Chapter 3-1 (1941-1947) Birth to School


Some years ago, out in the farthest regions of space, near a great sun – the ruler of all suns, a spirit walked the vast corridors of his Heavenly Father’s mansion. We don’t know his spiritual name, but he was a son of our Heavenly Father and had been valiant in the acceptance of the Plan of Salvation. For countless centuries, he had waited the moment when he would be chosen to descend from his heavenly abode and enter the promised realm of mortality. Finally, the long-anticipated day arrived. His spirit descended through the vast expanse of the universe down into a spiral nebula that we know as the Milky Way, then traveled out to a remote arm of that galaxy, and down, down to a blue marble of a planet – the one we call earth. The spirit descended until it entered a fetus in the womb of a young girl of seventeen and became a living soul. When the spirit entered, it animated that fetus which jumped with the joy of mortal life. The mother felt the movement and smiled with satisfaction and anticipation.

Five months later, early in the morning of January 22, 1941, Doris Luella Penry, told her husband, Paul David Penry, that the time had come and they set out from their home in Prospect, Ohio to Marion General Hospital, Marion, Ohio. At 4:05 p.m., assisted by the family doctor, Robert T. Gray, a child entered the world, all red and crying. His Father wanted him named Robert; his Mother wanted him named Wayne, named for a cousin who had died of leukemia. Thus he became known as Robert Wayne Penry. During his early years, and throughout his entire life, his family knew him as Wayne, while those who knew him professionally or met him as an adult, knew him as Bob.


Robert Wayne Penry and Grandpa Ross Thomas

Robert Wayne Penry and Grandpa John Penry       

Doris Luella, Ruth Ellen, Paul and Robert Wayne Penry (This is the only known picture showing the family together)

I remember Doctor Gray. After my delivery, he remained our family doctor. He was short, gray-haired with a big, big mustache. To a small runt of a boy, he was formidable and both my sister Ruth Ellen and I were afraid of him. What was even more interesting was that he had also delivered my Mother! Another story surrounding my birth took place eighteen years later. Marion General built a new hospital and the old hospital became city hall. The former delivery room became the Marine Corps recruiter’s office, where I enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. I don’t suppose that there are many men that can state that they enlisted in the Marines in the same room they were born in!

At the time of my birth, the war had been raging in Europe for several years. Hitler had come into power as German Chancellor in 1933 and by the time of my birth, Japan had invaded China, and by 1939, the Third Reich had invaded Czechoslovakia and Poland. Bombs were falling on London and American ships were being torpedoed in the North Atlantic. War in Europe seemed inevitable and American war production was in full swing, with ships, planes, and weapons being hastily manufactured. As an infant, I was unaware, of course, but the war would soon affect my life. 

On December 7, 1941, nearly 11 months following my arrival, early on a Sunday morning, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in a sneak attack, and America was suddenly plunged into World War II. My Father was eventually drafted into the Army and the sudden change in economic status required that my Mother must move from our home in Marion to a small trailer next to my Penry grandparents on the outskirts of Prospect, Ohio. 

One of my earliest memories is my younger sister Ruth Ellen coming home from the hospital after her birth, which was on October 25, 1943. Because my mother was so close to delivery, we went to stay with her Mother, Helen Chapman, in Marion. We didn’t stay at the trailer in Prospect because of the distance to the hospital in Marion. This was in October of 1943, and I would have been almost three years old. Prospect did not have a hospital, and during the war, gasoline was rationed; and the only way to travel the 9 miles to Marion would have been by streetcar on the Columbus, Delaware, and Marion RR. My father was away in the Army, serving in World War II. After my sister was born we returned to Prospect.

Grandmother’s House in Marion.  
I am being held by Mary Nicolosi, my Mother’s best friend.

