Richard broke up with Barbara Shumate sometime in December., 1957. Christmas break wasn’t even over before he asked me drive him up into the countryside above St. Peters Village (pictured left The Village of St. Peters).
The first time we made the trip he told me to bring my ice skates, we were going skating on a pond near there. The winter was fairly cold and most area ponds had frozen solid. To me it seemed silly to be driving all the way out to St. Peters just to ice skate. St. Peters was straight down Route 23 to Knauertown, then a right up a sharp hill a bit. It was about four and a half miles from my house. We had two perfectly good ice skating ponds near us we usually went to. They were literally close enough to walk to if we wished. One was just south of Bucktown in the heart of Pughtown, next to an auto repair shop and café. (Neither the repair shop/café nor the lake exists anymore. A garden center and mulch business sit where they once sat, right.)
The Pughtown Café was like some out west middle-of-nowhere movie set. Actually, an auto repair shop and café was a pretty good idea in a place without much else around. You stop in to have your car fixed and have a bite to eat while you wait. I forget the people’s name that owned it. We would stop there sometimes for a burger. The man ran the auto repair shop and his wife took care of the café. They had a son and he had an extreme case of spinal curvature, much worse than mine. It quite disfigured him.
The other nearby pond was larger and further south on the Pottstown Pike, but not far. We knew it as Prizer’s Pond because it was just past Prizer’s Appliance and Equipment Store. Prizer’s store sat next to the creek Richard and I use to fish. (Left, Prizer’s, now Little’s of Pottstown.)
We liked to go down to Prizer’s Pond on winter nights when it was frozen over. There was this island in the middle of it you could skate to and we built a fire on the side of the island to roast hot dogs or marshmallows. We had no idea of this pond being anything more than a patch of country water. I knew there were people named Rodebaugh living in the area, but not much about them. Turns out they owned the property where we skated and lived in a home nearby. They called their place Welkinweir. The lake front area was undeveloped when I was a teen, just fields around the lake. In 1964 The Rodebaughs became founding members of the Green Valleys Association. The place is now the headquarters of that Association and the property, including Prizer’s Pond is part of the Welkinweir Garden and Conservation Park listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
I wonder if you can still ice skate there. I know there was no little bridge over to the island back in the day.
Anyway, as we drove down this twisty road above St. Peters, Richard pointed out a country pond and said that was where we were going. It was a new one to me and didn’t look as large as our others, especially Prizer’s. I was pulling over to the side of the road, but he directed me to keep going down the road to a lone house I could see in the distance. We went to the door and this slim girl answered. Her name was Lenore and she was Richard’s latest flame. Limousine Larry was putting on his chauffer cap again for Richard and his girl.
I liked Lenore (pictured left) the moment I met her. In all honesty, I wished she was my girl, but I never tried to take her from Richard. Picking up a couple girls on the beach was kind of fair game, but he had already established a relationship with this girl. Yet, I really did like her a lot.
I don’t know how to describe her, except she had a waif aura about her. I don’t mean she was hopeless or abandoned, she wasn’t. She lived in a decent home with her parents. It was just her look, a bit thin with big eyes. It was a look that appealed to me. She was also a very sweet girl. Barbara had been somewhat brash and loud. Lenore was a gentler soul.
Richard went with her for most of that year, but he wasn’t terribly nice to her. I saw him slap her a couple times. I’m sure it was this kind of thing that broke up his relationship with Barbara. He had this bully streak in him. I really don’t understand why women put up with guys that hit them for one minute, let alone a season or two.
In March of ’58 a Blizzard hit the county. There had been a bad blow in February all ready, but the one that struck on March 19, 1958 was one of the worse ever. It shut down the whole east coast from New England south. The weather was bad across the whole country. Mike Todd (pictured right with Elizabeth Taylor just before leaving on his fatal flight), the filmmaker married to Elizabeth Taylor died in a New Mexico Place crash. The plane had iced up. Elizabeth was supposed to go with him on the flight, but she came down with a virus and he made her stay home. Kirk Douglas was asked to go along with Todd, but Douglas’ wife had a premonition and insisted he stay home.
The storm iced us up as well, it hit the area hard. The two plus feet of snow that drifted shut all the nearby roads also brought down the power lines. The county contracted Elmer Wilson, Richard’s dad, as a snowplow driver. He had a plow attached to the front of his dump truck, but even he and the other road crews couldn’t get out. The Pottstown Pike totally shut down.
There had been no real prediction of snow in the A.M. on March 18, in fact, what we were getting was a light rain throughout the morning. The changeover began in the afternoon and by the time the storm basically cleared out of the region on March 23 it had left a good deal of snow behind. I beleave the 60 inches that fell in the Poconos remains the deepest single snowfall in the state’s history.
