High School. I think things were different then. Maybe not. This was just another semester of school – at the new high school. I applied at UW-M (the only school my father would send me to). I received a letter from MIT (yes, that one) requesting that I apply. My father said not a chance. UW-M only: Boston was too far from home. Not that we moved there 6 months later but MIT was still out of the question even though it was home at that point. The real reason was that he needed me to continuing to see Mr. Trentadue / Dr. Veit. The meds were killing me. Thorazine was history and now I was taking Tofrinil and Taractin. Not much better: I was still a zombie.
Mary Ann went to the prom with me. She was so beautiful. Until I die I shall remember her in that white dress and tiara. She came to the house with me. She was terrified of seeing my father. Getting her to the house was a major effort. Jeanne was a sophomore but dating Jerry Shulkers, a senior. He was part of the fast crowd, worked at a gas station near his house and school, and was really a nice guy once you got past the tough-guy façade. He had a ’55 Chevy. I left first in the Corvair and it stopped for some reason just around the corner. Jeanne and Jerry stopped to help. He had a light blue tux that got some black stuff on it. He cleaned it up the best he could. He was really a good guy. He got the Corvair started in no time and we were off. My mother took some good pictures of the two couples before we left.
Mary Ann stole the Prom. She conspicuously out-dressed the Prom Queen and with her tiara could have been mistaken for a Prom queen or a live princess anywhere. I could not dance and this left her standing around with nothing to do. Jerry asked her and a couple of friends asked her. My performance was dismal. I never voluntarily went to another dance except square dancing.
I graduated exactly last in the top quartile. Graduation was graduation. Mary Ann came. I do not think I would have survived without her. I had asked my parents to not give me a watch as a graduation present. I wanted an Accutron and that was out of the question. No Accutron, no watch. They got me a watch: a Gruen. My father liked Gruens. I cried. I lost all respect for myself that night and if Mary Ann had not been there, I would not have gone to commencement.
The ceremony was typical. Tom Jensen gave a parting speech. So did Dave Stowe, our valedictorian. I am sure that Kathy Kabat, our salutatorian, also gave a speech but I do not remember. I do not remember Dave’s speech. Tom’s was funny. He picked me out with jokes about numbers. I was phenomenal with numbers. I could do any arithmetic in my head faster than most could do it on paper. There were no pocket calculators in those days. My class prophecy was that I would grow up to judge beauty contests. This was a two-fold thing. My father caught the first part: I was good with figures. The second part, he missed. Everyone remembered Mary Ann. She was charming and she was beautiful and she was here. I do not know if she understood the compliment. I doubt it. But she is smart, she might have. People were asking for her number well into college.
Chuck Krueger graduated that night. I do not remember seeing him. By this time we mostly hung in different crowds. He with Ron Bitner and crew. Me with the academics: Science Club, Mu Alpha Theta, etc. I do not remember anything after that. The meds probably put me to sleep. Mostly people in those days went home with their families as soon as the ceremony ended. I never saw the kids again except Chuck Krueger and those with whom I went to college until the high school reunion in 2002.
I do not know where to put this so it is here. My grandfather Kelly gave me his entire collection of Civil War books. This was not a lot of books but they were my most valuable possessions. I always valued books but these were special. They were all published in the 1860’s. They included the personal memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, Sherman, and Robert E. Lee. There were no Xerox machines in those days so the yellow surrender letter copy affixed to the last page of the Robert E. Lee book made it especially valuable. It was a photocopy sort of like a picture. I also had a biography of Lincoln and a two-volume set of the war itself published during and immediately after the war. The interesting thing about these two books is that they disagree very much with what you read about the war today. Reporters on the battlefields reporting what they saw and heard wrote the book.
For example, the north almost lost the war because of a simple blunder by scouts just before the end of it. Grant’s and Lee’s armies were in Virginia and near each other but their actual locations were unknown to each other. Sherman was coming up to meet Grant from Atlanta. A set of Sherman’s scouts bumbled into Lee’s camp but escaped before they were detected. This pinpointed Lee’s camp and his environment. Sherman then sent his scouts around the encampment to Grant. This put Lee between Sherman and Grant. The attack was a surprise and was a serious battle but the north had the advantage and won. You will not read this anywhere in current books. I think none of the contemporary historians read the same on the spot reporting that I did.
I was very proud of my books and the knowledge that I had of the war. One day I noticed my books were missing. Many of them. My father had sold them. Thirty-five dollars to be used for my college. Even in those days, thirty-five dollars would by me lunch for a month but not even a serious textbook. I felt like my father had his thirty pieces of silver but never had the guts to hang himself. My mother told me that his father requested the books back to sell them but got a low price because the yellow surrender copy was not in the book. Sorry but I know it was. And my father should have stood up for me I any case. You can tell I have no respect at all for that man: just writing about this raises my blood pressure.
