The past month has been a dogged routine of taking pickup truck loads of aviation history from home to the new AeroKnow Museum headquarters at Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport. It’s evolved into packing the truck bed and cabin with boxes, unloading boxes about 8:15, coming to work, returning to the museum to unpack boxes, assume “presence” at the office with an open door to chat with innocent passers-by about AeroKnow Museum and Abe Lincoln’s Air Force (I’m also beginning to process aviation history, usually until about 6:30 because there’s nothing of interest on PBS until 7p at the earliest, and PBS is all I can get on the “‘tube” these days) and bring the empties home. Usually I lurch through dinner in a state of near-catatonia, nap after dinner, arise to watch Charlie Rose and to check email and go to bed. I’m usually up by 6:30 to check e-mail, pack boxes with more and do it all over again. This is my life since May 29. Almost everything else I’m ignoring. I’m still about a month from being done with the move. I do this for one simple reason. It won’t move itself. . . . . . . Meanwhile, back at the autobiography:
High School Junior
Two teachers, Miss Hensler, a KNOCKOUT feast for male eyes and intellect, and Joe Rockford, a civics teacher and coach, shine in memory as they did in class. I would never find a female presence behind a teacher’s desk as filling of the senses as her! The combination of Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and Martha Stewart comes close. I was at my best in her class, as much for her approval as anything else. She inscribed in my yearbook that she saw something significant in me too; not in a romantic sense, but in words that affirmed what reached her as my intellectual prowess. Joe Rockford was as much a solid “rock” of a civic teacher. He was an athlete (or as many says in Sprangfeed, athalete) who became a very successful coach at Springfield High. In class he was strictly “no-nonsense” from the time the bell rang to come to FOCUS until it rang to civil class dismissal, but before and after class he was as approachable as an esteemed, respected brother.
Albee Plain was the boys’ physical education teacher who had worked as a kid for my father at Roberts Bros. men’s clothiers downtown, who continued to buy clothes from him. When I had him in phys ed my sophomore and junior years, he was a crew-cut, dedicated teacher, persistent enough for me to succeed in a class requirement: to run the mile in eight minutes or less. Our track ran around the perimeter of an athaletic feed located about two blocks from school, a healthy walk to and back. It showed signs of earlier glory — a concrete bleachers structure on the east side and a well-worn crushed coal cinders track. On my third attempt at a mile under eight minutes, I succeeded. Phys ed was mostly warm-ups of group calisthenics followed by shooting hoops inside and I can’t even remember what outside on the athletic field. It was always a mad rush for the showers when he dismissed us about 10 minutes before the bell rang to go to our next class. There was always the soggy feeling from not drying off after the hurried shower before rushing to what came next. The aromas of Right Guard deodorant and the incomparable “essence du bois loquier rheum” are etched into my memory. On balance, I learned the value of not becoming obese, though I did not achieve the capacity to shed the “inner tube below my belt line” which I believe I was born with, and remains a part of me to this day. Though I never became an athlete, I’ve never dodged strenuous exercise and physical work when it was required. I never minded mowing lawns for parents, though they did it most of the time, and for a while, years later I even purchased and used a manual lawn mower because I preferred the physical excercise of pushing it along to the reduced effort for a power mower. About the time my dad began considering moving back to Springfield, I told him about my manual mower and how I liked mowing the lawn, and he told me he thought it was “the stupidest thing I ever heard of.”
At school, we were told about the new Junior Achievement (JA) program that was going to be meeting at the YMCA. I signed up for it and had a great time. The “company” I worked for was sponsored by Franklin Life Insurance Co. and several low-t0-mid-management people were advisors with JA. Every one of them was absolutely first-class. Under their guidance, we selected and “manufactured” a matchbox holder made of four small boxes of wooden stick matches, sandwiched between two 4-inch x 4-inch plastic tiles. We met weekly, and our little company elected me an officer (I’ve since forgotten what officer, but I remember the affirmation of the group.) while producing them and selling them like crazy to friends and strangers.
We were invited to set up a sales table at Barker-Lubin, a home improvement/home decor/semi-hardware store located on north Ninth Street just south and east of St. John’s Hospital, across from th e “castle” before (damned) progress demolished that wonderful landmark. I “manned” our little table that Saturday in April and did better than the others, selling our products to innocent bystanders who had come shopping for plumbing supplies, lumber and tools . . . . and departed with our tastefully decorated matchbox holders. I did so well that as we started talking to other students from the other JA company which had set up a table there that day, I volunteered to helm them with their product too. It was a rock salt dispenser with rock salt in a re-labelled plastic bleach bottle with a small slot cut into the front of it. When tilted forward, the salt came out in a four-inch swath which made it easy to spread salt over snow and ice. From the time I joined the other group of students and stayed with them from 1 to 4 pm, I sold three of their product . That was three more than anyone belonging that that JA company did. I couldn’t believe it. One of the Barker-Lubin people was impressed with my success and loaned me some sales brochures that would teach me more about selling. They were interesting brochures that would have been great for someone destined to sell hardware or insurance for a living, but they taught me little that I didn’t already feel. Some weeks later, I returned them to the gentleman, thanked him and considered the experience that day at Barker-Lubin a fine way to have spent a Saturday.
