1952 - 1957
In 1952, at the age of six I started school within view of our house. We did not have kindergarten or preschool in Maugansville. I remember the first day of first grade. I had not yet met many other kids my age in the village. My friends from church went to other schools. I made friends quickly. I had a crush on a little girl who sat in front of me. We didn’t know how to write but we handed notes back and forth with little drawings that I thought were suggestive. She was participating but I don’t know if she had the same interpretation.
The Maugansville School was not a place with high academic expectations. I don’t remember being challenged and my grades were not especially high, yet I was always in the top group. In the first grade, I had a competition with another kid to see who could write the most numbers. I think he won. He said he could write to one hundred but I had no way to verify it. Another kid named Albert put an airplane in every picture that he drew. Someone started calling him “Airplane Albert.” After Christmas holiday, some students brought a toy to school to show what their favorite gift was. One kid brought a pressed tin army tank. It was battery operated and moved forward making motor and firing noises with sparks shooting from the barrel. I found it exciting and repulsive at the same time. I liked it but I would never have a toy like that. I had some toys but they did not come wrapped in Christmas paper and we did not decorate for the holidays. We sang Christmas carols and read the Christmas story from the Bible. I certainly did not have any toys that were war-elated or suggested violence. I didn’t take anything to school to show.
Students were very aware of World War II and since Mennonites were conscientious objectors on religious grounds it was a sensitive issue. At night I had war in my dreams. At school we had “air raid drills.” We would go to the hallway and sit on the floor along the wall. We were instructed to pull our legs up and cover our heads with our arms. People talked about building fallout shelters that they thought would protect their families if there was a nuclear war and bombs were dropped on us like we had dropped in Japan. Cities and towns had designated fallout protection areas marked with a special sign, a circle with three inverted triangles and the words “Fallout Shelter.” I sensed hostility from some people who resented conscientious objectors’ unwillingness to fight in WWII and any war to come. In some cases, I actually heard people refer to conscientious objectors as being “yellow” meaning that they were cowards. I wondered if that was true. It was much later that I realized that the “objection” was to the killing and not the fear of being killed. At church, there were lessons about “turning the other cheek” and frightening stories about Anabaptist martyrs. I remember those Cold War years and especially the Cuban missile crisis. We expected a nuclear attack from Russia.
The stammering speech problem I had as a young child continued until my late teens. It seemed to end when I left home, which might indicate the cause, but I never tried to analyze it much. I was just glad to be done with the problem! In elementary school, I would sometimes be called out of class to see the public health nurse who would speak to me. I was not told why but I assumed it was to check on my speech problem. When we had reading exercises the teacher would call on each student to read a paragraph from our reading book. I remember trying to hide behind the student in front of me to avoid being noticed and hoping the teacher would not call on me. It didn’t occur to me to talk to the teacher about the problem. When I stammered, my throat would tighten and I could not get the words out. Once I got the first word out it seemed that I could keep it going if I didn’t pause. Over time, I learned little tricks that helped get sentences started.
I was hyperactive, nervous, and worried about social interactions. Maybe because I was youngest in our family, I seemed to interact more comfortably with grownups than with others my own age. I got in trouble quite a lot in school by causing disturbances. I remember falling out of my chair. I had difficulty sitting still. I remember incidences involving glue and the long hair on the girl who sat in front of me. I rubbed my arm with the edge of a plastic ruler until the skin was raw and became scabbed. It seems that I was often sent out to stand in the hallway. The principal’s office was at the end of the hall. There was a small offset just outside the classroom door where the hallway lockers started. I stood in that little offset hoping that the principal would not see me. I was sometimes sent directly to the principal’s office. On one occasion that involved scratching an obscenity onto the paper towel dispenser in the bathroom, another kid and I got into big trouble. The principal came to our home and talked with Daddy. When Daddy confronted me about it, I blamed the other kid and said that he made me do it. Daddy seemed to accept that lie. I was surprised. I guess it was easy for him to believe that I could be intimidated by other students or maybe he just didn’t want to believe that I would do such a bad thing. I was just nine years old and he may have wondered, how did I even know words like that? I did use bad language as a child and I used to be amazed that I could repeat “dirty” jokes and used “bad words” and yet they never slipped out around my parents. I was just a child yet I seemed to be living a double life!
