My family had moved back to Downingtown at the end of 1949. I entered East Ward School again (pictured left from the back porch of 417 Washington) in January 1950. I walked out its doors for the last time in June of ‘53. It was a short three and a half years since I had moved back and in that time so much changed.
When I returned to Downingtown there was one family on the block who had a television set. By 1953 all I saw when looking at the roofs along the street was antennae. Almost everybody had TV. The Radio networks that had been playing drama and comedy programs back when we lived in the swamp were now turning into all music and news stations. Soon the most popular show on local radio would not be “Fibber McGee and Molly”, “The Lucky Strike Program with Jack Benny", “Lux Radio Theater” or "Amos ‘n’ Andy”, but some guy playing Rock ‘n’ Roll records on air named Joe Niagara (right).
When I first started watching movies at the Roosevelt the films had been in black and white and now at least half were in glorious Technicolor.
All our home appliances had marvelous technical improvements.
Grandfather had replaced the icebox and Frigidaire with a refrigerator that had a freezer compartment. One of the treats before had been the ice cream Pap-Pap brought home every Friday night, which was payday. He bought it at Hutchinson’s Drugstore, hand-dipped from large tubs into little cardboard boats topped with wax paper. Now mother kept half-gallons of her favorite flavors in the freezer compartment right next to the frozen fish sticks.
My grandparents still bought their groceries from Morris’ Market on Friday night (Pictured left and right). I use to go with them and while they shopped I would wander up to Newberys to see what new comic books had arrived. I would sometimes return to their car and wait and read. They parked along Wallace Avenue. One Friday I sat in the car reading for about fifteen minutes before realizing I was in the wrong auto. Nobody locked his or her cars then, but now we sometimes did, especially if we went to Coatesville. My mother had switched her shopping to the A&P Supermarket and in the near future, grandparents and parents would do most their grocery purchases at the new Downingtown Farmers’ Market.
By 1951 all my great grandparents were dead. So were my paternal grandparents. Only my maternal grandparents remained.
There were some other changes. Skip Amway, a slightly older boy who had befriended me when a lot of boys wouldn’t, moved away. A pretty girl my own age moved into the house on the other side of the farm machinery store. Patty Robinson (pictured right at a younger age) was her name and she would become a friend. However, my playing with the local girls, Iva, Judy, Bonnie, Mary Louise and a girl who lived on Chestnut Street named Betty May Bell was decreasing. I was spending most my time with Ronald or Stuart.
My body was beginning to change. One of those changes was very prominent upon my face. My parents had finally gotten me glasses. I was nearsighted and had astigmatism. I hated glasses. They were heavy and irritated the bridge of my nose. Besides, they were ugly. They didn’t have thin almost-invisible wire-framed glasses. They didn’t have contact lens. All they had were these dark and large plastic horn-rimmed frames, what my middle daughter would refer to many years in the future as “Birth-Control glasses.”
Now my tormenters had a new name to throw my way, “four-eyes”. Glasses were still rather uncommon on young people in the 1950s so it was one more thing to set me apart from everybody else. Stereotyping went with glasses. You were considered a brain simply because you had poor eyesight and nobody wanted to be around an egghead. Photographers would no longer shoot me full face. Their lights glared on the lens, so from now on my school pictures were always at a three-quarter profile. I hated that angle.
I also developed Scheuermann’s Disease causing curvature of my spine giving me rounded-shoulders as I grew into adolescence. I thought for years I had Scoliosis, but that is a sideward curving of the spine. Mine was Kyphosis, a curving forward of the upper vertebrae. Kids gave me new nicknames as this became more pronounced. Humpback was probably the kinder one; the other was, Quasimodo. (Recently my doctor informed me that I was wrong about the Scheuermann’s and I indeed have scoliosis. I’m not sure I agree with them).
My father was all over me about my “stoop-shoulders”. He constantly told me to stand-up straight. Tell that to my spine, I thought. He kept repeating, “If you don’t stand up straight I’m gonna put you in a brace.” I used to worry about having to wear some cage around my chest. I even had nightmares about it. I though it would hurt and be humiliating. Have you seen those things? They look like medieval torture devices.
I also dreaded the BIG CHANGE looming at summer’s end, Junior High School. In the meantime I continued my adventures with Ronald and a lot of summer days over at Stuart’s.
I think that was the summer I went buggy. No, I didn’t flip out; I got interested in Entomology. I bought books on insects and began to collect specimens. I had a butterfly net and a killing jar. In those days I used tetrahydrozoline to kill the bugs. I could buy little bottles of it at a hobby shop just for that purpose. It is a little disconcerting to realize tetrahydrozoline is a major ingredient in Visine and other eye drops. Well, it’ll keep the flies out of your eyes.
I wonder if an 11 year old could boy tetrahydrozoline so easily today. It is a poison. It was the execution drug of choice for knocking off insects. Because this is the base ingredient in Visine there was an urban myth that a few drops of that medicine slipped into a person’s drink would bring on diarrhea, just a hilarious practical joke. Actually tetrahydrozoline will not cause diarrhea, violent or otherwise. It can cause severe vomiting, seizures and possibly coma, so don’t slip any Visine into anyone’s drink.
In fact, I wonder if anyone can purchase pure tetrahydrozoline today?
I would mount my dead insects by sticking a pin through the thorax and into the cardboard on the bottom of cigar boxes. I would put a label beneath each specimen with its common and Latin name. I had several cigar boxes full. My prize capture was a Rhinoceros Beetle (Scarabaeidea Dynastinae). These are large black beetles with a horn on the nose, thus the name. I captured it and put it in the bottle. When I stuck my pin through, it started to walk away and I had to kill it again.
