Monthly Archives: May 2014

Graduation In Jeopardy – 2nd Offense

The second, and I suppose last, offense which jeopardized my impending graduation from East High was less harmful in general than cutting into the lunch line. But it was in fact a bit more serious and could indeed have gotten me suspended, just weeks before graduation. In that final semester the last class of my day was Art Class — which you would think I looked forward to. Not so. For the senior art teacher, to whose class I was assigned, was the elderly Miss Pooley.

Close to retirement — my Uncle Ray had had her for a teacher some 20 years earlier — Miss Pooley’s technique for teaching art was sometimes to snatch the brush, or pencil, or charcoal, or whatever from your hand saying “No, like this”, thus forcing you to watch while she completed most of your project for you in a sort of show and tell. Any respect I might have had for her as an art teacher vanished the first time she pulled this on me. It may have been acceptable to some in the class; but art class was one of the few where I actually looked forward to learning something, and to me represented the very definition of a participatory activity, not a lecture.

My best friend Vern, on the other hand had signed up for “Cinema”, and spent the final period setting up and showing movies to those classes requiring an audio-visual experience. When no movies were scheduled, it was to be regarded as a study hall. In fact, if no movies were scheduled, Vern would wander down to my art class and signal to me from the hall.

Miss Pooley, it turned out, was largely unaware of what actually went on in her classroom; at least as far as attendance was concerned. After she took the roll, if Vern was waiting outside, I would simply slip out one of the two doors when her back was turned, and off we went. I don’t know how many times we did this, but only once did she question whether I had been in class the previous day. I, of course, professed that yes, I had been there, and others in the class — knowing full well what I had done — backed me up.

I wasn’t too surprised at her question. On the day prior, as Vern and I were making our way off school grounds, we were spotted by our old nemesis, Ewald. Off we went in a flash, diving into the residential neighborhood beyond the parking lot. I think we must’ve been far enough away that Ewald couldn’t make a positive identification, but he did hurry to his car and give chase.

It took us twice as long to get home that day as it would have had we stayed until the end of classes. We dashed across streets and hid between houses as Ewald cruised back and forth; hoping to catch us in the open. But we finally managed to break contact and get to Vern’s house.

The reason I believe he did not make a conclusive identification was that the next day we were called to his office, there to be subjected to another stern warning. I’m certain that had he been able to prove it was us, our school year would’ve ended then and there.

But the school year ran out before my luck did, and I have a clear memory of marching — after the football field graduation ceremony — into the locker room wherein, in a most un-Vern-like fashion, my friend launched himself at me, wrapped me in a major-league hug, and exclaimed “We made it, We made it”!

Vern Schramer’s Older Brother

Vern worshiped his older brother, Ken. Five years older than we were, I remember Ken as the ideal teenager of his time. Not the crew-cut All American quarterback type, but rather a milder version of “Fonzie”. Good-looking, friendly, with a very fast, very cool car, — a souped-up ’58 Plymouth Fury — and a streak of mischief which seems to run in the family, Ken was worthy of imitation; and imitate him we did.

We affected his mannerisms, and style. At the time Vern and I met, Ken jauntily wore a “Castro -style” fatigue cap. A quick trip to the Army-Navy surplus store and Vern and I had such hats for ourselves, which we wore all that summer. As we each became part of the others family, I soon looked up to Ken as a sort of ersatz big brother.

Ken had a circle of friends which covered a large portion of the very far western suburbs — there was a lot of corn between Aurora and the actual western suburbs in 1961. A focal point of Ken’s social circle was Chobar’s restaurant; a country diner in the middle of nowhere, but central geographically to the group.

Chobar’s Restaurant was notched into a cornfield on the southwest corner of the crossing of Illinois Routes 59 and 65, which today is one of the busiest intersections in the state; surrounded by malls, condos, car dealers, and a very large medical Center.

When I’m in the area I’m sometimes reminded of those infrequent occasions when Ken let us “ride along” and we could hang out with the older kids. And when we did so, Vern and I would be delighted at how cool we were.

My one regret, as winter drew near, was that my new best friend didn’t ice skate.

Ken Schramer’s Younger Brother

My father worked as a first shift machinist at Thor Power Tool Company. When the second shift began at 3:30 PM, another machinist, often younger and less experienced, would take over and keep the machines running and producing until midnight.

In the spring of 1961 my father had commented, more than once, on his new “Night Man”, named Ken. A nice young fellow, smart, hard-working, and with plenty of good old-fashioned common sense, my Dad thought a lot of Ken Schramer. So when I showed up at home one day with my new best friend Vern — with the same last name — my dad’s first, and surprising, question was, “You’re not Ken’s brother are you? Indeed he was, and from that moment on, in my father’s eyes, Vern could do no wrong; an attitude which benefited me greatly as the years passed, and “wrong” we would occasionally do.

