Unlike my father, I don't remember being born. He tends to exaggerate at times. I do remember, however, bits and pieces of my subsequent years. Therefore, I'll start with them. I was born in Washington, D.C. on May 17, 1940. My Aunt Florence once told me that, on that day, she "Went to the zoo and saw you" (me). That's how my arrival was remembered by my Aunt at least.
I was born as the son of John Joseph Lacombe and Marian Alice (Wormser) Lacombe. My father told me that he named me John Joseph Lacombe II, in spite of the nurse's protestations. She contended that I had to be a Junior to which my father proclaimed that, "He's my son and I'll name him anything I want to!". I don't remember it but my parents took me to New York State and Kansas to show me off to all of my grandparents. While at my grandparents' farm in Kansas (when about 18 months old), I have been told that I slipped down the stairs and out into the November snow and had a ball.
As my mother brought me home in a stroller from the grocery store one day, one of my mother's neighbors started laughing. My mother inquired as to what she was laughing about. The lady replied that I had been taking eggs from the egg crate and dropping them on the sidewalk as my Mother pushed me along. A vivid memory from my very early childhood is a toy I played with--probably in my playpen. It was a large plastic ball filled with water with multi-colored and multi-shaped items that swirled as I rolled it.
Several years after I was born, my brother James Michael Lacombe was brought home. I was curious about this intruder into my home. All of the sudden there was a hamper full of dirty diapers--he was a messy kid. Anyway, life went on and it was nice to have a little brother around. That's about the only thing I remember of him in D.C. My brother Gerald Thomas Lacombe was born while we lived in D.C. several years later but I don't remember anything about him at the time. I do remember my mother using the bassinet to give my brothers their baths.
We had lived on Pennsylvania Avenue in Southeast and somewhere on 17th Street Northwest prior to our moving to 222 Anacostia Road in Southeast Washington. We lived at the very end of a series of four units attached homes. The lower half was made of brick and the upper half of the two floors had wood siding. I remember being fed by my mother while I sat in a highchair. I hated sitting in that chair. As I grew older, my father built a sandbox in the closet on the bottom floor. I loved that place. It was my own special place where I could close the door after turning on the light and perform magnificent feats with my shovel and pail. I had a metal crank toy that would conveyor little pails of sand up to the top and dump them.
There was a game I used to play with my father. While he sat in his easy chair, I would walk by him and he would grab me and tickle me. I struggled furiously to get loose. Finally, I would succeed only to repeat the process--all the while pretending that I didn't want to be caught.
Sometimes my father would set up a movie projector outside and show cartoons and slapstick movies to us and the other kids in the neighborhood. They had no sound but they were mystical to us, especially outside in the nighttime. I probably can't remember much of my mother at that time because she probably was busy with my little brother Jim or, more likely, I was out playing somewhere. I do, however, remember her making breakfast but oddly enough, can't remember other meals. Sometimes mom would take us to the bakery on Pennsylvania Avenue which had an electric eye door and I would walk back and forth to make the doors open repeatedly. Sometimes she would take us to a store (probably a shoe store) where they had a fluoroscope. I would step up and insert my feet to look and see how the bones and surrounding tissue of the foot fit inside my shoes. I've sometimes wondered how many people subsequently got cancer from repeated exposure to the radiation.
My father was the neighborhood air raid warden in the first several years of the war. I knew little about the war that was being fought abroad. When the sirens went off, he would put on his white helmet and climb up the telephone pole on the hill and pull the light switch for the neighborhood off. I also remember that blackout shades for the windows had to be installed. I remember the stereotyped cartoons of Japanese "Jap" soldiers in the papers. They had thick glasses and buck teeth. It amazed me, many years later, while looking through a book depicting Japanese pilots, that they were not unattractive people. At least, they didn't all have thick glasses and buck teeth.
My father went to into the Army but I don't remember his leaving. I know that I missed him and that I was excited me to see him when he would come home on leave. He looked great in his olive green uniform. On one of his leaves, he brought me a toy gun made out of wood with several lightning bolts painted on the side. It had a handle that would cause a rachety sound when turned. I knew nothing of where he was or where he was going. I remember the time my mother took me to Fort Belvoir in Virginia to see him, the smell of the coal smoke there and that it was dark when we left. One of my father's Army buddies gave my mom some sheets that he had evidently expropriated from the base as we left.
