JT's Blog

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

Who Is Elaine Sprecher (and why did she say nice things about me)?

Here’s another example that my memory for my high school days is not necessarily all that great.

Elaine Sprecher

I have a picture of Elaine Sprecher, and on the back of it she has written:

Jimmy, To a nice guy in the 9th grade who is a nut. Remember all the fun we had in homeroom. Good luck in the future. Elaine

Frankly, I have no idea who she is. Or was. I checked the relevant yearbooks; she appears in the section 9-4 class photo and again in the section 10-5 photo the following year. After that she drops out of sight.

But here’s the thing. I don’t even recall whose homeroom I was in in 9th grade. In 8th grade it was Graybill, 10th grade was Souders, 11th was Good, and my senior year I was on the yearbook staff so I was in Donley’s homeroom (though I don’t really recall doing much on the yearbook).

The back of Elaine’s photo

So why don’t I recall Elaine if she and I had so much fun in 9th grade homeroom? The most likely explanation is that after 9th grade we were never around each other again, so the memory of our good times was never reinforced, and it eventually faded away. Of course, it’s also possible that we never really had that much fun in homeroom; we may have just exchanged photos because we sat near each other (alphabetical order), and pressed for something to write, she jotted down whatever came to her mind. Very few people (I can only think of one, Randy Klopp) called me “Jimmy” in high school.

While I’m curious about Elaine and what may have become of her (presumably her family moved out of the area after 10th grade), I’m even more curious if anyone recalls what homeroom I was in in 9th grade.

Anyone?



The Sled

There’s another story involving my uncle Reed in the wintertime, but I’m not quite sure just when it occurred. We were living on the farm, of that I’m sure, because it takes place on the farm.

I pulled up a satellite image of the farm as it looks today, and I barely recognize the place. I tried to annotate the house where we lived and a few other places, but everything looks so different. No outhouses, for example. And there is no longer a creek running through the twin meadows, which apparently aren’t meadows anymore. In fact, it looks like it’s no longer even a dairy farm. The times they are a-changing.

The sled I had looked a lot like this one

Anyway, one Christmas in either 1955 or 1956 I received a sled as a present. And I was eager to try it out, so when we had a sufficient snowfall, probably in January, Reed came to visit, and the two of us took the sled to the nearest slope.

There were two suitable places, one being an open field and the other being a meadow where the cows would graze in warmer weather. Since the open field overlooked a dirt lane, we had probably been warned to avoid that, even though there was next to no traffic on it.

So we took the sled to the top of the slope, and both of us climbed aboard. Reed, being three years older, naturally took the lead and got in front to steer, and I got on behind him.

With this arrangement we managed two or three thrilling rides down the slope and prepared for another.

But this time something went wrong. Halfway down the slope we hit a bump of some sort and—

Well, this is where the stories diverge. I say Reed jumped off; Reed says he fell off. Whatever.

The point is I was left alone to finish the ride down the slope by myself, and I really didn’t know how to steer the blasted thing. I was too busy just hanging on as the sled continued speeding down to the bottom of the slope.

The farm has changed a lot since the days when we lived there

Did I mention that we were in a meadow? Oh, I did?

Well, for those of you unfamiliar with dairy farms, one of the unavoidable by-products of cows is their excrement, which is typically gathered on what are generally known as manure piles.

And there was a manure pile at the bottom of the slope which Reed had managed to avoid when he was steering the sled. I was not so adept.

This led to much shouting and accusations on my part, and much laughter and jollity on Reed’s. Which continued when we got back to the house and he told everyone what had happened.

“Maybe we’ll start calling you Stinky from now on,” said my mother.

Now I can hear you say, it was wintertime. There was snow on the ground. Surely the manure pile was frozen and covered in snow.

To which I can only reply, “Yes, that’s all well and good, but I Crashed Into A Forking Manure Pile!!!!

The One Where I Saw Moby Dick

I’ll never forget the time I saw the movie Moby Dick.