We had nothing. The power was out from Wednesday the 19th through Sunday the 23rd, and no electricity meant no heat or water either. We were a country household, which means water was from a well and the pump ran on electricity. We couldn’t bathe or flush the toilet. Mr. Bishop allowed us to use his springhouse to get some water. He sent Dave Bishop through the mess with a coal oil heater we used for heat, huddling about it in the living room.
It took them five days after the storm passed that Sunday to get the main roads clear and the power lines back up. I was out of school for a week and some of those on the back roads were out much longer, some nearly a month.
But we survived.
Sometime after the Blizzard I saw this little ad in a magazine. It showed a figure and said, “Can you draw me?” I looked at it and said, “Sure, I can draw that.”
I got some paper and I drew a copy of the figure. I clipped and filled out the coupon with the ad and mailed it with my sketch. In a week I received this Art Test in the mail. I completed it and sent it back. Another week went by and I got the results, which was an acceptance into a correspondence school in Minnesota called Art Instruction, Inc. One of the members of the Board was Charles Schulz, one of my boyhood idols, the creator of “Peanuts” He was an instructor for this school before he succeeded as a cartoonist. (pictured left is Schulz leaning on a desk in the back during his instructor days at Art Instruction, Inc).
By the way, does it strike anyone that the artist in this ad on the left bears a resemblance to Hugh Hefner, creator of “Playboy”.
All a sudden cartoonist was what I wanted to be, as well as a writer. I was already drawing cartoons and I though studying art might help me do a better job. The only obstacle was convincing my mother to pay the tuition.
My mother, who had artistic ambitions of her own as a girl, agreed to do this on condition I didn’t tell my father. Not only would he object to spending the money, he would take a very dim view of his son doodling little drawings for a living.
Soon my first lesson book arrived and I dove into it. I wasn’t doing so hot at NORCO, but for this semester at Art Instruction, Inc. I was doing mostly A work.
Ever Since I got my driver’s license I had become everyone’s chauffer. I was taking Richard places, first with with Barbara and now Lenore. I was also now taking Ronald to see a girl sometimes. I think it was Vivian Beale. I remember he was going with a girl older than he. I use to drive him to her house and I think even to some dances, where I did my usual stag by the wall posing while my buddy cut a rug. I had a new challenge, find someone for me.
The Junior Prom was approaching and I really wanted to go, I mean, the Junior Prom was a couldn’t attend stag. If I was going to go I needed a girl to go with me. I am not sure whatever happened between me and Helen Ann Seibold. I believe she may have changed schools, but anyway I wasn’t seeing her anymore and hadn’t been for a while.big deal. It was strictly couples. You
A lot of the girls I knew already went steady. Others were out of my league, at least in my mind. I might have become friends with Dorothea Lederer (pictured above right), Jeanette Richards (pictured left as Homecoming Queen),or Kathy Davis (pictured right), but them agreeing to date me would be like Betty or Veronica turning down Archie for Jughead. They were three of the most popular girls in the school, way out of my league.
I needed someone who probably didn’t have a boyfriend, but being as shallow as any other teenage boy, she couldn’t be a complete dog either. I know that’s cruel, but that is reality
That’s how a sixteen-year old boy’s mind worked. He might be a dog himself, but his girl
I was sitting in Driver’s Education feeling sorry for myself, not an unusual occupation of mine that year, when I looked over at the girl sitting next to me (pictured right). I knew she wasn’t popular with the boys. She had blond hair, but not a flattering hairdo. She was a bit on the heavy side, not fat, but a shade past what guys considered shapely. She also wore glasses, never a big winner in the dating game during those days. Those glasses were probably her biggest drawback, says the skinny glasses-wearing dude. She actually was kind of cute if you looked behind the glasses and hairstyle. I figured she didn’t have a date so I swiveled about in my seat and asked her.
She accepted. Her name was Margaret Ann Whitely, but everyone called her Peggy.
I bought her a corsage. I was going for the pin on type, but my mom talked me into a big floppy wrist corsage that I reluctantly agree to. After all, mom was paying. I rented a tuxedo. It had a white jacket and a red plaid cummerbund. It cost $10 for the day. At least I didn’t have to buy a gown like the girls did. I picked her up in my Ford. There was none of this nonsense of today where the guy shows up in a limousine. What a waste.
I was agape when I walked in and Peggy came out in her gown. I didn’t know what to say. There was a new style taking hold in the country at the time, but this was the first I had seen a real person wearing it. There had been the sack dress followed by the Chemise followed by the Trapeze Dress. Her dress fell somewhere in that line, perhaps a combination. Actually its colors matched up perfectly with my cummerbund and bow tie. Looking at it now I don’t think it was bad looking at all, but in 1959 it was radical. It even inspired me to write a a poem, “Walking, Talking Sack Dress”.
