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.