Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Jim’s plane, the “Judy G” in my painting from a photo taken by his wingman over Germany. Jim later became temporary base commander at Chelveston, UK
Typical of other families, we dealt with shortages, rationing and the need to feel we were helping out the war effort. We had the requisite flag in the window with two stars on it, thankfully blue. Some people had lost their servicemen and by 1943, our two, Jim and Loren had shipped out to England, assigned to the 8th Air Force. Alice was living at home, with a volunteer job at the Red Cross. Jim would write with regularity and we with “V” mail would cram every word we could on the self- mailing forms. Every so often, Jack would make it down from Miami in his Model A roadster. One had to save up gas or gas coupons for such trips. The Office of Price Administration (OPA) issued a window sticker for your windshield, an A sticker for most people, a B for people in essential work and C for those who had really special needs. The A sticker got you 3 gallons of gas per week, so Jack had to walk to work all the time in order to save up enough for the trip to Tucson.
Word from the front lines was mixed. Jim was doing well, but Loren got shot down over France and was captured. He was sent to Stalag Luft III in Poland. This was the famous POW camp featured in “The Great Escape” starring Steve McQueen. Loren told us that a second camp had been built after that escape and he was incarcerated in that one. Eleven months went by until he and his fellow prisoners were liberated, much to Alice’s and the families’ relief. Loren’s memoir es an interesting account of their efforts to get out of England and back home involving General Eisenhower. Loren regularly attends POW reunions.
As the war effort shifted to the Pacific theater, our warriors, their wives and one child, plus Jack down from Miami, descended on the homestead for a long weekend. The assembled crowd slept on every square inch of available space in the already crowded house. Despite the lack of any hint of privacy, we had a grand time being together for the first time in years. There was discussion about what the future held. Jim was returning to college, this time at UCLA, to get his bachelors degree. They would live in a little house they bought in south Los Angeles on Curzon near Washington Blvd. Jack was finally eligible for the draft (he’d been turned down earlier for being underweight and being employed in an essential war industry at Miami Copper Co.) He spent the next 18 months as a guest of Uncle Sam sightseeing in Japan, a paid vacation in his opinion. Meanwhile, Alice and Loren were hoping that he would get permanent employment as an Air Force plane driver. Mom was looking forward to having the house back to ourselves now that the housing crisis was at an end.
Mother was a religious person, attending church faithfully. She saw to it that all of her children were christened in the Episcopal faith. Once we were settled in our new home in Tucson, she took us to Grace Episcopal Church, the one Grandpa and Grandma attended, at the corner of Stone Ave. and Third St. We went there until my obstreperous behavior during services led to the suggestion that maybe some other congregation might welcome us. We joined the flock at St. Andrews Episcopal, a mission on the south side of town. Mother liked this church and became the organist. When I got older, I would sit beside her and turn the pages.
St. Andrew’s Episcopal church as it is today. The right side was where we attended. The rectory is out of the picture on the right.
In comparison to Grace Church, St. Andrews was decidedly austere. A tan stucco building, it had no steeple and the pews had no swing down kneeling pads. In fact there was a real made in the garage look about the furnishings. There were two windows either side of the altar. Having no stained glass, the church arranged for one of the congregation who was an artist, to create reasonable facsimiles of stained glass using colored gels for theatrical lighting with some kind of painted on simulated caming which served to bind them to the clear glass window behind.
St. Andrews provided a stopover for a string of ministers on their way to more prestigious assignments, but one, Mr. Dugan, was a family man with a son, Ray who became my buddy. We were both ripe to become acolytes and there was work for two of us. This kept us occupied in productive pursuits. The Dugans were a family of five, a baby, Ray and his teenage sister, Brenda, our nemesis. On Sundays they sat down for breakfast between early communion and the eleven o’clock service. One morning, as the early service was winding down, Brenda, in charge of oatmeal preparation, came in the side door of the church frantically trying to get her father’s attention. Mr. Dugan excused himself (there were perhaps four people taking communion) to see what the emergency was all about.
