Choices of educational pursuits at NORCO were pretty much the same as at Downingtown. I had come close to flunking the Academic curriculum at Downingtown, so since my parents had made it clear that college was out of my future anyway, I decided I needed to follow a more practical course of study.
There was Agriculture, but I had no interest in farming. There was General, but this was where the potential drop-out boys in their leather jackets and switchblade knives went. That is a bit unfair; boys interested in Mechanical Drawing and certain other of the trades would take this course. General was still basically a catchall, though. It was only open to boys. (Actually, they finally did away with the name General and called this course of study Industrial Arts.) The equivalent choice for girls was Home Making, sometimes called Home Economics or HomeEc. This left Commercial. My friend Ronald was taking Commercial at Downingtown. It would prepare you for business, thus this seemed the reasonable choice. I wasn’t overly fond of a future working in an office, but I was less interested in the other choices.
I reported to Homeroom 16 and a Mrs. Pennypacker where I received my class schedule. I showed up to my first period subject after that. I walked into the room and what I saw was a sea of female faces. I was the only boy in the school who took Commercial. They had designed this course to teach girls to be secretaries, not to teach boys how to be businessmen. Downingtown had actually made some separate designations within Commercial. There was Clerical Practices, Bookkeeping and Secretarial. NORCO went with Commercial, and that really meant Secretarial with maybe a bit of bookkeeping tossed in. When they built the new school they renamed this as Business Education.
After the teasing and bullying that I had been through in Downingtown I didn’t need this. I knew very well what would be my reception around school as the only boy in a girls’ curriculum. I wasn’t going to set myself up for more ridicule if I could help it. I marched right out the classroom door down to the school office and changed my selection to Academic.
Later I thought, “Larry, that was stupid. You would have been the only boy among ALL those girls.”
(These last two photos were the actual Commercial classes Norco, 1958)
I might have switched to Academic from Commercial, but there was one Commercial course
I reported for my first typing class. I wasn’t the only boy, not that there were a lot of we males in the room, but there were a couple more than me. The teacher, Mrs. Machamer, (pictured both left and right) said the class was four typewriters short. She called out four names, including mine.
“You four have been transferred to Art, but only for a semester,” she assured us. “Next semester you’ll come to typing and these pupils will take Art.” That was her promise.
It didn’t happen. When I protested to the office after the mid-terms I was told, “Oh no, Typing and Art are both full year courses.”
I never have learned to touch type.
I was very upset about going to Art. I
I would say it wasn’t. I got an A in the Final Exam. That final must have counted for a big percentage of the grade, because I would have averaged my marks out to a 2.33, which would be a C plus. Mr. Gaston averaged them out as a B. (Picture on the left is one of my sketches: Horse Study #3.)
I had an overall grade for Tenth Grade of 2.33, which as we’ve seen equates to a C plus. That is still an improvement over Ninth Grade at Downingtown where I barely passed with a D average. I would have gotten a B for Tenth Grade, but Algebra II pulled me down. I finished with another D in my nemisis subject. I had pretty much given up on Math. I figured I just couldn’t do it. Art, English and U.S. History were my best subjects.
I had my homeroom Teacher for English. Mrs. Ruth Pennypacker (pictured right) reminded me of the characters that the actress Marion Lorne always played, a bit of a fidgety gibbet. She was another teacher with difficulties in controlling her class. Despite the distractions of misbehavior about, I actually improved over the year in English. I had straight Cs the whole first half of the year, but then all Bs the second half. Mrs. Pennypacker assigned short story writing in the second half of the year. I wrote a tale called, “Rescue” about a hiker who is trapped on the side of a cliff overnight. It had a twist ending. I got an A on my story and that helped me bring up my second half mark.
I had Margery Kelz (pictured left) as the new unlucky teacher who attempted to make me understand Algebra II. I already stated how poorly I did. I don’t even remember anything about this teacher, except she was sort of pretty. I know I was totally floundering in that subject. My foundation was weak coming in and if you don’t learn the basics in Algebra I, then you are over your head in Algebra II. I don’t even know how I kept from flunking. She must have had a kind heart.
I had young Mr. Robert Heinbach for U. S. History. He was on his first job fresh out of
I was doing pretty well in History until the fourth and fifth marking periods. I don’t know what happened. I had an incomplete for the fourth. I see I was absent four days in the fourth and two in the fifth. I probably missed a test at the end of the fourth period. Maybe I had the flu. I got a D in the fifth and then I went back to the Bs I was getting earlier in the year.