There was a guy with tattoos all over his face, and Gregory Peck had a wooden leg, and they were out at sea for the longest time. And Robert Shaw got eaten by this great white shark. No, wait…I think that was Jaws…yes, that was definitely Jaws. But a big white whale did jump over their ship and destroy everything, and Gregory Peck either went down with his ship or was eaten by the whale, I forget which. And Ishmael got away on a raft, but Leonardo DiCaprio froze. No, that was Titanic.

Anyway, that’s not why it was so memorable.

A scene from the movie Moby Dick

I can’t pinpoint the date, but it must have been sometime in February of 1957. Remember that, because that’s important. So we were still living on the farm. Thus, we would have driven to Richland to visit my grandparents, my mother’s folks, Tillie and Harry Zellers on South Race Street.

Then while my folks and my two and half year old sister stayed at my grandparents house, Reed, my uncle who was three years older than I was, making him about 11 at this time, and I, a couple months shy of my 8th birthday, went to the Neptune Theatre to see Moby Dick.

It was only three or four blocks, so we walked, and it should have been an uneventful walk except as we neared the corner of Race and Main Streets, Reed decided to take a “short cut” through the yard of the large house on the corner. I think Mrs. Tyson lived there.

And even that might have been fine except he started running, and I followed suit. When we emerged on the other side of the yard there was a driveway at the apartment building next door. At this time that building also housed the Richland Post Office.

Well, Reed was in the lead, and he successfully made it across the driveway, and he turned around as I reached it. Later he claimed that he was going to warn me about the big sheet of black ice that covered the driveway, but apparently I reached it before he could do so. And without any warning or Reed’s superior athletic skills, I skidded on the ice and fell flat on my back.

Hard.

I couldn’t find an ad for the Neptune Theatre’s showing of Moby Dick, but this ad of February 16, 1957 for the Palmyra movie house would have been around the same time

So hard that for what seemed like an eternity but was probably just a few seconds, I couldn’t breathe. Even after I got to my feet, I was gasping for breath.

Meanwhile, Reed was laughing and saying that I had just had the wind knocked out of me.

Happily, I regained the ability to breathe after a little bit, and apparently no serious harm was done.

But I’ll never forget the night I went to see Moby Dick.

Irv

Irvin Wolfskill’s death in January, 1964, was a major turning point in my life.

Irvin and Frances Wolfskill (they were known to everyone as Irv and Fannie) owned and operated the Sugar Bowl (a combination soda fountain/news stand) in Richland, Pennsylvania. The Sugar Bowl was such a fixture in Richland, that it seemed to me that it must have always been there, so I was surprised to find out that in 1935 Irv and Fannie, according to the 1940 census, were living in Reading, PA.

I’ve been spending a lot of time on a family tree site lately, so I’ve discovered a little bit about Irv and Fannie’s backstory. Jacob Wolfskill and Polly Field, Irv’s parents, lived in West Cocalico Township in Lancaster County. On February 24, 1894, they were married in Lebanon, PA, and on April 3 of that year Irv was born. From what I’ve discovered about that era, this was a relatively common occurrence in the days before The Pill. By 1910 the family had moved to Richland.

Fannie, also from West Cocalico according to the 1900 census, was born to John Pierce and Mary Dreibelbis in 1896, they having been married since 1875 in Lancaster. We hear no more of Fannie until 1935, when she and Irv are married and living in Reading.

Happily, by 1940 they were back in Richland where they belonged, and presumably they had either built or bought the Sugar Bowl in the intervening years. Happily for me, that is, because as I learned a few years ago when I sat my parents in front of a video camera to reminisce, the Sugar Bowl, along with the Neptune Theatre movie house, was where my father first wooed my mother.

This is not exactly the kind of sign that was hanging in front of Irv’s Sugar Bowl

Although we always called it the Sugar Bowl, the sign out front was a Pensupreme Ice Cream sign with a Wolfskill’s banner dangling below it. I recall my mother telling me the story of why Irv named it the Sugar Bowl, but I no longer remember that story. So much for Eric Blouch chiding me for my excellent memory. See, Eric. I don’t remember everything!