“Daddy!” she whispered, “the pressure cooker exploded! There’s oatmeal all over the ceiling!”
Mr. Dugan brought the service to an abrupt close and with robes flowing, raced over to the rectory to assess the damage. True enough, most of two quarts of sloppy oatmeal was hanging like stalactites from the ceiling. Breakfast was delayed.
We found ourselves at St. Andrews a couple of times a week for a while. I elected to attend the early service because it lasted only a half hour and opted out of acolyte duty. There was choir practice on Wednesday evenings, giving us boys an opportunity to get into mischief. Ray and another boy, Billy Codd and I were jumping around on a big pile of palm tree trimmings across the street from the church. These were off date palms and the fronds had sharp needles toward the base of the stem and I managed to impale myself on one of them. The tip broke off and sank into my calf beyond reach of my mother’s needle and tweezers. Some thirty five years later, it festered up and I had a doctor remove it along with a wad of scar tissue.
Of the mostly lower middle-income parishioners, one family stood out-the Freemans. My fifth grade teacher at Roskruge Elementary was Miss Freeman, the daughter of this pillar of the church. They owned a poultry ranch outside of town and Mr. Freeman had a new, 1946 Cadillac sedan. That autumn, what they now call the monsoons came in heavily, causing flash floods all along the southeast part of town and beyond. Mr. Freeman was out on the Benson Highway, on his way back home from a business trip late Saturday night. Rain was coming down in torrents, causing him to slow to a virtual crawl, when the front of his car suddenly dropped with a loud clunk. His headlight beams dropped into a frightening sight-the bridge had washed out and a rush of muddy water greeted the front of the car. With traffic approaching from the rear, he got out of the car to try and warn them of the washout. Two cars passed him by, driving off to their doom. It was reported that eleven people drowned that night. It was a sobering tale for the congregation that Sunday morning after.
The Dugan’s were reassigned to a parish where Mr. Dugan could utilize his command of Spanish, in which he was fluent. He always pronounced Tucson “Took-sohn”, his understanding of the way the Papago and Pima Indians said it. When they left it was the end of the informal, family-friendly era. For a brief interlude there was a Mr. Dicus who never saw much future for either himself or St. Andrews. Then, a truly formidable minister arrived, Father Lewis Sassé. A retired military chaplain, “Father” as he was of the alternate, more formal school of Episcopalians that felt a close kinship with the Catholic church and all its trappings like crossing yourself and bowing every time you crossed in front of the altar. I was not up for that nonsense, having achieved my rebellious teen years, but for one thing-the attractive Kate Sassé. Kate was the first girl I’d met so alluring yet so unattainable. She was attracted to “older men”, say 15 or 16 and I at 14 just didn’t cut the mustard. In fact, when I was 16, I still looked 14. Undeterred, I continued to attend church against my instincts to be in her shadow, however one-sided. Another element was the father factor, not the liturgical but the parental. One got the feeling that one misstep and you’d be paying now and in the hereafter. Kate and I both went to high school together but her and my orbits never coincided. The summer after graduation, I ran into her at the swimming pool at Catalina Park. She was alone and I saw to it my buddies didn’t butt into my moment. We talked for a while and she explained that being an Air Force brat, she didn’t make friends readily. “I played with myself,” she told me, then immediately flushed “I mean by myself!” Two years of unrequited ardor, costly. One Freudian slip, priceless!
Bikes and buddies
Before girls, there were buddies. Sometimes buddies have good influences on one another, sometimes they are what best could be described as learning experiences. Jimmy Walker was one of the latter. He was a few months younger than I, part of a family in the next block who lived a modest life in a house owned by the Presbyterian church. Mrs. Walker was a widow and the family was somewhat parallel to ours, except not as well off. Jimmy had two brothers and a sister, closer in age and few years younger than my siblings. The house was one of those homes that kids like to visit. Mrs. Walker was the definition of laizes faire when it came to the kids who seemed to have their own agendas, collecting stuff, going places, doing things as long as they didn’t cost anything. There was a faded blue ’36 Studebaker parked for all time in the shade a grape arbor that covered the driveway. Mrs. Walker didn’t drive and the boys weren’t old enough, not that anybody had any gas money.
