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Friday, January 16, 2015

Family StuffSnapshots from Youth For my grandchildren and others who haven’t experienced much of a carefree youth, I offer notes and short vignettes from one suburban person’s childhood in the 1930s. From age six on, I lived in a quiet neighborhood in suburban Philadelphia. This was before the housing boom after World War II; and so quite a few homes were bordered by fields. Most lots were a half-acre or more and many were shaded by old and very tall trees. Substantial wooded areas were close by. This was heaven for a young boy who climbed trees, caught snakes and lizards, created hideouts in tall field grasses, and wandered through the woods. There was space for dogs to run and for kid to play Capture the Flag and other games. The elementary school was about 2 miles away over a couple of quiet roads, with one stretch of a major road. However, at that time traffic was not heavy or frantic; and so soon I was allowed to ride my bike to school. The school was fairly large and attractive, serving grades 1-7. The principal was a woman, as were all the classroom teachers except for Mr. Turner in 7th grade, a large and somewhat intimidating man. I recall having a crush on the attractive second grade teacher, Miss. Jarrett. She was very nice to me. The atmosphere was quite different in 3rd grade, taught by a very strict Miss Baer. After one incident, which I forget, she taped my mouth and locked me in the closet. I’m sure that I deserved this, and suffered no aftereffects, but fancy that working in these litigious days. Also, it may have been in her class when, one early morning, the teacher entered to find me leaping from desk to desk exclaiming “I’m King Kong”. Movies can be very influential. During these early grades, my report cards invariably contained all A’s except for a category then called, “deportment” I don’t recall many misdeeds besides talking too much. At one point I did help lead a student strike, against some administration injustice that I now suspect was trivial. I also participated in a major fistfight against a class bully, staged in the schoolyard and surrounded by student spectators and cheerleaders. When authorities broke it up, we were both bloodied and still swinging. Typically, we then became great friends. In fifth grade, taught by a wonderful Miss Hayes, I learned all the grammar I ever needed to know. She was a stickler for correct grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. Those many hours were spent parsing sentences paid off in later years. Meanwhile, late afternoons, weekends, and summers were times to play. By myself, or with buddies, many, many hours were spent at the creek that flowed through nearby properties. When not catching crayfish, we were racing tiny, makeshift boats through narrow channels . These homemade vessels were carved out of bark or other wood or fashioned out of small household items such as little caramel candy boxes. Animals were a particular lure. I caught rabbits, squirrels, lizards, snakes, and turtles. I probably shortened my mother’s life by occasionally bringing in a snake and putting it in front of her on the kitchen table. Often my long-suffering parents had to help me keep these in boxes, cages, and in our laundry tub. Some were liberated, some died, and some were our guests for a long time. One memorable event arose from an unidentified cocoon that I placed on the kitchen windowsill. One morning, my mother came down to fix breakfast and found the kitchen overrun by thousands of tiny praying mantis babies that had emerged from this cocoon. They were everywhere, windows, walls, stove, table. My mother spoke to me about this experiment Another particular memory is of Gunter, a German boy who, at age twelve, came to the U.S. from Germany, perhaps as a refugee. We became good friends as I helped him learn English and the ways of our pre-teen world. A word he learned early was “dead”, as I reenacted the expiration of the injured squirrel that I had been caring for. After school, most hours were spent outside - at the creek, in various forts, exploring the woods by myself or with friends. In winter there may well have been sledding, on hills or on the street. Before school, on cold winter days, I often met a friend at six a.m. to go ice skating on a pond about a half a mile away. This pond was also the site of some rudimentary ice hockey and occasionally a brief plunge through thin ice into cold water. Climbing roofs For some reason, I was attracted to climbing roofs and scaled most of those in the neighborhood, a habit not always appreciated by the neighbors. Never fell but had some close calls, as when a tile on our steep slate roof would slip away. Never had a climbing injury; closest was when a poplar tree branch broke giving me a sharp drop but luckily just missing some sharp rocks. I had a great little sister, Betty, who was game for most anything, including boxing me in the attic. A pain that she always wanted to follow me; a plus that she had some very cute friends, which I noticed. There was a tough bully, Felix, who would occasionally ride his bike into our neighborhood, teasing girls and intimidating boys. One day he went after my sister; and so I went after him. He never returned



