I had forgotten the incident until I found a story I wrote that somehow had gotten misplaced for several decades. I didn’t use any real names in the writing I found. I referred to myself as Derek. I used the name Sammy Blatt for Stuart. The other boy I called Robert Robebrooks, Rob for short. I wrote a number of stories based on actual events using the name Derek as my alter ego. I also used the name Sammy Blatt as a stand-in for Stuart several times. The use and form of that alliterated name can only mean the other boy was Bill Brookover, yet what happened was out of character for either Bill or Stuart.
As I puzzled over this I remembered there was another person involved that I didn’t include in my story. I had simplified the story by consolidating this fourth boy into the Rob character. I talked to Stuart recently and this incident came back to him when I described it. He came up with a name of the other boy.
Stuart has had an entrepreneur’s spirit his whole life. He was always coming up with ideas, such as "The Daily Star" and a Rock Band. In this case he suggested we throw a Halloween Party in the carriage house.
(In the picture to the right is the back of the carriage house
behind us, me, Stuart & Ronald.)
“We need to clean the place up a little,” he told us, “and then decorate it.”
I said, “There is a big box of decorations in my grandparent’s attic. I could bring them over.”
We then went into the carriage house to clean, if Clean was the word. Renovate was more the case. This is a condensed description from my story.
"The lone lamp inside didn’t illuminate much more than the dim light coming through the dusty windows. An intricate spider web enmeshed Derek who entered first. Ron (Bill Brookover) pushed by him, sweeping any remaining web away with his hand. He took a step and a slim object shot up toward his head. He brought his arms across his face to deflect the rake handle and took a hard whack on the wrist. He stepped back and let the rake fall to the floor.
“Watch your step,” said Sammy (Stuart) a little late.
The rake only made a muffled thump when it landed. We surveyed the room. The rake handle rested atop a scattering of aging newspapers stretching like a sea of foolscap from wall to wall. The papers dominated the room, broken here and there by small islands of other debris and garden tools."
That is exactly how I remember the place, a mess that took us all day to clean.
We burned those old newspapers behind the carriage house. We set them on fire, right there on the ground in a big circle, and then we dared each other to stand in the middle as the flames grew just to see who would stay the longest. We did stupid things like this when kids. It’s a wonder any of us are still around.
The next day we brought our decorations. I brought the most. Stuart was going to start inviting people at school on Monday. It was Sunday and my parents picked me up and took me home.
The next weekend I went back to see Stuart and nobody was home. I knocked on the front door and nobody answered. The place appeared all shut up. I went around the side and saw the porch light was on even though it was daytime. The Meisels only let that light burn like that when they went away on a trip. The carriage house door was locked from inside by a hook and eye. I was able to reach through a hole with a stick and unlatch it. I went inside and discovered all the Halloween decorations torn down and scattered about the room.
After I read this I remember us cleaning out Stuart’s carriage house, decorating it and the Halloween decorations being ripped up. I also recalled what I had not included in my original narrative. As Paul Harvey used to say, “And now for the rest of the story.”
That Sunday another boy showed up. Stuart didn’t want to involve him with the party and he left. At that time a family lived over Doctor Neff's office next door. They had a son named Jimmy Ferguson, who became friends with Stuart. He was the boy who came by and he was upset we didn't include him. He came back at some point that week and saw the decorations. He tore them up. He may not have known whose they were and assumed they were Stuart’s and this was his way of getting even.
Obviously we had no party in the Carriage House that Halloween. The decorations were a mess and the Meisels were away. Instead I went out trick or treating with the Wilson kids.
I don’t know if it is a touch of compulsive or obsessive behavior, but as a boy whenever I saw an event I liked I would try to emulate it somehow. This was how the stock cars led to the bicycle racing and the destruction derbies result in our Ditching Club. The bike racing was a bit of harmless fun, more or less, while the Ditching Club bordered on insanity. I mean, here we were smashing our bikes together and trying to knock each other over. It left us with dents and dinks and bent objects on our bikes, not to mention the scrapes, bruises, abrasions, cuts and potential broken bones we inflicted on ourselves.
