Chapter 3-3 (1953-1959) Secondary School Years
Chapter 4 – Middle and High School Years
Our farm was 1/4 mile west of Richwood on State Route 47. This is a recent picture. When we lived there, large trees were in front of the house about 10 feet back from the road and there was an apple orchard to the left. Since we lived on a farm, I had chores. But there was still plenty of time for play. I helped by feeding animals, helping fix fences, or plowing or tilling the fields. My dad taught me to drive our Ford tractor and I loved to haul loads of grain or plow. My dad said I was not a good enough driver to drive while planting corn, so I always rode on the corn-planter, making sure the hoppers remained full of seed-corn. Besides the Ford tractor, which I loved to drive, we also had a Massie-Ferguson, and a Farmall. We had the usual collection of farm implements, plows, discs, planters, a loading-scoop for the Ford (It had a hydraulic lift), a manure spreader, and a drag. Our farm had one barn, with the usual center through-way and two side areas, one for storage, the other with animal stalls, and of course the hayloft. We also had a chicken coop, an apple orchard, and a very large garden area. We grew almost all of our vegetables and our own meat. Mom would can every fall. The canning jars were stored under the house in a crawl space and I would have to crawl under the house for them. It was always infested with spiders and the occasional rat. The jars were always dirty and we would spend hours scrubbing them out using a dish mop. I absolutely hated that job.
We had a milk cow that needed milking twice a day. I never got the hang of it and either Dad or Mom did the milking. We raised hogs and chickens and I did my share by feeding them. We “Slopped” hogs. This means we saved all our table scraps, mixed them with leftover milk from the cow, and fed it in a trough along with some ground feed. We stored our grain (corn, soybeans) at the local grain elevator, and when we needed feed, would call them. They would grind and sack it for us and we would pick it up. I liked driving the tractor and farm wagon to do this, but usually, Dad picked it up in our pickup truck.
Our barn had a dirt floor and Dad decided it needed to be gravel. He went to the quarry and bought a load of gravel in the pickup and backed into the barn. I started shoveling the load onto the floor. We would spread it and he would back up a little farther. What Dad failed to realize was that we were building up the floor level and that the truck was coming up off the springs compressed by the weight of the load. When we finished, he had me pull the truck out of the barn. The top of the truck was now two inches higher than the top of the doorframe. I customized the roof of the truck.
We raised Hampshire hogs. When the sows were having pigs, I sometimes stayed home from school. Since the birth was often in the winter and Dad and Mom had gone to work, I would take the newborn piglet, dry it off with burlap, and put it into a box by our coal stove in the kitchen. When the sow had finished giving birth, I would take the piglets back to her for nursing. Taking them away also served another purpose. When the sow was in labor, she would often roll from side to side and could easily crush the newborns. My service reduced the mortality rate. When I was finished, I would go on to school and let the Principal know where I had been. Since this was a farming town, this aspect of life was never questioned and we were never counted as tardy. After Dad got home from work on the day pigs were born, or if they were born while he was there, we took each pig and broke off the “milk teeth” with pliers. This kept them from irritating the sow’s teats. When a few weeks had passed, we castrated the male pigs. I would have to pick them up by the hind legs while Dad used the castrating knife. Uncle Bill Setser always took the “Mountain Oysters.” I never tried them myself. One of the most difficult jobs was ringing hogs. We trapped them in a holding pen and used ringing pliers that inserted metal rings in the nose to keep them from rooting (digging) out from under fences.
I really like this aspect of farming, and liked working with the animals. However, we had a bull that I avoided. When we started raising ponies, life really got exciting. I was given the job of helping to break them. I would ride them while they reared and bucked until they were tamed. I took a few tumbles from time to time. Later on, my Dad started raising Hereford cattle, then Black Angus and Charolais. Since we used the milk from our one cow, my Dad didn’t want its calf to suckle. We had a bucket with a nipple on it and would milk the cow and put some of the milk in the bucket for the calf. These calves would become so tame; they would follow us around like dogs.
We had a series of pet dogs with most of them getting hit by cars in front of our house. The first was a collie named Joy
The next dog was a Cocker Spaniel named Sandy who lived to a ripe old age and went deaf and blind, and I had to put him down. My dad was going to take him to the vet and have him put to sleep. I was now in the Marines and being stupidly macho, I told my dad to save the money, and I shot Sandy. I cried for days. I have always wished I hadn’t done it.
As a youngster, I liked dogs. I didn’t particularly like cats – most boys didn’t. They were a nuisance and something to throw stones at. My sister, however, had a cat she adored. Its name was Ricky, and I am ashamed to admit that I delighted in pestering poor Ricky. I put it in the dryer and watched it spin. I made a parachute and tied Ricky to it and dropped him out the second-story window. I think I did because it annoyed my sister. I like cats now though and we have had a number of cats.
I also liked mice. On the farm, we had plenty of mice. Besides the usual field mice we had kangaroo mice. I don’t know to this day, if this was normal, or whether our farm had a hybrid or mutant species. Anyway, these mice would hop on their hind legs like kangaroos. I loved to catch mice and make pets of them. Our house was always infected with mice, most farmhouses were. So an every-day ritual was setting the mousetraps. These were the typical mousetraps where you pull down the killing wire and slip the tripwire carefully into the notch beside the bait pan, and carefully lay it on the floor. In the morning we would empty the traps. Occasionally, a mouse would not be trapped but not killed. These would become my pets.