I had very little awareness of the world at large. Since we did not have a TV and popular magazines, we did not seem to think much about the larger world’s population or issues beyond an abstract fear of nuclear destruction, thanks to the Cold War with The Soviet Union. Fortunately, my parents decided to purchase a set of World Book Encyclopedias. I spent hours looking at pictures and scanning the text. I also saw an occasional National Geographic magazine. I had a View Master with a few slide reels. Of course we saw newspapers which I delivered but that required a lot of reading. I do remember the big events that were documented in bold headlines. I remember “I Like Ike” buttons and pictures of Nikita Khrushchev pounding the table with his shoe at the United Nations meeting. There was some news of the civil rights demonstrations in the south but, unfortunately, that seemed far removed from anything that effected us. I don’t remember what occupied my mind when I played with my Slinky, my erector set and electric train.
The day Nate and Kathy were married was stressful for my parents. Kathy’s Mother did not approve of Nate and refused to come to the wedding. Her Dad, in support of his wife, also stayed home. Mother and Daddy did not approve of the church Kathy and her parents attended but they liked Kathy and knew that Nate loved her, so rather than having a church wedding they offered our house. Home weddings were not unusual for the Mennonites. They were married in our living room. All this, in addition to Daddy and Mother’s first child being married and moving to Florida to fulfill his alternative service to the military draft was a lot for them to deal with in one day. I have no memory of the actual wedding ceremony but I remember the reception. It was held at the Maugansville Elementary School, two blocks from our house. After the reception, I was told to go home and change out of my good clothes while the adults worked at cleaning up the dining hall. When my parents came home, I was pitching a football in the yard with a friend. I was still in my good clothes. That was when Daddy lost it and I got a good spanking. A memory from my brother’s wedding day. It was 1956, I was 10 years old. I didn’t get spanked often but when I did, it was over Daddy’s knee and he would spank with his hand. I don’t recall it hurting a lot but it made a big impression because it was a clear indication that I had crossed the line. He would talk to me after the spanking and it felt oddly intimate and embarrassing. He came from the tradition of, “spare the rod and spoil the child,” though he never used a rod! I do remember some of the few times he turned me over his knee and spanked me with his hand. Later in life, I realized that it may have had a lot to do with what kind of day he was having before I got on his “last nerve.”
While Nate and Kathy were living in Florida their first son, Jeffery, was born. When he was a newborn they made a visit home. Kathy’s Mother was now accepting of the marriage and we were all excited about the new baby. Since Nate had moved out and Gerri was eighteen and going off to college, our family was shrinking. It was Dick and me. At this time I did not have much in common with Janice. She was fourteen and a bit more of a “Mother” figure when Mother was busy or depressed. When Nate and Kathy had to leave to go back to Florida with the new baby, it was decided that Janice would go with them to stay for a few weeks to help out. I wished that I was the one going with them. The day they left, the house seemed empty and I was extremely sad. I had become interested in religion and had been reading, Pilgrims Progress by John Bunyan, a big, dark and dismal piece of Old English Christian literature inappropriate for my age. That afternoon after Janice left with Nate, Kathy, and baby Jeffery, I went back to reading the book. I started to cry and it was not a little cry. It was a hysterical, unstoppable cry. I didn’t understand why I was so out of control and I could tell that Mother and Daddy were confused. Finally, they decided that we should go for a ride in the car. Getting out of the house and riding in the car helped and I was able to calm down enough to stop the crying. I don’t remember Gerri or Dick being involved in that event. They must have been there.
It was an awkward time. I was struggling socially at school and beginning to feel oppressed by the church and guilty of my inability to conform.
I wanted to please my parents but it seemed impossible to be that “good.” I lied to them and pretended to be a “good” boy. I knew I was being deceitful and I felt guilty. I was still quite young when I realized that I wanted a life that was more free than the life my parents had. As a result, I was not open and did not confide in my parents. They seemed busy and preoccupied with work, church, and personal anxieties. I didn’t know it at the time but it seems now that my parents did not provide a nurturing relationship for me.
I liked cars and for a while I knew every make, model and year. I glued scale models together and I talked about cars. I made motor sounds when I walked, making squealing tire sounds when I started and again when I was “changing gears” or turning corners. It must have been terribly annoying.