I have given the remaining books to my son-in-law, Marcus. He also thinks of himself as a Civil War expert and will respect the remaining books properly.
I think when we are younger we like to think of ourselves as experts at something. It does not matter what it is: history, wine, authors lives, whatever. Knowing much about something makes us feel valuable. The problem is that sooner or later you come to realize that many people know more about your pet subject than you do and that there are too many things to know to hold this knowledge as a valuable asset.
Thinking about the thirty-five dollars. My father actually tossed in two-fifty more and bought me a savings bond. All of my money was put into savings bonds. When I was in grade school, we bought Peace Stamps. We pasted these into a book and when the book was full, we bought a bond. Remember, I started school during the Korean War. The government was not averse to paying for the war with the savings of children. I guess G. W. Bush had a precedent.
I know there was a collection of bonds. My father cashed one when I got a speeding ticket. The ticket was stupid. I was crossing the thirty-fifth street viaduct in the snow. I was going under the speed limit. Shoot, it was a Corvair. They went anywhere. The only other car moving was a police car and he decided to ticket me for driving too fast for conditions. I could not drive slower without getting stuck in the snow. I guess I made the cop mad because everyone else was home or stuck. In any case the ticket was for less than the value of the bond. My father kept the difference for wear and tear on the car.
It did not matter. I never did see the bonds again. I presume my father spent them on my education. He always made sure that I knew how much my education cost his life-style. Years later when my sister Kathie went to college, he bought a ridiculous pickup truck. He sent us kids pictures saying what he could afford now that he did not have to pay for our education any more. This was in 1970 or 1971. He still had the cottage. He actually let me drive the once when Carole and I took our van up to the cottage. The truck had all of the luxury features including a vinyl top. If the truck were a word, the word would be oxymoron. How do you expect a working truck to be luxurious? Today I live in the RV world. Pickup trucks go by me regularly. These trucks are working trucks with big diesels for pulling 5th wheel RVs. They have some comfort features. But a truck should not be shamed by having features that are contrary to its purpose.
My father’s truck had a very low rear-axle gearing. Since he was not hauling logs, this gearing made no sense. His highest gear, I think it was fourth, permitted speeds no greater than 55 without going over the red line. My van shifted to its high gear at 50 and stopped shuddering by 55 and was most comfortable at 80. My van was made for driving and it did its job well. His truck was made for ego and I guess it served but I could not have afforded the time to drive so slowly and pay the gas prices he did. He could have pulled a trailer but he did not have one and the trailer would have been pulled slower than would have been useful for travailing. The 1960 Oldsmobile had had a strong rear-end but then it did pull a trailer.
I do not remember what I did this summer. I was seeing Mary Ann Schwinghammer. This put a lot of miles on the Corvair. Her parents did not want her to be in a car until she was sixteen. I drove to her house and parked the car. We took the bus from there. They made exceptions of course as you saw above.
On several occasions we went to the cottage that summer.
My father bought a canoe kit. Yes, there was such a thing. It was really clunky and made entirely from plywood. I built the kit in the garage. It took too long and I had several reprimands for this. When it was finished, my sisters painted it: red. I drilled hundreds of holes, countersunk them, and screwed in the wood screws – by hand. There were no electric screwdrivers in those days. The templates laid out the cuts but plywood is flat and canoes are curved. The design compromised: it was a very angular canoe with the hundreds of screws holding the boards in places they did not want to be. I was very happy when it was completed. There was a major problem: it leaked. It leaked a lot. My father filled the seams with putty and the canoe was repainted over the putty.
Our camping days are over. My father sold the Manorette and bought a cottage up north. This is a small cabin on the shore of Loon Lake about 14 miles south of Florence, Wisconsin. This is twenty miles west and a little south of Iron Mountain, Michigan. North is north.
Did you see the movie “On Golden Pond” with the Fondas? The opening scenes of that movie were so nostalgic. The lake is small and ‘private’. Private because the lake was totally surrounded by owned homes. But then I do not know what I am talking about here. It provided the largest fish in the county most years although not from me.
A small stream on the west end fed the lake and it approached the highway on the east end. A small forest road wandered around most of the lake so that the homeowners could get to their cabins. The cabin sat a hundred feet or so above the water line on aslope such that the basement (yes) had a door that opened at ground level on the lower side.
