LIFE ON THE FARM
PART 4- 
JUNIOR & SENIOR HIGH SCHOOL

                       

[Note to readers: it’s too hard to break out exactly what happened in each of six years that followed grade school so, for the most part, I’m using just broader categories. The period marked by the Summer of 1963 before senior year, that year itself, graduation, and the following Fall (1964), will get an entire chapter to itself.]

Let us now talk about the rituals of puberty.  Although it can vary worldwide, in America, age 13 is generally considered to be the age at which boys reach puberty.  Those of the Jewish faith celebrate with a bar mitzvah.  As I much later observed when I coached Little League baseball, 13 is the age when one must start running 90-foot bases and leave the 60-foooters of childhood behind.   While some of my classmates were up to six or seven months older than me, I completed sixth grade in June of 1958 and turned 12 on August 17.  Ready or not, I was headed to junior high school.  For perhaps a year, I had noticed changes in my body; things I didn’t discuss with Dad, and I had begun taking an interest in girls.  I was, however, totally unprepared for my first experience in seventh grade.

Her name was Doris, but her friends called her “Dote”. She was a SENIOR and I was totally smitten when she evinced an interest in me.  I failed to notice how her pals snickered at our “relationship”.  I think they may have had a bet going to see how far along she could lead me.  It never got any further than running to catch up with her between classes and then holding her hand as she walked down the hall but that was WAY more than I’d previously experienced.  The vernacular used for attaining levels of intimacy was that of baseball.  “Did you get to third base?  First base?”, the guys would eagerly ask each other.  Heck, on that basis, I’d say I never even made it into the on-deck circle!  I don’t know how long our “relationship” lasted but I think it ended when her REAL boyfriend, Russ, threatened to beat the crap out of me.

Reflecting back fifty years later, I can still recall how crestfallen I was when I discovered I’d been taken.  My Mom had “left” me by dying when I was only 6 and as I’ve already discussed, nasty old Janet had already taken my Dad’s money and totally screwed up our life.  Now a female had gotten her hooks into me, too.  I can’t truly say if these events had any effect on my never having married.  As it turned out, there were three girls I would have married but, for various reasons, none turned out well.  Oh, well, maybe some day I’ll take my turn on the couch and let a shrink check me out.

On the positive side, junior high meant meeting a whole new bunch of pals.  For my first six years of school, I had stayed right in Ross Township.  Now, however, I’d stay aboard Fred Updyke’s bus and travel all the way (about 9 miles) to Lehman.  Since 1951, kids from Lehman and Jackson townships were also part of our school district.  Our building in Lehman was a two-part structure, part of which (the old wooden section), still housed grade school students. At some point, maybe back when Ross joined with Lehman and Jackson, a new cinder-block, two-story front section had been added to the old wooden part. We never heard the term “middle school”. The 7th and 8th grades were considered to be junior high, with 9th through 12th being senior high. 

Now is as good a time as any to introduce the “gang” that I took to hanging around with after making the switch to Lehman.  I’d better do it alphabetically because they are all still alive, will be reading this online, and may feel slighted if they appear behind another guy.  Later on, I’ll probably be referring to most of them again and, when I do, I may just use first names.  If I don’t forget, near the end of this chapter, I’ll relate how each turned out in later life.

Richard Walter Bronson was the son of a dairy farmer and he lived in Lehman Township on Route 29 just North of Lake Silkworth.  He swears we met in Cub Scouts long before junior high and, now that I think of it, I guess we did.  In the 1950’s, Eisenhower was President and his Secretary Of Agriculture was, at one time, Ezra Taft Benson.  Since our buddy, Rich Bronson was also engaged in farming, he was assigned the nickname “Benson” and he’s been stuck with it ever since.  Busy on the farm, Benson played no sports.

Frederick Nagel Brown lived in what they called “Lehman Heights”, maybe only a mile from the school.  That area wasn’t exactly even a true hill, let alone a mountain. In fact, I never even heard the name “Lehman Heights” until I was about 60 years old.  It was more like a knoll on old Route 115 that led down to Huntsville Dam.  Fred’s father worked for Lehman Township.  All through school, Fred would help out in the winter, back before the dump trucks had spreaders at the rear.  Fred would shovel cinders from the raised dump while his Dad plowed with the front end.  Fred was a running back on our football team.