At home, we did our part, by doing such things as smashing tin cans and putting them under the porch. Someone would come by and collect them for the war effort. Who knows where the metal wound up. My mother wrote dad that she wanted to make sandwiches for us but the grocery store was out of bread. I also remember my mother having to use coupons to purchase items at the store. It must have been about this period that my pleading got me something I really wanted badly. It was an aviator's leather headgear with aviator goggles. I must have worn it out.
My next impressions are, like those of every other child, the memories of going to school. I started my kindergarten at the age of six and the sessions were only half a day because of overcrowding. School was only several blocks away at Kimball Elementary on Minnesota Avenue. It's hard to believe that I actually skipped to school. Often, several girls would wait outside and yell to my Mother that they wanted Johnny to come outside and go to school with them. I would skip along with them. There was a muddy pond near the school in which there were tadpoles galore. Often I would bring a number of them in a jar to watch their mystical transformation into frogs.
At Christmas time, my mother would take me downtown to watch the magic of the department store windows. The windows were decorated in winter scenes with mechanical figures skating on ice covered ponds and model trains running throughout the wintry scenes. I found out that there wasn't a Santa Claus one Christmas Eve while spying on my parents putting presents under the Christmas Tree from upstairs. I also found out that the Easter Bunny was bogus by hiding behind our sofa in the living room. I awaited his entry through the door to no avail.
Often, my Aunt Margaret would take me to see such movies as the Wizard of Oz and I remember skipping along afterwards singing "We are off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz..." My Aunt always had me doing things that would improve my mind such as drawing or painting and reading. Some would question the results.
When I was around three years old, I entered into a neighbor girl's bedroom for the first time. She had a toy doctor's kit and instinct led us into taking off all of our clothes--in the interest of science of course. We knew that it was wrong because I had taken a safety pin and hooked it on the door latch to prevent entry. As we checked each other out, her mother asked what we were doing and she started rattling the door. The rest is a mystery to me--a total blackout. I found myself outside fully clothed but have no idea of how I came to be there. It must have been awfully frightening to me.
My mother, of course, would read to me and I remember how it put me to sleep. She had a beautiful voice and I wish that I could hear it again. Every evening my father would recite the story of
Once there was a little boy who wouldn't say his prayers And when he went to bed at night a'way upstairs His mother heard him holler and his father heard him yell But when they pulled the covers down he wasn't there at all The Bogey Man will get you if you don't Watch Out!
At the end of the last line my father would grab me and tickle me and I always knew it was coming.
I could be a troublesome kid. To paraphrase my teacher's comments to my mother in my first grade report card, I was an intelligent child. She went on, however, to say that I was extremely active and that I was often a disruptive influence on the class. After some admonishment by my mother, my behavior improved, however, as well as my learning habits. I still have the report card to prove it. I once hit a golfball through our living room window. There was a kid several houses away named Davy Penn who was about two years older than me and kept picking on me. I finally got tired of it, picked up a brick and slugged him right in the side of head. He dropped like a rock! After he recovered, he ran home crying to his mother who came over and indignantly complained to my mother. I think my mother was happy about the situation because she told her off. You know something, he never bothered me again.
My father was in a bowling league at an alley in Greenwood Shopping Center. I would watch him bowl and periodically make the rounds of the popcorn machines, hoping I would find some excess popcorn. At the end of the evening, as the pins were reset for the night, I would walk across the alleys throwing balls down as many alleys as I could. I also remember the pin setters (mostly black) and marveled at their prowess at handling several alleys at a time. Most of the pin setters had fingers that were bent in such a way that they could pick up at least four pins with one hand. They must have been setting pins since they were kids. After a game, coins were rolled down the alley to them. Al Jolson's brother had a drugstore in the shopping center. I once lifted a cigar from the drugstore only to turn green after smoking part of it in some nearby woods. I stupidly had started the same woods on fire at a later date. My Halloween privileges taken away from me--I had been looking forward to wearing my clown outfit, too. I also had taken an ice cream from Jolson's and I believe that I was caught once but I received only an admonishment. That was the end of that crime spree.
