I was practically begging my folks for a typewriter. Everything I wrote since my declaration I would be a writer was in pencil on yellow lined pads, except for some written on extremely thin and perishable onion paper. My handwriting was poor. I would write a story and a week later I couldn’t read what I wrote. The Librarian was allowing me use of her typewriter, but my time on it was limited and I was a slow hunt and peck typist. It was not the same as being able to do it in your own room.
My grandmother found an old typewriter cheap somewhere and gave it to me for Christmas. Wow, did I love that machine. It was an ancient Underwood, but it worked so who cared. It came in a black carrying case and I could tote it with me if I wished.
All the stories and poems I wrote before I got that typewriter are lost. Going through cartons in our storage closet I found some of my old art work, but none of my first fiction. I have nearly everything I wrote once I got a typewriter. The first story I wrote on that machine was, “Mother Carey’s Chickens”. Mother Carey’s Chickens is another name for the Storm Petrel, a type of seabird (Pictured). The name is a corruption of Mater Cara, a name for the Virgin Mary. Sailors gave them this name because they believed the birds warned of coming storms. Yeah, I don’t get the connection either. There was a movie by that title made in 1938 starring Ruby Keeler, but I don’t think I knew anything about the movie. I just liked the sound of the phrase and felt it fit my tale, especially the idea of predicting a storm coming. The Storm Petrel is considered an omen of bad times ahead, which was my view of heading off to Junior High.
My story was a slightly fictionalized account of my sixth grade visit to Junior High. I incorporated some events that happened later when I was attending Junior High that first year as if everything happened the same day. In the story Mrs. Carey leads her young students to the Junior High. Mrs. Yost was the model for Mrs. Carey. My friends and I were the models for her students. My character was Frank. Ruben was the name I gave Stuart and Ronald became Roger. The events told within the story did happen if not quite in the same sequence.
My grandmother gave me another gift I wanted badly that year. I think she found it at the same place as the typewriter. It was the The Richmond Edition in 10 Volumes of the Works of Edgar Allan Poe. I didn’t ask for that exact edition, of course, but simply some works of Poe. Volume V was missing. I have tried, but cannot discover what the contents of that particular book were. I am guessing it was the collection of Poe’s letters, which may have been interesting to read. Volume X contained all of Poe’s known poems. The books had red covers and an illustration from one of Poe’s works in the front of each. John Hovendon, 156 Fifth Avenue, New York was the publisher. The books were not dated, but some research proved they were published in 1902. I still have them. Poe was an early inspiration to me in both fiction and poetry.
I had taken out a volume of Poe from the adult section of Downingtown Library once the new librarian allowed me in there. My favorite story at that time was “The Pit and the Pendulum”. This is a terrifying tale, but I find it humorous that it was first published in a collection called The Gift: A Christmas and New Year’s Present for 1843, oh a merry holiday story, indeed.
After Robert Louis Stevenson and the early readings from his A Child’s Garden of Verse, Poe became my main introduction to poetry. I was very drawn to “Annabel Lee” and read it over and over.
1954 was the last year we went to Philadelphia at Christmas time. My grandmother, mother and I had traveled to the big city every Christmas season for several years. We took the Short Line Bus to West Chester, where we caught a Red Arrow Trolley car right on Gay Street where it intersected with High. They replaced these trolleys with buses in June 1954 and eventually removed the tracks. The trolley went to Sixty-ninth Street in Upper Darby.
At the 69th Street Terminal we switched to the Elevated/Subway train and rode to Market Street East in downtown Philadelphia. We would visit the toy departments in Gimbals, Wannamaker’s, Lit Brothers and Strawbridge’s, all stores gone now. The toy train displays were what I wanted to see, but I liked the fountain display at Wannamaker’s and the Enchanted Village (pictured right) at Lit Brothers.
It was in one of these stores I first saw Punch and Judy Shows, which inspire my own puppet show back in grade school. I always visited Santa at Gimbals though. He was the one who arrived in the big Thanksgiving Parade so he must have been the real deal. By 1954 I wasn’t visiting Santa Clauses anywhere anymore. But I still wanted to ogle the train layouts.
