JT's Blog

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

Put On Your Sunday Clothes

Junior year (1965-66) in high school, Maryann Shelhamer and I were pretty good friends, and after school Maryann and I often called one another. If I didn’t call her, she would often call me.

Put On Your Sunday Clothes

In those days we had something called a telephone, a big black thing that sat on a small table in our hall. And here’s the thing. Unlike today’s cell phones, when it rang, it didn’t give any indication of who was calling.

So when the telephone rang that day, October 28, 1965, around 4:30 PM, I was pretty sure it was Maryann. When I picked up the receiver I was going to answer, “Hi, Maryann.”

But I must have been in a particularly good mood that day, and so without thinking, instead of speaking, I sang the opening line of a song from Hello, Dolly!

“Put on your Sunday clothes there’s lots of world out there!” I sang in my slightly off-key voice.

But it wasn’t Maryann. It was my uncle Curtis.

And he didn’t sound like his usual chipper self, in fact he was downright somber. I quickly found out why.

“Pop died today,” he said.

“Pop” being his father, and my father’s father, and thus my grandfather. If I didn’t feel two inches tall before, I certainly did now.

He gave me some more details, and I said I’d have my parents call when they got home.

My grandfather John Troutman (2 January 1895 - 28 October 1965)

My mother was the first to arrive. That’s when I made my second faux pas of the day.

She was barely in the door when I blurted out, “Pop died.”

And I realized by the look of shock on her face that she thought I meant her father. In our family “Pop” was the name by which all grandfathers were known. Still is.

I quickly added the context that I should have started with. “Curtis called.” And I gave her the details.

She told me to leave it to her to tell my dad.

A smart decision on her part.

It had been a good day for me. Two hard lessons well learned.

Mr. Curtis Troutman of Womelsdorf, PA

We moved to Richland, PA, in June, 1957, so in September I started attending Richland School in third grade. At that time third grade was divided between two classrooms, the division being accomplished by alphabetical order. As my last name began with a “T”, I was in Miss Margaret Klopp’s room along with (and I’m doing this from memory, so I might have a name or two wrong) Skeet Seldomridge, Richie Spitler, Johnnie Steinbach, Steve Weik, Bobby Weinhold, and Pam Barry.

Curtis Troutman circa 1945

The astute reader will at once notice two anomalies: that’s an extremely small class size and Pam Barry’s name isn’t near the end of the alphabet. Both are easily explained. In addition to teaching that fragment of the third grade, Miss Margaret Klopp also had the entire fourth grade class to teach that year. And Pam Barry was scrunched in with us because her mother, Mrs. Helen Barry, was the teacher of the other segment of third graders.

One day shortly after the school year began, our little band of third graders from Miss Klopp’s room was shepherded into Mrs. Helen Barry’s room where I was shocked to see my uncle Curtis standing in front of the blackboard. (If you need a refresher on my uncle Curtis, I wrote about him briefly in the post on my piano teachers.)

As my fellow third graders were being seated, Mrs. Barry turned to me and asked me to do the honors of introducing this man to the class. As I walked to the front of the room, she whispered in my ear, “Mr. Troutman!” It’s good she did or I almost certainly would have introduced him as Curtis!

I had realized by this time that Curtis was there in his capacity as a music teacher; I just hadn’t realized before this that he was going to be our music teacher. So I introduced him to the class as Mr. Troutman. (By the way, Mrs. Barry taught both third and second grades; I don’t recall if her second grade class was present for the music lesson or if they had been shuffled off to parts unknown.)

It’s odd, given that I’m accused of having such a good memory for those days, but I don’t recall very much about Curtis’s music classes. What I recall most (well, besides the flutophone that he taught some of us to play one year) is the yearly concerts that he organized, and thinking back, it must have involved some major organizational skills on his part. I am retroactively impressed.

The concerts involved several classes from grades four, five, and six, I think, from several different schools being rehearsed separately for months. Each grade got to sing a single part of the harmony, with, as I dimly recall, the youngest class singing the soprano or melody line, and each succeeding grade being given the corresponding lower harmony line, with the sixth graders getting the bass line. As I said this was all rehearsed separately for months, once a week during the regular music lesson, until just before the concert itself when finally all the classes from the surrounding schools would come together for a joint rehearsal. The logistics of rehearsing and organizing and trying to control a bunch of elementary school kids in an endeavor like that gives me the willies, and I don’t know how Curtis managed to pull it off year after year.

I only remember one of those concerts, the one when I was in fifth grade. Each of the songs that the amassed students performed was accompanied on the piano by a fellow student, with Curtis (or perhaps I really should refer to him as Mr. Troutman) doling out the responsibility to a suitably worthy student. That year I was given one number to play; I don’t know what it was, but it was probably something relatively simple such as a hymn with nothing but chords to play, as neither Curtis (my uncle) nor Mr. Troutman (our music teacher) had any illusions about my piano playing abilities.

Curtis Troutman circa 1952

All the other songs except one were assigned to two extremely talented pianists, a girl and a boy, who, being that they were from a different school, were completely unknown to me. And if I learned their names then, I quickly forgot them because I don’t think I knew them until years later when the schools combined as Eastern Lebanon County (Elco), and I got to know Steve Sattazahn and Cindy Keller.

