My elementary school years hold
fond memories still cherished. I learned much, with a reach always
exceeding my grasp, gaining the respect of my teachers, who publicly
gushed over my progress. I made a few real friends, but since my
parents kept my siblings and I on a tight leash, these friendships
weren't secured by the bonds that cement a lot of childhood kinships.
For the most part, "life at school" ended with the three
o clock bell. It was a short walk but a long journey home. At home,
we inhabited an isolated, completely different world, with many
rules and boundries which weren't to be broken, and Mother, always
involved in multiple "projects" for the PTA and in the
home, constructed a "progress board" out of construction
paper which held a place of honor on our kitchen wall above the
dining table. This board was inspired by our family's love of the
sport of baseball. Each child had a section, with a cartoon representing
us as a "ballplayer". If we were "good", the
ballplayer hit a "home run". If our behavior for the day
seemed problematical from my mother's viewpoint, we got a "foul
ball". Misbehaving, which also would result in having to be
disciplined with the "spanking stick", a 1/4" dowel
about three feet long my mother always had at the ready, would result
in the "strike out." When Father arrived home from work,
a "foul ball" would initiate harsh words from the head
of the household, and a "strike out" would gaiin the unlucky
child a spanking from him as well as the earlier disciplinary action
from my mother. Fear would grip the child whose behavior resulted
in anything other than a "home run". Diplomatic negotiation,
pleading, begging, and temper tantrums, might goad our mother into
changing our status before Dad opened the front door.
I grew up and grew more aware of the world outside the front gate,
I began to relish my walks around the perimeter of the Shirpser
School playground. Some afternoons at school, after lunch, I would
begin a "tour" of the back yards of the homes and businesses
ringing the playground, walking slowly around the schoolground,
noticing the differences in each yard, cleanly separated by the
fences which enclosed them. Each backyard seemed to tell it's own
story, and my imagination would swell with the details of the unknown
lives of the people who lived in these spaces. Each moment away
from the home was a moment on my own, immersed in my own individual
thoughts and dreams. Someday I would grow up and own a home, with
a back yard much like the back yards surrounding the perimeter of
the school. I could gaze into my own future, and think about the
times when I would be able to escape the tightly tied apronstrings
of my mother.
lazy afternoon durning the summer of 1965, bridging my graduation
from childhood, with the anticipation of junior high and young adulthood
on the horizon, I lay spread out under the apricot tree in our backyard,
watching the clouds gather and pass overhead. For some moments,
time seemed as if to slow and almost crawl to a stop. The garden
sounds of birds and insects, and the low grumbling of traffic in
the distance seemed to soften and disappear. I had the first of
what would become many life affirming epiphanies, in which the unheard
voice of the Universe informed me of my place in the overall scheme
of existence. I knew that the scant twelve summers I had experienced
were each special and significant, and was given the realization
that with many succeeding summers in my future, I should cherish
this moment above all, and remember the experience of childhood,
which would never be repeated. This epiphany that afternoon gave
me renewed insight and understanding. Unlike a lot of children about
to enter the uneasy hormonal imbalance of their preteen years, I
knew for certain that I had a purpose for my life and a reason for
living. It wasn't yet revealed as to what this purpose might be,
but the existence of the purpose was quite enough to encounter at
this point in my life.
soon as summer ended, the first of many abrupt changes in my young
life was about to occur. Shirpser School was only two blocks from
our house. I would attend junior high at Gidley School, about three
miles north of our neighborhood. I had never needed to ride the
school bus before, but now I had the chance of either riding the
bus, or walking the seeming long distance to the new school, opening
another world of discovery and possibility. There was a railroad
running north through the backs of the industrialized area north
of our street, and I could follow the tracks right to the back of
Gidley's schoolyard. Sometimes I would ride the bus, but most of
the time, I would leave the house early, and walk up the railroad
tracks to school.
this day, I feel something wonderful and indescribable in the pit
of my stomach when I see a schoolyard. Southern California schools
in the early and mid 60s were built open, with multiple single story
buildings, consisting of about four or five classrooms each. The
doors are lined up on one side of the building, along by which runs
the outside "hall", a covered walkway. On the other side
is a wall of glass windows. Usually, the classrooms are clustered
in rows, and there is an auditorium and cafeteria on one end, and
the vast expanse of the playground on the other. There is a large
square patch of macadam filled with basketball and handball courts,
then the baseball diamond, and an area of grass striped for football.
