1950 – 1958 Grade School Home
As I mentioned in Pekin Country Club I attended first grade at McKinley grade school from 50-51 on the east bluff. I don't remember the teacher's name.
The next year mom sent me to Jefferson grade school in the downtown area closer to the Illinois river. I don't remember either the teacher or any of the students.
In the fall of 52 I entered St. Joseph's grade school as an eight year old third grader. One of my first memories is the Sister explaining who Jesus was and why we should love Jesus more than anyone else. I asked her if that included my mother and she said yes. I couldn't understand that since I had never met Jesus and didn't even know him. I told my mom what the Sister had said and she said it was ok, but I still didn't understand.
In the spring of 53 the Sister came in and said she had good news. A man who was an enemy of our country had died and we should all be happy because he was the leader of an evil communist country and we were the leaders of the free world. I didn't know what communist meant but I knew it was good to be free.
Mom had tried to get me to play piano but after a few months of lessons the teacher told my mom I would be better at drums. I began to take drum lessons from the band director at Washington Junior High School, James Keith. I would go over to his house for the lessons. He taught me how to read music and I got my first set of drumsticks and a practice pad to practice on. One day when she was downtown I was walking with her by some store windows when she stopped at a music store and showed me a drum set sitting in the window and asked me how I would like it. “HELL YES!!!!” We took it home and set it up in the living room and I began banging on them for several weeks all day. The sound would carry out onto the golf course and the members started kidding me about it asking me if I was going to be another Gene Krupa.
Eventually I was sent to take lessons from a professional drummer named Jerry Ripper who was a well known drummer in the area. He taught me for several months but by then I really wasn't practicing that much. Mr. Keith was pushing Jerry to have me ready to play a solo at the next concert. He showed me some stuff which I could in no way repeat and asked me to go home and practice which I didn't. When I showed up for the next week he asked me if I had practiced and I lied as told him that I had. He said “OK – Let's see what you've got.” I sat there on the set terrified and thought “Shit – it's now or never.” Out of complete fright I just started doing triplets alternating between the tom tom and the snare and got into a grove and started to do what little improvising I could and when I was finished Jerry said “Wow – I can see you have been practicing.” - The only time in my life when one of my lies wasn't discovered. Anyway I started practicing my solo and in a couple of weeks Mr. Keith let me loose at our concert and while I was playing I looked out into the crowd and saw a father take his young son and hoist him sit him on his shoulders so he could see. Now I really had a big head. I began to play for the dance band regularly. The only song I remember playing was “Mr. Sandman.”
I also played in the regular band and I would have to go to Washington Junior High School in the mornings before school for band practice. We would play the Notre Dame and Michigan fight songs and the “Colonel Bogey” march and a lot of John Phillip Sousa marches. At the end of the year we would compete in the state competition where Mr. Keith would get really up tight but we usually got a superior rating from the all-knowing judges.
When I was in sixth grade there was an eight grade girl in the drum section (Connie) that I became friendly with and I walked her home once in awhile. She was going with the drum major who was a tall fellow who was really good at what he did. One day she told me that Althea Knoll wanted to know if I would be interested in dating her. Althea was a tall blonde sixth grader whom I had noticed and really had a crush on. However when Connie told me that I didn't want her to know that I had a crush on Althea so I made up all these ridiculous stories about how Althea had buck teeth and was so tall she walked all funny. Actually I was the one with buck teeth. I had Connie laughing but I had just blown my chance with Althea. Later another girl asked me out and I really didn't want to go out with her but I did because I didn't have the balls to say no yet.
Pekin was an all-white county except for one mulatto couple. They had a daughter named Mary Herring who was in the drum section and in the same grade as me. One day she asked me to walk her home and I really didn't want to but still had no cajones so I agreed to. This went on for a week or so before I was approached by one of the guys who said some of the other guys in the band didn't like me walking Mary home because she was black. That pissed me off and I asked him who. He named three eighth grade boys who were bigger and older than me. I just walked away. I'm ashamed to say that I used that opportunity to stop walking Mary home. I told Mary I couldn't walk her home anymore and she got mad and wanted to know why. I just told her I just couldn't do it anymore. A day later she found out what had happened and she was madder yet. We remained friends but she never forgave me – not to mention the other boys.