I used to go to the Sugar Bowl every week on a Wednesday to pick up the new TV Guide, the Sporting News, and the Sunday News (this was the New York Daily News Sunday insert consisting of the comics and the magazine sections). I couldn’t go on Thursday, because Thursday the Sugar Bowl was closed.

I don’t recall Irv having any employees other than himself and Fannie, so Thursday was their only day of rest. Actually Fannie really didn’t help out that often, but I recall a bunch of us boys used to try to get her to wait on us if she was around.

You see, the Sugar Bowl was a genuine soda fountain where they mixed the Cokes right behind the counter from Coke syrup and carbonated water, and Fannie had a tendency to put too much Coke syrup in the glass, making them especially sweet. This was in the days when a Coke cost six cents.

Anyway when I went on my Wednesday trip to pick up the TV Guide, et al., I almost always browsed the racks of comic books to find the latest Superman or Batman comics. Eventually I learned that Tuesdays and Thursdays were the days that new issues of magazines and comics were delivered, so I modified my routine to get there on Tuesday instead of Wednesday. And I started making extra trips on Fridays to see what new wonders might have been delivered on the previous Thursday when he was closed.

Somewhere around the time I turned 13, I moved from comic books to science fiction magazines, and Irv stocked those as well. Or at least he stocked some of them, such as Amazing Stories and Fantastic Stories.

But he didn’t carry Galaxy, a title I really wanted to read. So I asked Irv if he could get it for me. And Irv was happy to oblige. He asked his supplier, and eventually he obtained the August, 1963, issue of Galaxy Magazine for me. Irv pronounced it Gal-AX-y.

For some reason he couldn’t get his supplier to deliver Galaxy on a regular basis. Each issue had to be individually ordered. But Irv seemed quite amenable to do it. And for the next few months he kept getting the new issues of Gal-AX-y for me, albeit on a time delayed basis.

But that all changed one day in January, 1964, when Irv died suddenly from a heart attack.

For now I did something I probably never would have done had Irv remained alive. I subscribed to all the science fiction magazines. Now I knew I’d never miss an issue. To have done so while Irv was still alive would have somehow seemed disloyal. Irv was almost like family in a way.

But that’s not what I mean when I say his death was a major turning point in my life.

The building that used to be the Sugar Bowl has long since been converted to a private residence.

The Sugar Bowl was quickly sold to a fellow by the name of Bicksler. (Sorry, Eric, I no longer recall his first name. I do recall that he had a wife and high school age kids, but I can’t recall their names either.)

(Oh, I just checked the 65 and 66 yearbooks. The sons were named Dale and David. See, Eric, sometimes I use reference books!)

As I said, Irv had been almost like family, like an uncle or grandfather, and more than that, he knew my whole family, meaning he was on a first name basis with my parents. But this new guy, this Bicksler guy, he was a stranger, and since my parents rarely if ever went there anymore, he didn’t know them and he didn’t connect them with me.

So that’s why I did something that I never ever would have done if Irv had remained behind the counter.

I started buying Playboy magazine.

The One With Two Wishes

When I was in fifth grade we read a story about a kid (it was probably a boy but I no longer recall the details) who was granted two wishes. Why two wishes? Don’t wishes normally come in sets of three?

I don’t know, but probably for the purposes of keeping the story short enough to make a convenient one day reading assignment for a fifth grader.

Anyway what I do recall is our teacher, Miss Klopp—that would be Miss Irene Klopp, who taught part of fifth and all of sixth grades, not to be confused with her sister, Miss Margaret Klopp, who taught part of third and part of fourth grades, the other parts of fourth and fifth grades being handled by relatively newly hired Mrs. Loos, a preacher’s wife—but that’s neither here nor there.

So as we were discussing the two wishes story, Miss Klopp asked us each to describe what we would wish for if given the same deal. I think she had alerted us the day before, so we had a day to come up with our wishes.

When my turn came, I didn’t hesitate: “I’d wish for every poor man to have enough money to feed his family, and I want to know everything there is to know.”

The Richland School house in 1914, which is the only picture of it that I could find

I can still hear Miss Klopp clucking approvingly over my first wish, while dismissing the second.

