First Grade, 1961
First grade started off at Marcus Whitman School in 1960. The only things that I truly recall about this school is making a paper mache camel. I remember the stinky smell of the soggy newspaper, but loving every slimy, pasty moment of creation. I started off with what I believed was a giraffe. However, when paper gets added with unpredictable results, giraffes often turn out to be camels. I also remember being terrified of the zoo train as our class discussed taking a field trip there. I don't know why; perhaps because it was so "space rocket" looking.
Now, if first grade taught me anything, it was how to fully appreciate the ecstasy of lunch. There was no other time like it. Lunch was a time of reverence and repose; when you had time to yourself, to think to ponder, to put food in your mouth. For me, it gave me time to reflect on just how screwed up my life had been so far. What foul deed had I committed that I would be plummeted into such an absurd purgatory now as first grade? I was forsaken by Mom, left alone with perhaps the ugliest teacher this side of Hell with matching disposition to boot.
"Krazy Ikes" were the best. They were my favorite toy of the first grade. I loved the bright colors and all of the combinations off creatures you could make. They were a lot like Tinker Toys, only plastic, and much, much cooler. My only problem was that everyone else loved them as much as me. It took the longest time for me to get my hands on them. When I did, I discovered that the waiting had all been worth it. They were great!
Pictured in this group is the Matchbox Ambulance that I stole from the kid next door, simply because I was so fascinated with it. I remember loving trucks and cars with sirens and lights. I took this to school for "show and tell", then immediately returned it to its rightful owner.
In 1961, we lived in these duplexes directly behind the back entrance of Joseph Lane School. Walking to school was just a matter of crossing the street and the back playground. There were evenings when the school would show movies in the gym. There was nothing like sitting in the bleachers (where normally we weren't supposed to be) for a couple of hours eating popcorn, and watching movies on a screen. For a can of food, we could go and watch a movie. I saw "Toby Tyler", "Mysterious Island" and "The Swiss Family Robinson" there. We actually used to go and see "Toby Tyler" and "Mysterious Island" over and over again.
Learning to Draw with Jon Gnagy
Saturday afternoons hold a very special place in my memories as we watched television's greatest artist Jon Gnagy perform miracles with pencils, charcoals, and chalk. Jon inspired most of the artwork that I do today. In fact, I've developed a sincere love for gray, cloudy skies primarily because that's how Jon's skies looked.
My dad would always give me a bag of Blue Bell Bar-B-Q potato chips as a special treat during the show. I sure looked forward to those special Saturdays, eating BBQ chips and watching Jon. I got an official "Learn to Draw Outfit" for Christmas one year. It came with everything you needed to get started, including a detailed "how-to" book. I was fascinated with all the chalks, different pencils, and the tools that professional artists used. I was still struggling with coloring books, but really loved the challenge of serious drawing. At the time, my main medium were Crayons. With this set, I truly felt that I'd expanded.
October of 1962 was difficult time. World events that I hadn't paid much mind to, terrified my parents. The first and most influential event was the Cuban Missile Crisis. It scared me to see my parents so frightened. The family television that once was entertainment central, soon became a morbid and terrifying fascination. As I ran around the neighborhood playing war, I had no idea that the real thing was actually taking place. The terrifying part of all was that this recent conflict could have quite possibly been the very last war on earth, and the end of mankind. I recall the word "Kruschev" being uttered constantly. The word became a name, and the name soon attached itself to a round bald-headed face that became a symbol of evil in most American households. You can read more about this here.
The Columbus Day Storm, 1962
On a windy Friday of October the 12th, came The Columbus Day Storm of 1962. This was a freak hurricane that struck Oregon. 80 mph winds tore up the city leaving 17 dead, and hundreds injured. I still remember the night of this storm. My mom made us crawl under our beds. We spent the night there. My dad put as many quilts as he could find over the picture window in the living room. Outside I could hear the winds ripping, and tearing apart the landscape. It sounded like our roof was coming off. I had a bunch of new little cars. They were Tootsie Toys, my pre-cursor to Matchbox Cars. I was playing with them under the bed, and even though the chaos was outside, I was thinking that this was all some great adventure. When I awoke the next day, our tree had fallen into the neighbor's yard blocking his car in. Luckily it narrowly missed his car. Read the full Oregonian article here
To this day, Halloween is my favorite holiday. Halloween of 1962 seems to stand out in my memory. I was going to Lent School at the time. That day, there had been special activities. After lunch, our teacher gave us the rest of the day to create Halloween art with our scissors, glue, and class construction paper. (Our class always had plenty of paper on hand for arts and crafts). I made a picture out of construction paper of a fence, a scary tree, and a black cat on top of the fence.