In the back of the property was a shed, fronted by a pit, about 7’ by 7’ and about 3’ deep.dug out of the caliche soil . The shed was off limits, probably because it was full of black widows so inspecting it was not a high priority. Useless, cast off stuff accumulated in the pit-old tires, broken bicycle parts, and in January, all the Christmas trees we could drag in there behind our bikes. In Arizona, the trees tended to dry out very quickly, making them highly flammable. When we got enough, say a dozen or so, Bob Walker, with show business flair, would take a can of heating oil from the household tank, douse the trees and drop a match into the darkness. The flames would quickly flare up twenty feet, toasting the power line leading from the house to the shed. Although the column of smoke extended fifty or sixty feet into the air, no one seemed alarmed enough to call the fire department.
Boredom was always lurking and Jimmy and I felt duty bound to head it off, no matter the diversion. It was winter and we both had plaid mackinaw jackets with big pockets. I don’t know how we got started, but we went on a shoplifting binge. For about three weeks, we walked down town and raided stores for items we were attracted to, whether we had use for them or not. Priser’s Stationery store was a favorite target. We would come back to his house and compare loot, making sure we each swiped identical objects. On our way home, one evening, we decided to see what the new Firestone store had of interest. I had just pocketed a dash-mounted compass when the store manager appeared in front of me. Jimmy headed for the door, but was immediately collared. The manager herded us into his office and picked up the phone. Cold fear gripped us. What if he called our mothers? It didn’t occur to us he might have been calling the police. His move proved effective, he told us never to enter his store again and if we did-well…Thoroughly chastised, we slunk out the door hoping no one saw us. I still feel that chill when I get near a Firestone store.
Our gang at one time consisted of myself, Jimmy, Snicky Edwards and occasionally Eddie Leigh. We would congregate in Jimmy’s back yard and watch Jimmy shoot baskets in the hoop near the house. I still hear that monotonous pung, pung, pung, as he dribbled the ball between taking shots. Sometimes we’d join in but none of the rest of us was any good at basketball. When Jimmy got tired of pung, pung, pung, we usually took off somewhere on our bikes.
Bikes to us were an extension of our personality, something we boys carried into our car driving stage. The first bike might have been something left by a sibling and there may have been one that was presented to you by your mother on a special occasion, but then there was the one that perfectly expressed who you were and would forever be your favorite.I was on my third bike, the first two having been stolen, a 24” Elgin which I’d bought from Glenn “Champ” Orr, a classmate and customized it to emulate what was then the popular “hardtail” style motorcycle-seat on the back fender and raked back handlebars. Jimmy’s was a hand-me-down with buffalo horn handlebars and Snicky-well Snicky had a Raleigh three-speed (!) We all figured Snicky’s mom gave it to him for Christmas or his birthday out of guilt. (She had a boyfriend.) We had all seen it in Steinfeld’s department store earlier and knew that it was the Rolls Royce of bikes. We were envious in a way because he could accelerate faster than we with his Sturmey Archer gearshift even sitting down, while we had to stand up and put our weight into each stroke. Still, he looked like a goof pedaling down the street with his legs spinning like a runaway mouse. Eventually, when I got a lightweight Schwinn skinny-tire bike, I equipped it with the same gearshift, but that was years away.
A Raleigh bike similar to the one Snicky's mother bought him. There he was riding the Rolls Royce of bikes around with us bums on our hand-me-downs or whatever. What got to us was he could accelerate sitting on the saddle as fast as we could standing on the pedals. We weren't totally in the dark. We knew that Snicky was embarrassed about his mother's boyfriend who would come over for a little afternoon delight. We couldn't imagine what he saw in her skinny frame. Guilty pleasure, I suppose.
