Early School Days

In 1951, I entered Horace Mann Elementary School. Kids had to be five by December 1st to enter first grade, and just made it by two weeks. As a result I was always one of the youngest kids in my class.

A group of us walked the six blocks to school almost everyday, until we were old enough to ride our bikes. Rarely did we get to ride to school in a car.

My earliest memory of school was winning the prize for best costume in the first grade. My mother was a very skilled seamstress, and loved to make clothes. She made me a very cute outfit and sent me to school as Little Bo Peep! . I vividly recall sitting on the gym floor and the principal announcing, “You won, little girl. Come on up and get your prize.” I just sat there, until my teacher whispered to the principal, “It’s a boy.”Ron Bo Peep
I loved school and reading. Our small school library had a pretty good collection of biographies of famous people. They all had orange covers. Pretty certain I had devoured the whole collection by the time I had left sixth grade.

In the third grade, I recall having a spelling test. One of the words was “fruit.” I was unsure of the correct spelling – until I saw a box on the shelf about the teachers desk labels “Fruit Co.” in bold letters. I got it right.

Timeout

Mrs. Corbett was my fourth grade teacher. By that time, several of my teachers had written on my report card, “Ronnie has a voice that carries.” Everyone could be talking, but they always seemed to hear me. So, I occasionally got scolded.

One day she just sent me out of the room to stand alone outside the door. I did as told, but after five minutes I heard an adult climbing the creaky old stairway. In those days, all student knew that if the principal found anyone standing in the hallway for misbehavior, they would immediately get paddled. I had never witnessed such consequences, but didn’t want to test it.

It had rained that day, and all the students had left their umbrellas open, lying along the wall. I instinctively hunkered down under one of those umbrellas, holding my breath. I closed my eyes as the steps grew louder. I never found out who had walked by, but I resolved to try harder not to talk too much again.

I tried, but it in the spring, Mrs. Corbett just lost it one afternoon, as she exclaimed, “Just get out of here! Go up to the teachers’ work room, and don’t come out until I tell you!” I did as told and left the classroom, climbing a few steps up to a small room with a wooden desk, a couple chairs and a window overlooking the playgroup.

I sat and pouted. Then I got bored. “Please, let me come back. I’ll be quiet,” I promised silently. I sat and stared out the window.

Then I saw all the kids go home. And I sat. Then I saw all the teachers go home . . . . Now, I don’t plead innocence. I knew exactly what was happening. Let’s see – you said, “Don’t come out until I tell you.” Hmmm! Okay.

Well, about 15 or 20 minutes later, the school matriarch opened the door and exclaimed, “What are you doing in here?”

I immediately explained, with tears welling up in my eyes. She replied, “It’s okay. Go on home.” Of course, my mother was furious.

The next day I innocently returned to school. I am not sure exactly what had transpired in the interval, but all my teacher softly said was, “Now, Ronnie you know you could have when the other kids did, don’t you?” I just innocently looked back and shrugged.

So in later years, when I taught teachers about classroom management, timeout, I always shared that story and warned, “If you use timeout, don’t forget where you put the kid!”

Sequel

There is more to the story. Many years later, in my university career, I offered many workshops for teachers. Mrs. Corbett enrolled in one of my workshops – ironically, on classroom management. She remembered me, but said, “It was along time ago, but there was one thing that I remember well. I won’t mention it, unless you know what I it was.” I smiled warmly, and replied, “ I think I know what you mean.”

I next encountered Mrs. Corbett about 20 years later, after she retired. She was in the same nursing home as my parents. We had a nice a discussion but never mentioned “the incident.”

First Attempt at Painting

When I was about six years old my best friend was Barry Cottrell who lived next door. We shared a lot of adventures together. My first attempt at creativity was a team effort with Barry.

His father was painting their house — a very bright green. After his dad was done painting one day, he left the paint in a five gallon bucket in the middle of their garage. He didn’t put a lid on it — just a board. Barry and I were examining the bucket of paint when younger brother Don appeared.

