CHAPTER 1 - THE LOST YEARS
I woke up the other morning (December 1988) thinking of a variety of my past experiences - from my early childhood to more recent times. The thoughts were interesting in that I thought I had forgotten most of the things that crossed my mind. I was so intrigued that I wanted to jot the thoughts down. Wanting to be more organized, I realized a journal would be better. I suppose I felt that if I didn't write my thoughts down, I would probably forget them eventually. Knowing that remembrance is the stuff of old age, I knew I would want a reference. Also, I thought my children and possibly their children would enjoy reading about my successes and failures and possibly benefiting in the process.
I was born in Ilion, New York a small, one-factory village in the heart of New York, about fifteen miles from Utica. It was the spring of 1941 (May 17), just before World War II started. My father (John Francis) worked at the local factory (Remington Arms) and was exempt from the military service because of it. I suppose they were making weapons for the military and needed his expertise. Mom (Pauline Emily Strait) was a stay at home mom during our younger years and then worked at a local newspaper and then the local Ford dealership as a bookkeeper. I was the second of five children and the oldest boy. There were two brothers (John and William) and two sisters (Marilyn and Sandra). The brothers were one and two years younger than I was so that we relied on each other for everything from companionship to learning to fight.
Our family was not well to do, we were probably lower middle-class, but that wasn't important then and still doesn't seem important. I can recall asking my father how much he made in a week and him responding $75.00. I can also recall making 25 cents a week allowance for a variety of chores - although the movie only cost 25 cents and candy bars a nickel.
We were fortunate in that we had a summer cottage that my grandfather George Shaw built in the early thirties, just a few miles from White Lake in the foothills of the Adirondacks. We grew up loving this place with fishing and swimming in Bear Creek, a trip to the lake on the hot days and the freedom of summer. In the early years we chopped wood for the fireplace, used kerosene lamps for light, a small root cellar and a block of ice for a refrigerator and an outhouse that we had to move to a newly dug hole each year. All the garbage was buried in another hole. In the early 50’s we got electricity and in the 60’s indoor plumbing. We would go there most weekends and had neighbors who were good friends. After retiring, my parents spent their summers there as long as they were able.
Each year we would also go bass fishing at Grass Lake, near Canada, and usually visit Canada, if the fishing wasn't good. We would fish mostly in the evening and sometimes until well after dark. After we tired of fishing, we would lay back in the boat, pick out the constellations and watch for shooting stars.
I don't recall that much about my early childhood. I attended West Hill Elementary on Second Street, just around the corner from our house. My first recollection is that I had Mrs. Marks for the second grade. I liked her. Things in my education went downhill from there. In the third grade I had Mrs. Pierce. My strongest remembrance is when she was teaching us to write longhand, she punished me for talking when I wasn't. I had to stand or sit in the corner and was quite embarrassed. I never forgave her for that and refused to learn to write longhand for quite a while. This was one of the fundamental reasons I didn't do well in school - no one could read what I wrote. I was never very highly motivated to take advantage of education until much later. To highlight this attitude I can recall going through comic books and not bothering to do the reading, but simply looking at the pictures.
I think my libido woke up in the third grade. I can recall one of my female classmate’s ability to draw shapely women in bathing suits for me. She didn't know it, but I would erase the bathing suit and draw in the hidden parts. I think her name was Diane Sherwood.
My next significant remembrance is in the fifth grade. I had Miss Kellogg; she was a big woman. I was into making small bombs with caps and BB's until she stepped on one. Again, even though it wasn't mine, I was blamed. I managed to flunk this grade due to my lack of spelling ability and probably my attitude.
My first date was in this grade. It was with a cute and popular girl. The plan was to see a movie together. We were to meet inside the movie by the candy and popcorn counter. I was dressed to kill - a suit, a very nice wool coat and all spit and polish. She showed up in blue jeans with her little sister. I left my coat on throughout the entire movie!
Sixth grade was split into two sessions with different teachers - one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. I did all right and remember playing on the basketball team against our rival school - North Street. I don't recall who won.
At about this age, the boy next door taught me how to make gunpowder. At the time, you could buy all the components at the local pharmacy. I constructed rockets from old TV antennas and made a variety of other fireworks.
