Saturday, February 11, 2017

You Can Take the Girl Out Of Tonawanda, But Can You Take Tonawanda Out Of the Girl?

In June, 1963 my family moved from Tonawanda to my grandparent's house in Royal Oak, Michigan. Everything had been packed the day before and we slept on the floor with only pillows and blankets in the empty living room. The movers loaded up our possessions and then we piled into our car for the six hour trip from Niagara Falls to Detroit, across the flat Ontario farmland we knew so well from many other trips.

Most of our possessions were stored in my grandparent's garage but I had my Barbie doll case with Barbie, Midge, and Ken and all their clothes. Next door to my grandparents lived Doug and Mary M. and their children Larry and Gail. Gail was a year younger than I. A few years previous when visiting my grandparents I had seen Gail's Barbie and I asked Mom for one. I never cared for baby dolls, but I loved dressing fashion dolls. Gail and her friends from down the street and I played dolls on Gail's front porch all summer.
My Ramer Grandparents at the left in their back yard, the
sleeping porch can be seen on the second story
My Grandparent's house on Gardenia
My grandparent's house had a second story, screened summer sleeping porch off the master bedroom. I was first put in a bedroom at the front of the house near the street. Gardenia was on a hill and traffic came down the hill too fast and too noisy; I could not sleep. So, a cot was put on the sleeping porch and it became my bedroom. I loved, loved, loved it.
Pepper in her later years
The porch overlooked the yard, dense with tall trees. Blue Jays and Fox squirrels played among the branches. It was great being reunited with my dog Pepper who had been living with my grandparents for several years. Pepper loved to chase the squirrels up a tree, and they would chatter down and tease her, just out of reach. The sunlight penetrated the tree leaves in shafts of light, dappling the ground below. I was listening to the radio and playing on the sleeping porch when I heard that the Bald Eagle was endangered. It was an awakening.
my grandfather's bookcase in my house
I did not have books to read so I looked over my grandfather's bookshelf. He had a Globe-Werneke barrister bookcase, bought while at college; I've had that bookcase since 1972. Some of the books I found there was an illustrated children's book of Hiawatha and Bambi and 101 Famous Poems, which I read so often that Gramps gave it to me. I wrote about it here.


Mom would give me a quarter and I would walk down Gardenia and cross Main Street to buy comic books from the drug store. Although other comics were cheaper, I always wanted a Classics Illustrated Comic Book. I read them over and over. My favorites included Lord Jim, Les Miserables, and Jane Eyre.

Mom would take me to Frenz and Sons hardware, also at Gardenia and Main, where I would buy Barbie clothes.  And when Mom and Grandma went to the Hollywood Market near downtown Royal Oak I could choose a toy, plastic sets of model dogs or knights and horses, or glittery, plastic high heels that always broke, or a coloring book. Once when pondering my choices a nice lady stopped to talk to me. She said I would grow up to be a very pretty girl. That stuck with me because usually, I heard I would be "so pretty if" I lost weight! It was a cherished affirmation.

That summer the entire family, three generations, watched Sing Along with Mitch Miller, and we did sing along. I watched local Detroit shows like George Pierrot's Presents, a travel show, and Twin Pine's Milky the Clown. I hated Soupy Sales. I saw the first Outer Limits show at my grandparent's house that fall.

When school started Mom drove me to Northwood Elementary school. My parents were buying a house near that school, but we did not move in until several weeks into the school year.

Life had been busy and fun and like an extended vacation. But with school, the implications of moving became harder.

Northwood Elementary school was built in 1923, unlike my brand new school in Tonawanda. (Northwood was pulled down in 2008 and a new complex built on the site.) There were staircases to climb to get to my classroom on the second floor. Large windows filled the classroom with light.

At r, cess the kids ran up and down the large playground's hill. They played 4-Square, a game I had never heard of before. The kids chalked a large square on the asphalt or cement, divided into four smaller squares. A kid was in each square, and they bounced a ball into a square and that kid had to bounce it into some other square.
My Sixth Grade Class at Northwood Elementary School
I was shy and introverted, unable to just join in. I preferred to watch the bumblebees gather pollen from the wildflowers along the fence.

I really liked my first male teacher, Mr. Raymond Saffronoff.  We had "New Math" and for the first time I actually did well in math. We learned about Michigan flora and fauna in preparation for a spring visit to Kensington Nature Park; on the trip I saw a Pileated Woodpecker!I worked on a report about birds.

I enjoyed music class where we learned folk songs from around the world. I would gaze at the piano, longing to play it. I missed playing the piano so much.

My Sixth Grade year was punctuated by events I never forgot: The Kennedy assassination and the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. The Beatles because I did not like their music, which seemed inane to me: I Wanna Hold Your Hand, Yeah Yeah Yeah. But all my classmates loved them, making me feel even more of an outsider.  But several years previous, after hearing Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Tiny Polkadot Bikini on the car radio when Janet L.'s sister Ruth drove us to Summer Camp at Herbert Hoover Jr High, I had promised my Grandmother Gochenour I would never like Rock and Roll. I meant to keep my word.

On Friday afternoon our class visited the school library. From its stacks of older books I took home children's classics like The Wind in the Willows, Peter Pan, and the Oz books. At Philip Sheridan the library was full of newly published books, now become classics. At Northwood I discovered the vintage classics.

