JT's Blog

Things that interest me, things that happened to me, things that I like, even some things that I don't like...

Mary and Paul Addendum

Just wanted to add a correction and a few additional thoughts to my previous post.

Aaron and Mary Haak’s gravestone

First of all, Aaron’s last name was not misspelled on his and Mary’s marriage application. His last name really was originally spelled Haag, as his parents were Moses and Catharine (Knoll) Haag, and all of his siblings (six, apparently) retained that spelling. Only Aaron revised it to Haak.

Why? I can only speculate, but possibly to bring the spelling more in line with the way the name was actually pronounced. It was a fairly common practice in times past to revise the spelling of names especially for new immigrants to match the spelling with the newfound land’s language.

Actually my grandfather Harry Zellers added the “S” to his last name, which in previous generations had been essless. Why? I don’t know, but perhaps because others were incorrectly adding the “S” and he wanted to avoid confusion.

So why did only Aaron among all his siblings revise the spelling of his name? Again, I don’t know, but I can say with some assurance that only he was married to Mary Elizabeth Troutman, who apparently adopted the Haak spelling exclusively. Aaron, on the other hand, vacillated a bit. His funeral notice in the newspaper uses the Haag spelling, but his gravestone uses Haak. Then again, it was presumably Mary who ordered the gravestone.

Notice in the January 16, 1942, edition of the Lebanon Daily News

As I was getting ready to write this I wondered how I knew to spell Mary Haak’s name with two A’s rather than like the bird that makes lazy circles in the sky. As far as I knew, before I started researching her the other day, I had never seen her name in print. Then I realized it was probably an unconscious analogy with the Haak Brothers department store in Lebanon, PA. I wonder if Aaron was related to those brothers? I wonder if they really were brothers?

Also, while researching Aaron and Mary, I came across an interesting little tidbit. In the January 16, 1942, edition of the Lebanon Daily News a notice was published regarding the estate of one Isaac Killmer. It’s difficult to read and I don’t understand all the legalese, but the upshot is that Aaron and Mary Haak, along with Lee Eck and five others became the owners of two tracts of land of two acres each between the railroad tracks and our old house on West Main Street. That area had always been fenced off to allow Lee Eck’s sheep to safely graze. I had thought it was solely the property of Lee Eck, but apparently not, but perhaps he eventually bought out the others.

Anyway Lee Eck was the principal at the Richland school and later at the combined Elco district. He and his wife lived just a few doors up the street from us on West Main, and I honestly can’t recall ever seeing him anywhere but at school. On second thought, I think I did see him out back wrangling his sheep a couple times. Does one wrangle sheep?

He always seemed to me to be one of those people who got into education without having any affection whatsoever for children, regarding them as merely a necessary evil part of the process. But perhaps I’m doing him an injustice.

Mary and Paul

When we moved into the house on West Main Street in Richland, PA, in November, 1957, we were warned by the previous owners that the next door neighbors didn’t get along well with children and could get downright nasty.

This is a photo from 2013 of the duplex house where we lived in 1957 with Mary and Paul on the other side

Things actually got off to a pleasant start when we had an early snow, and during the process of cleaning off our porch and steps, I ventured to clean off theirs as well. For this I was rewarded by the woman of the house, a matronly woman in her early 60s, with a slice of cake. Her name was Mary Haak, and she shared her house with a fellow of about the same age named Paul Troutman. They were related in some way, but I wasn’t sure how, and as far as I knew, they weren’t related to us.

Battle lines were soon drawn, however, as they (and I believe it was Mary who set the rules) did not countenance children setting foot on their lawn for any reason. We had a tall maple tree in our yard, and when it shed its leaves, it paid no heed to lawn boundaries, and Mary was quite adamant that they were not responsible for the cleanup. So the upshot was that Mary was frequently yelling at us kids (and not just my sister and me but all the kids in the neighborhood who came near) and complaining about us to our parents.