Biology was my favorite subject that year. You see, even at this late juncture I was clinging to my earlier interest in science. I am disappointed I got a C for it. My grade average was 2.5, which I think should have given me a B. I had straight Bs for the final marking periods and the Final Exam. I really respected the teacher, Mr. Allyn Brown. Everybody did. He was sort of like Mr. D at Downingtown, except in the end he sold out for more money. He made the class interesting and took an interest in his students. In the spring he had us to his home for a cookout and he took the class to the Audubon Bird Sanctuary on a field trip. It is a shame the school lost him after 1957-58. Pottstown’s Hill School, a very prestigious private institution, lured him away.
Foreign Languages have not been my forte. I flunked Latin and here I was essai d’apprendre le francais. I wasn’t looking forward to the experience. Mr. Stewart Elliott (pictured right) was another teacher with control problems. He really liked me. I figured it was because I was never a troublemaker in school, but from what I saw in future years I wonder if there wasn’t another agenda going on with him. I ended up with a C for the year, but it is my own fault. I only got a D on the final exam after scoring Bs and As all year long. Frankly, those marks strike me as inflated. Mr. Elliott also gave me excellent in Cooperation, Integrity, Responsibility, Seriousness of Purpose, Concern for Others and Politeness. Really, was I such a saint?
Norco didn’t give grades for Physical Education. You were either satisfactory or unsatisfactory. I was satisfactory (obviously the bar was set fairly low). The Gym Teacher was an ex-Marine drill Instructor and he didn’t run gym much different than boot camp, except he didn’t use cuss words or call us maggots. He sometimes called us “girls”. His name was Louis Buckwalter (pictured left) and he didn’t take any nonsense from anyone.
Mr. Buckwalter was a scary dude on first blush. He was the complete opposite of Downingtown's Mr. White. Mr. White was fairly soft spoken and easy going. Of course, Mr. White usually turned the gym classes over to the student teachers from West Chester State and they all seemed to be short guys with Napoleonic Complexes. Mr. Buckwalter was not short. He was at least six foot. He had a trim, solid body, a Joe Friday haircut and a D.I.’s disposition. He wasn’t above yelling at you or utilizing ridicule. Yet he seemed to know which kids responded well to that approach and which didn’t. He knew when to employ encouragement or praise. He would demand you make an effort, but he could recognize when you did. He had student teachers, too, but he seldom let them run the show.
I still didn’t like group showers or being on the skin team, which was where I usually ended up. I was close to my adult height, but below the average in weight for my age group and embarrassed by my thinness. I was thinner now than in Junior high. I still sucked at basketball and that was never going to change. I just couldn’t get onto the fowl rules. I would be called for a double dribble or traveling (I still don’t know what the heck traveling is). I could hit the net from almost anywhere on the floor; unfortunately, it would too often be the wrong net.
I was doing well in most other gym activities. I wasn’t being made fun of so I was slowly
I’ll do a little editorializing here. There should be two classes of pole-vaulting in the Olympics today, straight pole and flex pole. It isn’t fair to measure the stars of fifty years ago against those of today. Today’s competitors use a pole far different and more flexible than past stars like Bob Richards you can’t compare the records because of the equipment variable.
In the summer between Ninth and Tenth Grade I send away for a package called, “The Manly Art of Self-Defense”. It purported to be designed by a bunch of big name sports stars who would teach any kid how to be more physically fit and how to fight. The preponderance of named stars were boxers, Ezzard Charles, Willy Pep, Joe Lewis, Tony Zale, Sugar Ray Robinson and Rocky Marciano. There were stars from all major sports, though. I remember Mickey Mantle and Stan Musial were two from baseball, and I believe Doak Walker was one of the football stars.
It came in a large, green portfolio. There were these “Life Magazine” sized booklets. They were mostly on boxing. There was one on the Rules of Queensbury and one on the history of boxing. There were individual booklets on how to execute the left hook, the uppercut, the jab and the right cross. I did practice these instructions faithfully that year, even training with a jump rope.
