Thursday, August 15, 2013

BRUSHES WITH DEATH



ACCIDENTS ON PUTNAM HILL, AT THE HOTEL BERRY, AND A MURDER AT THE SPOT CAFE

Tragedy and death were ever ready to threaten the happy and secure life we were given in the manse.  The following piece describes three events from our childhood in Athens that are still vivid in my memory many years later.   


                                    A TRAGIC WINTER ACCIDENT

When we had a good snow of three inches or more we would go to school early to sled down East Union, the street that ran along the 104 steps of the stairwell we descended and ascended daily to reach the front doors of our elementary school, Rufus Putnam.  At that time we called that section of East Union “Putnam Hill.”  I remember it being as steep as a ski run and about 60 yards long.  
Because it was so steep, East Union was closed to car traffic with two large heavy white sawhorses as soon as snow began to accumulate on the dark red brick street. The saw horses spanned the entire width of the street and took two men to lift off a truck and move in place.  The cross pieces of the sawhorses were low enough that we had to keep our heads down flat against our sleds as we sped under the saw horse at the bottom of the hill.  Then we would slow down at the end of the run by dragging one foot behind our sled during the last, flat part of the ride.       
The snow storm that had come in the night was still blowing on the morning of the accident.  I remember the hiss of the snow and how the large white flakes melted against my cheeks as I stood among a group of a half dozen boys, all of us waiting our turn to descend the hill.  We could see each other’s white puffs of breath as we boasted excitedly of the great runs we were making and lifted our tongues to the sky to taste the falling snow.  Next to me was a neighbor and classmate, Marshall, son of the dean of the university’s College of Fine Arts.  We had already made half a dozen runs down the hill that morning with the snow, still falling, pelting our faces.  The street was now packed enough by the runners of our sleds that we were making excellent runs at high speed. 
We had time for one more go before school began.  Marshall, the dean’s son, went first.  He took two or three steps, grasped his sled in both his gloved hands, dropped to the now rapidly descending street and disappeared into the dim silence of the falling snow.  
After waiting a few seconds I followed him, dropped my sled to the street and immediately felt the cold air and snow on my face as my sled quickly gained momentum as it sped down the hill. The wet flakes battered my face and I could just make out the snowy street rushing up towards me in the dim early morning winter light.  I could hear the sled's runners gliding quickly over the snow and, halfway down, I was excited to think this would be my fastest run of the morning. 
At the bottom of the hill, seconds before I was to pass under the sawhorse barrier, a boy's voice shouted “Marshall!!”  Then I heard a loud thud.  Because my head was down tight against my sled to avoid hitting the barrier I saw nothing.  Only when I completed the run and was walking back towards the hill did I see three teachers gathered around Marshall, who was lying on his back in the snow.  His head had crashed with full force against the cross piece of the barrier.  He had lifted his head automatically in a reflexive response to the calling of his name. 
Someone had run into the principal's office to call an ambulance and another teacher was shooing curious children into the school.  I tried to stay but the teachers told me to go inside as well.   Marshall looked dead.  His face was a strange pale green and his head was bleeding.  He was not moving at all.   I saw a teacher wrapping a white towel around his head to staunch the bleeding wound.   It seemed to take forever for the ambulance to arrive.  We went inside but could watch from the big window in the stairwell where we could also hear the siren of the approaching ambulance.  Miss Dunham, the 6th grade teacher, barked at us to go to our classrooms.
Marshall underwent a series of brain operations in Columbus, 75 miles to the northwest of Athens and once almost died because an intern gave him the wrong medication.  He eventually did recover but he never returned to Rufus Putnam and Putnam Hill was forever closed to sledding after the accident.

