Still Learning How to Fly ~ Chapter Four: "The Hairy Years" (Pt.2)

Ken Painter By Ken Painter, 21st Sep 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Biography & Autobiography

As I start junior high in my new location across the county, I find that not everything will be as it once was and that I'll have to make some adjustments. It's called growing up.

My New "Old" School

Rosa is the only child of my Uncle Harry (Horatio) my dad’s younger brother and his German war-bride wife, my Aunt Gertie (Gertrude), and it’s not that we didn’t get along, we did. We just weren’t particularly close. I wasn’t as close to any of my cousins on my dad’s side as I would have liked growing up, but my mom had made that almost impossible, because every time we’d all get together she would find something or other to get into some kind of snit about. There were even a couple of famous occasions which I won’t get into here, but please understand she even went so far as to run the family off from our house on Varden with her temper. So if the family treated all of us with kid gloves, I understood the reason why. Nobody wanted to hear from Geneva about anything.

And so the first week in November 1963 we moved to Gilletts Lake, and Sandi and I began at our new schools, both of us riding the bus for the first time. It would not kill us, and our array of bus drivers in those years were wonderful. Those were different times. We didn’t get too out of hand.

While I was at the Junior High, Sandi was in the 4th grade at Keicher Elementary School right next door which worked out well for us. But while I had been at a virtually brand new campus at Hunt in Jackson, the junior high here had been the old high school and had been built around the turn of the century, and it looked like it. It even smelled like it. I didn’t know what to make of it at first, but I’m not a snob, so my nose wasn’t in the air when I walked into the office and was greeted by the secretary, Mrs. Stevens, who introduced me to the Principal, Mr. Kelso. They had everything already squared away for me on that first day at my new school. I was handed my new curriculum and asked to sit down to look it over to make sure that everything was in order while Mr. Kelso left the office for a moment. He then returned just a minute or two later with another male student whom I was then introduced to, Cliff. Cliff was to be my buddy for the day and shadow me in my classes. We had the same schedule, and he could answer any questions I had, in short, he would be my guide. It only took three minutes to understand why they had chosen Cliff: he had the charm of a politician and the sense of humor of David Letterman all rolled into this short guy with a round, pudgy face. He made my day priceless, and it was not a perfect day, but it went much better thanks to Cliff.

I was a Band student, and all Band students were taught over at the high school which covered the first two periods of the morning, and so we had go out to the parking lot and get on another bus which would carry us over there. Cliff also played the trombone he told me.

“Where’s your horn?” He asked.

“I don’t have one.”

“You don’t have one? But what did you do at your last school?

“I rented my horn,” I told him. “We had a rental program.”

“Well, we don’t have that here,” he informed me. “You’re probably gonna need to buy a horn.”

Uh-oh. I lost myself deep in thought on my way over to the high school on that one. That might present a problem, but we’ll just have to see. After all I was 1st chair for all of two months minus the first week of school.

We got to the high school and walked into the band room and while everybody was setting up, Cliff introduced me to the band director, Mr. Kutz, and we discussed my horn situation. Also we discussed what I’d learned up to that point from my band instructor at Hunt in Jackson. Upon further probing it turned out that not owning my own instrument was the least of my problems. It seems that Jackson Public Schools start the Band program for their students in the 7th grade. However, Michigan Center as well as many other school districts outside the city began theirs in the 5th grade. It appeared that I was two years behind in learning the trombone. Two years! Now I could get caught up, but I’d have to take private lessons. From him. The lessons as it turned out cost a bit more per hour than my dad made at the factory (however, I do not begrudge the band director . . . I know how little teacher’s get paid, so whatever he could earn on the side, more power to him). Mr. Kutz was kind about the whole thing, but he told me to think about it while they practiced that morning which I did.

And so I did. That’s all I did as I sat off to the side and watched and listened to them play that morning. They were wonderful. And they were leaps and bounds ahead, light years ahead of where I was. Oh yeah, I knew I could get there, but it would take time, and money, too much money I feared, and we weren’t in any position. Plus how would I get around, over, to and from the high school to take these lessons after school and get back home again in a one car family for the next year or two while I was doing all this? My mind raced back and forth for much of the two hours while I considered all the angles. And I finally concluded that the angles just would not fit, not for our family, not at that time. Perhaps it would have a year or two later, but not then. We had just moved and everything was too new, and I knew enough or at least felt that I did not to bounce any of this off Mom and Dad.

After class I informed Mr. Kutz of my decision which he accepted non-commitally, and Cliff and I got back on the bus to go back to the junior high school. I waited until during the lunch break to visit the office and tell Mrs. Stevens of my decision knowing that this would require a schedule change. I explained the situation to her and asked if there would be any problem, and she said that there wouldn’t be, but didn’t I want to check with my parents first. I explained that I didn’t and gave a couple of meager reasons why, sort of the breadth but not the depth, and she generally understood. It was okay she said. The non-band students had a two-hour Study Hall in the morning, and I would attend that instead. Otherwise my schedule would be he same. She momentarily escorted me down to the end of the hallway to show me the large room used for the study hall. It was certainly old with it’s ancient wooden tables and walls painted with a color which tried it’s hardest to resemble sea green, but it had faded somewhat, and had become seriously spotted in many places. But the windows were large and the room was bright, casting an almost cheery look on its faded glory. I knew I’d survive.

