Saturday, May 19, 2018

ARMISTEAD GARDENS - CHAPTER NINE


That summer I spent doing yard chores such as painting the fence and mowing the lawn. I built a town under a large tree next door. It was close to the highway and had roots that came up out of the ground. Between the roots I built neighborhoods. I made streets and driveways with little pebbles to outline the roads and driveways. I had a lot of little cars. In the dime store across the highway they had little plastic cars and trucks. Some of the dump trucks I removed the dump and used balsam wood to make stake bed trucks and other type trucks.
This was something Marshall and I could do together. He was 8 or 9 years old then. One time Beverly was mad at us about something and with her shoes she kicked our town into oblivion. That just gave us an excuse to reconstruct it and make it better!
The people who lived next door to us were Mr. and Mrs. Lucas, and their son and daughters. The boy’s name was Jack. I don’t remember how old he was. I think he was younger than Marshall. The daughter was several years older than me. We didn’t have too much interaction with them except on two occasions that I remember. One afternoon the girl came to the door and asked to speak to our mother. Mom invited her inside. She was crying. In her arms she was clutching a bag.  “Mrs. Pritt, please put these away someplace and keep them for me. They are records and my mother said she is going to smash them to pieces. She says they are indecent.” Mom agreed to keep them for her if she wouldn’t tell her mother who was keeping them. Almost a year later the girl was moving out, maybe to go to college. She came to collect the records. One of them was “Drinking Rum and Coca-Cola”, others were “Beer Barrel Polka” and “The House of the Rising Sun.”
They had another daughter who was retarded. We rarely saw her.
The Lucases bought a used car. Mrs. Lucas asked Dad to teach her to drive. Dad agreed. Sometimes he would come back from a lesson cussing and other times laughing. She eventually went for her driving test and passed it. I don’t remember if Mr. Lucas could drive.
I was still too young for a work permit. A man whose first name was Ray and was a member of the church sometimes took me on Saturdays as a helper. He was a mechanic and was certified to work on several brands of fork lift trucks. Once we went to a fertilizer factory. There were a half dozen fork lifts that would not run. He soon determined that the air filters were clogged with fertilizer dust and that fertilizer has eaten through some of the wiring. While I was replacing the air filters, he was replacing the wires.
Another place we went was a brick yard. They had a World War 2 bomb loader which they were using as a fork lift truck. Bomb loaders were heavy duty fork lift trucks built to carry loads of five hundred pound bombs from the bunkers at the end of the runways to the planes they were to be loaded on. They could reach speeds of 50 mph.
They had loaded a freight car with bricks. They wanted to push it down the track and couple it to the other cars. It wouldn’t move. They tried pushing it and pulling it with a heavy duty truck used to haul bricks. It wouldn’t move. Some knucklehead had the idea to lift one end of the boxcar with the bomb loader and let it push the car. When he tried to lift the car filled with bricks, the stacks (on which the forks ride up and down) were bent and twisted and one of the hydraulic hoses burst. The bomb loader couldn’t be fixed.
Ray had converted his car to operate on propane gas. He estimated the engine would last 200,000 miles or more. He got very good mileage on that fuel. However, there was no way to pay highway tax so it was illegal.
I no longer had my bicycle but I walked all over Armistead Gardens. I would sometimes stop to talk to Margie and Nancy Eisinger. They were both older than I was. Margie was president of our youth group. Nancy was a couple years ahead of me in school. I never went into the house, just stood at the door talking. Like many of the youth in our church group and like my own parents, their parents did not attend church. Another girl from our group lived almost at the end of Wright Avenue. I usually just waved at her, but one day she had her record player on the porch and it was playing “Earth Angel.” I had never heard music like that.
Another friend whom I would stop to talk with was Al Sterner. Al’s father was very religious and spent a lot of time reading the Bible. I don’t know what church he attended, if any. He didn’t work. He made Al and his brother quit school and work at jobs such as selling newspapers on the buses and streets. Al did not seem resentful and was a happy person. He didn’t attend our youth group but attended the Youth For Christ meetings in Baltimore. I think they were monthly.
Beverly had four special friends who lived near us, Nancy Corey, Donna Corey, Joan Germer, and Andrea Flood. Donna was my age. I asked her to go to the movies with me and she turned me down. She was the first girl I ever asked on a date.
