With the Coming of Spring Gary KlineIn one way, my early childhood doesn't seem that distant; looking at things another way, tho, it seems beyond forever ago. Heraclitus said that it was impossible for anyone to step into the same stream twice, and in that sense the person we were a few days ago or a few years or many decades ago is different than the person we are right now. At the same time, there is the continuum of time and life that melds our lifelines together. So you have your pick.
The strange thing about memory is that the longer you focus on one thing--however long buried and forgotten-- the more unfolds, like a thousand-petaled lotus.
The late journalist Jiri Mucha spent a year in Prague's notorious Pankrac prison and after months of concentrated solitude was able to remember his early childhood in great detail. Mucha's childhood was spent entirely in the sun, he writes, so seeing into the shadows of life was a challenge. For me, after age nine, life descended into deep shadow so it's probably a little easier to understand both sides of life. Parts of my childhood are buried beneath the rubble of anguish; I recall other parts with a flood of happy, gentle memories. To be completely honest, if I think about my personal history going back to the middle 1950's I am too often lost in a landscape of nightmares.
My early years were spent in the sunshine of humor, books, climbing trees, and upon mysterious rocks; and jumping the creek a quarter-mile thru the westward fields-- the innate joy of young childhood. I can still hear my mother musing, “You know, I think you're going to be a comedian when you grow up.”
The specific humorous remarks have long faded into the maw of forgetfulness, but I do remember making frequent quips by the time I was perhaps seven. These observations weren't sarcastic or otherwise bratty cheap shots. Rather, things that happened to strike me funny and that instantaneously struck some mysterious rejoinder-button in my brain. Out it popped.
My sense of humor never left since much of life is, simultaneously, a riot and a total crock. When something strikes my sense of the absurd I'll often bust out laughing.
(When my buddy of many years and I exchange letters there is some off the wall humor from both sides-- this whether email--recently--or traditional slower, paper type. The roughly 10 years we lived nearby one another we got together frequently. Whenever we were together for more than a few minutes we were joking about something. Jim can usually understand my garbled speech. When he can't and repeats what he “thought” I said it is invariably something absurd and in a flash we're convulsed with laughter.)
In addition to my early sense of humor, I remember being easy-going as a young boy. Very few things had me down for more than a few moments, and nothing for more than a couple of days at most.
When I was four and my sister Barbara was seven, we had a Cocker Spaniel named Cinder who had gone blind years before. One afternoon while crossing the road to get the mail, Cinder was struck and killed by a car. To me, the events are but a few snapshots of the mailbox, a disappearing car, and Barbara crying uncontrollably. Beyond that, I remember Mother telling the story of how she tried to comfort my sister, saying that it really wasn't her fault that Cinder had been struck by the driver and that now Cinder was up in Heaven with God.
I clearly remember saying, “No, he's not in Heaven,” and dragging a chair from the dining room table a few feet to the window. I remember climbing onto the chair and looking across the driveway. There, beneath the clothesline in a large cardboard box was the dog where Daddy had placed him. It was past dusk but I could still see everything in the glow from the Western sky.
“Cinder is right there!” I announced.
From the living room, my sister bawled even louder. I don't remember my mother trying to keep from breaking up with laughter except from her retelling the story.
At any rate, my early childhood was full of playful busyness and hugs. The hugs mostly from my maternal grandmother and Mother's siblings; two of my aunts hugged me effusively, usually whenever they first caught sight of me. It happened without warning, though. Grandma would seize hold of me when I was within reach and press slobbery kisses to my forehead. ...--Around my mother's people I was less boisterous; a bit less bubbling with humor. I could stand only so many molestations of pinches, hugs, and kisses from aunts and grandmothers.
[[ Points?? ]]
In 1943, when my sister was a year old, my father moved his young family from Toledo to a farm outside Mansfield, Ohio. The farm had been built by my dad's grandfather, Jeremiah Shatzer, shortly after the Civil War. Nearby, in the far northern end of the county lived what remained of my father's extended family on his mother's side. For a couple years he commuted from the farm to work at a defense plant in the city. Shortly after the surrender of the Third Reich, I happened along. It probably was hard on my mother being separated by three hours from her immediate family. For my sister Barbara and me, though, growing up on a 50-acre farm was altogether wonderful.