Once, a car hit me while crossing Minnesota Avenue--throwing me all the way onto the sidewalk. I had been walking across the street towards Jolson's store to buy something at the soda fountain. At the age of six, it seemed like forever trying to cross the avenue. Anyhow, all of my pennies had been scattered in the middle of the road and I got up and started picking them up as cars whizzed by. A lady from the Red Cross stopped her vehicle and forced me out of the road but I believe that I had recovered my money already. I continued on to the drugstore for my treat. Another time I had been playing in a water puddle from the rain in the same woods I had set on fire. I cut my foot very deep and bled quite a bit and for for some time my mother would make me soak my foot in water with Epson salts in it. I still have a noticeable scar from the time that I fell against the sharp corner of our stairway banister post.
I invited my class to the Navy Yard for a tour by my father. I believe that this was while I was in the fourth grade. It was something I was really excited about, although fate stepped in--somehow I had managed to wind up with a swollen nose from poison oak that embarrassed me to no end. I felt as if my nose was bigger than my head. That wasn't the only time my nose destroyed my life. I had been awarded the singing role as Professor Sporfzando in the a sixth grade musical--the Crazy Operetta. It was the lead role! Prior to my performance, however, I again had contracted poison oak in my nose. I had been sniffing for sassafras root in the nearby woods. I sat in my classroom alone crying while listening to a usurper sing my role over the public address system. Later in life (as a teenager), I inquired to my mother about my nose fitting my face to which she replied, "It has a lot of character" to my chagrin.
All of the neighborhood kids would gather at a girl's house down about nine houses for the big event every weekday afternoon. The event was the Howdy Doody show. There was a large magnifying glass suspended on a stand to make the small screen look larger. Television was new at the time and the sets all had small screens--I've seen them as small as at inch in diameter. Sometimes, plastic sheets would be affixed to the screens with a blue tint at the top and red at the bottom to simulate a color picture--wow!
Even though the school was only several blocks away, our parents could buy bus tickets at a discount to ride D.C. Transit. Often, I would take the bus home. As a kid in the city, I could get pretty much anywhere that I wanted to without much trouble. I think that the city exposes you to such a wider variety of activities than would be available elsewhere and you pick up some skills necessary to the urban life. On the other hand, country kids are probably more self sufficient in other ways. My Aunt Florence was amazed to find me riding a bus by myself as she looked out of her bus window as we passed. Unfortunately, I was on the wrong bus and immediately ran to the operator and asked for a transfer and hopped off to get the right bus. My Aunt informed my mother about it that upset my mother. I soon arrived home to ease my mother's mind.
I probably was coming home from the Boys Club at 17th and Massachusetts in Southeast. I was given a brownish-orange plastic membership card with my name imprinted in it when I joined the Club. This gave me entrance to every indoor childhood recreational activity you can think of. The building was built of brick with three floors. My favorite thing to do was to go to the swimming pool downstairs. Something I haven't figured out to this day is the fact that we had to go swimming in the au naturelle. Maybe there were some perverts running the Boys Club, but I doubt it. There just doesn't seem to be any natural explanation of why they would have made us go swimming naked. Naturally, all of us were boys but they also had a day for girls. I was told that they wore their bathing suits. I couldn't understand was why some boys' you-no-whats were different than others. I never asked why. I hadn't heard of being circumcised. Other favorite activities included shooting pool and playing table hockey.
My parents agreed to let me take music lessons at the Club and my choice was between a Hawaiian guitar and a violin. I chose the latter (probably to my parents chagrin). My music instructor was Mr. Clark who was stern. I had learned Mary had a little lamb and I was allowed to perform this masterpiece at a recital on stage at the Club. After my marvelous performance I kept coming out and bowing--over and over again. I quit taking lessons from Mr. Clark several years later after he bawled me out for not practicing enough.
Sometimes, I would run all of the way to the Boys Club. I would run until my side started hurting and then start walking. It was quite a distance (about four or five miles) away from my home. On the way, I would pass my elementary school, Fort Dupont Park, and run down Pennsylvania Avenue across the John Philip Souza Bridge and pass the nearby cemetery where he rests. Our finest marching songs were composed by Souza.