California is blessed with moderate weather almost year round, so
there are outdoor eating areas, with dozens of benches and "picnic
tables" arranged under canopies. Even when attending my first
year at Garvanza school for the first grade, I can lucidly remember
this remarkable feeling upon encountering the campus for the fist
time. The feeling followed me to Gidley School, along the railroad
tracks as I walked forward into my future as a young adult. As the
mile markers passed, so did my seeming tightly bound connection
with my mother. In Junior High, I was about to be "on my own"
actually, for the very first time in my young life.
first though fourth grades, I had one teacher every year, and she
was usaually an elderly lady. In fifth grade, I had a "homeroom
teacher" and would attend class with a different teacher for
math and science. This scenario was repeated in sixth grade. Gidley
was a K-8 school, and the seventh and eighth grades, which made
up "junior high" followed multiple class schedules. My
"home room" in seventh grade was with Mr. Gardner, and
I had different teachers in different classrooms for social studies
and for math and science. Mr. Warren, a somewhat bombastic blowhard
with low hygiene who was given to reading the teacher's instructions
in his textbooks to his classes, taught social studies. Mr. Aberle
taught math and science. Although a few students from Shirpser attended
junior high at Gidley alongside me, I lived in the northernmost
part of the neighborhood, and most of the kids I knew in elementary
school went to another junior high farther south of town. Entering
junior high for me was to begin a new phase, with an entirely new
set of friends.
enjoyed having male teachers. Mr. Gardner taught creative writing
as part of English studies, and in this subject I found a calling,
filling notebook after notebook with writing assignments and poetry.
Mr. Gardner introduced the thesaurus to the class, a reference book
which opened up vistas of synonyms, antonyms, and foreign phrases.
In academic studies, as in elementary school, I remained at the
top of the class, and endeared myself to my teachers with extra
credit writing assignments. I fell in love with Susan, a tall unattainable
"popular" girl, and because of my pursuit of her, I got
to know the more popular guys in the seventh grade, who liked to
ridicule short academic types like me, stuffing me in trash cans
whenever the opportunity arose.
elementary school, junior high was more like a small microcosm of
society. Some kids grew into puberty more graciously than others.
Some were tall and clumsy. Some, like me, remained short and underdeveloped.
The good tidings of skipping kidnergarten in the early part of my
educational upbringing developed into the bad news that I was a
half year behind everyone else in age, so it was going to be some
time before I "grew up" if in fact, this was to happen.
My father was only 5 and a half feet tall, and he towered over my
mother. In junior high, I began to get the picture that my parents,
who always "seemed" tall to me, had passed to me their
"short genes", so besides the inconvenience of wearing
glasses and braces, I was always picked to stand in the front in
group photos, because I was the second shortest person in my class.
At least I wasn't the shortest. This gave me someone to "kick
around" myself if I wanted. Although I struck up unlikely relationships
with the miscreants and losers in the school, while secretly aspiring
to become one of the gang of popular kids, who were wont to lump
me in with the outcasts.
after school began, I began to hang out with a group of kids which
would become my social peers for most of the next two years. A guy
named Steve became my best friend, and his buddies Ron and Rick
were part of the gang. We also had a few girls in the group: Judy,
Susan, and Criss. Steve and I shared an interest in automobiles,
and we each "designed" cars for our own respective "car
companies.". I built model cars, and found that this hobby
helped to bring me into this group of friends, who knew each other
in the sixth grade. Rick and I traded car magazines like Road and
Track and Cartoons. Since I was finally allowed a modicum of freedom
in junior high, my parents allowed me to accompany my new friends
to their houses after school, and I developed a rather healthy social
life with my "gang."
won the first "award" ever given to me for "first
place" in a poster contest for the school dance program, which
was held on Friday nights. While designing the poster, I got interested
in the idea of the dance classes, and asked my father and mother
if it would be okay to attend the dance classes, after which the
students were allowed to socialize, with dancing, punch, and refreshments.
