Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Off to School

Born in the 1950's I head off to first grade in September 1960. No kindergarten for me. It is your first real experience being away from your family for a hours. You are under the supervision of an adult you do not know. Growing up in the country on a farm you don't have neighbor kids to play with so your experiences with other children is limited. Now you sit in a classroom with 20 to 30 other boys and girls. Wataga Grade School was divided into two locations. First, Second and Third grades were in the building on the north end of town near the little league baseball field. Fourth, Fifth and Sixth grades were located in the old Wataga High School on the south end.

Mom, being a saver, had my first grade report card and all the others through grade 6.

I learned one thing rather quickly, Florence Rewald was a wonderful lady and a great teacher. I would learn later in my academic career that you never ever never wanted to go to see Principal Charlotte Olson.

I find it interesting that Miss Rewald felt I need improvement in the following areas:
"Appreciate rights and opinions of others"
"Listen carefully"

She appears to feel she has had some success in getting me to listen since the beginning of the school year. The need to listen and behave well in school would be reinforced by some parental intervention.

Second quarter would show a trend that would continue even to present day. "Complete work on time" has always needed improvement. Procrastination is strong in this one.

Along with procrastination is my early love of books. I have always enjoyed reading. I don't understand people who graduate from high school and never read another book.

Off to second grade I go.

Our granddaughter Audrey wants to be a teacher. She had the following conversation with her father on Saturday.
"I'm going to live at home when I go to college. I don't want to stay in a stupid dorm, I'm too cheap to get an apartment and I have lived here all my life. Seriously what is there to learn to be a teacher? I have been in school all my life. Like seriously. I hope I don't have to take like high math. Like I'm really going to teach first grade. I don't need high math. But seriously what is there for me to learn?  I am going to take the same thing for like 4 years. Can I talk to like the President about this? Who even runs this thing?!?"

Audrey, I hope you are a great a first grade teacher as the one I had way back when,

Monday, September 4, 2017

Time for Surgery

We stopped yesterday with the revelation that I had a hernia that required surgery. Here is what the doctor said at my next visit.

I have nasal congestion and my eyes don't look completely normal so surgery is postponed a week. My Mom's handwritten notes below show I will go to the hospital on Sunday and have surgery on Monday. I am three and a half years old so I have little memory of any of this experience. I remember coming home from the hospital and Dad telling my older brother not to punch me in the stomach or jump on me. We were boys and that is the kind of things brothers do to each other. While I can't remember if we actually followed his direction I suspect we did. Dad didn't often demand much but when he did you most assuredly listened and complied.

The next doctor note is from June 1959. I imagine that I had doctor appointments between 1957 and 1959 but I don't have those notes.

In the world of doctor talk I have moved from sturdy to husky to chunky. The doctor notes my tonsils are moderately enlarged and not real healthy. In the 58 years since that visit I have been to other doctors about my tonsils. The doctor in 1959 said they were not real healthy. Well maybe not but I still have them. I still wear special shoes and I hope even today, all these years later, I have a little spring in my gait. My next visit things take a turn. Remember I grew up on a farm and apparently viewed dirt as a food group.

We have again moved from chunky to "above average in height and weight". Dear Doctor Dayton just can't use the word fat. My general physical condition is good aside from the worms. Time for enemas and medication. I don't remember any of this and quite frankly I am glad. When my Mom gave me this note a couple of weeks ago she said I might not want to include this one in the blog. Those of you who know me are confident it would be included. You get my truth even when it is less than flattering. This is the last note I have prior to beginning school in September 1960. We will get into that on my next post.

This is the final doctor note. I have completed first grade and I'm back at the doctor with a mild skin infection.

The only other incident I remember did not involve an injury while waiting for the school bus one morning when I was in grade school. Kids are clumsy and I was certainly no exception. I fell and dislocated my thumb. It was an ugly injury. Dad called the doctor and asked what to do. He was instructed to have someone pull my thumb outward while the other person shoved it back in joint. Grandpa was called over and assisted while I screamed bloody murder. A Popsicle stick was taped on both sides of my thumb and the entire process was completed before the school bus arrived. Yes, back in those days a dislocated thumb was no reason to miss a day of school.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

In the Beginning- Doctor Visits

My story resumes about where we left off yesterday. It is just past my first birthday and it is time to see Dr. Dayton.
There are a couple of things to note here. It starts with "Jeff has made another big gain in weight and although he has not gained very much in height he is still tall." We will see other terms used by the good Doctor in future visits. The second thing of note is the fact that polio vaccine will be available soon. It had to be such a relief to parents that a vaccine had been developed to protect their children from this crippling disease. By the time Carol and I had our children it wasn't anything you even thought about. My baby book notes that I took my first step in February 1955, I was walking well in April that year and by May I was all over the yard. My first haircut happened in Oneida on May 2, 1955.