I remember living in the house trailer beside My Grandfather Penry’s house that was on the banks of the Scioto River at the edge of Prospect, Ohio. It was a small trailer, and I remember it being either light green or tan in color and streamlined and shaped like a half-moon on wheels. It wasn’t very large and I don’t remember the interior. I was either four or five years old when my father returned from the occupation of Japan. I remember the day my father returned from World War II with souvenirs. He brought a Japanese toy train made of wood, silver, and mahogany, a bow and arrow that he would not let me touch, and a Japanese flag. I also remember my father fishing in the Scioto River and tying me to a tree with a harness. My mother said that he had been doing that since I was two-years-old, because I had absolutely no fear of the river.

                                               Scioto River, Prospect, Ohio – This is where the trailer was located

I vaguely remember living in a house on Olney Avenue in Marion. I know that a lot of food was rationed because it was during WWII.  I remember eating meat on a skewer called city chicken.  Later I found that it was probably horse meat.  My mom occasionally took me to downtown Marion to each at the L&K.  It was cafeteria style.  I remember wanting a piece of yellow cake.  My mom told me that I probably wouldn’t like it.  I fussed until she let me get it.  Yuck! It was cornbread!  

I also remember going with my mom to Crystal Lake north of Marion on Route 4 at the 423 intersection.  Crystal Lake was originally an outside swimming area at the site of a disused limestone quarry operated by the YMCA. We also went to Indian Lake amusement park where my mom would play skee-ball.  My mom liked to roller skate and we would skate both at Indian Lake Rollarena or at the HyWay Rollarena in Marion. I was only three, but I developed a love for skating. 

My mother told me that when I was a child I was very curious, and when we went visiting I would open drawers and take everything out. She also said I was a sickly child. During the divorce of my parents, my Mother moved a lot. She said she feared my father and that he was dangerous when drinking. I remember moving around a lot as a small child, staying with my Mother’s friends, especially an Italian girl by the name of Mary Nicolosi, who remained my mother’s best friend throughout her life. I know that my sister and I lived with my grandparents (Jack and Helen Chapman) for a while on Blaine Avenue in Marion, Ohio. My sister also spent a lot of time at the home of my grandmother’s sister, Clarabelle Jacobs who was married to Ray Jacobs, a World War I veteran.

Home of Grandma Helen and Grandpa Jack –
Blaine Ave & Nunin Ct, Marion, Ohio

I occasionally visited Uncle Ray and Aunt Clarabelle. Their back yard had a series of ponds and was planted in cactus, from which we children were warned to stay away. Uncle Ray also had an upright radio with short-wave reception, and I would sit for hours tuning to stations all over the world. This was so fascinating that I am sure it was this experience that motivated me to become a ham operator as a teenager.


My Sister Ruth Ellen and me in Uncle Ray’s back yard – 1950

While my father was in the Army, my mother went to work at Tecumseh Products, a company that made air-conditioner and refrigeration units. After the divorce, she became a single mother for a while. This arrangement in the 1940s was not as sociably acceptable as it is today. Aunt Clarabelle decided that this made Mother unfit to care for us, and attempted to adopt Ruth Ellen – she didn’t, especially like little boys. My grandmother Chapman intervened and this was unsuccessful. My grandmother told me that this wasn’t the first time they had tried such a maneuver. They were childless and desperate. I don’t know why they didn’t adopt. One of the problems was Uncle Ray’s family. He was an American of German descent. Even though he had been a World War I soldier and owned a very successful business, there was still that stigma. His family had not totally divorced themselves from the old country. I remember looking at books in his home written in German and his relatives still spoke German in the Lutheran Church. This wasn’t a very handy ability in World War II unless you were an American operative!

 Mom, Ruth Ellen and Me

I remember very vividly my fifth birthday, January 22, 1946. I dearly loved coconut, and still do. We were living with my grandma Chapman. We went to visit my aunt Jennie Ford in Meeker, Ohio who had a cake baked for my birthday in the shape of a lamb, its wool consisting of flaked coconut. It was beautiful! My mother thought that it was much too beautiful to eat, and so after we returned to Marion, it went into the china closet in the dining room for several days, while I looked at it wanting so much to eat it. After a few days, the ants found it instead, and they got to enjoy my birthday cake. I know that I must have been broken-hearted or this event would not have stuck so much in my mind.

