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