Although many years have passed, I think if in some magical fantasy I were to be granted two wishes, I might very well opt for two similar sentiments, although I would certainly remove the sexist phrasing and update the language in other ways. For example, instead of “knowing everything there is to know” I might ask for “the unlimited ability to absorb knowledge from a wide variety of sources, synthesize it, and with the concomitant talent for spreading it widely and accurately.”

But there is something that I’ve always wondered about that first wish. Where did that altruistic streak come from?

I mean, in the small town of Richland where I grew up, we really didn’t have any poor people as such, at least none that I knew. I don’t recall having anything drilled into me about being kind to poor people either at home or at school. I did go to Sunday School (under duress, I might add), but the lessons there were rarely about being kind to the poor, although I’d guess the topic would come up from time to time.

My point is, I just never could understand where the idea was born in me to use up 50% of my precious wishes on an altruistic cause.

Until now.

Because science, as it so often does, has provided an answer.

Superman comic

It was the comic books. The comic books that my mother complained I spent way too much time reading. The comic books that my parents even tried to toss into the trash (although thankfully recovered by the Diefenbach boys, and, during the cover of night, by me, after hearing where they had hidden them, at which point I kept them hidden from my parents until I eventually handed them over to Leonard Yingst for preservation, but I’m digressing again).

You see, I was a big fan of superhero comic books. The DC variety. Superman was my favorite, with Batman a close second. But I also enjoyed the Flash, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Aquaman, well, if DC published them, and Irvin Wolfskill’s Sugar Bowl, a combination soda fountain/news stand, stocked them, I devoured them.

And now science has demonstrated that being exposed to superheroes can increase altruistic behavior.

So take that, anyone who has ever criticized their kid for reading comic books. That kid might be the next Albert Schweitzer.

The One With the Asimov Post Card

About five years after I spoke to Isaac Asimov on the phone, I sent him a fan letter.

I was now living in State College, PA, and the previous year, in April 1970, Dr. Asimov had made an appearance on the Penn State campus to speak at Schwab Auditorium about a week before the first Earth Day. I, of course, attended.

Dr. Asimov’s lecture was sponsored by Penn State’s Science Fiction Society, whose faculty advisor, Philip Klass, provided the introduction. This was fitting and proper since Klass and Asimov were old friends, and Klass actually wrote excellent science fiction stories himself under the pseudonym William Tenn.

Schwab Auditorium at the Penn State campus

There was only one problem. Professor Klass proceeded to give Dr. Asimov possibly the worst introduction anyone has ever received.

By that I mean he went on and on for at least fifteen minutes, and he was absolutely hilarious!

He first listed some of Dr. Asimov’s many achievements, and the many and varied fields in which Asimov had expertise, and then he said: “But I don’t want you to get the idea that Isaac Asimov is a renaissance man. Let me list some of the things he hasn’t done!”

And as he brilliantly listed the many accomplishments Asimov had not yet achieved, he had the audience in stitches. For example, he said, “Isaac Asimov has never performed Rigoletto at the Metropolitan Opera.”

How could anyone possibly follow such an introduction?

Finally, Professor Klass finished, and he turned the podium over to his introductee. As Asimov reached the podium, he turned to the audience and in his rich baritone sang: “Bella figlia dell'amore…” The opening line of the great quartet from Rigoletto.

And he brought down the house.

The rest of the evening Asimov had the audience in the palm of his hand as he spoke extemporaneously on a variety of subjects loosely framed by the topic of the slow historical adoption of lightning rods due to religious objections.

Anyway, it was the following January that I decided to send him a fan letter in which I referenced the lecture, and I expressed my pessimism about the future of humanity because of religious and other absurd belief systems. I also noted that in recent years he had become more outspoken in his writings, making clear his atheism and his support for certain liberal causes such as women’s rights, and I wondered if this might have alienated any of his audience. After adding a few additional compliments, I concluded with a firm wish that he continue writing in his current vein.

I knew from the phone call that he lived in Newton, Massachusetts, and I further recalled reading somewhere that he actually lived in West Newton, so that’s how I addressed it.

And then I pretty much forgot about it.

