Saturday, March 4, 2017

Nancy Writes a Story: Eighth Grade at Jane Addams

In 1965 I turned twelve years old. My homesickess was diminishing. My Eighth Grade school year was one of my best ever in terms of personal growth. Teachers exposed me to the arts, choral singing became a source of achievement, and I was writing my first stories.
Nancy in Eighth Grade sporting a 'flip'
The summer of 1965 included many visits with Tonawanda friends and family.

My Aunt Alice and Uncle Kenny and cousins Dave and Bev visited the summer before Eighth Grade. I wrote that I read The Adventures of Benjamin Pink by Garth Williams aloud to my cousins and brother. It was a book I read to my brother Tom many times; later my husband read it to our son.

In July we returned to Tonawanda. I documented the entire trip:

"4:20 here we go! We're on Main St. We are going to pass Gardenia now. We will be there in about 7 hours, 12 AM. Good luck.

"Woodward Ave ahead. We just passed B'wana Don's Pet Shop. Here's the start--Palmer's Park--and now the end. Turn left to Merrill Plaisance and then left again to Third. We've passed Ginera and Florence, Moss and Puritan, Pilgrim and Midland, Sear and La Bell, For and Pasadena, Grand W. and Davidson, Waverly, Tyler, Buena Vista, Avalon, to GLENDALE! (and those aren't all of the streets.)

"Now we're going down a ramp to the John C. Lodge highway. The speed limit is 44-55 so everyone is going 69-75. Then in the distance, above the trees, are the tops of the big buildings that make up the Detroit Skyline. Beautiful. Off a ramp to Vernor's highway, greeted by a sign with a giant tire about 10 feet high, turn off to Vendor. On the left is Tiger Stadium. Ahead is the Railroad station. 18th St now, left again to 22, and the Ambassador Bridge is towering up over us. Now we are towering over the Detroit River, full of boats. Goodbye, US. Goodbye Detroit. Goodbye Skyline. Hello, Canada. Hello, long ride."

The Giant Tire

We visited my Guenther cousins for a picnic on Sunday. The next day we visited the Levant Becker family. My cousin Debbie took me to visit Myra and Larry Peterson, whom I had met on another visit. I wrote, "I used that name for a fictitious character in one of my stories." The story was a mystery with Mr. Robinson, Jay Robinson, and Larry Robinson. It was only in my head, but I drew pictures of the scenes and characters.
drawing of character Larry Peterson

characters from my story
In August our Rosemont friends the Randalls visited us. They came in a camper and slept in it in our backyard. We went to Greenfield Village. The oldest boy and Mike went to the Henry Ford Museum, but the rest of us were tired and went for a ride and waited in the car. I was too shy to talk to Mike, although as kids we played together. I wrote, "I'll miss them."

When school began in the fall I was feeling more at home. Mrs. Hayden was my Eighth Grade homeblock teacher for English, Social Studies, and Communication. Mrs. Hayden saw my strengths. She encouraged my writing and art instead of making me feel bad for being introverted and shy.

I wrote my first story, The Saucer in Her Yard during Seventh Grade. I worked on it all year, adding to it and rewriting it. It was inspired by Star Girl, a book I'd read at Philip Sheridan Elementary school.

Janiel Corniel Zwiskan, an explorer and prince from the planet Prism, is stranded on Earth and needs to refuel his spaceship. He is discovered by children when he is filling his fuel container with water from their backyard hose. Once back home, Janiel is court marshaled for breaking the no-contact rule, not knowing he was set up by enemies plotting a power takeover.
my space ship
Janiel bravely stands trial knowing he faces a death sentence. But the king has arranged an escape: Janiel is provided a one-way ride back to Earth. I started Book Two of the story, entitled "Amnesia," with Janiel awakening on Earth with no memory. The children see and identify him as the man from the saucer.

I thought Janeil's homesickness and separation from his people were extraordinarily sad. But when I read my story out loud to my parents and grandparents there was laughter just when there should have been sighs and tears. I was mortified. I stopped sharing my stories with anyone.

Mrs. Hayden read aloud to class from The Hobbit and a book called Dorp Dead. The Hunter was a character in Dorp Dead and I was fascinated by the book.
The Hunter from Dorp Dead in the lower right corner
Other books I read this year included The Great White North about the Scott expedition, Edgar Allan Poe's poems and stories, and Les Miserables. I read Les Miz over and over, as it was over my head, determined to understand the novel upon which my favorite Classics Illustrated Comic Book was based.

