Teenage life - freshmen year.
Life on Lawrence St had me learn the language and made me an American kid of German ancestry. I did what other kids did. I learned to speak fluently enough to get along with everybody.
As I sit here thinking of those days I can only remember happy times. No one bothered me except some bullies at school who probably were generic in nature and practiced their art on anybody who was not part of their group. I was not. I was never into bullying, fighting or generally nasty to anybody. You didn't like me? Fine. What do I care. I always had friends but they were few in number and therefore really good friends. I would go through hell and high water for them and I expected the same from them. We trusted each other - except when it came to girls as previously mentioned. I could count my friends of those days on one, well maybe two, hands. There were the boys from Lawrence St with whom I would go to the Lighthouse Club for Boys and play ping pong and I even got to be on a baseball team at Lighthouse Field. Baseball in the Summer. It was hot and dusty and I have no idea where I got a glove from but I was out in center field and caught quite a few balls. I actually thought the game was pretty easy. I could hit the ball and catch it. Seemed simple to me. We also
went swimming in one of the indoor pools at the Boys Club. At least I
think it was part of that place. And then three of us played Canasta,
Rummy, Blackjack and Poker. We played lots of cards after school before our parents came home from work.
My other friends were from our German background from around St Henry's. Usually our parents knew each other or were good friends. Through them I was quickly introduced to the German-American Children's Choir of Philadelphia. The group practiced every Saturday at the home of the Philadelphia Quartette Club near Germantown & Lehigh Avenues. Mr Körner was our conductor and we would sing at our own concerts and at the concerts of other singing societies. At the time there were many. The periodic Sängerfests of the Northeast-American singing societies would have thousands of singers performing together. No hall was really big enough. Soon we oldsters in the group formed our own sub-chorus called the Jugendchor or youth choir. Now here would be more girls then boys but shyness prevailed until a later time.
It was not long after I had joined the Children's Choir during that first Summer in Philadelphia, that Mr Rasch our President and leader had arranged a trip to Connie Mack Stadium for us. We were to see the Philadelphia Athletics play real baseball. This stadium, also called Shibe Park, was a huge brick structure at 21st & Lehigh Ave. (The Mack family is now prominent in FL politics right were I live)
By this time the Athletics had seen their heyday and the stadium was often fairly empty. The Mack brothers sold the team in 1954 and the stadium was eventually torn down but I'm digressing. So here we were probably around a 100 or so kids with a few a parents as guardians sitting in this huge park. Well, yours truly wa snot interested in seeing grown men play a kids' ball game. We played something similar in Germany but only among kids at school. I thought the game was terribly boring with nothing much happening most of the time. The park was much more interesting. Baseball was by now being broadcast on television.
So I go on my usual adventure & reconnaissance trip way up as far as I could go. I sort of snuck away and was soon missed to create a small panic as I was still struggling with the language. Well, as luck would have it, someone hit a foul ball right in my vicinity way up yonder where no one else was. Of course my people now saw me. I went to gather the ball and started to haul out to throw it back. They obviously need that ball to continue the game. Well, the people below me started to holler at me and waved their arms. I figured that they didn't think I could throw that far and I moved down a few levels and then made ready to throw again. Now the whole place is screaming at me and I was later told I was even on television. Now I knew something was wrong. I guess I wasn't supposed to 'throw' the ball back. Maybe you go down there and simply hand it to them? But that was stupid. I can throw that far and it'll land in the field. By now kids have come running up to me and ask for the ball. No, that is my ball. If they want it, it must be worth something. I'm offered money. Now I really know this is something I should keep. I turn everybody down and start making my way down to my group and someone meets me half way and gives me holy hell for leaving my seat. They were worried and yeah, yeah, yeah. I wasn't born yesterday and would not get lost from them. The episode made me somewhat famous and I kept that ball for years. Where it went? Who knows?
Later that summer of 1952 the same group went down to Atlantic City by bus. We had sponsors like the Bauman Brothers who owned Dawn Donuts in Philadelphia and others. THey liked to see and hear kids sing German flogs and contributed nicely to our group. At the shore I also got in trouble - again. I mean I had seen the world and roamed around in Berlin. How was I going to get lost at the shore? But when I disappeared the adults again panicked and went looking for me quite frantically. Eventually I cam strolling back from wherever I went and caught the dickens again. I really wasn't like the other kids and just did what you were supposed to do. I had things to see. This was all new to me.
The Jugendchor soon moved to practice at the Franklinville Quartette Club which was appropriately enough in the Franklinville section of Philadelphia and very near to where we first lived on Rockland St. Aftre \practice on Saturday afternoon we would hang out at the club and play musi on the jukebox. Some of the more gogo boys would even ask some of the girls to dance. I was scared because I didn't know how and who would I ask anyway. There were some pretty girls I was interested in but that was it. I kept that to myself and my buddies. My good friend Ralph Aspenleider is the only person I'm still in contact with from these times.
