My Primary Years:
Part IV

Fifth Grade (1950-51)

     Canton, Kansas, was the locale of my fifth grade year. Talking about getting a school year off on a bad foot, this year certainly "took the cake". I was, as alluded to earlier, the "new kid in class" again. The first day of school before classes began found me on the playground, surrounded by a sea of unfamiliar faces. Everybody there was happy and laughing, catching up on their past summer activities. No one was talking to me, of course. My shyness took complete control of me, and I withdrew to some isolated corner. When the take-up bell rang, I made sure I was the last to enter the building. I slowly climbed the steps up to my classroom, and then just sat down on the top step, too petrified to go through the door. After what seemed like an eternity for me, Miss Shogren, my teacher-to-be, opened the door, stepped over to me, and bade me ever so sweetly to come into the room. She led me over to an empty desk, and told me to sit there. A hundred eyes, or so it seemed at the time, were staring at me.

     Soon this embarrassing entrance was a thing of the past, and I began making friends with my classmates. Gradually I was accepted into the social circles. Primary in my mind was the matter of the boys and girls who paired off in much the same way as my friends in my previous year in Belpre. I regret to admit that Rothalee faded into but a memory, to be replaced by a cute blonde young lass, by the name of Jeanie. During recess when our games required choosing up sides, you could be sure that Jeanie and Terry would be on the same team. It was a good year.

     This relationship changed one thing in my life: my penmanship! Throughout my classes in cursive handwriting, I had been taught a certain way to write the letters, both the capitals and the lower-case ones. I followed the style that we all were expected to use, because, well, I was a good student, you see. Once I was looking at something Jeanie had written with a capital G, perhaps her last name, though I don't recall anymore. I liked her form much more than the standard in the textbooks. So like any good and adoring boy-friend, I switched and from that time on wrote "Jeanie's G".

     My family had two dogs this year. One was a small black-and-white toy, fox-terrier, named Penny. He was certainly a favorite of mine for 2-3 years. Every day when I came home from school, he was so very excited to see me. His preferred manner to show his happiness was to run rapidly in great circles in the yard, around the house, then coming up to me to receive some petting. After that, off he went on another mad circuit. Unfortunately, it was this sort of act that brought his demise one spring day in 1951. It was a Friday. This time his circular path put him into the street in front of our house, and he was hit by a car. Since at first, it didn't seem serious, we didn't take him to a veterinarian for a checkup. (I'm not sure that this town even had a vet.) The next morning Penny wasn't looking so good, coughing, vomiting a lot. That evening we went to see a movie in the only theater that Canton had. When we returned, Penny was lying on the floor, quite dead. My brothers and I were heart-broken. Tears flowed down our cheeks at the loss of our little friend. Sunday morning we placed him in a box and buried him in our backyard with sincere grief.

     However, part of our sadness was lessened by the presence of Sandy, our golden-haired collie. He became a member of our family in a most usual way. During the fall months of November and December he began showing up at school at recess time. Many of us children were quite fond of him. He was very playful and well-behaved at all times. Where he went after school was dismissed, no one seemed to know. A week or so before school was scheduled to close for the Christmas vacation, Sandy walked home with me. Probably I said, as the story often goes, "Gee, Dad and Mom, I don't know why. He just followed along behind me! Can we keep him? He's really hungry, y'know." Suffice it to say, he stayed.

     It was only supposed to be a temporary visit, however. Our vacation plans were to spend some time at my grandmother Stone's for Christmas, but my father said that Sandy couldn't go with us. We would leave him outside our house, with the idea that he would return to his rightful owners, whoever they might be. Can you imagine our surprise - and my delight - that when we returned a week or so later, there was Sandy, sitting on our front porch waiting to greet us as if we had merely gone to the supermarket? It was settled right then and there that if he was going to wait that length of time in the cold wintertime to see us again, well, he belonged to us after all. This time it was permanent.

     Listening to the radio became a favorite activity for me and my brothers now. I had listened to children's programs before, especially during my years in Windhorst. But not to the same degree as in '50-'51. The Lone Ranger was without doubt my favorite. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 6:30 p.m. you could be sure to find Gary and me sitting on the living room floor, huddled in front of the speaker of our large radio-record-player console, completely lost in the wonder world of the famous masked man and his faithful Indian companion, Tonto. Another favorite was Straight Arrow. Part of the attraction for this Indian champion for justice concerned a breakfast cereal, Nabisco Shredded Wheat. Inside the cereal boxes were cards containing interesting information about Indian lore, how to camp out in the woods, and so on. I built up a large collection of them, which sad to say were eventually lost. Nowadays they are big collectors items in the nostalgia business. Click HERE to see more about this.

     Other radio memories include such shows as The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Big John and Sparky, and The Cities Service Band of America, conducted by Paul Lavalle. My parents even gave me my own small radio to have on my desk in my bedroom. It was a neat model, too -- it had the image of The Lone Ranger on the front!

     There was one program that was not on my favorites list: Dragnet. Yes, the famous Jack "Just the facts, ma'am" Webb scared me to the point that I left the room whenever his show came on. I think it was due partially to the equally famous "dum-dee-dum-dum" musical theme that opened and closed it. It filled my mind with scary visions. I always left the living room when anyone was listening to it.

     But talk about being scared. That was nothing compared to the fear I had to face each night as I went to bed. Our house had three bedrooms, one downstairs, used by my parents, and two upstairs. Gary and Corky shared one of these while I took the other. The trouble with this room was the closet. It was pitch-black dark at night. Obviously, there were monsters in there, or so my wild imagination told me. It not there, then for sure they lived above it in the attic. I managed to calm my nerves, once I turned out my lights, by putting my trusty, Roy Rogers cap pistol on my pillow where I could quickly grab it at a moment's notice to take care of the bad old monsters. It's strange to think how much braver I felt with that toy gun in my hand, as I surely knew it couldn't do any damage to those closet creatures after all. Then again, perhaps imaginary bullets are the right kind of ammunition for imaginary foes, no?

     Cowboy movies entered my life this year. Unlike my previous town, Canton did have a theater in its small business district. Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Rex Allen and other heroes of this genre galloped across the silver screen, saving the oppressed victims from the bad guys. I also saw several of Johnny Weissmuller's Jungle Jim flicks. While there were some scary moments in the African jungle scenes, these movies definitely didn't give me nightmares like I suffered the year before.

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