The cigar boxes eventually ended up in the attic of my parents home where I suppose living bugs finally ate my dead collection. Bugs and boxes are long gone now. I was proud of my collection, but it creeped a lot of people out. That is an actual photo of one of my groupings inside one of my grandfather’s empty cigar boxes.
If I had been the cool guy on campus having several boxes full of bugs would have added to my coolness. But I wasn’t Mr. Cool, thus walking about sticking pins through dead insects was only another sign of my weirdness. And speaking of bugs, Ronald Tipton was all ready a shutterbug in grade school and snapped your picture when he could afford film. You may have seen the photo on the right before. What you didn’t see in that cropped version was the word written below me. When Ronald showed this photo to Jack Swarner, our sometime bully, he snatched it away and scrawled “Bugsy” upon it. I don’t think he meant it as a compliment.
Those particular doors were one big change looming that I dreaded come summer’s end. Although I still had my adventures with Ronald and a lot of summer days over at Stuart’s, the coming change of schools haunted my sleep. Remembering that brief visit at the end of sixth grade gave me nightmares.
Stuart, Gary Kinzey and I were lounging around in Stu’s house on one beautiful summer’s day. Stuart’s house had many porches. There was a small porch at the front that entered into a narrow waiting vestibule before entering the main hallway. He had a railed wooded porch on the west side of the house with some chairs. There was a cement porch off the kitchen and there was an enclosed porch off the formal parlor toward the front of the house. That enclosed porch was his father’s office. Stuart motioned us into that office. (In the photo on ther eight can be seen the cement porch off the kitchen and the enclosed porch that was his father’s office jutting out just to the front. The white shed porch on the rear of the house was a pantry.)
He walked us over to a corner and showed us his father’s golf bag full of clubs and we decided to play some golf. We took a driver and a putter from the bag and retreated to the back yard. The Meisels had a large yard. We were twelve year olds and never played any form of golf. It wasn’t a good thing, because a driver was too big a club even for that yard. A five or six iron may have been fine. Still, we were too weak and inexperienced to drive the ball very far. As it was, we didn’t even get to do much driving at all. We accomplished enough damage on our first swings.
We choose a distant stump as the first hole because it did have an actual hole at the base. Stuart went first, these being his father’s clubs. He managed to connect with the ball and sent it rolling in the general direction of the stump. I took a swing and did about as well. Gary stepped up and dropped his ball on the ground. We had not known about using those little wooden tees. I handed him the driver and said, “Wait till I get out of the way.”
cted with my head dead center. I was very fortunate his blow landed an inch above my glasses. It was exactly like the cartoons in the movies. I saw these little stars shooting about in otherwise total darkness. I was out briefly, but not down. I never fell over. I could hear Gary’s voice echoing up from a deep well.
Gary asked, “Are you okay?”
I blinked and the world came back. I said I was.
He was staring at me with a look of horror.
“You’re bleeding,” he said.
“No, I’m not.”
“Yes you are,” he said.
I saw it then.
Blood was spurting down across the lens of my glasses. Every heartbeat sent out another shower.
Gary began running about me yelling something. Stuart was also running in circles, but he was yelling for his mother. His mother came out of the kitchen door to see what the racket was about, saw me and she started yelling, too. I calmly turned away and walked across the driveway into Dr. Neff’s office, which was right next door.
Doctor Neff had become our family doctor recently. I don’t know why my folks decided to switch from Dr. Parke. Maybe they felt he had gotten too old but Dr. Parke was only 52.
The receptionist put me to the head of the line when I stepped into the waiting room, fearful I would bleed over the relatively new office furniture I suppose. Some one called my home, because while I was lying on the examination table having my head sewed shut my mother and grandmother arrived with Mrs. Meisel in tow. They looked as if they were at a funeral.
Meanwhile, I was telling jokes to the doctor.
It took four stitches, an appropriate number for a golf injury where the golfer neglected to yell “Fore!” Now I had a half-inch scar down the center of my forehead to go along with the one-inch scar on my left cheek caused by barbwire. I carried these scars well into middle age.The scars I was about to receive were to my psyche and my soul and they ran deeper. No one was there to stitch them up.
EXCERP FROM THE SHORT STORY "FOUR!"
From First Quarter Tales, 1965
I was swimming in outer space. It must have been outer space because I saw stars. I always thought that was a joke, all those cartoons where a character takes a head shot and sees stars floating about them. No, it’s real. I saw these little twinkling pinpricks of light surround me, some were red and some were white, and there may have been a comet mixed in there also.
From somewhere in the deeper blackness I heard Cary’s voice. It sounded as if he were calling from down a well, his voice echoed and reverberated inside my head. I opened my eyes, somewhat surprised to find them still in their sockets. I was standing in the exact same space as a moment ago, except now Cary stood directly before me looking scared.
“You okay, Frank?”
“No,” I replied, “I always walk around with a golf club embedded in my frontal lobe; it gives me a convenient place to hang my hat.”
His eyes widened. “Hey, you’re bleedin’.”
“You’re bleedin’,” he repeated.
“Come off it, Cary. I oughta know if…” Then I realized Cary wasn’t the only one gushing.
I saw a red liquid. This warm substance was spewing over my glasses and down my chin where it splashed to the ground. Squirt, squirt, it was coming out of my head like water out of a wildcat oil well.
Ruben was dashing around in circles shouting for his mother. Cary joined him, yelling for me to go into the house. They were running and colliding with each other and then Ruben’s mother came out of the house to see what all the noise was about.
She took one glance my way and began screaming, “Get a doctor.”
It was like a Three Stooges short, three loonies running about literally screaming bloody murder. I turned around and walked across the Rayzel’s driveway. Right next-door was the office of Doctor Best, my families’ family doctor.
I calmly walked into his waiting room and his receptionist stood up as I entered.