On that Friday of November 22, 1963, Mr. Saffronoff and took us from the library back to our classroom. He said that the president had been shot and that we were to go home early.

It was a long, frightening walk home. I did not know if the Russians would take over our country because our leader was dead. I did not know if our parents could protect us. I had not felt this dread since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Over the next days, the adults were all glued to the television set. On the day of President Kennedy's funeral my family gathered at my grandparent's house to watch it on TV. I saw young John salute his daddy and felt bad for little Caroline.

After we moved from my grandparent's home I still saw Gail but had not made new friends at Northwood or on Houstonia. I was growing more homesick all the time. Nancy Ensminger and I wrote letters, and I saw her and my cousins when we visited Tonawanda. But life was lonely and boring. I know I complained and Dad would suggest I go out and start up a baseball game. I thought he was crazy. I didn't know how to play baseball. We didn't have a ball or bat or glove. And I was too shy to start up anything.

I was too young to realize that my family were all dealing with homesickness and adjusting to their new lives, too. Grandma Gochenour missed her church friends, her lifelong friend Annie Hooverman, and her family. Mom's health was not good and Dad worked two jobs. Grandma finally decided to return to Tonawanda and live with Aunt Alice and Uncle Kenny.


My yellow bedroom
When we first moved into the Houstonia house Mom decorated a bedroom for me with yellow walls. I had a display case for my Beyer horse collection and a bookcase for my books. There was a walk-in closet with shelves where I stored my Classic Comic Books. The windows faced the east, and on summer mornings the sunlight streamed in. Grandma Gochenour and my little brother Tom had first floor bedrooms and my folks were in the other upstairs bedroom.

My Aunt Nancy and Uncle Joe lived in Lincoln Park and my cousin Sue was just a few years younger than me. So I did have one cousin nearby to play with.
Showing my cousin Sue my 1963 Christmas Presents
After Grandma Gochenour moved back to Tonawanda my brother could not be alone on the first floor, so he was moved into my bedroom and I was moved into the small, first floor bedroom. It was near the back of the house. The window faced the pear tree in the back yard. When it rained the gutter clattered and kept me awake. I had a transistor radio and would listen to it in bed in the dark, amazed to hear stations from all over the country.

Summer came. I had no friends to play with, there were no kids gathering for games of Mother-May-I or Red Light, Green Light, nothing to do. I discovered classic movies on Bill Kennedy's Showtime.

I had always loved television, but these old movies became my passion. Jimmy Stewart in Harvey and It's a Wonderful Life; Blood and Sand and The Sun Also Rises with Tyrone Power; Gregory Peck in The Snows of Kilimanjaro; Errol Flynn in Captain Blood! I didn't understand what was going on between 'men and women' but I loved the action scenes and the funny parts.
*****
At the end of the school year a mimeographed booklet was published by the student council. It included jokes, class prophecies, and such. My copy is faded and I transcribed it a few years back.

Highlights of 1963-1964 were listed as:
  • Governor Romney is the governor of Michigan.
  • President Johnson is fast becoming popular
  • R. Nixon-B. Goldwater are the chief candidates for president (Republican)
  • New York has a World's Fair this year
  • Our class helped plant trees on the playground
  • We had a big awards assembly out on the playground
  • In November we collected 75 bundles for Bundle Days
  • Alaska was shaken by a huge earthquake on March 27, 1964 (Good Friday)
  • We collected 64 dollars for the United Foundation
  • On Mary 25, 1964 we had an assembly honoring Michigan Week
  • Another terrible tornado hit the Anchor Bay area in May 1964
  • For Arbor Day '64; we planted ten trees, one of which is the Red Maple from Mrs. White.
  • We had an assembly on May 17, 1964 honoring the Student Council, Audio Visual Club, Squad Patrols, and the Service Squad. Band and Stings played at the Assembly.
  • We collected many, many cans for food for the needy over Thanksgiving last November.
The class will said I would leave my horse books to another girl in the class, and my prophecy was to become "an olive stuffer", which I found offensive. I figured it either meant I was too stupid to do anything else or that I would be stuffing the olives into my mouth to eat!

My Sixth Grade class did not all go to the same junior high school. Many in the booklet I came to know later in high school. It was just a one year stop on the way for me.
*****
1964 was the year of the elephant jokes.

How do you get an elephant out of a bowl of custard?
Read the directions on the back of the package.

What's big, gray, and lumpy?
Elephant Tapioca.

What was the elephant doing on the highway?
Oh, about 84 miles per hour.

Why do elephants lay on their backs in the water and stick their feet in the air?
So you can tell them from a bar of soap.

What happens when an elephant steps on some grapes?
It lets out a little wine.

What's gray and has a trunk?
An elephant leaving town.

When an elephant sits on your fence what time is it?
Time to get a new fence.

Old Lady: Must I stick the stamp on myself?
Post Office Employee: No, stick it on the envelope.

Patient: Every time I drink a cup of coffee I get a sharp pain in my eye. What should I do?
Doctor: Just take the spoon out of the cup.

Policeman: You are under arrest for speeding.
Motorist: I wasn't speeding but I passed a couple of fellow who were.

First Dragon: Am I late for supper?
Second Dragon: Yes, everyone's eaten.

What's giant, purple, and lives in the sea?
Moby Plum

What holds the moon up?
Moonbeams

What is green and flies in the sky?
Super Pickle

Why does a traffic light turn red?
You'd turn red too if you had to change in front of all those people.
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