One of the elders of the church had a son who was older than me. The son didn’t come to church and there were always rumors that he and several other older boys were engaged in some shady activities. He drove a Buick from the 1930s. It was large, had a long hood with a spare tire on the side of the car behind the front fender. He had painted it chartreuse!
There were two DeSoto automobiles in Armistead Gardens. They were both painted tan with dark brown trim. At that time I thought they were handsomest cars on the road. One of them belonged to one of the elders in the church. He was a kind, gentle man. If he and his wife had children they were grown and gone from home. I think he was a supervisor at some business. They lived on the street across from the Armistead Gardens Elementary School which Marshall attended.
The other DeSoto belonged to the parents of Andrea Flood, one of Beverly’s friends. She was an attractive girl and wore nice clothes. I always thought she was snooty. I think she was adopted. Beverly liked her.
My best friend, Duane Dearth, was my age and was in our church. He joined the same time that I joined the church. His family was also from West Virginia. We were both in the boys’ Sunday School class taught by Mr. Loudermilk. Mr. Loudermilk had a son our age and in that class. I think Mr. Loudermilk was a carpenter who worked for a house-building contractor..
Duane’s father had a 1948 Chevrolet Fleetline sedan. It was a bright metallic green. He kept that car washed and waxed all the time. Duane was very intelligent. He was in the City College A course when I was in the Poly A course. He had a sister, Velva, who was several years younger than us.
I went back to Poly that fall. It was a miserable year for me. I did not have a single friend at Poly. Was that my fault? The teachers were all strict and demanded maximum effort. I could do math, but I just wasn’t interested in engineering. My worst subject was shop. My father used to say about Marshall and I vis-à-vis working on a car, “I could show Troy Lynn how to do something for the rest of his life and he still wouldn’t be able to do it. I can show Marshall something one time and for the rest of his life he’ll be able to do it.” Ironically, when we were both grown men, Marshall always took his car to the garage for repairs; I had to try to repair mine on my own.
I made good grades in the second semester of the ninth grade. I again asked to be transferred to Patterson Park High School. It was pointed out to me that I was making good grades in the A course. They offered to transfer me to the B course which had a slightly lighter load of courses. I would still have been in a community that was alien to me. I stayed in the A course but decided to put less effort into it, to get passing grades but not good grades. In June when I asked to transfer to Patterson Park High School, it was approved.
That summer I got a job working at Fox’s 5&10 in the Freedom Shopping Center. It was on Erdman Avenue which bordered Armistead Gardens. I was the stock boy. When boxes of merchandise were delivered, I had to know what items we were out of and open those boxes and stock those shelves first priority. Then I carried the rest of the boxes downstairs to the stock room. The stock room had to be kept neat and orderly so that any of the clerks could find an item when necessary. The clerks weren’t responsible to keep the stock room neat. When they were in a hurry to find an item, the stock room looked like a hurricane struck.
Mr. Fox was a Jewish man with a thick accent. He was short and balding, middle aged. He was very excitable. When he was irritated or angry, his face was red and he yelled. He had an attractive wife. When she was in the store she was always nice to the employees. Mr. Fox had a grey Oldsmobile. Every time he went out to the car and started it, he would race the engine until I thought it would surely fly apart. Then he would drive away at a moderate pace.
I worked as many hours as I could. My incentive was to get enough money for car insurance. My father said that if I wanted to get a learner’s permit, and then get a driver’s license, I would have to pay for my own insurance. At that time in Maryland they had JR-11 and SR-22 insurance. Both of them were insurance pools. JR-11 was for drivers 16-21 years of age. SR-22 was for drivers who had had an accident. In order to apply for a learner’s permit I had to buy JR-11 insurance. The certificate was kept on file. If you did not keep up the premiums on the JR-11 insurance, the Department of Motor Vehicles demanded that you turn in your license until you once again had a certificate of JR-11 insurance.
With my earnings from the dime store I obtained insurance and a learner’s permit. Dad took me to the parking lot of the Glenn L. Martin plant. The plant must have been closed by then because the lot was just acres of empty concrete.
The car was a straight shift. The first thing I had to learn was to operate the clutch and shift gears. Then to teach me parking Dad used a mop and a broom put into something to hold them upright.
One time, on our way to the Glenn L. Martin parking lot, I had my first accident. I didn’t even have a license to drive! I was driving on Pulaski Highway. It was my first experience driving in multi-lane traffic. The traffic was going the speed limit, 55 mph. I was in the fast lane, but traffic was too thick for me to get over into the slow lane.
From out of nowhere, a dog darted across the highway and in front of me. I slammed on the brakes. The car behind me crashed into our car. It did not seem to damage our car. The car behind us was a new Buick. It was that year when the Buick didn’t have a front fender. The grill came down and wrapped under the radiator. The Buick’s grill was torn up. The driver whose grill was damaged was very angry. He and Dad exchanged names, phone numbers, and insurance agents’ phone numbers. He took down the information on my learner’s permit. I don’t think the police were called or appeared on the scene.
Dad gave me a strong lecture about how I should have hit the dog rather than slam on the brakes. However, according to Maryland law, when you hit a person from the rear end, you are always in the wrong. Legally, the accident occurred because the vehicle was following too close or the driver wasn’t paying attention.
When I took my driver’s license test, I had to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Their building was only a couple blocks from Poly. I passed the test and received my license.
About the only time I was able to drive was when my father or the whole family were going someplace. My father was gone most of the time except on Sundays. Two, three times, or more a year we would leave on Friday evening to go to Elkins where we would visit with Dad’s father and mother, Donald and Delania (whom we called Pee Wee), and their two sons Donnie and Eddie. They all lived in the same house. We would start back to Baltimore on Sunday afternoon.
Otherwise, on Sundays Dad and Mom would sleep late while Beverly, Marshall, and I went to Sunday School and church. After Sunday dinner, we would either go for a Sunday drive or go out to visit Ginny and Darld.