Kenneth “Arvin” Ellsworth’s Dad, Joe, had been teaching for a couple of decades.  He’d begun with math, biology, and other science courses and, by the time we got there, he taught wood and metal shop and also art.  The Ellsworths lived smack-dab in the middle of Lehman, only 100 yards from the school. Joe was a quiet, unassuming man who wore the mantle of “absent-minded professor” well and I never saw him get angry, although “Arvin’s” younger brother, Howie, tells me he sometimes did.  For some reason, he’d been stuck with the nickname of “Bugsy” and we passed that moniker on to Ken as well.  Ken was an all-around “jock”, starring in baseball, football, and basketball.  He once had once of his kickoffs returned 106 yards for a touchdown, which indicates he’d kicked it 66 yards: from the 40 into the end zone.  During his career, he also kicked two 37-yard field goals.  He achieved such kicks even though his right-foot toes were the ugliest we’d ever seen; two of them were such close buddies that they overlapped. We, of course, gave him the additional nickname of “Golden Toe”.  Arvin, is, like me, now 62.  While I sit hear playing with my computer, he’s still playing baseball – that’s right – hardball and NOT softball!

Alan “Chip” Landis lived in Oak Hill, about two miles from the school.  Oak Hill was the first of the “fancier” housing developments and Chip’s Dad was an exec with the phone company. His Mom was a librarian at the school.  Chip was a receiver on our football team.

To get to Dick Lopasky’s house, one went past Fred’s house in Lehman Heights and hung a right at the Huntsville Nursery. I never had occasion to go to his house and I have no idea what his Dad did.  His older brother, Joe, had been a football star at LHS and had won a scholarship to the University Of Houston but he then got injured and had to quit.  His even OLDER brother, Bill, actually did play professionally as a lineman for the Buffalo Bills.  Dick was a running back on our team. 

Jay Ruckel lived just down Route 29.  His Dad, Ellwood, worked in the Register Of Wills office at the Luzerne County courthouse and, as Jay just informed me at our 44th reunion, Ellwood still holds the record for years of service there; 32, I think he said.  Jay was on our wrestling team and, on his way to being our valedictorian, also excelled at playing his trumpet.

Karl Squier was one of two adopted sons of our Supervising Principal, Lester “Bulldog” Squier.  His Dad only looked mean and was quite a nice guy if you  weren’t afraid to approach him.  Karl was assigned a nickname he didn’t like much; “Bulp”, which was short for “Bull Pup” or “Son Of Bulldog”. They lived perhaps, the closest to the old school, maybe only 50 yards away.  Karl was a lineman on our football team.

That’s about it for what I’d call my “gang” of closest pals.  As in Venn diagrams (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venn_Diagram) , the members of this gang also had OTHER guys they were pals with (mostly since grade school), but those other fellows were only casual acquaintances of mine.

Scholastically, I had always been among the top 3 students in my grade school class, but junior high brought stiffer competition.  I hadn’t changed, though, and was still as lazy as ever.  I seldom, if ever, took a book home and managed to do my “homework” in study halls.  With no records to check, I’d estimate I slid back to being only in the Top 10 of my class in junior high.   The Math classes were still quite easy, as were the English and History classes.  Junior high was more or less of a “winnowing” process, designed to determine our future paths.  Near the end of 8th grade, we chose our classes for 9th grade and I think our parents had to sign off on them. (Kudos to Stan Gulbish for helping me recall how and at what point in our “careers” this was done.) Those had done well in the basic courses of Math, English, and Science would, in 9th grade, become “Academic” students. For the others, there were several other choices. Some of the girls ended up in the “Commercial” course where they took typing, shorthand, and other business-related subjects.  A few of the less-motivated guys ending up being “Ag” (Agriculture) majors which meant they’d have Mr. Sidler teach them about farming.  There was also a “Tech” major wherein the guys would take a couple of state-mandated courses like English and History and then they’d spend the rest of the day in either wood shop or metal shop.  Beginning, perhaps even at the old school, they’d be bused over to the Vocational Tech school in Pringle for the better part of the day, to return just in time for dismissal around 3 PM.  Still other students, who didn’t seem to fit in any of those 4 molds, ended up graduating as “General” students. (I only just recently spotted that category in my yearbook.)  I was most familiar with fellow academics. I knew, but mostly stayed clear of the “Tech” guys, who tended to be ruffians. The “Ag boys”, who once re-wired the distributor cap on Mr. Sidler’s tractor and also broke up and burned a chair in the shop’s forge,  were known to me. I also knew the “Commercial” gals. Somehow, the “Generals” escaped my notice.

