About Me

My photo
Lake Mathews (Perris), CA, United States
Born in Illinois, I grew up in Wilmette, a northern suburb of Chicago. I have one sibling, an older brother. I am married, for the 2nd time now, to Butch & got 4 children in the deal. They have gone on to make me grandmother 25 times over & great-grandmother to over 20!. After many years working in industry, I got my bachelors and masters degrees in speech communication, & was a professor in that field for 13 years. I retired in 2001 & returned to school & got my doctorate in folklore. Now I meld my two interests - folklore & genealogy - & add my teaching background, resulting in my current profession: speaker/author/entertainer of genealogically-related topics. I play many folk instruments, but my preference is guitar, which I have been playing since 1963. I write the "Aunty Jeff" column for the Informer, newsletter of the Jefferson County NY Gen. Soc. I work in partnership with Gena Philibert-Ortega & Sara Cochran as Genealogy Journeys® where we focus on educating folks about Social History. More about that: genaandjean.blogspot.com. More on our podcasts: genjourneys.podbean.com. More about my own projects: Circlemending.org.

Monday, February 3, 2014

L. Roy Wilcox, PhD - Autobiography, Part 7

E3: ELEMENTARY SCHOOL GRADES 7, 8; AGES 11-13; 1923-1925

The Wilmette house was a bungalow of one story (plus attic and basement) with but two bedrooms, in contrast to the Chicago house of two stories (plus basement) with three bedrooms. Yard space, fortunately, was quite adequate. My parents picked the front bedroom, and of course Grandmother Gertrude got the rear one. I was assigned the (heated) rear “sun-porch.” And, wonder of wonders, I had a private entrance from the outside (in addition to the interior entrance from the kitchen).
Roy at his private entrance

The neighborhood was far more attractive than anything I had seen in Chicago; and there was a park only a couple of blocks away. However, we were about as close (within a block) to the railroads – Northwestern (North Branch) and North Shore (interurban) Line – as we were in Chicago – Northwestern (Northwest Branch), but [sic.] we were used to the noise.

One of the first things we learned about Wilmette is that, like Caesar’s Gallia, it was divided into parts – however, not three but two: “East Side” and “West Side,” between which there existed considerable rivalry approaching animosity. The East Side contained large, expensive houses and the “snooty” Wilmettites; it lay between the shore of Lake Michigan and the Northwestern Railroad tracks. The West Side, which lay in the four block-wide region between the tracks and Ridge Road, contained smaller, less expensive houses and the common people (including, of course, us). (Now the West Side extends variously 1 to 3 miles farther west, the extension encompassing land, west of Ridge Road, which was mostly farmland at the time of our move.)

The East Side had three public schools – Laurel, for grades K – 4, Central for grades 5 and 6, and Stolp for grades 7 and 8. The West Side had but one public school – Logan for grades K – 6. Hence seventh-and eighth-graders on the West Side had to cross the tracks to attend Stolp. These trips were made on foot, since there were no buses. (Nowadays, no Wilmette children are required to walk to school if tracks have to be crossed.) For me as a seventh grader from the West Side, the trip was about ¾ miles each way, noticeably greater than what I had been accustomed to in Chicago!

Stolp was not called a junior high school; but it was in effect such. In fact, it was more of a junior high school than the Wilmette Junior High School of today. Each of grades seven and eight occupied one floor, with four rooms each. Every room served as a “homeroom,” the teacher in charge of which was also a special subject teacher. Mine taught arithmetic; the others taught respectively English, geography, and history. Each day had five periods, one for homeroom activities and one for each of the four academic subjects; in addition there was an hour for a round trip home for lunch, and a final period was devoted to such miscellany as gym, music, and “current events.” In general the four classes of a grade moved as a units, disjoint [sic.] from one another, from one location to another in each case. [1]

My penchant for getting lost on the first day of school came to the fore again. After school I had no idea how to get home and had to call my mother. Since she didn’t know how to steer me home, she called Mr. Abramson, our contractor, who then dashed to where I was and drove me home. No more trouble thereafter.