Until a few weeks later I received a post card from Dr. Asimov with a post mark from New York City. Clearly, he had moved on. And fortunately, the Post Office had forwarded his mail.

His reply was short and gracious:

2 March 1971

Dear Mr. Troutman,

Thank you for your kind words. As far as I know people aren’t mad at me.

But let’s hope for the best for the human race.

Isaac Asimov

Asimov Postcard front.png


Asimov Postcard back.png

The One With the Asimov Phone Call

Sometime in the spring of 1966 when I was 17, I was gathered with a group of my fellow high school classmates at Maryann Shelhamer’s house on a Sunday afternoon. Maryann had a tape recorder, and I had a telephone tap (a simple one that attached to the back of the receiver via a suction cup, if I recall correctly), and we were amusing ourselves by making crank phone calls.

When that turned out not to be as amusing as we expected, we decided to try to call a celebrity. I’m not sure just whom we considered, but at some point I suggested trying Isaac Asimov, who was my favorite science fiction writer.

Isaac Asimov

I don’t know why the others acquiesced, being I was the only science fiction fan present. (After all these years I no longer recall exactly who was there. Maryann, of course. Probably Mary Lou Bliss and Gary Wells and Randy Klopp. Maybe Dennis Keener. Possibly Debbie Miller and Carol Hill. Arlene Herr and/or Eric Blouch? Conceivably one or two others. Of those I named only Gary, Eric, and possibly Dennis had ever read any science fiction, but none of them were major fans, as far as I can recall.)

Since it was my idea, I placed the call, and I’ve preserved the recording for all these years even though it embarrasses the crap out of me. However, I’ve been assured by everyone that who has heard it in the intervening years that I need not be embarrassed by it. Doesn’t matter, I still am.

Anyway, I’ve converted it into a Youtube video so that I could add subtitles and a few other explanatory notes. I’ve also tried to enhance the audio at points where it needed enhancing. So here is the entire recording, including the interaction with the operators with nothing suppressed.

I’d just like to point out that my reasons for feeling embarrassed by it are as follows:

  • It’s painfully clear that I didn’t expect to get through to Dr. Asimov, so I didn’t have any idea what to say to him. Thankfully I did think of something to ask him.

  • I forgot that he had a PhD, so I addressed him as “Mr.” rather than “Dr.” This is especially painful for me because in science fiction circles he was affectionately referred to as the “Good Doctor”.

  • My Pennsylvania Dutch accent, which I have long since suppressed, is readily apparent.

  • Just my general fanboy demeanor. I’m such a dork on that call.

One last comment. If you listened to the whole thing you will have noticed that I said we were all great fans of his and had all read his novels. That was a lie, of course. But I figured he could hear the others laughing in the background so I felt I needed to address the fact that I was not alone. So I lied to Isaac Asimov.

The Phillies Grandslam Jeepstakes Contest

My mother, age 94, died earlier today. She had been on the decline for some time and had been under hospice care for nearly a year and a half, so we’ve been expecting this news. As something of a tribute, I’m posting this story of what was one of the most exciting nights in my parents’ lives. It also contains another one of those “what are the odds?” moments.

Our story begins in the spring of 1988 (probably sometime in June) when I was in charge of the Information Center at DPSC, the Defense Personnel Support Center, as it was then known, located in South Philadelphia. As all of us were Phillies fans to one degree or another, I arranged for us to take an afternoon off to attend a Fan Appreciation Day game. There were probably about twelve of us altogether, including my boss, Bill Bevan.

Dave Palmer and Lance Parrish flanking my father

I’d like to note right here that this was the one and only time I’ve ever attended a Phillies Fan Appreciation Day game, or ever attended a Phillies day game in the middle of the week. During this period and for several years thereafter, my standard Christmas gift to my parents was four season tickets to all the Phillies Sunday home games, and I did sometimes use one of those tickets, but I never went on a weekday.

The Phillie Phanatic was part of the presentation ceremony

Anyway, we got to Veterans Stadium (it not yet having been imploded) and found our seats. As there was still time before the game began, some of us went to get refreshments. Meanwhile, there was something happening on the field, some sort of contest, they were drawing a name out of a drum, although I wasn’t paying it any attention.