The main entrance was to a porch on the lakeside so that when you drove up, you parked on the backside and walked around to the screened (or storm-windowed) porch and into the cabin. The porch was more or less the living room. You entered into the cabin from the porch into the dining room and then the kitchen. Two bedrooms were on the right with mine in the back and the girls, with the bunk beds, in the front. This was more than just a little cabin in the woods, this was a real home. My father bought it furnished from a woman who was desperate for the money and would not live there again as her husband was terminal in a local hospital and needed the money for medical bills. My father got a lower price, much lower than she wanted, because of this. I asked him about taking advantage of the situation and he told me that where money was concerned, there was no ‘situation’. We had had too many such discussions in my lifetime about money. I swore that I would never let money run my life. I had sworn this many times. Maybe it is because he grew up in the depression and I did not but I think it went deeper than that. I know it did.
We had a few interesting times at the cottage. Mary Ann came one time. I so loved Mary Ann. Maybe she was just my escape from my reality of my family. I know that was part of it. We got some pictures of her in the cabin. The walls were natural wood. Knotty Pine: my dad’s and my favorite. There was a clock on the wall. In those days all clocks had wires or were hand wound.
There was a pier to the lake. A nice pier: stable and good, solid wood. The lake was too small for speedboats and my dad’s 5hp rowboat for fishing was the maximum. At it was best to row that rather than use the motor. The canoe and the rowboat could tie up to the pier.
Skipper loved the cabin. He could run in the woods and swim in the lake. He would fetch sticks thrown into the water. He was good at it. We also used waterlogged sticks and taught him to swim under water. He could go over 5-feet down. My father was impressed – with the dog.
Since the canoe putty remained soft, there were red paint and putty stickings on the streambed for quite a ways up the stream. They were obvious. The canoe and the aluminum rowboat remained in the garage when we were not there. This was most of the time.
Years later my father sold the cabin because they got to it so seldom. This was strange to me because at that point they lived in Green Bay. But then my father had a large yard and a house in Green Bay that took his outdoor efforts making the cabin redundant. I was disappointed in this because the cabin was the only possession of his that I would have liked when he died. Shoot, I would have paid what he sold it for happily. By then we did not talk much so how was he to know? Not his fault.
My father took pictures of the metal lot stakes with my sisters holding a folding rule while standing in comic positions. In those days, most lots had metal lot stakes as proof of ownership. My father always took pictures of these to document the lot line for posterity. We had them on our lot at the Wauwatosa house too.
We did not walk in the woods as much as we should have. The time was spent infixing the cottage, relaxing, and down by the lake. I never met any of the other homeowners but I did meet Honey. Once many years later in 1967. We will cover that incident. Honey owned the bar on the highway right where our service road met the highway – on the far side of the road.
I remember Mary Ann did not put her hair in rollers when she slept. This was the normal thing for girls to do in those days. I asked her about it. She reminded me that I had told her that I had never wanted to see her with her hair in rollers. She was right I had said that. I had never expected her to stay in the same house as me where this might reasonably occur. I felt that maybe I was overly dogmatic – like my father. This concept upset me.
I did not know how to relax. The cottage was boring for me (except when Mary Ann had come). There were no books there that I wanted to read. I was not into Zane Grey. I should have been.
A clock was interesting. It would run in either direction but was also useless as a clock as it ran so fast that the minute hand went a little faster than the normal second hand and the second hand was just a blur. We posed a problem for my father: the clock lost an hour each time it went through its twelve-hour cycle. In other words, it only took eleven ‘hours’ in its day. Now my father knew that this was logically impossible but we showed him. The hands cross once per hour. If you counted the crossings, the clock gained an hour sometime between six and eight o’clock. This was true whether you started a little before twelve or a little after twelve just to make sure you counted twelve o’clock properly. After leaving him with this, we kids went out in the boat with my father working with the clock.
When we thought he would have come down from the ceiling, we came back in. He met us on the pier: he had figured it out. The hands do not cross every hour. They cross approximately every hour and five minutes. Thus they cross eleven times in a day and not twelve. He looked at us and knew he had been had. He went back up and sulked for the rest of the day. This is one of two times that my father was ‘had’. He reacted the same both times. The other was in Boston.
Maybe this is the time I worked for Mr. Hilty next door. Mr. Hilty had opened a shop in Butler where he made steel-wire cages for birds and small animals for exhibits at fairs. The process was to align the steel wires into a wooden frame with slots and then spot-weld the cross-wires. He would set up the wood frames and wires and I would run the spot welder. The task was easy and repetitive: just hit the foot pedal once for each wire intersection after shifting the wood frame under the weld point. There was a little expertise here as you did not want to miss the point and you did not want your finger under the weld point. I did this only once: I lost a chunk off of my right index finger. It bled something fierce. That was the end of welding that night. Mr. Hilty complimented me to my father. My father told me about it: “I don’t know how you do it but Mr. Hilty likes your work. You must be doing something right.” My father could turn any compliment into an insult.