Both my Mom and Grandpa Chapman worked at Tecumseh Products. Everyone called it the “Cooler” because it made refrigeration units and had been originally the American Cooler Company. Grandpa Jack also had a part-time job, delivering milk. He drove a milk truck that I remember vividly. It was white and he drove it standing up. He wore a white uniform with a white cap like an army cap. I think the dairy was either Isaly’s or Borden’s and the name was embroidered on his shirt. He had a basket in which he would place dairy products, milk, buttermilk, cream, and butter for delivery. He would pick up our empty milk bottles. In those days, milk bottles were made of glass and milk came in quarts. The bottles were recycled.

My mother also worked at the “Cooler.” This enabled her to purchase a home in 1946 on Clover Avenue in Marion, a pretty white home – our first real home since I had been born. It was during the year 1946 that my mother met a gentleman on a blind date. He was a newly returned soldier from the war. His name was Henry J. Gilliam from Argylite, Kentucky. He had come to Ohio for the work. At first, he worked on a farm near Byhalia, Ohio in Union County. He had tried his hand being part of an oil-drilling crew and eventually found work at the Pollack Steel Mill in Marion. He was a tall, extremely handsome man and my mother said she fell in love immediately. It was a whirlwind courtship and in just a few weeks, they were married. My sister and I did not attend the wedding. They were married in Hunnywell, Kentucky. I never asked why, but I suppose it was so that Mom could meet his parents. I remember that when my new stepfather came to our house on Clover Avenue, I was very jealous. My Mother said that I would break things just to get attention. He wanted so hard to be a good father, but my sister and I had a hard time adjusting.


Pollack Steel Plant, Marion, Ohio

We didn’t call him Dad, probably because we had never called anyone those names. We called him Bud, the nickname that all his friends and my Mom called him. In later years, we called him Dad, because he became our Father – To avoid confusion in this memoir, I will call my biological father, Paul Penry – Father and my adoptive father, Henry “Bud” Gilliam – Dad. My biological father was never a Dad.

Mom and Dad – Wedding Day 1946

 Henry and Minnie Crisp Gillum – My Grandparents
I remember many small things that happened while we lived on Clover Avenue, such as playing in the back yard, and the parties we had with a menu consisting of crackers and water. In the heat of summer, Dad filled a garbage can full of water from the outside faucet, and my sister and I played in it to keep cool. I remember a little neighbor boy who said that Santa Claus lived in his attic, and he would not let me in to see him. It was while living there that I got in my first fight. I personally don’t remember the incident, but my sister does. This is probably the time that I first became her hero. A boy from down the street stole my little sister’s toy iron and I fought and took it away from him. It was here that my sister’s blond hair started to turn brown. Oh, how she cried. She was so devastated. She loved her blond hair, and so she and I decided to do something about it. Mom was at work, and we sneaked into the kitchen, opened the icebox, and took out a pound of butter. Like a flash, we tore out into the backyard, under the shade of a tree. She sat in our little red Radio-Flyer wagon, and I smeared the pound of butter in her hair to turn it yellow again. Mom was so thrilled! 

My sister, Ruth Ellen while still a blond

The Ice Box! Yes – that brings back floods of memories of the ice truck that came down our street, carrying big blocks of ice. The iceman would lift a block with big ice tongs and carry it into our house and put it in the box at the top of the icebox. He had huge arm muscles and looked like a strong-man from the circus. All of the neighborhood kids would grab a washcloth from home and run out to the truck. He would then give us chunks of ice that had broken off the blocks, or perhaps they came from dropped blocks. We didn’t know, and we didn’t care. What a treat! We would wrap the ice in the washcloth and suck on the ice until it disappeared.

During the days following the visit of the iceman, the ice would melt and collect in a drip pan at the bottom, which my Mom would empty in the sink.

An Ice Truck (I edited myself into the picture!)
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