School Begins

I know that school is actually ending for the year, but this is a continuation of memories of my youth and includes when I started school. The previous installment is here.

In 1957 we moved East. Not to New Jersey (that came later), but to the east side of St. Paul. My parents bought a brand new house in a development on Wilson Avenue. It was still being built and my Dad used to bring the workers beer (liquor?) on Friday afternoons, so our house got special attention and was done first. We moved in after school was out, so that would make it 57 years ago (YIKES!). The land was very steep in that area so the house was one story in the front and two stories in the back, with a walk-out basement. My brother Bob and I has a room in the basement and the five (at the time) girls had rooms upstairs. This set a pattern that lasted most of the time we were at home, keeping us two boys away from all the women. It was a good plan! My sister Joni was born that fall, bringing the number of sisters up to six. We lived there for three years.

As I think back on this time in my life, it seems that my memories are all very visual. It occurred to me that this is probably the case because I couldn’t read yet. A lot of what I remember would be pretty hard for me to describe, so I’ll just hit some high points.

One day in the late summer of 1957, my Mom put me in the car and drove me a little ways from home and without warning dropped me off at this big building and told me I was now going to Kindergarten. I took issue with this and screamed my head off, so Mom had to come back and get me. They ended up putting me in a different class with some of my neighborhood friends so I calmed down and my school career began. Anyway that’s how I remember it. My Mom told me later that she had told me every day for three months that I was going to be starting school, but I guess I wasn’t paying attention. It happens.

In those days we spent all our days outside playing with what seemed like fifty kids in the neighborhood. There were at least twenty of varying ages since families were a lot bigger then. We played wiffle ball in the summer and there was a skating rink at the bottom of the hill that we used in the winter. I learned to ride a bike and how to climb around in the half-built houses. I suspect that the latter activity was done without the “grown-up’s” approval, but we have already determined that I wasn’t paying much attention to what they had to say. There were a number of reasons we were outside a lot, including the fact that the house was crowded with eight kids (see above) and in the summer there was no air conditioning.

It was an experience sharing a room with my brother who is six years older than me. I assume I was a bit of an annoyance most of the time, but we did do a lot of stuff together. He always had chemistry sets, short-wave radio stuff, Erector sets with motors, and all kinds of other interesting things that a five or six-year-old wouldn’t normally get to play with. One of my favorites was the lead soldier kit. We had a crucible that probably held about a cup that we would melt lead in. Then we would pour it into molds and make a few soldiers. We would make a “plank” using a wooden ruler stuck between some books and have the soldiers fight on it until one fell into the crucible and melted away. It is hard to believe that we had our faces stuck in lead fumes and this was considered good clean fun for children.

We also always had a dart board. One time my brother and one of his friends (Pat Whistle, I think) were playing with the darts in our room, throwing the darts backwards over their shoulders. I walked into the room at just the right (wrong?) time and a dart stuck in the side of my head. It just grabbed the skin a little so it hardly even bled, but I think Bob lost ten years off his life when he saw me with a dart stuck in my head!

Another thing I discovered at that point in my life was music – rock and roll in particular. My brother listened to a local station whose tagline was “Nighttime is the right time, To listen and enjoy KDWB…” (Listen here. The station is still on the air though now it is FM.) At first we had a crystal radio with earphones but then we must have had a larger one to listen to on speakers. Transistor radios didn’t show up until the 60s, so this was a tube radio. I have very distinct memories of certain songs: “El Paso” by Marty Robbins; “Running Bear” by Johnny Preston; “Blueberry Hill” by Fats Domino. In fact, I heard Blueberry Hill on Sirius Radio earlier today. But my absolute favorite was “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford. Since my Dad worked at 3M making magnetic tape, we always had a reel-to-reel tape recorder. We used to have a recording of me singing this song when I was about five. Imagine a little voice singing this verse:

If you see me comin’, better step aside
A lotta men didn’t, a lotta men died
I got one fist of iron, the other of steel
If the right one don’t a-get you
Then the left one will.

Here’s another version that’s a bit more recent.

In 1960 my mother gave birth to my brother Joey, but he was born with respiratory problems and didn’t live very long. He was buried at Fort Snelling in St.Paul. My father was buried next to him in 2006.

Also in 1960 my father was transferred to the 3M plant in Hutchinson MN about 80 miles west of St. Paul. But that’s another story…

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