We liked to jump our bikes over at the Presbyterian Church parking lot. The lot was depressed about six feet below street level with a shortcut running from one corner across to the alley. We’d start down the path at full tilt, across the lot and up the other end. At the alley the path lifted enough for us to get the bikes airborne about two and a half feet. I came down hard on one jump, breaking my crank and nearly insuring I would be a boy soprano permanently. I pushed the bike to our favorite bike shop, Russell and Shepard, near the 4th Ave subway and showed it to Mr. Russell.
“Yep, looks like it crystallized, alright!” he told me, introducing an arcane term to my vocabulary. Russell and Shepard was the kind of bike shop that attracted kids. The space was typical store with a couple of small show windows funneling into the entrance door. An aisle went down the center of the space flanked by rows of new Columbia, Shelby Flyer or Schwinn bikes in bright colors. At the back of the showroom was a counter where Ruth, Mr. Russell’s daughter held forth, writing up things like inner tubes, NeverLeak, spokes, and installment payments on a small sales pad with a carbon paper insert. It was the first store that would let us charge our purchases knowing that we were dependent on allowances and odd jobs for our money. In the rear half of the store were two mechanics who could fix anything on a bike. They were both Latinos, one large and one small, with a hand with fingers in a permanent tight curl. We called him “One hand”. He was the expert in straightening rims. The other guy could weld, paint and was good with adjusting cones for bearings. He could even fix Sturmey Archer gearshifts. I leaned on him frequently when my bike needed repair.
The broken crank, a nice, chrome one, couldn’t be replaced exactly due to wartime shortages. I felt lucky to get a dull, gray, generic crank made for the next larger bike, a 26”. The half-inch longer crank arms made for faster getaway but I had to be careful not to drag them on the pavement going around corners, particularly with my feet in the toe clips.
In competition with Russell and Shepard was Ingham & Ingham. They had a nice new bike shop on the same street with a big showroom. Aside from Schwinn bicycles, they sold Harley Davidson motorcycles, which had a new imported model, the 125, a two-stroke lightweight model added to their regular line of V-twins. One of our sometime friends, Chester Ice, had access to a new Harley 125 and gave the jump a shot. Approaching the jump at over 30 mph he sailed clear across the alley into the stickers, which punctured the front tire, an ignominious conclusion to an otherwise impressive stunt. He had to push the motorcycle back to Ingham & Ingham, where he “borrowed” it and fix the flat. Chester was employed there for odd jobs partly to keep him out of trouble and being an embarrassment to his older brother Kenny, a motorcycle cop on the Tucson Police Department. Chester managed to get into plenty of trouble just the same.
We toured all the streets and neighborhoods of Tucson, even taking the steep climb up “A” mountain, or as far as we could given that our single speed bikes were almost as heavy as we were. The ride down was exciting and the coaster brakes were put to the test. We decided to take a ride out to Bear Canyon, 20 miles east of town. My back tire had a slow leak and I was going to get a bicycle pump as a precaution, but the store wouldn’t be open until 9:30, too late for our early start. Leaving sandwiches and apples, and in my case, a large folding camera, we headed up to Speedway Blvd., the main route east. Our first rest stop was a gas station at the crossroads of Wilmot Rd, where we stoked up on a drink out of the hose and I pumped up my tire. We were 8 miles out-less than halfway from our destination. My rear tire was slowly losing air even though I had squirted a tube of Neverleak into it. The last 12 miles were much more challenging, it seemed, because there was nothing but desert to be seen and the last couple of miles was on a dirt road with a steep rise at the end. But what lay ahead in the canyon was a magical place called “Seven Falls”. This was ten times better than the adjacent Sabino Canyon, which had been gentrified by the CCC during the depression, CCC standing for Civilian Conservation Corps, an organization to keep unemployed young men out of jail.
Route to Bear Canyon shown on this 1940s map of Tucson vicinity. Wilmot Road was pretty much the end of civilization. “A” Mountain is on the left side of the map
Jimmy Walker's brother Bob, always told him to look into the sun when posing for a picture. (Same true in the 8th grade class picture!)