Since we lived on the farm, we also had our share of wild animals, raccoons, opossums, skunks, rabbits, and foxes. One night, we heard our dog Sandy barking in the orchard. There had been some break-ins in the area, and my mom was sure that there was a burglar. Dad was at work, and she was afraid. So, I got my dad’s .32-caliber automatic pistol and a flashlight and headed to the orchard. When I got there, Sandy had treed an opossum. I’m glad it wasn’t really a burglar. I doubt that I would have shot him. Most likely the two of us would have run screaming in opposite directions.
Another time, Dad had been in Kentucky. I think he was looking for alternative work. I believe he was laid off from the steel mill. Well, he came home and decided to surprise Mom. He tiptoed up the stairs. I don’t know why she was sleeping upstairs instead of in their bedroom. It was probably because she didn’t want to be alone. Or again, maybe we were still in Marion. I don’t remember my age, just the telling of the incident. My sister heard a key in the door and went downstairs and saw Dad. He put his finger in front of his mouth to tell her to be quiet. He then started up the stairs to surprise Mom. She heard a noise on the stairs and got the pistol and stood at the head of the stairs calling “Who is there?” He didn’t answer and kept coming up the stairs. Just at the instant, she was about the pull the trigger, his head came into the light. She made him swear he would never do anything like that again.
A fun activity on the farm was war games. We had an old farm wagon that we were not using which for some reason had a hole in the bed just behind the tongue. Junior and I converted it to a tank. We built sides from plywood, fastened old car instruments and electric switches for a dashboard, and a weapons control center for the tank. We covered the hole in the bed with plywood and it became our tank’s hatch. We then propped up the wagon tongue that became our tank’s gun and we spent hours in that wagon fighting off the Nazi hoard!
Another fun activity was Halloween. We loved trick or treating. In those days, it was more than just getting goodies. The trick was very much a part of Halloween. Some tricks were fun and fairly safe, while others were downright mean. I will now share some of the tricks we pulled. Of course, we soaped windows. In the center of town was a concrete block building with glass windows all the way around. It sat at the edge of the main intersection and from this building; the police could look up at down the two main streets, Franklin and Ottawa. We would hide and wait for the constable to leave the building to do rounds and out came the soap! We would stand on each other’s shoulders to get to the window ledges and then we went to work! When we finished, there was no way that the police could see out of the windows. About two miles west of town, Route 47, curved to the left and another road ran straight. We always called this the “fork.” About 3 miles further on the fork was a narrow metal bridge. In the summer we would dive off this bridge into the creek, but at Halloween, we took toilet paper and with tape created a “white board fence” look-alike across the bridge. On each side of the bridge, about an eighth of miles away, were hills. When you came over the hill, you saw the bridge. When a car came over the hill and saw the “fence,” all you would hear was the squeal of brakes. The driver would get out of the car, investigate, choose a few choice words and destroy our work. We immediately rebuilt the “fence.” This provided hours of fun. Probably the meanest thing we did was to fill sacks with cow manure, lay them on a porch and set them on fire, ring the doorbell, and watch the poor resident stamp it out. We reserved this treatment for the mean and nasty only.
Bedtime for Ruth Ellen and me was 9:00 on school nights, and later on weekends. But there were TV shows on at night we wanted to watch. Our house didn’t have central heating. The furnace was in the floor and there were registers in the ceilings to heat the upstairs rooms. The registers were simply grates that were placed, one in the ceiling and one on the floor above. Ruth Ellen and I discovered that by pulling the register out of the floor and laying a mirror in the space between the ceiling and floor at the right angle, we could watch TV. The sound came up through the hole. We would lay blankets on the floor, and lay on our stomachs, watching TV, even though the image was reversed. Some of our favorite TV shows were “I Love Lucy,” “Dragnet,” and “The Ed Sullivan Show.” We had to be very quiet so we wouldn’t get caught.
In the winter, the upstairs would get so cold; the windows would be covered with frost. We only had linoleum floors with throw rugs. I always slept in warm pajamas. When Mom called to wake me up, I would jump out of bed, run down the stairs, out the back door to the outhouse, and back in to stand on the floor furnace register to dress. It was located under the arch between the living and dining room. When we first moved to Richwood, we didn’t have indoor plumbing for the bathroom. We had a sink and tub, but that was all. So at first, we had an outhouse. Later Dad had a full bathroom put in. Talk about a change in lifestyle.
One night during the TV show “I Love Lucy”, a very tragic event occurred. The two boys who lived just down the road, Tom and Bob Brown were riding double on their bikes. Bob was on the handlebars and a car in front of our house struck them. Bob was thrown into the ditch and killed. The bicycle spokes pierced Tom’s abdomen and he was badly scarred on his head, but he survived. Later Tom and I became good friends.
During the 8thgrade, Gary Stevens moved into Richwood from Waverly, Ohio, and also became a close friend. This period of my life was terrific. I liked middle school. My teachers were fun and after-school activities were great. Another good friend was Junior Thompson. The three of us spent a lot of time together.