But my earliest memory is not of the farm, rather a sunny day in the late summer of 1947. Just a snapshot or two. One is an image from the divan in my grandparents' parlor; it was of my grandfather's enormous right leg, as he crossed it to read the Sunday comics from the BLADE to Barbie and me. I remember a gray leg so Grandpa must have been wearing his Sunday best. This was a few months before the old man died at almost 87.
Among my earliest multi-snapshot memories are Christmas, 1948 when I got two American Flyer train sets. I remember that Santa Clause was with us in the living room; he took Barbara and me briefly upon his lap. Santa was Uncle Phil wearing the Santa costume that my father borrowed from the department store where he worked; my mother commented years later that Uncle Phil was probably the only Jewish Santa Clause--chuckling, “Ho, ho, ho! --Oi vey!”
That Christmas I remember all the menfolk--my father, Uncles, and a much-older first cousin--crowded around the oval of the train set. I couldn't get in edgewise. The big boys kept pushing me out of the way, including my father. After a frustrating and indeterminately long time my father got to his feet and went into the kitchen. I stomped after him.
“They won't let me play!” I said, furious.
Daddy was taking a drink of something. “Don't worry, Son. When they're gone, you and I'll play with the trains together.”
I spun and stomped back into the living room. “Hey!” I yelled. “When y'goin' home!”
End of that snapshot. They may have laughed; or, being too busy, ignored me.
Another snapshot a bit later (probably the same winter) is of being the caboose of the train made up of my-sister-the-locomotive and me. We tramped outside making train tracks all over in the waist-deep snow. --Well, it was waist-deep to me.-- Barbara choo-chooed to the chicken houses that stood to the west of the house, back and north, past a junked, rusted haymow, around where we kept a large garden, then southward and around the side of house. We made train tracks all over the front yard, then up the long gravel driveway to repeat the circuit.
One memory that's burned in my mind is about North-Central Ohio winters. They were almost invariably brutal. Great amounts of lake-effect snow came from Lake Erie with a bitter, damp cold. Another surprising thing is how the cold barely fazed us children. Barbara and I would play in the snow for hours, sometimes until dusk, when Mother would insist that we come in. And we came in, galoshes, coats, pants, mittens caked with snow, sometimes with hands and feet nearly frostbitten and think nothing of it. That children can live so totally in-the-moment strikes me as one of the most wonderful things about childhood.
Living in relative isolation from children our own age, my sister and I were constant playmates. My imagination was vivid and endless, so usually, I was the inventor of the stories and games; Barbara good-naturedly followed along.
Barbara, horse-crazy from her earliest years was Whitey, the horse; I was Bob, Whitey's best friend and owner. Together, we went all over the Wild West, saving people and having great adventures. Just like the Lone Ranger on the radio.
Mother read to us every night; one night, Barbara made the choice; the next night, I chose. A love of books and the ability to read early stemmed from “The Choice.” Our collection of books grew into the many score. One game we invented was to line the books spine-up, wide open, and place them around the outside wall of the living room behind the furniture. Then crawl along our marvelous tunnel of books descending into an imaginary cave. Behind an easy chair we were invisible; beneath the huge overhang of the baby grand we were safe from all harm, secure in the depths of our cave.
In the spring of 1950, Skip, my mother's nephew and EE student at the University of Toledo, helped my father put up a TV antenna. Skip was a dual mechanical and electrical engineer major and he and Daddy rigged up lengths of pipe as main mast; after several hours work that included tuning the antenna toward Cleveland we received all three stations.
We were among the first families to have TV in the area and eventually my sister and I abandoned the radio to avidly follow the adventures of Hopalong Cassidy, Captain Video and other heroes of the small screen.
Play was hardly restricted to indoors. Adventures lay outdoors too. There were hundreds of trees to climb, fruit-bearing trees and bushes to feast on, trails through our 50 acres to follow and explore. Even some huge and slightly mysterious boulders to climb onto and jump off. These rocks were clumped together about 30 yards northeast of the farmhouse resting around tall weeds and thistles. Not far away lay the rusting frame of the haymow; near this hulk was the carcass of a decaying baby buggy, it's frame fairly crumbling to the touch.