Every Saturday the local kids would go to the movie matinee at one of three theaters. To get enough money for the matinee we would wait outside of the grocery store and offer to carry groceries to customers' cars or apartments. Sometimes they would pay me as much as a quarter but more usually a nickel or a dime. It wouldn't take long to get the 20 cents necessary for entrance and 13 cents for three large candy bars at Peoples Drug Store as well as enough for a box of popcorn and candy at the movie theater. My favorite candies included JuJy Fruits, JuJuBees, Sky Bars, Hershey Bars, Masons Dots, Charms and gum drops. The JuJy Fruits were often used as ammunition by others at helpless targets up front. Being in the front of a matinee audience was a dangerous place to be.
The matinee itself would consist of two movies featuring such actors as Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Johnny Mack Brown, Lash LaRue (used the bull whip instead of the six gun), Ken Maynard and Randolph Scott as cowboys. Randolph Scott must have worn the same leather coat in just about every movie he made--you can see it age with each successive movie. There were also the horror movies with Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney, Jr. The most often shown comedy movies were with Bud Abbott and Lou Costello. A serial would be shown along with the cartoons. Sometimes the theater would even offer a bonus such as a comic book. All that for 20 cents!
It probably was about the same time that I "watched" the Lone Ranger on the radio. I would sit excitedly staring at the radio as the theme music came on--always munching on my dry Cheerios. The announcer would say, "Come with us now into the pages of the thrilling days of yesteryear with the Lone Ranger and his trusty companion Tonto and the thundering hoofs of the great white horse Silver and a hearty Hi Ho Silver." I would listen intently until someone would say, "Who was that masked man?" Someone would inevitably answer, "The Lone Ranger" as the Lone Ranger said, "Hi Ho Silver, Away." Other shows included the Green Hornet, the Shadow, and Captain Midnight. Radio let you use your own imagination.
Spin-offs of these shows were the "box top premiums" offered by them. I must have sent away for every one of them by sending in a box top (from such products as Cheerios or Wheaties) or something from an Ovaltine jar along with about 50 cents. The next day and for the next three weeks thereafter, I would run to the door everytime the mailman came in hopes of finding a small little box including my premium rings or secret decoders. There was a ring that looked like a rocket that you would take the end off of to watch glimmers inside (in the closet of course). Another ring (I believe the Roy Rogers ring) that had a little pistol sitting atop it that would spark when the hammer was flicked. A spy ring included a magnifying glass, a secret seal and of course had a part of it that glowed in the dark. Additionally, there was a ring that was shaped like a telescope through which you viewed a small strip of film. Finally, there was the Captain Midnight decoder badge to unscramble messages from the Captain Midnight radio show. All of these premiums were treated as treasures and were made mostly from metal (not cheap plastic). They are still treasured today by collectors.
I had a friend in some apartments nearby named Jackie Zaner. We used to go to his apartment where his parents had a wire recorder--something rare for the times. It was amazing to hear my voice for the first time as it is with everyone else. There was always a little distance between us, however, and I now understand why. He was Jewish and there was a lot of discrimination against Jews at the time--restricted hotels, clubs and beaches and so forth. The restrictions were something I didn't know of at the time and it's still hard to believe it happened even today. I probably would have been tentative about someone who wasn't Jewish too, considering the discrimination that existed.
Some of the neighborhood activities included flipping cards whereby we would flip a trading card and try to land it on the other kids card or see how close you could toss the card towards the curb. It was a great feeling to come home with more cards than you left with. They were great treasures as were marbles won in combat. Sometimes we would pitch pennies at the curb to see who came closest.
A real treat for me was to get on the bus and ride over to the Navy Yard where my father worked. I'd get to play with the typewriters and mechanical calculators. Afterwards, he would take me down to the Anacostia Flats where he would play softball with his fellow workers. I remember how he could hit and was quick around the bases.