I met another friend in middle school, Fred Newman. His parents owned the butcher shop. To put it kindly, Fred was a nerd even before the word existed. If I could describe him, it would be Professor Snape in “Harry Potter” combined with the personality of Doc Brown in “Back to the Future.” I think I was his best friend. I guess I had a trace of a nerd too, but only when with Fred. With everyone else, I tried to be Mr. Cool. Fred and I both liked Science Fiction, and I think we were the only boys in school that did. Most boys did not do the recreational reading in our school. Fred and I decided we would learn to play chess in the seventh grade. His parents bought him a chess set with an instruction book. We kept trying, but it did not make sense. What we did not realize was that some pieces could move more than one square, like the Bishop, Queen, and Rook. For us, the most powerful piece in the game was the Knight. Fortunately, Fred had an uncle who played chess and straightened us out, and the game became much more interesting. I told Fred that my dad was a government scientist working on secret experiments and that his laboratory was under our house. He believed this for years. We kept in touch after school, and after I married, I shared the gospel with him. He joined the Church, as did his family. He was married in the temple. Unfortunately, he was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver on Morse Road in Columbus on the way home from work. He had just stepped off the bus. He never learned to drive a car. We kept in touch with his widow, sister, and nieces for years.
I always liked anything to do with models – cars, trains, planes, ships, and spent many evenings working on models and dioramas, especially WWII dioramas. I especially liked ship models and built many Navy models. Probably the most intricate was a large plastic model of the U.S.S. Constitution. I spent hours customizing this model with rigging and homemade cloth sails. Mom displayed it in the living room for years.
Before we were old enough to drive, Gary, Junior, and I, and sometimes others, would ride bicycles to Eckle’s Lake near Delaware almost every day to swim. This lake had a rope high on a bank. We would swing out over the lake and drop about 15 feet. It also had round disks that were anchored to the bottom. They would tilt and we would play “King of the Mountain” on them. It was a very fun lake. We had season passes, and the ride was 20 miles one way. It took us approximately 2 hours each way to ride there (we had never even heard of a 3-speed bike, let alone a 10-speed.) Our old Schwinn Twins did the trick.
We also swam a lot at Richwood Lake. This lake had been a quarry at one time, and the quarrying stopped when springs were uncovered. The quarry filled rapidly. The springs were there and if you swam through one, it was really cold. The challenge was to be able to swim across the lake and back. The distance was probably about 200 yards. The lake wasn’t large, but the city kept it stocked with bluegills and bass. We had an area where the city had dumped sand for a beach. The swimming area was roped off, and there was a large raft. I fell asleep on the raft and got a third-degree sunburn that required medical treatment. I still have scars on my shoulders and back. For several weeks, the blisters drained and I had a high fever. The doctor made me stay out of the water for over a year.
Another favorite swimming spot was Grindell’s Pond. This was a small quarry about six miles west of Richwood. It was posted “Private, No Trespassing” which made it perfect, of course. This was our “Skinny Dipping” swimming hole.
We also fished a lot in the “Cut”, which is what we called Fulton Creek. We caught a lot of catfish, sand pike, bluegills, and sunfish. Occasionally we would go frog gigging in the evenings. Life was fun and exciting in Richwood. There were ballgames in the park, fishing, bike riding, and once we had cars, fishing trips to Indian Lake, and of course double dates at the drive-in theater in Marion.
Richwood had a quarter-mile flat dirt track for stock car racing at the Richwood Fairgrounds. Every Friday night, Junior and I would go to the races. Only adults paid admission to the races. All the kids in town would cut across the fields, and climb over the fence behind the horse barns and casually stroll to the grandstand. The drivers were usually locals, and the cars were all old modified cars that had been taken from the junkyard and rebuilt for racing. Roll cages were welded in and the cars were pretty well stripped. The races were really exciting. On a flat dirt track, there were many crashes. For we boys, the big racing thrill was being taken to Columbus Motor Speedway where we watched a better class of racing. Jack Bowser was the best driver there and was a hero figure for those of us that liked racing.
The Richwood Fair was held in September. It was one, if not the last fair, of the season in Ohio. We always went. Dad always went on the day that veterans and their families had free admission. I went anytime I felt like it since I knew the secret path over the back fence. It was a typical small-town country fair. The local ladies had their cans of vegetables and fruits on display. There were flower and vegetable arrangements, and cake-baking contests. The farm dealers had tractors and all the newest farm equipment on display. The barns were filled with animals from the boys in FFA and 4-H. The girls had their 4-H crafts. The food vendors were all around the midway with corn-on-the-cob, ice cream, funnel cakes, popcorn, etc. There were the sideshows with the Fat Lady, the Hall of Mirrors, and the Tunnel of Love. The barkers were calling out “Come See, Come See…Only fifteeeen… cents.” There were games where you threw rings or ping pong balls to win prizes or softballs to knock down bottles that never seemed to fall. There were the daily horse races and animal auctions. There were always the three same rides, the Merry-Go-Round, the Ferris Wheel, and the Swings. The swings were just swings on long, chains. The ride spun you in a circle – faster and faster until the blood ran into your feet and your shoes went sailing into the distance. You would get off the ride with weak knees and wait your turn to pay your fifteen cents and ride again!
Dad had a lot of relatives in Richwood. They became playmates, and we would go to each other’s house frequently. Dad’s sister Grace had married Bill Setser. He was divorced and already had a daughter Billy Kay. She was one year older than Ruth Ellen and we were all very good friends. She stayed with us a lot. Later Bill and Grace had a son of their own, Terry.
Dad’s sister Gladys was married to Lee Stidham and they had a large family – Bob, Charles, Ralph, Bonnie, Kenny, Ronnie, Barb, Jerry, and Philip. Bonnie was my age and in my class at school. Barb was close to Ruth Ellen’s age.