I wasn’t paying it any attention, that is, until I heard them announce, “The winner is Arthur J. Troutman of Lebanon, Pennsylvania.” Because that was my father!

What are the odds?

There’s the Jeep Comanche as my parents are given the keys

I don’t recall anything about the game, but I presume they played one. Once I got home, I called my parents to congratulate them for winning the contest. My mom had just been notified a few minutes earlier about winning and couldn’t understand how I knew about it, so I explained the weird coincidence. She told me that she had seen the coupon for the contest in one of the mailings she got from the season tickets, so she filled it out and sent it in. This was a contest where you could enter as many times as you like, but she had only entered once.

Arthur J. Troutman tosses out the first pitch with Arlene at his side. My sister and I are sitting behind them.

Incidentally, the contest was the Phillies Grandslam Jeepstakes Contest and the prize was a 1988 Jeep Comanche. Plus the winners, along with two other persons of their choosing, would be special guests at the July 4 Phillies home game where they would be treated to dinner, be formally presented with the prize, toss out the first pitch, and get to watch the fireworks.

Well, my parents chose my sister and me to round out their foursome, and it was an exciting evening all the way around. At the dinner there was a surprise appearance by Dave Palmer and Lance Parrish, and my father had his photo taken with them.

Then the Phillie Phanatic was on hand at the presentation of the Jeep Comanche, and as promised, my father got to throw out the first pitch.

I have to admit that I don’t recall the game itself, other than that the stadium was packed and the crowd got The Wave going a few times. I did have the VHS recorder taping the game at home, but that tape has long gone AWOL.

Finally when the game was over, we were escorted into the Phillies dugout to watch the fireworks. And this was perhaps the most exciting moment of all, because that’s where we met Tug McGraw who was gracious enough to have his picture taken with my parents. For my mom, who was a rabid Phillies fan, possibly even more so than my dad, it just didn’t get any better than this. I mean, Tug McGraw!

All in all, quite a night to remember!

Tug McGraw with his arms around my parents. Probably the biggest thrill of a very thrilling evening.

Wayne Busbea, Etc.

As I was reading Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction, which is a history of the early years of science fiction and a biography of some of its foremost writers, I was reminded of Wayne Busbea. Let me explain.

Our family moved to Richland, PA, in June of 1957, and for the first few months we lived in the apartment that Lynn and Isobel Klopp kept on the second floor of their house on East Main Street. That summer, as most summers thereafter, I spent a lot of time at the Richland Playground, and one day I heard someone on the shuffleboard court speaking with a distinctive Texas twang. I soon found out his name was Wayne Busbea (BUZZ-bee), and he had recently moved to town with his mother from Texas.

A few months later we moved to a house on West Main Street, and Wayne lived with his mother and stepfather in an apartment just a few doors up the street. Wayne was about two years older than I was, but we’d occasionally hang out together. I was fascinated by his accent, so I tended to hang on his every word, and like practically everyone from Texas that I’ve ever met, he had a tendency to compare everything to what it was like back in Texas. Everything was bigger and better in Texas, of course. Although after a few years that tendency faded, as did his accent.

I only recall a few specific incidents. One time, I’m guessing this was the winter of 1960 when I was in 5th grade, I came across him as he was throwing snowballs at the snowman in the Gass’s yard. This would be the yard of Polly and George Gass who had two sons, Frank (a year younger than I was) and Michael (two years younger than I was). So this was the snowman that Frank and Mike had built a couple days earlier, and Wayne was tossing snowballs at it in an effort to knock it down, the Gass boys not being home at the time.

I joined him. I don’t think I tossed any snowballs, but even if I did, I doubt they caused any damage. On the other hand, I didn’t do anything to prevent Wayne from destroying the Gass boys’ snowman either.

A few days later as I was walking home from school, Dale Sadler and Mike Gass confronted me. Dale was in my class and fancied himself something of a tough guy. In the one conversation that I recall having with him he said that he planned to join the Marines because that was the toughest thing you could get. Anyway Dale was a good friend of Wayne’s, but this day he was acting as a protector of sorts for Mike.