My father would pick up another school mate, Sonia, and drive us
to the school, dropping us off, and then picking us up a couple
of hours later. Sonia was a skinny girl "from the wrong side
of the tracks" and I didn't socialize much with her, but when
I got to the school, I would join Steve, Ron, and Rick, and after
we were taught a bit of the waltz, the two step, or the black bottom,
we would hang out as a clique, and dance with our distaff members.
I began to develop a crush on Criss, a robust, dark haired girl
who already had the largest breasts in class. At one dance, I borrowed
Ron's St. Christopher medal, and offered it to Criss to "go
steady". I and Criss shared a kiss, my very first, and we spent
a lot of free time together.
remember "free rules football games" during recesses,
and had to suffer the humiliation which arose from having some of
the "bullies" play "keep away" with me. In eighth
grade, my mother had bought me some new shirts which had "dickeys"
or false turtlenecks. It didn't take long before the bullies were
pulling my dickies off of my head and throwing them around. I grew
a little physically in the eighth grade, but not enough to give
up my position as second shortest person in the class. I had my
share of good and bad times, but when it came to my studies, I received
high marks and great citizenship scores. I adapted quite well to
taking multiple classes, and knew I was going to really like high
school. My strengths were in English and social studies. I didn't
do that well in math and science, but still received A's and B's.
eighth grade, my 7th grade English teacher, Mr. Gardner, wanted
to stage a school wide play, and he picked Tom Sawyer. His conceipt
was to stage the play with modern rock and roll music as themes
for the characters and actions. I was happy to be included in the
company, but disappointed in the character he chose for me to play,
Sidney Sawyer, Tom's insufferable younger brother, who is always
screaming "Aunt Polly" and getting pies and cakes thrown
at him in the movie. My "theme" was to be the Beatle's
"Nowhere Man". I think I still have negative feelings
concerning this decision by my favorite teacher, and it is probably
good that the school didn't have the budget to stage the play and
cancelled the performance before we even got to the second rehearsal.
home, my brother and I could be found on Saturday afternoons around
the table in my mom's 'sewing room' illustrating and writing magazines.
I had a car magazine, and my brother had a horror magazine. We stapled
our creations together, and shared them with our friends at school.
I began making "collages' using images cut out of old magazines,
like Life, Look, and The Saturday Evening Post. At the same time,
I read the articles in these magazines, obtained from my mother's
PTA cronies, and began to develop a grasp of local and world events.
During 1967, our family went on our first trip to Disneyland, located
in Anaheim, a short freeway ride from home. Dad was a member of
the Teamster's Union, and his Union would "rent" Disneyland
for one night each year, and Union members and their families would
be able to go on the rides without having to buy tickets. We started
a tradition of going to Disneyland each year, and it wasn't until
I went to Disneyland for Senior Ditch Day in high school that I
ever had to purchase the "E" tickets to get on the rides.
On Union Night, there were hardly any crowds, either, so I got to
know the park in a decidedly different sort of atmosphere than most
years after stepping into the schoolyard of Gidley for the first
time, I stepped out of it, as a graduate, with a new suit and a
diploma. During these two years, my home life took a rear seat to
my school life, with it's new social circuit, and increasing cadre
of friends and acquaintences. A couple of the school "bullies",
when signing my autograph book prior to graduation, congratulated
me on being such a good sport when it came to their shenanigans.
I didn't suffer a lot of the angst associated with being a preteen.
If there was any angst, it quickly worked itself out in the many
poems I wrote in my notebook. I had to break up with Criss, as we
were going to attend different high schools, but we were really
just good friends and not that romantically linked. I said goodby
to Steve, Ron, Rick, Criss, Judy, and Susan. Again I found myself
in a situation where most of my friends would go to Arroyo HIgh
School in North El Monte, but I would be going to Rosemead High,
a long way to the west, separated again from the students with whom
I associated. I looked at this next move with great anticipation.
World events, and especially those playing out in the States as
a result of the anti war sentiments shared amongst most college
students and the momentum of theyouth movement which would shepherd
in a goup of people known as hippies, were at their most volatile
and uneasy than at any time in my short life. The times were exciting,
scary, and full of both dread and optimism. Much like experience
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