Fun and Tragedy in the Schoolyard

It was the school year of 1961 At wattles Park Elementary School.  I was in first grade. Not only were we learning our ABCs and 1 2 3’s,  we also had in my opinion, the best playground, anyone could ask for to play in. The school was a new school, and it had a lot of work going on around it. This meant that there were a lot of dirt piles, mud puddles, and wooden planks to play with. The girls would be over near the building, doing their jump ropes, jacks, and other girl things, while the boys immediately turned into vehicles.  5, 6, or 7 of us made engine sounds and raced around the playground in and out of the mud piles using the wooden planks as bridges, passing over imaginary rivers.  We ran all over the schoolyard, with tremendous speed, making hair pin turns a little over 2 feet above ground!  We felt powerful and invincible!

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The back of Wattle Park Elementary where this happened

As I have mentioned, there were these enormous dirt piles. Well they seemed enormous to us small children.  You know how everything look bigger when you are little.  I would estimate these piles of dirt were no higher the 3 feet.  They seemed like mountains for us boys.  They where there for us to conquer. They were irresistible.  We named each of them different names.  Mount wheat.  Mount Jupiter.  Mount Goofy. and others I can’t recall.  All of us, like a pack of heathens from hell, with engines roaring, would race to the top of each “mountain” and claim it for our pack!

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The front of Wattle Park Elementary

There was also a lot of dirt and rocks laying about.  An almost irresistible thing for a boy to leave a rock alone and not throw it.  We were severely warned about not picking up rocks and throwing them.  Especially at each other.  Well.  Just telling this makes it all the more irresistible to a young boy or girl as far as this goes, to do just that.

dirt at wattles park

Well.  One day it happened.  The thing feared most by school officials and teachers.  We heard a loud yell from a boy and intense crying and screaming. I don’t recall the boys name.  He had been hit in the eye with a rock.  A teacher had been summoned and came running out to the boy.  She put her arm around him and started to take him back into the school building.  On the way she passed us boys, who had stopped there vehicles for the time being, to observe the drama going on.  We all got a good look at the boys face.  It is something that I will never forget.  Right out of a horror film. The image will be forever etched into my memory.  His left eyeball was laying on his cheek and intraocular fluid was running down his face.  It was a horrifying sight!  Us boys just looked at each other in horror.  A bit pale from the experience.  I would only hope if any youngsters are reading this to remember to listen and heed the warning of their elders.  They have the benefit of a life time experience, and are only looking out for your welfare!  So ride hard, run fast, and be safe!

Summer Vacations to Dubois Pennsylvania

Almost every year we took a summer vacation to Dubois Pennsylvania.  It was a 9 hour drive from Battle Creek Michigan to Dubois.


Dubois, back then was a small town with friendly, hardworking people.  Two aunts on my mothers side of the family lived there with my two uncles.  We either stayed at the Larson home or the Bogle  home.  I recently looked on Google Maps for the Bogle home.  It is no longer there.  It was a large 3 story house that my uncle had built in the 1930’s.  He even made all the concrete blocks by hand.  It had a cellar that had very low ceiling.  As a small child the home was very interesting to play in, and also very spooky!  Especially the attic. It was fun going through the many boxes that were stored up in the attic. I even found a picture of Abraham Lincoln up there that someone had snapped long ago when he had passed through town.  On one of our trips when I was very young we stayed at the Bogle home.  At that time, my aging grandmother was living there also.  She is the one I wrote of the the post “The tornado of 1961”  She had had a stroke and one side of her was affected.  She held her left arm as though it was in a sling, and could not speak.  Well. As a small child around 2 or 3 years old I had a habit of getting on my hands and knees in bed,  and rocking back and forth.  I had done this for some time, and at home when I was younger I could move the crib around the floor of my room doing this.  One night I was doing this very thing in the guest room of the Bogle home.  My grandmother’s room was right next door.  I must have been making a racket because my grandmother shuffled into my room, grabbed me and gave me a good spanking!  It shocked me!  I never rocked in my bed again.  There is something to be said about corporal punishment.  It left a lasting impression on me. And I was none the worse for it.

The two homes were set in the Shaffer Siding area of Dubois.  I did however find the Larson home where my Aunt Grace and Uncle Ab lived, just up the street from the Bogle home.  The home was a wood frame home built in the 1940’s  Large rooms and not as spooky as the Bogle home.  The area around the 2 homes is so different now.  Gone are the forest, and the meadows.  Now there are shopping malls and businesses.  It is a shame.

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Current snapshot of the area.

The Larson house

The Larson Home


My Uncle Ab in his rodeo days

Uncle Ab Larson, long ago, was in the rodeo. He was a horse man.  A cowboy if you will.  He used very colorful language.   It was very hard to understand him.  He muttered.  But I loved him, and I think he loved me too.  When I was a small child, he would get out his rope, and tell me to run.  He would swing his rope and catch me in it!  What fun!  They had around 25 acres of land.  Uncle Ab would take me to the barn and show me how to care for the horses.  Feed them, brush them, clean out the stalls….everything!  They even had a horse for me.  Mark was his name, but when I was there they called him Pony.


