When I was six, I attended Strawberry Point Elementary school for the first semester. It was there that I experienced my first crush. Her name was Jane Evans. She had blond hair and blue eyes, and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Using my six-year-old wisdom, I decided to see if she liked me, so I walked up to her and kicked her in the leg. She started crying and limped to the teacher and told her what I did. The teacher promptly marched me to the principal’s office where I spent the remainder of that day. I learned a valuable lesson that day; you shouldn’t kick a girl you like in the leg.
First grade is also when you can find the earliest photograph of me. It was the school picture. There are no pictures of me as a baby. I can only conclude, I must have been pretty homely.
My family moved to Elkader halfway through the year, and I attended the second semester at Elkader Elementary School. We lived in an apartment above Wilke’s Grocery Store. When I walked home from school, I came back to an empty apartment. I never had another babysitter from that point on. My best friend was a girl named Debbie Bahls. After school, we roller skated on the sidewalks around town.
To make money, my youngest brother Terry, who was seven years older than me started delivering newspapers. He delivered the Des Moines Register in the early mornings. A truck would bring the papers to Elkader. Another newspaper, the Cedar Rapids Gazette was delivered in the afternoon. Sometimes I would help him deliver the papers. We would wait in the lobby of the only hotel in town for a truck to bring the papers to us. Sometimes I would fall asleep waiting for the truck.
When I walked home from school, I passed a hardware store that sold new bicycles. I fell in love with a shiny red bike placed toward the front of the window. Many times I would go into that store, sit in the seat and imagine cruising around town with that beauty. The bike cost twenty dollars. I told my mom how much I loved that bike and would love to have it. She never gave me an answer and realized my chances were slim and none to get it. One day after school, I went out to our balcony which overlooked an alley. Sitting there was the strangest looking bike I had ever seen. My dad found an old bike from the dump, brought it home and painted it silver from a spray can. He painted the frame, tires, seat, everything bright silver. Even though it was hideous, it was mine. I carefully walked the bike down the steps to the street, and I took off. Unfortunately, the paint wasn’t dry yet, and I had silver paint all over me.
When I was in first grade, I was sick a lot. I had the chicken pox, German measles, and rheumatic fever. The rheumatic fever gave me a heart murmur, and the doctor said I should not play active sports. I had no intention of listening to him.
It seems my brother Terry didn’t like to attend school much and convinced me that we both should play hooky. It probably didn’t take much convincing on his part. I’m not clear how many times we stayed home from school, but I’m pretty sure it was quite a few. When it was time for us to eat, my brother would send me downstairs to the grocery store to buy a couple of candy bars. He would provide me with the same sage advice: “Try to act as old as you can!” Not sure how I accomplished that, but nobody turned us in. We did get caught one day when my dad came home unexpectedly and found us. I don’t remember getting into trouble over it, but we did not play hooky after that.
There was a pinball parlor across the street from where we lived. It was called “Dewgies Dugout and is in the basement of one of the taverns on Main Street.” One time I was playing pinball, and suddenly lights started flashing, bells and whistles began sounding. I was afraid I broke the machine and began to bolt for the front door when Dewgie stopped me. He informed me I had beat the highest score, and I won a free hamburger, french fries, and a milkshake. It would be the first time I had a burger on a hamburger bun. At home, we only had hamburgers on two slices of bread. I thought the hamburger tasted much better on a bun.