Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Patrick Flynn and Ronald Tipton, 2016.

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

-- Larry E.
Time II

Thursday, May 12, 2016

An Almost Normal and Numbing Busy Teenage Life

An early event in my senior year did not bode well. It was a psychological reminder of my pass, the feeling of rejection or isolation.
In October we took our Senior trip to Washington DC, three days and two nights. We signed up in September, not long after returning to school, turning in doctor’s exam, parent’s permission slip and most important, our payment. We were given slips to fill out naming our preferred roommates, four to a room. I listed Ray Ayres, Richard Ray Miller and Homer Turner (on right, real first name Howard). I am not sure where he got the name Homer, this was long before "The Simpsons" ever appeared on TV. He was nothing like Homer Simpson anyway.
Everything seemed in order when we boarded the bus early on October 15, 1958. (My future wife’s 17 Birthday as it were.)
We departed at 7:00 AM from the OJR parking lot. From there it was a two-and-a-half hour trip to downtown Washington DC. We stopped at the Elton Diner for breakfast on the way. It billed itself as "the world's longest diner." Technically it is still in business,but is no longer serving out of the original, shining silver traditional diner. The current Elton Diner is housed in an ordinary restaurant.
Our first stop in Washington was the Franciscan Monastery. I remember two things about it. The first was a tour through these catacombs modeled on ones beneath St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. There they lay to rest dead monks and priests in niches of the walls. It appealed to my morbid side, a sort of dark and narrow maze of death. The second most impressive part upon me was the massive gift shop. I had a hard time accepting a lavish gift shop in a house of worship. It seemed to cheapen the religion by lacking solemnity and sacredness. I don't know why I felt this way at that time, I was hardly a deeply devout person, unless you count my growing devotion to my naughty magazines. The Monastery did not feature any Nuns Go Wild souvenirs.


We hadn't done much yet, but so far, so good, I was enjoying the trip. And then we arrived and checked in at the Lafayette Hotel and there was an immediate glitch.
They were assigning everyone’s room and at the end of the roll call I was left with no room. I panicked slightly. No, I panicked a lot. I was in Washington with nowhere to sleep. This is the kind of slip up that pledges my life. It is why I am overly cautious today when I book trips or make reservations. It isn’t just because of that class trip. It is because mistakes like this have happened several times in my life.


The chaperones got on it. They told me not to worry, like right, I could just turn that off! Yeah, easy for them to say, they had rooms. They finally found a room with an extra bed. The three other boys in the room were in the General or Agriculture Sections and I didn’t know them well. They were friends with each other and I was odd man out. It was upsetting, but turned out not a such big deal overall. They went their way during the day and I went mine. I only had to endure them during the sleeping hours. We didn’t have much in common, but they weren’t playing any tricks on me, like the old hand in hot water gag. We got along. (Below the class at the Capitol)


They took us to a lot of places in Washington. They had us to The Tomb of the Unknown, a tram ride through Arlington Cemetery, tours of the Bureau of Engraving, The White House, and The Washington Monument. (Yes I was one of the fools who walked up it, which you could do then. Are you still allowed?), The Supreme Court, The Capitol, The Lincoln Memorial, The Jefferson Memorial, The National Cathedral (another religious establishment with a big gift shop), The National Archives and the Smithsonian. Those wondering why we didn’t visit The Wall should know it didn’t exist. We hadn’t fought the Vietnam War yet.


The two places I liked the most were The Federal Bureau of Investigation and The Medical Science Building. The FBI Tour was interesting. We didn’t meet J. Edgar, but we did see the death mask of John Dillinger. 
The Georgetown Medical Science Building attracted me even
more, that morbid side of me again. It was full of actual specimens of diseased human body parts, such as the leg of an Elephantiasis victim (left).
When we entered this building it was into a large atrium. It had a high ceiling and hard walls causing an echo. Most of the girls were clustered around a spot in the middle of this great room and giggling as only a gaggle of girls can giggle. Once I got close enough to see over all the bobbing heads.I spied there in the center of the lobby were two statues, one female and one male, and both naked.  A majority of the girls had surrounded the male figure and the reason for the constant giggling was the erection he had been sculpted having. Even as a seventeen-year-old high school senior I retained my naiveté.  I was shocked because I didn’t think girls would react this way. I thought they would avert their eyes and hurry past. I was also aware that their reaction to this had caused me to join the statue.


