Thursday, March 29, 2018


Chapter Six is a continuation of Chapter Five. I thought it best not to break them up with a fictional chapter in between.

All of my thirteenth summer, I went once a week with my mother to a clinic at Johns Hopkin Hospital. The walls of the hallways were painted dark brown. We sat on hard wooden benches waiting to be called. A nurse would take a large syringe of my blood, and would take it to the lab. Then we would wait for a long time again. I think a doctor talked to Mom sometimes. The conclusion of our visit was that I would get a shot of penicillin in my rear end.
That fall, I went to P.S.83 expecting to be put into the second half of the sixth grade which I had missed by being sick. I found out that Christ Child Farm had sent a report card for the classes I attended there. P.S.83 accepted it and promoted me to the seventh grade. I was told to go to P.S.40, Fortview Junior High School.
The school was in Canton. I think that I had to take two buses to go to Highlandtown. Then I had four or five blocks to walk to get to the school. The first two blocks were up a steep hill. I can still remember that walk in the winter with bitter cold wind blowing in off the harbor.
The school was named Fortview, because from windows on one side of the building and even from the playground on that side, you could see Fort McHenry across the harbor. Whereas the playground at P.S.83 had been concrete, the playground at Fortview was macadam.
The classes were excellent. The teachers were all good instructors.  The only teacher who was unpleasant was the gym teacher. He didn’t like it that I was excused from gym. He would make me change into gym clothes, sit in the bleachers while the other boys were doing the running and playing he had planned, and then shower and change back into street clothes along with the rest of the boys.
There was a heroin problem in that school. I heard that the drug peddlers would tell the girls that if they took a shot of heroin that they would have a vision of the Virgin Mary. One day they took us in groups of boys or groups of girls to the nurse’s office. There we had to take off all our clothes except our underpants. The nurse examined us closely for needle marks. I had many needle marks from my weekly visits to the clinic. I was taken with several other boys to the police station. I explained to the nurse and the police about going to the clinic. My parents didn’t have a telephone and I didn’t know the phone number of any neighbors. They called the clinic. Someone there promised to call back. It was several hours before someone called back to verify that I was a patient and had blood tests taken every week.
The next year, I was transferred to Clifton Park Junior High School. Sometime during the year, I contracted rheumatic fever a second time. This time I didn’t go to the hospital or Christ Child Farm. I stayed in bed and tried to get better. I found several activities to occupy myself.
The school sent homework to me by way of a girl who lived in Armistead Gardens and was in my classes, Charlotte Ickes.
My Grandmother Stalnaker worked as head of about forty secretaries and stenographers for the Alien Property Custodian in Washington, DC. During World War 2 the federal government seized all the assets of citizens of Germany, Italy, Japan, and other Axis countries. Now that the War was over, the government had the responsibility of determining rightful owners and returning the property and assets. One of my grandmother’s bosses was a stamp collector. He suggested to her that since I was restricted to sedentary activities I might be interested in stamp collecting. He gave her an old album that he was finished with. Thereafter she asked the secretaries to give her the envelopes they received from foreign countries or to tear off the section where the stamp was affixed. Soon she was sending me envelopes bulging with stamps.
These stamps were not only a hobby but they broadened my intellectual world. I often did a good bit of research just to find out what country a stamp was from. I was learning what a large number of countries there were. I was stimulated to find out a little bit about each of the countries whose stamps I was mounting in the album.
For Christmas that year I asked for a new stamp album because the stamp album I had been given didn’t have any post-War stamps of the various countries. My parents bought my sister a table model radio with a bakelite case. They bought me the stamp album I requested. Coming home Dad slipped on the ice and dropped the radio. The bakelite case cracked all around the bottom. He used some type of cement to put it back together. They decided Beverly would never accept it in that condition. They gave me the radio and Beverly the stamp album. Grandmother now had to divide the stamps into two envelopes – one for me and one for Beverly.
I was becoming active in the youth group at church and it was there that I made friends with Duane Dearth. We were best friends for the remainder of the time I lived in Armistead Gardens.
My Grandmother also put me in touch with a distant cousin. Margaret Denman and I had a lot in common. We wrote back and forth about every other day while I was bedridden. Then the letter writing faded. I did meet up with her again when Billy Graham held a Cusade in Richmond, Virginia. My father got a free pass on the train for me. A distant aunt, whom we called “Jidge” and who was a close relative of Margaret, picked me up at the train, fixed supper for me. Maybe we went to the Crusade that evening. Margaret was at Jidge’s and the three of us went to the Crusade together. She took Margaret home after the Crusade. The next day after breakfast we picked Margaret up at her home and they took me on a tour of Hopewell, Virginia where they both lived. Jidge lived in a fine brick home. I couldn’t believe how rundown was the wood house in which Margaret lived. After the tour of Hopewell, they took me to the train.
One Saturday, I was listening to a country music program sponsored by Johnny’s Used Cars. Johnny had lived in Armistead Gardens a long time and now had a successful used car business in the center of the city. There was an announcement of a Youth For Christ rally in the Odd Fellows’ Hall in downtown Baltimore. That evening they would have Percy Crawford as the speaker and a quartet from Kings College, Briarcliff Manor, New York.
I was intrigued and went all through the project to the houses of  members of the church youth group. Quite a few of them agreed to go with me. We had to ride the city bus to downtown Baltimore. The Odd Fellows’ Hall was a large old building. The auditorium was very large. There must have been several hundred young people or more. The rally began with a lot of singing of hymns and gospel songs. The pianist was extraordinary. She made the notes sparkle. The quartet was good and they kept up a lively banter with Percy Crawford, the President of Kings’ College and his wife.
Rev. Crawford was an outstanding evangelist. In his message that evening he made it clear what it meant to be a sinner, what the consequences were of remaining a sinner, what the good news of salvation meant. I had joined the church when I was twelve years old. That night when the invitation was given to accept Christ, be born again, and become a Christian I went forward without any hesitation. I know that I was born again that evening