                                    A DEATH AT THE HOTEL BERRY
 
            Since we lived next door to a funeral home we were certainly aware of the reality of death.  But those who were brought to the funeral home were elderly people such as Grandfather Coulter, who died at the end of long lives.  Death among the young was a rare event.  There were only two or three notable exceptions that came to our attention during our eight Athens years in our nearly deathless world. 
            When the north facing window of the bedroom I shared with my brother Mark was open, we could hear the music of dance bands on Saturday nights at the Hotel Berry. We were old enough to enjoy the ballroom music of the l940s and to wonder what it would be like to attend such grand events.  Eventually we would, despite ourselves, fall asleep. 
          The Hotel Berry was the logical choice for the annual dance for graduating Ohio University seniors and their families and friends.  Among the graduates was a young couple that planned to marry the following week.   Happy, excited, and drinking, some of the students began running up and down the wrought iron fire escape steps at the back of the hotel which faced into our back yard.  What the celebrating students did not realize is that the steps ended where a vertical ladder fell directly to a concrete well that surrounded the foundation of the hotel.   The about-to-be bride, followed by her groom, danced merrily down the unlighted fire escape and fell over the iron rod at the bottom of the fire escape.  As she fell, the young woman’s head struck a corner of the concrete well.   I awoke to the ensuing commotion as the police and an ambulance from the fire station a block from the hotel arrived on the scene.  None of this could I see from our window.  I had no idea why so much noise should be coming from the back of the Hotel Berry, turned over and went back to sleep.   
          The next morning, a Sunday, we learned at church that the young woman had died.  Curious, Mark and I walked to the north side of the back of our yard to where the four-story fire escape ended and a vertical ladder descended almost to the bottom of the concrete well.  It was still dark when she was removed to an ambulance, which is probably why Mark found a bloody lock of her dark brown hair attached to a white piece of skin.  I recoiled when I saw it and watched in disbelief as Mark kneeled down to study the lock for a few minutes.  Then he picked it up and took it with him as we left.  He ignored my disapproval.
  
                       Murder at the Spot Café
 
          I recall one murder near us. The Spot Café was a coffee shop on the northwest corner of Court and West Union streets, only two blocks from the manse.  On a Saturday evening the murderer, a man from the county, had fired through the plate glass window of the café from the Court Street sidewalk.  The bullet killed his estranged wife who was sitting there on a stool enjoying the company of another man.
          We read about the murder early Sunday morning in the “Messenger” and it was the topic of the morning in Sunday school.  As soon as the church service ended Mark and I walked down Court Street to the cafe.  The window with the bullet hole in it had not yet been replaced.  The hole was about a half inch wide, was almost perfectly round and had a small rim of clouded glass around it where the bullet had burst through the glass.  Our gaze shifted to the stools in the cafe, trying to line up the bullet hole with one of the stools, as we wondered where the murdered woman was sitting and where the bullet probably entered her body.  Some adults came by, with the same curious interest we had, and we drifted back up the street, half ashamed of our morbid interest in a murder scene. 

                            
                             


    

Sunday, August 11, 2013

MY FIRST BICYCLE



        Road cycling is the recreational passion of my adult life.  But like many children who spend time in an orphanage and are adopted as older children, I came to most things later than most boys my age.  I was ten years old before I could ride a bicycle.  But when the desire to ride a bike came it arrived almost overnight and was impossible to contain.  My legs were growing long at age 10 and fairly ached to pump pedals and feel breezes on my face. One Sunday we visited a family with children our ages that had a junior sized bike that was easy to mount and I wobbled across their lawn on it two or three times that afternoon.  The following morning, a Monday, I became obsessed with wanting a bike. 
          I persuaded my brother Mark to go with me to visit White's Bike Shop on North Court Street in Athens.  The first new bikes were arriving after WW II during which bicycles, like automobiles, were not manufactured at all.   Mr. White had on the floor new bicycles made in Shelby, Ohio.  These shiny Shelby bikes came painted in various patriotic combinations of red, white and blue.  In l946 there were many commercial reminders of our World War II victory, such as the V for victory hood ornament on new Chevrolet automobiles.
          I immediately fell in love with one bike on that first visit to White’s bike shop.  It was red--- my favorite color---with blue and white trim.  I thought I had never seen such a beautiful machine in all my life, and nothing on wheels, not even a car, not even the costly road bikes I have owned as an adult, matched the thrill I felt in just looking at that Shelby bike.  The red, white and blue paint was brilliant; the chromium-coated handle bars shimmered and were decked out with black rubber grips.   I was excited by the aroma of new paint on metal and lubricant on the spotless chain.  Not a speck of dust violated the crisp bright newness of the bike I had already chosen as my own.  I ran my hands over the smoothly painted fenders, the black leather seat, and the frame.  I inspected the chain; I scratched the treads of the tires with my fingernails.
          I fantasized about my new love, imagining myself riding up to a group of my peers at school, all admiring me on my new bike.  The bike would make easy the endless trips to the post office to buy pages of three cent first class letter stamps or to mail bundles of father’s letters and book packages and other errands and chores.  A new bike would make it possible to ride quickly to the state hospital grounds to fish in the lakes there.  Mr. White did not have to say a word to sell me that bike.  I sold myself.  Within hours I had a dozen reasons I needed that bike.  Overwhelmed with desire for the bike and seized by the moment, I wanted that bike more than anything I had ever wanted before -- more than carpentry tools, more than a chemistry set.
I was soon at the point I would have sold my soul to the devil for that bike.  But I didn’t think I would have to offer up my soul.  All I had to do was put $37.50 (over $400 today) cash in the hand of Mr. White and he would let me have the bike.  That seemed almost as difficult as giving the devil my soul.
          "Well," Mother said, as I leaned across the kitchen table, moving my hands and arms to help me describe the bike I had just seen. "You have a savings bond.  I guess we could cash that.  It isn’t fully matured but that would give you almost $25.00."  “Yeah!”  I had forgotten all about the bond.  "And I can mow lawns this summer."  At 25 to 50 cents a lawn that was a lot of mowing.  But at that moment I would have agreed to mow all the lawns in the city of Athens to have that bicycle.
          The pressure I applied was irresistible.  I wore mom down and she agreed to help by loaning me the additional money I would need to purchase the bike.  We went to a bank on Court Street to cash the war bond, she gave me the additional money and I ran all the way to Mr. White's shop, all the while worried that someone else had come in to buy my bicycle. 

