The Dates of each entry is when I wrote it. Memories go way back.
Guns (September 7, 2007)
The Car my Father Sold for One Dollar (May 30, 2007)
Exercise (May 10, 2007)
September 7, 2007
As long as I can remember I have had a fascination with guns. Naturally, I blame it on my parents, the media, and the society in which I grew up.
My first memories go back to just after World War II. Television was coming, but Radio was still the medium for the masses. People would gather round the radio and listen to the programs much like they do with the TV today. Although, there was much less listening for the sake of listening, than there is watching for the sake of watching today.
At least in my experience the radio went on when there was some particular program to hear and was not just turned on to become background noise. Some folks today click on the TV when they come home and it just runs until they go to bed, that’s not the way I remember radio.
Each week there were two programs that I listened to faithfully. One was The Lone Ranger and the other was Superman. One was during the week, Wednesday comes to mind, and the other was on Friday. They were on different stations, which tells me that they were probably on different networks.
I recall being very proud of myself that I could tune the dial on the Philco (Zenith?) radio and find the right station for my own programs. c. 1950
Although I could tie a towel around my neck like a cape and run around, the art of flying like superman or picking up a car was out of reach. But the idea of wearing a gun, cowboy boots and cowboy hat and actually shooting someone in the name of the law, seemed much more in the realm of possibility.
Now you need to understand that the Lone Ranger never really hurt anyone much when he shot them. He always shot the gun right out of their hand. The bad guys shot people, too. But when they shot people they really hurt them. Of course, it was usually very early in the program and needed to establish that the bad guys were truly bad and had to be brought to justice. They did do some fighting with fists and the good guy always won out by the time the half-hour program was over.
So my view of guns was founded in the, now passé idea, that guns in the hands of good guys could be used to protect innocent people and hinder the machinations and evil plots of the bad guys. And I was not alone. Many of the early baby-boomer boys aspired to be like the Lone Ranger, or Hopalong Cassidy (William Boyd) or Roy Rogers or The Cisco Kid or many of the other Western stars we saw at the movies on Saturday morning.
Guns were tools to be used for either good or evil depending on the hands that held them. They were not the evil things that they are portrayed to be today.
The car my father sold for one dollar.
May 30, 2007
I remember my father looking to replace our second car. I want to say about Spring of 1958. Our primary car was a 55 Buick, 4-door, with a red line speedometer. He bought the Buick new and had to pay $10 extra for the speedometer which had a red line that indicated the speed instead of the normal pointer. $10 doesn’t grow on trees, you know! He had to think it over for a day or so before he decided to go with it. So they added that to the order for the car. It’s funny the odd things you remember.
When he decided to buy another car he went out looking and over several days, maybe a few Saturdays, came home with various cars to check out and show my mother and I. (I was fifteen years old at the time and could hardly wait to turn 16 and get my license.)
I do recall several of the cars he brought home as options. One was a Packard convertible, probably about 1951 or ‘52. It was a big car and I hoped that that was not the one he’d buy. Another one he brought home was a 1954 Chevy convertible. He remarked that although it was okay, it did rattle a lot. Now all convertibles rattled a lot in those days. Without the top for rigidity, they would flex more than the sedans and pretty soon there were creeks and clanks all over the place, especially in the top mechanism. He thought this car had more than it should have and he passed on that one.
A third option was a 1954 Corvette. Yes, we almost bought one of the first Corvettes. I don’t remember being that excited about it nor being disappointed when it did not make the cut. Although I don’t recall why he passed on that, my guess is that a two seater was just not practical enough. The car was really for my mother, although when I got my license, she and I would share it. As a grocery-getter, the early Corvette was probably not optimum. It also only had a six cylinder engine and my father was partial to eights. He thought they ran smoother and strained less to move the car.
