Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Old School 1940's, 1950's USA

Educational life during the 'good old days' was sometimes fraught with frustrations (a Yogi'ism). Today in many instances, classrooms are sorted according to abilities and learning potentials, at least the better ones.

Dad had been a school teacher and principle before I was born. He taught me to read and write when I was about three. He would stand me in front of a gathering and have me recite poetry. No TV, wii, IPods, IPads, Texting or computers back then so entertainment was fairly simple. Even the phone was rare, course the 8 to 16 Party line sometimes proved fun to listen in on. Lawyers were extremely rare, so no one was arrested for listening. Govt didn't dare get involved with our Freedom.

I had two little cork covered notebooks that I had to print, then write connected script words in every day. The entire process backfired when I started to the farm community elementary school in first grade... In Dad's reasoning.. one year later than the other kids. By then I could read faster than the teacher and even figured I could outspell her. As far as I was concerned at the time, the rest of the class were among the slowest people I had ever met, and I had to get into the lowest gear to accomodate them.

Roger, a fun friend, was in granny gear and sometimes even reverse while reading, so I was forced to read at his speed or lose my place when the teacher called on me. Needless to say I mentally was far away out in the fields, bird and rabbit hunting, or driving the tractors in 'never never' land, when she called on me.

My grades were in the tank all through school because of it. Except spelling. I was always the last boy, and quite often the last kid standing in 'Spelldowns' during elementary school. Three girls could sometimes take turns and outspell me in competition, but rarely. The girls hated it whenever I beat them. The boys cheered.

On other subjects that required discipline to study and homework for structured test day, I tossed aside and barely squeaked by my entire school years with an overall C to D average (F was fail). It became a pattern I could never shake.. Fugedabout college...

Liked history enough that within days I quickly read each years entire book (always enjoyed history and geography)... then fell asleep.... At my desk... in my own drool. That really did me in, as far as classroom regimen was concerned. Structured English was not much better, but with a great woman teacher that had been a Bomber Ferry Pilot in WWII (her husband had been a fighter pilot and perished in an air battle over Europe), I stayed in school and succeeded on schedule to K-12 graduation.

During the first day of Geography, I picked up the fascinating new book.... and read it cover to cover. Again sooo bored at the rest of the class trying to make sense of the new words. Fell asleep in class. A pattern was forming.. bad boy.

My private little home school was curled up in my grandparents big brass tacked red leather chair with their library of countless National Geographics. I read each and every one of the past issues from cover to cover, some repeatedly. I could barely wait for the new issue.

Ever hear of the word Deportment? I got a big F in red print on that part of my report card. Self Control was the other F.... Issues? Didn't think so myself. As a kid I started swinging as soon as I felt threatened in any way, but not anything like the brother and sister that were placed in our 4th grade class. They both wore powerful glasses that made their eyes look like huge eerie glass planets.

Anything set them off. They screached like cornered cats and ran to each other. His belt whipped out and he swung the buckle at anyone that approached the two of them. On the second day of total chaos in the classroom, the uniformed police came and took them out. We never saw them again.

The rest of us quietly settled in and were very compliant for the rest of the year. Needless to say my early years close friends were few. Freddy, my daring railroad track friend, was an exception due our shared love for excitement. His tough dad was the section foreman. Friends seemed more interested after they discovered the creativity of my quest for adventure. :>)

Now math was different. Could not comprehend math. Dad was apparently not into math. Never mentioned numbers other than to have me print them in the little books. I quickly grew to despise math. My newly singled mother paid a tutor (Mrs Turner) for one summer, to cram into me enough basic understanding of math, that I was able to finish through K-12 on schedule, thank you Mrs Turner.

Being near sighted, I could not read the white chalk numbers on the large and thick black slate board hung on the wall. Yellow chalk on green boards came after WWII, couldn't see them either. Erasers to wipe off the board after each problem or sentence was diagramed, were felt blocks that needed periodic cleaning by taking outside to the brick school wall for 'banging' and 'claping'.

To make atonement for my attitude and less than steller performance in math, I often had to remain after school to write apology after apology, along with the 'times tables' on the blackboard. I became the defacto eraser cleaner, board washer and teacher's pencil sharpener.