I’m not sure who came up with the idea first. But our creative juices just clicked — and grabbing two large paint brushes, Barry and I proceeded to paint my brother green. Don just stood there calmly — seeming to enjoy being a part of something new and special.

Needless to say, my mother did not show much appreciation for our brand of creative expression. Mind you, this was not wimpy, water-based stuff paint! This was serious oil-based paint — meant to last. Kind of a lime green. No soap and water clean up! Mom recalled long afterwards how hard it was to get all that paint out of his hair.

I guess we were just ahead of our time. A decade later body painting was all the rage. And now people pay good money to cover their bodies in tattoos.

Kids — please don’t try this at home. It’s okay to imagine what your brother or sister would look like if they were green or purple — but just don’t paint them.

War Wound

 

In the summer before third grade, Don & I got into a rock throwing fight with Barry Cottrell, my next door co-artist who helped me paint Don a year or so earlier. I peeked around the outhouse and took a direct hit to my cheek. I was bleeding pretty seriously, so the contest ended immediately ­­­­– with Barry scrambling for home, probably terrified that he had mortally wounded me.

Mom was gone, so I found my dad and showed him my wound. His immediate response Ron cub scoutwas, “Go show Barry’s mom what he did.” I guess it made sense to him.. Obediently, I did as told. I remember blood running down the side of my face and dripping onto their cement front porch. I don’t recall who finally cleaned me up, but as soon as mom got back with the car, we were off to the doctor for 6 or 7 stitches. My wound was clearly visible in my third grade photograph, and for many years to come.

Treasure Found

One of our neighbors had a barn with a small coral. He kept several horses, and for a dime he would allow us to ride three laps around the coral! This was one of our greatest joys! Every dime we could hoard ended up buying those rides. For ten minutes, we were Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger, or Tex Ritter! The best source of income for us came from redeeming used pop bottles at Pangles’ Grocery: 2¢ for regular bottles, 5¢ for the big ones.

While exploring the forest behind us one day, we came across an old medal bed frame. This was the bonanza. Mike, Don & I drug it back to our house and hid it behind the tool shed until we could turn it into cash. The longer it sat there the greater its value became.

A couple times a month an old man in a pick-up truck would drive slowly down our street yelling, “Rags and old iron for sale! Rags and old iron for sale!” Actually, I don’t remember anyone ever buying anything from him, but frequently people would sell him old pieces of metal. Our eyes widened, as we drug our treasure to the street. He attached it to his hand-held scales, lifted it off the ground, and announced, “Earned yourself a dime, boys. Earned yourself a dime, boys.”

As a young entrepreneur, I later made money weaving potholders on a little loom and selling them door to door. I also got into a venture selling greeting cards to neighbors and relatives. I earned enough to buy a Marlin, single shot 22 rifle. I mostly shot at tin cans.

Actually, I did have a chance, the one time my dad took me out hunting with him. I rounded a curve and a rabbit sat ten feet in front of me — an easy shot. In my excitement, instead undoing the safety, I clicked the bolt, ejecting my single bullet onto the ground. The rabbit just glared, then calmly wandered off shaking his head.

About ten minutes later, Dad called out, “There’s one coming your way.” Sure enough; it ran straight at me. I aimed and quickly pulled the trigger, missing it as it ran three feet past me. Not even close. I never told anyone about my dismal failure, nor did I ever again go hunting.

As I recall, my gun was ruined when my brother Don left it outside on the ground and it became covered in rust.

An Open Home

After we moved into our first house, I can recall few times when someone wasn’t staying with us. Sometimes they were kin, sometimes people I hardly knew. When Uncle Jim Bishop had polio in the 1950s Lorene and the kids stayed with us for weeks. I remember different charities delivering loads of toys or clothes for them. Mom loved having people around. We only had three bedrooms at that time, but we all slept somewhere.

Around 1957, Mom’s brother, Harold Westbrook, broke his leg and it became too difficult for my great-grandmother, Lula Ritter, to handle; so Mom invited him to come stay with us. He had three horses, and offered to bring one if my folks could find a place to keep it. Of course, Don and I thought it was a done-deal. Bring it on! We had visions of a corral in our back yard (probably about 70×50 feet at best). We were disappointed about the lost opportunity, but enthusiastically welcomed Uncle Harold to come live with us.