The next doctor note I have is September 26,1955. I have gained in weight and height but I check out well so the good doctor does not seemed too concerned.

In December 1956 I'm back at the doctor. I'm no longer the younger brother of Jay. I am the middle child caught between older brother Jay and younger brother David. I'm also flat footed and need leather arch supports in my shoes. I don't remember having special shoes but then again I remember very little of my early years. I apparently was too busy playing and eating dirt.

Here the doctor gets a little more realistic about me. "Jeff is a big, husky youngster." Even back then they were hesitant to call you fat. I have a hernia that requires surgery and I need special shoes. I have become a doctors dream. This kid needs stuff and the doctor has bills to pay. We will pick up the story tomorrow.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

In the Beginning- Pictures

I'm going to start with my name. Jeffrey- I don't know why perhaps just a desire to stay with names that begin with the letter J. My middle name is from a Navy buddy of my Dad's. Charles A. Owens. They left off the s on the end of his name so my middle name is just Owen. Here is the Western Union telegram he sent in response.

He was apparently pleased.

Mom and I arriving home from the hospital in March 1954.

This is me in July 1954.

Again in July 1954. Remember this is around the doctor referred to me as "sturdy".  The next picture will show why I look sturdy.

My baby book says my older brother Jay liked to feed me. At seven weeks he was trying to feed me graham crackers and cheese.

Babies have only three things to do. Eat, sleep and poop. I have nailed at least two of the three jobs in this picture.

My first birthday. My baby book says the cake had orange frosting. My favorite color- orange. Is there a connection????

Spring 1955.

Spring 1955. I'm not sure which dog that is in the background. It is something I remember from my childhood. Dogs. There were always dogs on the farm. Sometimes lots of dogs. Lots like 20.

I'm really happy in this picture. Why not? Outside playing in the yard with your brother and your Mom. The tractor on the ground appears to have suffered a roll over accident. My baby book says I got a toy tractor for my first birthday. Most likely it is the one pictured. Toys were made to last back then. I think if I looked around the house where I grew up it is there waiting to be played with again.

Friday, September 1, 2017

In the Beginning

Everyone has a story. I'm going to tell mine. It's my blog so I get to tell any story I want. This one will be true with a condition. The condition is that it will be the truth as I remember it. Creative license will be taken when the mood strikes.

I was born on Friday, March 19, 1954 at 11:41 in the morning. It was a cesarean birth. Apparently even back then I could be difficult. The attending doctor was F. Gordon Beherents. If you go by the old poem Friday's child is loving and giving. I would like to think there is some truth in that.

If you examine the hospital bill it appears I was a difficult child even before my birth. Mom was in the hospital on March 14th and 15th but I refused to make my anticipated appearance. I found the bill interesting. A week in the hospital, surgery and my care all for a cash discount of $154.40. Clearly a bargain. I see I also had major surgery. It's amazing to me a doctor would do a major operation like a circumcision for three dollars. I know you scoff at my contention it was major surgery. I checked my baby book and the surgery was so serious I was not able to take my first step until February 1955 about 11 months after my major surgery. The good news is that by April 1955 I was walking all over the yard.

The note above is from my first doctor visit. The doctor notes I'm a "sturdy" baby. I would later be referred to as husky.. I was also apparently a hungry boy. Let's cut through the crap here Doctor Dayton. I was a hungry fat little fella.

So here we go. Baby Jeff has made a huge gain in weight according to this doctor note. The solution is to give me more food. I like the answer.

It is now August and I'm getting lots of teeth.

I don't have a note about my first injection but 11-2-1954 is my second.

My last injection for diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus. I have lots of teeth so let's expand the food choices. Sounds like fum.