The boys enjoyed watching 'certain' girls sharpen their pencils in the sharpener at the front of the room. Something about the way they wiggled and swished their hips as they turned the little crank. ;>)

The red brick rural country school was being enlarged after WWII, as troops returned and the baby boom began with their 'enthusiasm'. Living close by this country school, it became a late after school adventure land (after the adults left). Crawling through the foundation and utility trenches simulated the War years of soldiers we had seen in parades and films.

Many episodes of 'trench warfare' were fought within the school's new building addition. Warfare commenced well before dusk as visibilty aided the well sighted and athletic. Serious battles, complete with thrown dirt clumps, rocks and chunks of 2x4 as grenades, proved who were the toughest. Injurys were painful, bloody but survivable.

My Red Ryder Daisy air rifle got me through victorious in the afternoon campaigns of trench battles against other kids. Shot a chip out of the front tooth of a well armed (BB guns) friend and his brother (Dick and Eddy) as they co-ordinated to attack and over run my position. His dad, a high ranking detective in the city, was not pleased..... "Coulda shot his eye out"...

A nearby pile of short cut lumber across the barbed wire fence in the pasture, was our 'Mt Suribachi'. 'King of the Mountain' became predictably bloody when we flung chunks of cut boards down onto each other, as we repeatedly attacked the stronger older kids. Alarmed at the rapidly growing casualty list in the infirmary back at the school house, the teachers rushed out and demanded an immediate end to the lunch recess hostilities.

The long row of thorned Osage trees behind the farm were strung with giant vines. Tarzan's Call was re-enacted endlessly, as we swung from tree to tree. During another distant exploration while swinging my BSA hatchet at a branch, after climbing high in a tree, risk resulted in a long free fall that knocked me out. Apparently I was out for a long time, as friends went to tell my grandparents I had died. As my early lifestyle mentor Mark Twain
  • reportedly told after an errant news release, "My demise was greatly exagerated".

    Osage Oranges (hedge apples)
  • were large and bumpy green. After striking a few things, they oozed a white latex milk that progressively became stickier and collected dirt. Within minutes we were covered in this progressively black coating.

    We acted and looked like Celtic Warriors throwing them at each other. A well placed head shot from one of those heavy green balls disabled to say the least, the opposing tribe's best 'arm men'. As on 'Mt Suribachi' the girls wisely would have no part in this violent Warfare and stood well out of range. Winter was sledding, ice skating and endless snowball fights with freezing walks home, dragging the sleds in the dark.

    School days were wasted dreaming of things that we would do 'After' school. We had our exciting spring flood Voyage in The Little Boats
  • from the abandoned little amusement park, to occupy our hours and days after school.

    Barns to be explored and rafters in high lofts to be climbed. Pigeons and Owls to be captured and raised. Rat Killin' with the Marlin .22 after dark was Prime Time. The old Buckboard kept us busy. Converted to our Covered Wagon to head West, it was awash in imagination.

    We all kept our minds busy, and physical prowess was manadatory for survival, especially when testing a little drogue chute by running off the peak of the barn (another slight concussion). My friends Buddy and Ned were absent from our 7th grade class for a period of time. They were returned after their adventure, driving to Buddy's dad's new Mercury Monterey. They finally were stopped in a New Mexico 1,200 miles later. Dad was not happy to travel all of the way to NM to retrieve them... and his new car.

    We all had to be productive and farm work was one of the ways kids earned their way. Picking apples, cherries, De-tassling Corn, cultivating (and chopping weeds between rows) Plowing, harvesting, summer mowing. All while maintaining the machinery that kept the profit motive in gear. Haying with our crew was always an involved, 'hot loft' process with long days of hard labor.

    Progress toward social acceptance in later school years came in the life we lived as reality and described in the movie American Grafitti

  • Prowling around evenings was exciting in my first Chev, Ford, Merc 'Rats' then Olds, later on rare occasions in the new family car. Mom's black 2 dr 56 Chev 210 stick with power pack (quad carb and 'pipes'), was Bob 'Falfa'ish. It was unbeatable ;>)

    While Climbing poles as a lineman with the tel co, I learned responsibility. After a motorcycle accident busted a knee, then machinist, truck driver and Air Force time, I began working my career 'real' job on the automatic mechanical cash registers, banking, accounting machines, automatics and eventually computers.