The Hiltys had a little Pomeranian dog. I learned to hate Pomeranians: it barked all of the time. Hiltys parents lived in the house on the corner of 106th and Burleigh. I did not know them.
We traded the 1960 Corvair in for a new one. The original was silver-grey. The road-tar remover I used to get the tree sap off of it (we had elm trees) had discolored the paint and waxing did not help. I had had several minor accidents and it was getting old.
Remember the average life span of a Detroit automobile was three years in those days. Really it was seven but the average to the original owner was three. By then they started to rust or have engine problems. Ain’t Tokyo wonderful?
The new Corvair was a 1962 Mazda with 4 doors instead of two. Black with red trim. Sporty. Not real sporty like the Spyder but sporty. It also had an automatic transmission instead of the three-speed stick on the floor. The 102 horsepower tag on the rear let people know that this was no 80 HP wonder.
There was another difference too. The original Corvair had a gasoline-fired heater under the hood. The gas tank was in the front. This was deemed a safety hazard. The new Corvairs had heat from the engine ducted back to the front of the car. This was a major flaw in the design. You see, the gas heater in the front was an instant-on heat. In Wisconsin, this was great as you got hot air as soon as you got in the car and turned it on. No other car could do this.
The new Corvairs took heat off of the engine manifold. The engine was air-cooled to that this was reasonable. Most cars route anti-freeze through ducts inside. The anti-freeze releases heat to the inside of the car instead of having to go through the radiator and be cooled. This helps everyone and is more or less odor free. The problem with the Corvair varies from being a nuisance to being lethal. It is a nuisance because the air-cooled engine takes a while to warm up. It takes the longest when you need it the most. Also the air comes from the outside. Any rain or other junk from the road that gets into the engine area leaves serious smells behind. But it gets worse. The Corvair engine is known to leak oil and exhaust. The oil is mostly just smelly. The exhaust is a serious problem. Exhaust is carbon monoxide (CO) and other poisonous things. CO is odorless and can kill you. It can kill you slowly. CO bonds with blood and makes the blood useless. It takes three months to replace blood. If you keep driving one of these exhaust-leaking cars, you will get sick. The driving problem is that CO just makes you sleepy. If you drive a long time, you get sleepy anyway. Telling the difference is critical. We ended up always driving with the windows open. This is a problem in New Jersey where there is rain or fog or snow much of the year.
I started school in the fall at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee (UW-M). My good friend from high school, Steve Keidl gave me rides – every day. You do not have many friends in a lifetime as Steve.
Steve had an old Willys. An interesting car. Willys has an interesting history. In the early 1900’s everybody thought they would get into the car building business. In this country and elsewhere manufacturers sprung up everywhere. In this country they started to consolidate as early as the 1930’s. By 1950 there were only about 10 left in this country: GM (Detroit), Ford (Dearborn), Chrysler (Detroit), Studebaker (South Bend), Nash (Kenosha), Hudson, Willys, Kaiser, Fraser, Hudson. In the 1950’s it got smaller still leaving only GM, Ford, Chrysler, American Motors (Hudson-Nash-Studebaker-Willys). It went fast. The center was Detroit during the war. The car plants turned into tank and military vehicle plants. Willys made the famous Jeep. Kaiser merged with Fraser and got Willys. Willys made a few cars but mostly Jeeps. They folded and Studebaker got Willys/Jeep. Studebaker folded and left American Motors with Jeep. Since then Chrysler bought American Motors (just for Jeep) and Mercedes bought Chrysler. GM came out with the Hummer and Jeep became just another Dodge. Whew. OK. Willys. The Willys car had a lot of innovations. One of these was a freewheeling overdrive. This meant that if you were on the highway in overdrive and you took your foot off the pedal, the engine/transmission released and you coasted. You would not coast far but this really saved on the gas. You had to get used to it. This became illegal because you do not have good control over the car when it is freewheeling. Steve’s Willys was so old that the front seat was gone. We sat on orange crates. These days they would find something illegal about that. In any case, Steve had a working car and he drove me to class, which was great because my house was really a long ways out of his way just to go to class.
My father was not doing so well at AC Electronics. They really did not like him much there and worked to encourage him to leave. Over the years he had had several assignments out of town coming home only on weekends. He left AC and took a job with Nortonics in Norwood, Massachusetts. We moved to Dedham over the Christmas break.