She emailed a picture of me and a group of other guys on our last day at Washington Grade School. If Carol had not told me the names of those standing casually in front of a wall, I am not sure that I would have recognized any, even me, although we had all been classmates and would be for four more years in high school.
I replied to Carol, and we struck up a correspondence. Each time she would attach a picture with me in it and would ask about my memories of some event—the safety patrol picnic, for example—which I hardly remembered at all. Recently she said that she had only one more picture to send, although she had Sheboygan Press clippings that mentioned me. She felt certain that I already had these. I assumed that her assumption was wrong. I don’t dwell much on those “Glory Days.” After all I did not have an outstanding high school speedball, though I did hit a walk-off home run in my first Little League game. But…but…but then I vaguely remembered that I had a file in a rarely-opened drawer labeled “High School.” I dumped its contents onto my desk and a flotilla of faded newspaper clippings floated across it. This unexpected volume of paper was misleading. From handwritten notes I realized that aunts and friends and even the local bank had sometimes sent my parents an article they had clipped out of the evening paper if it mentioned me, so my high school file had many duplicates.
On the other hand, the Press published articles about high school students that a paper in a larger town (Sheboygan had a population of about 45,000) no doubt would not have, and thus the clippings did contain a fair number of separate stories. Even though I played high school sports, there were no mentions of my athletic accomplishments. There were good reasons for that. My four-point basketball average did not draw much attention. The athletic glory days ended in grade school.
I remembered many of the events chronicled in the clippings, but there was one that surprised me. I did not remember winning the Constitution Contest sponsored by Sheboygan Elks Lodge 299, although I remembered placing third in the state constitution contest sponsored by the Elks. The story said I had won $150. How could I forget such a thing?! That was a significant amount of money to me, and my parents, back then—the equivalent of about $1,300 today. By comparison, I had my first forty-hour-a-week job that summer. I was paid the minimum wage, which was $1.25 an hour. Work a day and get paid ten bucks. Work three weeks and get $150 — the same amount I got for taking a two- or three-hour test. (That $1.25 an hour minimum wage translates to about $11.10 an hour today, a paltry amount but still more than the national minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.) I don’t have the vaguest notion of what I did with my $150 largesse.
What I found most interesting was not reading about me or my classmates, but the stories on the back or surrounding the clippings. They revealed that I did not know as many things about Sheboygan as I thought I did. Growing up, I thought of the area as safe, but there were more hazardous happenings than I was aware of. For example, a driver struck and killed a 500-pound black calf on County Trunk S. “He said that two calves suddenly ran across the road in front of his car and he was unable to avoid striking one of them.” The story did not report any damage to the driver or damage to the vehicle.
Cooking oil on a residential stove ignited and the fire department was called. “The blaze was extinguished by the time firemen arrived, but they used fans to ventilate the home.”
A truck ran into a road barricade, and the driver was charged, but the clipping cut off the rest of the story, so I did not find out with what.
A man not feeling well left his work at a furniture manufacturer. He felt worse as he was headed to the hospital and flagged down a patrol car “to take him the rest of the way. He apparently suffered a slight heart attack.”
A 9-year-old “suffered a bump to the back of the head and bruises to the left arm in a fall from his bicycle.”
A warning went out about a poisonous bean used in necklaces, rosaries, and as dolls’ eyes.
The town had crime unknown to me. Six weeks after a night of vandalism that included dragging a swing set and garbage cans into the street and opening car doors, twenty boys and girls were apprehended and referred to the juvenile authorities. A Mr. James Prigge discovered that windshield wipers, the radio aerial, horn ring, steering wheel, gas pedal and floorboards were ripped out, a tire was flattened, and the cigar-lighter was missing from his seven-year-old car that had been parked in his company’s parking lot. (A disgruntled employee? General labor trouble? Or just vandalism? I did not have a follow-up story.) An owner of a plumbing supply company reported that in the last two days chrome pipes were stolen from a storage area. “He valued the missing supplies at $4.20.”
“Vickie Fintelmann reported her J.C. Higgins bicycle, valued at $15, stolen from the Kuehne Court playground.” This surprised me. I went to that playground on my bike almost every day during the summer. We left the bikes unattended, and there was no thought in those days of locking them. I had never heard of one being stolen. But perhaps Vickie’s bike was tempting because it was a J.C. Higgins. Almost everyone, both boys and girls, rode a single speed bicycle with wide tires, often with a basket on the front. Then a few people showed up at the bike racks with the fancy “English-style” bicycles with narrow tires and three gears, and I think the J.C. Higgins fell into that category. My memory is that my correspondent Carol, on whom I always had a crush, was the first I knew to have such a bike although hers may have been a Raleigh.
(Continued May 28)