The car he settled on was a red 1951 Pontiac convertible. Our main car before the 1955 Buick was a white 1952 Pontiac convertible. So, my thinking is that he just liked that car and the used one, although a year older, was the same body style, only red. Naturally it rattled, but apparently not excessively. In fact, after you drove the car for a while you got used to the various noises it made and they became just part of the personality of the car. I was driving it once and I heard a sound that I had not heard before. Concerned that I might have a problem, I remarked to my passenger, “What’s that noise?” I don’t remember who it was, but I do remember their response. They just started to laugh! When they regained their composure, they answered, “What noise? This car is full of noises!”
It wasn’t true, of course. They were just not used to a real car, where you could put the top down and feel the wind in your hair.
May 31, 2007
By the 50’s convertibles were the flashy, sporty car that they used to lure you into the show room and then sold you the family sedan. The cars were getting longer and more streamlined and annual style changes were becoming the norm. Tail fins were in.
The tops were heavy cloth, I’m not sure when vinyl became popular but it was not until later. Seats were always leather on the assumption that you would forget the top at some point and the seats would get wet. Leather was the best for drying off before you drove away. On hot, sunny days you could unzip the top’s flexible, plastic back window and get a nice breeze without the direct heat from the sun.
The convertibles were all two-door. That seems strange to say in this day and age but before World War II you could purchase four-door convertibles. The first car I remember was a 1941 Oldsmobile, four-door convertible. I vaguely remember it being maroon. There was a removable support between the doors that fit between the door sill and the top frame when the top was up. We had that car all through the war and until we purchased a new 1949 Olds convertible. That was how long it took to get a car after production of domestic vehicles began even though the war was over in 1945.
In Fall of 1958 I enrolled in drivers’ education at York High School, District 88. (I remember the district number because it was painted on the sides of the school busses. Another one of those odd facts that stick in your mind—or mine anyway.)
By February I could hardly wait and we went for my license the day after my 16th birthday. Why the day after? They were closed on my birthday. In those days holidays were celebrated on the actual day unless they fell on a Sunday. Then the holiday was bumped and Monday became the official day off. George Washington’s birthday is on February 22. It was my evil luck that the day I turned 16 was a year that George’s birthday fell on a Sunday. That made my birthday a holiday, for which I was usually happy to take credit, but not that year.
Early on Tuesday the 24th mother and I set out in the Buick to do the road test. Our closest testing station was crowded, so we went over to another that was not that far away, and I came home with my license to operate motor vehicles in the state of Illinois. Actually, it was a temporary license until the real license could come in the mail. I had passed the first try, which provided some bragging rights, but more importantly I had passed a milestone in growing up, a rite of passage if you will. I could drive!
June 1, 2007
A word about drivers’ education. It was run by the High School and usually taught by the gym teachers (not sure why). You had to sign up and the older kids had preference. So when I was accepted for the road portion in Fall of 1958 it was wonderful. Although I could not get my license until the end of February, I would be all set when my birthday finally came around.
The road portion consisted of weekly driving and it may have spanned two periods. There were four students and the driving instructor. I don’t remember his name. They used to have cars with full duplicate controls including a second steering wheel. That was, obviously, quite expensive, so by the time I was learning to drive the dual controls consisted only of a second brake pedal on the passenger side. The instructor sat in that position with the non-driving students sitting three across in the back seat.
The car was a new Plymouth with the name of the donating dealership prominently displayed along with a warning indicating a student driver. This car had a failing. The turn signals which were supposed to be self-canceling, weren’t. When you turned a corner the signals would continue to flash until you turned them off manually. Our instructor told us that until they were fixed (not until after our training was finished), we would be expected to remember to cancel them or lose points.
The student sitting behind the driver could put the toes of his shoes beneath the driver’s seat and push up. This would cause the driver to gently bounce in the seat. It would also remind him or her to turn off the turn signal. So if the signal was forgotten, the driver would bounce a couple of times, then turn it off. The instructor pretended he didn’t notice.