I’ll leave it to others to decide how much Fess Parker (left) resembled the real Davy Crockett (right). Crockett was given a catch phrase through out the Disney production, “Be sure you’re right, then go ahead.” They never once used his most famous quote. Allegedly, upon losing his final bid for congress, he said, “You can all go to Hell and I’m going to Texas.”
There was a theme song, “The Ballad of Davy Crocket” to that series that ran on for seemingly 1,000 verses. It ws a big hit and repeated week after week on “Your Hit Parade”. I wrote a parody that was probably the first poem I wrote on my typewriter and the earliest I still have.
One day to be named the pup, Peppy.
Blind for some days, numbering three,
Before she was taken, the world to see.
I wrote it about my little Toy Fox Terrier, Peppy.
The Christmas break gave me some respite from Junior High, but two weeks go by quickly. I got some additional accessories to my train layout and a couple more Plasticville Buildings, but all too soon I had to pack that stuff away and go back to Miss Hurlock and her snide remarks.
There were to be a couple changes in 1955 that were positive. Maybe they even saved me from dropping into utter depression.
“You used to go the Methodist Church?” he asked.
I nodded, “In grade school, but I haven’t been there for a while” I hadn’t been there for at least two years.
“I thought you might like to come to our MYF meeting this Sunday night,” he said.
MYF stood for Methodist Youth Fellowship. I was about to say no, but he continued.
“After the meeting we’re going to Dick Thomas’s.”
Ut oh, Dick Thomas’s Brick Oven was one of my favorite places in the world. It was a short order restaurant on the Lancaster Pike near Exton. My father took us there to eat once in a while. Dad was a long time friend of Dick Thomas. The Thomas family was among those original Welsh Quakers who settled in the Welsh Track in 1683 at the same time my father’s ancestor’s came to America. The Thomases had become prominent among those settlers and the generations that followed. My mother had grown up on the estate of George Thomas III called Whitford.
When I got my driver’s license my friends and I would often stop at the Brick Oven to eat.
I’ve never found that type of food as good as his anywhere. I miss it. Dick Thomas died somewhere around 1980. He left his restaurant to his waitresses. Most of these ladies had worked for him for years. They ran it for a couple of years and then sold it to a chain, which changed the name and most of the menu. By the mid-1990s the Brick Over was gone and there is a small group of stores on the site today.
Would I come to MYF because they were going to Dick Thomas’s after the meeting? You better believe I would. They invited me in hopes they would save me, but in all honesty, as a teen I would have sold my soul to the devil for trips to The Brick Oven. I showed up that Sunday and surprised myself by enjoying the meeting. I had come expecting to be bored to death, but everybody there was very nice to me, and the meeting turned out to be fun. We were car pooled to the Brick Over and somebody else paid for my food. After that night I attended MYF regularly, even though we didn’t make excursions out to Exton every week.
About the same time that Jakie Ax befriended me, Gary Kinzey turned on me. I was in the same section with him at school and we had revised our friendship from before. He played saxophone in the band. We were changing classes and as we walked down the hallway he punched me on the upper arm. He punched me fairly hard. He punched me again. I told him to stop, but he just did it again and again and again, all the way down the hall. Finally I had it with this. My arm was beginning to ache. He hit me one more time as we turned from one hall to another and I socked him back.
The back of my shirt was grabbed next thing I knew. Mr. Campbell had a hold of me. He didn’t say a lot, except we were going for a visit to the principal’s office. I explained I was just hitting back after repeated punches, but I was the one he saw hit somebody and I was the one about to be punished. I had to stay after school in detention for the first time in my life and I was not happy with Gary. We pretty much stayed away from each other after that, but I noticed Gary was getting in with some of the guys in class that sometimes made remarks about me and bullied others.
In April I was at MYF and one of the other boys came up to me after the meeting. His name was Jim Dawson and he lived on the West Side. He told me there was this new Boy Scout Troop that had just formed and invited me to join it. I reluctantly agreed to go to a meeting. I was remembering the experience at the other troop, the original one. I didn’t want to relive that. This was Troop 82. They met in the Lutheran Church along Lancaster Avenue on the West Side; ironically it was the church Gary Kinzey attended.
I attended with little expectation.
I didn't know it would lead to more public exposure.
I didn't know it would lead to more public exposure.