“Life is an Adventure”

by Bill Owens SM3/c


I must say I really enjoyed school through the elementary grades. I was a good student with a capability to read and interest in literature well beyond my calendar years of age.

Our elementary school was undivided in respect to the range of attendance by age groups from five years to thirteen years and therefore offered it seemed a bottomless well of cultural information, misinformation and education.

My contributions as a member of the student body included four years as a police boy serving much as the proverbial postman in all sorts of weather at my post on a corner and best of all inheriting the job for two years as movie projectionist and controller of lighting for plays and affairs held in the assembly hall.

The most significant memories of this joyful time of my life would be the progression through the ranks in pecking orders. Outside of the enlarged scope of study and academic enlightenment came the experiences of fist fighting, (lost a tooth that later cost thousands to attend to) , Softball games where participants chipped in for the ball and the winners got to keep it, Boy Scouts, moving from viewing the fair sex disdainfully to emotions that replaced scouting as an interest forever, dirty jokes, eight pagers, necking in the balcony of the local theater, pig Latin, Halloween mayhem and a host of activities calculated to boost us into what we perceived was manhood.

It should be mentioned that my father moved us from our earlier dwelling (while I was in first grade) to a more up-scale neighborhood and I began to notice a considerable difference in living standards between our family and other families attending our school. In retrospect the move allowed me to see another side of life and whet I think my appetite for something similar as time passed.

Thinking back to some of the Saturday entertainment several of us cooked up I shudder when I realize where it might have led.  In those days many services were still using horse drawn vehicles to make deliveries or pickups. Iceman, Milkman,  garbage man, rag pickers and fruit and vegetable vendors. We made many attempts to move the Milkman’s rig to another location while he delivered his wares but never had any success in getting the horse to move.

An even more brazen activity was to walk the alleys until we located the Garbagemen and their gondola of garbage. The reason! One of the men looked just like Adolph Hitler and we found by taunting them we were able to annoy them enough to get off their vehicle and chase us (pitch forks in hand) for blocks. This was a regular Saturday event if there was nothing else to do and continued until Hitler left for another job (we presume). At one point Hitler actually had us cornered on a third floor landing six or seven blocks from his gondola but was unaware of our position and our pounding hearts.

There were many vacant lots in those days that lent themselves to a lot of sandlot baseball. A game which we played without adult supervision of any kind or for that matter attendance by adults.  The ability to join in the game and the position one would play was decided by the biggest and oldest and was based on ones ability period.

One big vacant area (about 20 acres) not too far from our dwellings was used by a person we called “Fatty Farmer” for growing hay and tethering circus ponies during off seasons. Fatty farmer had been taken into custody at one point for spearing someone with his pitchfork because of some infraction and he was greatly feared .  Regardless of our fear it was our practice to play on his haystack jumping from the top to piles of hay we knocked down to land in. One day one of Fatty’s men set a dog on us, took us in tow and delivered us to the enemy. Somehow we pleaded insanity and were released never to play there again except for our game of jumping on the ponies bare back and then trying to escape their bites and hooves when we were thrown off and attacked by the pony.

Other somewhat dangerous games we played in the warm seasons was to place pins in doorbells repeatedly until some exasperated fellow would leave his home and give chase. Almost all the yards in those days were contained with a standard four foot fence.  In order to play this game it was necessary for us to master jumping these fences as a horse might go over a hurdle. Let me just say we not only could jump the fences but also run for one or two miles or longer if necessary to escape.  If the chaser was good and persisted for a spell and then returned home he was followed and the procedure repeated. As a note of interest: These were the days that if caught by an adult for an infraction of this nature one was usually pummeled severely by the adult and if one carried their complaint home they usually received another beating.

All was not fun and games alone during this period of time. For the most part starting in grammar school and going forward to high school most of us including myself had part time jobs. In respect to myself I sold magazines, delivered newspapers “evening and morning editions” necessitating not only the delivery but  collecting the money for the papers. (Thus started my education in adult larceny). As time passed I also worked as a butchers “gofer” in a chain store and an elevator operator in a hotel. Each day seemed to bring a new experience in a world of events  I had scarcely noticed before. 

The first high school I attended was in a predominately Jewish neighborhood and subsequently the majority of the students were Jewish. Since we all were (at least now) from middle income areas there was little or no prejudice or resentment of one another at our level of age. We did (as gentiles) however kid about holding an after school meeting of all gentiles in a phone booth.

Although I was good at several sports, for some reason I did not try out for any school teams. As a matter of fact a buddy and I decided ( after the first grading period) that we would duck the require physical training classes as well.

We noticed that at our first grading time the coach (who referred to all of us as a bunch of schmucks) would ask that we present our report cards one at a time (standing in line) and would look to see if he had “stamped” the last grading period with a red ink impression and if so assumed we were doing a satisfactory job and would place another red stamped impression below that of the last grading periods stamp mark.

Our minds were starting to develop I guess in the art of deception and we promptly visited a stationary store and purchased an identical stamp and became absent without leave for the rest of the year with exception of standing in line at grading time presenting our duly forged replica stamped card and received our new stamp of accomplishment.

My grades in all subject were deplorable and my frequent absences from all classes except gym were noticed by the teachers and truant officer and it was mutually agreed I would transfer to a “technical” school that might better serve the needs of all concerned.    

Experiences at the Tech school paralleled those of the non Tech school in scholastic achievement with the exception of my studies in the area of science and biology. For some reason the instructor seemed to care less whether I and another partner in crime (who became a school principal later in life) were present in class but graded  only on the home work assignments given out and returned. We pressed for and received such assignments for a week in advance and spent much of our time at Chicago Museum of Science and Industry (a wonderful learning experience for us), hitchhiking with truckers who allowed us in some cases to drive the big rigs and generally living life to the fullest (in our opinion).

Our absence however was observed by the instructors in other classes, reported to  the school disciplinarian and we soon found ourselves sentenced to after school time classes for our breach of the rules.

Unfortunately the sentence did not deter our activity and for quite a spell we merely absented ourselves from all other classes but dutifully signed in and did our detention time.

Of course all good thing come to an end sometime and for me it was when my mother (who had been summoned to the school to talk about my cutting classes) and the truant officer had me paged to come to the office. Of course I was not there and did not answer the page but later showed up at detention period and was nabbed admonished by all, begged for mercy which was granted providing this would be the end of such activities on my part going forward.

The start of our participation in the war after the Pear Harbor was attacked in Dec 1941 had a profound effect on the direction of my life.  I became obsessed with joining the armed forces to the degree that my High School scholastic activity and interest went steadily down hill. I made several attempts enlist going through all the steps of testing and taking physicals usually with other older friends only to be found out as under age and had to watch them leave for service while I had to stay home. I began to feel like a Judas Goat. Several days after reaching my seventeenth birthday I marched once again to the recruiting office armed with parental consent and was sworn into the service one month later. (September 11, 1944).