The final driving test was a fixed route around the city that involved various kinds of traffic, parking, etc. You lost points for each faux pas and you had thirty points to burn before you failed. Whether due to nervousness or lack of attention, my test was only half completed the first week and I had accumulated 29 points! As I took the wheel the next week to complete my trial, the other students were skeptical that I could finish under the magical 30 points.
To their surprise, and my own, it was a perfect run. No dings and less than a block to go. I was turning at a complicated intersection in front of the school when the instructor slammed on the brakes to avoid hitting another turning car I had not seen. That was a ten pointer! Fortunately, grace prevailed and the instructor certified me anyway.
June 5, 2007
Car insurance was through my father’s employer, Charles Martin and Company, Inspectors of Petroleum, Incorporated. Since inspecting liquid cargoes in barges, shore tanks, and trucks required driving to their location the company provided your car insurance. The clinker was, according to my father, that I could not be insured on two cars as an under-aged driver. So I had to chose between the ’51 Convertible or the ’55 Buick. The year was 1959. The four-door Buick was much nicer but the top did not go down. I never even considered the Buick. My father was surprised, being sure that I’d go for the nicer car. I’m still not sure why. He himself had bought only convertibles from ’41 to ’55. He must not have remembered all the times I begged him, “Can we put the top down?”
Sharing a car with a stay-at-home mom, which most of them were in those days, was a fine situation. She drove it during the day (or my father put the top down and drove it to work) and it was
available for me to use after school and on weekends. There were few rules and those were quite reasonable. The most important rule was that no one was to drive the car but me. No buddies, no
girlfriends. If they asked, I was to say that they were not covered by the insurance. I was the only covered, under-aged driver. I’m not sure if that was just a reasonable excuse I could use, or if
that was actually the way the insurance was set up. I did have to pay my own tickets and gasoline.
Since it was an older car it was showing signs of age. The battery was long and skinny, five inches wide and 20 inches long, and only six volts. The Buick had the newer twelve volt system. Twelve volts offer a lot more push, so the engine starts faster, sparks better, and the top works. Actually the top worked fine initially, but the generator didn’t always keep up. I remember fast idling the engine to give the battery time to charge before I turned off the car, especially in the night when the lights were needed. You could tell how charged the battery was by the needle on the ammeter. As the battery was being charged the voltage would increase and the voltage regulator would cut back the generator output. So the ammeter needle would move down to zero in steps. At fast idle you could watch the needle drop in steps to its normal, fully-charged position of just slightly to the right of zero
We had no garage, so the top had to be up at the end of the day. I remember discovering that the top would go up, even with a weak battery, if you physically pulled on it to give it a boost. The problem was that you had to stand on the seats to pull on the top and then you couldn’t reach the top-up button on the dash.
The radio was a tube type. The transistor was invented in the late ‘40’s but did not make it into automotive radios until the early ‘60’s. This meant that the radio would need to warm up for about thirty to sixty seconds before the sound came out. You would think that would be hardly a problem but it was amazing, and annoying, how often you wanted to catch the weather or some song and it would be mostly gone by the time the radio volume came up. The transistor instant-on was a big improvement. Also, the battery charge came up a lot faster if you turned the radio off while you were waiting.
June 15, 2007
Although I shared the red 51 Pontiac convertible with my mother, I pretty well had full run of the car. I remember sitting for hours and paging through the Warshauski Catalog (The company today is still in business as J.C. Whitney out of Chicago and they still mail out their catalog, or you can now go on line to order.)
The car was an eight cylinder but the pistons were all in a line not the ‘v’ shape that is most common today. Long hoods were stylish in the early 1950’s at least in part because a long hood implied a long engine with more cylinders. As more manufacturers adopted the V-8 configuration, hoods got wider and shorter and the new styling cue was dual exhaust, with a separate exhaust line for each side.
