I had a great time growing up on Maywood Dr. at least until I entered high school. I spent a lot of time playing baseball with my friends in the large, empty 10 acre field across the street. We played grounders and flies on a makeshift diamond in the northeast corner next to the Fire Chief’s two story, red brick home across from David Freeman’s house. The game was simple. There was one batter and everyone else stood in the outfield. If you fielded a ground ball, you’d get one point. If you fielded a fly you got two. The first outfielder to accumulate five points exchanged places with the batter.
On one occasion I remember sitting on the sidelines watching a pickup game only to get bitten around the eye by the Chief’s dalmatian. I also remember flying a kite or two there and lying on my back in the grass watching cumulus clouds grow and pass by.
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I have fond memories of riding in the back seat of the family car and being given running math problems. To pass the time Dad would give out a series of numbers adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing them only to arrive at the proverbial “And the answer is?” As an example he might say 5 + 5 x 5 + 10 divided by 6 +3. What made those problems challenging is that you had to to keep up solving each layer of the problem as it was stated so that you could provide the final answer immediately and without hesitation.
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Back in the day I remember having the freedom to ride my bike just about anywhere I wanted. At the time the town itself was only about six or seven miles square so one could make it to just about any part of town in an hour. Greater Lafayette posed a slightly greater challenge but its downtown area could easily be reached riding across the levy and the Brown Street bridge.
For the most part my friends — David Freeman, Bill Lehman, John Ryden, Tim Harden, Craig Shaffer, Steve Tillson, Bob Troyer, Ken Botkin, and David Working to name just a few — and I spent the majority of our time during the summer cruising the Purdue campus — swimming, playing basketball and golf, hanging around the rec gym. When we weren’t there, we’d explore the banks of the Wabash River, the forested area around the Old Soldier’s Home and Happy Hollow.
As a side note, Bob Troyer had two nicknames — Lefty because he was left handed and Squirrel because he was the shortest member of the group. I remember standing in line at a restaurant north of town a dozen years after I graduated from high school when I heard a familiar voice calling my name out from behind the couple standing directly behind me. Turning I was astonished to find myself looking directly in the smiling face of Bob Troyer. He’d actually grown a foot since I’d last seen him. He shared with me that he had decided to return to town to take on a teaching position at West Side High and soon thereafter assumed the role of head basketball coach.
The aforementioned group spent a great deal of time sitting in a booth at Arth’s drugstore which was located on North Western Avenue across from the University field house. The cooks there made the greatest burgers and fries. They also accommodated our special need to create odd drinks — cherry coke mixed with vanilla, strawberry and chocolate comes to mind. There, too, there was a juke box that could be activated using the numerical/alphabetical keypads on the wall adjacent to each booth . We could get it to play all day pushing all the buttons at once using the edge of the metal napkin dispenser.
During the school year on weekends, of course, we’d spend a lot of our time on campus because, as a Big 10 town, it was an exciting place to be. During the fall the Purdue band could be heard playing in the football stadium a couple of miles south of home. During the winter, of course, basketball was king and I can remember watching a game or two in the old field house before the new basketball arena was built.
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A good share of my time on Maywood was spent playing seasonal sports in the Klinker’s sizable back yard — a portion of which was a flat, half a football field sized lot at the end of a grassy hill that slopped down from their rear driveway. Mr. Klinker was a local building contractor. He and his wife had five kids — Don, Gary, Gene, Norm and a sister whose name I can’t recall. Don, Gary, and the unnamed sister had long ago grown up and moved away which left Gene and Norm to hold down the fort.
When it came to the competitive arena, Gene and I ordinarily squared off against Norm and my brother Richard and it was a rare occasion Gene and I didn’t come out on top whether we were playing touch footfall, badmitton, or basketball. Richard and Norm were pretty much contemporaries. Gene was at least two if not three years older than both of them, so he must have been six or seven years older than I.
Gene had an extraordinary work ethic. Working on paper routes and at Smitty’s for years, he managed to save enough to buy a bright red, 1957 Chevy convertible, a prize possession he washed and polished once a week in the back driveway of his parent’s home. It’s worth mentioning, that a dozen years ago I took Pat, my significant other, back to visit my home town and while we were there I looked Gene up. As it happened, he had just recently retired from his position as a Trustee at Lafayette Bank and Trust and, come to find out, he still had that Chevy in his garage. He reported that he wasn’t taking care of it the way he used to but he just couldn’t bring himself to let it go.
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When I was in junior high school a terrible automobile accident took the life of one of Richard’s friends, David Berkshire, who lived across the street from us. Drag racing on Cherry Lane, a road on the West side of the Purdue campus, he lost control and ended up hitting a tree no more than a foot in diameter head on. The tree survived but David died on the scene or shortly thereafter.
Three of Richard’s classmates were also in the car and all were seriously injured. Jim Woods, who lived on the corner of Garden and Maywood, broke nearly every bone in his body and ended up being bed ridden for a year or more. Phil Cadder lay in the hospital in a coma for several months and when he recovered just wasn’t the same. The third passenger was Jay Losey. While he suffered a number of serious injuries, he fared a lot better. Memory serves me, the Woods family never spoke to the Berkshires ever again. I came to know that because I used to occasionally play with Jim’s younger brother.