Graduation In Jeopardy – 1st Offense

FOR ME, THE earlier part of the 60s era featured my graduation from Aurora East High School in June of 1964, and my entry into the US Navy in 1965, culminating in a visit to Viet Nam in 1966.

The former event almost didn’t happen though, as I managed to misbehave just enough in the closing months of the school year to possibly put the issue into doubt. Suspension may have been merely a threat — My grades, though not stellar, were adequate to see me through, and misbehaving was a far cry from causing real trouble — but I took it seriously nonetheless. Taking it seriously, however, didn’t mean my behavior changed all that much; but I was quite concerned and consequently more careful. My two worst offenses, which seem so trivial today, were actually, even then, quite benign.

In the last semester of my last year at East High, the study hall to which I was assigned just prior to lunch was quite a long way away from the cafeteria, and a long line would form before I could get there, thus consuming a large portion of my lunch hour — actually half hour. This seemed unfair, so to avoid standing in the long cafeteria line, I would merely find someone near the front of the line whom I knew, and cut in. Problem solved.

I was plucked out of line several times and warned that this was unacceptable behavior; the last warning threatening me with banishment from the cafeteria for the remainder of the year. I’m not sure what I thought would happen, but sure enough, the next time I cut in line I was almost immediately removed and taken to see the vice principal, Ewald Metzger. “Ol’ Ewald” was the subject of a great deal of derision and ridicule — at least among those whom I knew, or associated with — but the fact was, he had the Power. I was indeed banished from the cafeteria until the end of the school year; fortunately now just a few weeks away.

So I brought my lunch and ate it, alone, in the anteroom of the teachers lounge. The alone part was bad enough, but as the teachers passed to and from the lounge, they all managed to give me that disgusted, disappointed look which teachers all seem to develop, and hold in reserve for those whose performance falls well below standard.

Minor Triumphs — First Dandelion of Spring

Somewhere around the first of April in perhaps the third grade, just before releasing us for the lunch recess, our teacher presented us with a challenge. A contest to see who in the class could find, and return with, the first dandelion of the season.

Living nearby I of course went home each day for lunch, and my normal route was the alley from the Bardwell school playground to Weston Avenue which ran past the emergency room entrance at Copley Hospital, in its original configuration. There, on the front lawn of the first house east of the hospital, presented in its bright yellow glory against the newly green grass, was just what I was seeking, a dandelion.

I plucked the specimen and carefully nurtured it through lunch, and back to the classroom where, wonder of wonders, I was the only kid in class to have done so. This led to congratulations by the teacher before a no doubt envious class, and one further “reward”.

I was required to go next-door, with my teacher, to the other third-grade class and explain to them why and how I had obtained my treasure. This, at eight years old, was my first experience with public speaking, but if memory serves, pride of accomplishment overcame whatever nervousness I might have had at presenting to strangers.

So, for the rest of the day I was the teacher’s pet, and drew grudging admiration from my classmates. Perhaps as soon as the next day, however, the same teacher would send me to stand, embarrassingly, in the hall for some misdeed. Fame is fleeting.

Decades and Eras

I have a belief that, although we tend to mark time in decades the actual eras do not strictly adhere to the calendar. The “Twenties” began with prohibition, and ended on a Tuesday in October of 1929. The resulting collapse and depression began the bifurcated “Thirties”; with a turning point on inauguration day of 1933. The later “Thirties” ended December 7th, 1941.

The “Forties” are mostly thought of as the War years. The postwar era evolved slowly into and through the “Fifties” and on to November of 1963 as a single, though evolving, continuum, as we baby boomers progressed through childhood, and our parents — survivors of both the Great Depression AND the War — wanted nothing more than a good job, to raise a family in their own home, and to live in peace.

The “Sixties”, beginning in tragedy and ending with another in 1970 was also a split era, with a sharp pivot in the middle. In the early period, after the Kennedy assassination, cultural changes were becoming more evident. Of course Television, and the media in general had much to do with the transformation of a country of “regions” to a more homogeneous society, but, as always, music was the bellwether. Rock and roll evolved from Buddy Holly to the Beach Boys. Beat poetry gave way to the more energetic Folk Music and “Folk Rock”, and several icons of the new era were emerging. The title and words of Dylan’s “The Times They Are A’Changin’” was prophetic in announcing that youth was on the march.

The “Sixties” Begin

WHEN I SET forth for school that third Friday in November of my senior year at East High, I didn’t know, along with everyone else, that the world was about to change. So much has been said about the death of John Kennedy that I certainly have little to add; other than to say that yes, I too remember precisely where I was, when I heard the news and for the duration of that weekend, when the world stood still.

As the weekend progressed, we were all collectively focused on small black and white TV images, both live and not so instant replay. I can only speak for those my age, who missed the world’s previous great tragedies, but there and then, gently guided by Walter Cronkite, we witnessed and relived an event terrible beyond imagination. And as we, the nation, re-emerged the following Tuesday, it was to a different time, a different era – the “Sixties” had begun.