As we headed down south to Washington, I was still going steady with Peggy Whitely but that relationship was heading south, too. There just wasn’t any magic there for me. Ironically, in the class photo before the capital I was kneeling in front of not only Peggy, but a girl who would be a future girlfriend. Her name was Sonja, but I really didn't know her yet, except for her name. Actually I was more in front of the girlfriend to be than the girlfriend of the moment. This was not a planned shot, but one of those freak things that happen, or take it as an omen.

I can’t speak for how Peggy felt. We had good times together, but it simply wasn’t working romantically for me. We habitually kissed goodnight, but it was like kissing my cousin. Maybe I should say kissing my sister. My mother and father were cousins. Of course, I don't actually have a sister.
I did have two cousins at Owen J Roberts High, but were they Kissing Cousins? I thought no, they probably were not really kissing cousins. My mother and father were second cousins; I believed my Owen J. cousins were first cousins, but were they? Both of them were  involved in a family feud that took me years to unravel and the answers shocked me.


Let's begin with Helen Ann Downing who was in my senior class, but not my section. Her father was Herford Downing Jr. and her grandfather Herford Downing Sr., direct descendants of Thomas Downing for whom Downingtown is named. I knew Helen outside of school from the Wilson family reunions. She was pretty, but I always found her standoffish. Perhaps she was shy and maybe she thought of me as stand offish because I was shy. Whatever, she wasn’t someone I wanted to date, even if she weren’t a First Cousin. As it turned out she wasn't, she is a Second Cousin. I could have dated her.


The other girl was Aubrey Jane White who was a year ahead of me in school. Her grandfather was also Herford Downing Sr., but her father was Earl White. She was also pretty. I knew her from the family reunions as well and had always been very friendly with her. She was a warm and gentle person and was someone I would date, if she were not my first cousin. But was she?

There was a schism in the Wilson Family. Ruth Downing, Helen’s mother was the instigator. The objection she made concerned a lady named Sadie Guest (pictured left) being invited to the Wilson reunions. I could not understand why this was a problem. I didn’t really know who Sadie Guest was, but she seemed like a very nice elderly lady. My mother and grandmother were friends with her and they visited with Sadie a number of times. Anyway, the results were that Sadie continued to be invited and attend the reunions and the Downings stopped coming, except for Helen.


So who was this controversial Sadie Guest ripping the family apart, why the feud anyway and what in the world did this have to do with Audrey White? I will have to give a bit of family history to explain.

Let’s start with my great great grandmother Esther Helen Fisher Bicking. She was married to Frederick Bicking (my great great grandfather, of course). Frederick’s father way back when had started paper mills on the Brandywine in and around Downingtown. These were part of the town having the original name of Milltown.  Frederick was manager of one of the mills and. his brother or cousin (not sure which), Austin Bicking, also ran a paper mill in Downingtown. Among Frederick and Esther's six children were two who would be important to my life, William Frederick Wilson and Emma Bicking Wilson. You see, both William and Emma would become my great grandparents. No, brother and sister didn’t marry each other. We may have been a close family, but not quite that close.  But this is where my parents became second cousins.
Emma married one Benjamin Franklin Meredith. They are my father’s great grandparents, thus both Emma and her mother are my great great grandmothers.

Confused yet?

Emma’s brother, William Frederick Wilson the Second, married Anna Margaret Dunlap  and they are my Great Grandparents (pictured right).  William and Emma are also my great uncle and great aunt.

William and Anna had six children, three boys and three girls. Esther was the youngest of the girls and she's my material grandmother. They named her after Esther Helen Bicking. Her two older sisters married two brothers, Herford and Ellsworth Downing. The oldest sister married Herford and she was my Grand Aunt Helen Wilson Downing, also named after Esther Helen Bicking. They named my cousin Helen Downing after my Grand Aunt Helen.