Another change from grade school to junior high was lunchtime.  In grades one and two, the “lunch ladies” brought our food to us on large wheeled carts, for we were considered too small to carry the trays and likely would have dropped them.  Third through sixth grade saw us carrying our own trays back to our classrooms.  Starting with seventh grade, we’d actually mingle with kids from other classes.  The school was split into two lunch sections, with ninth graders joining the seventh and eighth graders even though, technically, they were part of “senior high”. I’m not sure which section ate first but, while one section ate, the other section got to go outside or, more likely, just hang around the gym.  On some days, rock and roll records were played on the gym’s PA system and those who chose to could dance.  Truth to tell, only John Bunny, a year ahead of me, had the nerve to dance.  He had two partners, either Bev or Linda, who were both two years YOUNGER than him.  (Girls always seem to go for the “older guys”.)  My gang, for the most part, were too shy to dance.  The only exception came when principal Tony Marchakitus ORDERED two or three of them to dance.  That was their punishment for having been caught with their hands down some girls’ blouses.  (I’m being discreet here.  You guys and gals certainly remember who was doing such nefarious things.  I won’t embarrass you by revealing your names, lest your grandchildren see them in print and be greatly amused. LOL)  It was quite normal for teenage boys to have an interest in mammary glands and we’d often sneak out from lunch early and head down to the gym where the younger kids were.  One particular gal named Donna, at age 13 or so, was more developed than her peers and we were fascinated as she played basketball.   More than the basketball itself bounced as she ran down the floor. 

As I’ve reported, I did quite well in the junior-high academic subjects, getting either an “A” or a “B”, but shop class was another deal all together.  Dad HAD built an entire house, but I was only 5 or 6 at that time and, therefore, too young to really pick up any carpentry skills.  Here, at  age 13 or so, I found I had very little in the way of manual dexterity.  Oh, I did manage to bang out the usual metal ashtray and make a more-or-less stable wooden thingy on which to rest hot cooking pans but they were clearly NOT works of art.  Thanks mostly to Ken Ellsworth’s Dad, “Bugsy”, being the shop teacher, I got a gentleman’s’ “C”.

Speaking of art, I guess we did have an art class in junior high but it, too, was less-than-memorable.  As I’ve learned late in life, I have simply no artistic talent whatsoever.  While I can imagine things, putting them down on paper or into 3-dimensional shape (like sculpture), is totally foreign to me.  I specifically recall one test called, I think, “spatial relationships”, in which you are shown the flat plans of an item that is to be folded.  You have to study where the fold marks are and then envision what the finished, folded, item will look like.  I could do the simplest ones, with maybe 2 or 3 folds but, beyond that, I failed miserably.

It was not until I reached 9th grade and started senior high that I discovered my major talent: WORDS.  That talent was expressed in three forms:

1.      Foreign languages.  As I’ve already cited in the “Education” section of “The History Of Sweet Valley” elsewhere on this site, my class was part of a great experiment.  Prior to our class,  students could take only 3 years of Spanish, starting in sophomore year.  With us as the guinea pigs, the school board decided to see if freshmen could learn a language, thereby permitting 4 years to be taught.  The teacher was Mrs. Virginia Marchakitus, the principal’s wife. I don’t recall any “props” beyond her blackboard those first two years in the old school but, when we moved to our new school as juniors, she had a fancy new “language lab”. It consisted of each student having a reel-to-reel tape recorder and headphones.  “Mrs. March” was wired to each student and, from the front of the class, could listen in to each one of us as we practiced “Soy alumno”, “Entro en la clase”, and other sentences.  I got a “straight “A” those first two years but, to my surprise, as a junior at our new school, I was assigned Latin 1 with gray-haired old Miss Dunn.  She had come along with our merger with Lake and Noxen townships.  I hadn’t volunteered to switch to Latin and could only figure out MUCH later that, had they not ASSIGNED us to Latin, Miss Dunn would have had to retire for a lack of students.  I didn’t fight it, though, for Fred and Benson came along with me.  Miss Dunn was about as deaf as a rock and, while her back was turned, we delighted in tossing blackboard erasers around the room.  As in Spanish, I got an “A” in each of four marking periods.  For senior year, though, I went back and took Spanish 3 with the juniors, with the same result.  The year away hadn’t dulled my skills.

2.      Writing.  I absolutely aced anything that had to do with composition because I had nailed down my English grammar and punctuation back in junior high, thanks to, in the most part, teacher Sam Davenport.  That knowledge led to, naturally, my foreign language ability later for, once one knows what an adverb is in English, it’s much easier to recognize and use one in Spanish, French, or Latin.