But we didn’t take this lying down. We realized soon enough that Mary’s complaints were falling on deaf ears, so we pretty much declared war on Mary. In short, we behaved like brats. And pretty soon it was we, along with some other kids like the Gass boys, who were terrorizing Mary. As tensions mounted, eventually Mary cracked.

One day we found her sitting behind her house weeping. This led to a partial de-escalation of hostilities as we realized that she was, after all, a human being. Peace was never actually declared, but things did cool off a bit after that.

Finally, after about two or three years, Mary and Paul bought a little house in Myerstown and moved away.

By the way, although I don’t recall it myself, my sister remembers that Paul used to sit outside so quietly that the squirrels would come up to him and eat out of his hand.

I was reminded of Mary and Paul yesterday when I was researching something else and I came across an old article that referred to a Paul Troutman as a “popular street and water works superintendent of the borough.” Initially I couldn’t think who that might be, and then it hit me. Our old neighbor. He was popular?

So that got me on a search for more information about Paul. Using the date of the article and its reference to his birthday coming up on Thursday, I had his birthday. That gave me enough information to search for his genealogical records, which weren’t hard to find. But still I didn’t have his relationship to Mary.

A detail from the census page of 1920 showing the misspelling of Haak as Hask

A little more searching and I found the census records for 1920 where Paul Troutman was listed as a boarder of Aaron and Mary Hask! In those days of handwritten census records, misspellings such as that were quite common.

Mary’s marriage application showing the misspelling of Haak as Haag

So now I had a lead on Mary. Mary Elizabeth Troutman was her birth name. I even found her and her husband’s marriage application, where another spelling error lists Aaron’s last name as Haag. It turns out that Mary married the 23 year old Aaron when she was 16.

Now that I had records for both Mary and Paul, it was possible (but a lot of tedious work) to trace back their common ancestors to Phillip Trautman (1787 - 1859) and Sara Salome Schrack (1786 - 1836). Ah, yes, Phillip with two L’s. Mary and Paul were both third generation descendants of Phillip and Sara, so that makes them second cousins according to the cousin table.

Mary’s husband died in 1954, and that’s presumably when Paul moved in with her. Mary Haak and Paul Troutman each died in 1974 within a month of each other, and they are both buried in the Richland Cemetery. Here’s Mary’s grave and here’s Paul’s grave.

So were they related to us? After some more tedious searching I came upon Johannes Trautmann (1713 - 1764) and Eva Elizabeth Bauer (1716 - 1794) of Germany. Old Johannes, I could tell you stories about him (if I knew any). And Eva Bauer. What can I say?

But they are our common ancestors with Paul and Mary. And it turns out that we are fourth cousins twice removed.

There are a lot of Troutmans in and around Lebanon, Berks, and Lancaster counties, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that most, if not all, of them can trace their ancestry back to Johannes Trautmann (1713 - 1764) and Eva Elizabeth Bauer (1716 - 1794) of Germany.

A Bike Ride to Coleman Park

I have no memory of whose idea it was or how I got involved, but it was when we still lived on the hill on West Main Street, so it was probably during the summer of 1962 or 63. Most likely it had something to do with the Boy Scouts, as I was still active in them in those days.

Anyway, Buddy Pennypacker, Jay Kegerreis, and Larry Fetter (I think it was him, though perhaps it was Jay’s brother Robert), and I planned a bicycle trip to Coleman Park in Lebanon, PA, where we would spend the night in our sleeping bags, and then return to Richland the following morning. How I got included with those older kids, I have no idea.

We took the back roads, of course, and I recall that I tended to lag behind the others because while they all had three-speed bikes (ten-speeds not having been invented yet), my bike didn’t have a gear shift at all, so I was really puffing whenever we had to climb a hill. This made me the slowest member of the group, something that Buddy (the de facto leader) kept reminding me of.

When we reached the Dairy Queen just outside Lebanon on 422, we stopped for refreshments, just as a flash thunderstorm swept through the area. We stayed dry by eating our ice cream at the rear of the building where there was a convenient roof overhang. Then an employee came out the back door and said she was worried that she had left her car windows open. She pointed out her car, and I leaped into action. I ran through the driving rain, got into her car and closed the window, which had only been open a tiny crack. In the process of opening her car door, I probably let more rain in than would have gotten in through the tiny opening. I also got myself soaked.