Our high school had three stories. There were restrooms on the second and third floors, just over the entrances to the building, where the students entered from the school busses. I road the bus also and we soon learned to watch carefully as we entered the building. A favorite activity was to fill water balloons and drop them on those below. I occasionally participated in this fun activity. Being a freshman could occasionally be an unpleasant experience. Seniors had historically hazed freshmen. Sometimes we were blindfolded and forced to walk barefoot on wet floors while being prodded with hog-shockers. The most embarrassing was “depants-ing.” Every freshman suffered this once. You would be caught in the restroom or hallway and the seniors would take off your pants and run them up the flagpole. Mom’s advice to always have clean underwear was strictly adhered to by freshmen. There were other harassments, but needless to say, life could be tough for a freshman.
When I started high school, my circle of friends included George Junior Thompson, Gary Stevens, Bryce Kater, Bob Everly, Bruce Phelps & Fred Newman. We spent most of our time fishing and bicycle riding together, at least until we reached age 16 and got driver’s licenses. When we reached the 9thgrade, the students from Essex joined us from Jackson Middle School. We were all then students of Richwood High School, home of the Richwood Tigers.
High School Buddies – Bryce Kater, Fred Newman, Bruce Phelps, Gary Stevens, Bob Everly, George (Junior) Thompson
High school was interesting. I joined the band. The band director, Mr. Wolfley, didn’t give us a choice of instruments if we did not own an instrument, so both Junior Thompson and I were assigned sousaphones (tubas). I had the E Flat and Junior had the double-B Flat. We did not memorize our music but had tiny music stands attached to the instrument to read as we marched. We certainly did not have the precision either marching or in musicianship that today’s students have. Our instruments were old and dented, but we polished them before every game. In the cold weather, we kept the mouthpieces in our pockets so that our lips would not freeze. Our school colors of Orange and Black were reflected in our rather outdated uniforms. Of course in those days, before school districts were consolidated, most schools did not have a good band budget. We relied heavily on money from our concession stand. We did not have a big repertoire of songs. We played mostly Sousa marches. Our school did not compete in band contests. The only place we went besides games was to solo and ensemble contest in Columbus. After marching season, I played the concert bass. In addition, we had a dance band and both Junior and I played guitars. Since a dance band usually consists of only chords for guitars, this was a fairly easy gig. I did get to learn some neat chords such as minor diminished and augmented chords. In the picture above, I am playing the tuba next to the bass drum.
Richwood H.S. Dance Band – I am second from right last row
The alma mater of Richwood High School was:
I liked to sing and joined both the mixed and boys choruses. I waited until my sophomore year because my voice was changing during my freshman year. I sang baritone until the senior year. By that time, my voice had settled into the bass range. I have been fortunate that my total range extends from the second tenor to bass. In those days, minstrel shows were still politically correct. Perhaps those who read these memoirs will not have any knowledge of minstrel shows. These originated sometime after the civil war, and the music and the show usually centered on black folk and gospel. Many schools did not have black students (this was before the days of integration), and even earlier, black and white entertainers did not often mix. To present a show portraying black Americans, white performers applied black makeup, usually greatly exaggerated. This included white circles around the eyes and mouth. A white singer in the 1920s and 1930s, Al Jolson, was known for minstrel entertainment. Richwood High School staged minstrel shows and I can remember singing such songs as Old Man River, Joshua Fit (fought) the Battle of Jericho, and other songs. These routines included soft-shoe dancing and jokes and dialog told in a pseudo-black slave voice. Examples would be “Dat woman, she sho’ nuff likes to dance,” or “I’se gwine to tell your mama.” Of course, in today’s world, this form of entertainment would be considered racial, and I suppose it was, even though we never really considered it so. We did not know any better in those days.
We also had our regular concerts, in which our various choirs would sing for our parents. I don’t remember many of the pieces except for “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and “The Night Before Christmas.” Both were Fred Waring arrangements.
I also like drama and poetry. My grades didn’t reflect it, but I loved to read and always loved poetry and history. I had two English teachers that I really admired; they were Mr. and Mrs. Cochran. If anyone inspired me to teach, it would be them. I can still remember Mr. Cochran reading the poem “The Congo.” He had a great actor’s voice. Most of my teachers were not impressive. I did not realize it at the time, but they were working at a very low pay rate. Most only had associate degrees and held a second job. For instance, my history and Spanish teacher ran a vegetable market; my coach drove a truck picking up milk from the local farms for the dairy, and my seventh-grade teacher ran a general store. Most women teachers had husbands bringing in other income. Our textbooks were horribly outdated, and the classroom environment had not changed since the schools were built in the 1920s. I learned, however, that the environment was not what mattered; it was the attitude and desire to learn. Even though I had the wrong attitude and desire, I was bright enough to understand and use this knowledge in future teaching techniques with my own students and children. I always remembered how Abraham Lincoln had studied by the coal-oil lamp, using books that he had borrowed by walking miles.
Drama was fun. I had parts in both our Junior and Senior plays. Our Junior Play was “We Were Young That Year.” And I played the eight-year-old brother of the female lead – who was Marilyn Kelly. The male lead was Roger McDaniel, and each time they would get cozy, I would interrupt. That was easy to do since I would rather have been the one cozy with Marilyn! In the senior year, we performed Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” I played two parts, Professor Willard, and a voice in the cemetery scene. I can still recall part of my lines. I also loved reading and the Richwood Library was a frequent haunt.