The one other song, “Oklahoma!”, that was assigned to another student was taken by multi-talented sixth-grader Carolyn Sonnen. That was the first time I had ever heard that song, and it’s the only song that I specifically recall us singing. I can still remember the thrill of singing “Okla- Homa! Okla- Homa!” over and over as the soprano voices soared over the top with the melody in the final peroration. We gave a thoroughly rousing rendition, I’m certain.

There was only one problem. Multi-talented though Carolyn Sonnen may have been (in addition to the piano, she also played the flute), Mr. Troutman was not satisfied with her piano rendition of that song. At the last minute he decided that he would have to play the piano part himself, relegating her to page turner. She was humiliated by this turn of events, and I’m certain that seeing Steve and Cindy playing all those other songs just rubbed salt into the wound.

The next school day, she took her disappointment out on me, as it was well known that Mr. Troutman was my uncle, not, of course, that I could do anything about it. For my part, I didn’t think her playing had been disqualifying, but it wasn’t my opinion that mattered, and for the record, I don’t recall being particularly uncomfortable when she expressed her displeasure to me.

Curtis Calvin Troutman was born on April 24, 1929, the fourth and youngest son of John and Edna (Moyer) Troutman. I don’t have any details about his early life, but he received a degree in music from Lebanon Valley College and during the Korean War he was drafted and sent overseas. He must have spent some time in Japan (I don’t know if he was stationed there or just went there for R&R), because when he came home, he had a lot of Japanese items and knew some of the language (as did his sister Irene, but I’m not sure when she spent time there).

He taught me three words of Japanese (which much later I was able to verify with someone who knows Japanese, although Google translate does not seem to translate them in the same way), and although he never wrote them down (I couldn’t read at the time anyway), I’ll do my best to transliterate: “skoh-shee” meaning “small”; “kahks-ahn” meaning large; and “voh-kah-teh” meaning “understand”. The last one became the most important, as for some time after that, whenever he tried to explain something to me, he would conclude with “Voh-kah-teh?” to see if I had understood what he had said.

Curtis Troutman as organist at Christ Lutheran Church, Stouchsburg

Somewhere around the time I was five, he made a tape recording of music from Chaikovsky’s Nutcracker (I don’t know if it was just the suite or if it included more of the music of the ballet) along with his narration of the story and tried to get me to listen to it. But I resisted. A story about a nutcracker just didn’t sound interesting to me. From the vantage of 65 years I think I can add another reason that I didn’t quite understand at the time. He was talking down to me, and I could feel that emotionally and I resented it, even if I couldn’t have put it into words at the time. It seems strange that he could have been so successful as a music teacher (and I think he was a good teacher), and yet couldn’t relate entirely successfully with his nephew.

There was one major downside to having Curtis as our music teacher during third through sixth grades, and that downside had a name: Mrs. Helen Barry. You see, not only was Mrs. Barry the second and third grade teacher, she was also Pam’s mother, and from time to time I’d encounter her in that capacity. And she and I would chat, usually just exchanging pleasantries, really about nothing important, but—

Absolutely anything that I said to Helen Barry would invariably make its way to Curtis who would immediately pass it on to my mother, usually entirely devoid of context. Need I remind you how even the most innocent remark when stripped of its context can take on the most embarrassing of connotations? And my mother always took things in the worst possible way. Actually, now that I think about it, this data transmission didn’t stop after I left sixth grade; Helen Barry was still passing info to Curtis and thus to my mom even during my high school years. You’d think I would have learned by then.

Curtis and his wife Arlene with my parents Arlene and Tuffy circa 2002

Curtis remained living with his parents on the farm until they sold it around 1964, I think. In fact, he was quite active on the farm; I remember during the auctioning of the livestock when the farm was sold, he played a very active role.

He continued to live with his parents when they moved into Womelsdorf until they died in 1965 and 66. Shortly after that he married a woman named Arlene Boltz; so not only was my mother named Arlene, but so was one of my aunts.

They lived in Lebanon, and after that I only had sporadic contact with him, chiefly at funerals or my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Curtis was organist and/or music director at a number of churches in the area, including Christ Lutheran Church, Stouchsburg.

His wife Arlene passed away in 2012, and Curtis died on October 27, 2015, at the Lebanon Valley Home in Annville.

An Ode To Richland

Most folks probably have a soft spot for the place where they were raised, so perhaps it’s not surprising that I consider Richland, Pennsylvania, circa 1960, to have been one of the great small towns for a kid to grow up in.

The Neptune Fire Hall and Movie Theatre

With a population of just under 1,300 (according to the 1960 census) and a relatively compact area (1.6 square miles), it was a Goldilocks size, not too big, not too small, easily walkable.

Ad for the showing of The Curse of Frankenstein at the Neptune Theatre in the December 11, 1957 edition of the Lebanon Daily News

There was a centrally located playground with a baseball field (one of a total of three baseball diamonds maintained by the borough); during the summer months, the borough paid for an arts and crafts teacher to be on hand to provide activities and adult supervision. My first summer there, 1957, it turned out to be the assistant art teacher from my previous school in Womelsdorf. I remember her helping me to make a lanyard, and hey, who doesn’t need a lanyard? Well, I evidently didn’t, because I don’t recall ever wearing it. But I made it!