I continue to gain weight in a hurry but the good doctor says I'm not really fat. I got my smallpox vaccination and in a year the doctor says I will get my booster injections and the "Dick" test. The year starts with circumcision and when I'm two I have a "Dick" test. The good news is that it wasn't a test of my dick. It involved an injection of 0.1 cubic centimeter of scarlet fever toxin into the skin. A reddening of the skin in an area over 10 millimeters in diameter within 24 hours indicates a lack of immunity to scarlet fever. The test was developed by Doctors George and Gladys Dick. So it is the Dick test.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


Carol is currently in Georgia enjoying life on Tybee Island. I have some things I need to do at our cabin in the Illinois woodlands. I have told her often in the past that if she died before me I would be a hermit out here. The past week without her has been my test of that claim. Do I miss human contact? Sometimes but honestly most I just miss her. I want to write about the last couple of nights.

Monday night I sat out on the porch for a while just listening. What did I hear? Well usually living near Galesburg and the busy railroad lines I hear the sound of train whistles as they approach and pass through crossings. Monday night there was no sound from another human being. No tires or car noise from someone on our gravel road or the paved county road about a mile away. No sound from airplanes passing overhead. The silence was broken on rare occasion by an owl hooting over to the north in the woods belonging to our neighbor. The sky was clear and the stars shown above. It was lonely and wonderful at the same time. I thought it couldn't get any better.

Tuesday night showed me that I was wrong about Monday. There is something spectacular about nature. Late Tuesday night a thunderstorm blew in. The noise was not human. It was the simple awe inspiring power of this world. There was some thunder but not the type of storm that rattles the windows and shakes you to the depths of your soul. The trees were black against a grey night sky. The wind blew and the rain at times came down in sheets. It was a glorious Midwest thunderstorm. Not the storms we typically see on Tybee Island. Again, with the thunder and the wind bending the trees there wasn't a sound created by another human being. Was it a perfect night? No, because Carol wasn't here with me. We could have been sitting together in silence enjoying the glories this world offers.

So, can I live without other human contact? No. I would rather share those experiences with her. In her absence I would rather experience them alone. So, while we were apart those two nights and many others I can take solace in looking at the night sky and knowing the same stars shine down on both of us. Miles my separate us but the universe will always draw us together.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


I continue to work on scanning my Grandmother's journals. The other day I found this entry from July 1944.

As you can see her journals are a mixture of news and family issues. I was curious about the Hartford Circus fire. It turns out it was one of the worst fire disasters in the history of the United States. It occurred during the afternoon performance of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. The performance was attended by 6,000 to 8,000 persons. The death toll was 167 with over 700 injured.

The background of the disaster is interesting. It was during World War II so the circus had been experiencing shortages of equipment and personnel. The circus arrived in Hartford on July 5, 1944 but was so late arriving that one of the two scheduled shows had to be cancelled. Circus superstition holds that missing a show is extremely bad luck. The July 5th evening show ran as planned. The next day was Thursday and the afternoon crowd was largely women and children. The fire began as a small flame on the southwest sidewall as the Great Wallendas were performing. The circus band lead by Merle Evans began to play The Stars and Stripes Forever as the tune traditionally signaled distress to the circus performers. Ringmaster Fred Bradna tried to tell the audience not to panic and exit the tent in an orderly fashion. The power had failed and the crowd could not hear him. The crowd was in a panic as they attempted to flee. My Grandmother indicated the fire was caused by a carelessly discarded cigarette. This was the belief at the time. The true cause has never been determined. The fiery tent collapsed within eight minutes trapping hundreds of guests under it. How did that happen so fast? A common waterproofing technique of the time used on this canvas tent was a combination of paraffin wax dissolved in gasoline. In this case 1,800 pounds of paraffin wax had been dissolved in 6,000 gallons of gasoline to waterproof the big top. It is considered possible that the death toll was much higher than the 167 noted above. The fire was so intense that some victims may have been cremated leaving little or no trace. In addition some victims left only body parts and some of the circus performers and workers were drifters who would never be reported as missing.

The circus later reached an agreement with the City of Hartford to accept full financial responsibility and pay whatever amount the city requested in damages. By 1954 the circus had paid out over $5,000,000 to 600 victims and families who had filed claims. It is difficult to imagine what the settlement would look like now.