Today I’ve noticed that one of the favorite after-market accessories is a tail-pipe the size of a coffee can and an exhaust sound that is mellow at idle and screams if you really step on the gas. Desirable sounds have not changed much. You could get straight through fiberglass packed mufflers or steel packed. The glass packs were kinda nice since they gave a more mellow tone. The steel packs were screamers and could merit you some unwelcome attention from the local police. They were actually illegal in some states.
Because the Pontiac Straight Eight had only one bank of pistons, it was expensive to create a true dual exhaust. But you could fudge it with a ‘Y’ tailpipe. This simply divided the exhaust behind the muffler and sent it out two pipes, one on each side. Voila, instant dual exhaust.
I discussed that modification and many others with my buddy Denny. When the course lists for high school were sent home, my father had me sign up for math, science, even Latin. My academic schedule simply didn’t allow time for fun, practical courses like auto-shop. Denny, however, was able to pick some of his own courses so he became my resource person on all things automotive.
Denny allowed that it would be possible to put the dual tail-pipe adapter on the Pontiac but I gave up on that. In my heart I knew it was all ‘show’ and no ‘go,’ and I just could not bring myself to spend my hard-earned money on something that was not functionally better than what I had.
Another modification we considered was a lowering kit. This would lower the rear half of the car about two inches and was a simple, inexpensive modification. It would make the car look faster. That was a temptation, but we never go around to doing it.
One thing the 1951 Pontiac did not lack was a cup holder. With only two doors, the front seats had to be engineered to tip forward to allow access to the rear seat. The front seat backs tipped straight forward on hinges. To allow clearance for the hinges in the center of the seats there was a cut out where the seatback hinge met the seat itself. The cut out was just slightly larger than a coke bottle and was an excellent place to put an open soda while driving. By 1955 most seats had been redesigned to eliminate that unsightly hole and the cup holder was gone for the next 40 years.
Denny and I spent hours upon hours talking about customized autos like the one being created by some older guys in the church. They seemed awfully old but were really only about three to four years ahead of us. Hot rods were another favorite topic. Naturally, all our ideas exceeded both our budgets and our skill sets.
June 20, 2007
I was very active in my local church and area Christian youth activities. One of those was a junior-senior semi-formal banquet with a quality youth speaker around the time of the Spring school proms. In preparation for the banquet, I spent some money to upgrade the car. My biggest outlay was for new seat covers. The red leather was getting pretty seedy after eight years and I wanted the car looking its best.
The event went well and my next memory of the seat-covers was giving people a ride home with Denny in the front seat eating licorice. We dropped off all the passengers and Den decided to spit out the wad of black goop in his mouth. With the top down, the wind carried the spoogie back into the back seat and onto the back panel of my new seat covers! Fortunately, we had just let out the girl who had been seating there, so the only frustration was having to clean up my new seat-cover. Plus I was annoyed with Denny for not spitting with more care.
That year I had a friend in Ohio over Christmas. I was invited to visit between Christmas and New Year’s and my Christmas list included several items for the Pontiac convertible. One was a new set of tires. None of the others come to mind now, but there were several more of lesser cost.
My folks were willing to let me drive the 500 miles that Winter and that spoke volumes about either their trust level, their optimism, or their fool-hardiness. Only on Christmas morning none of the expected items were there after all the presents had been opened. As it turned out, my father decided that the trip and the needs of the Pontiac called for replacement. So he purchased a brand new 1960 Chevy Impala convertible! That was the car I took to Ohio, and the car I would then share with my mother. That was a nice Christmas.
After the trip, my father said I could do anything I wanted with the Pontiac. I suspect he thought I might want to fix it up or use it has a hobby car. But with a new ride, my interest in doing anything with the old was just not there. What was interesting is that Denny’s father had just traded the family car for a brand new, white, 1960 Ford sedan. Although Denny had his license and had driven the previous family car, he father said, “I’m not giving the keys to a brand new car to a 16 year old kid!” Shortly after that I pulled into their drive with the Impala.