Ad for the Richland Carnival in the July 5, 1958 edition of the Lebanon Daily News

Then there was the Neptune Movie Theatre operated by the Neptune Fire Company. It ran movies every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday evening and charged 20 cents admission for children under 12 or 50 cents for adults. The Wednesday flick was often a monster picture or other B movie of some sort with the higher class movies reserved for the weekends. For an especially prestigious film, say Cecil B. CeMille’s The Ten Commandments, a Thursday showing would be added. Typically two shows a night at 7:15 and 9:15 with a newsreel, short subject, and cartoon, unless the movie was too long to fit, in which case the times would be adjusted accordingly.

I saw countless movies at the Neptune. It was cheap and safe, even as an eight year old boy I could go there all by myself. The Spirit of St. Louis, Witness for the Prosecution, The Vikings, 12 Angry Men, Psycho, Li’l Abner, The Pajama Game. Of course, the Neptune didn’t get the movies until three to six months after they were released, or in the case of the high prestige movies even a year or more, but in those days, it didn’t matter. We had longer attention spans then.

For five Saturday evenings during mid-summer (mainly July), the Neptune Fire Company held the Richland Carnival, the big events of the year. There were games and food and a big band shell where the entertainment of the week might be Sally Starr or a Mummers string band or Brenda Lee. The big event of the year was the fireworks display that was set off on the Saturday nearest Independence Day. The fireworks went off at midnight, and they were always well worth waiting for.

Ad for the Richland Carnival in the June 27, 1959 edition of the Lebanon Daily News

Of course, Richland had all the usual things that a town should have: barbers, hair dressers (my mother was one for a while), piano teachers, two grocery stores (Werners and Krugers), Irvin Wolfskill’s Sugar Bowl (a soda fountain/news stand), two luncheonettes (The Snack Bar and Skippy’s), four churches, etc.

All in all, if you were going to grow up in a small town in America in the 50s and 60s, Richland was as good a place as any.

Alas, times change, and neither the carnival nor the movie theatre would survive into the 1970s. The theatre is long since gone, as is the band shell.

But the playground is still there. I don’t know whether the borough still funds an arts and crafts teacher for the summer months, but I’m sure the baseball field gets a regular workout.

Ad for the Richland Carnival in the June 27, 1958 edition of the Lebanon Daily News

Dr. George Flanagan of Myerstown, PA

In the video that I posted with yesterday’s post, my uncle Allen mentioned a Dr. Flanagan. It was the only time I had ever heard his name, and I never followed up on it.

I don’t have a photo of Dr. Flanagan, but here’s a pic of an old building in Myerstown

But the former Debbie Miller, now Debbie Shriver (no relation to the Sarge), asked if I had any information about him. She recalled hearing his name during her now far distant youth and wondered if I could shed any light on his early retirement or possible demise.

With nothing but a Dr. Flanagan of Myerstown, Pennsylvania, to go by, I went to the newspaper archive site where I still have an open subscription (though not for much longer). After battling its not always terribly accurate scanning software (“Myerstown” might actually show up as “Myer jown” or some such, in which case it will not be a match in a search), I eventually found a bunch of articles and references that paint an incomplete picture of what sounds like a well-liked, small town physician.

Dr. Flanagan celebrated his 30th birthday on May 3, 1928

George E. Flanagan was born in Avonmore, Ontario, Canada, in 1898, and was educated at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, after which he began a medical practice in Richland, PA, in 1926, bringing with him his wife, Mabel and his son George Jr. His office was located at the foot of the hill at the juncture of West Main and Race Streets near the railroad tracks, and according to my uncle Allen, his most memorable sight from his time in Richland was seeing my mother running up that hill. He moved his practice to Myerstown in 1929 when my mother was but five years old.

There followed a long series of articles and brief mentions where he performs doctor-type things such as sewing up cuts, checking on folks in the hospital, declaring people dead, that sort of thing. By the 1950s he has become a trusted doctor in the community and is the designated school doctor in Myerstown. He’s also active in community affairs, as he leads a protest against the installation of parking meters in the borough. Successfully, I might add.

There are also references to vacations he takes with his family (a two week tour of the eastern states and Canada), to vacations his wife takes with friends to visit distant relatives, and to his son George Jr attending Queens University.

Along with Dr. Carl Miller, another physician who would be well known to Myerstownites (Myerstonians?) in the 50s and 60s, he inoculated school children who had been exposed to polio with gamma globulin injections (this was before the vaccine became available).

Sadly, a heart attack felled him in 1959 at the age of 61.

While these articles filled in a somewhat incomplete picture of Dr. George E. Flanagan, they raised a lot of questions in turn. Chiefly, what brought a Canadian doctor to the tiny community of Richland, PA, in 1926?

Dr. George E. Flanagan’s death notice in the Lebanon Daily News on May 25, 1959



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.

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.



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