I wish now that I had studied harder, but I also know that if I had, I would have received college scholarships, and my life would have taken an entirely different path. I would not want to give up those experiences that I had by taking another route. To paraphrase Robert Frost, “Two paths diverged in the woods, and I took the path least traveled.” The reasons for my abysmal high school academic performance were simple. Reason one – I was lazy and didn’t want to do my homework. There were far more exciting things to do such as hunting fishing, dating, skating, etc. Reason two – I had no desire to attend college and couldn’t see any great benefit in studying. Reason three – Because I was very bright, I was very, very bored in school. My teachers were not trained in handling gifted students. This made my teachers very frustrated. I was constantly counseled about not applying myself. When we took standardized state tests, I would always test in the top 1% of the county. It would be easy to blame my teachers, but in reality, I was lazy and lacked academic ambition. However, this changed dramatically after I matured and started a family. I will discuss this later on.
There were events in school that are now humorous in retrospect. We had a coach who hailed from West Virginia. In gym, he used to say “Someday, you and me is going to go round and round, and I’m going to lay you odds, I’se gonna come out on top!” To enjoy this line, you must say it with a strong hill accent – try Jeff Foxworthy. We had a teacher that drove a little three-wheel Isetta. This was a German/Italian car made by BMW – kind of a cross between a motor scooter and a car. The front opened up and it seated two. In fact, you didn’t have to license it like a car; you could get a scooter license. Well, anyway, one day, several of us picked it up and sat in on a dumpster. We also had another coach that drove a Chevy Impala. We had a tree that was close to the building. One day, we got a tape measure and measured the distance from the tree to the building. Then we measured the length of the car. The car was two inches shorter than the distance. So the football team lined up on each side of his car and picked it up and wedged it between the tree and the building. There was no way to get it out by driving or even with a tow! After the entire school administration, the Richwood Police, and almost everyone in school witnessed the problem; the football team came back, picked it up, and moved it out. The coach tried to be mad, but it was too funny and he ended up laughing too.
Our Principal, Mr. White, was bald. We called him “Chrome Dome” behind his back. We made up an unofficial school fight song, which would get us detention if we were caught singing it, but it was a classic, especially on the band bus going to ballgames. The words were as follows:
Homecoming was always fun. Besides the dance, we had a big bonfire downtown. Everyone paraded to the bonfire where we burned a rival football player in effigy. The dance was then held above the Movie Theater and police station. That was an interesting building. The bottom and second level were the movie theater. But one corner of the first floor was a jail cell. This cell had a half-circle of bars that were actually on the sidewalk in front of the building. The town drunk was usually the only one in jail and we used to chat with him on the way into the theater. The third floor was a large open dance floor with room for an orchestra. The town clock was on the top of the building. This building is now the fire and police station.
I participated in athletics in high school. I went out for basketball, but even in those days, there was not much hope for a 5’ 2” basketball player who could not hit a basket anyway. I really wanted to play baseball, but we did not have a school team. So, I went out for track and field events. I ran the 440-yard dash and the mile relay and was a broad-jumper. I did fairly well, considering my size, placing second in the relay at the Ohio District Tournament in my Senior Year.
Our high school cafeteria was OK, but it only offered nutritious food. Teenagers need fast food to survive. There was just enough time during lunch to head downtown to the Anderson’s Dairy Bar and have a hotdog and a pineapple sundae for 50¢. Pineapple sundaes are still my favorite, even beating out hot fudge (but by a narrow margin).
During the summer following the tenth grade, I had two jobs. The first was as a projectionist at the local movie theater. I did this for a few weeks, but the equipment was so old and dangerous (we used carbon-arc rods), that the owner decided to close the theater. I then went to work at Ralph’s IGA in Richwood as a carryout boy. Later I went to work in the produce department, wrapping and trimming vegetables and fruits and taking care of the display cases. My pay was 52 cents per hour, which netted 47 cents after taxes. As a carryout boy, I worked for tips. A typical tip was either a nickel or a dime. After my junior year, Gary and I took a summer job erecting billboards at $20 each for his grandfather who owned the Stevens Clothing Store in town.
Even though Richwood was a small town of between two and three thousand, there were always things to do. As teenagers, we had our favorite hangouts. These would be either the Dairy Queen or Isaly’s. I say Dairy Queen, but it was a look-alike called Andersons’ Dairy Bar. The Andersons also operated the movie theater. At Isaly’s we would buy Klondike Ice Cream Bars. If we were lucky and found one with a pink center, we could another one free. There were many times when the only thing in our pockets besides pocketknives would be lint. At those times, we usually enjoyed a “Pine Float” which was a glass of water and a toothpick. A toothpick dangling from the corner of your mouth was considered cool. I think either Charles Bronson or James Dean had done this in a movie. School lunch was usually something that was best skipped. There were days when we would eat at the school cafeteria, especially if the menu had chili, cheese, and peaches (all government commodities). But if the menu had anything was the words “stewed or green,” I was off to the Dairy Bar for a Hot Dog and a Pineapple Sunday which I could get for forty-five cents. Since my daily lunch allowance was fifty-cents, I could save a nickel for more important things like a Coke at Isaly’s.
Another hangout was the counter at Seig’s Rexall Drug Store where we could get a phosphate. For the uninitiated, a phosphate was a heavenly blend of carbonated water and syrup with a cherry added. They came in three flavors, Vanilla, Chocolate, and Cherry. Years later, I found a Rexall Drug Store in West Jefferson, Ohio that still served them, but it has been years now since I have been able to find one. This is a small piece of Americana that I wish was still with us.
