Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


 Downingtown did not have middle schools in the 1950s. You went to Elementary School for six years, not counting kindergarten. There were three years of Junior High School followed by three of Senior High. There was one teacher and one classroom each grade for those first six years. The only deviation was for Music and Gym.  (Picture left: Mrs. Yost and my sixth grade class.)

Beginning with Fourth Grade we had what they called Gyn. A Physical Education teacher would come twice a week and lead us through some kind of activity. In the cold or wet weather we would play such things as Dodge Ball or Steal the Bacon in a large room in the basement. We even had square dancing once in awhile.
We would go outside when the weather permitted. We might still play Dodge Ball out on the blacktop, which was fine by me. If there was one thing I was good at it was dodging. I was quick and skinny. We played sports such as baseball and soccer. We also played Kick Baseball and Capture the Flag. I knew how to play soccer., more than my classmates, the only team sport I could make such a claim about. I must have learned it at West Whiteland, where they played a lot of soccer, which was my only memory of that school. I couldn’t remember actually playing it while there though. I had vague images of bleachers and people playing was all. This was another piece of the puzzle that was West Whiteland for me.
Other than soccer, I was usually chosen near last for teams. I actually wasn’t that bad at most of these games by Sixth Grade, but I still wasn’t popular. I was very bad at Basketball. I wouldn’t have picked me for Basketball either. I could throw the ball through the hoop easily enough. I did well in games such as H-O-R-S-E, but in an actual game of Basketball I got totally confused. I fowled all the time, threw the ball to the other team or simply stood around like a rock.
The Gym teacher who came to East Ward was the principal of the West Ward Elementary School and his name was Mr. Dreibelbis. I remember he wore glasses and had acme scars on his cheeks. He was not a harsh coach.
Once a week we had Music. Mr. Joseph Poltrone was the Music Teacher. I though he had the perfect name, Poltrone sounded like a musical instrument. He also was the director of the bands for both East Ward and West Ward Grade Schools as well as the Junior High. He recruited for Band in fourth grade. I was one of those he talked into it.
I choose to play the Clarinet. The school supplied a loaner instrument and Mr. Poltrone gave some initial lessons. I didn’t last long on the "licorice stick". I could not get the hang of pressing the keys with both my right and left hands. After a couple weeks I switched to the trumpet. The trumpet only had three valves to worry about all played with the right hand. I didn’t have to fool around with those temperamental reeds with a Trumpet either.
My mother and grandmother took me to a store in Coatesville and bought me my own Trumpet. We rode the Short Line Bus both ways because they still hadn’t learned to drive. Next they enrolled me for lessons with a private tutor. My trumpet teacher was Mr. Miller. He was the son of my barber, Clarence Miller. Once a week I would go to Mr. Miller’s house (pictured left) located  on Manor Avenue, near the Jr.-Sr. High School, for an hour and torture the poor man with my bleats.
Actually I learned to play well enough to get by in band. I had trouble tuning the horn because of my hearing glitch, but thankfully the Trumpet didn’t go out of tune very often. It wasn’t as complicated to tune as a guitar, something I taught myself to play many years later.
Some of my friends were in East Ward Band except Ronald, Dave Fidler and Bill Brookover. Bill wasn’t in Band, but he did play the accordion. Gary Kinzey played Saxophone. Teddy Miller played slide trombone and Stuart played a brass instrument called the Baritone (pictured right). It looked something like a tuba, but was smaller and had a higher pitch level. Dave did play the violin, but there weren’t any strings in the East Ward Band.
We didn’t march either. We did play a couple concerts. I played all four years from Fourth through Sixth.

