Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Friday, April 1, 2016

Perspective on the Rest of the World

I am not certain when I became aware of the world outside myself. Certainly events intruded upon me with those air raid sirens during World War II, but I was too young to understand what was happening beyond the noise.  I didn't understand why it must be pitch black and silent.  I had no idea a war was going on. War, what is that? As young children we tend to live in a bubble with ourselves at the center, but around us events continue to unfold and fester, and some of those events that we take no notice of in our play-a-day existence will touch us far in the future
            I attended East Ward Elementary from January 1950 until June of 1953. Some things happened beside my being bullied or bike racing or making new friends. Perhaps we should take a few moments and put the world in perspective during my childhood.
I vaguely remember the Korean War. I probably recall this more from my grandfather cursing at president Truman for firing General Douglas MacArthur than anything else. North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950. I believe the United States declared war two days later upon my ninth birthday. (Technically we didn’t declare war, but referred to this as a Police Action.) This what-ever-you-call it ended just over three years after that on July 27, 1953. It ended as a stalemate and in essence never ended at all, but continues more or less to today.

I took no note whatsoever of something else that happened on my birthday that year, which also would become a lot more newsworthy when I reached my twenties. On June 27 Truman sent military advisers to help assist the South Vietnam government fend off the Communists. (The clipping on the right says 300 advisors, which may have include counting some from a later upgrade, my research indicated initially on June 27, 1950 we sent 35.)
In March 1951 as I finished up Fourth Grade some Jewish couple named Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were found guilty of conspiracy during wartime and espionage and bound off to jail to die, which they did on June 19, 1953 near another of my birthdays. They were taken to Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, NY and executed by electric chair, another of Thomas Edison’s famous inventions. The Rosenbreg case became a cause celeb for some, controversial for others and not much of anything to we children living in Downingtown when the switch was thrown.
Somehow in these "innocent" years I did take note of “The Red Scare” and the threat of the atom bomb. During the fifties it became harder to avoid these subjects. There had been investigations in the late ‘forties, after World War II, into the possible infiltration of government agencies by Communist and/or Soviet spies. The names of Whitaker Chambers and Alger Hiss became prominent in the newspapers and on radio along with the mysterious Pumpkin Papers. That kind of stuff was enough to make my ears perk up even if at the time I was only 5 or 6. Another prominent name associated with all this spy stuff was Richard Milhous Nixon. Nixon was a fourth cousin on my mother’s side of the family.
 As the decade wore on the term “Red Scare” grew more dominate in the news, especially when a basically unexceptional Senator from Wisconsin burst into the spotlight in 1950. Joseph McCarthy became a force to be reckoned with. He merely had to hint someone was a Communist sympathizer to ruin their life and get them blackballed from their careers. His name was to enter the language as a dispicable act of false accusations and destruction. (I say we have substituted McCarthyism with Political Correctness today and it is even more dangerous.)
McCarthy met his nadir in 1953 when he conducted a televised investigation of the U. S. Army. His tactics were exposed and it resulted on December 2, 1953 with the Congree condemning the Senator. McCarthy continued in office until he died in 1957, but his power was weakened.
 The Atom Bomb Scare was something I was very aware of. How could a kid of "The Atomic Age" not be? We were told about it regularly, even to having occasional lessons at school on how to survive and had practice drills just as we had fire drills. Okay, number one; never look at the flash of light from the bomb. Hmmm, if an Atom Bomb blew up in our neigborhood would we be rational enough to not look toward it? If we were indoors and an Atom Bomb dropped we should duck down low behind or under something sturdy. This was what we practiced doing at school ever now and again. Boom, the pretend bomb ignites and we all drop to the floor and huddle under our desk where we will be perfectly safe. (Oh yeah, that’s gonna save us!)
If we were unfortunate enough to be outside when the Reds attcked with their terrible weapon, then we should find a ditch and lay flat within it.

I did take note of the election of 1952. General Dwight David Eisenhower easily defeated the man with a bald head and odd first name, Adlai E. Stevenson. My grandfathe was happy and even my dad, Democrat that he was, had admiration for Ike. I had an "I Like Ike" campaign button and a round disk of strange rippled material, which proved to be a keychain. The disk was made in such a way that if you tilted one way slightly it displayed a portrait of a grinning Eisenhower and when you tilted it the other way it displayed the White House. His running mate was that fellow Dick Nixon. There wasn’t as much love for him.
I think what drew my attention to Eisenhower was his resemblance to a TV personality I
watch. This was not a real person, but a puppet named Willie the Worm, who introduced cartoon to entertain us little kiddies.The fact remains when Ike put on his glasses to read his speeches he turned into Willie the Worm.
There were several other major happenings in the world beyond me during those years as well
.Francis Crick and James Watson published their description of DNA. The CIA overthrew the government of Iran, but retained the Shah as leader. The first large scale Polio vaccinations began in Pittsburgh. The Supreme Court ruled segregated schools were unconstitutional in Brown verses The Board of Education in Kansas. In 1955 on May 31, all U. S. schools were ordered to integrate. On December 1 1955, a woman named Rosa Parks refused to give her seat to a white man on a bus.
How many of these events slipped into my brain at that time I do not know. I do know of two I took strong note of. On December 30, 1953 the first color TVs appeared and on July 17, 1955 Disneyland Opened