Thursday, March 15, 2018


The chapters which are numerical are factual. The chapters which are alphabetical are fiction, though in some instances the fiction modestly drapes what is factual. I will post one chapter a week, alternating factual and fiction.

I was twelve years old. It was December and cold. I had spent most of Saturday outside the Acme Market with my wagon. Along with a half dozen other boys with wagons, I wanted to haul groceries for people who had been shopping. Otherwise, they would have to carry their groceries to their home while walking in the slush and patches of ice. Some of the boys had regular patrons who looked for “their boy” every week. Other boys were more aggressive than I was in asking to haul the person’s groceries even before they went into the store.
I think that I only had two or three persons for whom I hauled bags of groceries that day. It was very cold and windy. We huddled up against the wall outside the store trying to keep warm. The previous store manager had allowed us to stand inside the store where the grocery carts were lined up. The current manager would not allow us to come inside. He didn’t want us to “bother” the customers.
The next day, I was sick and in the days following, I was sicker. My throat was red and swollen, I was running high temperatures. I had strep throat. After that, my joints became inflamed. My father was furloughed from work and my parents had no money for a doctor or medicine.
Someone told my parents about a Jewish doctor, Dr. Moses, who they were sure would come to the house and see me. He did. He prescribed sulphur drugs at first and gave my mother the medicine. His tentative diagnosis was rheumatic fever. My symptoms differed from the usual. My joints were red and inflamed but they were not swollen. For that reason, he wanted me to be admitted to the hospital.
At that time Johns Hopkin Hospital was conducting clinical trials of a drug (?ACTH?) to treat rheumatic fever patients. He told my parents about it and let them make the decision, but he advised against it. Some years later, persons who had been treated with that drug developed serious complications. Instead, he arranged for me to be  admitted to Sinai Hospital.
I was in a children’s ward with at least twenty children in the ward. It was one of their charity wards. Children whose parents could afford it were in semi-private rooms on the same floor.
Electrocardiagrams were new technology. Every day a technician would roll the EKG machine up to my bed. It was in a wooden cabinet like a fine radio. She would attach a dozen or more wires to various parts of my chest. When she started the machine, a strip of paper would roll out. After she was finished, a doctor would look at the paper and put marks on it with his pen.
There was a machine which required the patient to swallow barium while the doctor was watching a life–size screen. The nurse mixed chocolate syrup with the barium which made it taste like a chocolate flavored mud pie.
Every day or so a doctor would come to my bed with a dozen or more medical students standing around. He would rapidly give a summary of the symptoms which led to my hospitalization. He would pass around some of the EKG strips and explain the places he marked. He would always pull up my gown and point out that although my joints were red and hot to the touch they were not swollen.
Christmas was near. The younger children wondered if Santa would be able to find them. They wanted to know why there was no Christmas tree. One boy, who was a know-it-all, said, “You dummies. There ain’t no Christmas tree because this is a Jewish hospital and Jews don’t have no Christmas.”
Were we ever in for a surprise. The day before Christmas, we were taken into the large room next to the ward where sometimes there were meetings for the doctors and nurses. In the room there was a piano, a floor to ceiling Christmas tree, and enough tables and chairs for all the children. The children from the semi-private rooms were also brought in.
One of the doctors sat down at the piano and began playing and leading us in singing Christmas carols. A lot of others doctors and nurses were there singing. One of them read the Christmas story from Luke’s Gospel and another read “T’was the night before Christmas.”
After that Santa Claus came. His bag couldn’t hold all the presents. His elves followed carrying more bags. The presents were all really nice. I’m sure that none of us children on the charity ward would ever expect to receive even one present so fine. The dolls the girls received were large, in boxes and with exquisite clothes. Every child received three presents. After that there were refreshments. The nurses made sure that each child only received food their charts allowed, but they did it so unobtrusively that no child was embarrassed.
