When I was in the fifth grade at Eugene Field School, I met and made friends with Jim Tate, older brother of the wonderful girl who would later become the love of my life. Jim was a pretty rough boy, but had a sense of humor and happy outlook that made him fun to know.
We played kick ball, dodge ball, and marbles together. He usually brought a sack lunch to school, while I usually bought a weekly lunch ticket to eat in the school cafeteria. We ate many lunches together, and I often traded something from my food tray for a sandwich or dessert he had brought in his lunch sack.On two or three occasions I remember going to his house after school, and that’s where I first met my future bride. Of course, she was two years younger than me, so I don’t even remember noticing her on those visits.
I don’t remember much about the house they lived in. I don’t think young children pay much attention to that sort of thing, but I do recall that there seemed to be an awful lot of people in such a small house, and there seemed to be several running around it still in diapers.Jim and I were good friends that year, and I was sorry when school started the next year to discover that they had moved, and he had gone to another school clear across town.
I saw him two or three times over the next few years when our junior high football teams played against each other. We were on opposing teams, though, and didn’t have any time to visit. I played tight tackle for my team, and he was left blocker for his, which meant we almost played almost directly across from each other!I don’t recall why Eugene Field School wasn’t part of the School Boy Safety Patrol, those students who served as crossing guards before and after school, but it may have been because of the cost of the metal badges the national program provided.
Instead, our school started the “Field Rangers.” We performed crossing guard duty, each member being assigned a corner, and playground safety patrol. We wore the white canvas belt of the School Boy Patrol, but instead of having the badge, out shoulder strap had “Field Ranger” printed on it.I was a Field Ranger from the fifth through ninth grades, and had pretty well worn my belt out by the time I went to high school.
During those years, I worked at school crossings before and after school, during the lunch period, and spent most of my recesses patrolling playgrounds. In later years, though as I became involved in football and school plays, many of these duties had to be turned over to others, due to conflicts in my after school schedule.I played football for Field School in the seventh, eighth and ninth grades, and later played for Hannibal High School. One of the other junior high activities I enjoyed was being in several of the school plays.
Glee Club was fun, too, although I never was much of a singer. I made up for it by being loud! In those days, Field School used to show cartoons during the lunch hour, and many of us children enjoyed the break in the day to enjoy some laughter, particularly in the winder, when it was too cold to be outside. The school also had dances during the lunch hour for the older children. Music was played on a record player hooked up to the sound system in the auditorium.
Teachers were always available to teach some basic dance steps, and there were couples who danced, but I usually just watched. Coming from a strict Baptist family, dancing was frowned upon. So, I never felt comfortable on the dance floor. I did enjoy the music however, and the chance to check out the girls. : – )
My first fistfight was with Chester R. in the fifth grade. I had reported Chester for misbehaving on the playground one day, which caused him to get detention for three days after school. As a Field Ranger, I was just doing my duty, but Chester didn’t take it so impersonally. He approached me on the playground one day, after he had finished detention, and was mad as a hornet! He wanted to fight right there and then. But, since I was on duty and wearing my Field Ranger belt, he thought better of it when I told him he would just get more detention or be expelled.
So, Chester backed off. But, he made it a point to jeer me and goad me whenever he could. Although his actions bothered me, they didn’t spur me to action. One day after school, however, I was walking home with a girl who was in my class, and Chester suddenly appeared with some of his friends, and started jeering and goading me. When the girl I was walking with became upset, I told her to just ignore them, and we kept walking without replying or acknowledging Chester and his friends.
Well, the jeers turned to catcalls, and eventually led to inflammatory and vulgar remarks about the girl I was walking home. This embarrassed her and insulted both of us. That offended my sense of honor, and I knew that I had to protect the girl’s reputation by avenging the insults. I sent her on ahead, and turned to wait for Chester to approach me, alone. To my surprise, he didn’t. He and his friends were crossing the street in the other direction.
So, I caught up with the girl, and though we hardly spoke a word, I walked with her the rest of the way to her house. I felt the weight of my responsibility to defend her honor all that evening. And, when I got to school the next day, I discovered that al the kids had heard about what happened. This was humiliating!
During recess and lunch I sought out Chester. I finally located him in the cafeteria area during lunch, where he was trying to frighten younger kids into giving him their dessert. I told Chester that he owed the girl I was walking home an apology for the remarks he and his friends had made. He responded with a vulgarity, indicating that he had no intention of doing so.
I told him to meet me off school property when school got out, and we’d settle the matter right there and then. He agreed, adding an unnecessary vulgarity to his reply. I hadn’t been in a fist fight before, and I really didn’t know what to expect, but I don’t think I was able to concentrate at all on my afternoon studies.
When school was over, I gathered my homework and headed to the appointed spot with two or three friends. We arrived at the corner before Chester, so we waited for him to arrive. When finally we saw him coming, in a group of his friends, I nervously stepped into the street and waited. I thought we would talk first, and I planned to insist on apologies for the girl I was walking home the evening of this insults to her, and for myself, for the many unkind things he had said.
Was I surprised when he walked up to me, and without hesitation, swung a punch that split my lower lip and knocked me off my feet! Before I knew what had happened I was on my back in the gravel, wrestling with Chester on top of me!