From left to right – Ida May, me, mom, Alberta around 1959-60

This brings to mind my two cousins, Ida May, and Alberta Larson.  Both girls were cow girls if you would.  Not squeamish of anything.  They were both very knowledgeable about horses.  Every year they would come home from the county fair with loads of blue ribbons for their horses.  They were the best there is to introduce me to riding.  Early in the morning we would go out to the barn and saddle up three horses, and go for ride out back in the vast forest and meadows.  I can still hear the sounds of birds and wildlife.  And the wind blowing through the trees, and over the gently swaying fields of wild flowers.  There was no hurry, as the horse was always a bit slow leaving the barn and a bit faster returning.  We came upon the brook that meandered through the property and let the horses drink. And then across the meadow and down the slopping drop offs.  It was wonderful.  Then the ride back.  The unsaddling and brushing.  Then give the horses a good feed of oats and hay, and put them in there stalls.  We would then go in and Ida May would offer me a coke.

My Aunt Doniette, my uncle Bob’s wife was a kind sweet soft spoken person, where as aunt Grace, uncle Ab’s wife was more assertive and outspoken.  I remember sitting down at the table for the evening meal at the Larson home.  Aunt Grace suggested that my mother, Ruth, should say a blessing over the food.  At once uncle muttered out loudly “Bull Shit!”.  Grace just tuned to him and gave him the evil eye.  He muttered something and bowed his head.  I get the feeling now that she had to be strong to handle uncle Ab.  I am quite sure Ab was quite wild in his youth.  Maybe that is what attracted him to aunt Grace.

As I said Doniette was quite the opposite of her sister.  I never heard a word of anger leave her lips.  She had two outside cats.  Cats were needed to keep the vermin down, as most people had livestock and feed.  Every morning she would yell out the back door. “Here Kitty Kitty Kitty Kitty” in a shrill voice.  Out of nowhere the big calico cat, Marmaduke, and the big black cat, Blackie would scurry up on the porch at my aunts feet, and look up at her waiting as she put there food down.  They would devour this food fast and off they would run.  No one could approach these cat but aunt Doniette.  She would go out in the morning and collect the eggs from the 20 or so chickens in the chicken coup just off the barn.  She was good with animals.  She could set the chickens at ease, as she reached under them to gather the eggs.

Memories of going in to town, or going to a movie come to mind.  Or going to the local public pool.  Walking out into the forest with my uncle Ab, and listening to his hard to understand wisdom and speech.  Thinking back I believe he had more wisdom then most people gave him credit for.  Even way back then he could see damage coming to the earth.  He told me that the reason the climate was changing was because of all the trees being cut down.  Yes.  There was wisdom in my old uncle.  Just no one would listen.  

He also taught me how and where to pee outside, and where not to pee outside.  Around the back of the barn was a large paddock where the horses were let out before letting them out to pasture.  Around it was a fence with an electric wire to keep the horses in.  You could hear the pulses of electricity snapping and popping all around the fence.  He said to me “This is where we can pee.  Just never pee on the electric wire.”  One of the electric wires were about 1 foot above the ground and one about 1 foot from the top of the fence.  Well.  Him saying this to me made peeing on the wire irresistible.  Never tell a child you can’t do that.  It will only make doing that irresistible!  Well. I started to pee and started to turn towards the bottom wire.  Uncle Ab let out a grunt but it was too late.  I peed on the lower wire!  My eyes went wide and I shrieked in pain and tore off to the farm house!  I heard my uncle chuckle!  He was laughing!  Well I ran into the house crying and told my Aunt what had happened.  She went to the back door and yelled for Ab.  He came and they both disappeared upstairs.  But I could hear the yelling.  My Aunt was giving her husband a good chewing out.  Well it was not his fault.  It was mine!  But he took it like a man, and he never mentioned it to me.

 Now my uncle Bob was a complete opposite of uncle Ab.  He was also soft spoken, like his wife Doniette.  He had a huge vegetable garden just off the back porch of the farm house.  He grew tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, corn, cucumbers, lettuce and cabbage.  He also had a huge area of different berries.  Blueberries and huckleberries come to mind.  Most of the vegetables and berries were canned at harvest time for the winter.  It was aunt Doniette’s job to do this.  It was hard work.  Sterilizing all the mason jars, and lids, preparing the vegetables and berries, and packing them.  It was a work of love for her.  Her husband wanted her to do it so she did.  She did not complain.  She just did it.  However, when my uncle died, she got rid of all the canning gear.  All the jars, lids and the pressure cooker. All of it!  I guess in death she was released from her contract, and she felt it was the proper time to stop.

And then the long 9 hour trip back to Battle Creek Michigan.  These trips to Pennsylvania are held in a very special place in my memory!