After spending time skipping rocks across the pools, we finished eating and headed back to the bikes, parked at the trailhead. My rear tire was nearly flat and I had no way to repair it. While the others got packed up, I headed down the hill, putting my weight over the front wheel. The back tire was soon pretty much flat after a few miles and I was reduced to pushing the bike. The others pressed on, promising to wait at the service station. I now wished for light. The sun had gone
down leaving me vulnerable but no traffic came along that evening. Finally, I rounded the turn from Tanque Verde road on to Wilmot. The station was just a quarter mile away, the longest quarter mile of my young life. They were just about to put away the hoses for the night. Pumped up once more, I joined the others for the speedy return down the two-lane pavement to our neighborhood, exhausted but exulting over our adventure. Incidentally, I did buy that bicycle pump the next day, not to mention a new tire and tube.
When I was twelve, a new kid moved into a house just beyond the alley. I didn’t know what to make of him, this kid from Akron, Ohio. Johnny Carlson would remain my friend all our lives. Ramon Cadiz, who lived on the near side of the alley and I decided that Johnny was in need of a proper nickname and started calling him Yoe, short for Johahn. His father was Big Yoe. His mother was Minnie. Minnie established the lifestyle in the household, which tended toward austerity. They had moved to Tucson for Yoe’s asthma and Big Yoe had taken a big cut in pay, there being no Goodyear plant in Tucson. Big Yoe started doing handyman work while building a duplex on a lot he bought across from Roskruge school. Eventually, he said, they would move to the duplex, rent one side and sell the house on 4th Street. This would take a few years.
Ramon's cat "Cocoa"
Ramon Cadiz and I had known one another before Johnny Carlson moved into the house across the alley. Alleys were the conduits to the town and our interests and it was how we visited each other’s homes. We avoided the main streets where possible, taking the back routes whenever possible. Streets were to be crossed. Most alleys ran north and south, with a few east and west, mostly in the east side of town. In some blocks, the alleys crossed both directions. Sidewalks were an illegal attraction as was riding without lights after dark. Front doors were for salesmen and neighbor ladies. Johnny’s, or Yoe’s driveway opened out on to the alley opposite that of Ramon’s back yard. This was very convenient for bicycle traffic.
Ramon had a half-brother who was attending the University on the GI Bill, majoring in drama. He went by the name of C. Thornton Garst, but I can’t remember ever addressing him by that moniker. Garst had an army buddy named Eddie Fundis, a working class friend from their neighborhood back in New York. The two were roommates in an apartment they fashioned out of the garage. It was a fascinating place, mainly because it was off limits to us bike rats. I was impressed because they had a large record collection and a sound system that was salvaged from some old console with the speaker mounted up in the rafters and a record changer on a bench. Eddie had built the speaker cabinet out of plywood and the opera they played filled the room. They were into opera even if I wasn’t. Later they got one of the first LP record players and began a collection of the new medium.
Eddie was a carpenter/cabinet maker and part time scenery builder. Having spent all his money on records, his budget for transportation was limited to a Schwinn heavy duty bike with a Whizzer motor on it. He built a tidy little trailer to carry his tools and he would head down the alley every day to wherever work happened to be. We all thought his rig was admirable if not cool.
Garst and Eddie Fundis would occasionally throw a party and invite friends from the drama department. The opera would give way to livelier fare and they’d get serious about partying. That was really cool. We would show our appreciation by pitching rocks on top of the garage’s metal roof. It was from that roof that we had a grandstand view of their neighbor’s back yard, which was the site of a wedding. We didn’t know those people but we knew they were Jewish and the wedding featured a canopy, or huppah, for the bride and groom. All of this was very exotic in our view, but Ramon, with his New York background, took it all in stride and even told us what to expect as the ceremony proceeded. Of course, we were moved to offer our good wishes in the form of animal noises. This was really what being 12 and 13 years of age was all about-irritating the hell out of anyone older than us.