Before I could regain my senses and get a grip on him to flip him over, Mrs. Shipps, our fifth grade teacher, was on the scene. She had heard about the plans for the fight from some of the other students, and had walked from the school to where we were scuffling. She angrily grabbed Chester by the ear and pulled him to his feet, loudly scolding him as she stood him up. She told him that she was going to be watching him, and that if he didn’t change his ways he was going to be suspended from school. She then told him to get on his way in one of those tones that let you know she meant what she said.
By then I was standing, not knowing what to expect next. I had just discovered that I was bleeding from a fat lip, and was trying to wipe the blood away so no one would see that Chester had gotten the best of me. But, no such luck. Mrs. Shipps inspected the wound, dabbing at it with a tissue, and made quite a fuss over it. She told me to go home and pout some ice on it, and that it would be fine. She admonished me not to take matters such as this into my own hands, but rather, let her know about them so she could deal with them. She then sent me off to make my way home.
I was quite shocked at all that had happened, and embarrassed, too. I went over the sequence of events in my mind time and again. I was surprised that a fight could come to blows without a word spoken, and marveled at how I had been caught off guard by thinking that some dialog would precede blows.
I didn’t look forward to going to school the next day, because I knew the word about the fight would get out . . . and that I lost. As it turned out, to my surprise, it didn’t seem to matter that Chester had gotten the best of me. I was somewhat of a hero in many of the students’ eyes, because I had stood up to the bully in defending the honor of a fellow student. The fact that I lost the battle didn’t seem to matter as much as the fact that I fought it.
The lessons learned in this incident didn’t escape me, however, and became a large part of my thought processes in dealing with others in all types of situations.The girl involved in this incident was named Janice. She and I were never more than casual friends, but the friendship lasted throughout our lifetimes.
Mrs. Shipps became my mentor. As sponsor of the Field Rangers, she promoted me to Captain the next school year, and gave me responsibility for assigning posts and training new Field Rangers in fulfilling their duties.I didn’t have any more trouble with Chester. It seemed that the teachers had him pretty well under control. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to do much for improving his attitude or disposition, as many years later he was shot and fatally wounded while in a bar in Hannibal. I was told that he was shot and killed by his estranged wife. I never did know the full story, and really didn’t care to find out any more about it, since by then I had my own family of two precious boys, and we lived far away in Danville, Illinois.
During those grade school days my family was active in church, scouts, Parent Teacher Association, and social events held at the armory. In those days, before television was in every home, it was a common practice to go to the matinee movie at one of the Hannibal movie theaters.
The Rialto, Star, and Tom Sawyer theaters showed lots of westerns on Saturday. Roy Rogers movies, Hop Along Cassidy, Gene Autry, Cisco Kid, and others were the most common. It cost twenty-five cents to go to the movies back then, and that included popcorn and a small soft drink! Of course, twenty-five cents was a lot of money, and I wasn’t able to go as often as I would have liked.
In later years, at the age of fifteen, I became an usher at the Tom Sawyer Theater, and spent many evenings and weekends helping patrons locate seats, cleaning aisles and ashtrays. During the movies after folks had settled in, I often went behind movie screen and down into the basement. It was full of old props and costumes stored outside the small dressing rooms dating from the live theater days. It was great fun exploring the basement and looking at the old billboard posters of events long since past.
Since we didn’t have television to occupy our time as children, we spent a lot of time out of doors. We played lots of games, hiked, played in the creek, and when we couldn’t be outside we played a lot of board games. Monopoly, checkers, submarines, backgammon and similar games were our favorites. We also found some ways to entertain ourselves that weren’t so tame
A neighbor boy, Eddie, one time came over for a visit telling me about a new experience he had recently had, and that we should try it. He had a box of .22 caliber bullets in his pocket, which he showed me. I was intrigued! We walked down to where Lindell Avenue crossed over Minnow Creek via an arched concrete bridge. The bridge made an arch over the creek bed that ran under it. On top it was a narrow two-lane hump in the road.
Eddie placed one of the large, flat rocks common to that area, in the center of the rocky creek bottom, and directly under the center of the concrete bridge. He took one of the small bullets from the box, placed it on its side on the flat rock, and picked up a large round rock. He dropped the large rock forcefully down on the bullet, which exploded loudly.
The bullet shot out from under the rock, hit the side of the concrete arch where it made a ZING! sound as it ricocheted off the wall, just to hit another surface and ZING! again as it bounced around inside the arch. This was pretty fun! Not something you get to do every day!
We set about repositioning the flat rock to see how many ZINGs we could get out of a bullet. We put the rock closer to the walls, then back, raised it higher by putting other rocks under it, and did everything we could think of to get more ZINGs. Finally, without much success, we had exploded all fifty of the bullets, and walked away miraculously unharmed, looking for the next new adventure.
Eddie and I were fast friends during our childhood. He eventually became the Best Man at my wedding, and I was Best Man at his. We remained friends over the years, but he remained in Hannibal, while I spent most of my adult years living elsewhere. We met every once in a while during our family trips to Hannibal to have lunch and catch up on events, and hoped one day to spend more time together.