"Don't let that happen!  Don't let that happen!” I shouted silently as I ran down South Court Street.

          I arrived out of breath and looked around frantically for my bicycle.  After a moment of panic, I saw it, in a line, side by side, with three or four other new bikes.  I told Mr. White I had the money.  He checked the bike over, looked at me and then at my legs and lowered the seat and seat post as far as they would go and retightened them.  He took my money and wheeled the bike into my hands.  I could not ride the bike home.  I did not know how.  I had never ridden a full-sized bike, had no idea how I was going to get my leg over the top tube, and would barely be able to reach the tops of the  pedals with the seat as low as it could go.  In any case busy commercial Court Street was no place to begin to learn how to ride a bicycle.  So I pushed my shiny new bike up past the feed store on South Court Street to State Street and then College Street to the manse.  
                                          I Learn to Ride

          It came to me suddenly how I would get my leg over the top tube of my new bike.  Out in front of the manse was a full step up from the sidewalk to the walk that led to our front porch.  I figured I could stand on top of the step with the bike on the lower sidewalk. It should be easy, I reasoned, to hoist my right leg over the top tube and put my foot on the pedal positioned at the top of its arc.   But I needed an adult to hold the bike for me while I mounted.  I went looking for Grace Monigold as soon as I got home from school and pestered her until she agreed to hold the bike for me. I was excited and nervous and eager and yet afraid to ride my new bike.  Moreover, I did not want a single scratch on the paint from falling on the sidewalk as I learned to ride.  Somehow I imagined I could learn to ride a bike without ever falling at all. 
         
"Are you ready?"  Grace asked.

"Wait a minute.  I adjusted my body from side to side until everything seemed just right, looked down the College Street sidewalk along the large elm trees and said,

"OK, Grace, let her go!"  

          And off I went.  I crashed seconds later, falling just at the edge of our property, on the thin grass island between the sidewalk and the street." I lost my balance a second time, falling this time on the concrete in front of Mrs. Lawrence's house, just down the street from us.  That fall hurt and scratched my bike and me and I, at ten years old, whimpered on the edge of crying, more because my bike was scratched than because I felt any pain.   The challenge for me was balance. I could not see how it was possible to balance and did not know then that poor balance would be an issue for me my entire life. Then we tried again and I asked her to give me a little push off to get me going.  I fell twice more, but got further down the walk each time, the last time almost to Mill Street, a busy cross street.     