During my junior year, I started working as a “page” for the new West Branch of Springfield’s Lincoln Library on west Washington Street across from Sacred Heart Academy, a Catholic girls’ high school. As a page, I checked out books for visitors, returned them to the shelves, “read the shelves” to be sure no books were out of order in the famed Dewey Decimal system and had a generally good time. I didn’t begin work until 4:30 or 5, but I walked there from school, studied at one of the magazine reading tables in front and read all the aviation magazines I liked until it was time to go work. I worked with two other students: Jack, a math genius and Sue who was very interested in library science. Both were great people. The boss of West Branch was Thelma Schultz, whose heart must have been sculpted from granite with a head to match. My savior in my frequent ineptitude was Mrs. Roland, the assistant librarian, who was more patient and seemed to understand me better. She appreciated my way with words, evident to many at that age. She told me I should consider becoming a lawyer, the highest compliment an adult gave me before college days. I enjoyed the library work and got along with everyone except the most important person. A little better self-discipline from me would have been worth demonstrating. Still, things seemed to go okay until one day I was fired. I don’t know why (maybe my sub-conscience has blocked it from retrieval) but I clearly didn’t get the hang of something important, and Schultzy decided to say sayonarra.
It was at West Branch that I discovered I was growing up. A young boy came up to the counter from the children’s side on the east half of the large room, and said, “Mister, could…” and I don’t remember the rest. I understood that when someone calls you “mister” and you’re a guy, you’re getting old. I was all of 16 at the time.
Barb F. and I met at a dance at the gym, and the night I met her, I asked her to be my date at another invitational I had been invited to attend. She said, “yes” and I was a most happy fellow. Barb was blonde-cute, a combination of Cathy Rigby and Monica Seles (who wasn’t blonde but had Barb’s eyes. She gave me her number, and I said I’d call her. When I fiiiiinalllly got around to calling her, about four weeks later, I learned some manners. She told me that when she hadn’t heard from me in so long, she made other plans, and she was not going to attend the dance with me. She told me I was off my rocker if I expected to call her after waiting so long to call her and expect that everything that everything was fine because everything was not fine. She was absolutely right. I didn’t go to the invitational with anyone. I stayed home. That was okay with me. I deserved it. No poetry. There was some heart ache, but no heart break.
The frigidness of winter and the lost dance surrendered to warmer weather and with it a return to flying model airplanes. Somewhere, some time, I had met an older flying model builder4 named Bob Peterson, a fellow built like a ball-turret gunner with a ready smile. Dad and I were invited to visit him and his model workshop at his house. The happy visit that came soon after imprinted on my brain the idea of becoming a collector of model airplanes. His basement was a manly-boy heaven except for the absence of females. It resembled Tony Russo’s house on North Grand which I had visited years ago as a member of Springfield Prop Busters club. Bob, like Tony and his father Anthony Russo, was a superb model builder and flyer. He had tons of stories, talked like Steve McQueen and told Dad and me he was starting a model flying field called Dizzyland on Wabash between the minature golf course and the go-cart track. It would have a hobby shop on the grounds and a corrugated steel-covered bleachers where spectators could watch. WOW! Jim Richardson, Mike McEvoy and others flocked to the new field where control-line modelers could fly. Dizzyland was so named because control-line (also called U-control) flyers stood in the center of a circle controling thir models in flight on nylon or metal control lines while the models flew in a constant circle, held at the extreme by centrifugal force. I spent about every waking moment there, riding my bike or going over with friends who had drivers’ licenses. It all started in about March, 1964 and continued through the summer.
During this period, as things got rolling at Dizzyland, Jim Richardson completed a Veco Smoothie, and I designed the paint scheme for it. My main functions in the flying model “scheme of things” were as a designer and photographer. Among the planes photographed was one made by Vito Princivalli, a friend from Prop Buster days. I also started building the new 1/72 scale plastic model kits that were coming into widespread popularity from England. I purchased an Airfix kit of the Mitsubishi Zero, another of a P-51 from Dizzyland, and began buying plastic and flying kits at Black & Company Hardware in the front part of their sporting goods department on Monroe across from the new Sangamon County Building and on MacArthur. Making the plastics with accurate colors and more crafted details than usual became my focus since I had done consistently poorly with flying models and the plastics were fun and generally more succesful outcomes.
Next time at Jingleman’s Confession: Crisis at Dizzyland and the junior/senior train trip to Washington, DC and the Big Apple.
Live long . . . . . . and proper.