Are we all keeping score here.


My Aunt Helen (pictured left with one of her students, she was a teacher at Lionville) died from complications in giving birth to her second child, Emily Margaret Downing Wilson McCauley. She and Herford’s first child was a son, Herford Jr.; remember him, my cousin Helen’s father? My Uncle Billy, Aunt Helen’s oldest brother adopted Emily Downing making her Emily Downing Wilson. Herford kept the son.
Herford Sr. remarried. His second wife was Sadie Guest. They had two children of their own, Quinton and Beulah. Beulah married Earl Woodrow White and they had two children, Earl “Woody” Woodrow White Jr. and Audrey Jane.
So Audrey isn’t my first cousin at all. She isn’t even a blood relative. I could have dated her. I could have married her.

I still can’t understand all the fuss over Sadie, Beulah and Audrey attending the family reunion. It wasn’t as if she broke up the marriage. Aunt Helen died and Herford remarried, what’s wrong with that?


Now back to our main character, me.

There were still some private parties with Richard Wilson’s
circle of friends that I attended. I didn’t go to these with Peggy. I just danced with whomever was there and enjoyed the food and music. A girl named Joan Boder (pictured right) gave several of these. She lived further down Route 100 toward the Village of in Bucktown in an apartment. 



(Picture left is me dancing with Joan Bodar at one of her parties in eleventh grade, early 1958) This was the Button-Down Ivy League look of the times, the pegged-pants with a belt in the back; the thin belts, like the white one I sport and White Bucks a la Pat Boone or Flag Flyer shoes. I went with the Flag Flyers, mine were orange. Go, daddy-o, are you hip, man, dig it, I was almost feeling scorch.   


I was also going drag racing with Rich Wilson regularly, continuing to hit the tracks at Perkasie and Lancaster. Rich kept talking about getting his $40 Car into racing form, but it never happened. I limited my gear-jamming to the streets and roads of Pottstown.
I was heading back to Downingtown pretty much weekly to visit Ronald and Stuart. We generally went bowling or playing miniature and chip 'n' putt golf. 
I even occasionally visited Ray Ayres at his home on the southern edge of Pottstown along the Shuylkill River. Ray had a couple sisters. I believe one was named Jean, but I never got to know her well.
 I liked his other sister, who I thought was very cute. She wasn’t very tall, a very tiny girl. Her name was Dawn (pictured left). 

As you can see, my once nonexistent social life had expanded by twelfth grade to where I actually had one. 


There was now a group of us at school who hung together most of the time. There was a core considered the wits, not in the intellectual sense, but as people who could make you laugh. This consisted of Ray Ayres, Richard Ray Miller, Nancy Bright, Homer Turner, Gloria “Digger” White and me. The rest of our gang was Kitty Caldwell, Suzy Cannell, Veronica Cisarik, Pete Flisock, Clarence “Gus” Goswellin, Phil Hahn, Jon Harris, Judy Keeley, Dorothea Lederer, Jeanette Richards and Buddy Tyson. We were the anti-academic academics and our classes were fun.
There were some people that I hung with sometimes in both school and outside the campus, such as Dick Kuntzleman. Dick was in my class at school, but he was also a friend of Richard’s so fell into the Richard circle more than the Owen J. clique. 
So this was my social life side during my senior year. It sometimes got downright exciting. Sometimes it was very busy. In March, the day after Ray and I did a Gravely & Hearst DJ gig, I was bowling with Ronald and Stuart. The next day, after Sunday School I went riding around with Richard Wilson.  The next Friday I was bowling with Ronald Tipton again. On Saturday I attended a MYF Social and on Sunday in-between Sunday School and MYF I spent the afternoon out with Ray Ayres. On Monday I was to see Dr. Mann for my Track Team examination.
On March 19 our school took we seniors for a visit to Temple University in Philadelphia. We were around the Temple Hospital area when Ray Ayres, Richard Ray Miller, Phil Hahn and I went to a restaurant on Broad Street for lunch. We were eating and noticed the wall by the booth was lined with graphic photographs of medical operations. How appetizing.
On March 20 I was bowling again, but this time with Richard Ray Miller. On Saturday the 21 I attended Dawn Ayres’s party and then on Sunday it was back to Sunday School and MYF. On Monday Ray Ayres and I went to the Pottstown YMCA where we worked out in the weight room and then took a swim. These visits to the Y became a weekly thing with us. On the 24th I attended the Gym Show at OJR High in the evening and on the 26th I went to Downingtown to Ronald’s despite a snowstorm and slippery roads. I was back to Ronald’s the next day and we then went and visited Bob Lilly. That Sunday was Easter and my Uncle Bus and Aunt Mary came to our place for a turkey dinner.

