Seventh Grade came to an end. It was always a relief when school ended, not only because school was boring, restrictive and I hated homework, but also the weather got hot in May and June. Our school wasn’t air-conditioned. Very little was air conditioned in those days. Air conditioning was so rare businesses that had it used it as a marketing tool. The Auditorium movie house in Coatesville had a huge banner hanging beneath the marquee. It read, “AIR CONDITIONED: IT’S COOL INSIDE!” The only thing the teachers could do was open the large windows on one side of the classroom. This did little to bring relief since there was no cross draft. We could have had our own banner, “IT’S STIFLING INSIDE!”
The school promoted me to Eighth Grade. I finished the year with a C-plus average, that D in Spelling pulling me down. Ms Barnes gave me a C in History even though two of the first three marking periods were Ds, and I can’t remember if it was World or American. The others periods were Cs, but somehow I scored a B in the final exam.
Geography was similar; I started with one D in the first marking period, all Cs the rest of the year, but an A in the final. How did that happen? It is another class I recall nothing about. Who taught it? You know, I have taken a look at my yearbooks since writing the last two chapters and I think I have mistakenly thought Ms Barnes taught history, but instead it is she I had for Geography in seventh grade and my history teacher that year was Miss Hurlock. I know I had Hurlock for both History and English, so it must have been her for history in 7th. I still don’t know if it were World or American. (There will be more about Miss Hurlock later; much more!)
I had a B in Art, taught by Louise Remetz (pictured left), who I would have again in Eighth Grade for the same subject. B is a decent grade, but I must not have made much effort since I really could draw well.
I only got a C in Physical Education, not surprising. Maybe Mr. White caught me too often wearing my briefs and not a Jockstrap. I did get a B in the final marking quarter. We played outside most of the time in the spring, usually softball. I liked baseball, but hated softball. I could not catch softballs. Here is a bit of my history with baseball. As you may know if you have been reading along since the beginning, I had a catcher’s mask in my preschool days, so I would catch in our little backyard baseball games. When in Grade School I wanted to be a pitcher. Denny Myers and the other boys didn’t invite me for pick up games, but sometimes enough boys friendly to me, or more truthfully not welcomed elsewhere either, were around to play a game. I was pitching and a line drive hit me directly in the solar plexus. I crumpled to the ground and lay there looking like a fish out of water. My mouth was opening and closing with no air going in or out. After that I switched to the outfield, center field in fact because Richie Ashburn played that positionand he was my favorite player. I figured the further away from the batter, the safer. (MaryLou Marple, a friend, took the photo on the right during the Whiz Kid days of the 1950s.)
I was a Richie Ashburn type of hitter. I didn’t have much power, so not many home runs, but I learned to “put ‘em where they ain’t” for plenty of singles. I was a fast runner, so could stretch singles to doubles and could steal bases. When I played hardball I was a “hotdog”. I liked to make diving catches where you end up rolling across the grass. My speed made me perfect for center field because I could cover a lot of territory. I seldom missed in hardball.
Softball was not as easy for me. The ball is several times larger than a hardball. It should be easier to catch. It doesn’t go as high or as far when hit. Its just I couldn’t catch the darn thing. They didn’t let us use mitts in gym, which gave me an excuse. However, none of us had gloves and the other guys could catch it, which only got me accused of being afraid of the ball. It wasn’t the lack of a mitt anyway. Years later when I played in men’s softball leagues I had a glove. I still couldn’t catch the softball. They put me in right field both in men’s softball and in gym.
Hitting was different. I struggled with this initially in gym. I struck out more times than not when we first started having softball games. After a few games they started razzing me about it. “Sure out, sure out!” the opponents yelled. My own team would groan or call me names and join in the chant of “sure out, sure out”. One day I came to bat with those chants ringing in my ears and swore I would never strike out again. From then on I almost never did. I began to get hits, little chops into the outfield usually. I discovered if I looked where fielders stood and changed where my feet pointed in the box, I could put the ball between players. I was fast enough to beat out ground balls.
My improved hitting didn’t turn me into a prized player. I still couldn’t catch. I let in more runs with my fielding miscues than I produced with my Baltimore Chops.
Our Gym teacher all three years of junior high was Donald White (pictured left), but for much of each year it was a student Phys Ed teacher from West Chester State Teachers College (formally called the West Chester Normal School; later called West Chester University of Pennsylvania). Every semestra a new student teacher would strut in flexing his muscles. Most of these student teachers acted like tough guys. Mr. White was always very nice, never mean or nasty, but these guys often were and we tended to see more of them than Mr. White.
We had clubs in Downingtown Junior High. There was a meeting one period a week, if I recall right this was mainly on Tuesday. There were several to choose from and I was in a different club each year. There was one called “Study Club”, but it was nothing except an extra study hall for those who didn’t pick a real club. You could have called it “Slacker’s Club”.
I choose Stamp Club during Seventh Grade. I started collecting stamps a few years earlier. My friend Ronald Tipton also collected stamps and sometimes we traded these as well as comic books. The club met once a week to trade stamps or look at what we had in our albums. We could buy stamps at special prices through the club. Mr. Kenneth Ernst (pictured left) was our leader. I never had him as a teacher and don’t remember him at all. His last name was the same as a boss I had decades later named Dave Ernst (picture right of Dave in college). They bore a resemblance to each other.
During my Junior High days I walked with Stuart Meisel to and from school. I stopped by his house in the morning. Sometimes when we came home in late afternoon I stayed at his house and we played until I had to leave for supper. Every Wednesday we would get into an argument on the walk home. It usually ended with us both claiming to be the smartest person in the world and that we never wanted to see each other again.