The storm didn’t last very long, and soon we were on our way again.

That evening as we were eating whatever it was we had brought along for our supper in one of the park’s pavilions, we received a surprise visitor. Two, actually. Boom Karsnitz and someone else (I no longer recall whom) stopped by to bring us a watermelon for dessert.

Boom Karsnitz (the vowel sound of his nickname was pronounced like the short oo sound in good) was one of those characters in Richland who seemed to be everywhere, although this is my clearest memory of him. I think his actual first name was Harvey [but see the update at the end of this post]. He was 40-ish with a round face and a bit of a beer belly. How he got his nickname was something I never knew, but it did seem to fit him. I’ve never actually seen his nickname written or printed out, so I don’t know if that’s how he spelled it, but that’s my best guess. It might also be “Bum”, but that just doesn’t look right. But I digress—

Now if truth be told, I was never fond of watermelons. They were always a chore to eat with all those seeds, and the ones I had tasted up to that point had never seemed worth the effort. They had very little flavor and weren’t sweet enough to compensate for their gustatory blandness. But the watermelon that Boom Karsnitz brought us that evening—that was something else. It was flavorful and sweet. It was the absolute best watermelon I had ever tasted and definitely worth a little effort to eat.

When I said as much, Boom replied with a laconic, “I’ve had better.”

I can’t imagine where. That watermelon still remains as the best I’ve ever had.

I don’t recall much more about our Coleman Park adventure, and nothing at all about our return trip the following morning. Since we obviously did make it back, it was presumably uneventful.

Lee Boom Karsnitz

Update One Hour Later: A little searching on the web, which I don’t know why I didn’t do before writing this post, and I find that a) Boom’s nickname was indeed spelled “Boom”, b) his first name apparently was Lee, and c) he would have been in his mid-30’s when he delivered that watermelon.

He died at the age of 87 in 2015 and his obituary is still on the web. He was living in Manheim, PA, at the time of his death.

El Español Tossed Me a Cudve

If I could change just one thing about the way my parents raised my sister and me, it would be their attitude toward Pennsylvania Dutch. Both of our parents and their families were fluent speakers of Dutch as well as English, but they gave both sets of grandparents strict instructions not to speak Dutch to us, so we never learned it as we grew up.

[Yes, I know that technically it should be called Pennsylvania “German”, not “Dutch”, but everyone around us always referred to it as “Dutch”, so that’s the term I’m going to use in this blog post.]

I don’t know why they issued the No Dutch edict, and I regret that I never asked them about it. I suspect that they thought of Dutch as a non-standard language and feared it might cause us problems if we learned it, but I really don’t know. They used to speak Dutch to each other when they wanted to say something that they didn’t want us to hear, but I doubt very much that that was their motivation for the edict. Anyway, one result of the edict is that I grew up only speaking English, and I never became multi-lingual like my parents were.

Along the way, however, I have studied other languages, just never well enough to gain any kind of fluency in them. I’ve written before about my teenage efforts with a “Learn Russian in Record Time” recording. I even followed up on that with a term or two of Russian when I was at Penn State, but other than a few basic words here and there, my Russian is still pretty much limited to “Я не понимаю по-русски.”

In high school I took two years of Latin, which is all that Elco offered at that time, followed by two years of Spanish. I did pretty well with Latin, and I have fond memories of our teacher, Mrs. Spitler. In fact, when I went to Penn State, two years after completing the second year of Latin, I took a Latin aptitude test during orientation week and did so well that they stuck me in the Latin IV class, Latin III not being offered during that term.

When I protested, I was told that I shouldn’t worry because I had really done very well on the test. It was a multiple choice test, and as I’ve written before, taking multiple choice tests is my superpower. In the event I should have protested harder, or at least waited until a term when Latin III was being offered, as I didn’t have the vocabulary and could barely comprehend the advanced grammar required. I was lucky to finish that course with a D.