Back in the old days, as they say, children usually had their tonsils removed after several sore throats. The doctor would say something like "Those tonsils are swollen and should come out." Well, they did along with my adenoids at an Anacostia clinic. I still remember the gas mask and the sickening smell of the gas as my mind slid down a dark hallway. When I awoke, my father had brought me a brand new shiny cap pistol (not the cheap things they make today)! When I arrived home, my mother had made homemade ice cream (I believe it was strawberry). Too bad I didn't have more tonsils. I wanted to take my tonsils home with me and they were put in a glass jar that stayed in my personal closet (the one with the sandbox) for quite a while. They looked like whitish brussel sprouts. Maybe, that's why I can't eat the things today.
We use to go to church at St. Xavier's Catholic Church on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. A big stepping stone in my life was my first communion. It really made a big impression on me. My parents bought me a little white shirt with a white tie and a little white shirt. The girls were all wearing white dresses and I believe even the Bibles we carried were white. A photograph was taken of everyone out on the church steps. Really big event for a little kid.
Sometimes I would go down to the railroad tracks over by the Greenway Shopping Center and hop a freight car along with some other kids. Every now and then, I hear on the news that some kid had an accident while doing the same thing.
Evidently my parents had been saving their money because soon I had to say good-bye to the city and hello to the suburbs when I was nine years old. I remember riding in the moving truck my father had rented before Christmas. Riding along with me was a long, narrow and waist high cardboard box. That box held a lot of anticipation for me that overwhelmed my sorrow at leaving my old friends. I sneakingly (or just accidentally) tore a hole in the side of it and just happened to be able to see the bright red of a bicycle. All of my wildest dreams were fulfilled. My new home would be a great place to be wherever it was.
We arrived at our new home at 4108 70th Avenue in Landover Hills. I remember the woods at the end of the street that held immense promise for my future. My mother was to later tell me that those woods kept us from freezing that winter because they provided fuel for our coal furnace. She said that we had been woefully short of funds after moving into the house that winter. The house was set on a hill and was the highest house in the whole area. It was a two-story wood frame house with three bedrooms and a basement. I looked around for kids to play with and it didn't take long. The neighbor kids were tentative at first, as was I, but it didn't take long to make friends.
Probably the first thing that I did when we moved was to explore my new home. It had three bedrooms on the second floor and mine was to the front of the house overlooking Beale Street that ran straight into 70th Avenue (our street) just in front of our house. The first floor had the living and dining rooms and kitchen. I'm sure my father was happy to have a basement to work in.
My next priority would have been to scout out the woods following my introduction to my new found friends. They were formidable and went on for some distance. In subsequent explorations, I was to find that there was an old adobe house that must have been way over a hundred years old. There was a creek to follow and search for salamanders underneath rocks and other cover. A salamander, frog or turtle was a prize to return home with after a hard day of play.
I don't remember that Christmas or how my bicycle was presented to me but it's not relevant anyway. I do remember, however, the first time I went to ride it. I got on board with great expectations. They were soon dashed as I rode down the hill in our yard and promptly had a crash with a kid on another bicycle. It happened just in front of our house! My heart was crushed. The bicycle wasn't crunched or anything but the paint was scratched and that is a very sad memory of mine.
I had made friends with Greg Beers and Billy Fox who were to become my closest friends. In later years, Greg Beers moved to Alabama and was elected to the State legislature with talk of him running for governor. Billy Fox was killed in an accident quite a few years later after I had moved from Landover Hills. When I was with Greg, we would talk about Billy and when I was with Billy, we would talk about Greg. I'm sure they did the same with me.
We had an inventive group of kids in our neighborhood. We used to stage western movies (with a wooden camera). Our productions were called Knicker Bocker Liquor Locker Productions and were really fun. We'd build a saloon out of old crates and make up the dialog as we went along. We even had swinging saloon doors. Much of our time was spent in water mains which ran all over various neighborhoods. We'd take lanterns from the local construction companies and put them in the junctions. Many a hot day was made more bearable by spending our time there. There were sand pits around the area and our yards had soil that was basically sand. We would dig long ditches to crawl in and then cover them with wood and tar paper that we also "borrowed" from local construction companies. We also had big rooms throughout these tunnels in which we stored lanterns and reading material (comic books). No one ever knew we were down underground and we spent many happy hours that way.