There were some parallel worlds to mine that were not world shaping events, but would hold much significance in the shaping of my life.  First, let me say my best friend was Ronald Tipton. I was very close to Stuart Meisel , but Stuart came from a different universe than myself. He was Jewish and grew up in a different family culture than I did. He also had a much different home life than I. The Meisels owned this large house on Lancaster Avenue sitting on a big lot. His father was a successful businessman, who came home every night and Stuart doted on his father. He was also very closeto his mother. The family went away to Florida when the cold weather came. On the right is Stuart with his father and uncles in Florida, 1952. He seemed to have everything. I don’t recall him having a job as a boy. He did participate in the Civil Air Patrol when he was 8 or 9, standing on a hill with his aunt logging any planes that flew over. His mother and father were always encouraging him to do well in school. I remember one day we got our report cards. He got a B in this one subject and his father punished him because he expected an A. If I had gotten a B in that particular class my parents would have thrown a party.  
I love Stuart like a brother, but Ronald Tipton was my closest friend, much for the reason we had so much in common. He was the first friend I made after returning to Downingtown in 1950, at that time drawn together because we both loved comic books and would sit and dicker and argue over trades. He was also an outsider. Tall and thin, so much taller than the rest of us he was constantly fighting with ticket sellers that he was entitled to a child’s price being under 12. When I first knew him in school he was picked for teams even after I was. He was awkward, all long legs and arms.  Here is how Stuart described Ronald in his memoir, My Story, 2004:

I do not know how I got to be friends with Ronald Tipton.  I think it was because I saw him as a gangly, uncoordinated person and I guess I felt both sorry for him and a bit of “misery loves company.”  In any case, our friendship continued through high school.  We recently renewed our friendship through the Internet.  Ron considered me as much a friend as I considered him.

I shared some of that view as well, you know, the “misery loves company” bit. Ronald took his share of knocks for his lack of athletic prowlness. “You throw like a girl,” was something he heard quite a bit of as I recall. You don’t hear that expression as often today, but it was pretty prevalent during my childhood as a real insult. Now only did peers hurl it at you, so did adults, especially gym teachers and coaches.

Ronald and I were able to talk to each other about anything, even today, although we have differing political views now. We have agreed to stay away from that subect, but during our childhood we had no such opinions and nothing was off limits. This may be our similar backgrounds. We were both sons of truck drivers. Both our fathers had once worked at the Lukens steel mill in Coatesville, even having a nodding acquaintance there. Both men verbally abused us, their sons, although Ronald’s father did sometimes physically punch him, which my dad never did. We have over the years noted several similarities in our lives. We both felt poor as children, but Ronald was worse off than me. We both began working as youngsters. He was forced by his parents to go to work and to buy his own clothes and things. I was not. We shared an interest in art, in hiking and exploring, for taking picture, for graveyards and horror movie. He lived in an apartment in the poorer area of Washington Avenue until 1953.  I lived in a house in the “better” end of the avenue. Ronald and I were fated to be interlinked all our lives, except for a long period after an unfortunate falling out over a misunderstanding when in our twenties.

During these grade school years there was a girl of my age living in a parallel universe, but we didn’t know each other. We lived about 45 miles apart. She had some similarities with me, however. She was tall. Her mother was a serious career woman and she felt ignored often because of this, meanwhile her father abused her verbally. He constantly criticized her as awkward. Said she tromped about like an elephant. She felt ostracized at school and she had a poor self-image, considering herself to be ugly and fat. She would face some tragedies as a teen. Her mother was concerned about what people would think at their church and she constantly refused to let the girl do certain things or have certain things. She also sternly told the girl
she was never to smoke or drink or do other acts the mother saw as reflecting badly on her as a mother. Of course the girl was smoking by the time she was 12 or 13. Her and the friends she had made also thought it was exciting to run around the neighborhood at night in their Baby Doll Pajamas.
She was a pretty girl who grew up into a sexy woman, but she battled with her poor self-image all her life.

She was born in Philadelphia and lived on Paschal Avenue. Her family moved to a double house in Drexel Hill   around second grade. For a while her parents and her Uncle and Ant shared a house and she had to share a bedroom with her two cousins. Finally each family moved into separated houses on the same block. She went into elementary school and one day she was chased and thrown down by a group of boys. While two held her down another kicked her teeth out (fortunately these were not yet her permanent teeth). Her uncle wanted to find these boys and confront the parents, but her father didn't want to be bothered. He was eager to get home before the Friday night fights (Gillette Cavalcade of Sports) came on TV. (Photo right: the girl and her parents on Paschal Avenue, Philadelphia, 1945)

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