    Only then did Math finally click into my brain. I figured out the way computers and code machines did math, with columnar transfers, hexadecimal and binary code bits and bytes. With the result of working with math every day, I became a late bloomer in Math.... Too late.. :>P Raised a great and prosperous little family, but only due to the dilligence of a great wife. Several fun grandkids are all successful little smarties themselves.

    Now as 'Blogengeezer' involved with amateur literature, a little geography and some history instantly available at the keyboard, I just try to type too fast and transpose letters like crazy. Spelling is faltering as well. Have to proof read everything, or it looks like a Russian Cyrillic code.... these 'mature' fingers don't respond in correct timing to the firing neurons.

    Fortunately during my last year in High School, I became enamored with one tall young teacher, and excitedly registered for Her typing class as an elective. She was Soooo hot. A shapely tall leggy Redhead. When she 'runway walked' over to my desk in her clicking heels to assist in correcting my 'technique', her tight skirt was eye level. Makes me a little Glitchy just thinking about Miss Schiedker....

    I never used the rusty old typing skill until only a few years ago, when my sister gave me a new computer. I had used my intelligent Mother's computer only on occasion and inherited her daily pastime after she passed away..... at 92. The old skills came crawling back out of the darkest recesses of my brain. First thing I did was look up my HS typing teacher online. Found her married and retired... ;>) Sent her a Thank You, through her graduate university re-union notes.

    Just one other small farm community story, from life in the greatest nation ever known, "The United States of America, One Nation Under God". With Liberty and Freedom for All..
  • Sunday, July 10, 2011

    WWII Years on the Farm

    The Kane family had the big farm at the north end of Diamond Lake dirt rd and the 'Ceement Road' as some neighbors called it :>). I spent lots of time around their big farm as a little kid. They had countless dozens of various colored farm cats and many dogs.

    At milking time after driving the cows into the barn, Kane would milk the cows and squirt some warm milk into our mouths,.... and onto our faces, just like the gathering of dozens of hungry cats. The cats kept the rats and mice around the grainery under control. We always enjoyed the dozens of kittens.

    The always plentiful Farm Dogs were many times barking at night to keep the railroad drifters and Hobos away from the barns, tool sheds and houses. We carried our twice weekly supply of milk from Kane's farm, in wire handled metal cans back to our nearby home. It was then placed in our wooden 'Ice Box' which was restocked at intervals by the 'Ice Man'. He was big, walked with a limp while wearing a stained leather apron over his shoulders. Chipped off a small piece and gave it to me as a treat on a hot summer day.

    We chased lots of mice and climbed around in all the barns. Barn Owls did their field work eliminating crop eating vermin at night. 'Rat Killin' was really exciting. Mom's 22 Marlin did its 'reach out and touch' work. As kids we drove the tractors during the big fall harvests. The older men loaded the cut grain onto the horse drawn wagons using pitch forks. Each fall they set up the big threshing machine, way out in the field across the dirt road from our place. Corn and grain was often bundled in 'shoks' like Indian Tepees across the fields. Ever read stories of 'Indian Summer'? Pheasants hid in them during the cold nights.

    That big loud scary tractor with iron cleated wheels was last seen at the 'red wing blackbird pond' a mile from our small family farm. It ran the long flat canvas belt with a twist, to the threshing machine, so as to keep it's sparks and flames clear of highly combustible chaff and hay. The kids all drove along with the few working tractors and mostly horses, while the older men forked the wheat or oats onto the iron wheeled or rubber tired hay 'racks'.

    Most of the racks were horse drawn and needed no drivers, the horses were smart. They followed the old men as they pitched the hay. The teamed horses automatically stopped to allow their racks to be loaded. After threshing, the yellow straw was piled near the stationary threshing machine waiting for transportation to the baler. Self propelled and towed threshers (combines) were not used during those times. Even the sickle bar mowing machines were horse drawn.