When I got home that afternoon I told my parents what had happened they both agreed that it was for the best, because there was no way we could have afforded it, and they even tried to cheer me up a little by both of them telling me what an adult decision it was that I’d made. I’ve often wondered if the school called them and warned them. I’ll never know, but it made me feel good that for once I did something right, because it hurt a lot. Fortunately, I’d only been in Band for two months, and I hadn’t gotten as attached to it as I might have had it been a lot longer. But being the music man I am, I’ve since wondered off and on, what if?

Athletic Adjustment

Gym class at my new school was far, far different than I’d grown accustomed to at Hunt. First off, at my old school where we had a large campus during warm weather we could hold class outside on the football field. We had no such room for that here. Outside at this old building was a parking lot, and not a big one at that. We were a two-story facility on a cramped-for-space lot so there would be no outside activities for me here. However, on my first day of gym class I met the man who would go on to become the 3rd greatest influence in my life though I doubt that he ever knew it, my gym teacher and later wrestling coach, Doug Clark. Mr. Clark was tall, dark, and handsome, but that’s not why I liked him. He was persistently patient with me in everything I did, and more than that I could not ask, because when it came to anything physical that’s exactly what I needed.

To put it mildly, I’m a klutz, and I always have been. Whether I was born this way or the fall from the car and subsequent landing on my noggin did it I’ll never really know. Although after some diagnostic exams in 2010 I was informed during a visit to my neurologist that I have a neuromuscular disorder which I would have been born with that may very well have exacerbated my childhood problems as it went undiagnosed in those days. Perhaps a combination of the two. But Mr. Clark sort of sensed something and took me under his wing.

When I entered my new old school we were in the last week of the first quarter. Gym class that quarter was devoted to calisthenics whatever that was. I’d never heard the term. I was about to find out. Oh yeah! Sure we’d done a few exercises back at Hunt, but this was rigorous, and I wasn’t used to it. And me and push-ups never did get along! And running? Laps? Forget it. I thought I’d pass out. Thank God I only had to endure a week of this! I’d been told that 2nd quarter we’d be in the classroom to study Health out of a book, and for 3rd quarter during the winter it was Wrestling, but for last quarter (they saved the best for last) they took us in a bus up to the new pool at the high school for swimming. Thank God! There was hope.

After losing a lot of body fluids that morning, it was time to hit the shower. I feel it necessary to describe the locker room here, because that was just it. There were no lockers. We hung our clothes on rusty wooden nails which had been pounded into a wooden strip that hung on the side of the cement wall. Our shoes were placed under the wooden bench we sat on to change. Stepping into this locker room was stepping back into another era. The water in the shower worked, and I suppose that’s all that mattered. But I was learning the inequality which existed from one school to the next.

Grandma's Stern Warning

At home we found ourselves building new routines. Dad, of course, busied himself off and on fixing up some of the few projects inside the house which he’d planned on doing to make it look better. He wanted to get some of this done before the holidays to help showcase it for some of the family I suppose. And everyone seemed to like it. My grandma Bess included, though it was a much longer drive for her to come out there to visit. She was impressed with the lakefront though. But it was on one of those visits not long after we’d moved that prompted her to chastise my mom. I remember the scene vividly, but I don’t recall what had caused it. I can still see in my mind’s eye my grandma looking at my mom and saying these very stern words, “You better stop beating on this boy, because he’s gotten bigger than you now. And you don’t know but what he might haul off and kill you one day!” She pointed her finger at my mom as she warned her of this.

The three of us had been standing in the corner of the kitchen, Bess in the middle, and I don’t recall any argument, but I do recall that after she made this admonition to my mom I looked at my mom and gave sort of a half-evil grin as if to drive the point home. My mom was 5 foot 2 inches tall, and at 12 ½ years old I was already 5 feet 8 inches and as tall as my dad and built like a brick barn at 195 pounds. Okay there was a little flab there, too. But my grandma had made a good point. After all the years of beatings, you just never know when a big kid like me caught in the angst of those teenage years might lose it. Evidently my mom took this to heart, because from that day forward she never laid another finger on me. Oh there would be the occasional verbal and emotional abuse, she just couldn’t put that aside, but then she’d dish that to everyone in one amount or another with the larger amounts usually reserved for me. But no more whack attacks! I could survive. Thank you Grandma.

(In the next installment, I begin my love affair with school Wrestling and begin to wonder why!)

Link to next installment . . .

Link to last installment . . .

Link to beginning of book . . .


Autobiography, Child Abuse, Childhood, Childhood Memories, Memoir, Memoirs, Non Fiction, Non-Fiction, Nonfiction, Serial, Series, True Experience, True Experiences, True Stories, True Story

Meet the author

author avatar Ken Painter
Retired Chicago public school teacher. Singer, songwriter, musician, author, & opinionated old curmudgeon. Married to my husband & living in Colorado, USA. Also a father & grandfather.

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