I longed for freedom. I wondered what it was like to live in a non-religious family. There were times that I fantasized that the entire world was conspiring and I would, some day, find that everyone knew something that I did not know. Sex was especially confusing because I could not believe that people actually did those things. I hoped that it was true, but it seemed unfathomable! Of course, I did not know any adults who talked about sex. It was just discussed in jokes with my friends.
I wanted to be good and I wanted to be bad, bad being a relative term. My parents didn’t go to the “Great Hagerstown Fair” when it was held each summer. I’m sure they had reasons that would be hard to explain to a child, so I thought going to the fair was bad. The same was true for movies, having a TV in your house, listening to popular music, reading great books, other than the Bible, joining Boy Scouts and playing Little league baseball, anything that was “worldly” or secular. I didn’t know why exactly but I knew Daddy and Mother, and the church, were opposed to so much and I assumed all those things that seemed so appealing to me, were bad. I learned to keep my desires to myself. That training followed me into adulthood. The experiences that were denied me when I was young became fantasies that grew to impossible proportions. When I was old enough to be on my own and chose to do those things I was denied, I was obviously disappointed. I had to re-adjust my expectations. I’m still inclined to prefer my imagination over experience. I need to redefine my expectations away from the excitement of doing something bad, or something denied. I need to stop and ask myself, why do I want this experience? What is good about it? I still like my imagination. It helps me work as an artist. It was always a source of pleasure and guilt as a child.
I was generally uncomfortable with my parents. I was OK when the focus was on work or some general subject and if others were around when I knew a personal discussion could not occur. I avoided intimate situations when I might be confronted with something about my behavior, especially with Daddy, who may have attempted to discuss sex or other potentially embarrassing subjects. I didn’t want to talk about religion because I did not like their views but I was not sophisticated enough to explain why. I knew I would just end up feeling like more of a disappointment to them. There were a few things I knew about Daddy and things he knew about me that I did not want to discuss. Unfortunately, these things were a wall between us. We got along well in work and financial matters but sadly there was a lack of intimacy between me and my parents that was never resolved. As an adult, I decided that I preferred to leave those issues locked away. The differences between my parents and me were too entrenched to hope to resolve. Leaving issues unresolved, in some ways caused me to feel like a person with a secret.
In the early 1950s, there were more changes to the store. The dry goods department was expanded by about 30 feet wide and 50 feet long to include an office for Daddy and some storage at the back. The expanded dry goods would mean Mother would be busier.
At about the same time, auto insurance law changed in Maryland, requiring Mennonites to purchase insurance. Daddy was approached by Goodville Insurance, a company that was started by Mennonites several decades earlier in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. He was encouraged to quickly get his license and become an agent. In the next few years he had the beginnings of a thriving business as Mennonites flocked in, purchasing insurance from a “brother” in the church.
Many Mennonite churches still rejected home owners or medical insurance, which the law did not require and they preferred to pitch in and help one another in the event of a fire or health expense. In some ways, this worked well and in other ways it made some church members dependent on the more fortunate and successful members. Rather than achieving the common good, it may have created a hierarchy based on wealth.
Once again Daddy added to the business facilities. He built about twelve more feet on the dry goods side of the building with a length to accommodate two offices. One for a secretary/receptionist and one for him.
Occasionally, Daddy took me on calls to clients and meetings with other agents. It was not clear to me whether this was to introduce me to the business or “father/son” bonding time. Neither was very effective. I do clearly remember one call to a farm family. We sat around the kitchen table as Daddy presented the insurance options. The Mother did most of the talking and on several occasions referred to her daughter having her “peanut removed.” She sort of referenced events as occurring before or after the poor girl’s “peanut was removed.” I had no idea what she was talking about and my imagination was going wild. It turned out that the kid had inhaled a peanut at some point and it had to be surgically removed. I remember being relieved when I learned the full story.
During my preteen years, I enjoyed watching the original store grow and construction workers building additions. One of my jobs as a young child was to “sort pop bottles.” There was a refund of 2¢ per empty soft drink bottle. Many bottles were returned for the refund. I learned which brands were marketed by Pepsi and which were marketed by Coca Cola, etc. Many minor brands like Royal Crown, Cloverdale, Grapette, Truade and Barq’s Root Beer had to be sorted out to be picked up by the parent companies. This had to be done every day as the mixed bottles quickly accumulated! There were no diet soft drinks.