3.      Song lyrics: in study halls I often found myself with my homework all done and time left over.  I’d spend that time scribbling away in my tablet, writing down the words to the latest songs.  I was quite the perfectionist; if I didn’t know EVERY word to a song, I’d skip it.  I may not have started this hobby until senior high but the result was always the same; at the end of the school year, I’d have an entire tablet full of lyrics.  Life later got in the way and I had to earn a living.  As a result of that, I got away from this hobby for over 30 years.  Only after retiring at 47 did I again go back to it.  This time I had a computer to help me.  I was able to avoid buying all these “oldies” and, instead, just download them from the Internet in MP3 format.  I continuously amazed myself when, for the very first time, listening critically  to some of them, I’d exclaim “Dang it! I’ve been singing that one WRONG for 30 years!” Most prominent on that list of mess-ups was Connie Francis’ “Lipstick On Your Collar”. I had always sung “Lipstick on your collar’s gonna tell on you.”  Now I realized that the entire story was told in PAST tense. Connie WENT to the dance, her boyfriend LEFT with the other girl, RETURNED, and she NOTICED the lipstick.  The proper lyrics are, of course, “Lipstick on your collar TOLD A TALE on you.”  Always the stickler, I spent, I think, something like 3 hours on Bobby Darin’s “Mack the Knife”, making sure I nailed down each and every scat syllable he threw in.  I met a couple of fellows on the ‘net who had lyrics web sites and I contributed my work to help the world sing along.  I ended up doing nearly 2,000 songs and other sites would copy my work from those original two sites.  For the most part, I “signed” my work and you can still find it by Googling “Ron Hontz” or “Ronald E. Hontz” and “lyrics”.  Years after I had done “Mack the Knife”, I happened to pick up exactly the right newspaper’s comic section and found my transcription in a cartoon there!  

Look closely.  Trust me on this one: only Ron Hontz would have taken the time to nail down that one little “Eek”!  I contacted the cartoonist and he said “Yes”, he had gotten the lyrics off the ‘net.

(See the end of this chapter for more about my English teacher.)

I did quite well in History courses, getting mostly A’s and sometimes B’s.  All freshmen in the state of Pennsylvania took PA history for an entire year, a process that, alas, has been dropped since then.  I seriously doubt that many of today’s SENIORS could tell you that William Penn was a Quaker; that “Pennsylvania” itself translates as “Penn’s Woods”; or that we have 67 counties.  Mary Lamoreaux taught me World History as a sophomore.  Her nickname was “Hairy Mary” because, poor lady, she had an abundance of dark hair on her forearms.  We wouldn’t have bet she’d have ever found a husband but, after we graduated, she did. I think both she and her spouse later died in a car wreck.  My junior year brought American History, taught by Dave Price, who had come over in the merger with Lake and Noxen townships.  He was a really nice fellow who shared many entertaining stories not found in our books.  Senior year saw us studying “P.O.D” (Problems Of Democracy) which today, if taught at all, is known as Civics.  John Zaleskas (Mr. Z) was a no-nonsense teacher who instilled fear in the hearts of the toughest senior guys so there was NO goofing off in his class.  I’ll try to remember to talk about him again in my expanded chapter on senior year.

Science courses were fun but I wasn’t all that serious about them and managed a “B” from time to time but, more often, a “C”. (During my freshman year at King’s College, an aptitude test gave me a “-2” as to my chances of becoming a physicist. Golly, who knew one could ring up a MINUS figure?) I don’t recall who taught me Biology but Cal Kenyuck was my Physics teacher and Frank Rash’s Chemistry class was the most fun of all.  Frank would put up with a certain amount of horseplay in his class but, if you exceeded that unstated limit, he’d smack you ‘longside your head.  He’d turn his college ring around so that its stone was palm-side and then cuff your ear.  Dang, that hurt!  On good days, he’d let me be his lab assistant, knowing full well that I’d manage to screw up his experiment to the great amusement of the class.  More than once, he mixed up a “potion” for me to drink; a potion that would invariably turn my tongue red or green.