I didn’t always walk. A fad which went through the project like a tornado was orange crate scooters. They were simplicity itself to make and nearly all the boys had one. Sometimes there were so many going up and down a street that it was hard for cars or the city bus to get through. I got one of my sister’s old skates and took it apart. I nailed one piece to one end of a piece of 2”x4” lumber (from the junk pile across the highway) and the other piece of skate to the other end. Then I scavenged a discarded orange crate from behind the Acme Market. I nailed it on the front end of the 2”x4”. On top the crate I fastened two pieces of wood to hold on to. With one foot on the 2”x4” and the other foot pumping, I could make the orange crate scooter fly down the street. With no brakes, they were wonderfully scary and dangerous going down a hill.
My father had three jobs. He was a machinist in the Mt. Clare Shops of the B&O Railroad. He was in charge of two huge turret lathes that could turn the driving wheels of steam passenger engines. Every one of the machinist apprentices had to spend six weeks or longer learning to operate these giant lathes. They did most of the work and had to clean the machines at the beginning and end of each shift.
Dad sold hot dogs and coffee. The man in charge of the Shops heartily approved of it. He sent workers in to put in heavy duty electric receptacles and to run a water line. Dad was there beside his machines, watching the apprentices, making coffee, boiling hot dogs. The men poured their own coffee, fixed their own hot dogs, and dropped ten cents in a can for each hot dog or each cup of coffee. Dad said that he made as much money from the coffee and hot dogs as he did as a machinist.
There were many new houses being built in Baltimore and Baltimore County. Dad met up with a man from Elkins who had his own company installing aluminum storm windows and doors. Later he added aluminum window awnings. Dad would go out in the evenings and on Saturdays to these new housing developments. For the first several years or more, Dad could sell storm windows and doors or awnings and FHA or VA would just add it to the mortgage of a new house. I don’t know how much he made from selling, but I’m sure it was a lot.
One day a strange thing happened at our church. A young man was driving past the church on his way to work and his car stopped. Nothing he tried would start it. He went to the door to the pastor’s study to ask to use the phone to call his sister. The pastor was on his knees praying at the time. The young man was taken aback. He started talking to our minister and when he walked out, he had accepted Christ as Savior. When he got into the car, it started immediately!
His name was Tony York. He started attending church regularly and in time became a member. Though he was older than most of us he came to the youth group. After she graduated from high school, he began dating Nancy Eisinger. I lost touch with them after we moved from Armistead Gardens. They married. He was a Presbyterian minister for a while then became a professor of literature at University of Cleveland. Nancy became the owner of an investment bank in Cleveland, Ohio.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

ARMISTEAD GARDENS - CHAPTER EIGHT


That fall, I was transferred to Clifton Park Junior High School. It was in an attractive setting. It was on the southern end of Clifton Park, The Park ran alongside the eastern edge of Harford Road. In Clifton Park there were a band stand, a golf course, and tennis courts. At the northern end of the Park, City College, an all-male high school, sat up on a high hill. Diagonally across Harford Road from the end of Clifton Park was Lake Montebello which had a paved walk and wrought iron fence all around the lake.
I don’t remember much about Clifton Park Junior High School. According to my report card from there I attended September 1952 to February 1953. Then I was promoted to Grade 9A in the Poly A Course. Sometime between September 1952 and February 1953 I had a recurrence of rheumatic fever.   
This time I remained in bed except to go to the toilet. This time I found many things to do while remaining in bed. The teachers at Clifton Park sent assignments for me to do. A young lady, Charlotte Ickes, brought the work from school and carried my completed work back to school a couple times a week. I hardly ever saw her because she would come to the door and make the exchange with my mother.
I had the radio and sometimes I even listened to ball games. I built airplanes from kits using balsam wood and tissue paper. My Dad would hang them from the ceiling with black thread. A breeze blowing through the room would move them like they were really flying. There were at least a dozen hanging from the ceiling over my bed.