The car David had been driving was a V-8 Pontiac Starfire. I remember that because Gene Klinker visited the crash site and pocketed the car’s chrome insignia. When he showed it to me, he told me that he was going to keep it as a reminder that drag racing is a fool’s game.
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It was in the Fall of my second year in junior high school that I had my first “date.” I had become quite enamored with Robbie Losey, Jay’s sister, who during the summer had cajoled me into joining a youth group that convened at the church on the corner of Chauncey and South St. a block south of Morton School. I couldn’t remember the name of the church so I checked Google maps and discovered that the land it stood on is now an empty lot. Anyway, in late October of that year the church held a Halloween get together on a farm a few hundred yards from the Wabash along South River Road. I can remember that we sat around a fire singing songs, roasting hotdogs and being introduced to “smores” [sp?]. The last thing I remember was riding in the back of a horse drawn hay wagon holding hands with Robbie. Shortly, thereafter, I lost interest in the youth group and Robbie and I went our separate ways.
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When I wasn’t playing in the Klinker’s backyard, I’d be playing basketball with a friend or two in my own backyard. If we weren’t playing a 1-on-1 or 2-on-2 game, we’d play “Long and Short.” You got two points for a long shot — anything behind the free throw line — and one for a followup shot from wherever you happened to recover the ball. Alternating between long and short shots you continued shooting until you missed. The first player to 21 won.
I remember Dad trying to show me how to do a two hand set shot. I guess that must have been the preferred way to shoot a basketball from the outside “back in the day” but the methodology had long since been abandoned. He never bothered to teach me anything about basketball after that.
I also vaguely recall playing kick the can in the back yard shortly after dark in the summer. The rules were simple enough. One of us would be selected to be “IT” and that person would start the game by standing with his/her foot on the can, facing away from everyone and counting to 30 with their eyes closed while everyone hid behind the garage, adjacent shrubbery, and the house. “IT” would then venture away from the can to find one us. Once located, IT would run back to the can, step on it and declare “I see Cliff behind the rose bushes.” If Cliff was there, he’d have to go to jail behind the can.
Whoever was “IT” had to be careful not to stray too far, because when somebody is in jail, the others could free them by running up and kicking the can before they are tagged by “IT”. If “IT” tagged them before they could reach the can, they had to go to jail too. If they managed to kick the can before “IT” tagged them, then everyone in jail was freed and “IT” had to count to 30 again with his/her eyes closed while everyone went into hiding again. The object is for “IT” to capture everyone. When this happened, the first person captured became “IT”. The game usually didn’t last longer than two “ITs.”
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My mother was deeply involved in a number of community organizations. Apart from the PTA/PTO, band and football boosters, she belonged to a sewing circle and bridge club. I remember the sewing circle because, when I was younger, she’d take me along. If I wasn’t cross stitching some design on a napkin in a circular frame, I would be relegated to sit on the host’s living room floor and listen to the women talk about stuff I wasn’t the least bit interested in. As I recall I was the only kid in attendance. I remember the times Mom hosted a bridge club meeting because she’d set me up with a bottle or two of Coke and a tray of snacks.
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My brother Richard played football in high school. During home games Mom worked in the concession stand as a member of the football booster’s club. Games were always played at night and Mom would slip me a hot chocolate a couple of times a night to keep the edge off. I don’t recall being all that interested in high school football though I do remember one time when Richard, playing offensive end, caught a pass making the winning touchdown in the final minutes of a close game. He made the over-the-shoulder catch in the left hand corner of the end zone at the east end of the field. The crowd went wild. On another occasion I also remember that Rich had to be taken to the dentist one night because some clown had succeeded in loosening his two front teeth.
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My middle school years are pretty much a blur but I do remember music playing a big role in my life. The high school marching band didn’t excite me much but I really loved playing in the orchestra and dance band. The latter group consisted of full trumpet, trombone, and saxophone sections, a trap drummer, bassist and vocalist. We only played big band stuff — Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Glen Miller come to mind. Night Train one was of my favorites because it had a great beat and a challenging trombone solo. In addition to playing all of West Side’s school dances, the band also performed as the featured band at a number of high school proms held by some of the smaller schools in the county.
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In the Spring of my 8th grade year, the high school orchestra joined three other school orchestras to perform in the Mid-State Orchestra Festival held that year at Connorsville High School. It stands out in my mind only because upon my return I learned that my mother had undergone surgery to remove a sizable tumor in her abdomen. Confined to her bed and driven to Indianapolis for cobalt treatments once a week throughout the summer, she lost the battle the night before I was to start high school.
For some reason I wasn’t allowed to visit Mom in the hospital — I guess I must have been too young for when I went there I had to sit on a bench in a distant hallway — and I’ll never forget how I learned of her death. Standing at my bedroom door the morning I was to start high school, Dad told me that I needn’t bother getting dressed because I wouldn’t be going to school. “Your mother died last night,” he said matter of factly. He then turned away without making further comment.
I don’t recall his making meaningful mention of Mom after she passed away. Having lost the love of his life, it was apparent that he wasn’t interested in discussing his feelings about his loss, much less mine. Rightly or wrongly, the lesson I took away from the next four years living with him was that life is not something to be celebrated but quietly endured.