Seventh grade was at the high school on Weber Ave. This was a new experience where the three grade schools ended up together. I can remember some flighty girls and being serious about just one, Ruth Holmes. We spent a lot of time together around her house at the other end of town.
I can't recall all the ages, but I can remember being very industrious. I had a Sunday paper route at age 11 and then took on a large daily route in addition about a year later. I made a lot of money and can remember buying an old gasoline motor from a washing machine and a hand-clutch that I used to construct a variety of go-carts over the years. By the time I was thirteen I could completely disassemble and re-assemble the engine. Because the engine was small, the best cart I made was of a 2 X 8 piece of wood with a very simple design. It went about 15 miles per hour. I remember seeing the police frequently, but they didn't object as I rode around our neighborhood.
I used my money wisely and bought a ten speed bike, a power saw and a small transistor radio for $50, when they first came out. For awhile my father would loan me the money to buy what I wanted and then I would pay him back. He always ended up putting the payments into my bank account.
Women played a pretty significant role in my life. In the eighth grade, it was Dolores Egland, a pretty blonde from the other end of town. I also remember being infatuated with the woman next door. She was about 26 or 27 and very attractive. I used to hang out with her young son Tom just to be around her. I think I taught him to walk, talk and ride a bike. My friendship with Tom continued until I joined the service.
About this same time - 15 years old - I saw an old Indian motorcycle for sale for $50 at a local gas station. I remember going to the bank, withdrawing the money from my account and purchasing the bike. The owner of the garage showed me how to start the bike and where the clutch and gears were and I was off. I skipped school for two days and had a ball. The police caught me on the second day giving rides to all my friends. My father attended school with the police chief, so I didn't have a bad time of it. In fact, the chief suggested to my father that I keep the bike. My father didn't agree.
When I was sixteen I got my driver's license. My fascination with cars and motors probably peaked. I remember the day I got my license. My father said that if I wanted to drive I should get a job, by a car and pay for my own "damn" insurance, that I wasn't going to drive his car. Also at this age I got my first boat. It was a sixteen-foot Thompson with a front and center deck and an 18 horsepower engine. I ordered a pair of water skies from Montgomery Wards for $18 and we were set for summer. We learned to ski in no time and probably succeeded in mastering one ski before the end of the first summer. My brother John and I spent the summer at camp during my sixteenth year after being fired from jobs as dishwashers at a summer camp for girls further north - we took July fourth off without permission!
My first real job was at the local A&P that fall. My mother got me the job by approaching the manager of the store. I had to join the union, but the pay was good and I was working 29 hours a week. This lasted until after I graduated from high school. I also got to use the family car to go and get my check.
There was a girl, Theresa Schlingo in my sophomore year that I cared for a great deal. It was with her that I first attempted petting; I was less than graceful and she would have none of it. Also, in my sophomore year I had a great math teacher. I enjoyed geometry and did well. Throughout high school I took what appealed to me, a lot of math, chemistry, and physics, but also a lot of shop and mechanical drawing classes as well. College wasn't much of a consideration.
I think it was in the spring of my junior year that I got a car. I found a 1953 Jaguar XK-150 that I wanted terribly, but my father's mechanic friend put thumbs down on it, so I ended up with a 1952 Mercury coupe. During my junior year I spent a lot of time with out-of-town girls and the summer weekends at our camp dating a girl from California, I think her name was Pat.
My senior year was much of what a senior year should be, but not all that it could have been. I went out with some of the more popular girls in school and became seriously involved with the class secretary - Karen Scanlan. Karen and I spent a great deal of time together during the latter half of my senior year. I recall that her mother liked to drink beer and her father was somewhat mousy. I don't think they thought I was good enough for her. I was going nowhere and they had high expectations for her. Our relationship continued throughout the summer and into the fall when she went to college in Rochester.
I worked throughout my high school years. In fact, I had some kind of job from age 11 except during my sixteenth summer. I regret working all that time now. I missed out on much of what school was all about. The basketball coach wanted me to play basketball, I missed the junior prom and the senior ball and many of the other activities which make it memorable.
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