Snapshots from Youth
 For my grandchildren and others who haven’t experienced much of a carefree youth, I offer notes and short vignettes from one suburban person’s childhood in the 1930s.
From age six on, I lived in a quiet neighborhood in suburban Philadelphia. This was before the housing boom after World War II; and so quite a few homes were bordered by fields. Most lots were a half-acre or more and many were shaded by old and very tall trees. Substantial wooded areas were close by.
This was heaven for a young boy who climbed trees, caught snakes and lizards, created hideouts in tall field grasses, and wandered through the woods. There was space for dogs to run and for kid to play Capture the Flag and other games.
 The elementary school was about 2 miles away over a couple of quiet roads, with one stretch of a major road. However, at that time traffic was not heavy or frantic; and so soon I was allowed to ride my bike to school. The school was fairly large and attractive, serving grades 1-7. The principal was a woman, as were all the classroom teachers except for Mr. Turner in 7th grade, a large and somewhat intimidating man.
 I recall having a crush on the attractive second grade teacher, Miss. Jarrett. She was very nice to me. The atmosphere was quite different in 3rd grade, taught by a very strict Miss Baer. After one incident, which I forget, she taped my mouth and locked me in the closet.
I’m sure that I deserved this, and suffered no aftereffects, but fancy that working in these litigious days.  Also, it may have been in her class when, one early morning, the teacher entered to find me leaping from desk to desk exclaiming “I’m King Kong”. Movies can be very influential.
During these early grades, my report cards invariably contained all A’s except for a category then called, “deportment” I don’t recall many misdeeds besides talking too much. At one point I did help lead a student strike, against some administration injustice that I now suspect was trivial. I also participated in a major fistfight against a class bully, staged in the schoolyard and surrounded by student spectators and cheerleaders. When authorities broke it up, we were both bloodied and still swinging. Typically, we then became great friends.
 In fifth grade, taught by a wonderful Miss Hayes, I learned all the grammar I ever needed to know. She was a stickler for correct grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure. Those many hours were spent parsing sentences paid off in later years.


Meanwhile, late afternoons, weekends, and summers were times to play. By myself, or with buddies, many, many hours were spent at the creek that flowed through nearby properties. When not catching crayfish, we were racing tiny, makeshift boats through narrow channels . These homemade vessels were carved out of bark or other wood or fashioned out of small household items such as little caramel candy boxes.
 Animals were a particular lure. I caught rabbits, squirrels, lizards, snakes, and turtles. I probably shortened my mother’s life by occasionally bringing in a snake and putting it in front of her on the kitchen table.  Often my long-suffering parents had to help me keep these in boxes, cages, and in our laundry tub. Some were liberated, some died, and some were our guests for a long time.
 One memorable event arose from an unidentified cocoon that I placed on the kitchen windowsill. One morning, my mother came down to fix breakfast and found the kitchen overrun by thousands of tiny praying mantis babies that had emerged from this cocoon. They were everywhere, windows, walls, stove, table. My mother spoke to me about this experiment
 Another particular memory is of Gunter, a German boy who, at age twelve, came to the U.S. from Germany, perhaps as a refugee. We became good friends as I helped him learn English and the ways of our pre-teen world. A word he learned early was “dead”, as I reenacted the expiration of the injured squirrel that I had been caring for.
 After school, most hours were spent outside - at the creek, in various forts, exploring the woods by myself or with friends. In winter there may well have been sledding, on hills or on the street. Before school, on cold winter days, I often met a friend at six a.m. to go ice skating on a pond about a half a mile away. This pond was also the site of some rudimentary ice hockey and occasionally a brief plunge through thin ice into cold water.
 Climbing roofs  For some reason, I was attracted to climbing roofs and scaled most of those in the neighborhood, a habit not always appreciated by the neighbors. Never fell but had some close calls, as when a tile on our steep slate roof would slip away. Never had a climbing injury; closest was when a poplar tree branch broke giving me a sharp drop but luckily just missing some sharp rocks.

I had a great little sister, Betty, who was game for most anything, including boxing me in the attic. A pain that she always wanted to follow me; a plus that she had some very cute friends, which I noticed. There was a tough bully, Felix, who would occasionally ride his bike into our neighborhood, teasing girls and intimidating boys. One day he went after my sister; and so I went after him. He never returned

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