I soon became adjusted to the school program and in fact enjoyed it immensely. I was particularly impressed by the excellence of teaching (completely unmatched in Chicago, I thought). Curiously my best teacher was a Mrs. Vernon, who taught history – later the subject I came to dislike intensely. A close second was a Mrs. (?) Anderson, who taught English – later a subject that I didn’t care for. My homeroom teacher, a Mrs. Jones, taught arithmetic. She was quite good, but I didn’t care much for the subject, because as taught it was too routine and devoid of ideas; of course I did well because of the ease with which I had learned to handle rote processes.

It became clear almost immediately that English was the area most neglected at Belding School. In Wilmette the students had been taught grammar – parts of speech, sentence structure, proper usage, etc. – in sixth grade, and probably even earlier; in Chicago I had learned none of this. So I went to work, devoting extra time to grammar, if only to overcome my clear inferiority to my classmates. As a result, my big achievement in seventh grade was to learn, and learn well, what I had missed earlier, and indeed to come to enjoy this subject far more than any of the others. As it turned out, when I got to eighth grade, I had acquired the title “grammar expert”; even the English teacher, a rank beginner, often looked to me for help. (I recall setting her straight when she claimed that “the” was an article, not an adjective!)

In passing, it’s worth noting that in those days there was general acceptance of a vague authority on what is good grammar, usage, etc., and what is not. Dictionaries stated in no uncertain terms what is right and what is wrong; the big ones usually cited as authorities famous writers. (The 1889 addition of the Century Dictionary states under prove: “. . . proved, sometimes incorrectly proven,” and follows with two examples, both with proved.) The present widespread attitude that there should be no rules, that “anything goes” is a product of the growth of anti-intellectualism during this century; it contributes to a lessening of effectiveness of language as an instrument of communication.

Being something of a shrinking violet, I didn’t gain many friends during the year of grade 7. By avoiding normal athletic participation to the extent possible, I locked myself out of some social contacts. And the prejudices of East Siders against West Siders didn’t help. But I did find a few friends with whom I had something in common. One was even an East Sider – George Glover. My interest in him was partly due to the fact that he had a bicycle – a conveyance I had not traveled on. As it happened, George had a paper route. Since papers had to be placed on front steps, the bicycle didn’t help much. I offered to help him: he could ride the bike, skipping every other house, to which I would deliver a paper; in that way time would be saved. In return he offered me a lesson or two and the privilege of riding from time to time on his bike. Once I had learned, I could talk my parents into buying me a bike for Christmas. I was leery about riding it to Stolp School, but the next year I rode all over. Wilmette was kind to us riders: we could ride on the sidewalks, at corners the curbs were joined to raised inner edges of the street gutters with steel plates, thus making for pretty bump free rides.

In the summer of 1924, my mother and I, and for a couple of weeks my father, spent most of the time in Henderson, Michigan with the family we had visited several times earlier. 
Gertrude on the Mueller Farm, Henderson, Michigan

(The mother – Mrs. Mueller – and mine had been friends in Chicago in earlier days before her marriage.) While I wasn’t capable physically of being involved in all types of the farm work, I did help with some chores, even to the point of carrying bags of grain after threshing. But I learned much about farming of the time.

The Mueller farm was essentially 100% primitive. No electricity, no running water, no bathroom (outhouse 50 feet from the home), no refrigeration, no radio, no mechanization (except for a model T Ford for transportation to town). The Muellers had had six children, four older than I, one my age, and one younger (children in those days were a source of cheap labor; the result was that most home as soon as possible and did not go into farming.) I learned a lot and got along well. I rode a horse bareback and fell off; I learned how to milk a cow, even squirting the product into my mouth, warm as it was. I engaged with my playmates in a stupid game – climbing a ladder and jumping into a pile of hay – and jumped far too great a height, missing the hay. The result was two broken (foot) arches [requiring arch] supports to be worn for decades.