My entire homeblock class was in Glee Club. I had asked for Journalism as my elective; somebody told me that only the 'popular' kids got in. I was glad to be back with Mr. Henckel.

That fall my childhood dog Pepper, who had lived with my grandparents, was old and cranky and suffering from tumors. I came home from school one day to learn that she had been euthanized. I was upset. My family wanted to spare me, but I never got to say 'goodbye'.

I discovered was that my friend Gail M.'s cousin Joe was in my class. I took out a church bulletin to fan myself during lunch and Joe, who was sitting near me, saw it and noted it was from his cousin's church. I told him she was my best friend. Gail and I went to youth group together a few times.

The Glee Club gave its first performance at a school assembly. I wrote, "We sat in the cafeteria until the orchestra was in the middle of the first piece. Over, up, onto the bleachers. Shaking, scared, nervous. The audience clapped. Mr. Martin announced us. The curtains opened. What a difference--same gym, only filled with people. It made it look larger. Mr. Henckel smiled; we began. I was shaking and smiling and singing. And that's hard to do all at once. Mr. Henkel kept making faces to make us smile. I almost broke out laughing. Silent Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Joy to the World. He told us it was our best performance ever."

Mrs Hayden and Mr Henckel arranged for our the class to experience the arts. It was the greatest experience for me! We visited the Detroit Institute of Art, saw a film with ballet stars Nureyev and Fonteyn, and visited the Detroit Symphony. It changed my life. I begged to go back to the art museum and finally, Dad took me.
Mimeographed letter from Mr Henckel and Mrs Hayden
asking parents to have their children to watch an opera on television
I was taking piano lessons. Along with classical pieces, I learned piano versions of Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass hits and some pops pieces like Baby Elephant Walk.

I was listening to Motown hits on CKLW.

I went to church with my Grandfather Ramer. I knew a few of the kids in my Sunday School class.

I did not have a best friend like Nancy E. and I still felt different from the other girls. I had a few mild crushes on boys, nothing I talked about. It was more like 'noticing' them. Mom bought me white Go-Go boots that I would NOT wear. She hung Big Eye Children pictures on my bedroom wall.


I was already using writing to record my world and explore my inner life, and I dabbled in fiction. At the end of my diary for the year I wrote something that begins as self-exploration and a look at who I was after the move, but then turns into a fictionalized projection.

"She was in love, and she knew it. But with who, you ask? And here is the answer: with books. Peter Pan and Wendy, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Lord Jim. With people: Joan of Arc, Mark Twain, Nancy C. Ensminger, make-believe Red Scott Collie, Philip the boy from Mars, Homer the Ghost, and many others.

"She has many friends: Gail M, Janet L, Nancy E, Linda Guenther, but also enemies. Normal. She used to live in Kenmore, NY but now she lives in Royal Oak, MI. She would cry at night because there was not a person she could call a friend. Except for Gail.

"She wished she could be in NY again with Nancy E.

"She wished she had someone to walk to school with. It was a long walk. She would get four books out of the school library every Friday and Wednesday. She loved horse stories.

"Her greatest wish was she would become and author and be rich. She'd give lots of money to Care, Save the Children, and organizations to help needy people. She felt sad when she saw how some people live here and overseas.

"She wasn't prejudiced against people who were different. A person is human no matter what kind of person they are, they're all the same, she thought. What's the difference between a Japanese and an American? Color? Religion? So, they're still human and have should have the same equal rights.

"She thought it would be cruel to kill even an ant, a bee. To you, a tree in winter is bare and ugly, but to her, they looked like black lace against a white dress in the sky.

"She played a game: if she heard or saw a bird she would try to identify it. Her favorite bird was the Robin, which she considered good luck.

"She feels as if she isn't one person, but many. She acts one way at home, another at school, another when alone. She acts differently at with a friend than she does with a cousin.

"She was also afraid to grow up. She's afraid she will lose her imagination and ideas for stories. Maybe she would not face reality. She lived in a dream world.

"I know that girl. I am that girl. My name is Nancy Adair Ensminger. I can't get Peter Pan, Joan of Arc, Lord Jim, Hank Morgan out of my head. I am 11 years old. The End."

My idealism was already set. I spent my teen years endeavoring to live up to these ideals of loving and accepting everyone as they were, to do no harm, to encourage imagination, and to see beauty in nature.
1965 Newspaper article on Jane Addams School graffiti