Every year when the currants were ripe, Mother would send Barbara and me out with several pint baskets to fill. Eventually we would return with the job done, but not without stuffing ourselves full of the berries. There was plenty left for jam that Mother put up every year.
When we were a little older--I was perhaps seven-- we would take the long hike into the mysterious north woods at the back of the farm, and down the gravel Free Road a couple miles east to the Dickerson's farm. Gardie Dickerson's widowed daughter, Doris, had two children close to our ages. This was a large working farm, and when Mr. Dickerson decided that his grandchildren's' chores were done, the four of us had a blast. The Dickerson farm was a paradise of adventures. There were brooks and virgin deep forests, endless fields, and an enormous barn with myriad possibilities.
Life on the farm, out in the boondocks, wasn't total isolation for my parents. My father wasn't an especially sociable man, but I remember many occasions when there were adult guests. Sometimes it was people from Kobacker's, the department store where he worked, sometimes acquaintances from the bar in Mansfield that he went to now and then. Sometimes friends from the saloon in Shiloh; sometimes his mother's family and their friends and relatives. Sometime it was the widowed sister-in-law of my dad's and her second husband who would drive down from Toledo.
My mother's family made the journey from Toledo fairly often, especially during the warm weather months; once or twice a year we had family reunions when my mother cousins from Cleveland and her family from Toledo would gather at the farm.
Daddy had taught himself to play piano by-ear; he was good even though he had a limited repertoire. He had superb hand-eye coordination and timing. When he had consumed just enough beer Daddy would be in a good mood and play happily for an hours.
It was in the spring I turned eight that my father decided to move our garden from directly behind the house--that is, to the north, to the field fifty yards or so to the east. It was a much larger garden, close to an acre. My sister, like my father, has a green thumb. The earth runs deep within her soul--as it did for his mother's side--they were mostly farmers. I was never fond of gardening though. Especially not in the humid heat of the summer while continually being berated for slacking or for not doing a good enough job of hoeing and weeding.
Barbara took great joy in both tending the garden-- had no trouble with dropping hoe and getting down to pull out the last offending weed--and in reveling in the results of the harvest. ...Some of us are farmer types, and others simply aren't.
Another thing that happened that year was that we kids got our first bicycles. They were adult sized, with 26-inch wheels. Barbara was, by age 11, tall and lean; she had no trouble in reaching the pedals. Short for my age, my feet didn't make it.
“Well,” my father said, “I'm sure as hell not buying you a kiddie bike when you'll grow into this one in a few years.” He stood the fallen bike up from where I had dropped it and patted the seat. “If you fall and get bumped up a few times, it ain't gonna kill you. ...C'mon, Gary, let's see if you can act like a man.”
His solution was to cut blocks of wood for each pedal and tape them on securely with friction tape.
It did work. The bike was very heavy for me and I took several pretty bad spills, at least three directly onto my head on the concrete of State Route 603. But by late summer I had learned and was venturing far to the east on 603. Up to and just past Stella and Wood Arnold's farm that stood on the crest of the hill.
Coming down the hill was an adrenaline rush and them some. The only thing that stopped these trips up to the Arnold farm and back was that one day a car decided to run me off the road. It may have been an accident; it may have been spite. I went off into the ditch, over the handlebars, and sat in the weeds for 15 or 20 minutes glad to simply be alive and not badly hurt.
At last, I got up and rode home. I never told anyone about that adventure. It did, however, end my trips up the hill.
Being my elder, Barbara frequently took on the role of teacher, I student.
If the Shiloh Public School had kindergarten classes, neither of us attended them. We both went directly into first grade at age six. Probably because this was traumatic to her, Barbara, when she was seven, announced that she was going to teach me things.
“I don't want you to be dumb when you start school,” she said.
And at age four I was an eager pupil. Barbara took her easel blackboard and chalk and began teaching me the alphabet, how to count, to read, and to write. Thanks largely to our nightly Choice, reading and writing came easily; having my very own tutor made it that much easier.