One day Gary McCully (eight grader, lead drummer) and Connie were in Mr. Keith's office which they weren't supposed to be in. His office was behind the drum section at the back of the band. Mr. Keith would always be on the podium at the front of the band directing. I was doing double duty on the bass drum and serving as look out. Suddenly I spied Mr. Keith starting to come back to his office when I whispered into his office “Old Man Keith is Coming!” Well they heard me and got out in time but turns out Mr. Keith heard me also. He chewed my ass out even though he knew Gary and Connie had been in his office. From then on I was punished by having to either beat the bass drum or play cymbals.
Gene Durbin enrolled in the fall of 1954 and we immediately became best friends. He invited me over to his house on weekends and we would read comic books together. He was a rabid St. Louis Cardinal fan and it soon rubbed off on me. He showed me how to keep statistics and score games. We set up a schedule of National League games and played the shortened season in his back yard with a whiffle ball.
I had first joined the local little league in the summer of 54 at the age of nine. In my first season I had sat on the bench all season until the last game of the year when the coach started me in right field. I was only about 5' tall and slightly built but very fast. The opposing pitcher that night was fourteen year old Don Patterson, the best athlete in the league who would later go on to be a high school baseball and basketball star.
I was batting ninth in the lineup and by the time I came to the plate for my first at bat no one had gotten on base yet. I was standing at the plate looking to the third base coach for a signal when I looked to the pitcher's mound and saw a ball coming right at my body. I got out of the way just in time and didn't get hit but it scared the shit out of me. Don must have been concerned that he almost hit a little shit like me and he threw the next pitch a little outside. I swung and because he threw so fast I was barely able to get the bat around in time and hit a sharp grounder right down the first base line that got by the first baseman. The right fielder was playing straight away so he had a ways to go and as I approached second base I decided to go for third and as I rounded second I saw the third base coach giving me the stop sign. I ignored it and slid into third on a close play but I was safe. The next pitch I got a big lead off third. Don was still winding up and not going into a stretch to keep me close to third. By the time he delivered his pitch I was already half way to home and I was really tempted to keep going but I backed off. The next pitch he went into the stretch to keep me close to third. The next batter made the third out and I died at third.
By my next at bat no one had gotten to first base since my triple. The first pitch was a fast ball on the outside part of the plate just like the last one and I hit it just as I had the last one right down the first base line. Not that I tried to do that. I just couldn't get the bat around fast enough. However this time the right fielder was playing closer to the line and all I got was a base hit. Again I died at first base as no one was able to move me along.
Don was left handed and one of the best hitters in the league. I was playing right field and hadn't had any action all night when Don came to bat for the third time with two outs in the inning. I moved back a little. Don swung and I saw a line drive coming right at me looking like it was going to go over my head. I started to run back looking over my shoulder when it came time to jump for the ball. It seemed like it was still rising as it approached me. I didn't think I had a chance to catch it. I jumped. I felt the ball hit the top of my glove. When I brought my glove down the ball was three quarters of the way out of the top of my glove, but it wasn't on the ground. I heard some ooohs from the crowd as I started into the dugout.
In the top of the seventh I had one last at bat. Before Don made his first pitch he motioned to the first baseman to move over closer to first base. Sure enough I hit another sharp grounder just like the other two, but this time the first baseman was waiting for it and I was an easy out. After the game my brother and some of his friends came over to congratulate me and we were standing next to the water fountain when I looked up and saw Don and two of his teammate talking and looking right at me. Next thing I know they approach me and grab me and sit me on the water fountain. “Hey – What are you doing?” They just laughed. I guess I was supposed to be honored and actually I was even with my wet crouch. .
The next season Gene and I were on the same team. I played center field and he played left field. One night after two were out a high fly ball was hit to Gene. I usually would go over to back up Gene on fly balls to left so I ran over to back him up and run off the field with him after he made the catch. He started back pedaling as the ball was going farther than he or I thought. By now I was behind him as he kept back pedaling and finally I had to duck down and he fell over me as he caught the ball. I got up and pulled him up off the ground as I apologized and we both had a laugh as we trotted into the dugout. That was the last season that we were both on the same team.