When Daddy had the store built he attached a furnace room, designed to heat both the store and the house that he intended to build next door. When all was finished, there was the store, the furnace room, a two car garage and then, the house. The store and the house were heated by water fed through underground pipes. It was a coal furnace and one of my chores in the winter months was to fill the coal stoker and remove the “clinkers” from the furnace. The outside of the furnace and all the large water pipes were coated with flaking asbestos, a substance that is now known to cause cancer. Its use is no longer permitted.
Since heat for the house was supplied from the furnace room, there was no need for a chimney on the house. The neighbors thought a house with no chimney was odd so there were jokes. I was told that the Hagerstown newspaper showed a picture with a caption that went something like, “There is no chimney, what will Santa Clause do?” Daddy was being conservative and he probably did not mind the joking.
On non-religious holidays like Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day, when most businesses were closed, Daddy would unlock the front door to the store and Gerri, Janice and I would be responsible to help if anyone came in. We liked imagining that we were in charge. We would have some customers but it would not be busy because most people would assume that we would be closed. The store was closed on religious holidays. However, since our house was next door and everyone in the community knew us, people would sometimes knock on our door and ask if we could help them. Daddy didn’t mind if it was milk for the baby or some other essential, but he was not happy when someone asked him to go to the store for a half gallon of ice cream or some other non-essential. If someone came on a Sunday for an emergency item, he would go to the store and get it for them but he would not take money on a Sunday. He would ask them to come back on Monday to pay. If we were traveling any distance on a Sunday, we would never travel beyond one tank of gas because we would not buy gas on “the Lord’s Day.” We would pack our meals so we did not need to stop at a restaurant or buy food. No buying or selling on Sundays!
It was important to my parents to have a clean car for driving to church on Sunday mornings. It was often my job to wash the car on Saturdays. I didn’t really mind because after washing the car, I could drive it around to the back of the store where we had a gas tank. I would pump gas into the car tank and drive it back around and park it in the driveway. When I was twelve, that was a big deal. I remember washing the car when the temperature was well below freezing. I would use warm water but it would still freeze on the car. We used genuine chamois leather for wiping the car down after washing. In freezing temperatures, the chamois would sometimes freeze to the metal surface.
It’s no secret that children can be unkind. Often on Halloween unkind messages would be written on the store show windows with paraffin wax or soap. Sometimes it would be obscenities but also references to Mennonites and embarrassing personal references. Daddy would wash or scrape the pictures and messages off the windows in the mornings.
One of the slogans I heard from older boys, meant to be demeaning was, “Ol’ man Lehman sittin’ on a fence tryin’ to make a quarter out of fifteen cents.” I hated it when I heard that but later I thought, well yes, he wasn’t exactly sittin’ on a fence but he was trying to make a quarter out of fifteen cents. That’s called retail marketing!
Work and earning money was highly valued. I always had jobs. When I was nine or ten I delivered the “Grit,” a weekly newspaper. Soon I was delivering the Hagerstown Herald Mail afternoon edition called the “Daily Mail”. I had an official paperboy bag and a “change maker” attached to my belt for Saturday collections. I had the Maugansville, Main Street route. Every day after school I got on my bike and delivered about 70 newspapers from the south end of Main Street just over the railroad tracks, to the north end near the airport runway. Like the U.S. Postal Service, I delivered year round in rain, snow, and the blazing sun. When I started I was under the recommended age. It was typical for me to be encouraged to take on responsibilities before I was age appropriate. I was mostly responsible, but immature, and often would be distracted and skip one of the customers. By the time I returned home they would have called Daddy and I would need to hop back on my bike. I skipped one customer a couple of times and he told Daddy how mad he was. Daddy said I would have to knock on his door and apologize. I hated that and it was the last time I missed his delivery. Sometimes I would stop at a friend’s house and “shoot some hoops.” When I did that, deliveries would run late. I did not understand the importance grownups placed on the timely delivery of the daily paper. I enjoyed the company of adults and often had friendly conversations with my customers. On one very hot day a young wife who was a new customer, offered me a glass of iced tea. It sounded great because I loved the sweet, mint tea my Mother would make. This tea however was not mint and was not sweetened. This tea seemed bitter and I remember an awkward silence as I sat across from her at her kitchen table. She was so young and pretty. It seemed strangely intimate and I felt grown-up having been invited in and offered iced tea. I forced myself to drink that tall bitter beverage. Some of my customers were older and I realized that they were lonely and liked having someone to chat with for a few minutes each day. I recall some winter nights when there was a lot of snow. I could not use the bike and I would still be trudging along with the newspaper bag after dark. I only recall being helped with the car on a few occasions. It was my responsibility. I saved most of the money that I earned.
