Hanging Out In Rockford: A personal journey—part 22

Ken Ritz maintained all along that I had agreed to pay too much in my contract purchase of the State and Madison building, and in retrospect, I probably did. The bank had rolled all its previous expenses into the purchase price, but the bank was willing to renegotiate with us. After they did, Ken came to me and asked if I wanted to continue to operate at the State and Madison location. I replied that I wanted out.

There was simply too much that I knew about the old building. The cast iron manifold in the pit in the floor of the basement, the 1.5 million BTU boiler that rotted out and had to be rebuilt, the roof of liquid tar and gravel that was in need of repair—all these things added up to future misery. All of these things would require capital I wouldn’t have. Deeper pockets were required. I made the decision to move forward.

My Chapter 11 plan included moving to the new location. It was approved by the creditors. The bank accepted the return of the building and even allowed us to keep some of our equipment. We moved down the street so deeply in debt I didn’t even add up the total for fear that it would make me unable to think straight. We just went ahead, step by step.

I took my mother to see the new location. “That’s Anderson Sand and Gravel,” she said. It was, and I wanted to know how she knew. “That’s where I was working when you broke your arm in the first grade,” was the answer. Then I suddenly had a strong visual memory of Uncle Frank picking me up at Harlem elementary in his old Dodge pickup and pulling into this very parking lot. It’s funny how you have such vivid recollections of traumatic events in your life. I remembered my mother coming down the stairs to the State Street entrance. This building and I had a relationship. It was to become even stronger.

I was constantly worried about the debts. I had a dream in which one of Uncle Frank’s brothers, Ed, came to me and said not to worry. Frank always sent Ed on these kinds of missions. Ed had bailed my butt out before. Then I was cleaning out the safe in the old Anderson Brothers office, and I pulled out a file drawer that hadn’t been removed in years. Under the drawer was a piece of paper, and at the bottom of the paper was Uncle Frank’s signature, Frank S. Larson. I recognized it instantly, I had seen it so many times.

The piece of paper contained a list of creditors to which the four brothers in the Larson Brother’s Sand and Gravel owed money. There was an agreement on the part of these creditors to allow the brothers to continue to operate the business and pay them out of their profits. It was dated 1929. Now remember, this was in the Anderson Brothers Sand and Gravel safe, and they were not named as creditors. How, then, did this document come to be in this safe? The only thing I can figure is that Uncle Frank must have sold them the safe.

You can see in my apartment where they cut the floor and jacked the monster old safe into the second floor. Then there is a row of heavier boards where they beefed up the floor so they could roll it into its resting-place in a closet in what is now my apartment. Uncle Ed had shown me the way. He had sent me the document to say, “See, we did it, you can too.” It was eerie and at the same time very reassuring. Bigger forces were at work. More next week.

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are available on his Web site, IrishRoseRockford.com. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

From the Aug. 10-16, 2005, issue

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