In seventh grade Ronald Tipton and I were both engaging in philately. I know that sounds just terrible that two boys of twelve or thirteen were involved in such a thing.
Philately means the study of stamps. Ronald and I were both in Stamp Club. He may be the reason I picked that club over others. In the photo I am third from the left, taken before I wore glasses. Ronald is the boy at the extreme right.
Every year at Downingtown Junior Senior Joint High you had to join a club, which met once a week. In eighth grade I joined Audio Visual Aids Club. I’m not sure why I joined, except I always had an interest in film and recording. Don’t look for me in the photograph; I’m not there. This photo is from ninth grade. I don’t have the eighth grade picture. (Oddly, the boy whose face is cut off on the extreme right does look like me.)
The purpose of the A-V club was to understand how to work and use the equipment, movie projectors, tape recorders, slide projectors and overheads, any device that helped in giving speeches and doing presentations. Later in life I was involved in this area in various ways. I assisted in the sound for a church, put together media shows for the United Way and presentations at various places I worked. I had none of that in mind when I joined this club, of course, but it helped give me a little foundation in those skills. Hibbert Wells (pictured left), a Chemistry teacher by trade, was our sponsor.
It also had a side benefit that proved fortuitous that year. The Audio Visual Aid Club was responsible for bringing any such equipment, setting it up and sometimes running it for classroom use. They called for us to assist if Mr. Ratliff wanted to show a film of the happy Peruvian natives in their colorful dress herding llama or Mr. Wells needed to project overheads of chemical formula. We got out of our class to deliver the equipment and make it work. If they gave me any excuse to escape my own classrooms I was happy, especially if I could escape from English or history.
(Perhaps I should ask my Jamie, next-door neighbor, if this is how they dress in Peru, since it is the country he migrated from.)
I hated eighth grade to the point of dreading going. It was not the kids this year; it was one particular teacher . This teacher was a sardonic, bullying, belittling and ignorant individual whom I had twice a day. Her name was Phyllis Hurlock (pictured left) and she taught English and History. The report cards were printed with these two core courses while the rest were merely handwritten. I know we had English daily. We may have had history but four days a week. (Note: I have some confusion about exactly when I had Miss Hurlock. I did have her for 8th grade History; however, I am not sure whether I had her for English in 7th or 8th grade. I do believe I had Mrs. Pollock for 7th Grade English. I know I had Mrs. Rodgers in ninth, so having Miss Hurlock for both English and History in Eighth grade is most likely correct.)
Miss. Hurlock got off on the wrong foot with me from the get go. My first name is Larry; it is not short for anything. I am not a Lawrence or Laurence or a Lorenz. I always joked my family was too poor to afford the extra letters of those longer names. My mother named me after the hero in her favorite novel. My parents dubbed me Larry and then tried different combination to find a middle name that went well with Larry and Meredith. They choose Eugene. My name has no more significance that that.
Miss Hurlock refused to believe my name was Larry. She wasn’t the only teacher I had who thought my name had to be Lawrence. I had a bit of an argument about it more than once, but she was the only one who made it an issue and then held it against me. I forget if this began in English or History, but that doesn’t matter. She resented me for it in both classes. On my first day with Miss. Hurlock we had this exchange.
Miss. Hurlock greeted the class with a pointer in her hand. She used this to point to her name
“I would like your names, please,” she said, and began a roll of the room. Getting to my turn, she tapped her pencil. “Suppose we have your name now.”
“Stand up, please.”
I stood. “Larry Meredith.”
She peered over her spectacles at me. She was a great peering-over-spectacles person when annoyed with anything.
“Your full name, please.”
“Larry Eugene Meredith.” There were some giggles at hearing Eugene.
She took a deep breath, laid down her pencil and interlaced her fingers. She was prone to interlacing her fingers when really annoyed.
“Your full name. Please.”
I blinked in surprise because I had no other name to give. She glared at me.
“Larry Eugene Meredith,” I repeated with a gulp.
Her jowls quivered. “It is the standard at Downingtown Junior High School that we use our proper given name. Your proper given name is Lawrence, is it not?”
“Not. It’s Larry.”
One eyebrow danced above her spectacles. She was a great eyebrow dancer when extremely upset.
“I understand,” she said in measured tones, “that you prefer ‘Larry’ in the company of your friends, but school is not your friend. (Man, wasn’t that the truth!) Education is quite serious business. The school has in place very important and serious rules you must obey without question. Remember, obeying rules is the first and most important aspect of education. I will call you Lawrence in here. Your parents gave you that name and you should be proud of it.”