The administrators realized the transition from Grade School to Junior High was difficult for some. When the Sixth Grade school year was nearing its end the school board set aside one day in late spring to acquaint us with Junior High.
On a day in May Mrs. Yost led us through the streets of Downingtown to the Junior High School (on the left is me in front of the Junior High emoting, “I have arrived”, 1953). They brought all the Sixth Grades in the district there on that same day. Mr. Dreibelbis came with the West Warders.
If the visit was to reassure us, it failed. The hallways were crowded with older kids all in a rush between classes. They shoved, bumped into and snarled at us. Everybody looked so much bigger than we were.
Ronald, Stuart and I hoped to stay together, but they split us up and put us in groups with kids we didn’t know. A Seventh Grader guided us throughout the day. Every period it was go to this room and then to that. Sometimes the rooms were at extreme opposite ends of the building. A bell rang and you had a set time to get to the next class. When a second bell rang you had only seconds before being late.
Part way through the day was a lunch hour. There was a cafeteria at East Ward, but it was only a large room in the basement with long wooden tables and chairs. The only thing sold at East Ward was milk. It was fifteen cents for a pint. Duer Smedley’s father was a milkman and delivered the milk to the school each weekday morning. I forget the brand. Everybody brought his or her lunch from home in a brown paper bag or little tin lunchbox. The cafeteria smelled like a concoction of bologna, peanut butter and bananas.
In comparison the High School Cafeteria was huge. Downingtown had one High School building. It served as both Junior and Senior Highs. The Junior High wing was to the South side. There was one cafeteria, one gymnasium and one auditorium for all grades seven through twelve. Long fold up tables of a tan color filled the center of the room. The chairs were folding chairs, too. There was a kitchen to the back and serving stations along its front. The line of kids stretched around the outer walls of the room and into the hallway.
They sold full lunches in the cafeteria. There was a different entrée each day along with side and desert choices. They gave us the menu for the week during the morning orientation. Hot dogs and Beans, Macaroni and Cheese, Sloppy Joes, something called Rigatoni, which sounded like the name of an opera, and something else called Shepherd’s Pie. The school gave us a free lunch that day as visitors.

The line moved slowly. There were two older students behind me. I overheard one say, “Go ahead ask him. I bet he does.” Next thing I knew one of them tapped me on the shoulder.
I turned my head.
“Hey,” he said, “do you play with yourself?”
What a stupid question. I answered it truthfully. “Sure. If I don’t have anyone else to play with, I play with myself.”
They doubled over in laughter. I didn’t see what was so funny. Did they always have a friend around so they never had to play by themselves?
One tapped my shoulder again after they had calmed down. “You have that teacher?”
“Who?” I asked.
“He pointed to a man further ahead in the line. I recognized Mr. Deibelbis, the principal of West Ward.
“Sometimes,” I said.
“Do you know his name?” he asked. He didn’t give me a chance to answer. “Mr. Drivel Piss,” he said and they doubled over in laughter again.
I got my food and found a table. I just wanted the day to be over.

I didn’t feel I was going to like this place very much. I didn’t know the half of it yet.

(Written Downingtown, 1954)

Carey led her flock across a quadrangle of walks, through a side entry and down a corridor, through another door into the gymnasium. Waiting beneath the basketball hoop was another gathering of kids, behind which waited a small cluster of adults. They were the West Warders and their chaperones. Mrs. Carey joined these adults leaving her East Warders facing across at their sixth grade counterparts from the “bad side of town”. A moment passed in silence before a thin man slipped from the adult pack waving his arms for attention.
The man gave a brief smile, unused or uncomfortable doing so. His arms still waved, pulling his jacket up a little on his neck. He had a long nose, gray hair and slightly lopsided mouth.
Somebody giggled.
A teacher went, “shhh!”
“Good morning.” said the man. “My name is Mr. Maxilla. I will be your principal next year. I welcome you here. I expect in the three coming years, in fact am certain, you will bring to us much honor, much credit to Wilmillar Junior High. Meanwhile, I wish to make perfectly clear why you are here today.
“As you have probably heard, the school board, with my full agreement by the way, has long felt the transition from grade school, with its one teacher, one classroom tradition, to junior high school, with its many teachers, many classrooms technique, can be traumatic.
“Therefore, it is felt, and I agree, make no mistake about that, a gradual withdrawal from the elementary milieu is best. This visit allows you to obtain knowledge of your future and thus be better prepared to conduct yourselves with honor and dignity when you arrive full time next September.
“Now I must be about the important business of a principal. I leave you to your guides. Thank you for your attention, and good luck.”
With a nod, he rushed from the gym. In the next minutes, they counted off into groups of three. Each group was assigned to a seventh grader to guide them through the labyrinth of junior high. Frank March, Larry Brown and a west warder named Cary John Masters had a guide named Doug Virgilson, a skinny, freckled youngster with floppy brown hair and sleepy eyes.

“The first thing, y’know,” said Doug, “is to see the locker set-up, y’know, and get my books, y’know.”

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