Sometime or other over the summer, my dad hauled us up to
Allentown, I think to the big annual fair, and we saw Joie Chitwood’s Thrill Show. I believe they still billed it as Joie Chitwood’s Hell Drivers. Anyway, I was enthralled by the whole presentation. What is it about twisting up cars, having them explode into flame and crash into each other that so attracts us guys? Anyway, you know where this led.
The day after we saw those daredevils I was out in the backyard building ramps, jumps and other objects to ride my bike over or through. If I’d still been back at East Ward I’d been roping others into this fiasco. As it was I did it a while, adding to it over the summer and somehow avoiding breaking my neck. At least I had the good sense not to try jumping my bike through a ring of fire. Of course, good sense probably had nothing to do with it. I probably couldn’t find a big enough loop.
On November 4 of 1956 I went on my first ever date. I took Helen Mae Seibold (picture left) to a birthday party. Whose birthday and where are lost to history. I know I went to Boyertown with my parents on the previous Saturday and purchased a sport coat, so it must have been a fairly proper affair, but then back in the ‘fifties we did dress up for just about everything. For some reason, also lost to history, I came home from Boyertown with the Wilsons instead of my parents.
Things must have worked out all right at the party because I began
dating Helen fairly steady the rest of the year. I may have taken her to one of the school dances, not sure, most of our dates were movie dates at the Pottstown movie theater, the Hippodrome. My mother would drop us off and pick us up afterward. Helen was the daughter of the man my parents bought the Bucktown home from. His name was Sox Semibold and sometimes we went to the midget auto races with him. I don’t know if my dad knew him before the sale or they became friends during the transaction.
It was the weekend after that first date I became aware of my Grandfather’s frequent visits to the doctor. I was dropped off for the weekend that next Friday, July 9, and at 6:00 that evening my Grandfather visited Dr. Parke. He was back at Dr. Parke’s for a shot Saturday morning, and again on Sunday morning for another. (Can you imagine getting that kind of attention from a family doctor today?) I could see his weight was clearly down for he had always been a heavyset man. Now his clothes hung on him and his appearance was sallow. Doctor Parke weighted him in at 167 pounds that week. Just a bit more than a month earlier he had weighted 173, and the month before that he was at 183. I noticed he had stopped drinking earlier in the year while I was there, but didn’t know the doctor had told him he had to give up alcohol. I did notice he was tired much of the time.
We went to my grandparent’s on Thanksgiving as usual. The next day my grandfather came home early from work feeling sick. He wouldn’t return to work until January 7, 1957. During December grandfather was going to Dr. Parke for shots every few days. On December 12 he went to the Chester County Hospital where they tapped his stomach and retreaved two quarts of liquid from it. His weight was down to 152 pounds.
Ray Ayres and I didn’t become friends until near the end of Tenth Grade. I was still a loner and a stranger for the first semester plus. It wasn’t that classmates were unfriendly toward me. No one objected if I sat by them to eat lunch, but I hadn’t bonded with anybody either. I drifted between classes alone and on breaks I was off by myself in some corner reading. When you've been a long time outsider it makes it difficult to approach people and you constantly feel vulnerable to attack.
I knew quickly enough whom not to cross.
The Q Gang was a group best to keep at a distance, and by distance I mean preferably nowhere in sight.
Remember The Fonz of “Happy Days”? Well, the boys in
The Q Gang were the real life Fonzies and the only resemblance to Henry Winkler’s character might have been the outfits they wore fall, winter and spring. I assume the costume didn’t vary much in the summer, but mercifully I didn’t have to see them during vacation time.
They wore motorcycle boots, white T-shirts with a cigarette pack rolled in the sleeve, black jeans and often a black leather jacket, but beyond the look they were nothing like The Fonz character. These guys weren’t going to take Richie Cunningham into the men’s room and advise him on how to be cool or get the chick. If they took Richie into the men’s room it was to beat the stuffing out of him. If they kicked a jukebox it wasn’t to make their favorite song play; it was to break in and steal the money.