    We were sternly taught to stay clear of those dangerous sickle bars. Many careless farmers lost fingers or toes to that 'shaking' series of razor sharp 'sharks teeth'. Farm dogs were routinely left with three legs after an encounter.

    Cats never even had a chance. We ran behind the bar and grabbed field mice or baby bunnies still in their fur lined dens. Later after the war, the baling machines operated with crews of dirty older kids riding the low side seats.

    They kept lively, inserting the wire frames between pounding bales. That always dirty action, provided us with dirt goggled entertainment. Then later still, operating the tractor towed automatics, with jobs 'putting up' hay, kept us employed, tired and out of trouble.

    The big stationary threshing machines from the 1930's were used during the war years of the 1940's. They seperated the grain from the hay, while blowing out the chaff. We kids drove the tractors and horses pulling the racks to the barn, where more men fastened the big hay hooks onto the load.

    We pulled it with horses, long rope and pulley, up into the open loft doorway. From the peak trolley, the load was hauled back into the deepest reaches of the loft. Hot sweaty older men or the bigger kids, then stacked the bales or whatever was being 'put up' for the winter.

    We drank lots of water from the stock tank while the windmill pulling the long sucker rod in repeated strokes kept it filled. Usually a metal dipper or cup hung close to the fill pipe. When in the fields, a big metal milk can was our water tank.

    Great fun, exiciting for the young kids. Hard sweaty work for the older men. It was during the World War II years and the young strong men of draft age were all away fighting in the war. We didn't get to drive the big grain trucks. Usually adults or the bigger kids drove them because the heavy duty clutch was hard to push down and no power steering, automatic transmissions or power brakes existed back then.

    Mr Prince previously owned the back farm that became Towners Subdivision. The big community owned tractor from the 1920's was used on the threshing machine. They moved the entire crew to his farm afterward. Farmer Prince always used horses in his fields. I rode with him on some of the horse drawn equipment.

    Gas rationing, along with everything else, was solidly in place during the war so few tractors were ever used. Big chain drive electric trucks and streetcars were only used in the city near the coal fired power generating stations. We were a fortunate family and had one light bulb dangling from the ceiling in our kitchen.

    'Red Heart' coal heated my Grandparents house. A small kerosene stove was our house heat and cooking. My loft bed let me hear the moan of the steam trains as they puffed and pulled their freight, clikking the rails through the night. I often walked the rails during the days, returning home on the 'glistening steel' after dark.

    Aside from his other jobs as 'black gang' shoveling coal at the power station in the city, Dad was a commissioned, armed Game Warden, so we ate lots of Pheasants and Rabbits. Draft horses were fun for kids. Had to be carefull not to get stepped on while feeding their big muzzles handfulls of grass. The Percherons and later Clydesdales had monsterous hooves.

    Prince farm was the site of an old cemetary. I remember seeing the hundreds of very old gravestones before the Towners removed them. Most were in the grove of Osage trees where some families later after the war, built their homes. The long Osage tree covered lane with their long vines extending from the trees, led to hwy 59-A, where the old horse drawn hearses brought in the funeral processions. They drove their horses back into the cemetary under the archway of large trees that comprised the gate and entraceway.

    Before the settlers of the 1800's, it was an Indian burial ground. Grandparent's first hand dug, brick lined water well with a hand pump, was found to contain lots of really bad bacteria and virus contaminants leached downstream from the cemetary and cow pasture. I played with, and always tried riding the cows in pastures where houses and communities stand today.

    After being told the brick well was contaminated, we had to travel to the community well, and pump the big handle for water to fill the big bottles within wooden frames. Our yellow bathing water was collected in cisterns from rain gutters on the houses. Only after the war were we able to drill a deep well and own an electric pump. Before that, the old outhouse surrounded with hollyhocks was used more often.