On Thursday morning I would stop at his house and to school we would walk, friends again as if no fight had ever happened the day before.
Stuart was absent one day that spring. I was walking home alone down Manor Avenue, which was the name Rt. 322 had where it ran from center of town pass the high school. I was nearing where I would turn through Kerr Park on my way home when somebody yelled, “Hey”.
I looked across the street and there were two boys walking opposite me and looking my way. There was no one else around so it had to be one of them who yelled. I didn’t know either of them. They looked too big to be in Junior High.
“Where’s your fat Jew friend?” the one yelled.
I kept walking, looking straight ahead. I’d played in this scene before.
I turned up Pennsylvania Avenue toward the park. They continued straight down Manor much to my relief. I don’t think I ever gave Stuart their message. They never got us, unless I’m wrong about when that locket room attack happened and they were involved in it. This is a distinct possibility.
Seventh Grade ended and I didn’t have to put up with a lot of this kind of guff for the next three months. I spent a lot of my free time with Stuart and Ronald. Ronald’s family had moved from the apartment on western Washington Avenue to one over offices at Guindy Trailer (pictured right). Truck trailers were made at Guindy’s and Ronald’s father worked at the plant. Guindy wanted an overnight watchman, so they gave the Tipton’s the apartment rent-free for serving that purpose. It was a nicer place than their old home and sometimes I visited Ronald there.
Ronald’s mother (pictured left) was very nice to me. She was a person who always had a beautiful smile. She was a small woman, much like my mother who was only five foot two. She was younger than my mother, though. I thought my mother was very young compared to those of my friends. My mother had turned 21 the week before I was born. Betty Hadfield was only sixteen when she married Isaac Tipton and seventeen when she had Ronald. My mom turned 34 in June of 1954; Ronald’s mom was not yet 31.
Ronald’s father (pictured right) was a different story all together. He always made me nervous if he was home when I visited. He was a big man, very tall. He was much like my own father in nature and they had both worked at Lukens Steel at one time and both were or had been truck drivers. Some of my friends have told me my father made them nervous. Mr. Tipton scared me to death. He seldom said anything. He just glared.
There was no more mention of “The Incident” and I felt safe. I even revisited Stuart’s woods again when the real summer heat began and repeated my naked romps. I still didn’t want anyone to see me, especially after what had happened in my backyard, but I added a new element in my imagination. I pretended sometimes that a girl caught me. I would playact it. I would be running about in the nude and this girl would appear on the path. I would be embarrassed, but she would come down into the hole with me and then she would take off all her clothes and I would see – what?
I would see nothing because I didn’t know what girl’s looked like under their clothes.
I knew about breasts by that summer. After all, some of the girls at school were developing and I couldn’t help but see their new roundness. I also knew girls had nipples, just as I did. Little girls sometimes played outside in the summer without any tops when we were preschool age. I saw their nipples as exactly the same as mine. As Jerry said on Seinfeld, “I got ‘em. Kramer’s got ‘em. We all got ‘em!”
Besides writing, I was doing a lot more drawing in my spare time. I had several Archie Comic. I would get some paper and a pencil and free hand Betty and Veronica, filling it their facial features, but not their clothes. I would then draw little dots on their breasts, but that was as far as I could go. I didn’t know what to draw down below the waist except nothing.
I noticed I got that tingling sensation when I drew these.
Actually, there was more than just a tingling sensation. There was a physical change to part of my body. When I began imagining the girl in Devil’s Nest or I sketched Betty and Veronica I would feel a tightening in my lower abdomen. My penis appeared to be growing, but I didn’t understand why. At first this was disconcerting, but that tingle I was feeling grew stronger when this phenomena happened. I feared the condition might be permanent, but everything shrunk back to normal after a short period of time once I turned my attention to other activities.
One morning I was in that state that feels so pleasant halfway between sleep and waking. It felt more pleasant than usual this time, but when I woke up my crotch was wet. I had never been a bed wetter so don’t tell me I wet myself? I lifted my sheet and looked. The front of my pajamas did look wet. I reached inside with my hand and there was a liquid all over my genitals. It didn’t feel like urine, it was thicker and a little sticky. It also looked more white than yellow. I didn’t know what it was.
This is what comes from living in an era when sex was the secret not shared. This was akin to girls getting their first menstration. I have read over the years a number of tales of young girls distraught and paniced when their first period strikes them because no one prepared them to expect it. Stephen King even managed to get a horror novel out of nature catching a teenage girl unawares. Can you blame girls if suddenly there is blood flowing from such an intimate place and they get a bit fearful or panicky?
I haven’t heard the same type of stories about boys, but I can’t believe I was the only lad in the world that was frightened by a natural development of the male maturation process. I was frightened and somewhat panicky, too. I had no idea what this stuff was.
The closest I could identify it with was pus.
I had seen infected cuts and pus. Was my penis infected? It didn’t hurt. Maybe I scratched it somehow running about in the woods like I got the splinter in my eye. I didn’t want to tell anyone. I went to the bathroom and washed the stuff out of my pajama bottoms in the sink. I rolled my PJs up in a ball and shoved them well down in the clothes hamper under the towels and underwear. I washed my self with a washrag. My penis didn’t hurt when I touched it. The warm water with the washcloth rubbing across it actually felt good.
Maybe I’d live after all and they wouldn’t have to cut it off.