Although Denny finally got limited use of the family car, he really did not have use of it as often as he wished. In the course of several discussions we came up with an option. I would sell the Pontiac convertible to Denny. He had a job and was an excellent worker. I would sell it to him for a reasonable (to both of us) price and he would have wheels. But when I approached my father, he said, “No.” Naturally I was crushed and disappointed and not looking forward to giving the news to Denny.
My father said that you never sell a car to a friend. Cars are expensive and complicated and very prone to needing repairs unexpectedly. If you sell one to a friend there is some, not inconsiderable, likelihood that an expensive part will break just a few miles or months after the deal is made. That in turn raises suspicions that you knew there was a problem and were not completely candid about the condition of the car when you sold it. Those kind of doubts can ruin a good friendship. So, no sale. Then he went on. “You can’t sell the car to Denny, but you can give it to him if you want.”
I have no memory of the amount we had agreed upon initially. And I have no memory of any sense of loss at not being able to sell it. It was enough that someone would get some use and joy out of it. Den remembers that he gave my father a dollar, just to make it an official sale, and my father signed the title over to him. Eight years later Denny was best-man at our wedding. Funny, what you remember.
Exercise. (May 10, 2007)
I hated gym class most of the time. I was pretty good at badminton in High School which required little brute strength and some finesse. Most of the other games put me at a disadvantage. As early as fourth and fifth grades it was obvious I had a couple of problems, I was born at the wrong time of year and I was too smart.
The time of year (February) of my birth put me at the lower end of the age bracket. I started kindergarten when I was four and graduated high school less than four months after my 17th birthday.
We moved from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to Oak Park, Illinois at Christmas when I was in fourth grade. I was actually three months younger than even the youngest of the other fourth graders. Here’s where the second problem came in. I was bright enough to keep up with the class.
So they left me a year ahead and doomed me to mediocrity in sports and extra-curriculars.
At least that is what I blame it on. It did not help that my mother was five feet two inches tall and I only made it up to an adult height of five feet seven (actually only 6 and 3/4ths, but let’s not be picky).
The implications seemed unending. I was not as big nor as strong as the rest of the boys in the class. So any time we played team sports, I would be the last boy picked for a team. There were even some times when they argued over who had to take me, since my participation would drag down their chances of victory.
I vividly remember the time we had a pick-up game of football. I was welcome to play with the neighborhood boys since several grades were represented. So they put me in the middle of the line where I could get in the way of the opponents trying to rush. The play was called and the ball hiked. Everyone was running everywhere but the quarterback had no one to throw the ball to. As the opposing team closed in for the kill, he realized that I was open and tossed the ball to me. I was delighted to finally get my chance to make a contribution to a team, so I managed to catch the ball and ran half the field for a touchdown. Unfortunately, in my excitement I had run the wrong way. Then there was a big rhubarb about whether that counted as a touchdown for the other team or not. Needless to say, that was the last time they ever gave the ball to me.
May 11, 2007
I was half good at dodge-ball. By that I mean that I was small and agile and very difficult to hit with a thrown volleyball (I think that is what they used), but I did not have the arm strength to throw hard enough to get people out. On more than one occasion I would be the last man standing on our team. There is a certain amount of satisfaction there until you see the big guys from the other team closing in for the kill.
Naturally, I hated all the standard PE stuff. The showers, the tunnel you had to walk through while being sprayed off, the school towels that were board flat and fluffy as sandpaper. I guess I really did not mind the anti-athletes’ foot bath you had to step in at the end. That was pretty much room temperature and I sure didn’t want to add fungus to failure.
I remember two favorable incidents in high school gym class. The first was the time we were playing volleyball and in a collision with a team-mate, I lost my contact lens. The coach called a stop and had everyone searching the floor for the lens. It was actually just brushed off center and I realized that in a hurry, but I was still impressed that the world actually stopped to help me, whom they barely knew existed. Or so I felt.
