Monday, May 15, 2017

Past meets present

Was I ever this young? Apparently so. Say hello
to my third-grade class in Pines Lake. Wonder what
happened to everyone else over the years?

If you ever doubt that it's difficult to out-run your past life, I have some proof to convince you. It's an unlikely story spanning more than 50 years.

I received an email from a woman named Casey in Delaware last week. She had forgotten about the names of some of her elementary school teachers way back in the early 1960s. Casey did, however, remember a teacher she didn't have - Miss Bosland of Pines Lake Elementary School in Wayne, New Jersey. So she headed for the nearest search engine and tried her luck.

There, she found a link to a newspaper article. The beginning was this: My first-grade teacher, Miss Bosland of Pines Lake Elementary School in Wayne, N.J., once told my mother that I was a vast storehouse of worthless information.' Thursday night I will appear on the game show 'Jeopardy!' Still think the information is worthless, Miss Bosland?" This was how I started a preview for my appearance on the game show for the Buffalo News.

I assume Casey said "Eureka" or some similar thought. With my email address at the bottom of the story, she sent me a note. Casey explained that she had attended the same NJ school from 1960 to 1966, and wondered who my teachers were to see if they could jog her memory.

I wrote right back and said, "You've come to the right place." Heck, I've still got a couple of report cards from that school. I went over my teachers, including Miss Bosland - who I discovered in a visit to Wayne in 1996 or so had just retired. Casey and I figured out that we were in the same classroom and did indeed have the same fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Link - but maybe not at the same time. Pines Lake had something called split session around the time, which meant one group went to school in the morning and another went in the afternoon. My guess is that attendance was done by geography, so kids in the same neighborhood stayed together, more or less. I'm not sure if that was the case in this particular year, but we do remember some of the same people. By the way, that classroom had the unforgettable advantage of having its very own bathroom; I don't think I ever heard the reason why.

This all prompted a furious exchange of emails between us for the next couple of days. We both remembered Mrs. Rodda, the school principal. Her biggest impression came during school lunches, when she walked into the cafeteria with a scowl on her face because there was too much noise. (Seven-year-olds making noise at lunch? I'm shocked.) Casey had another memory of the usually sour-faced principal. When President Kennedy was shot and killed in 1963, a sobbing Mrs. Rodda came into each classroom personally to tell the children about it. (Me, I was home after school, eating lunch as my mother watched "As the World Turns.")

Casey mentioned that she was in some sort of Christmas pageant as a singer. I responded with a distant memory of being "the funny elf" in some sort of similar activity. Maybe we were costars. I had just rediscovered the picture shown above and sent it to her. She sent me a shot of her third-grade class on the same auditorium stage, along with some memories of the people that I had identified in my photo. Where have you gone, Elizabeth Cleary (bottom row left) and Terry Spivak (next to Elizabeth)? I'm in the top middle of the photo, wearing a red bow tie and sport coat. Pretty snappy, I'd say, for eight.

A few other memories popped up as well. Like everyone other kid in that area, we both loved to go to the Old Barn Milk Bar for burgers and onion rings at dinner and/or ice cream. Especially ice cream. A cone was a quarter. Yum. One of my Police Athletic League baseball teams was sponsored by the Old Barn, and we received a free cone after wins. Too bad we didn't win more games; it was a much better sponsor than T-Bowl Drugs. The Old Barn itself was eventually sold to a car dealer. Sigh.

Casey filled me in on the name of the junior high school, Schuyler-Colfax, which apparently had nothing to do with the crooked vice president of the 1870s but with his ancestors. We both played the harmonica in elementary school, which may have been my last first-hand exposure to a musical instrument. And I thought about my speech teacher, Miss McCullough, at school. Not only did she teach me to say "leaf" and not "weaf," thus enabling me to go on to a brief career in radio, but she was the first African-American I ever met. There sure weren't any in the student body.

Wayne was a place back then where the truck would come down the street at dusk and spray pesticides in the air to cut down on the bugs. I'm surprised everyone hasn't gotten cancer by now. It was where Chicken Delight ("Don't cook tonight!") and Charles Chips were, not to mention the Good Humor Man. My neighborhood was filled with young businessmen who were on their way up and had plenty of kids. I'm sure all sorts of things went on there that I didn't know about and may not want to know about now, but - with a playmate at almost every house and a beach on the lake down the hill - it was a happy spot for the youngsters to grow up - swimming in the summer, skating in the winter.

Casey, by the way, did ask how I did on Jeopardy, so I scanned a three-page note about the experience that I had sent friends at the time and fired it off to her. We ran out of stories after a while, so we agreed to save the others' email. Since she was from Delaware, I told her to drop in on my Syracuse U. friend at the Delaware Historical Society for the greatest tour ever of the area. Some day, I hope, robin will get an unexpected visitor who knows a lot about where one of her college friends went to elementary school.

My memories of that time (we moved there in the summer of 1961, and moved out four years later) are mostly snapshots, but it was nice to have a few more such thoughts "developed" from my new and unexpected friend.

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1 comment:

Casey said...

What a terrific post!! My brother, who is two years behind us and lives in Virginia, surprised me on Mother's Day by ringing my doorbell with his wife!! At dinner, I related this story to him and he gave me even more information. I think we may have been in the same 4th grade class after all. I'm going to try to find a picture. Who knows. Do you remember the "Indian tree" in the woods by the brook? They said that it had been bent by the Lenni Lanape Indians, and was shaped like a squared off U.

And you're right, the past does tend to catch up to us--this was in a good way!!