Several years later I developed a fondness for German opera, and through a process of osmosis, I did learn eine kleine Deutsche. So I have a repertory of very useful phrases such as “Ein schwert verhieß mir der vater.”

Then while living in Harrisburg in the late 70s, I was treated to a Polish course by a friend who didn’t want to take it by himself. This was a short course intended primarily for folks who might be traveling to Poland and who wanted just basic familiarity with the language. I turned out to be the star pupil because my pronunciation was nearly spot on right from the start, thanks to my earlier study of Russian.

I’ve always regretted not being fluent in more than one language, and on the theory that it’s never too late, I recently bought a Spanish course from the The Great Courses company. I don’t seriously expect to become fluent in it at my age, and I’m well aware that my ability to learn and retain new memories isn’t nearly what it used to be, but I thought I’d be happy if I could develop a basic comprehension of the language. After all, I hear it spoken around me every day that I venture out on the streets.

I recall only un poco of the Spanish that I learned in Señor Slyke’s class in high school, a word or phrase here and there. We were taught the Castilian pronunciation, the one spoken in Spain as opposed to Latin America, so we learned to pronounce the s sounds as th as though we were lisping. The Spanish spoken in this hemisphere pronounces the s’s pretty much the way you would expect them to sound. I remember that I could never really get the hang of rolling my r’s like native Spanish speakers do.

But now I’ve discovered that Spanish actually has two different r sounds, and I’m pretty sure Mr. Slyke didn’t teach us that. The one the I’m familiar with is the double r sound, which is the rolled r that I recall. But the single r sound is quite different. It’s actually close to the English d sound, or the t’s in the word little. If Mr. Slyke taught us that, I’ve long since forgotten it.

So para is pronounced as pada, tres as tdes, and señor as señod.

Check out this page on pronouncing the Spanish d.

I know. I felt like I was entering The Twilight Zone when I found out.

A Blue Rabbit Stuck in the Snow

I did something stupid this week, and while I won’t be writing about it, it did remind me of another of the many stupid things I’ve done over the years.

It was while I was living in Harrisburg in the late 70’s and working at Channel Home Center. I owned a 1978 model blue Volkswagen Rabbit at the time. Standard transmission, of course.

There was a snowstorm dumping several inches of snow on the ground, and I drove my car home for my lunch hour (don’t ask me why), parking it directly in front of my apartment building. It was still snowing a bit while I ate my lunch, so when I came out to return to work, there was a thin layer of snow covering the car that needed to be cleared off.

My 1978 blue VW Rabbit looked like this one

There were others out as well, and we were helping each other when somebody needed a push just to get started.

When I had cleaned off my Rabbit, I got in and started up the engine. Since I hadn’t had any trouble driving home and parking, I didn’t think I’d have any trouble pulling out of the parking spot.

I was wrong. The car refused to budge.

Happily there was still a group of people there willing and eager to give me the needed push to get me going.

Alas, try as they might, all their efforts came to naught. I had helped them push much larger vehicles, but my little Rabbit stubbornly remained stuck in the snow.

And then it dawned on me.

You know how for most routine chores that you carry out every day, you usually have a regular sequence of actions that you take? Usually without even thinking? But if something disturbs your rhythm, sometimes you might forget one little piece of that sequence?

Satellite map of where I lived on Green St in Harrisburg

Well, that’s what had happened to me that day. I’m not sure why, but probably it was just that I wasn’t used to putting the snow brush away before starting up the car. Or maybe at the last minute I said so long to the other people. I don’t know. But one of the things I always did after starting the ignition without even thinking about it was release the parking brake, but when I glanced down, I saw to my horror that the brake was still engaged.

I quickly released it, stepped on the accelerator, and the car jerked out of the parking space. The people who had been pushing started cheering, thinking that it was their efforts that had finally succeeded. I waved a thank you to them and drove back to work without further incident.