I saved the balsam wood scraps from the model airplanes and I began to build models of houses. I used either photographs of the houses of family or pictures of houses from magazines. I cut out the walls and roofs of the houses from corrugated cardboard. I cut out where there were windows or doors. Dad bought pieces of paper printed with brick, stucco, wood siding, etc. from a hobby shop. I would glue this onto the cardboard walls and cut out where the windows and doors were. Next, I used the scraps of balsam to make window frames, doors, shutters. Where windows were located I glued cellophane from cigarette packs on the back side of the cardboard. I assembled the walls, put on the roof, glued emery paper or sandpaper on the roof and finally affixed the chimney.
I also began a correspondence with Margaret Denman, a distant cousin my age. My Grandmother Stalnaker connected us. Margaret’s family had lived in Elkins. Her father committed suicide and her mother and the children moved to Hopewell to be near the mother of Margaret’s mother. Margaret and I began to write long letters to each other. This continued all the time that I was bedridden. After that the letters were only occasional.
During that time, I learned about Reichardt Taylor, a Presbyterian missionary in Brazil. He might have been a brother to Margaret’s mother and Virginia Taylor. I wrote about a half dozen letters to him. He responded with very long letters describing in one letter how he would drive as far as he could go in a car, borrow a donkey or horse and go as far as it could take him, then hike through jungle to get to an isolated home. He said there would always be a Singer sewing machine that he could use as his pulpit. In his career he established forty-five churches.  
When I was in the tenth grade, Billy Graham came to Richmond, Virginia. Margaret invited me to come to hear him. My father got me a pass on the train from Baltimore to Richmond and back. Virginia Taylor, Margaret’s aunt picked me up at the train station and took me to the meeting that night. Margaret was with us. We had supper at Virginia’s before the meeting. Virginia took us to the meeting, took Margaret home afterward, and I stayed overnight at Virginia’s. Miss Taylor had a real nice home, but Margaret lived in a really dilapidated cottage. I think she had some brothers.
When I was twenty, I drove to Richmond to meet Reichardt who was home on furlough. He and his family were staying in one of the missionary homes on the campus of Presbyterian School of Christian Education. I met Margaret some place in Richmond and she showed me the way to where Reichardt was staying. We visited with him for several hours. He made espresso coffee for us and tried to teach us some words and phrases in Portugese. Afterward I took Margaret to Grandmother Stalnaker’s apartment in Washington, DC. We visited with her for an hour or so. I took Margaret to wherever she was going in Washington. That was the last time I saw her.
Apparently, I returned to Clifton Park Junior High School and completed the first semester of the eighth grade in February 1953. Then a strange thing happened. I was called to the office and interviewed by several men who asked if I would like to enroll in the Poly A Course.
There were two all-male high schools in Baltimore, City College and Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. There were also two all-female high schools, Eastern High School and Western High School. All four of these high schools had an A course. The A course was four years long. Any student who completed four years of the A course would be accepted at almost any college or university as a sophomore. To remain in the A course you had to keep your grades at a B level.
I jumped at the chance. I assumed that I would begin the following September. Instead of being promoted from 8A to 8B, I was promoted to 9A in the Poly A course.
Whereas Clifton Park Junior High was located at the end of a beautiful park, Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, a beautiful old building built like the buildings in ancient Greece, faced a wide noisy street, North Avenue. The neighborhood surrounding the school was shabby and not altogether safe.
The first semester I had Algebra, Geometry, History, French, English, Mechanical Drawing, Shop, and Gym. My grades for the first semester were in the high eighties or the nineties except for English, Gym, and Shop.
Whenever they had assembly for the whole school, everyone had to remain standing until the principal entered and he would shout “Freedom!” The assembly would respond, “Responsibility!”  He would never be satisfied the first time or the second. He would call out “Freedom!” and the assembled students would sound off “Responsibility!” Finally, on the third attempt the principal was usually satisfied and would motion for us to be seated.
I did not fit in with the other students. I wasn’t invited into their conversations in the hallways or at lunch. If I had been, I would not have had anything to add. They belonged to clubs and organizations I knew nothing about. They went to parties, to the country clubs. They played golf and tennis. They dressed in chinos and shirts with button down collars. My shirts were ripped out in the elbows. My trousers were hand me downs from the church. My shoes had holes in the soles. I constantly felt inwardly embarrassed.
I went to the office after the first semester and begged to be transferred to Patterson High School the next year. That is where most of the young people from Armistead Gardens were going. They refused.