The only photo I have of Wayne Busbea from the 1963 yearbook

The only photo I have of Wayne Busbea from the 1963 yearbook

They confronted me on a sidewalk with snow piled up on either side. As Dale blocked my escape, Mike demanded to know why I had destroyed his snowman. (How had he found out? Probably neighborhood busybody Olive Geiss, who made the most divine cookies. But that’s another story.) I don’t know what my reply was, but before I knew it, Mike was attacking me. Fortunately, Mike had never learned to fight or punch. His idea of fighting was to just flail his arms wildly, and since he was two years younger, even I could defend myself against that. Happily, Dale didn’t actively participate or I might not have been so fortunate.

A few months later, some money was stolen from the Gass’s house. Stupidly, I blurted out in front of my mother that Wayne knew that the Gass’s kept their garage door unlocked so that Frank and Mike could get in if their parents weren’t at home. So my mother alerted Richland’s sole police officer, Donald Foreman. (In later years my mother couldn’t understand why I tended not to tell her anything.) I don’t think she realized that this information incriminated me as much as it did Wayne. Hell, I suspect half the town knew that the Gass’s kept their garage unlocked.

Anyway, the next school day I found myself hauled out of class to go down to the basement to repeat this supposedly incriminating piece of information to Officer Foreman directly. Then he brought Wayne down. While I was still sitting there! I thought I was supposed to be an anonymous tipster.

Well, Wayne denied that he stole the money. I believed him. I never thought he stole it in the first place. There being no real evidence against him, there was nothing to be done. We were each sent back to our classrooms.

Surprisingly, Wayne wasn’t angry with me. We walked home from school together that day, and he never held that against me.

So who stole the money? It was never solved, but really the most likely suspects were right under Polly and George’s noses. Not that I’m accusing anyone.

In 1962 when I turned 13 my birthday present was a membership in the Science Fiction Book Club, and one of the books in the introductory offer was Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. In those days my mother had a beauty shop in the rear of our house, and one of her customers was Wayne’s mother, whose name I no longer recall, but I do recall that she was a beautiful woman with thick red hair, and she still had her Texas accent. When my mother casually told her about my book club present, Wayne’s mother exclaimed:

"Science fiction? Why that’s the only thing I ever read. I have piles of books that’re just lying about gathering dust. You have your boy come round and I’ll fix him up with a heap of books.”

And so I did. She gave me a big box filled with a treasury of science fiction books and magazines. They kept me reading for a long time. Among the treasures were a bunch of issues of Amazing Stories magazine which had a series of biographies of science fiction authors like Campbell, Asimov, and Heinlein.

And that, Gentle Reader, is why reading Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction reminded me of Wayne Busbea.

I guess I shouldn’t end this without providing yet another example of my mother sending me on an embarrassing mission. She kept insisting that I should return the books to Wayne’s mother once I had read them. I tried to point out that they were a gift, but she wouldn’t have it. So one Saturday morning I went back with a few of the books in hand to see if Wayne’s mother would take them back. As I had known all along, she had wanted to get rid of them and didn’t want them back.

About a year or so later I noticed that I hadn’t seen Wayne for some time. When I asked about him, I found out that his mother had sent him back to live with his grandmother in Texas. Apparently, Wayne’s stepfather was not treating him very well, and she wanted to get him out of that environment. Wayne had never mentioned anything about his stepfather to me, but I had noticed that he did try to avoid him. It wasn’t long after that that Wayne’s mother left as well, and the stepfather continued to live in that apartment by himself.

Lynn and Isobel Klopp’s house in 2013

The Klopps eventually stopped renting out their second floor and expanded their living quarters to embrace the whole house, where they raised three boys, Randy (in my class), Dwight (in my sister’s), and Ross. They lived in that house for at least 60 years, and the last time I was in Richland in 2013 there was a For Sale sign in their yard.

Dale Sadler left Richland sometime after 5th grade, and I’ve never heard from him again, so I don’t know if he ever did join the Marines.