We got out early that day, and I remember that the sky was a deep gray with no clouds whatsoever It was a bit windy, and of course, every neighborhood then had its own "haunted house" that a kid had to walk past everyday. On this day, I remember that the wind was creaking the screen door on the front porch of this house. There was an old woman who lived inside. She was a witch , or at least, that was the legend. As I grew older I realized that it was just a quiet old woman who lived alone. Unfortunately, she was perfect kid fodder for rumors of witches and ghostly happenings. You can read more about this here.
Everything was so apropos and festive to the holiday. For dinner, my mom made "yellow and orange" food, ie, hot dogs with melted cheese on them. It wasn't just the food; there was a special feeling in the house. Halloween was special, and all dinner time rules and all household schedules were set aside for the occasion. For dessert, she made this beautiful orange cake using Hershey squares to make a pumpkin face. After dinner, my dad burnt a cork and smeared whisker-gray on my face as I dressed up as a hobo.
The Great Lie of Spinach
Dick Tracy was a sporadic cartoon program in our area of Portland, Oregon. The local station mixed them in with other animated shorts as a sort of grab bag of kiddie entertainment. I never knew when Dick, and all of those incredibly disfigured villains would appear. So, I sat faithfully and diligently, a television sentry parked on the living room carpet in front of the set. He had this great wrist watch that for me, was half the mystique of the show. The cars were cool, the villains were out of this world, and the excitement was like no other.
Spinach: The Green Slime Moss from Another World
As far as cartoon characters are concerned, there was no other hero for me like Popeye. My favorite part was his can of spinach. Whenever he was getting thrashed, and no matter how weak he was, out came the spinach. It was wonderful watching him squeeze the can open. He could also suck out the spinach with his pipe. He would then get super-strength, spin his arm at light speed, then knock Bluto to Pluto! Spinach seemed so incredible that I actually talked my mom into picking some up at the grocery store.
Why would I have to talk my mom into buying me spinach, you ask? Shouldn't spinach have been a part of my regular diet? Well, my mom was smart. She knew that I would never eat spinach, even if it was endorsed by a famous knucklehead like Popeye. So, to prove her very point, she bought some. My first taste of spinach told me that Popeye was a liar and traitor. How could he have misled us kids with such malice and forethought?
The fact that he had been lying to me the whole time didn't deter me from watching him on a daily basis. Instead, I had just learned a most valuable life lesson: don't believe everything you're told. So, with that in mind, my reasonings became well-honed, concise, and deliberate. Popeye was a traitor. He could have all the spinach in the world if he wanted. I drew all of my strength and energy from Cracker Jacks. Yes, that was it! A resourceful kid like myself, had to find his own technique. Though my mom wasn't aware of it at the time, Cracker Jacks contained all the vitamins and nutrients needed to sustain life. They were basically, the bread of life.
It was a very sad fact that the spinach Popeye gobbled on a regular basis was no good. It was in fact a poison that seeped out of the earth cleverly disguised as leaves. It was dark and green, bitter and slimy. Spinach wasn't full and leafy, or even dry like on TV. It was disgusting and lay on the plate like a mound of soggy newspaper. The horror of the first bite traumatized me for a number of years. Eating anything green (with the exception of candy), was abhorrent to me. Therefore anything juicy, fluffy, mushy, runny, or not colored right was repulsive. In essence, that just about made up the entire pyramid of proper dietary guidelines.
To say that I was a finicky eater was like saying the Grand Canyon is a ditch in Arizona. I hated everything! If it didn't have sugar, it was inedible. Needless to say that dinner time was a slow, torturous ordeal. I would stab at the food, rearrange it, or try to transfer globs of it into my napkin for secret disposal. That trick only worked once. I could only make a meager dinner time showing at my dad's threat of: "When that news program is over, you'd better be finished with that plate!" Oh well, the news ended, the plate wasn't cleaned, and I'm alive to tell the story.