Finally, now more confident, I asked Grace to stand back and let me mount the bike myself and see how far I could go.  I did that, and after a wobbly start, the gradual descent down College Street gave the bike some momentum and I was headed, faster and faster down the sidewalk toward Mill Street.  I had not yet tried to use the brakes because I was stopped each time by falling off the bike.  Having succeeded in going some distance and keeping my balance without falling, I now had to learn to stop.  I tried to get the pedals in the right position, so I could bring my right foot at mid-stroke down on the pedal to brake. But before I knew it, I was sprawled on the brick pavement of Mill Street just missed by a car.  I was able to pick myself up and wheel the bike out of the street with no serious damage done to me and, what pleased me more, no visible new scratches on my bike.
          I would ride 1000s of happy miles on the streets of Athens over the next five years doing errands, visiting friends, delivering papers, and going to and from lawn jobs. I lived on my bike.  My bicycle was a new form of freedom from the adult world whose constraints I was beginning to feel more and more as I approached the wild country called adolescence. Mark, 15 months younger than I but as tall and heavier, began his campaign to buy a new bicycle only two weeks after I did.  It seemed unfair to me at the time that he should have a bike so soon. But I got over that quickly when we began to cycle together. I liked having his company and knew we were safer when we were together.

LEARNING THE WAYS OF THE WORLD



As adopted children of a modestly paid clergyman we always seemed to be looking for ways to supplement our weekly allowances.  Old newspapers and scrap metal were worth collecting for sale during World War II.  We made money through those collections on hot and humid summer Saturday mornings when there were no piano lessons or required family garden or cleaning projects. We mowed lawns and carried newspapers.  We sold Christmas cards.  We worked for a circus.  We clerked newspapers and magazines and shined shoes in the only hat blocking (most men wore formal felt hats then) establishment in Athens.

All of these part time jobs held lessons for us.  They introduced us to a much larger world, sometimes an unpleasant world, beyond the protective walls of the manse and our elementary school, Rufus Putnam.

Today I often hear trains passing through downtown Eugene, Oregon from my house on College Hill.  When I hear these diesel train horns in the middle of the night my thoughts sometimes turn to my childhood in Athens, Ohio, where I heard the whistles of steam engines coming from a distance and then listened as they too disappeared into the night.  The past becomes present and fills me with warm memories of a pleasant childhood lived over half a century ago.