Several hours after the party, my parents came for me. I was discharged and went home.
I was on orders to stay in bed. I found out months later that the rheumatic fever had left a hole in my heart and bed rest was the only treatment they knew for it. With rest the heart might heal itself. I was supposed to stay in bed and only get up to go to the toilet. My mother  brought my meals to me. She tried to keep me in bed, but I was always jumping up to get something, or to torment my sister when she was home.
It was driving my mother crazy trying to keep me in bed, much less, resting. My maternal grandmother Stalnaker lived and worked in Washington, DC. She told my mother about Christ Child Farm in Rockville, Maryland, a convalescent home for children. A woman who lived down the street had a phone and allowed my mother to use it to call Christ Child Farm. She had an automobile and offered to drive us there when they told my mother they would admit me.
Christ Child Farm was out in the country. (I think it has now been engulfed by Rockville, MD.) It was probably a two hour drive from Armistead Gardens. It was a huge wood frame two story house surrounded by a large lawn and a farm. It had been established by an elderly woman so crippled with arthritis that she seemed almost in a ball. I saw her twice when she came to visit. She lived in the house and managed the farm until she became invalided. She was a devout Catholic and was said to be very wealthy.
On the first floor of this huge house were offices, a kitchen, a dining room, and the classroom. Upstairs were three dormitory rooms, a doctor’s office, toilets, bathtubs, and sinks. I was in the boys’ dormitory. There were about ten beds on either side of the large room and there were windows along one wall and one window on the end. I was in the last bed on the right. Across from me in the last bed on the left was a boy about my age who had one lung collapsed. He was quiet and agreeable. His name was Donald. During the day, he always wore “farmer jakes.”
A woman doctor came about once a week. Shetold me that I had a hole in my heart caused by the rheumatic fever. She said the best treatment was strict bed rest so that the heart could heal itself. For a couple months I was in bed or on my bed all the time except to go to the toilet or to wash up and brush my teeth in the morning. I think once a week I took a bath. Instead of tooth paste, at each sink there was a dish with baking soda and salt mixed.
Once, there was a priest who visited us from one of the eastern European countries. I think it was Romania. He gave each of us children a rosary. He told about the poor women of the village who strung these rosaries to earn a few cents to feed their children. Donald and I were twirling the rosary we were given around on our fingers. Mine hit the metal footboard of my bed. The rosary broke and beads went flying all over the room. I’ll never forget the sight of that old priest weeping and crawling around on the floor picking up those sacred beads.
After a couple months, I was allowed to go downstairs for meals and for school. I could walk down the stairs slowly, one step at a time. Going up the stairs I had to sit on the step, count to ten, then lift myself up to the next step, count to ten, etc.
Meals were in a large dining room with several large tables. School was in one room with all grades in the same room, although the younger children must have had school at a different time or place. As I remember, there were only the older children in my class. The teacher was a nun but she wore a suit and blouse, instead of a habit. She taught us well. I skipped a half grade when I returned to public school.
When warm weather came, I was allowed to go outside. I wasn’t allowed to run. I could swing if I didn’t jump off of it. My parents weren’t able to come and see me often because of the distance. Once one of my uncles who lived in Washington brought them to see me. Another time Uncle Don and Aunt Delania brought my parents and grandparents to see me.
About June or July, the doctor said that my heart had healed enough that I could go home if I would rest and not be running around. When my parents brought me home, there was a surprise to help me take it easy. They had bought a Muntz 16 inch, black and white television!