One of the kids, Jackie Corkhill (who eventually became an architect), was the leader in designing a tree house in the local woods in the biggest tree we could find. It was built about 60 feet up and had two stories with windows and even a patio. It was solid because it was made from good materials also "borrowed" from local construction companies. The siding was made of corrugated metal. Two climb to the tree house we had to carefully use boards nailed into the tree. Once while climbing, I dropped about 60 feet but luckily there had been placed a pile of used Christmas trees at the bottom where I fell. If was amazing that I didn't kill myself. In these same woods, we would climb to the top of a large tree and have someone chop it down as we would crawl around to the opposite side from the fall. The branches would break the impact. That was a very foolish thing to do but if parents only knew what kids can get in to they would surely go crazy.
My schooling resumed in the middle of the fourth grade at Landover Hills Elementary School. It was a nice school and one of my fellow students I remember was Jimmy Lindsay who always received straight A's to my envy. He subsequently became head of the metropolitan area U.S. Park Police. He had been a military brat and had been held back a year because of his frequent moves and I believe that helped him in his studies as he was more mature than the rest of us. We became very good friends.
Naturally, lunch-time in the cafeteria at school stands out in my mind. They had great "butter-ball" cookies--a round confection with nuts and covered with powdered sugar. I'd manage to make a second trip to the serving line to get an extra. I also did the same for French bread that I loved but they'd only let me have two slices.
I joined the Patrol Boys and was given a patrol boy belt and a shiny badge. They would give me a post to watch over while kids crossed the street and I would hold my hands out to hold them back and then turn sideways with one arm pointing in the direction to walk while motioning forward with my other arm. There would be inspections to make sure that our badges were shiny and our belts were white. I'd wash my belt with a toothbrush and soap before throwing it into the washing machine. I was incredibly proud of my status and worked hard at it. I was later promoted to lieutenant and the badge and a red center to it.
One summer I went to a patrol boy summer camp at Fort Bevoir--where my father had been stationed! We went on a long hike into the woods there. The base still had the smell of coal I remembered from my visit to see my father during the war.
We went swimming in a pool of water under a waterfall and one of the boys was bitten by a harmless snake while in the water. This set the stage for events that would prove scary that might. We sat around a campfire that night and were told about liugi's (there is no such word but that's how it's pronounced) that were wild pigs with long fangs that they used to suck your blood. While the story was being told, a tree limb above us shook and someone shouted liugi. One of the kids below had something resembling blood all over the top of his head. I was scared to death. I don't know if they had a rope attached to a tree limb or an acorn or catsup caused the "blood" (probably the latter) but it had the desired effect. That night I kept looking around the woods looking for liugi's while wrapped in an old Army blanket. Finally, I went to sleep only to find myself next to a water moccasin hole at water's edge after rolling fitfully throughout my sleep.
Another night, we were told that by looking through the sleeve of a raincoat as it was held towards the moon, one could see the moon better. I was one of the dummies who volunteered and promptly had ice water poured down the sleeve all over me!
Sometime later, my career came to an end tragically. I was at my post in front of the school where there wasn't any problem with traffic. Some kids were making fun of a girl who was overweight and she was distraught and in tears. I did the natural thing and left my post to walk her home and protect her from future embarrassment. I was called into the office of the teacher in charge of the patrol boys and told that I had left my post and was fired. He wouldn't even listen to what I had to say. Some people can be total idiots. That was another very sad moment in my life--all over something that should have been complemented rather than criticized. He could have warned me or just given me advice about what to do the next time something like that happened. I really felt bad at having to return my patrol boy belt.
I remember a girl from elementary school that I was walking with who told me that she had no sensation in one of her legs due to some burns she had received. It was hard for me to understand having no sensation that became particularly poignant in later years.
Several dogs came into my life during my elementary school days. I had found a samoyed and was crazy about it and had the feeling that someone had lost it. That, however, didn't keep me from believing it to be mine. I believe I named him Snowball. One day I made the mistake of letting him follow me to school and as luck would have it, one of the other kids was reunited with his dog. There wasn't much that I could do about it because it really wasn't mine. I had also found a beautiful furry brown dog I named Sparky. Sadly, he died of distemper.