                              THE BEST JOB I EVER HAD AS A TEENAGER

I tired of rising at 4:30 AM on cold mornings to fold and deliver the “Columbus Journal” by bicycle and was frustrated by the hours I had to spend after school and on Saturdays collecting money for the newspaper from customers who never seemed to be home.  When an opening came in a shop on Court Street that cleaned and blocked hats and sold newspapers and magazines and did shoe shines, I grabbed it. I was fourteen years old.  It meant working after school and sometimes as many as 11 hours on Saturday, but the job paid the minimum wage, then 25 cents an hour, and with tips for shining shoes I often went off duty near midnight on Saturday nights pleased with the $15 or so I had in my pocket for a week’s work.  That’s about $120 in today’s dollars and seemed like a lot of money to me then.  I had to apply for my first social security card (I still have the same card over 60 years later), which made me feel grownup. 
     Hat cleaning and blocking was the main business of Athens Hat Cleaners.  Owner Salvas Demetrion blocked many felt hats each week at a time when most adult men wore formal felt hats.  The shop also stocked a wide variety of newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Columbus and Cincinnati and Dayton newspapers.  Among the dozens of magazines were The Saturday Evening Post, Life, Colliers, Reader’s Digest, Coronet, and of course, Time.  But the biggest sellers were romance and detective magazines and comic books, which surprised me when I began working there.
Salvas was a Greek-American immigrant as were a number of Athenians, drawn there possibly by the town’s name and probably the existence of a modest Greek colony.  Niki Parkis was an outstanding football players at Athens High School at that time.  Salvas was squat, about 5’ 4” tall, and seemed to be almost as wide as he was tall.  I never saw him without a blue denim work apron, the required shop uniform we all wore, which descended to his knees.   His eyes bulged out of a jowly face, his head was large and round.  His wife, Espasia, was shaped exactly as he was, but a few inches shorter.  They could have been brother and sister.  Salvas sat at a raised desk near the back of the narrow shop located at 29 ½ Court Street, next to Jake’s Hamburgers.  He was half hidden by racks of magazines in front of the desk and hanging on clips from the wall above the stool he used as a perch. Salvas could clean and block hats while keeping track of most activities in the shop, with his eye especially on customers as they arrived.  His English was poor and he rarely spoke to anyone in English.  He communicated mostly with facial expressions, hand gestures, grunts and mumbles.   When Espasia came to the shop, which she did daily, they spoke in Greek. 
When he had finished the day’s quota of hats Salvas sat on his perch at his high desk reading Greek newspapers and sucking on his long black cigarette holder, which he held between his index finger and thumb with his palm turned up in the European manner.  Occasionally he would mount a Lucky Strike cigarette in the holder and smoke it.    
Stephen, a friend and boy my age, and I clerked the magazines and newspapers and did most of the shoe shining.  When I arrived Stephen had recently applied peroxide to his hair, which made it an unnatural carrot red.  He sported thin, narrow sideburns of the same color.  Salvas would help out with shoe shines when there was a crowd, as there often was on Saturday.  Saturday was big because Athenians wanted their shoes shined for Saturday night dances and county farmers liked to spruce up when they came to town. 
I quickly learned how to do good shoe shines, including spit shines, snapping the finishing cloth off the toes of a customer’s shoes with a flourish after the cleaning and waxing (always two coats) and brushing were done.  I remember a young blond farmer coming in with crusty mud all over his boots.  I figured he was a WW II veteran because he wore army surplus khaki pants and a khaki shirt.  Army surplus gear, including all of the camping gear we loved to use, was easily and cheaply available in army surplus stores in the years immediately after WW II.  My family and most of the families of my friends owned pup tents and mummy case sleeping bags and reversible khaki and white tents that I was told were used by troops in battle areas covered with snow. 
It was a big job scraping all the mud from the young farmer’s boots but he liked the result so much he tipped me 50 cents, which would be like a $5.00 tip today.  I was more than pleased.   I felt especially good when handed a silver 50 cent piece.  What a lovely coin that was with lady liberty walking in flowing robes on one side, a sun rise off her right shoulder, while the obverse displayed a magnificent eagle in ¾ profile, his wings partially raised.  Many consider that “walking liberty” 50 cent piece the most beautiful silver coin ever designed in America.  How solid and good it felt.  I would rub it with one hand deep in my pocket all the way home.  
The hat blocking shop held more lessons in the ways of the world.   It was a man’s place as barber shops in those days were men’s places that women entered as rarely as men entered beauty shops.  I heard a lot about life at age 14, shining shoes and listening to the older men talking and, when business was slow, browsing in the shop’s newspapers and magazines, including the comic books I was not permitted to read in the manse.  I began to learn something about human character.  You could not tell who would tip you and who would not.  Some of the best dressed men in Athens did not tip at all and many of the farmers in blue overalls did. 
I listened as the men talked sports, and politics mostly, and occasionally about race relations and women.  Some of their talk made me feel good and some of it made me sad and occasionally ashamed for them.  I was hearing expressions of views, some hard-bitten and bitter, a few laced with hate, saying things in language and tones I never heard in the Manse.  But I heard more expressions of kindness and generosity and tolerance and understanding, which were more familiar to me.  It was not easy to predict, looking at the speaker, what he was going to say or where he was going to come down on political or racial issues.  I learned that listening to some well dressed men made me sad. I learned that county farmers in bib overalls often seemed to have big, generous hearts, and their words made me feel right and good.  I learned that words spoken can help or hurt us.  I learned that the language we use can encourage or raise our spirits but can also make us sad.  Occasionally an elderly and diminutive gray-haired man would come in early on Saturday nights neatly dressed in an off white suit and wearing gray spats.  These had to be undone and removed before shining his shoes and then redone.  I had never seen a man wearing spats.  I thought of him as a last survivor of the late 19th Century, still present in the Athens of the 1940s, and wondered where he was going that night with a fresh shoe shine.   

