Roger M. Goetz - Chapter 19

Looking Back

by Roger M. Goetz



Running north and south along the west side of Crawford School property was a small railroad track belonging to the Fort Dodge, Des Moines & Southern Railway.  We kids liked to try walking on a rail as far as we could without losing our balance and touching the ground.  Other times we tried to step from railroad tie to railroad tie without touching the ground between.  There wasn’t much danger involved, for it was rare that a train came through; and, if one did, we could always hear it coming.

Regarding that railroad, I should mention that in May of 1962, my father gave me my first car, a 1962 Ford Falcon, as a combination college graduation present and year-late twenty-first-birthday present (in May of 1961, he needed to buy my brother a car and couldn’t afford to buy two at once).

One afternoon, a few days after getting my car, I was driving west on Storm Street with my car windows up and the radio on loud.  Approaching the railroad tracks, I saw a number of children gathered nearby.  I wondered why.  One little girl looked at me, looked back, looked at me again, and screamed in horror.  I was puzzled to see her do that.

While crossing the tracks, I glanced to the left and saw a railroad train engine bearing down on me from ten feet away!  Fortunately I was off the tracks before the train crossed the road.  My guardian angel was on the job that time, as Aunt Olinda would say; and I had learned a valuable lesson which I follow to this day: never drive a car in town with the radio on and the widows rolled all the way up!

 * * * * *

After classes were dismissed for the day at Louise Crawford School, if we had the money, we left the schoolhouse through the west backdoor, went to the railroad track, and walked north to the street.  There on the left at 2416 Knapp, was Beman Grocery and Market.  My last year at Crawford the store was Bob’s Superette.  We went there to buy snacks.

One of my favorites was the Drumstick®, a pointed waffle cone filled with vanilla ice cream, topped with peanuts and chocolate, and frozen.  More often, however, we got a Popsicle®, a frozen treat on two sticks, coming in various fruit flavors.  Sometimes two of us purposely bought a popsicle of different flavors.  Why?  We each broke our own in half and traded halves.  That way we each got to enjoy two flavors!

This store was my major source of Bazooka® Bubblegum.  It came wrapped in a paper with a short Bazooka Joe comic strip printed on the inside.  Off came the paper, into the mouth went the gum, and the comics were read and passed around before we started home from school.

I think it was in my sixth-grade year that there was some kind of competition at the store.  It was an advertising gimmick by some company to increase the sales of some product.  It was something like collecting boxtops or wrappers or something, but I don’t recall what any longer.

There was a deadline to bring into the store whatever it was we were collecting  on a certain day by a certain time, and the one with the greatest number those things would win the prize (I’m afraid I don’t remember what the prize was either).

In any case, I decided to try winning the prize.

That final day, the day of the deadline, time got away from me.  When I saw how late it had become, I jumped on my bike in a panic and pedaled like mad to get there.  A minute before the deadline, I entered the store with my stash of stuff.

A younger boy and his father were there waiting to claim the prize.  That kid had already beaten out the other competitors (who had left), and the proprietor was about to award the prize to that kid when I breezed in.

Unfortunately for him, I had more than twice as much stuff as he had, so I won the prize.

The father tried to object, but the proprietor indicated I had arrived before the deadline and so had won fair and square.

Irritated at the objections of the opposition, I accepted the prize and triumphantly watched them leave in a huff.

I still have this memory because it was one of the few times I ever won anything.

 * * * * *

One day at school, either in fourth or fifth grade, a man came to visit the children to demonstrate something new–at least to most of us.  It was a different kind of yo-yo.  I think it was a Duncan® Yo-Yo.  He demonstrated several tricks with it, and I can remember three: Walk the Dog, Around the World, and Rock the Baby.

We were impressed and excited.  Many of us wound up buying a yo-yo within a week or two.  Then we spent time together trying to learn the tricks.  I never got very good at it, but the fad was fun while it lasted.