When we needed to buy a present for our Moms or Dads or for a girlfriend, we would head to Spain’s 5 & 10. There you could find playing cards, marbles, needles, thread, little ceramic animals, salt and pepper shakers, cheap perfume and toilet water, knitting supplies, headscarves, flags, paper party supplies, and inexpensive toys. I remember Spain’s like a treasure house, full of exotic treasures from around the world. Spain’s had a particular odor, not unpleasant, but hinting of exotic and ancient places. I am going to regress for a moment back to age ten, because of a particular purchase at Spain’s. I wanted something special for Mother’s Day and hunted and hunted. I found a ceramic sugar bowl and salt and pepper shakers in the shape of irons. They were glazed black with bright little flowers. The cost was a staggering two dollars. I saved and saved until I had the money and rode on my bike for the treasure. When Mom opened it, she was so thrilled, she actually cried. She never used it, but proudly put it on display in a curio cabinet all her life. She passed it on to me and it occupies a position of honor in our home in Florida.
Near the corner of Franklin and Bomford streets was a shoe store. In this shoe store was a device that would x-ray your feet. You could look in the top and see the bones in your feet. I hope for the sake of all the kids of Richwood from the fifties, the radiation level was low, because we would sneak in every chance we got to look at our bones!
At age 16, my friend Gary Stevens started driving and his dad bought him a 1949 Ford. His dad was a back-yard mechanic and to keep him from speeding, installed a governor. At 55 mph, the governor would kick in and no more gas could be applied. Once Gary got the car, our social life really changed. The world opened (at least for a 50-mile radius.) One of our favorite activities was to head to Indian Lake for fishing and cruising. For $1 per day, we could rent a rowboat. A great donut shop was found at Russell’s Point that may still be in operation. This was our first stop. One weekend, our parents gave us permission to camp. We rented a rowboat and rowed out to a small island. We pitched our tents, fished, and settled in for a delightful dinner of fried fish, complete with a gourmet dessert of oranges, vodka, and a bottle of Sherry wine. Needless to say, we were no longer in control of our senses. A great storm came up, and waves began to wash over the island, flooding our tents and making our lives miserable. In the middle of the night, we placed a lantern in the bow of the boat and several very intoxicated teenagers began to row through the dark and stormy waters toward the distant shore. Well, we made it and slept the rest of the night in the car. Whoever believes that God does not protect the young and stupid is wrong.
About the 8th grade, another dramatic change occurred, a change that affects mostly boys and many girls. One of the side effects of puberty is the horrific word ‘ZITS.” I seemed to have more than my fair share and was constantly trying different concoctions to try to cure pimples. I think I would have used a Brillo pad if I thought it would work. My complexion didn’t start to clear up until I was in my mid-twenties.
In my senior year, I took up the nasty habit of smoking. My Dad did not like it, but since he smoked there was not much he could say. All of my friends also smoked; in those days it was considered manly. After all, John Wayne, and other actors smoked and they were cool. Eventually, I was able to quit at age 25, but I will share that story later.
Boys will be boys, and inevitably that means fights. I had my share in school. Most were over insults to girlfriends or a slur on my manhood. This is nothing to be proud of, but I suppose just part of life. I joined a gang. Yes, we decided that the group needed to be a gang, so we all bought white sweatshirts with blue dragons on them and called ourselves the Blue Dragons. One of our members was Günter Güeking from Austria, so whenever we met each other on the street or in the school hallways, we would greet each other with “Ich Ben Ein Bluei Drachi” Supposedly this meant, “I am a blue dragon”. Whenever a member said the greeting, we had to drop to the floor and do ten pushups. We never did any cool gang stuff like rumbling, but we did drag race. We would meet at night on the country dirt roads and drag or have chicken races. To participate in a chicken race, you met on a country road; set a distance of about three feet between cars and turned off your lights. The lead car would take off at about 30 mph, and drove the back roads, turning without signaling. If you failed to make the turn, you were out of the race. The car or cars that managed to stay with the lead for a half-hour were the winners. This fun activity always resulted in a few dented fenders. Not all the cars we had were fast. Junior had an old stock Model A Ford. Others drove family cars or owned old junkers.
In Marion, Gary, Günter, Junior, and I were all dating girls that were friends. My girlfriend was Linda Simpson. A girl we called Bird Legs dated Günter, Junior dated Doris Thompson, whom he married and Gary dated a girl named Sharon Stine. One night about six of us were in my car. Gary and I had our guitars. We had stopped at a donut shop in Marion and bought a bag of donuts. We then went to McKinley Park and were eating donuts and playing and singing, having a really good time. Well, we either did not know or did not care that the park closed at dusk, and pretty soon, we were joined by the Marion Police. The officer said to me “Having fun, Elvis?” Then my girl friend Linda said to the cop “Would you like a donut?” They were about to run us in when Linda let them know that her father was a judge. They read us the riot act, ran us out of the park, and told us if we wanted to sing, we could do it at the Police Station. So we took him up on it – took our donuts and guitars to City Hall, sat on the steps, and sang until the desk sergeant ran us off.
There were things that, in retrospect, many of us wish we hadn’t done. One was a practical joke we pulled on two unsuspecting girls – Joyce (Bird Legs) and my sister Ruth Ellen. They both like Günther. We told them to impress Günther, they should talk to him in German. So we taught Joyce a phrase that she thought meant, “Hi Günther, nice to meet you.” What she really said, in essence, was, “Let’s make a baby.” Ruth Ellen wanted to meet Günther’s mother. So again, we did a language lesson. She was introduced to Günther’s mom who got a surprised look on her face. Günther jumped back and said to my sister, “You just called my mom a shithead!”