Thursday, March 1, 2018


The chapters which are numerical are factual. The chapters which are alphabetical are fiction, though in some instances the fiction modestly drapes what is factual. I will post one chapter a week, alternating factual and fiction.

Mr. William Fitch was an elder in the Presbyterian Church and a Freemason. He worked as a foreman at Hill-Chase Steel which was only a couple miles from Armistead Gardens. He had a son and a daughter. He had named the son John Calvin Fitch. His wife, a former Methodist named the daughter Susannah in honor of Susannah Wesley. The daughter was a diligent student, was faithful in attending Sunday School and Church, and had high moral standards. The son was in the last year of high school, but it was questionable whether he would graduate. He had not been to Church in years and was only interested in having a good time.
John Calvin owned a 1938 Buick. It was pretty shabby and rusty when he got it, but he worked hard sanding off the rust and cleaning it up. He had much mechanical work to do, but he had a lot of help from his friends. When all the rust had been sanded and the body wiped down, he painted it with a rag and a can of outdoor oil paint.
John Calvin was forming a gang. The car took them to a place of crime they had already chosen, and it carried them away when the mischief was complete. On occasion they would go to a festival in one of the ethnic neighborhoods. One boy would snatch a handbag, pass it off to another gang member who would put it in a shopping bag and walk the other way. The “snatcher” didn’t run away but stood there while all around him were yelling and looking around. Working in pairs, they would only take four purses before leaving and going to some other place where there was a crowd. Back home they took the money from the purses, then put the purses in a burn barrel, poured a cup of fuel oil on them, and burned them .
On other occasions they would all go into a store. All but one would go into the back of the store and create a commotion so as to draw the clerk away from the cash register. The one who was alone and near the register would open the register, grab the money and stroll out of the store. If anything, such as someone entering the store, would hinder him from opening the register and taking the money without being observed, he left the store. When he left the store, whether with the money or without it, that was the signal to stop the commotion and leave the store.
There were a half dozen or more other well planned schemes used by these thieves.  Since they were petty thefts and did not follow the same pattern each time, they did not draw much attention from the police.
In January most of the men in Armistead Gardens had been furloughed since mid-December and did not expect to be called back to work until March. The fuel oil barrels were empty and nearly every house was damp and chilly. As usual the oil barrels of the Freemasons, including Mr. Fitch and most of the other elders, were filled up by some oil company that usually did not service Armistead Gardens customers.
John decided to find a way to thumb his nose at the Church and the Freemasons. It was time for a Robbing Hood escapade. He took the members of his gang to several fuel oil companies and had them observe the daily routine. They noted that the trucks’ oil tanks were filled at the end of each day. The next day they scouted several other companies. They then waited for Sunday to carry out a carefully planned oil heist.
They found two oil companies whose trucks were not kept inside chain link fences. In the early hours of a Sabbath morning they went to these two companies, hot-wired several trucks at each location and drove them to Armistead Gardens. Each truck took one of the streets in the old section and went down the street filling every oil drum on the street. If anyone awoke and asked questions, they were told the oil was a gift from the Salvation Army. The trucks all finished their benevolence runs about the same time.
When the people arrived at the Presbyterian Church for Sunday School there was a lot of fussing. There was no place to park. Six fuel oil trucks were parked on the street in front and along the side of the church.
 About the time that church was over, the street was jammed with police cars and pickup trucks bearing the same logos as the oil trucks parked around the Church. The police dusted the trucks for fingerprints. There were none since John’s men had all worn work gloves, just like all the legitimate drivers of these trucks. It was mid-afternoon before drivers were found and the trucks were returned to where they belonged.
There were many homes in the old section of Armistead Gardens warm as toast in the following weeks thanks to the Robbing Hood merry men.