I excelled at Math and think I got straight “A’s” in two years of Algebra, a year of Plane Geometry and one of Trigonometry.  Stan Gulbish was my teacher for the latter two courses and he was a good one, although some kids didn’t like him.  During Trig class he even took us on a few “field trips” outside the school to apply what we’d learned in the classroom.  That usually meant a 5-or-6 member team which never ventured off school property.  We’d go no further than the front yard or maybe up near the road coming from Lehman Center.  Each person was assigned a task.  The dumber ones got to carry the trig book, the yardstick, or maybe the protractor that Stan used at his blackboard.  Someone else would bring a tape measure.  I, or maybe Ellsworth, Ruckel, or Gary Miers, would do the actual calculations to determine the height of the flagpole or the angle of decline from the road down to the end of Corridor B. 

Sports-wise, one would expect that I might have been a fair shake at baseball since I’d been a star in Little League, but it was not to be.  I simply could not hit a curveball.  It was a wee bit funny, for, when Bobby Kunkle and I had played catch in his backyard, I’d seen plenty of them, and screwballs, too.  He’d throw all sorts of pitches to me and, as long as I had a glove to catch them, I had nothing to worry about.  It turned out, however, that with only a bat in hand to protect me, I would shy away.  I joined the high school team coached by Frank Rash my freshman year and never got into a game, which was to be expected; I didn’t think I was THAT good.  I joined again for my sophomore year and ran into an even-larger group competing against me, for that was the year that Lehman, Jackson, and Ross townships were merged with Lake and Noxen townships.  Our new merged school building in Lehman wasn’t built yet so one of the Lake-Noxen janitors, “Spider” Oberst, would run a team bus over to Lake. There we’d meet up for practice and games with the teammates we never saw in class.  I believe I persisted into junior year, when Frank finally put me into an exhibition game.  He gave me strict orders to not swing until I had a strike called on me.  Ever the clown, I had some fun with it.  After the first pitch was called “Ball One!”, I turned in the batter’s box and smiled at him.  The next pitch was the same and I actually yelled to him “Coach! He’s gonna walk me!” and, sure enough, “Ball Three!’ followed.  The fourth pitch was called as “Strike one!’ and I was now free to swing.  I promptly STRUCK OUT on the next two.  L Not long later, I quit the team.

Up until senior year, I’d been too chicken to go out for football even though a lot of my pals played.   Although I’d seen quite a few games, I was totally unaware of exactly how some of the rules worked.  I finally tried out in senior year and, from my size, it was determined that I’d be an offensive lineman.  My first disappointment came even before practice started, when we were just goofing off, pretending to be wide receivers.  Headed downfield for a pass, I stepped into a hole and hyperflexed my left knee.  It hurt tremendously but as I lie there in pain, not one person came forward to check on me!  I eventually recovered enough to take part in offensive line drills.  Karl Squier was on the defensive line opposite me and, upon the snap of the ball, I lunged forward to block him, as it was to be a running play.  He stepped backward, causing me to fall forward and, as I fell, I grabbed his legs.  That, of course, was a holding penalty!  I quickly determined that football was not my game and I quit after just that one day.

I found my niche at the football games when someone gave me a beat-up old bugle.  I’d practice on the hill above our house on Renold’s farm and eventually learned a few passable notes.  Up in the stands at a game, our award-winning band would send out the most-beautiful notes to play “Charge!” and the crowd would cheer modestly.  I would then repeat it on my bugle.  Hearing the most God-awful notes emanating from me, the crowd would ROAR.  At that point, band director John Miliaskus would chase me out of the stands.  He didn’t want anyone thinking that that cacophony came from HIS band!

Starting in junior year, I also found another slot I could fill.  I’d be a basketball team manager.  Jonny Rogers had already been doing that job for a year or two but Coach Ken Maciak didn’t object when I applied to help Jonny.  Ellsworth was the star of our team and he says, even today, that the away games were the most fun because the cheerleaders rode in the bus with us.  I guess he’d “get lucky” on the dark bus but I only suspected it, for I was far too bashful to even approach one of the cheerleaders.  I, to my surprise, actually had hands-on experience only of one lesson I should have learned in Physics class.  Basketball is played in the wintertime and I’d store the basketballs in the exterior luggage compartment beneath the bus.  I quickly found out that basketballs, when they’re cold, don’t bounce worth a damn and we had to borrow balls from the home team to warm up.  I only made that mistake once and, henceforth, I’d store them inside near the driver’s feet where he had a heater.  The school was really nice about rewarding team managers so, for just two years of service, I was awarded a letter sweater with one stripe.  Luckily, it didn’t have any small decal indicating that I wasn’t a TRUE athlete, so girls from other schools could think I was some sort of star and I didn’t dissuade them.