Some months after this instruction began, an aunt wrote to Barbara praising her for having written such a nice thank-you letter. Scurrying around for pencil and paper I told Mother that I was going to write Aunt Myra a letter too. “Just tell me how to spell the words, please,”
When I began first grade in September of '51, I wasn't there long. Mrs. Johnson, my teacher, was very nice, but I was homesick and bored and cried every day. The school wanted to jump me at least one grade, better two, to keep my mind busy. My mother agreed to only one grade, which in hindsight, was plenty. So mid-October found me in second grade with an elderly and very able Mrs. Myers. The classwork still wasn't that challenging, but my tears came less frequently, and I began to adjust to the routine.
should i mention delwin [[ who calls himself Tony now ]] and darrel herz, and doris herz and doris's 2nd husband, garret? oh, and the arrnolds'? wood and ava on state route 178, annd wood's brother darley and stella? --i used to ride my wagon the mile to darley's farm and wander around. barb was probably playing horses with darrel while darley taught me how to milk a cow. i finished half a pail beffore my 7 yr old fingers got tired! i used to follow darley around. doris dickerson's dad too altho he wasn't as friendly. i heard mr. and mrs. dickersons arguing a couple times. ==maybe==. Arlo firestone, banker, Shiloh nat'l bank; his son, wally was the principal of Shiloh Pub School. Tommy Dyer and Dale Keeskey. i was crown-barer at kathleen's shindih when she was prom queen. she was stunning ... AND 10 years older than me... :_) Did Jeremiah Shatzler build all [most?] of the farms? did uncle amos and uncle scott do more than cabinet makinng? The great majority of the students at Shiloh were from a farming background where children were given chores early. For most of my classmates I imagine that school was a welcome break from part of their chores. For me, at least at first, recesses were lonely.
I swung on the playground swings and took turns on the slide, played marbles, ran around playing tag. At crack-the-whip, I invariably was toward the end and got thrown off.
Over the next year or two, during recess I would take brisk forays within 6 or 8 blocks of the school, although I rarely ventured into the downtown area along Main Street. In the early fall and in the late spring, after the snow was largely gone, I began joining baseball games. I played shortstop most of the time. (I was a good batter, too. During one game I hit three home runs, sending the ball far out near a huge maple tree that was a quarter of the way toward my Great Aunt Maude's farm.)--These games were strictly ad hoc; loosely organized and without supervision.
Shiloh, Ohio wasn't an unfriendly place--at least not since so many of my father's people had lived there for generations. It certainly might have been different otherwise. Grandmother Kline had been one of the Shatzer girls; the Shatzers and Lacers had been involved in the Underground Railroad. Those sentiments endured around Shiloh for the most part. Elsewhere in Richland County, especially after the hill folk from Olive Hill, Kentucky began arriving, things were different.
One time when we were in town, Mother led Barbara and me into the small market where I overheard two elderly women gossiping.
“Who are those folks?” asked one.
“Oh, why that's Loren Kline's wife and family.”
The first woman lowered her voice a bit but I could still hear. “Loren Kline... ? Loren Kline?”
“Scott's and Amos's nephew,” the other woman explained. “Jenny's son.”
“Jenny Shatzer? Land, I haven't seen her for years!”
“Jenny married a Kline and moved away up by Toledo,” said the second woman. “She passed away before the war... Now her son is back with his brood.”
Before we left the market, these old women stopped my mother and the three talked while my sister and I waited outside on the broad cement stairs.
At least part of the reason I skipped first grade was that my sister was my own pre-school teacher. Piano lessons were something beyond Barbara's teaching abilities, though.
In the late 1940's, in the neighboring farmhouse east on Route 603 lived an elderly woman, who came from a local family of high culture, and her husband. Adeline Huddleston was then somewhere in her late 70's; she had an old upright piano. To make spending money, she decided she could teach piano lessons.
My father had brought a baby grand piano into the marriage. He had taught himself to play by ear; he wanted Barbara and I to start from scratch and learn properly.
Barbara played poorly, even after a couple years and it wasn't entirely her fault. The trouble with Mrs Huddleston was that she knew nothing about timing--I don't think she owned a metronome. So after a couple years of lessons, my parents decided to find a better teacher in the city.