    During the war, an Army camp was set up in the old cemetary to protect an Anti-aircraft battery. I often prowled the camp at night. They often caught me. Two rifle carrying guard soldiers would pick me up between them and carry me to the fence, put me back on our side, and order me not to do that stuff, or I would be shot. Didn't want to be shot, thought it might hurt, so was even more stealthy and crawled low while night prowling. :>)

    During the World War II years, the sky overhead was many times darkened by an 'overcast of aluminum'. Countless hundreds of aircraft in each formation passed overhead from manufacturing plants across the industrial midwest. These huge formations of all types of aircraft, kept coming in waves from horizon to horizon for what seemed like hours.

    The drone of the big radial multi-engined bombers was my alert to run down from my loft bedroom and watch the show. Endless formations of aircraft as the war progressed in our favor. At night the powerful searchlights and beacons from the airfields swept through the mist with a beam that was somehow comforting to me.

    Across the fields were scattered large wooden white and red slatted pyramid pylons that the young pilots from Great Lakes Naval Training Center used in navigation training. My young girl cousins climbed atop the pylons with me to wave at the young pilots.

    Closer and closer they deafeningly roared, untill we could easily see the expressions on their young faces. Their powerful engines moaned defiantly while spinning the big props as they swept past within yards of us. The leggy and pretty girl cousins were wearing shorts. I would guess that encouraged the pilots somewhat. No one crashed, we all survived the periods of excitement, which were to be repeated often during those years.

    My young uncle was 16 when he listened to the big Zenith Shortwave radio while we all sat on the floor around it. The announcer grimly told of Pearl Harbor being devastated. Young uncle quit school, joined the Navy and boarded the local train for War.

    The little fringed flag with one star, hung in my Grandmothers window all of the years he was away aboard ship at war. His little handmade model Navy plane sat high on Grandmother's shelf. She often took it down and slowly wiped away the dust in silence. Prayor was our only key to survival.

    Serving in the Pacific theater during all of the fiercest island battles with his landing craft suffering hits, he survived the war a grown man, to return home, marry his high school girlfriend, build his home and raise his own family.

    We all grew our own food in large gardens then 'canned' it in Mason Jars to supplement the couponed rationing of 'everything'. The basement pantry shelves were stocked. Our steer, two hogs and hundreds of chickens stored frozen in the town 'locker', fed us and others each year throughout the war years. After the war, all things became available again.

    After the triple hit of the Great Depression, followed by a govt economic plan that held natural market factors in chains and a vast World War fought and won, 20 years of pent up prosperity and Freedom once again swept across the newly industrialized nation as our troops returned. Their triumphant grand parades all over America were a sight to remember.

    Life was exciting in The United States of America, "One Nation Under God".
    Back in 'the day'.. :>)

    Saturday, July 02, 2011


    As my active, friendly and always exceptionally generous 'Canadian French' grandfather from Quebec, told everyone that asked "How you doin' Frenchy?", following the removal of his gangrened right leg (Heavy lifelong smoker), He always replied to them, "Can't Kick" :>)

    Grandfather was the private chauffer for Samuel Insull
  • Afterward he was employed as a transportation supervisor by Insull's marvelous commercial creation, The Commonwealth Edison Company.

    While approaching the entranceway to maintain his own remote rural property on one rainy day, He had noticed a guy in trouble. He stopped the car, got out into the mud then pulled and unstuck the guy with one wooden 'Peg' leg, from the mud road. That unimproved county road passed in front of the land grandfather used for growing fruit trees.

    He then offered the new tool house with bunk, as a sheltered place to spend the night. Quickly my generous grandfather took it upon himself to rescue the disabled man. He brought the guy food every weekend, fixed up the comfortable insulated tool house with a stove, icebox and sink, then payed the Peg leg to provide security watch over the hundreds of trees, berry bushes, grape vines and flowers, as the rural land was remote from the city.

    One day grandfather was working on the front acreage when a truck from the city pulled up to.... "Buy some More trees"?.

    The Peg leg had been selling grandfather's Trees, in order to buy himself some 'Lightnin' (moonshine).

    Grandfather proceeded to kick (Frenchmen do that proficiently) the Peg leg's a$$ all of the way down the long driveway back onto the road where he found him..

    Common Sense Grandfather wasn't ever trained in Politically Correct... 'Sensitivity' :>)