The Signed Playbill

The Playbill signed by the entire cast of the Walnut Street’s Legally Blonde

As I wrote a couple months ago, I went to see the Walnut Street Theatre’s production of Legally Blonde: The Musical after meeting my neighbor’s future daughter in law, Lindsey Bliven, who was appearing as “the mean one” in the show.

Well, Lindsey got the entire cast to sign a Playbill for me, and just a little while ago as I was walking back from an ATM, I ran into her and her future husband, Ryan. They were on their way to make arrangements for their wedding, but as we were only a few steps away from the house where the Playbill currently resided (that would be the home of my neighbor Georgia, Ryan’s mother), she suggested that Ryan could get the Playbill for me and meet up with her in a few minutes. Which he did.

I told Ryan that his future wife, although she seems so sweet in person, does play “mean” very well. She was terrific in the show.

That’s when he told me that they were on their way to pick out tablecloths (I think) for the wedding and trying to decide between white or ivory.

I said ivory, no question. He said he would pass that on to Lindsey.

Then I asked him about their wedding date.

When he replied, I told him that was an absolutely great day for a wedding. It happens to be my birthday.

Directions

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but I don’t think I’ve written it up on this blog.

In November of 1994 when I moved into a condo in the Old City section of Philadelphia, my parents came to help me with the move, as was their wont. Toward the end of the afternoon, when they were ready to leave, they needed directions to get back to the Schuylkill Expressway. Since I didn’t normally drive a car, and this was a new section of the city for me, we asked the condo sales agent for help.

The Benjamin Franklin Bridge

I tried to listen as he described the way to them, as I knew I’d be going that way myself in a few weeks. The next time I spoke to them, they said they had no problem finding their way onto the expressway.

So when the time came to rent a car to visit my parents, I thought I remembered the directions well enough so that I didn’t need a refresher, even though they sounded a bit complicated. After all, I did know my way around the city a bit better than my parents did.

I set out and made a left turn onto 3rd Street, then another left onto Vine, then I was sure he said, now wait, what did he say? Go five blocks to 8th Street? Or eight block to 5th Street? Make another left? Right? And suddenly I found myself on the Ben Franklin Bridge heading across the river towards Camden!

And once you’re on the bridge, there’s no turning back. I went to Camden. Which is located in the mysterious land of New Jersey.

I turned off the main road as quickly as I could and then searched for a way to get back to the bridge. All told the little unwanted detour had cost me perhaps 20 to 30 minutes, which would definitely make me later than the time I had told them to expect me.

When I finally did get to their house, I explained the delay, and there was a rather sheepish expression on my mother’s face. She turned to my father and asked, “Should I tell him?”

He nodded and laughed.

“We weren’t going to say anything,” she continued, “but we ended up in Camden too. We drove around for awhile until we found a policewoman to ask directions.”

Needless to say, when I got back to Philadelphia, I returned to the scene and made sure I knew exactly how to get to the expressway from my new home. It turned out to be quite simple. The sales agent’s mistake had been to mention way too many landmarks along the way, thus over-complicating the directions.

Those Other Classmates

While I was searching yearbooks for Nancy Oberly, it occurred to me that I had another set of classmates of whose fates I had no idea. That is, I went to kindergarten in 1954-55 in Wernersville, PA, and to first and second grades the following years in Womelsdorf, PA, both part of the Conrad Weiser alliance of western Berks County. So could I at least track those classmates’ progress through the rest of their school years?

Yes and no.

There’s no picture of the kindergarten class in the 1955 Weicon yearbook, and the only two classmates I recall from there are Beth Erwin (who was also in the first and second grade classes, and if I recall correctly, her mother had a baby clothing shop on High Street) and Allen Nagle (our family doctor’s son). But the 1956 Weicon does have a photo of our first grade class. I used to have that yearbook, but it’s long since been lost. Happily, the classmates site has an acceptable facsimile of it.

My first grade class. Notice James Eagelman, the tallest kid in the class, in the back row. James Garrett is in the second row next to our teacher, Mrs. Ray, and I’m a couple kids to the right with an expression on my face that seems to say “What am I doing here?” Notice Tommy Rhine at the far right in the first row. He was the shortest guy in the class, and thanks to kids like him, I grew up not realizing I was rather short myself.