One season I was playing second base when Terry Reviere attempted a steal while the pitcher was in the stretch. The pitcher just threw the ball to me at second base and I was standing in front of the base waiting for him to slide so I could tag him out. Terry was a pretty hefty guy and I was just a little fellow. Instead of sliding he just kept running and ran into me and knocked me through the air. I had tagged him and I had retained possession of the ball as I flew through the air and even when I hit the ground but the force of the hit had stunned me and as I lie on the ground I let the ball roll out of my glove and he was called safe. In the future I would stand to the side of second base when applying a tag.
My last season I played center field and the last game of the year we were in a tie game in the top of the last inning. The bases were loaded and I knew we couldn't afford to give up any more runs. In right field was a first year phenom named Ronnie Rhoades who had the ability to catch low line drives by fearlessly approaching to the side of them and sliding to his knees and laying his glove on the grass as the ball flew into his glove. I had admired his ability all season. The next pitch was a low liner headed right at me. Normally I would just field it on one bounce and give up a single but we couldn't afford to give up any more runs and I figured it was time to try Ronnie's catch. So as the ball approached me I kept running toward it and slid to my knees and laid the glove down on the grass but the ball bounced just in front of my glove and Ronnie had to go get the ball while the bases cleared. I was so upset after the next out and by the time I got to the bench I was crying but after the game was over the coach told me I had been selected to the all-star team which made me feel better.
St Joseph's had not had any organized sports activity until my eight grade when they entered us as a basketball team in a local Catholic League. Gene and I were the starting guards and another friend of mine name Gordon Mitchell played center. The last game of the season we played a good St Bernadette team who had a good guard. As the game went to the final seconds we had a one point lead as their guard brought the ball down the court. As we settled back into our zone defense and the guard approached I yelled over to Gene, “DON'T FOUL.” I don't know what Gene was thinking but the first thing he did was foul the guard. Their guard went to the line and made both free throws and the coach yelled “SEVEN SECONDS.” There was no visible time clock. Gene had the ball out of bounds and I had my hands out waiting for him to pass me the ball but for some reason he was hesitating. By now I was already a little upset with him for fouling earlier and I yelled “GIVE ME THE BALL!” Finally he threw me the ball and I started up the court. I knew I was going to have to take a long shot. The opposing guard had retreated back to defend his basket. When I got to half court I let go a shot. I watched as the ball flew through the air and swished through the net. After it went through the net I realized I could have taken another dribble or two because the buzzer still hadn't rung. The opposing guard was standing in front of the basket looking at me with a stunned look on his face. The horn finally sounded ending the game and we had won by one point. My teammates including my younger brother Jerry ran out onto the court and mobbed me. We won our league and went on to finish third in the state Catholic tourney.
I was one of the best students in my class but there was one girl (Mary Bresnahan) there who always won the spelling bee. It finally got to the point where everybody just gave up trying. I finally determined to see if I could beat her once and I studied harder for the next competition. As it narrowed down to just her and I as it usually did she was as confident as ever, sure she was going to win. Eventually I could feel her sensing that something was different this time as I refused to sit down. As it went on I could feel the students were excited about Mary being beaten. Maybe Mary could sense it also. I don't know whether she missed the next one on purpose or not but she slipped up and I had beaten her for the first and last time. I could see how disappointed she was. The next time I didn't even study as I knew she would be harder to beat and I really didn't want to beat her again anyway. I just wanted to see if I could do it.
One of my classmates was Mike Reed. We were two of the athlete leaders and when it came time to chose sides playing football or baseball he and I were usually opposing captains. During one recess we were on opposing sides playing football when we got into an argument. He started yelling at me and I was starting to get intimidated because he was big compared to me. I said something back that made him so mad that he threw the football at me as hard as he could from about eight feet and hit me right in the crotch. If took my breath away and knocked me to the ground. Instead of getting up and engaging him I decided to scare him by pretending to be hurt worse than I was so I started faking an injury by groaning and moaning about the pain in my groin. It was working as the other classmates were giving him grief. However I was undone by the recess bell which caused my audience including Mike to start running back to class.
George Kessler was a tall classmate who wasn't a very good student and who sometimes used his size to intimidate other students. One day at noon we were lined up outside on the blacktop playground waiting to go back inside to the cafeteria for lunch. George was pushing students around and I mentioned to my friend (Gordon Mitchell) in line next to me that if he pushed me I was going to hit him. Well sure enough he finally reached me and Gordon and gave me a shove. It wouldn't be the first time I let my mouth overload my body. I took a swing and hit him in the face. The next thing I remember is waking up laying on the blacktop looking up at the sky. The bell must have rung because everyone else was gone. I went in by myself to eat lunch.