                                                  Nudist Magazines

One day I noticed that while I mostly read TIME and LIFE and comic books my friend Stephen began to spend most of his time on the far end of the rack at the back of the shop beyond the area where were displayed  the best sellers we had, detective magazines and romances.   But he wasn’t reading detective magazines and romances and eventually he shared his secret with me.  Out of sight, in the very back of the rack against the back wall, were hidden copies of two nudist magazines, one of which was Sunshine and Health.  These were available only when the reader requested a copy directly from Salvas, who would tumble off his stool, waddle out to the rack, locate the requested magazine, and take the customer’s money.  
When business was slow, Stephen would saunter over to the back wall to leaf through the nudist magazines.  In that position he was just out of Salvas’ line of sight.  Knowing this, Stephen would sometimes become so absorbed in these magazines that he became oblivious to the arrival of customers.  While I could usually make up for his lack of interest in arriving customers, sometimes the traffic was heavy enough that they stood in twos and threes near the door holding their papers or magazines and their money, looking for someone to pay.  This irritated Salvas who would waddle out from behind his desk and sputter and pump his arms up and down and scrunch up his face in frustration until Stephen reshelfed the nudist magazine and went back to work.
It was not long before I was also poking my nose into “Sunshine and Health.”  I did not find the photos thrilling despite the novelty of seeing so many women’s nude bodies.  In fact, I found their mostly middle-aged bulging bodies and drooping breasts singularly unattractive.  But my hormones had begun to rage and I was curious.  When nothing like “Playboy” yet exists, one cannot be too particular.  I would sometimes read comic books --  Superman, an adoptee, was my favorite – which were available in abundance. I spent far more time, however, leafing through the great weekly picture magazines of that time, Life and Look, and reading newspapers.  Taken together these provided a vision of a larger world and of adventures that beaconed. 
Occasionally, when he was out of the shop for some reason or another, Stephen would snitch a Lucky Strike from the desk from which Salvas presided.  He would smoke it down in the basement bathroom.  My own occasional smoking began in the same manner at the hat blocking shop.  I was hooked almost from the first dizzy puffs.
                         Earlier Jobs, Beginning at age 10
 My brothers and I sought any opportunity to make a little money, beginning with scrap and newspaper collections during World War II. Mark, Michael and I rolled out our old red wagon and headed down College Street ringing door bells and asking for old newspapers and metal scrap.  Then we worked the other streets bordering the central Ohio University campus.  It did not take many stops to fill the wagon but that wasn’t good enough for us.  We would go until the wagon was overloaded, weighted down, the wheels creaking. Mark pulled the wagon, I pushed from behind with one hand while steadying the load with the other and Mike walked alongside the wagon doing what he could to keep our load of scrap metal and newspapers from falling off piece by piece.  We had to stop frequently to balance the load or reload the wagon when some things tumbled out as we failed to ease the wagon gently over a curb.
               Sweat trickled down our chests and bare backs as a bright yellow sun climbed into the middle of a hot and sultry July sky. By 11 am our bodies gleamed with perspiration as we  eased our overloaded red wagon with its creaking wheels a mile or so down West Union Street past the Post Office, and then down a hill to the train depot, and then over past the ice factory to the junk yard near Crystal Swimming Pool.  The effort was worth it.  We were always delighted by the amount of money we were paid for a load of old newspapers and rusty scrap metal. 
    We used hand mowers, usually supplied by the house occupants, to cut and trim lawns for 25 or 35 cents or, for the largest lawns, 50 cents.  I don’t think we ever negotiated a fee.  We were paid what our clients thought we were worth and we were rarely tipped.  The mowers we pushed varied in their mechanical condition.  Some customers kept their mowers sharp and well oiled.  These were amazingly quiet.  Some did not keep their mowers in top shape and these we had to push over the lawn twice to do a good job.  We trimmed the lawns with green hand clippers, a time-consuming job that could not be rushed, and we removed the dandelions.  We worked bare to our waist in the hot, humid Athens summers and best liked working in the lovely, well shaded lawns in the neighborhoods around the university.  Often the lady of the house would treat us to a glass of ice water or even iced tea. 
     The hardest thing I ever did to earn a little money was to go from house to house to sell boxes of Christmas cards.  I was eleven years old.  I saw an ad, I think in “Boy’s Life,” where I could order two dozen boxes of cards and keep 40 % of the final sales price.  At first that seemed a great opportunity.  But the project started badly.  My first sales pitch was made to a grumpy gray-haired woman in curlers who came to the door with a scow on her face.  I concluded she was a sister of Ebenezer Scrooge.  I had to work up my courage to walk up to the door of each house I solicited after that first encounter. I feared being confronted again with an unpleasant stranger.  Once I was allowed to do my pitch I felt apologetic that I was even suggesting that the resident might…just might…be interested in buying a box of pretty Christmas cards in October to aid an impecunious 13-year-old.  I learned a valuable lesson.  I was not meant to be a salesman.
                             
