavian Skeets, Alicia "Mitzi" Weidekamp (266 South Audubon Road), Mary Lou Wettle, and Bobby Kistner (263 South Audubon Road)  

Sibling Fun 1937:  Teresa and Bobby Kistner enjoyed a snowy day. Behind them, you can see the rear of the double that faces both Audubon Road and University Avenue (255 South Audubon Rd and 5703 University Avenue). If you look closely, you can also view the homes at 5714 and 5718 University Avenue.  

Bobby Kister posed on a snowy day in 1937 in front of his house at 263 South Audubon Road. Behind him, you can see the Irving Circle Park and many homes on the east side of the street.  

Dolores Kistner posed with her brother Bobby along with Spot in the front yard at 263 South Audubon Road in 1937. Behind the siblings, you can see the homes located at 269 and 275 South Audubon Road.  

John W. (Jack) Kistner posed with his little brother, Bobby, and Miss Muffet in their front yard at 263 South Audubon Road in 1944. Behind the brothers, you can see the double at 245-47 South Audubon and the home at 251 South Audubon Road.  

Reunion: John W. (Jack) Kistner on leave from World War II, posed with his parents Inez and William Kistner along with his younger brother Bobby in 1944. The family is standing in front of their home at 263 South Audubon Road.  

The stories and historic images are courtesy of Robert Kistner and Elizabeth Bodi. The author met both on the sidewalk as they were taking photographs of the neighborhood.

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