During the sixth grade, it seemed like we spent more time outside of the classroom than in it. The school had a project to make the adjacent woods into a nature area with wide paths--we called them "elephant trails"--and locations marked by signs made with a wood burning tool. We spent day after day digging, clearing and carrying. It was at this time that another boy and I performed a very cruel act that I'm ashamed of to this day. We found a turtle and smashed it open to see what it looked like inside. I sure wish that we had never done such a thing.
Another incident that stands out in my mind is the time that I fell backwards off of a picnic table outside of the school. It knocked the wind out of me and instead of trying to inhale, I ran into the school trying to exhale instead. That was a terrible feeling.
From Landover Hills Elementary, I went into Bladensburg Junior High School about three to five miles away. I rode the school bus to and from school. This school was a whole different ballgame from elementary school. It was an old brick building with old wooden floors with different levels and different branches. This was to be my schooling for grades 7 through 9.
I fell in love with one of my teachers but can't remember her name. I cut my finger once and when she held my hand to put a bandage on it, it was pure heaven. I used to stay after class to wipe the blackboard for her. It broke my heart when she got married. I've since laughed at the same situation in an episode of the Little Rascals.
Along with my friend Jimmy Lindsay, we managed to wrangle positions as projectionists whereby we were able to get out of class and at the same time, get to spend time with the girls showing them home economics films in their class. Once, I was so enthralled at the girls, that I wasn't watching the projector as the bottom reel stopped turning and most of the reel of film wound up on the floor. Naturally, I was embarrassed. I also managed to become a hallway proctor whereby I could leave class early and go to class late. My duties entailed keeping kids from horsing around in the hallways, running and walking on the wrong side. I would take offenders and line them up against the wall until after the hallway cleared and then let them go.
I made me varsity volleyball team and I loved the sport. Unfortunately, we never won a single game. I'd stay after school for practice and then walk home, stopping by the Tastee Freeze for soft ice cream. I also was the member of an accordion band which sounded like a bunch of banshees. Especially terrible was Lady of Spain played by 20 or so instruments.
We had a crafts teacher who must have had some problems. She would leave her glasses or a pencil in her hair and then threaten to keep us in the room until the thief put the item back. Wow! One day a student called the assistant principle who was over 6 feet tall "Shorty" and the kid was promptly slammed against the wall and taken to the principle's office. At that time, the paddle was still a viable option.
My parents took me to my first prom and I remember dad giving me a whole $5 bill to take someone out to the Kresge's 5 and 10 cent store for a soda afterwards. That was a lot of money then. There was a Japanese style bridge in the center of the auditorium where we danced and I remember dancing to the Tennessee Waltz.
Instead of continuing in Bladensburg Junior High, I was transferred to a brand new school, Glenridge Junior High. That was a fun school to be at because everything was new and it really wasn't up to speed yet. The principal, Mr. Myles, was a great guy. I managed to get a job working in the cafeteria washing dishes to get a free lunch and as an added bonus, again, leave class early and return late. Once, Mr. Myles let the janitor drive three of us in his yellow Pontiac convertible downtown to purchase some records for a dance that was coming up. I really thought he was the greatest. He blew his top at me once, however, and fired me from working in the cafeteria. Sometimes the students would leave money on their trays as they were passed through an opening for us. On one particular occasion, someone had left about 75 cents. The fellow next to me--a huge Philippino--and I both went for the cash at the same time. A big wrestling match ensued and trays, dishes, and whatever went flying all over the place and out into the cafeteria making an incredible noise. Mr. Myles charged into the dishwashing area and pointed out with one of the reddest faces I had ever seen. He relented, however, after I pleaded with him a couple of days later.
I joined the track team and enjoyed going to various track competitions with the other area schools. We weren't the greatest but we weren't that bad either. Our track coach subsequently became the track and field coach at the University of Maryland.
He complemented me at our ninth grade prom. Everyone was dressed up and we were having fried chicken before the dance. Nobody seemed to know how to eat the fried chicken because they didn't want to look clumsy being all dressed up. I just picked the chicken up and started eating it. My coach got up from the teachers' table and came over to me and said, "I'm glad to see that someone around here knows how to eat fried chicken". After that, everyone started using their hands.