 * * * * *

All though my school years in Ames, I normally had my hair cut at Buck’s Barbershop, located in Campus Town at 2414 Lincoln Way.  The proprietor was James M. (Jim) Buck (1903-1998).  He had the chair closest to the window.

There was one barber there for a number of years whom I really liked–I think his name was something like Bill Masters or Masterson.  One time after he’d given me a haircut, I got out of the chair, reached into my pocket for the money to pay him, and didn’t find it.  I searched all my pockets.  No money to be found!  I had lost it on the way there.  I was so embarrassed!

My barber was very kind and assured me I could come back later and pay him (which I did).

I was just sick when I left.  A haircut cost a buck; but, having no ones, Mom had sent me to the barbershop with a five dollar bill.

All the way home I searched the ground for the five without success.  Thankfully my mother was not angry.

The embarrassment of being unable to pay the barber had a profound effect on my life.  For years and years, I always checked my pocket, and later my billfold, to make sure I had the money needed to pay for a haircut before daring to walk into a barbershop.

As a sequel to this story, it was in the 1970s that I was home visiting my parents.  Needing a haircut, I went to Buck’s Barbershop.

When I walked in, Jim was still there in his usual spot.  I was a bit surprised to see him since he was past retirement age.  And from the looks of the place, he must have been the only barber currently working there.

He recognized me at once and greeted me by name.

I was pleased at that.  "Jim, I see you haven’t retired yet.  How come?"

He smiled.  "It gives me something to do."

I nodded in understanding.

He did a fine job on my hair.

I paid him, chatted briefly with him, then left.  That was the last time I ever saw Jim Buck, a gentleman of the first water.

 * * * * *

One time, perhaps the summer of 1951, when I was done watching a movie at the Varsity Theatre, located in Campus Town at 2410 Lincoln Way, I went next door to the Candy Kettle, Mrs. Julius F. (Florence) Tilden, proprietor.  Next door to it was Buck’s Barbershop.

I was hungry for butterscotch balls and bought a whole bag of them.  When I held the top of this bag of candy tight in my fist, the candy shaped the bag into a sphere about six inches in diameter.
I popped one into my mouth to suck on the way home.  And for the days that followed, during my waking hours (except at meals) I sucked on a butterscotch ball.

By the time the candy was gone, I never wanted to taste butterscotch again.

And I didn’t until 1969, when our friend Nancy Zacho invited my fiancée and me over for supper.  For dessert she offered us a dish butterscotch pudding she’d made.

I told her the story of the butterscotch balls.

She said I didn’t have to eat the pudding if I didn’t want to.

But I decided to try it after all those years of butterscotch abstinence.

When we started to eat the pudding, we found she’d scorched it.  We all laughed, then ate it anyway, for it was still edible.

And I discovered I liked butterscotch again.

 * * * * *

One evening, when I was perhaps in fourth grade, I was playing at home and did something foolish.  I finished drinking a glass of something and then placed the glass over my mouth and sucked some of the air out of it.  The resulting vacuum held the glass on my face without my having to hold it there.

Mother had told me not to do this before, but it felt kind of different, so I did it from time to time.

This time, I was wrapped up in whatever I was doing and left the glass over my mouth for about a half an hour.

Soon after removing it from my face, I discovered the skin around my mouth had become discolored.  It looked sort of like a big bruise.

I was upset and hurried to show my mother.

She told me that it was nothing to worry about.  The vacuum had caused the capillaries to break and a little blood had flowed under my skin.  She assured me that the blood would eventually be absorbed and disappear.

The next morning I didn’t want to go to school to be seen like that and Mother let me stay home.

The morning after that, it had mostly faded; but I still wanted to stay home.

Mother didn’t grant my wish this time.  Instead she put some makeup over the discolored area so that it was invisible and sent me off to school.

I went, but I didn’t like the smell of the makeup under my nose.  In addition, I worried all day that someone would notice I was wearing makeup.  Fortunately, no one did.