Our Marion hangout was at the Highway RollArena skating rink in Marion. I loved roller-skating and was very good at it. I loved to dance on skates to such tunes as “Dance with Me Henry” and later on, rock songs. We had skating races, couple and trio skates, all skate, and boys only and girls only. My friends and I tried our best to become “Hoods.” We wore black leather jackets, slicked our hair back into a “Ducktail,” wore white shirts with the collar turned up, pegged Levis, and engineer boots. Hey, the Fonz had nothing on us! During high school, a number of fashion crazes came and went. Robin Hood Hats, complete with feather, sailor caps, beachcomber pants, and short shorts for girls. My favorite shirt was silk with colored stripes and was a copy of one Elvis wore in a movie.
The Highway RollArena attracted a pretty rough crowd. Before I started driving, I went there every Wednesday. The skating rink owned an old school bus and picked up a load from Prospect and Richwood. We called the bus the “Snuggle Bus” for obvious reasons. Besides the dating and good times at the rink, we had some trouble too. I had mentioned in my elementary school days, a ‘girl friend’ named Mary Alice. I hooked up with her again at the rink and we skated together and just enjoyed each other’s company. One night, as we were getting ready to leave for the evening, I got into an argument with a boy from Richwood named Steve. He had already removed his skates and I was still on mine. He shoved me and I fell against a wall. Mary Alice pushed him and he shoved her back and knocked her down. I got up and attacked him and was in the process of rearranging the features on his face, when his cousin Bill, grabbed me from behind and was holding me so that Jerry could return the favor. Well, my sister Ruth Ellen picked up a Coke bottle and hit Bill on the head from behind, and knocked him out. About this time, the rink management broke up the brawl, threw us all out, and banned us for two months!
On another occasion, we were riding the bus back to Richwood, when a boy made a pass at Gary’s sister Cheryl. When she ignored him, he got mad and called her a name. Both Gary and I decided that we needed to defend her honor. I was to soften him up and Gary was going to finish the job. We all got off the bus and a crowd formed a circle around us. The boy bent over to lay down his skates (dumb move). I swung my skates in an arc and caught him under the chin. He flew back about six feet, hit the dirt, and was down for the count. In Richwood, we had learned that fighting fair is a losing proposition! Gary was mad because he didn’t get his chance!
Another favorite hangout was in Delaware. There was a teen-center that had activities and dances. There was also a great drive-in restaurant. Although Delaware was a college town and the college boys liked to run high school kids out of town, we could always dodge them.
While in High School, events occurred that would impact the rest of my life. The first and maybe most important was that Junior acquired a guitar. Gary and I wanted guitars too, and a boy at school named Larry Gilkerson had an old guitar in his attic that he sold to me for five dollars. Neither of us realized that it was a 1935 Martin D18, which today would be worth many thousands of dollars. At any event, I began to learn to chord. Fortunately, Gary had a neighbor named Carl Durbin who had played professionally with the Smoky Mountain Boys. He taught us how to chord correctly. I remember the very first song that I ever played on the guitar. It was Pat Boones’ “Remember Darling.” I had my Martin D18 Guitar for several years, but unfortunately at a party, I laid it on a couch, leaning it against the back and someone fell on it and broke the neck. Since I had no idea of its value, I threw it away and bought a Kay guitar. I owned a series of guitars through the years, including Kay, Gretch, Eko, Fender, etc. Today, I own a fantastic Martin D28, a gift from my mother for my twenty-fifth birthday.
My music choices as a teenager were varied. I had been raised in an environment where Country and Western was very evident. I liked this music and played and sang it often. I especially liked old cowboy songs and Hank Williams. Mom liked show tunes from the ’40s, and she had a large record collection of old 78’s that she liked to play. She had a good singing voice and would sing these songs and teach them to me so I could sing along. When the 50’s rock and roll came along, I readily embraced the music of the Everly Brothers, and Little Richard. I liked music that leaned more toward the blues or rock-a-billy. My sister was an absolute nut when it came to Elvis – I mean that she was one of the screaming, fainting fans. It was so bad that it almost turned me off of Elvis’ music. There were certain of his songs that I liked such as “Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin.”
I mentioned that we had a record player. We also had a wire recorder. This was the predecessor of the tape recorder. There were spools of wire that were the recording media. You fed the wire which was silver-colored and very thin through the recording heads, just like you fed tape. You could buy pre-recorded spools, or record your own from records. This was a console that also had a 3-speed record player and a radio.
Junior Thompson and Me – My dad’s 55′ Crown Vic.
During my junior year, I took driver’s training at the high school and my Dad let me get a driver’s license and drive his car. Our driver’s training instructor felt that we needed to learn defensive driving and be better drivers than the state-approved curriculum called for. During the winter, he took us to the Richwood Fairgrounds. The infield at the racetrack had flooded and frozen and made a great skidpan. We learned how to do donuts and recover. I am sure that the extra instruction made us better drivers and the ability to recover from skids probably saved many of us from accidents. My Dad bought a Cushman Eagle Motor Scooter for me. The dealer was not too concerned with quality and safety though. The front fork was loose and I ended up going over the handlebars on the way home flying headfirst into a ditch. Fortunately, neither the scooter nor I were injured. Unfortunately, it had a warped head and I had to install a new head-gasket at least twice each week. My Dad always liked hot, fast cars, and he always let me drive them. My favorite was a pink and white 1955 Ford Crown Victoria. I never owned my own car until after I married.