They found a Mrs. Myers, wife of one Dr. R.V. Myers, on Park Avenue West in Mansfield. Dr. Myers occasionally played classical violin with his wife--all over the world, as I recall the story. I really wasn't that interested in the piano; my sister was, and remained interested for many years. (Even after several years more lessons from Mrs Myers her playing remained--how shall I say it?--um, substandard, perhaps. Barbara played piano the way that Cinderella's “evil step-sister” sang in the Disney cartoon movie is one way to describe it.)
Piano lessons meant a trip into the city every other weekend. Barbara and I took the city bus from the Kobacker's department store where my father worked and where Mother began to part-time every weekend out to the Myers' home. After our lessons it was back downtown for lunch, then off to one of the movie theaters. After the movies I usually roamed around the five-and-ten's or went up to my father's workshop until it was time to go home.
[ brief pp or 2 on daddy and display// Kobacker's, Dick Block. [mention]. ]
I did excel with my piano lessons. But I was loathe to practice. I would have been happier reading books on science, or outside jumping in the puddles after a heavy rain.
After the Huddlestons died their house was sold to the Englands, an older couple with grown children. George England was a kindly gentleman with a strict work ethic and was a good farmer. He tore out the Huddleston's ancient wood-burning cook stove and plumbed in a modern toilet and bathtub. Edna England was a practical nurse; she was a woman with a twinkle in her eye as well as her heart.
Getting in my wagon and heading up the road to their house after school or on summer afternoon was another favorite pastime. Edna England told me endless stories of the old days; of her childhood around the turn of the century. Some were funny stories that I incorporated into jokes to tell my mother; others were scary--about a rough childhood of desperation and deprivation.
Another favorite destination was a half-mile west where Routes 603 and 178 met. It was a tiny settlement of perhaps four or five houses. In the 1880's this had been Planktown where, the story was, there had been a village with a hotel, a saloon, and a real murder. About the only ones left at Planktown now were a few straggled families of hillbillies. Another of my great aunts also lived there and always had lemonade and stories to share.
Sometimes I would stop in my wagon and look around and try to imagine the events that had happened here unimaginable years before. Planktown carried the frisson of terror.
My favorite things notwithstanding, one of the first things I was obligated to do when I got home from school was to practice piano for at least half-an-hour. It seemed like an eternity to me, though and I did anything I could to get out of this chore.
Practicing endless scales and études seemed utterly unnecessary since I learned new lessons so effortlessly. I had not only a good ear, like my father, but excellent timing ; my fingers virtually educated themselves. A new piece or two or three were committed to memory and polished after a few days at most.
Mrs. Myers was duly impressed after I had mastered a short étude in about half an hour during one lesson. She got to predicting a great future for me, should I study piano professionally; she even saw me winning a future Van Clyburn contest. There were many times that she would kidnap the mailman for several minutes and have me play for them.
One afternoon in the spring of '54 when I got home from school, my mother had an unusual look on her face. The entire downstairs was spic-and-span.
“What's happened?” I said. “Is somebody coming over?”
Mother shook her head. “See if you can figure it out.” She was smiling as she went into the kitchen.
I went over to the piano which gleamed in the bright spring daylight. Almost instinctively, I struck Middle-C. It was beautiful.
“Wow!” I said. “You had the piano tuned! Wow!”
She hurried in from the kitchen, dish towel in hand. “But how do you know? How can you tell from hitting just one note?”
I struck middle-C again. “How I can tell is because it was out of tune, that's all.” I turned then and went through the kitchen and out into the back yard.
“When are you going to practice? Aren't you going to practice now that the piano's been tuned?”
“Aww, not now, Mother,” I said as I climbed up into the sturdy maple tree 10 yards from the back door. “I just want to play outside for now... ”Okay? .... Okay??“
Beginning the summer or fall after my eighth birthday at least once a month I told my parents that I wanted to quit my lessons; neither wouldn't hear of it.
“Not with the talent you've got,” my mother said.
My father admonished, “You should be grateful you have parents who care. If you just quit, one day you'll ask us, `But why didn't you make me practice? Why didn't you beat me!' ...So no, you can't quit. Not so long as I've got any say!”