In the summer the Fuller Brush man would come to town. He would pay pennies per catalog to have them delivered door to door. He would then follow up the next day to sell brushes and other household products. I worked for him on several occasions. He had a plaid jacket, a hat, a bow tie and a mustache. He had other kids helping, too. On one occasion he found a bunch of his catalogs thrown away in a ditch. He had paid someone to deliver them and they had just thrown them away. I would never have pulled a trick like that. He told me about it. He was angry but he didn’t accuse me.
I also helped maintain the yard and garden. I never liked working in the garden. Hoeing and pulling weeds in the hot sun was the worst. I remember a hot day when I was told to work in the garden. I worked for a while and then went to Daddy and complained. I said I didn’t think I should have to do it. Daddy was an even tempered man and seldom showed anger. But I was angry and I said, “I don’t know why I have to do it, I didn’t ask to be born.” I was surprised by how angry he became when I said that! I realized that I had crossed a line and it was time to get my butt back into the garden and pull some weeds!
I had a few pets. A local man gave me a hunting dog that was the runt of a litter. I guess he did not expect to be able to sell it. It was a short-haired pointer. For reasons I do not understand, I was not attached to the dog. I called her Jenny. I fed her and she had a dog house but I do not remember playing with her or taking her for a run. I did not have her long but when we gave her away she was full-grown. I hope she went to a good home! I also had rabbits. They were pets but we also ate them! I had several litters and raised them in a pen behind he garage. Rabbit pens have a distinct odor that I can easily recall. It seems that I was never very attached to animals until later in life. As an adult, I have always had a cat.
During this same time, for a few weeks in the spring I would set my alarm for 4 am, get on my bike, meet up with a few other kids, and ride about three miles through the dark and damp morning to the Miller’s Asparagus Farm. We were given bushel baskets and sent out to pick asparagus in the muddy fields. The rows of asparagus were long and the baskets became heavy as we worked. Soon it would be time for school. We would be handed a few dollars and get back on our bikes. My shoes were heavy with mud and I remember how difficult it was to wash the smell of asparagus off my hands!
Daddy and two other men from our church, Russell Martin and Glen Martin, held a two week summer bible school at the beginning of summer vacation. They used the Maugansville School facilities. It was an evening event. Mostly Mennonites attended but some community kids came. Folding chairs were set up in the auditorium and at the opening each evening Russell would lead everyone in singing. Daddy printed up little songbooks on his mimeograph machine and stapled them together with a special stapler with a wide reach. After the singing, everyone went to the classroom for their age group. For me, it was a time to hangout with my friends, meet new guys and girls. I had been listening to some of Nate’s records and was especially enamored with Mario Lanza singing "The Lord’s Prayer" by Albert Hay Malotte. I told Daddy I would like to sing “The Lord’s Prayer” in front of the entire assembly at bible school. One night Russell Martin called me out of class and took me into the boy’s bathroom and asked me to sing it for him. I guess he just wanted to be sure I knew all the words and could make it through. I remember how great the acoustics were and I probably imagined that I sounded just like Mario Lanza sounded on Nate’s stereo. The next night he announced that I would sing and I went onto the stage and sang the song a cappella. Fortunately, that was before video cameras and iPhones. It was still about ten years before Kodak created the Super 8 camera. I can be pretty sure there is no document of that performance. So let’s just assume it was terrific! It was around that time I began to tell people that I wanted to be an orchestra conductor and I told Mother that I wanted to be a tenor like Earl Mast. He was a music professor at Eastern Mennonite College and we sometimes went to chorus performances at the college and he would be a featured soloist. Mother told me that it was an unrealistic aspiration since I had inherited her voice and it was not clear enough. In my late teens, when I lived in Philadelphia, I took voice lessons for a while but did not stay with it. My favorite exercise pieces at that time were “Panis Angelicus” and “If with All Your Hearts” from Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” but my voice teacher mostly had me practicing songs from Broadway shows.
|School picture, around 1955
|Florence, me and my playmate and neighbor Jerry, 1957