“But they didn’t. They named me Larry.”
The idea she might smack me with her pointer was not farfetched in the 1950s. Teachers and
Miss Hurlock would not forget this confrontation. Later in the year during an English class speaking on word meaning she made these comments.
“No intelligent parent would give their child a name ending in ‘y’. The ‘y’ is a diminutive meaning ‘little’. Such a child would go through life as Little Bill or Little Joe. They would always think small of themselves.”
She looked directly at me as she spoke. I don’t know what Gary, Barry and the assorted Marys thought of this. I found it degrading. What kind of person would say things like that to children in their trust and care?
I really was turned off on sentence diagramming because Miss Hurlock would make you do it on the blackboard and hover over you criticizing in a caustic manner. I was usually very nervous if called to the board in front of everyone. It was a time of my life when standing before others was nerve wracking to me. I was scared to death to be the center of attention because being in the spotlight usually meant ridicule. I never raised an arm in class even when I knew answers because I didn’t want the class to laugh at me if I was wrong, but to be truthful, they often laughed at me because I was right.
There was one thing I found I could do I enjoyed, even though it was in front of everyone. I could give off the cuff speeches. We were required to bring in an object each marking period and give a short talk about it. We were supposed to be learning how to write a speech. I didn’t do any more homework than I thought I absolutely had to, which was very little. I spent zero time at home writing out any scripts. I would find an object and make up my speech while walking to school. I generally received a good mark for my speeches. It is a good thing we didn’t have to turn in a written version.
One time I brought in a little glass vial. It belonged to my grandmother and contained sand
Miss Hurlock returned and everyone snapped around in his or her seat as if sitting quietly with hands folded was what we did during her entire absence. She went about the lesson, but after a while this acrid smell of burning rubber wafted through the air. We all knew the eraser resting against a hot bulb caused it, but no one said anything. Miss Hurlock kept wrinkling her nose and sometimes looking about, but I don’t know if she ever figured it out. That smell of rubber remained a constant for several more classes in that room.
One of the funnier moments was when Denny Myers gave one of his show-an-tell speeches. He
It was during eighth grade that the pubescent male’s growing transition from boy to man became a constant problem and fear. If it occurred during class you hoped it would go away before the bell rang. If not you would position your books in front of you to hide it. A teacher calling you to the blackboard at such a moment was the biggest worry. This was where the odds would be against you in Miss Hurlock’s English class. She might send you to diagram a sentence, although diagramming a sentence in front of everybody may have been a morecalling upon me to give my little speech was the worst possible scenario. There was no way to hide. I would be standing in the center of the floor in full frontal view.
It seemed that as that year progressed I found myself in constant arousal. It did not take very much stimulation. The vibration of riding in a car would bring it on and I often had to slink out at stops so my parents didn’t notice.
This may sound like a contradiction given the repressive sexual mores of the 1950s, but girls wore sheer blouses to school. It was a common fashion. Of course, girls wore so many undergarments in those days you saw little but bare shoulder. They wore slips, bras and crinolines. I was sitting behind a girl wearing such a blouse. Her slip and bra straps accidently slipped down her one arm. That was all it took.
Please don't call me to the blackboard!
I have been racking my brain trying to figure out my sexual knowledge out during junior high. I stated way back somewhere that some events of my life become confused as to the exact sequencing. I am certain that I did not find and read that rudimentary sex manual, booklet actually, until we had moved to Bucktown, which was after junior high. It was not until then, either, that I learned about masturbation. I knew early that babies were inside the mother, but had never had explained to me how they got there or how they escaped. Ronald had to be mistaken about me telling him the facts of life beyond the statement the baby was inside the mother. It is still possible I told him about conception, but at some time when we were in senior high. Ronald has stated his youthful naiveté on sexual matters several times in his own writing, as well as in conversations. He may have run two different occasions together when we discussed this function.
Anyway, here is what I know I knew as I progressed through eighth grade. I understood my body was changing somehow and doing weird things, but I didn’t know why. Since much of this concerned my private parts I couldn’t discuss it with anyone, certainly not a teacher. I was very close-mouth about myself around other kids for obvious reasons, to avoid teasing. I couldn’t talk to my father about it for the same reason feeling he would laugh at me. I was too embarrassed to bring it up with my mother or grandparents. I understood that some things happening to me were also happening to other boys in my class and we all tried to keep it secret and hidden. When certain things happened it felt good and I felt guilty about feeling good.
I still didn’t know what a naked female looked like, but I was determined to try and find out. The days of raging hormones, of pirates and of thievery lay ahead.