In June 1953 I finish 9th grade with pretty average marks but much better then what I did in Germany. I had thought English would be my hardest subject but in reality it wasn't really bad. I had some difficulty with defining sentences and with the grammar but so did others. The main thing was that I was not the stupid kid in class anymore. I had felt that way in Germany. I was assigned to go the main school in class Sophomore 12. It was one of the higher ranked acidemic classes where I had been assigned based upon standardized testing.
My mother had been working several jobs besides taking care of Mr no legs. (the name will come to me one of these days) One such extra or part time job was cleaning house for various German families who could by now afford a housekeeper. One of these couples knew a doctor who was involved with a summer camp for crippled kids. Wouldn't I want a summer job there? Well, I didn't have a whole lot of choice as it was fixed for me to report to Chesapeake City, MD as soon as possible after the school year ended. I would get paid $100 for the entire summer and live and eat there for free. I thought it was a good deal because $100 was one hell of a lot of money. The Uhlenbrocks took us all down there and left me to my assignment. It was a long summer. The kids had muscular distrophy and similar crippling diseases. They were heavy for a weak skiny kid like me. They were also strong as bulls with their arms even though they could not control them well. We would play whatever games could be played and take them to the water, feed and clean them. Whatever was needed. I was going on 16 by now and there were teenage girls there in bikinis and I almost went crazy with desire but no touch. I can still see those bods.
Of course I got into my usual troubles there too by going to places I wasn't supposed to. I tried fishing but I kept getting eels on my line and I couldn't get them off the hooks as they were so slippery. I didn't want to hurt them either as I would just throw them back. I quickly gave up on fishing as a past time. Haven't done it since. I just feel sorry for every animal taken out of their native environment for no particular reason. Live and let live was my motto. So what did I do? I would paddle a canoe in this little cove they had or row a boat here and yonder but we weren't permitted too far out as the main shipping channel was out there with huge ships coming and going all the time. One day I decided to risk a trip on a rubber mat to an island further up stream. Well, somebody saw me on playing on the rubber mattress and then I was gone. Panic struck again. They thought I had drowned somewhere as I wasn't to be found. I was exploring that island. As dusk approached I paddled back and saw the consternation I had caused. I mean I knew what I was doing. I wasn't taking any crazy risks but they were furious with me and threatened to send me back home. I was not following the rules. They relented as otherwise I was a hard worker and they probably needed me. But my parents did hear about it and sent me a scathing letter to behave myself.
Back home it was time to buy books for school with some of my money. The best part was getting the red book covers which said North East Catholic Highschool for Boys on it. That was the school to be seen with. Over 4000 students and big in all the sports in the city especially soccer which I wanted to play.
There was only one thing missing for the big campus and that was a car. On the various trips we took with others I had watched how they drive. It didn't seem hard at all just like baseball. I also had some money now. One could get a learners permit at 15 1/2 back then and get a full license at 16. Well, I got my learners permit but no one to learn with. Being a sneely son, I talked my mom into walking from 4th St over to Broad and Wyoming, a good hour's walk to look some cars I had seen in a small lot there.
Just look mom! The poor thing couldn't say no to her son. I wouldn't have had an even 1% chance with my dad. To make a long story short, the used car salesman sold us a car for $600 which I made the $100 down payment for and swore to continue with the rest of payments - somehow.
Now we had a car, a 1949 Oldsmobile two door fastback sedan with a Rocket 88 V8 engine. I had gone to heaven. My mother walked home while I drove.
Never having driven before that was quite an accomplishment but for me it came as natural as riding my bike. I was home and waited for my mother to arrive. I don't remember what we told my dad but I'm sure it was a dozy.
The next morning I'm supposed to go to school. With the car of course. My mother now assumes I know how to drive and lets me talk her into taking her to work. A proud son with mother in the passenger seat drives from 4th St over to 5th where I had to make a turn down 5th St. Well, a policeman is standing there in the middle of the street helping kids cross to St Henry's. He would get out of the way and stood his ground while I almost ran over his feet on the turn. His whistle come out and he pulls me over. My mother promptly gets out and gets on the trolley to go to work. You just couldn't miss work.
License and registration please! I have neither. I don't know how these people communicated back then but a paddy wagon shows up in a bit and I'm arrested and put into the wagon to be driven to the Hunting Park Police station. I sit there a while sweating blood, a Captain come over to get the facts. I explain that I have the bill of sale and haven't gotten my registration yet as we just bought the car yesterday. What about your license? Well, I was with my mom but she had to leave to go to work and all I have is the Learners Permit. He gave the guy who brought me in a dirty look and tells him just give me a ticket for careless or maybe reckless driving and let me go. So I had a ticket before I even got my license. My car stayed where it was except that I parked it at home later on but I took the trolley from then on unless there was someone with a license on board. Being arrested was a bit too much even for my mother. So I was late to school on my first day and it left me with a story to tell to this day.