Unhappily, that was the last year that the Weicon yearbook included photos of grades one through six, so that somewhat limited my tracking abilities.

I can recall about half the kids in that class, although only two of them, James Eagelman and James Garrett, really stand out in my memories, possibly because we shared the same first name. I might write up a couple little anecdotes about them sometime.

Anyway once I got to the 1962 yearbook, when those kids were in seventh grade, I discovered several things. First, I could still recognize most of the kids that I remembered, and nearly half the kids were no longer there, including James Eagelman. I wonder what happened to him. His father was a veterinarian; did the family just pick up and move? By the way, Eagelman hated the name “James” and insisted that once he got old enough, he was going to change it legally to “Jimmy”. I wonder if he ever followed through on that?

When I got to the Conrad Weiser Class of 1967 graduation pictures, I was instantly able to pick out Richard Behney, Barry Boyer, and Susan Schaeffer without checking their names. And whaddaya know? Susan Schaeffer went to Penn State? If I had known, I would have tried to contact her. Maybe we were in some of the same classes. Although if she went to study Home Economics, maybe not.

Then there are the kids that I no longer recognized, like Beth Erwin, Aldeena Firestone, James Garrett, Candace Hoover, Allen Nagle, and Suzanne Wells.

I recall running into Aldeena Firestone at a Richland Carnival a couple years after second grade, and we had a nice long talk. Also, when I was in maybe fifth grade, I saw Candy Hoover again at a roller rink. Other than that, I don’t think I ever saw any of those classmates again. Several years later in the early 70s, I worked briefly with Doug Hoover, Candy’s younger brother, at the yarn factory on 422.

There were some delightful surprises, such as discovering that Beth Erwin was selected the Class Clown and Barry Boyer was the Best Dancer. Who knew?

Should anyone from the Conrad Weiser Class of 1967 come across this blog post, please let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

Oh, and one more thing. Seeing that yearbook answered another question: “Whatever happened to David Stites?”

My First Baby Sitter

During my first three years on this planet we lived on Front Street in Womelsdorf, Pennsylvania. Next door (or maybe a few doors up) was a restaurant, and that’s where Nancy Oberly lived with her parents, who owned the restaurant. I know this because every time we’d talk about those days, my mother would mention that Nancy Oberly used to babysit for me.

The combined first, second, and third grade photo from the Womelsdorf 1943 yearbook. Nancy Oberly is listed as being in third grade, but her position in the photo isn’t.

We moved to the farm about the time I turned three (my arm was still in a sling from my unfortunate encounter with the washing machine wringer), and as far as I can recall we never visited that restaurant again. I suspect that it went out of business because there was a shoe repair shop across the street and we did visit that from time to time, and I don’t recall there being a restaurant across the street from it by that time.

In any case, I have what I think is a very vague memory of that restaurant, but it may very well be my imagination or a different one altogether.

But as I said, every time that period was mentioned, my mother always used to interject that Nancy Oberly used to babysit for me.

I only recall ever meeting Nancy one time. That was in the mid-70s when she came into the hardware store in Richland that my parents had recently bought. My parents seemed to recognize her right away, so I presume they had maintained some contact with her, but she was just a middle-aged woman to me.

So who was Nancy Oberly? Information on her is hard to find.

Satellite photo of Womelsdorf and the approximate house where we lived from 1949 to 1952

Nancy Lee Oberly was born in 1934 to William and Margaret Oberly, and census records show her living with her parents in Womelsdorf in 1940. She had two older sisters, Shirley and Marian, both deceased. Marian married a William Snyder and they had four children.

Then I got the idea to look for old yearbooks. At first I thought it looked promising, as in the Womelsdorf school yearbooks of 1941-43 when Nancy was in first through third grades, she is listed as being in the combined first, second, and third grade photos.

But after that there is no trace of her. Now some yearbooks are missing from the site that I was using, so possibly she did attend classes in Womelsdorf for somewhat longer, but she definitely doesn’t show up during what should have been her high school years, and she didn’t graduate from the school. What happened? Did she drop out to work in her parents’ restaurant? Did they send her to another school? I have no idea.