Eighth grade was a distinct improvement over seven in many ways. I learned before school started that a new school called “Howard” (on the West Side) had been completed and was ready to take upper grade West Siders. Though it was closer than Stolp (about a half mile away), my tendency to avoid the new led me to go back to Stolp. But when I was discovered, I was promptly sent over to Howard. In a short time I had a pretty good circle of friends (no more East-West prejudices afoot), and I took an interest in baseball (soft, of course) to the extent that I normally bolted down my lunch to get back to school and into the new game.

Among my newly found friends were a few who caddied and had learned to play golf. They persuaded me to go with them to the Indian Hill Club (shortly west of Kenilworth) and to become a caddy. The pay was $.25 an hour ($.50 when caddying double), more on Sundays. (There I was ruled out for religious reasons.) No tips, unless one caddied for a guest (who didn’t know the rule). After a time I became an “honor caddy” with a 20% increase in pay! Since caddies could play (except weekends and Wednesdays), I bought four clubs and a bag and learned the game. I never quite made par but did make some holes in 2. In the summer of 1925 there was a caddy tournament of 9-hole matchings. I was adjudged right for the third flight (next to lowest) and proceeded to reach the final match. My opponent and I were even up after our nine holes and so we replayed hole 9, 160 yards, par three. My first shot was off the green, but fairly near and his was on the other side of the green. It was agreed that I shoot while he walked toward his ball. I did so, sinking the approach for a 2, he failed on his, but claimed I had cheated by placing the ball in the hole by hand behind his back. There were no witnesses and it was his word against mine. The caddy master accepted my story and gave me the prize – a club to round out my set (now of five).

Eighth grade and graduation went off without a hitch. During the summer of 1925 my father took me and two other boys – Roy and Bob – on a camping trip to Crystal Lake, Illinois. Roy was older than I by about two years and was able to drive a car. So my father bought (for something like $30) a 1917 model T Ford. Roads were awful and very hard on the tires. We must have stopped 15 or 20 times to remove and repair damage to them. (Wheels were not removable – the tire rims were part of them.) The trip of about 40 miles took a day.
rare photo of Roy with his father Lee, shortly before the camping trip

Since my father had been to Crystal Lake in connection with Scout camping when he was at Galewood, he knew the woman who owned the land along the lake suitable for a campsite. Perhaps he had written her earlier. In any case, we located near the beach, put up our tent, and prepared to spend a week or 10 days. My father was the cook and we boys the dishwashers. In all, this was a good experience all around. For one thing, I learned (all by myself) to swim and, of course, to get badly sunburned. I also learned that a father may well boss his own son around more than other boys. I had one important first experience. We boys one evening heard musical sounds which invited investigation: what we found was a dance pavilion complete with a dance orchestra and dancers. I might have heard orchestras on the radio, but I’d never heard or seen a dance orchestra live. A song that was played stuck in my mind long enough for me to recall it much later and find sheet music for it (which I still have). It was “Going Home.” A day trip (with more car repairs) got us home.

We delivered our boys to Chicago, where they lived, and it was then my job to drive to Wilmette. (I’d had no experience up to that time.) I didn’t know that the clutch pedal had three positions – down for low, up for high, and middle for neutral (no gear shift, of course). (Because I knew – clutch in neutral, middle pedal down.) So when my father cranked up (hand start), I’d forget to keep the clutch in neutral and would let it out. Of course this killed the engine. He cursed (words I’ve never heard him use before), and cranked again. Somehow I eventually got the hang of it and we proceeded home via Sheridan Road. The car was parked in the yard you’re the alley, used a few times, and soon sold to one of my classmates for $15!

I was now ready for New Trier.

[1] The departmentalized instruction used here was evidently copied verbatim from that in use in high schools; I shall return to this subject later.

1 comment:

  1. COOL! Mention of Crystal Lake! I lived there for several years and loved it. My father was born there.


Please keep comments related to this post or topic; others will be deleted. Contact blog author directly for other issues.