I was walking one night a year ago,
Walking down a shady lane
Through the snow.
When I heard something in the brush ahead.
The rustling it made almost scared me dead.
I went closer to it,
Trying to see.
When something jumped out
And headed for me.
It was the worse sight and you know the rest.
It was a walking, talking sack dress!
Oh, is it a monster?
Or is it a disease?
It was a walking,
My next thought was one of relief that mom had insisted on that wrist corsage. As the song “The
“Well if you'll believe me, when asked to a ball,
They don't wear no top to their dresses at all.”
There was no top to this thing she wore at all, no straps, no hint of a sleeve. This dress began at the top of her breasts and went straight down from there. There wasn’t a safe ruffle or flap where a shy guy could have pinned on a flower without a blush
The Junior Prom was very nice. Peggy favored slow dances more than The Bop or Jitterbug. (I’m not sure whether she didn’t know how to do them or if she just liked to dance close. It was definitely cheek-to-cheek; she was almost as tall as I.) We didn’t have any trouble talking, which is always a good thing.
The Junior Prom was rather romantic. It was in the school gym (where else), but they did a great job of disguise. They called it “Almost Paradise” and gave it a slight French feel. The décor made our tables appear as if sitting at a sidewalk café. There was blue everywhere in the place, even above. They hung parachutes of blue and white cloth from the ceiling, with glittering stars hanging off the material. They even had a big silver moon hanging over the middle of the floor. There was live music from the David Oliver Orchestra, whoever they were.
By the time the David Oliver Band played “Goodnight, Ladies” I had a steady girlfriend.
Peggy’s parents liked me, especially her mother. I don’t know what it was, but girls’ mothers always liked me, sometimes more than their daughters did. It was a good thing they trusted me so much. I had a bad habit of keeping my dates out all night. I think we got home from the Junior Prom at 6:00 the next morning.
It wasn’t that I ever slept with any of my girlfriends or did something untoward. It was only we had a good time and found things to do, sometimes at a distance, or we rode around all night or we just sat somewhere and talked. I never was very aware of the time if things were going well and my parents never questioned or scolded me for late hours. I didn’t give the clock much thought. For some reason the parents of my dates (most, not all) seldom objected either.
Eleventh Grade came to an end with a sigh from me. It was over and I passed by the skin of my teeth. I had one more year to get through and I would be finished with school forever, so I thought.
Charles Schulz from the Art Instruction, Inc. Board of Directors.
The cover of the Art Test.
Collection "From a Further Room..." (1962)
The autumn days come crisp and cool,
With early dusk and clear night sky.
Hoarfrost on the turning leaves.
September. Summertime must die.
Soon it will be cold gray winter,
But for now strange fall plays its game.
I sit outside at its approach
And I wonder who was to blame.
Trees have grown bare and silence drops.
There’s more change now than in the springs.
A shift of mood, a change of hue.
I sit here and remember things.
Perceived sighs penetrate the air.
With a grieving at summer’s end,
I search through a shadow unseen
That changes every day, and then
Autumn spirits blow breaths of ice.
The sky puts on its grayer shawl.
The wind designs a face unknown,
It whistles names I can’t recall.
It is October when the full fall comes
And time just past is in the present spent.
The pumpkins blossom full of hollowness.
Tell me. Where can the hollow heart be sent?
All the passing days are intensely short.
The startling stars form shining pointed shields
Reflecting memory of summertime.
I see odd forms dancing through glowing fields,
As Halloween howls and Halloween spooks
Fade away before the November snow.
All through this warning time I watch the sky
And feel the gusty northwest windward blow.
No sporting games can occupy my days.
Nothing comes to erase the ghost of…Who?
When that certain chilling captures the air,
I know those times last summer were too few.
Then Thanksgiving Day is a fortnight near,
I can feel the Christmas season calling,
And recall those things I meant to give her.
Wondering why all this summer stalling?
Yet still, the hope she will call.
She’ll restore joy. A touch of lust
Will defrost the air to warming;
This then will clean the chilling dust.
Each hour, I pause outside to wait
For that one dream worth dreaming of
In ebbing streams of consciousness
Broken on banks of broken love.
Now these lonely days roll along,
As all these lonely months go pass.
I hold in hand a hope I lost,
But I know the loss will not last.
I can sing a little at times,
Take a deep breath or laugh again.
Somehow I’m sure when I believe
That soon I’ll forget what has been.
The face is dim in New Year’s mist.
Those eyes are fading from my heart.
The cloudy hands have come to clasp,
And after the cold, spring will start.
by Larry Eugene Meredith
Dallas Kirk Gantt, editor