The Q Gang was four guys seemingly joined at the hip. You didn’t see one without the other. They took the General curriculum, so most of the time we in Academic weren’t blessed with them, but we did share a couple classes here and there. Those were terrible classes to attend. These guys did nothing but interrupt and disrupt. It was hard for anyone to learn when them were in the room. They may have dressed like The Fonz, but they were closer to Artie West in Blackboard Jungle (pictured left Vic Morrow, with bottle, as Artie West).
There are states today with laws saying kids have to stay in school until they are eighteen. They are trying to get such legislation in Delaware. This is typical of politicians, looking for easy answers to complex problems so they can claim they did something. All they are doing is making it hard for the students who want to learn. I suggest we let these Fonzies of the world drop out at 14. Get them out of the hair of the rest of us. When I was in school we couldn’t wait until these bums reached the age to get work permits and drop out.
The Q Gang used to swagger into class with their girlfriends; they never walked, they only swaggered. Maybe they’d sit at the desks, maybe they'd sit on the desk top. Wherever they choose to sit they did it with their hands down their girlfriends blouse or up her skirt. What do you think they were looking for in there? Their crib notes?
They had a fad of carving their girl’s name down their forearm with a knife. That shows you how smart they were. Fortunately for
them, most of their girls had short names, like Sue or Pat. You’d hate to have to keep correcting the spelling if it had more than one syllable. Obviously, the leader (pictured right) was the leader because he could spell a name with more than one syllable. Unfortunately for the rest of us, none of them died of blood poisoning.
It had been a member of that gang that refused me a bus seat my first day of going to Norco. He was the one with red hair he combed forward into a rusty drainpipe over his forehead. Beyond that, I only had one other direct encounter with them and that was early on in the year. It wasn’t all that serious, just darn embarrassing.
We had a class in an old basement utility room. That was how overcrowded the school was. We had makeshift classrooms in such places as unused shower rooms. This was a study hall and not a class, thank goodness. That was why the Q Gang was in there at the same time. They often doubled up Study Halls across curriculums.
I had taken a seat about the middle of the rows. The old chairs in there had one big slat across the back. The lower half was open and your rear tended to stick through. One of those guys sat down behind me, reached forward and goosed me, hard.
He had perfect aim. It was dead center, bull’s eye. I probably jumped a foot, but given who did it I did my best to act cool and ignore this assault. But the assault wouldn’t ignore me. It made me need to go and go urgently.
Now, as I explained before, I never used public restrooms. I avoided them as if they carried the plaque. I held it in if need be, and if I couldn’t I sought out an empty restroom. I only used any public restroom to urinate, nothing more. I never used the urinals, always a stall. And frankly, I had never ever even been in a restroom at Norco up to this point. I was going to be in one now.
Getting excused from a Study Hall was easier than a class.
(I’m not sure I even asked. I don't think I felt I had time for such things as dickering for permissions. I headed for the nearest restroom down there on the basement level. I rushed in. There were several guys already in the place, but I didn’t have time to be shy right then. I headed for the nearest stall and to my shock and chagrin none had doors. They had sides, but the fronts were wide open for public viewing. It didn’t matter because nothing could stop it now.
My dad took the family to the movies in Philadelphia that December. This time it was to see “Giant”. The film premiered at Thanksgiving, but we went during the Christmas break. He let me bring a friend along. It might have been Ronald, but I think it was Richard. I remember going to the theater and it was a big event with a lot of hoopla. There was a carnival atmosphere on the sidewalk in front of the theater. There were vendors and milling crowds. They sold these large souvenir books about the production and the stars at the door. The film starred Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor, but the talk of the movie was James Dean. By the time the film opened Dean had been dead for over a year.
All in all things were looking up for me in the later part of
1956. I celebrated New Year’s Eve at Richard’s house. My folks and his went to a party together with other friends. Tommy and Sue were at their grandmother’s in Pottstown. We had the place to ourselves. Richard talked about cars; his favorite subject and we watched TV. Around midnight Richard opened his father’s liquor cabinet. It was locked, but Rich knew where the key was hidden. We toasted a Happy New 1957. It was the first drink I had not by accident. To tell the truth, I still didn’t like the taste very much.