And that’s about all I can find. So Nancy would have been about 15 years old when I was born and 18 when we moved to the farm, prime babysitting years. I don’t know if she ever married or had children, nor do I even know if she’s still living or where she might be if she is. She’d be about 85 now, and I’d love to find her if she’s still with us. I’ll bet she might have a story or two to tell.


The Birds Is Gone

I received several queries as to why The Birds (1963) didn’t make my Hitch favorites list. While there are lots of things I like about The Birds, it suffers from a very anemic script by Evan Hunter.

So much to explain there. I’ll start with the movie and its strengths.

The Birds contains some of Hitch’s greatest special effects, and while they could be easily surpassed by today’s CGI effects, they hold up well for their time. They never take you (or at least me) out of the movie. And some of the scenes are absolute classics, such as the gasoline fire at the filling station with that aerial view (or birds’ eye view, if you will) of the scene.

The birds’ eye view of the gasoline fire in The Birds

It has one of my all time favorite Hitchcock scenes where Tippi Hedren’s character is waiting outside the schoolhouse while the children are inside singing. On the soundtrack we hear the children’s subdued voices as the teacher takes them through seemingly endless verses of the song, while Hitch’s camera develops a rhythm of cutting back and forth between closeups of Tippi and the monkey bars that are gradually attracting some crows. First one crow, then a couple more in the next shot, and still a few more in the next. Then the camera remains on Tippi for a longer time period as the audience is wondering what’s going on behind her. Finally, she notices a lone bird up in the sky as it flies lower and lower, and she turns just in time to see it land on the monkey bars which are now filled with thousands of crows, as are the neighboring rooftops and every surface in sight.

I also like Hitch’s decision to not use a regular musical score but instead to fill the soundtrack with electronic sounds and bird sounds. Very effective.

So, yes, there’s a lot I like about the movie, and I probably should have at least given it an honorable mention.

Tippi Hedren waits at the school, oblivious to the birds slowly amassing behind her in The Birds

Oh, but that script!

Evan Hunter, in his slim volume, Me and Hitch, has said that after many conferences with Hitch, they decided to start the movie as a screwball comedy and then have it transform into horror. That might have worked, but Hunter had no experience writing screwball comedies, and what he came up with just isn’t very amusing. But what’s worse, all the exposition that occurs in the first 45 minutes of the film (and there is a lot of it) essentially has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. There’s no payoff.

Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren share martinis in the worst scene in The Birds

Also, there’s a scene that might be one of the worst scenes that Hitch ever filmed. Hunter claims he didn’t write it and that he tried to stop Hitch from filming it but failed. It’s the scene between Tippi and Rod Taylor that takes place during the children’s party. Rod and Tippi climb onto a mound with their martinis (martinis at an afternoon children’s party!) and toss a bunch of non sequitur lines at each other. What makes it especially bad is it looks like it was shot inside a studio set because the actors cast multiple shadows.

That said, there is at least one scene that is extremely well written. I’m referring, of course, to the scene in the diner when the ornithologist played by Ethel Griffies comes in. That scene is another classic.

Ethel Griffies as an ornithologist who knows her birds

Now lest the reader gets the impression that I’m dumping unfairly on Evan Hunter, I want to add that I’m a big fan of his writing under both of his nom de plumes. His birth name was Salvatore Albert Lombino but he legally adopted the name Evan Hunter in 1952 because of prejudice (real or imagined) against people with foreign sounding names. He wrote under both that name and Ed McBain, and I’ve read and enjoyed most of the novels he wrote under both names.

And one more thing. Evan Hunter apparently wrote a lot of the book Me and Hitch from memory without reference to contemporaneous notes or dairies, or without checking on easily checked facts. And he describes a script that he wrote for Hitchcock’s television show, Appointment at 11. Almost everything he says about that script and the way Hitch introduced it on the show are wrong, as a recent viewing of the episode revealed.