Over the next few days I found out that I had become pretty popular and in a couple days I was out on the playground when George approached me and said he was sorry. I accepted his apology and tried to include him in our games but he wasn't that good of an athlete so I finally let him umpire our baseball games and officiate our football games and he was happy and we all abided by his rulings and he stopped his bullying.
One summer around 64 while I was back home working between college semesters I stopped to pick up this hitchhiker after work and it was George. We filled each other in on our lives and I dropped him off.
My last two years or so our teacher was Sister Mary Margaret. We had this one boy in the class named Paul who was a little slow and the Sister would get infuriated that he was such a poor student and would stand over him yelling at him and sometimes start hitting him about the head with the book she was holding. When it happened the first few times we would all laugh about it. But it eventually reached the point where we stopped laughing because we started to feel sorry for the boy. I don't remember if it had any effect on our teacher or not.
My last year at St. Joseph's I began to hang around with the center on our basketball team - Gordon Mitchell. Gene Durbin was getting real serious about becoming a priest and I thought about it but decided against it and I think it affected our relationship. I had learned how to cuss and I don't think Gene was happy about it. Even at my young age I could figure out that there was a lot of the world that I would be giving up if I became a priest. Gordon and I would go to his house and mess around in his room - playing basketball to a miniature basket with a tennis ball in his room and reading comic books. One day his mom and dad were gone and he got some pornographic comic books from his parents room and we spent the day reading them.
One day I let Gordon talk me into leaving the schoolyard during morning recess and playing hookey. He and I and one other classmate walked a mile or so to the Pekin park. I tried to smoke a cigarette as Gordon could but I couldn't. After a couple hours we were sitting in a four-person swing when my dad went driving slowly by and spotted us. He told us to get in. He wasn't mad at all. Gordon started telling him all about how we had done it. Dad took us back to the school. When we walked into the class you could hear a pin drop. The whole class was shocked that I had skipped class. I had been such a good student.
Gordon's uncle Virgil played the organ at weddings and dances and he asked me if I wanted to play drums for him so I started doing that on some weekends. One weekend Gordon asked me if I wanted to go down to his uncle's cabin on the Illinois river to go waterskiing and I agreed. I had never waterskied before and I remember how much trouble I had getting started. I eventually drifted over to the side of the river so much my feet were touching the awful muck on the bottom. One time the rope slipped out of my hand while trying to get up and it bruised my leg but I eventually got up and did some skiing.
That night when it came time to go to bed I could see there was a bed and couch in the living room so I figured I would sleep on the couch. I was surprised when Gordon said he was sleeping on the couch and I would be sleeping with Virgil. That seemed strange but I didn't want to argue about it. About ten minutes after the lights went out Virgil rolled over and put his arm over me. He very slowly started inching closer to me with his body and I mean very slowly. It was so slow it was hard to be sure that it was happening. I am starting to panic and wondering why Gordon put me in this situation. Finally I felt his penis touch my butt, but I didn't have the guts to say anything. It was all happening so slowly. His hand was getting closer to my penis. Eventually I knew it was no accident as his fingers were touching my penis just so slightly and I could feel his hard penis being pressed ever so slightly against my butt. Not long after that I felt him have an orgasm and I took his hand and moved it off of me and told him to stop. I had been too intimidated to do anything about it before that. He just chuckled a little.
The next morning Gordon tells me he is going somewhere and Virgil will be taking me home. Now I'm really starting to get pissed at Gordon but I didn't say anything. On the ride home Virgil tried to strike up a conversation but I didn't say anything. The next week he called to tell me about a future gig and I told him I wasn't going to be playing for him anymore. He called my Mom and my Mom called me asking me why and I just told her I didn't want to. She knew something was wrong and the next week Gordon's cousin whom I knew called and asked me to do something and I went with him for a couple hours. Just as we were going into his house he asked me about Virgil and if he had put his hands on me and I said yes. He said “We thought so – it's not the first time he's tried that with young boys.” I never heard from Virgil again and didn't see Gordon until we entered high school in the fall.
By the time my graduation came I was so ready to leave. I would experience a new freedom at Pekin Chinks High School.