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Fred's Story > Chapters > Growing up through high school

My bike, my way around Philly 

Date Range: 01/01/1952 To 12/31/1956   Comments: 5 Views: 11519
Attachments: No    

Life on 3rd St ends

My paper route was doing well and I paid for the bike in rapid succession, week after week.

My mom was not making much money in the store and my dad got sick from the chemicals in the cleaning plant. He just couldn't handle it. At first they decided not to live upstairs in the apartment as we had to pay rent there. We simply lived downstairs behind a curtain separating the store from our quarters. The whole arrangement with the Ellerkamps was of a temporary mode just to give us a foothold. Dad left the employ of his friend and found work at Burke's Meats, a large manufacturer of sausages and other meat products on Girard Ave in north Philadelphia. They needed people to clean their boilers, wash the floors and do general crap work only immigrants who couldn't speak English would do. It paid a lot better then working at Ted's and at least it was just hot and dirty, not chemically dangerous. The store ran and my mom tried out the little English she was picking up. The funniest episode in that department was the time she told some people to 'please shit down'. They looked at each other in surprise and broke out laughing much to my mom's consternation. They didn't explain. How could they? But later my Mutti asked what all the fuss was about and the joke was with us the rest of her life. One learns the language little by little from one embarrassment to another. My dad was never as willing to risk the language. On the other hand, by the time my mother died she was pretty fluent. 

We had arrived in March, 1952 and I was quickly introduced to school. We lived on the outskirts of what was an entirely German neighborhood around the parish of St Henry. It had been funded by German immigrants and built up from nothing by Msgr. Henry Koeness who himself was German. His successor was Msgr Koenig another German but born in this country. The school and parish was on 5th & Cayuga Sts. where one did not need to speak English as all products and services were available in German. The nuns were all from Germany and had come here with their teaching order as young women. This is were I was sent. At first there was some discussion as to which grade I should be admitted to. In Germany I had left during the middle of 8th grade but like I said, I was not the best of students there. Since I hadn't finished 8th grade they wanted to put me into 7th grade and then start 8th grade over again in the fall. I don't know how it came about that I was put into 8th grade right away instead. Maybe somebody tested me or something.

Many of my fellow students were children of immigrants and spoke at least some German. Since class was in English, it did not do my much good to sit there and listen to gibberish. My knowledge of English was limited to House (Haus) and Mouse (Maus). So the good nuns allowed me to chose somebody I wanted as my own private tutor and sit out in the hall with him or her. They thought such one on one help would be the best medicine for me to get through until June. Oh my, did I have choices now. Pick anybody I wanted and they all wanted to be it. It was away to get out of class for the others. Besides, I was an interesting new specimen to train. I still wore the knickers, had a funny hat and generally was uncultured in the ways of American teenage life. My choice? Of course it was Annemay Kerns, the prettiest and most well developed girl in class. I was in love. Annemay spoke fluent German. Her parents were in the real estate business serving mostly German clientele just like Alphonse Ellerkamp. It was difficult for me to keep my mind on the books in front of us as I just wanted to tell her I love her all the time. I had never been that close to a real live female before. With the money I earned on my paper-route I even dared to buy her an ice cream cone one day but that was the limit of my approaches as I was much too shy to try anything else. Annemay kept at the reading very conscientiously and I started speaking a little here and there of what I learned. I remember the word BEAUTIFUL because it described her so well. I kept wanting to learn to say it over and over again. Then I thought 'you are' while trying to spell the darn thing. In German spelling is relatively simple as everything is written just like you say it but beautiful had to be said Be-auti-full to get the spelling right. 

Being the stranger in the mids of a bunch of 8th graders also had other advantages. I was different and a good catch to bring home to meet the parents for both boys and girls. This was mainly because the news had gotten around to the parents that a new boy from Germany had arrived in school. They then wanted their kids to be friends with me because they could practice their German but there were other reasons as well. Somebody from Germany would also have the graces and cultural behavior the parents loved so much (from their own youth) but could not get into their kids in this country. I could be very deferential to my elders. I would shake hands and introduce myself with a alight bow of the head. Off came the hat etc etc. They didn't know what devil was behind all this wonderful appearance but I made a good show of being a well behaved young man. 

So I got invited to various homes as an example as to how to behave. I made the acquaintance of a young man who became my best friend. This was Erich Uhlenbrock with whom my parents also formed a quick friendship. One of the girls in class invited me to her birthday party and I needed to know what to do and what to bring. I was scared. I asked if Erich could also come and he too was invited. I needed a chaperon to give me the scoop. Erich scared the hell out of me with his stories of kissing games and what-not that would go on. How do you do it? Having never kissed a girl and then having to perform on command was a very, very scary event. He showed me how to pucker up as if he was an expert. Spin the bottle was the game. Never heard of such a thing but there it was. A beautiful dark haired girl kept calling me to go into the closet with her when she won a turn. I was a very light curly blond boy and opposites attract I guess. I would pick her to but then Erich and she got to call each other and I was mortally wounded by my best friend in the world. I obviously left something to be desired in the kissing department and therefore the switch but how was I to know these things? I was very mad at Erich for a long time because he stole my girlfriend. 

Once the 8th grade had graduated I was asked to come to summer school for my real education. Fun and games with Annemay were over now. The plan was for me to spend two summer months in school one on one with a nun - a grade a week starting with 1st grade. This was the time I was also developing my paper route and learning a few words here and there. So the summer went by and I finished my 8 week course through elementary school so that I could start high school in the fall. My parents thought that high school was quite extraordinary being that in Germany I would have been done with an 8th grade education. Here it was the norm. 