There was a certain cloud of gloom over Yoe’s house. We were seldom invited inside. Yoe’s parents weren’t on the best of terms. Big Yoe, as he was respectfully referred to though never addressed, started a handy man service. He purchased a Dodge pickup truck, which he parked in the driveway leaving his garage available for shop work. I recall that in his former life in Akron, before the doctors said that young Johnny’s asthma wouldn’t improve unless they moved him to a dry climate. Having to quit his job at the Goodyear plant, lose his retirement and a lot of self-respect didn’t bode well for his marriage to Minnie. It was a marriage made in America. He was an immigrant Swede and she was of sober Appalachian stock. She got the notion that Big Yoe was seeing some widow when he was supposed to be on a job somewhere and started tailing him as best she could. We noticed this and started tailing her. I can’t imagine she wasn’t aware of the three of us but she was always on the lookout for that homewrecker, whoever she might be.
Yoe was about three months older than I and always seemed more mature in his ways. He discovered girls ahead of Ramon and me and began wearing white dress shirts and clean Levi’s all the time in acknowledgement of his newly changed voice. He had the coolest bike of the three of us-a Schwinn tank model with a knee action fork, a built-in horn and a rack over the back wheel. I’m sure it weighed in at 45 lbs. Eventually that wasn’t cool enough for Yoe and he started walking everywhere. Image is everything when you are trying to impress the opposite sex. We noticed that he was drifting away and weren’t sure what to do about it. It was amusing to us when he carried on a conversation with Carol Neston who lived across 4th Street from his house. Carol was a little older, maybe even 15 and already had a reputation for “putting out” whatever that meant. We suspected she dated flyboys from Davis-Monthan air base. She would lean out the upstairs window, her ample bosom in full view and carry on small talk with Yoe-for hours, it seemed. If Yoe ever went up to her room, he never told us.
Our tight little group was having growing pains. We discovered cigarettes and in order to smoke unhindered, we built a “club house” from cardboard cartons between a fence and the wall of the car washing bay behind the Red Cross headquarters. The space was no more than three or four feet wide, giving us enough room for some kind of seat running lengthwise along one fence. Once we all lit up, smoke filled the volume and we’d have to abandon ship. It was here that I felt smoking was not in my best interests and gave it up for life. Of course the fact that an uncontrollable attack of diarrhea struck as I headed home may have had something to do with my decision. It was not my nature to suffer discomfort like that.
Yoe, Ramon and I ran around together on our bikes, sometimes including Snicky Edwards or Homer Gruver. We tended to get into trouble when we associated with those two. Eddie Leigh was a good friend of Jimmy Walker and lived around the corner from Snicky. Eddie was a straight arrow, an honor roll student like Jimmy. His little sister was a different story. Darlene used to hang out with Nan Neston, Carol’s little sister. The two of them were known to drop their panties for the education of older boys. That was a little over the top for me and Yoe. Also, being a couple of years younger than we were, the amusement seemed rather perverse, anyway. Years later, Nan worked as an exotic dancer at a night spot on Speedway.
Homer Gruver’s dad had a real estate business over on 3rd Street, a few blocks from my home. He and our bunch ran around together for a couple of years. He had a younger brother who suffered a cerebral hemorrhage one day while riding his bike. Later, his body was lying in state at a nearby mortuary. Homer asked if we wanted to see the body and we of course were for the idea. We rode up on our bikes and found that Homer and his older sister were the only ones there with the body. We timidly looked into the casket observing that he looked like he was asleep yet not quite natural looking. Homer’s sister said, “You want to feel something funny?”
We looked at one another wondering what could be funny about a dead kid. She grabbed my hand and poked my fingers down behind her brother’s head. There wasn’t any back to the head! I yanked my hand free and stood dumbfounded. Funny? Creepy was more appropriate. It wasn’t the sense that his head felt like an upturned bowl that got to me, but how callous his sister seemed, showing off her little brother’s body like a sideshow curiosity. Homer thought it was funny to see me in shock like that. Yoe and Ramon reconsidered the invitation.