Whew!


I finally made a sports team in my senior year. I went out for
Track. Mr. Stanley Springer was the coach (left). I never had him for any classes. He was a local boy. His parents owned a general store in Pughtown.
On the first day he held tryouts. He had everyone try everything. He wanted me, implored me almost threatened me to be a distance runner. In the time trials I had run the fastest time of anyone in the mile. I was a very fast runner in my youth. He thought I could be a top-notch miler with a little training.
I turned him down.
I hated to run. All a miler ever did was run, lap after lap. I wanted the least amount of running I could get. I choose to throw shot put and discus. The weight guys did the least running of anyone on the track team. Most of these throwers were big guys.
I gained some weight by the last months of my senior year. I weighted 180 pounds when I graduated. That was still light in this area of competition  I also didn’t have a lot of upper body strength. I figured to overcome this with form. 

I got beat in every meet

Our whole team usually did, so it wasn’t just me. I must have
 gone head to head against Stuart Meisel at Downingtown (pictured right). I guess he probably beat me. Our last meet was against Phoenixville High, which was the only meet our team was victorious. I almost won the discus toss there. I did throw the discus the most distance; however, I couldn’t hold my balance and fell out of the circle for a disqualification. Thus came to an ignoble end my high school sports career.

Oh well, I was a word slinger, not a weight thrower.

I did have one failure in my writing requests that year. The Senior Committee asked if I could write the class poem. Sure, why not? They then told me the criteria for the poem. They wanted me to mention each and every member of the class highlighting a specific known identifiable characteristic.

And, oh yes, make it funny.

This was an impossible task. Who did they think I was, Homer with a comedic streak?

First of all to create such a poem would require it to be of epic length. There were 106 seniors. It would be at least 106 lines if I gave a distinctive characteristic of each student. Second, I didn’t know my 106 classmates well enough to know everyone’s characteristic. Third, if I made it funny who was going to take offense and think I was mocking them.

Oh, no, I I knew this was a losing proposition, but I gave it a shot. I didn’t finish. What I cobbled together was quickly rejected by the committee and another submission won the day for someone else.
The official class poem was 16 lines long and a typical example of these things. It began, “We stand on the threshold of a new career…” Kathe Davis (pictured left) and Elaine Griffith (pictured right) wrote it. 


This is what I should have done, scraped the Committee’s request and just wrote about facing our future as we leave dear old alma mater.
I did write something called “A Group of Noisy People”. It was published 52 years after my graduation in “Voices & Friends,” A Little Something Publishing Co., December 2011, Nancy Roebuck, editor.

A GROUP OF NOISY PEOPLE
Paean to OJR graduation 1959

what was done
what was said to curtail our character stands a loss,

after all  i believe the test of time will prove our
true desire,

though we stand
today as a group of noisy people,
hard to boss,

we set forth upon your world 
with a torch of unquenchable fire.

attitudes are spinning within us like children’s tops,
they will be soon forced forward for your witness.
open up your farmers’ eyes and see
this harvest of recently ripened crops.

so unleash it all with a bell of laughter,
open up your ears and hear it peal
from a group of noisy people.

1959


That’s what I should have submitted.

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