The Gass boys and I had our ups and downs, particularly after the Dieffenbachs moved in next door to us. Sometimes Frank and Mike and I formed a coalition against the Diefenbachs, sometimes the Gass boys and the Diefenbach boys ganged up against me. I don’t recall ever siding with the Dieffenbach boys.

George and Polly Gass bought the apartment building across from the railroad tracks and moved into one of the apartments themselves. They converted the basement into a laundromat, and the Richland Laundry was born.

Olive Geiss moved to Reading, but not before giving my mother the recipe to her cookies. Thereafter my mother always baked up a batch of Olive’s cookies around Christmastime.

The last I heard of Officer Donald Foreman, he had developed a urinary infection of some sort. I hope he recovered.

Eventually my parents bought the apartment building and laundromat from the Gass’s, but that’s another story.



The One Where I Was Almost Killed—Twice

I was still living in State College and working for the Pennsylvania Mirror, the Altoona Mirror’s failed attempt to go head to head with the Centre Daily Times, so I’d guess this must have been sometime in the spring or summer of 1972.

My job was basically that of a glorified delivery boy, although there was no glory in it, and the Mirror being a morning newspaper, I started work at midnight just as the paper was going to press. I, along with the half dozen or so other drivers, would grab our bundled papers as they came off the line, load them into our car or truck, and drive off to deliver them to the various newsstands, grocery stores, and other outlets that carried the Mirror. We even delivered single copies to folks who lived in the countryside.

We’d get back to the newspaper’s building around 5:00 AM or so, maybe find an excuse to hang around for a bit to get some extra time (the pay being not much above minimum wage), and punch out around 5:30 or 6:00.

Usually Brian Galas and I carpooled, as we lived just a few blocks from each other in State College. Brian was a fascinating guy, probably the smartest fellow I’ve ever known. He had been a geology student, working on an advanced degree, when suddenly he became disillusioned with the field and the people working in it. The breaking point came when he realized that his professor had a paperweight on his desk and couldn’t even name the type of mineral it was made of. Now Brian was an aspiring artist with a wife and two daughters. Actually, Brian probably deserves a whole blog post or two devoted to him.

Anyway, on this day I was driving Brian home, but we had to deliver a single paper that one of the other drivers had missed.

The recipient lived in Park Forest Village, which was north of State College just off 322, so that’s where I headed. Now 322 was a four lane highway in that area, although because it was a fairly well developed section, the speed limit was probably about 45 mph. Since Park Forest Village was on the left, I was driving in the left hand lane and my eyes were on the street signs as I was watching where to turn off.

And that’s when I heard Brian say, “Hey…hey…hey…” His voice was calm but I knew something was wrong. In any case it was just enough to divert my attention away from where to turn off to look straight ahead at the car that was barreling directly towards us in our lane! I swerved just in time and it missed us.

I pulled over to collect myself, and Brian said he had tried not to shout so as not to put me into panic mode. In any case I think he did exactly the right thing, and as I thought about it, I realized that if I had been alone, I probably would not have seen that oncoming car in time to react. And no, I have no idea why that car was driving in the wrong lane.

So we delivered the paper, and I proceeded to take Brian to his house, which was on Westerly Parkway. This meant retracing our route by going south on 322 until it turned into Atherton Street when we got to State College.

Now once again the turnoff was going to be on the left, and having driven Brian home dozens of times in the past, I would normally have anticipated the left turn by getting into the left hand lane. On this day for some reason I did not. Why I did not I cannot say. Was I perhaps being just a little bit extra cautious because of the earlier incident? I do not know. All I can say for certain is that as I approached the turnoff to Westerly Parkway, I remained in the right hand lane.

As one drives south on Atherton Street towards Westerly Parkway, there is a hill, so drivers really cannot see oncoming traffic. And on that day as we went up that hill, just as we reached the crest, a huge tractor-trailer truck came barreling over the mound in our left hand lane! Had I been in the left lane as I nearly always was in the past, there would have been no time to react; we’d’ve been goners.

So there you have it. Twice in the space of less than half an hour, two drivers traveling in the wrong lane nearly plowed into the car that I was driving. And I lived to tell the tale.