Once we obtained cars, cruising down the main drag of Richwood became an important teen-age ritual. Straight or cutout pipes, Hollywood tilts, and 4-barrel carburetors were in vogue. Since I drove my dad’s Ford Crown Victoria, it had to stay stock, even though with the big V8, I could challenge almost anyone in town, other than Johnny Adams who had a Hot Rod. I never had the Crown up to top speed; I always dropped off at 115 mph. Of course with cars, dating became a very important part of our lives, especially with drive-in movies. Since admission was by a person, not by car, it was amazing how many teenagers could fit in the trunk of a car!
Of course, parties were always fun. We would play records, dance, and of course, the classic party game of spin-the-bottle was always in order. There is nothing worse than playing spin-the-bottle and having it point to your sister or your cousin! But don’t get me wrong, our parties were never immoral, and drinking was never acceptable.
Our gang also decided that after high school, we were going to go to Hollywood and become stuntmen. So in order to build up our portfolio, we bought an 8-millimeter movie camera and formed our own movie company “Blue Dragon Films. We jumped out of moving cars, raced motor scooters and cycles, filmed our drag races, staged a bank-robbery, etc. We also considered becoming paratroopers and had read that the impact of landing was like falling off a moving platform doing 20 mph. So we got in our cars and started jumping out on Kenny Pike doing 20 mph so we could learn to “tuck and roll.” This all came to a close when one of our group decided his dad would get a kick out of seeing our results. Unfortunately for us, all of us received a “kick” from our dads.
We loved to fish; so we collected bait and stored it for fishing. Behind Gary’s house was a concrete area, just the right size for a small pond. We filled it with about 300 crawdads. We also raised fish worms. This was done by getting a coffee-can, putting in about 3 inches of coffee-grounds and a handful of worms. This was an ideal worm farm. However, we kept our worm farm in my school locker. When the end of the school year ended (the tenth, I think), I left the can in the locker. The janitor found a can of very dead smelly worms sometime in the summer. The Principal had me in his office for a “friendly chat” the first day of school in the fall.
One of the dumbest things I did in high school was the day that Gary and I skipped and went to the pool hall at Broadway crossroads, near York Center. We then wrote a single note, stating that we had been job hunting and signed both of our dad’s names to it. The Principal told us that he had seen a lot of dumb things in his day, but we won first prize. The prize consisted of a paddle about 20 inches long with holes in it. The Principal was a golfer and had a pro swing. He could knock you over the back of a chair. Ouch!!!
Times were different. During hunting season, we often took our shotguns to school and put them in our lockers to be able to go rabbit or pheasant hunting after school. No one thought anything about it. The teachers sometimes had their shotguns in the closet too. This was a small farm town. School shootings were unheard of. We were taught certain social values that would have made such behavior unthinkable. School prayer and discussion of religion were an integral part of our education. I had an interesting collection of firearms that included a .22-cal rifle with an octagonal barrel, a .22-cal bolt action. A .410-gauge shotgun, a .20-gauge shotgun, a lever-action Daisy BB Gun, and a C02 powered pellet gun that was a Colt .45 replica. I left my firearms with my dad when I went into the military. He eventually gave them away to my cousin Terry Setser.
In the tenth grade, I had my first date. Her name was Charlene Keeton and I was scared to death. It was a double date. Gary Stevens went with his girlfriend Betty. We went to the movie. We then walked them home. I hadn’t reached the stage where a goodnight kiss was in order, so we just said goodnight. She probably thought I was pretty dumb.
For my Junior Prom, I went stag. I was supposed to take a girl from Marion, but she caught the flu. For my Senior Prom, I took Cheryl Stevens, Gary Steven’s sister. She was a freshman. Before the prom, we went to dinner, but I don’t remember where. After the prom, I took Cheryl home, and my friends and I went to Columbus, Ohio to a Night Club. I was now 18 years old.
Ah, age 18! I registered for the draft. I was old enough to drink 3.2% beer. I was old enough to enter the military without my parent’s consent. During my senior year, all of my friends and I began to discuss our futures. Of course, some of our classmates would be college-bound, but this wasn’t what my group wanted. We talked about jobs in the factories, farming, heading west to Hollywood, or east to New York, but couldn’t make up our minds. Then in January 1959, the military recruiters came to our school and the Marine Corp recruiter regaled us with tales of heroism, adventure, travel, and of course that great-looking Marine Corps dress blue uniform. We were hooked and I, along with Junior Thompson, Gary Stevens, Bryce Kater, Bob Everly, Bruce Phelps, and Larry Sayer, enlisted in the U.S. Marines on the delayed enlistment program. We began to get ready for the Marines. We all went to the barber for “butch” haircuts and started in strength training. We boxed and ran every day. We strung a rope between buildings in Gary’s backyard and practiced hand-over-hand movement on the rope. We had seen the movie “The DI” starring Jack Webb and wanted to be ready.
8th thru 12th Grade Class Pictures
Faculty – Richwood High School
The senior year was a time of final exams, state tests, SATs, ACTs, and preparation for life in the real world. I know that I buckled down somewhat on my studying since I wanted to graduate, and I had to repeat plane geometry. In any event, I made it. Final preparation for graduation consisted of renting a gown (black), and practicing marching to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance.” At least we seniors didn’t have to play in the band, as we had for the preceding three graduations. Marching down the school aisle to the stage and walking across as the superintendent, Mr. Fetter, assisted by the Principal, Mr. White, and the School Board, was both thrilling a little scary, as we all knew an era was ending.
Richwood High School Graduation – May 1959
I graduated from High School at the end of May 1959 and a week later my life changed dramatically as we headed for Marine Boot Camp in Parris Island, South Carolina.