Throughout this period I had been serving newspapers in the morning. First, I served a tabloid called the Daily News in the Landover Hills area. Later I served the Times Herald (which later was bought out by the Washington Post) in the mornings in Woodlawn. Subsequent to that, I started delivering the Washington Star in Landover Estates which lasted for about five years. I came to hate that route. First of all, it was a rip-off by the newspaper. They had us solicit for nothing and deliver promotional freebies for nothing.
Some of the customers were the cheapest people you can imagine. It would take me about three to four weeks just to collect a month's subscription price from them. The husband would say his wife was shopping and had the checkbook and try tomorrow. I'd come back the next day and the wife would say her husband was out and had all of the money. That would happen over and over. On top of that, the papers got progressively heavier starting with Monday. Sundays were the worst and we even had to put the supplement in each individual newspaper (something that should have been done at the plant). Thursday wasn't much better. On Sundays I would ride my metal paper wagon down Shepherd Street early in the morning and spin it around and around making the biggest racket you can imagine. I probably had quite a few epithets hurled at me.
There were a few very nice people on my route however. One lady, whose daughter I had a crush on, would always ask me in for a soda and cookies as a nice respite. I used to leave love notes to her daughter in the paper from time to time and they must have had a lot of laughs out of that. The daughter's name was Sarah Echols and was a couple of years older than me. She must have been very astute because she steered me onto a girl my age whose last name was Zeller. As fate would have it, she played the viola and I the violin. We'd play duets together. A couple without children more or less adopted me and would ask me to mow their lawn or just come in and have something to drink. They liked having me around and I understood.
My big moment passed because of my naiveté. While collecting for the newspaper, an attractive lady came to the door in a see-through negligee and asked me to come in. She asked me to follow her into the bedroom where she had the money. Oh, if I had only understood. I still think of that moment from time to time. At about this time, Billy Fox and I decided to take a "step for mankind" and ride our bicycles down to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. We started off with our 3-speed English racers at about 10 in the morning. We really didn't know what we were getting into. It must have been at least 40 miles or so to the bridge. We pedaled on and on and after about 5 hours, we finally reached the bridge. We asked the toll-taker if she would sign something to prove we had done the feat. We were totally exhausted and hungry. We started back and the wind was blowing strongly against us. We only had 25 cents between us so we bought a small bag of potato chips and one hot dog and split them down the middle. We still were hungry though. We had to get off of our bicycles and actually push them into the wind on a downhill slope until we reached a wooded part of the trip which kept the wind down. We kept on going and kept getting closer and closer to home. However, a bunch of black youths ran out and started throwing rocks at us as we passed through a black community out in the sticks. We passed that hurdle and at about 7:30 p.m., probably in front of where I live now, my father found us and packed our bikes in the trunk and drove us the remaining 3 or 4 miles home. For me, however, that wasn't a relief. My newspaper manager was sitting in his truck in front of our house fuming. I had to ride around and deliver my papers to customers who had been complaining. Probably only a couple of them complained but I had made a great trip and was proud of myself. I was tired of the paper route and always thought the manager was giving me a dishonest count anyway.
After mentioning my newspaper routes, Walt Rogers comes to mind. He moved in next door to me and we became good friends. I can't remember when he moved in, however, but it's really of little consequence. We would sit in his room and read through Jane's fighting aircraft and such. Once we decided to tie a wire from his second story window to the fence across the road. We then took a large milk carton, then coated with paraffin, and put runners on it. Then we planned to set it on fire and create the illusion of a flying saucer as we let it go when a car came up the hill. Unfortunately, as the carton in full blaze descended the wire, we noticed that it was a police car. We panicked and broke the wire having the effect of dropping the flaming material right on the hood of the police car. You never saw anyone leap so many fences in so short a time as we did. We probably would have set a hurdles record.
Walt has since gone on to bigger and better things. Some people from the National Security Agency interviewed me one day asking about what he was like etc. That was a clearance for being a White House reporter. He later went on to be the Moscow correspondent for ABC and I've later seen him on CNN. He's excellent at his craft being informed and concise and altogether professional. Unfortunately, I've lost touch with him but I do know that after I had an accident in later years, he used to come over and mow our lawn which was really nice of him.
Last entry made July 16, 1996.
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