My sister Alice and her husband, Loren were staying with us at the time while looking for housing. He had just been assigned to Davis Monthan AFB, having decided that a career in the Air Force was a much better alternative to that of his other option, assistant postmaster in Douglas, Arizona. Loren had well ingrained saving habits, having made it through the Great Depression at an age when he understood how bad things were for most people. Every day, he’d empty his pockets of change and put the dimes, nickels and pennies in a jar, regularly sorting and wrapping the coins for deposit in a savings account. Loren and Alice drove in the back yard in the afternoon. As usual, as he changed out of his uniform, he emptied his pockets of change to put them with the savings. It was then that Loren discovered the loss of some $80.00-a considerable sum for those days. The suspicion landed on one of my friends-Yoe. I found out later that Homer was most likely the culprit. It was deemed prudent that we lock the back door when we left from then on-a minor inconvenience.
During these early teen years, we rode around on bikes, having our little adventures, gradually preparing ourselves for what was to come in high school. But Tucson Senior High School was a different world and we managed to get split up. First, Yoe dropped out of school after the eighth grade, Ramon, I can’t remember. I guess he went on to high school but his bohemian family was pretty dysfunctional. Eventually, Ramon moved away. Snicky was a year behind me. Jimmy Walker graduated from 9th grade with honors, Eddie Leigh was his usual star student self while I was struggling.
In looking back on all these childhood friends and acquaintances, I’m impressed that these families were all somewhat dysfunctional, with one or more children having no particular moral compass, while their siblings might be outstanding students or at least “normal.” Maybe that was what attracted me to them.
From 9th grader to Senior High
It was just kitty-corner across Sixth Street from Roskruge Junior High to Tucson Senior High School, but a world of difference in every other sense. Classes and study programs were designed around your life goals. Did you plan to attend college? Then you go into the college prep program with more advanced math, literature, languages, science and the like. Everyone not planning to attend college was assigned to classes like metal shop, business English, typing, home economics and other classes with practical value.
In high school, the only class I was a star in was art. Miss Cullough was very encouraging if a bit anal. We were introduced to oils, pastel, pen and ink and watercolor. O’Reilly Motors, a Chevrolet dealer sponsored a contest for school kids to illustrate the latest model in an idealized setting. My entry showed a maroon Chevrolet convertible at a drive-in and it won first place even though it was dreadfully toiled over. I tried doing cartoons for the school paper and had one spontaneous sketch, which I started inking in. She kept after me to tweak this and that until the white correction paint mounded up like a mountain range.
One day she showed me an article in the Saturday Evening Post about the Art Center School in Los Angeles. My interest in cars hadn’t followed the path most car crazy kids embarked upon. Drawing cars and visualizing my own designs satisfied made gasoline flow through my veins. Here was a school that could help me become something I had only just realized existed-a car designer. I liked what I saw and determined to go there when I graduated. The only drawback was the tuition. Reality would hit me in the face soon enough.
My other classes became difficult. Geometry was something I could visualize but learning the theorems was more trouble than I was prepared to give. English and literature were fairly easy except for diagramming sentences. I began to let my homework slide, showing up without finishing my homework assignments. I started flunking first one class then another. In P.E., Johnny Barringer, the coach, used to have the class split up into four teams and play touch football following calisthenics. Being the least enthusiastic about the sport, I opted to dog-trot around the track instead. Another under achiever, future folk singer star Travis Edmondson, was my companion. We made a couple of laps and then sat down in the stands out of sight until class was over. Alice Butts, my Latin teacher had taught my sister ten years earlier and kept reminding me of it and how much better she did. I started skipping classes, hanging out at the building site of Mr. Carlson’s duplex a half block away. Skipping class was easy in those days. The school was on two shifts, one from 7: 40 to 12:30 and from 12:40 to 5:30. If anyone asked, you could say you were in the other shift. I was close to getting kicked out of school. I knew the trouble I was in but I didn’t have any answers.