Some weeks or months later some of us boys and girls were playing near Jim Johndreau’s house and I confessed what I’d done.

One of the girls told me she’d had the same thing happen to her once, so I felt better about the whole episode.

 * * * * *

I believe it was our fourth-grade reader that included an excerpt from a book published in 1927 with the title of To and Again by Walter R. Brooks (1886-1958).  It was reissued in 1951 with the title Freddy Goes to Florida.

I really liked this excerpt so I bought one of the books about Freddy the Pig and the other talking animals living on the farm of Mr. and Mrs. Bean in upstate New York and read it with great pleasure.

Over the next years, I managed to buy most of these books (there were twenty-six in all).  I especially enjoyed the homespun philosophy found therein.

 * * * * *

On the evening of January 19, 2010, Mary Ruth Pierantoni, nee Jameson, who lived next door to me when we were growing up, reminded me in our phone conversation of something I’d not thought of for a long time.  One day, she, her brother Benny, and I left for Crawford school at the normal time but never got there.  On the way, we decided to play hooky instead.

We spent most of that school day playing in an Iowa State field of oats, which were pretty tall.  We tramped down some of the oats to make "rooms" with "passage ways" connecting them and stayed there most of the day.

Yet, as Mary Ruth reminded me, we were savvy enough to arrive home at the normal time after school, so our parents never suspected a thing.  This posed a problem for us, however, because school rules required a parental written excuse to be brought when a child returned to school following an absence.

The next morning, I was a bit anxious about going to school without such an excuse, but my teacher overlooked it.  Mary Ruth told me she was asked by her teacher why she’d missed school and she just told her she was home with a sore throat and nothing more was said.  I don’t know any longer what Benny told his teacher, but we got away with having no excuse that time.

I then told Mary Ruth of another event.  One time on the way to school Benny got into serious mischief.  Going north from our homes on Ash Avenue, the first street to the left (west) was Storm Street.  Each house on the south side of Storm between Ash and Lynn had a tall wooden fence separating its backyard from the fields of Iowa State.

Benny decided to try to set one of those fences on fire.  I watched for a little while and then headed for school since I didn’t want to be late and I didn’t want to be involved.

When I saw them at school later, I learned Benny had not succeeded in his little arson project–at least they thought so.

When I got home from school, Mom told me there had been some excitement about eleven o’clock.  A wooden fence had caught on fire, and the fire department had come to put it out.

I told my mother what Benny had been doing, and she told his mom, but I don’t recall any longer what the consequences were.  There’s no question that Benny could be a handful for his folks, for he was "all boy," as the old saying goes.

 * * * * *

Mom wrote in her diary about the party I had on my birthday, May 17, 1950.

In that entry she mentioned Jimmy Robin, a classmate who lived on the west side of Lynn Avenue between Donald and Storm streets.  He was one of my best friends, but the family moved away that summer or the next and I never saw him again.  I was really upset when they moved.  I’m not sure any longer, but I think they moved because his father was a graduate student and had earned his degree.

Dad was out of town when I had my party.  He left the previous Sunday to attend the National Fire Protection Association convention in Atlantic City.  He was involved with that organization because of a position he had held with Cardox Corporation during World War II.

Here’s what Mom wrote:

Roger was 10 years old to-day, and we had the usual birthday commotion.  He treated all his classmates [at Crawford School] with spudnuts and ice cream (I carried it over).

Then he had Jimmy Robin and Ben Jameson for a hamburger dinner.  Roger and Chuck [Roger’s brother] got in a fight or quarrel while I was getting the dessert and I was utterly disgusted.  When Daddy isn’t here things just don’t go right.

Spudnuts were doughnuts made with potato flour, and they were fairly new in Ames at the time.  I thought they were absolutely delicious.   Mom bought them for my party at school from Don’s Spudnut Shop at 2316 Lincoln Way.