                                                     The Circus Arrives

  There were other opportunities to earn a little cash or, in some cases, free tickets to events.  Such an opportunity was when the Barnum and Bailey circus came to town.  In those days -- I think it must have been during the summer of l948 because I was twelve years old.  The circus arrived by train and stopped and unloaded in the Athens depot.  I can still feel the excitement and wonder as I watched elephants being led off the train. Elephants in Athens, Ohio!  I followed the procession as men in jeans walked the elephants from the train depot to the county fair grounds only a few blocks away.  
    I was soon busy helping a short man with a tight well muscled body and brown hair tied up behind his head in a red bandana.  We were setting up one of the smaller sideshow tents.  We used an elephant to help us lift and stake the heavy canvas body of the tent.  By noon the tent was up and staked and my job was over.  Oddly, after so many years, I have only dim memories of what I saw in the circus.  But I will never forget the excitement of the arrival of the circus or of taking part in raising a large tent on the Athens County Fair Grounds. 
                                                        Paper Boy

    My first paper route, at age 12, was the Athens Messenger downtown route which included South Court and College Streets and the village of tiny duplex trailers in which lived returning WW II veterans, their wives, and children.  I think someone at the Messenger was doing me a favor, giving me a route so close to the Manse and with an easy pickup of papers in a filling station just across the street from the Messenger Building on West Union Street. 
     I remember best the first times I delivered the heavy Sunday edition after 9 PM on Saturday night. My white canvas bag was so heavy it crushed my shoulder and made it impossible for me to walk in a straight line.  Shifting the bag from left to my right shoulder did not much help.  After two weeks of this I paid my brother Mark, already sturdier than I, to help me deliver the Sunday Messenger.   
Otherwise, it was great fun being out on South Court Street on a busy Saturday night with the side walks full of farmers and their wives, the former in their blue denim bib overalls. There were townspeople too, doing late night shopping in Woolworths or Scott’s five and dime stores.  The bright neon lights, the lighted marquees of the movie theatres, the slow march of car lights up and down the Court Street added to the liveliness of the scene on a Saturday night.  My route took Mark and me into the Esquire Bar, which seemed a truly sinful place, a den of iniquity, filled with clouds of cigarette smoke and smelling of beer.  I found the interior of the Esquire exciting and threatening at the same time.  Another favorite was the West Union Grill, where we would sometimes order one of their great hot dogs. Most of the deliveries on Court Street were to second floor apartments.  I found it odd that each building had its own distinctive smell.  If I had been blindfolded and walked up the stairs to the second floor of the buildings on South Court Street, most of them divided into apartments, I would have known which building I was in.   
  In those days we had to collect the 25 cent cost of the paper weekly from every customer.  This often meant returning one, two or three times which made me appreciate customers such as George Star Lasher, the head of the journalism department at the university, who placed a quarter under his door mat each week without fail.  Collecting from the GI Bill veterans was not always easy, however, though the men or their wives were always home.  Some simply told me they did not have the money to pay.  I had to cover the difference myself and some weeks worked for nothing.                          
                                   The Columbus Journal 
Later, when I had the early morning Columbus Journal route, I rose and cycled before 4:30 AM to the “barn,” a large garage in an alley behind Court Street. Going out in the biting cold to fold and deliver my papers was hard even though the barn, where we folder our papers, was kept warm with a pot-bellied stove.  I cycled down steep and narrow Mulberry Street and then all over the East Green temporary prefab men’s dormitories on the Journal route.  I move through the public lounge areas of temporary wood frame university dormitories which the housed some 750 returning GI veterans.    
I aspired to fold the 12 to 14-page journal into hard missiles like those of Barney Anderson that could be tossed accurately ten yards or more across white frosted lawns onto porches.  Barney’s papers bounced across the gray front porch boards to land like white batons in front of glass and aluminum weather doors.  There they waited to bring the news into the minds of sleepy, bath robed Athenians as they began their day.
Halfway through the route my feet were numb from cold.  The right pedal on my bike was broken.  All that remained was the naked spindle that stuck out and would, one icy morning, crudely punctured the skin of my calf and gave me a lifetime wound.  My ears were cold.  My feet were cold, but most of all my hands were numb with cold, making it difficult to toss the papers at all. 
     Within US embassies, as the public affairs counselor, one of my responsibilities was relations with the local and US media.  When white house and cabinet officers visited the country, I was the contact for their press officers.  Each of us had a code name during those visits and mine was…have you guessed it?….Paper Boy. 