Most immediately, it meant expanding our tiny four-room house. Dad and Harold added a bedroom and an utility/TV room. Don & I continued to share our bunk bed, though he frequently ended up in Uncle Harold’s bed.

Shortly after Uncle Harold came to Ohio to live with us, he laid down on the floor and let Don and I shave him. We were using a regular safety razor and had nicked up his face pretty bad by the time were done. He didn’t complain a bit; in fact he seemed to rather enjoy the experience.

Uncle Harold and Dad bought a dump truck together. They hired a driver to haul stones, dirt and asphalt for small, contracted jobs. Whenever he was unemployed, Dad drove the truck. They split the income into thirds, with the driver getting a third, a third covering expenses, with Harold & Dad splitting the remainder. My first experience driving was in that dump truck out at the Bishop’s farm.

When Don or I were sitting in his chair, Harold would say, “Trade places with me, boy.” Of Harold Westbrook 1957course, he was standing, so it didn’t sound like a very attractive proposition. He also introduced us to pizza. When he brought our first one home, and Mom put a piece on my plate, I quickly shoved it across the table, spurting, “I don’t want any of those goose-gut goodies.” It looked pretty gross to me at the time.

Uncle Harold quickly found work at Fritchie Asphalt & Paving Co., and soon became a supervisor. We loved riding on graders or rollers with him. I can still smell the kerosene scent of his pick-up. Sometimes Don or I would make the evening rounds with him, as he had to light the lanterns at their construction sites. One job benefit was our street got plowed early after snowstorms.

Uncle Harold bought four baseball mitts, for himself, Dad, Don and me. That seemed really special at the time. New toys were pretty rare, usually only at Christmas and birthdays. Harold was a large man, approximately 6’ 5” and over 400 pounds. When he died they had to order a special oversize casket. Don and I shared may fond memories of the time Uncle Harold lived with us.

When tragedy happened, Mom was at her best, and not just for the short-haul. My cousins Bruce Partin & Penny Partin stayed with us for many months. Others regularly came and went. When Jan’s father was invited to spend nine months at Harvard on a sabbatical from Gulf Oil, his Mom, Cora Davis, went to live in a nursing home. A couple months later, on the way to the Outer Banks, we stopped to visit her. She was so miserable, alone with no one to visit her. I immediately called Mom and asked her if she would be interested in taking in grandma. I was not the least bit surprised when Mom said, “Sure, bring her.” We stopped on the way back to Ohio and picked up Grandma Davis.Cora Davis, Matt & Brett

Grandma Davis loved baseball, and Jan has many fond memories of watching the Pittsburgh Pirates with her grandmother on the television. Cora was frail and small, but mentally very sharp. The doctor suggested she would benefit from drinking one beer each day. My mother typically didn’t tolerate booze in the house, but grandma’s “medicinal” beer was an exception.

Cora Davis had worked as a seamstress in earlier years, as had my mother. When arthritis gnarled her hands, she covered many wire clothes hangers with yarn and gave them as gifts. We still have many of those hanging in our closets.

She lived with my parents for about a year, until Mom was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and Grandma Davis went to live with her sister Dolpha White in Kansas. (We did take the boys to Kansas to visit her the following summer.)

When I called Dr. Kidd to ask about Mom’s condition, he said it was pretty bad and there wasn’t much they could do. Maybe she had six months to live. I made some calls and we made an appointment at the Henry Ford Hospital in Ann Arbor. That doctor said, “We can operate.” They did, and she lost her voice for about six months, and could only whisper. She fully recovered and lived a couple more decades. A resilient woman, she was!

Mom’s open-house policy continued through the rest of her life. When Dad’s mother, Ida Extine, became extremely ill and had to have a leg amputated, she moved in with Mom & Dad. She stayed in a hospital bed in the dining room until she died many months later.