Bucktown, Pennsylvania, population 100, is a village on Route 100 five miles south of Pottstown and fifteen miles north of Downingtown. The center of town is where the West Chester-Pottstown Pike crosses Route 23. In 1956 there was a Gas Station on one corner, a slaughterhouse on another, a lot of used cars on the third and some sort of business office on the last. There was a restaurant and not much else.
Our new home was outside of the Village and up Route 100 a half mile.
Pulling up that first weekend I stayed, it looked like another land of isolation. My parents had purchased a ranch house, from a man named Sox Seibold, with three and a half acres of not much (picture right from satellite). There was a large field for a back yard and a small hill covered with trees. There was a strip of marsh around a little stream between the field and the woods.
A farmer named Tom Bishop owned the fields on our south. There was nothing there except an old half buried springhouse. A couple years later Bishop built a lake on the lot fed by that underground spring.
To our north side there was field as far as you could see and nearly as far as you could drive, although two buildings sat at the top of the property by the road (pictured left). The owner was an auctioneer, who always wore an Amish man’s hat, though he wasn’t Amish. In summer he practiced his auctioneering over a PA System attached to his barn. “Do I hear 10, gimme 10, gimme, 10, now does someone say a 15, can I have a 15…” and so forth.
There was a tiny little house across the street (pictured right), but you seldom saw any people there. It was rented out to different tenants over the years. Bishop owned that, too. Beyond it was a hill of his farmland and Mr. and Mrs. Bishop lived in a home far up a lane cutting through his pastures.
He had a son named Dave Bishop (pictured left), but he was a couple years my senior. I stood with him at the school bus stop that fall and the rest of that year, but seldom saw him any other time. There was an older son named Tom, but I almost never saw him.
My new home sat up an embankment and very close to the highway. There was a gravel lane that circled one side from highway to the back and over to a two-car garage under the house. To the left of the garage doors was a people door to the basement portion and then a whitewashed section of solid cement block wall. On the South corner was another door leading into a storage shed separated from the basement.
My parents moved in on May 1, 1956. I did not. The usual routine of my life was suddenly reversed. I was now living with my grandparents during the week and going to weekend visits with my parents instead of vice-versa. The weekends were rather lonely at first. There didn’t appear to be anyone my age around. It fact, it didn’t really appear there was anyone around period. What homes existed beyond the village were scattered along the roadway with some distance between them. It was like when we lived in the swamp, and like when we lived in the swamp I began to invent games to entertain myself.
I drew a home plate half way up the cement block back wallwith chalk. This would become a prop in an oft-played game during my life at Bucktown. I stepped to the rear of the back drive, where a low stonewall ran between three small crabapple trees all in a row. I would pitch a ball game in my head. I threw a rubber baseball at the wall. Hitting the chalk plate was a strike, missing it a ball or a hit. I could create a hit by hitting the wall in different spots and different angles. If I hit the wall high, I got a ground ball coming back at me. If I hit the wall where it met the ground, I could create a pop up. If I caught the pop-up’s it was an out. If I missed, it was a hit. On grounders I would field the ball and throw it toward that home plate drawing. If I hit the plate the batter was out. If I missed they got a hit.
Sometimes I brought out my bat and some whiffle balls. I made up teams and played imaginary baseball against these as well. I would play both teams and do this for nine innings, keeping track of base hits and runs in my head. The home team consisted of all my past friends, Billy Smith, Tim Mahan, Ronald, Stuart and so on. I kept track of everybody’s hits, runs, home runs and batting average. A homerun was when I hit the whiffle ball over the stonewall and those trees. I kept all this in a notebook. Over the summer I recorded our teams wins and losses and the stats of all my imaginary players. For some reason I tended to have the best stats. (I was also doing a lot of that math I believed I couldn't do, averages and such. )
I did some exploring, but quickly realizes this wasn’t as interesting as the swamp had been. For starters, there was no swamp. There was a marshy strip along both side of the stream that divided field from hillside woods. Big whoop, right? Only thing this marsh did was make it difficult to cross over the stream because you couldn’t get close to its banks, if it had any to speak of, because of the muddy soft ground.
There was one place I could cross at the south end, almost to that border of the our lot. There were these large rocks in a row that went across the waters, provided you could jump a two-foot gap about exactly where the stream flowed between them. Beyond the rocks the hill rose up thickly covered with trees. Being May the growth wasn’t yet as thick as the picture on the left, but it was still tricky fighting my way up the incline through bushes and trees.
At the crest things leveled off a bit. There was a stone wall along the top ridge running as far as I could see both to the north and the south. Beyond the wall was plowed up ground rolling down the gentler and long slope on that side. Far off in the distance I could just make out farm buildings. That was about the limits of my exploring the borders of my new world.
This was my first weekend in Bucktown. I went up on a Friday night and stayed over until Sunday. Saturday was May 6 and The Benders came to help my mom and dad move much of their furniture to the new home. Joe Bender (left in 1944) had probably been the guy that help my dad get his first truck driving job after dad came out of the Navy. His wife’s name was Helen (right in 1986) and they had remained friends of the family ever since. Their daughter’s name was Dottie and at onepoint she had been my babysitter. She was a couple years my senior. We’ll have more to say about Dottie in later chapters.
Sunday evening Peppy and I, because peppy stayed with me, went back to Downingtown to live with my grandparents until junior high ended. I was counting the days and missing my fantasies. Meanwhile on May 12 it was back to Bucktown and then my grandparents on the 14th, Bucktown on the 19th and Downingtown again on the 21st and Bucktown on the 26th and so on. I felt like a Ping Pong Ball. My one respite was on Friday the 25th I played ball at Stuart’s house, both of us wondering if it would soon be goodbye forever.
That last day came on June 8th when school closed for the summer. I came home holding my report card that said I was promoted to the tenth grade, despite my dismal marks.
As relieved as I was at escaping Downingtown Junior High alive, I still felt a bit of resentment about the change of names to the yearbook. Traditionally it had been called the Cuckoo, a somewhat unique name for a yearbook, but in 1956 they held a contest to choose a new name. The winner was rather lame, Our Year. This was the winner? What in the world were the losers’ suggestions?