                                              Journal Contest

While I was carrying the early morning Columbus Journal newspaper they ran a contest for their carriers.  If I could sign up three new subscriptions to the paper, I would be bused with other carriers to Cleveland, over 200 miles away, to watch a Cleveland Browns professional football game.  The Browns were in their third season with the All American Football Conference in l948 and won every game they played in the regular season that year.  I found selling three subscriptions difficult.  But at almost the last moment I made my third sale and got to see my first professional football game when the Browns were one of the best teams in the National League. 
Years later I would read that it is especially difficult for adoptees to search for a job or to try to sell anything for fear of rejection, which we take personally.  Whether true or not, my early experience of trying to sell newspapers subscriptions taught me, once again, that whatever I was intended to be in life, I would never make a good salesman. 

THE MAGICAL CREATION OF DOCTOR LUCHS



No one in the family thought I was being unfairly critical in the stories I told about our adoptive father in Children of the Manse. One of his nephews, a Presbyterian clergyman, commented, “You got your mom just right but you were much too easy on your dad.”  Another nephew, now a retired English professor at Auburn University, wrote that my account of my adoptive father was balanced and accurate.  I included those stories and now publish the one below because they “make good copy,” and are often funny.   Love him or not and there were folks in both camps, everyone agreed he was an unusual man, a character.
  

          The custom of conferring honorary degrees is a salutary recognition of the achievements of outstanding alumni in their fields of endeavor.   But what Franklin and Marshall College, my father's, alma mater, may not have realized is that in conferring an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree, honoris causa, on our father, they had done more than award an honor. They had brought forth an entirely new being.
The morning after Father, still whistling his joy, returned bearing the white scroll with the red ribbons wrapped about it, we could see that the Reverend Fred E. Luchs had ceased to exist.  He had apparently died somewhere on the road between Lancaster, Pennsylvania, the home of Franklin and Marshall, and our home in Athens, Ohio.  What’s more, Fred Luchs had been replaced by a new and exotic being named Doctor Luchs. 
Dr. Luchs had a deeper, more mellifluous voice than Fred Luchs.  Dr. Luchs spoke more slowly than Fred Luchs and lengthened his vowels.  Dr. Luchs flavored his sentences with the majesty of the King James Version of the Bible.  Dr. Luchs talked more and listened less.
When he introduced himself on the phone the morning following his return from Franklin and Marshall, we heard him say:  "Doctor Luchs speaking."  And from that time on and forever more, Fred Luchs, the popular pastor of First Presbyterian, became Doctor Luchs.  He didn't slip once.  There was no trace of his former self at all.  The change was as remarkable for its completeness and finality as for its suddenness.   Within weeks, parishioners began to address him as Dr. Luchs in hushed tones of reverence, which brought a broad smile to his face. 
There were a few holdouts, however. A no-nonsense woman at the university, for example, who had known the former Fred Luchs, apparently deceased, better than most Athenians.  The wife of a professor, Mama Wanamaker –- which is how her friends addressed her -- had spent a lifetime pricking the egos of the pretentious in the academic world.   Days after the magical doctoral degree was conferred, she called the manse to hear a rich, deep voice speaking in magisterial tones, saying,

"Good morning, Dr. Luchs speaking."

"Dr. Luchs?”  She said.  “I’m so sorry.  I must have the wrong number.  I was trying to reach Fred Luchs.  Since you have the same last name you must be related to him.  Can you tell me where I can find Fred Luchs?"

"This IS Doctor Luchs," Father’s voice insisted, with a slight hint of irritation.    

"You’ve already told me that.  I know that you are Dr. Luchs.  But can you tell me what has happened to Fred Luchs?

"Mama!!” I have not gone anywhere.  I AM Fred.  This is ME.”   And then, using a line he borrowed from his favorite comedian, Jack Benny, he said, “Now cut that out!”