Our parish was a feeder school for Northeast Catholic High School for Boys at K & A or Kensington and Allegheny Avenues in North Philadelphia. The school was so full that most parishes kept their 9th graders at the parish to allow room for Sophomores and up at the main campus. That was the case here. So I had a year's reprieve from being on my own without the good nuns.   

I found out that 9th grade was not so bad after all. I had had all that stuff already in grammar school in Germany. Latin was new as well as English but the algebra, science and other stuff was just a review for me.  

Our friends, the Uhlenbrocks, had a 1948 or 1949 Buick with which they took us all over to show us the city, the parks and monuments. We also found an invalid man who had both legs amputated at the knees who needed somebody in his house to care for him. Cook and wash etc. We moved from Ted's Cleaning store to his house at 2817 N. Lawrence Str. closer to center city and Lehigh Ave. The area had once been German but that had been a generation ago. Still, the churches and clubs remained for a while longer.
The picture shows a proud young man on his all purpose horse with his mom and the legless Hungarian in whose house we lived.

My parents continued to save every penny and my mom found work in various garment factories usually on piecework assignments. It was tough work in terrible conditions but at least there were tow incomes and no real expenses as they paid no rent in return for taking care of this Hungarian man. 

I still went to school at St Henry's a good 20 city blocks away. But I had my trusty horse named Firestone. Back and forth I would go in any weather. I could do any trick you can think of on my bike. I had lots of practice. The other kids would go home for lunch but I had my baggy with a sandwich and apple and all was well. The only thing was where does one eat lunch? One or the other friend would accompany on my search for suitable luncheon places. The best was right on top of a water tower a few blocks away but there were rail road cars and the tops of various roofs as alternatives. It was a challenge to be different. 

One day I was on such a water tower when I kept getting terrible stomach pains. I thought it would go away and suffered for a while but then I made my way down these long ladders hurting more with each step. I told whoever I was with that I was going home. I could go back to school that afternoon. So I get on my bike and peddle up and down the many curbs to get home and go to bed with terrible pains. The old man had a telephone but who should he call. By the time my mom got home I was just about passed out and she quickly called Mr. Uhlenbrock who came and took me to a hospital where they immediately operated on my appendix. Coming out of the operating room into recovery I was left alone and swallowed my tongue. I was turning blue from choking while still under anesthesia when Erich Uhlenbrock, Sr. happened to see me through a glass door. He had been a nurse somewhere or other and knew right away what the problem was. He rushed into the room and somehow pulled out my tongue. He probably saved my life. He never let me forget that either. At every public function he would always tell those around us that I was the boy whose life he saved.

Lawrence St. was a rather narrow run of the mill Philadelphia working class street with two story  brick front, row houses next to each other on both sides of the street. Parking was on both sides with a narrow path to drive through. It was one way. Still, this was our playground and where I learned to play stick ball, chink and various forms of other games. Stickball was played with half of a pimple ball and a broom stick. I was pretty good at this new game. All this had happened in about a 6 or 7 month period. I now was just one of the kids and spoke a pretty fluent English. I still had problems with some idiomatic expressions that took me back to book English but little by little one picks up the real language of the other kids. For example I knew the word visitor but when I would say we are having visitors tonight I was laughed at and told the word is company not visitor. 

I had a good friend on that street with whom I played lots and lots of cards, mostly Canasta. I loved that game and we played it later a lot of it in our later young life. Sadly I don't remember the names of the kids I played with.
The summer of 1952 on Lawrence St. also introduced me to baseball. The Lighthouse Recreation Center and a public city rec center on 5th St. were always looking to form teams to give youngsters things to do during the long hot summers. Somehow I was conned into going along and signing up to play baseball. Well, stickball wasn't so bad. Could baseball be any harder? Somebody gave me a glove and we were off to play. I got the rudiments of the game by watching guys run around the bases after they hit the ball and I was sent OUT THERE to be an outfielder. I dodn't think I ever caught any balls but I did get a chance to throw some back to the infield. Mostly I remember coming to bat. I actually hit the ball but forgot to run to the base. Somebody gave me a push and off I went. This game was easy. I wish I could remember more of how the whole season went. Mostly I remember the hot sun standing out there. This league was not uniformed but we did get hats which somebody sponsored. I was proud of my hat. I was part of something.  

After we moved from Lawrence St., I don't think I ever played baseball again.    


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Member Since
Apr 2008
Chuck Stallong said:
posted on Sep 06, 2008

i hope in a gentle, teasing way, not a mean calculated way! :)

Member Since
Aug 2008
Fred Rump said:
posted on Sep 07, 2008

I don't understand your comment.

Member Since
Aug 2007
Archibald Sharron said:
posted on Sep 07, 2008

I think he's referring to this: "He rushed into the room and somehow pulled out my tongue. He probably saved my life. He never let me forget that either."

Member Since
Aug 2008
Fred Rump said:
posted on Sep 07, 2008

Yes, he wasn't a mean man. It was just a bit embarassing to me that whenever we met someone, he would say this is the kid whose life I saved. I thought, 'Ok, enough already'. The he'd go into the whole story even years later while I stood there thhinking they must think I'm stupid for swallowing my tongue. :-) It's just that kids don't like to be center of attention around a bunch of adults.

Member Since
Aug 2007
Olga Pinashova said:
posted on Sep 09, 2008

I'd too be thinking "ok ok already you saved my life now can we all move along?" :)