As a third grader, I remember walking to Paul’s Place, a small family owned ice cream parlor located a hop, skip and jump from Morton Elementary School. Long since replaced by some eatery, it’s memorable because Mrs. Neff, our teacher, would take us there to get ice cream when everyone in the class got a 100 on his/her spelling test. That didn’t happen very often but when it did I really enjoyed getting a lime sherbet.
Funny, this memory makes me realize I haven’t tasted lime sherbet in over a half century. I’ll have to do something about that.
The picture to the right was taken at the end of that year. I’m the third kid from the right in the second row, the wide eyed kid with big ears. To my left (your right) there’s Betty Evans, the West Side High School guidance counselor’s daughter, and David Freeman, my best friend. The girl second from the left in the front row is Melody Lane, my first girl friend. As I recall the romance occurred when I was in junior high school and lasted all of a week. (A larger view of the picture can be displayed if you double click the image.)
Regarding my Morton School years I remember attending Cub scout meetings there in the evenings. I remember the dark green and black granite hallway floors, and the squeaky, hardwood floor in the gymnasium where on one occasion I had hoped to win the rabbit a magician pulled out of a top hat.
Then there was my first performance as a musician singing “O Tannenbaum” with my classmates on wooden risers on the gymnasium stage. I remember standing next to Jeff Carter holding a battery operated candle in one hand and a small evergreen in the other. I wonder where that black and white photograph of the event went.
While I was in attendance there I had the fortune to become a Polio Pioneer, getting three doses of the newly developed Salk vaccine that essentially put an end to the world wide polio epidemic. I got the last inoculation the morning the family was to take off for Maine to visit our relatives.
I remember that my older brother, Richard, contracted polio and for a time had to be confined to his bed getting fed through a tube in his throat. The last time I saw him, at Dad’s funeral over a quarter of a century ago,* he still exhibited a barely perceptible strain swallowing food. To this day I’m guessing one can still see the little red spot on his neck where the tube had been inserted.
* Richard was stricken with polio a second time in January 2011 and died on June 19,2012. I will be forever grateful I had an opportunity to spend a week and a half with him prior to his death.
My last Morton memory relates to the day my mother failed to arrive on time to pick me up. I recall sitting alone on the front steps of the school long after the janitor had locked the place up wondering if I’d been forgotten.
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My time at Morton ended in 1955 when Burtsfield Elementary opened and we moved to the north side of town. There I recall sitting on the gymnasium floor watching a televised broadcast of President Eisenhower taking the oath of office. On that day I also remember wearing a small “I like Ike” button.
Memories of Burtsfield while vivid are few and far between. I remember playing kickball and always wanting to be on Pamela Highland’s team. She was a hefty lefty and could kick the ball over the outfield fence at will. I also remember looking forward to playing dodge ball in the gymnasium when it was inclement. Unlike Morton’s gym, the floor there was covered with some sort of speckled, rubbery tile.
We attended church in Burtsfield’s gymnasium for a brief period of time. Mom and Dad were of a Presbyterian persuasion and had decided to join a group to build a new church — to be named Covenant Presbyterian — a mile north of Happy Hollow. I remember helping Sunday school teachers take attendance and, as I ran down the hallway and around a corner to carry attendance slips to the office, I couldn’t resist reaching up and tapping a nearby fire alarm cover.
My last memory of services there relates to the occasion I hit the cover a little too hard and set the alarm off. Those attending services in the gymnasium were forced to evacuate. Needless to say, Dad wasn’t any too happy to find out that I’d been responsible for the incident when it came to his attention a week later.
Once the church was built I remember going to it a time or two but I never really got too involved. I do remember Rev Tozier being considerably younger than his counterpart at Central Presbyterian in Greater Lafayette and he had a much nicer disposition.
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When I was in fifth grade I started studying piano with Mrs. McClellan, a neighborhood lady who offered lessons in her living room. I also started taking trombone lessons with Marshall Howenstein, the high school music teacher. My first piano recital came when I completed the second Thompson book. Between fifth and sixth grade I remember playing trombone in the high school orchestra when it performed at the annual ice cream social just before school started. I also remember being invited to play with the high school dance band midway through sixth grade. I sat third chair behind Larry Isaacson and Bill Butz, the high school drum major, who sat first chair. As a side note, it’s worth remembering that Bill’s father was appointed to President Nixon’s cabinet as the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
The thought just occurred to me that my brother spent a good deal of his time one summer helping Richard Hadley, a classmate who lived across the street from Mrs. McClellan, assemble a roadster. If memory serves me correctly, they actually got it up and running but the bizillion horsepower engine turned out to be a bit much for the transmission.
Just down the street to the West of Hadley’s was a small woods next to Smitty’s grocery store. The Klinker family built, maintained, and then abandoned a nifty tree house there. Fully enclosed, it had to sit at least twenty feet above ground. I spent a lot of time playing in that treehouse with David Freeman and Cliff Delacroix.
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Smitty’s is a interesting success story. The guy who owned it (presumably a fellow named Smitty) initially conducted his grocery business from a small trailer truck not a great deal unlike the street vendors one hears playing annoying merry-go-round music to attract parents to buy their kids ice cream cones near schools and parks these days. Driving the north side neighborhoods every day and keeping a regular schedule, he managed to build a very successful business. In fact, he eventually bought an acre or two of land a block or two north of Mom and Dad’s house and put his trailer on a permanent foundation there. The only grocery store for a couple of miles in any direction, it didn’t take him long to raise enough money to build a permanent facility on the same property. His store served the expanding neighborhood all the time I was growing up.
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Back to Burtsfield. The last memory I have of my experience there was Little League. The last season I played I developed a wicked side arm and was not just a little excited to be selected to play on West Side’s Little League All Star Team. Proudly reporting to the diamond behind the school in my Orioles uniform with a copy of my birth certificate in hand, I’ll never forget the sense of injustice I experienced when I was told that I couldn’t play because I was a week too young. My birthday fell on August 5 and the first game was scheduled the last week of July. I don’t recall Mom or Dad voicing any shared concern about the unfortunate turn of events. I do, however, remember taking my uniform off and throwing it in the trash. I never played organized baseball again.