He drew on his cigarette and squinted thru the smoke as he exhaled, adding, “One day you'll thank us, trust me, Gary.”
These frequent discussions ended when life tossed a grenade square in my path.
I don't remember the exact date. It could have been anywhere from April through July of 1954.. Most likely late-May to mid-June.
I was practicing the scales; key of G. My left hand flew effortlessly up and down four octaves. When I tried the same thing with my right hand my, ring finger cramped under as I tried to strike F-sharp; further on, my little finger cramped tightly under.
It was temporary. I stopped, shook my right hand a few times, and went on with my scales. Flawlessly.
Everything was fine for another ten or fifteen minutes; then, again running the octaves with my right hand, my ring and little fingers cramped under firmly. This time, shaking my hand did no good.
It occurred to me in a brief flashback that a day or two before the same fingers had cramped under while I was practicing an étude. But it had only been for a second, and only once.
“Mother!” I called. “I can't play! I can't practice!”
Mother came in from the kitchen. “What're you saying? Why can't you practice? Now what?”
“Look,” I said. In the key of C, I demonstrated with my left hand., “That's fine, but now watch the other hand.” Again, in C, I ran up the scale with my right hand. One octave, and then two, then three. And back down to Middle C.
“These fingers didn't work right just a minute ago,” I cried. I bent my two last fingers next to my palm. “They were like this and they wouldn't un-bend.”
Mother examined my right palm briefly. “There's nothing wrong with your hand.” She turned and headed off. “I thought you had a joke to tell me,” she said. “You're always playing wolf-wolf. One of these days you're going to regret it.”
I was already practicing again; this time the cramping was back. I remember calling my mother again and her returning to see that my ring and little fingers wouldn't uncramp. But she didn't believe that I wasn't faking it.
I don't remember much beyond that brief snapshot in time. Mother was busy trying to get something done and after some few minutes of sitting at the piano I went out to play.
That day, probably in the late Spring of '54, was a demarcation; behind it lay safe memories and fond. Ahead lay the unimaginable.
Looking back at a distance of half a century, I sometimes wonder: If I had only known! if I had only known... . But that impossible supposition is pointless. [But wondering about that plausible impossibility is pointless.]
// // religion //
begin by a flash forward to 1980 nd my demo'ing HW program to Monica Leuong and her Chinese girlfriends. I mention that I'm a Buddhist.
Oh! What were you before?
Jewish, very slightly and non-religiously.
But Jew is a race, Gary. Me Chinee, now me Japanee.
.... And so to grandpa, mother, daddy; temple, my striving at 15; rabbi's not accepting me as Jew because no bar mitzvah; Danny, no, rabbi, i agree we can't take money (for adult ed program) from a child...
// This fits into my post surgeries history.... maybe mention Sunday school and how bobby and Larry tormented me, tho. //
// // SIDEBARS--weave the following early, skillfully //
A few memories about my father strike me //memories,
All of my Dad's family excerpt for a kid brother died before i was born; and Babe died in 1954 of a stroke. Which, considering his raving temper, was for the good.
My grandfather, William had 3 sons; my father was the middle. According to stories, Robert was the golden-haired boy who got all the love. My father got beat regularly---at least once a week. When William's and Jenny's third child was still a boy William focused his abuse on the kid.
“I still got beat beating t least once or twicea week,” Daddy used to say. “But Babe caught the worst of it. That's why he was always so mean.”
It occurred once when he re-told this story that I was the focus of Dad's aggression in the same way. It was only two or three times a year when I got a licking. Always savage; with fists and feet. But I usually had it coming; I knew every button to push.
My father took first job he could find during the Depression. It was as a display man at a Toledo dep store. Daddy because quite expert at designing store display, knowing which colors went with which, and hand-lettering and painting and inking in large signs.
Only now do I appreciate the value of the graphic arts. --Unfortunately, I never inherited whatever innate skills that g.a. demands.--
It is only now that I realize that I am scion to my father's life and history. The longer I live and the more I reflect, the more I understand his flaws. With understanding can forgive; and yet, realize that there is nothing to forgive.