I was more interested in the conditioning program that was included. This is what the Champions of the World stars supposedly designed. You had a booklet listing several different calisthenics. There was this cardboard wheel. It had various sports listed as pie pieces on the outer edge. You turned a smaller wheel, attached in the middle by a rivet, until this cutout portion was over the sport of your choice. The recommended exercises for that sport appeared in the cutout.
long arms. Once when I had a suit altered, the tailor yells over to another tailor, “Hey, Joe, come here and look at these arms!” Did you ever feel like a sideshow display? My arms tended to look like pipe stems no matter how much muscle. (Pictured right, me more recent arms.) My wrists were seven inches around, but also seven inches long. Despite my faithfulness to this program, my body still remained skeletal (pictured left 1958).
During the year Mr. Buckwalter held a contest. Everybody had to do certain exercises as long as they could until only one was still able to do it. Ray Ayres won it for push-ups. I won it for sit-ups. I could do a lot of sit-ups. (A few decades later my son won in a sit-up contest in Cub Scouts.)
It was during Gym I became friends with Ray Ayres (pictured right). Ray was a jock. In fact, he was a jock’s jock, he was that good. At Downingtown, Jocks were those who would have pulled my shorts down or stole my underwear. Ray was not of that sort. He was an overachiever in everything. He was outstanding in every sport he attempted. He was an honor roll student. He was popular with girls, who considered him “cute” if not handsome. They only place I outdid him was being six feet tall to his five foot six.
We had a gym class, I don’t remember what the activity was that day, but I didn’t do particularly well in whatever it was. After the period, Ray came up to me when I was dressing and he told me what I was doing wrong. He wasn’t making fun of me; he was helping me. He gave me advice on what to change so I would do better. Next thing you know, Ray’s my best friend in Norco.
I was beginning to have a best friend for every occasion. I was a best friend with Ray Ayres at school. I was a best friend with Richard Wilson at home. I was still best of friends with Ronald and Stuart in Downingtown. The odd thing is they almost never met or intermingled.
Tenth Grade remains a bit misty in my mind. I think it was because nothing particularly outstanding happened bad or good. With the exception of Ray Ayres, and that happened late in that year or possibly early in Eleventh Grade, I didn’t make any other real friends. I didn’t make any enemies either. No one hassled me or teased me. I didn’t do spectacularly in my classes, but I improved greatly over Ninth Grade and I had no trouble with any of my teachers. In fact, two of my teachers were very encouraging and nice to me, Mr. Brown and Mr. Elliott.
I also knew whom to avoid.
EXCERPT FROM “RESCUE” (WRITTEN AT AGE 15)
They were going to be his trophies. There were notches that ran down from the top of the cliff almost like a stairway to a ledge that led right to the nest. It was not a difficult climb down. He never considered any danger. He was going to take one egg home and find out what kind of bird had laid it. It must be a very large bird, perhaps some kind of eagle. He laughed as he began his climb down to the ledge. He would take it home to his mother and say, “Boy, look at the eggs these southwestern chickens lay.” She would laugh at that, she had been complaining lately about the small eggs found in the local stores.
Thinking of his mother made him frown. He had promised his folks to be extra careful if they allowed him to go on this trek. They were reluctant to let him. They feared he would drown in some strange river or get sick in the high country and not be able to get to a doctor. They gave in when he promised to be extra careful and reminded them that Dobson was an expert camper.
Dobson was his high school biology teacher and had promised to take his two best pupils that term on a camping trip out west, if their parents approved. Each student was to bring a paper signed by his parents giving permission. Art had no trouble getting his parents to sign originally because they didn’t believe he would win, but when he did, they were worried and reluctant. In the end, though, they let him go.
His eyes felt wet and he didn’t want to cry. It took an effort to stop the tears. He bit his lip until it hurt enough to take his mind from the tears. I’ll be okay, he though, nothing will happen. I’ll be missed and Dobson’ll find me. He’s an expert about these kinds of problems. I’ll bet he can track like an Indian. He’ll find me with no trouble at all. Why should I cry? Nothing to be afraid of.
After midnight, the haze from the south moved nearer. It was touching the edge of the moon. Art watched it swallowing the moon. A burst of bright streaks broke from the haze followed by a gigantic handclap. Art jumped and began shaking. He could hear a far-off whisking meaning it was raining in the haze. The rain was coming to him.
Art leaned his head back so he could look straight up at the top of the cliff. It wasn’t far away. Perhaps twenty feet, but it was smooth rock, no chance of climbing it. While looking up, he saw a shadow move near the edge of rock against the dark sky.
“Hey, Mister Dobson. Is that you, Mister Dobson?”