The second time was when they taught us to do a reverse push-up. The is where you lie on your back on the floor, feet flat on the floor by your bottom, elbows up and hands on the floor over your shoulders. Then you just push yourself up, making an arch with your body. I was one of only three who was able make the arch. It was a piece of cake. Of course that skill was never required nor tested again, so my glory was short-lived.
College was no better. Gym was required. Members of the school athletic teams all got A’s, of course. The rest of us got B’s or C’s depending on how we did. My best was a semester that included tennis and some other sport each taught by its own coach. The tennis coach was impressed with my serve and gave me a B but it was not strong enough to overcome the C from the first coach. This annoyed me since the first coach’s grading impressed me as purely arbitrary but it ruled the day.
I was sufficiently disgusted that I told my three children I expected decent grades in every class but gym. I didn’t care what they got in that course. One of them took me at my word and managed to fail gym! I have no idea how they did that. All you have to do to pass gym in high school is show up and sweat. How hard can that be?
College and seminary for me was in the 1960’s. Before that only a few oddballs actually exercised regularly. I can’t remember any adult who really put any effort into staying in shape in the 1950’s. They might play a pick-up game at the family summer picnic. Usually someone pulled something and everyone was stiff and sore the next day, but that was all there was to it.
In the 1960’s it became ‘in’ to get in shape aerobically. So in seminary I started to exercise. Rich Hallett, a member of our inner circle and editor/photographer for the school year book, was from Canada and he introduced us to the 5BX plan. It was from the Canadian air-force and the 5BX was short for five basic exercises designed to keep their units in shape. The exercises were jumping jacks, sit-ups, push-ups, one other and ended with a mile or so run.
I did that and other exercises sporadically for several years, more off than on. But the thought that exercise is important was firmly fixed in my conscience and it would occasionally burst forth in a spasm of energy the would get me exercising for a few weeks before it lagged back to dormancy.
May 17, 2007
I did enough exercising to become thoroughly convinced that calisthenics and running are boring and there was no regularity until Sherman. When we moved to Everett, Massachusetts in February of 1974 we had no children. A member of the choir in Fall River had puppies to be given away, half-husky and half all-american dog. (see monograph on Sherman, if I write one)
We arrived in Everett with no exercise program and a 3 month old puppy. I trained him to run around the block with me in the mornings. I thought it would be good exercise for me and for him. As it turned out that was the beginning of fifteen years of quite faithful running.
The first month I ran around the almost exactly one-half mile block once, gradually building up speed. The second month I slowed down but went for two times around. Again gradually building up speed as the month passed. The third month I slowed down and went three times around. I’m not sure where I would have stopped building distance, but about that time I talked to Rich Hallett. He was now a pastor in Maine and had quite running completely. It turned out that he had pulled his knee and to fix it needed a surgery he could not afford.
I was running on cement sidewalk and the there were no running shoes in those days. It was high top gym shoes for basketball or “sneakers” that had little or no cushioning. So I backed off to one mile which was twice around the block. I did run flat out as fast as I could for about the first 100 yards, then I backed off to a nice running pace.
When exercise came up in the conversation I might mention that I ran with the dog in the morning, but avoided any discussion of distance. The consensus in those days (and still today) was that only a mile was a waste of time and not serious exercise. But it kept me in pretty good shape for those 15 years and I noticed that I panted less after vigorous exercise than many of my colleagues.
Sherman and I ran our mile daily except on Sunday. On Sundays I would get dressed for church and walk around the block just once. The dog neither wanted nor allowed a day off.
He would “hound” me until we did our run. Then he was more than happy to sit on the front porch and watch the world go by.
When he died after 15 years, my exercise program died as well. It was very sporadic for the next ten years. At this point I am trying to run a mile at least a couple of mornings a week. And with just a little imagination, I can still envision Sherman running to catch up after loitering around a bush to assure that no small fuzzy creatures were hiding there. He would flash past only to stop up ahead, and look back as if to ask, “Are you coming or not!”