Socially, I was far more a “moth” than a “butterfly”. Given my low financial state, I had not a single true “date” in all of my junior and senior high school years.  Without  a car, I was simply a “nowhere man”.  Ellsworth, Fred, and Benson all had cars by senior year and, although I’d sometimes go riding with them, it was never on a double date.  Oh, I did attend some of the school dances, hitching my way to and from.  Chubby Checker had, in late 1961, reissued his #1 hit from 1960, “The Twist”.  (The “in-crowd” members of the new Kennedy administration had taken a liking to it and spurred the re-release.) It  became the ONLY song from the rock era to have hit #1 in two different years (’60 and ’62).   It also served as the impetus for some of us guys who had been way too shy to dance at lunch hour earlier.  Now, WE were the “big guys” with no bigger ones to laugh at us and we merrily threw ourselves all over the floor, twisting away.  I tried to emulate exactly what Chubby instructed: “pretend you’re drying your butt with a bath towel while putting out a cigarette with each foot.”   The gym’s lighting was usually dimmed during the slow dances and I took advantage of that to hug the best-built gals as closely as possible. 

Outside of the sports events and a few dances (they were called “hops”) at school, my social life was pretty much limited. North Lake was only about a mile’s walk away from Renold’s farm and I guess I went there beginning in 1959 after we moved to the farm.  The lake had been a “vacation destination” since the very early 1900’s and, beyond a few year-round Sweet Valley residents, it was inhabited mostly by city folks who owned summer cottages there.  About 95% of the shoreline was privately owned but, lucky for me, there was still one empty lot whose ownership was never known.  We’d heard that some previous owner’s will had left it to the public and that was our stated position whenever adjoining neighbors complained about we teens making too much noise. 

About two and a half miles from the farm was Sylvan Lake and the big attraction there was Wolfe’s Grove, about which I have written extensively.  (See Wolfe's Grove}  From time to time, I’d hike down there and hang around the picnic grounds, the dance hall, and the skating rink.  I seldom had enough money to participate in any of the activities and contented myself with schmoozing.   In June of ’59, though, there was an event I simply HAD to see and I cadged a couple of dollars from Dad.  I HAD to see this new singer who was lighting up the rock charts with a song called “Kissin’ Time”. I wasn’t even sure how to pronounce his name; something like riddle or rye-dle.  I didn’t manage to catch a ride and ended up walking the entire distance.  As I neared the grove, I could hear the music but I only just made it inside the front door as BOBBY RYDELL exited the rear door!  That doggone Pete Wolfe, Jr. still owes me $1.50. 

One of my classmates, Wilma Long, invited a group of us to go on a hayride in 1959.  Her dad, Charley Long, owned a successful farm-equipment business in Sweet Valley and was the owner of, probably, the first color TV in town.  Following the hayride, we all returned to the Long house for cupcakes and punch and we watched what was, to me, my first TV show in color; Bonanza.  That has stuck in my mind all these years and, for a wee bit, caused me to go a’Googling.  “Gee, Bonanza was shown on Sunday nights and the Long family was quite religious.  No way they would have had a party on a Sunday.  How can I reconcile that memory?”  After some searching, I found that, for its first two seasons (1959-1961) Bonanza WAS shown on Saturday nights and didn’t move to Sunday until its third season.  I guess our hayride was on a Saturday in 1959, ‘60, or ‘61.

Another of my pastimes during my high-school years was movies.  Dad had gotten me into going to the Sandy Beach and Dallas drive-ins back before we got poor and still lived in Mooretown and we sometimes went to the Himmler indoor theater in Dallas, too.  Life on the farm was tougher since we had no car, but I’d hitch all the way to the square in Wilkes-Barre.  Often my last ride would take me only into Kingston and I’d walk the last mile or two, across the Market Street bridge, over the Susquehanna River.  I don’t think I missed a single Elvis movie.  The songs were corny but the flicks did feature gorgeous chicks.  Elvis might be playing at the Paramount and I’d hang around the square after that movie ended and then go into the Comerford theater to see whatever was showing there.  On the way home, there was no use trying to hitch on the square; there was simply too much traffic with no suitable place to stop, so I’d catch a bus for a quarter.  The bus would take me to Stull Brothers’ hardware store on the corner of Wyoming Avenue and Union Street in Kingston.  That was a swell spot to hitch since traffic headed West had to turn left at the red light and then wouldn’t have picked up much speed before they spotted me.  I’d usually catch a ride to maybe Trucksville or Shavertown and then maybe another to Whitesell Brothers’ hardware store outside Dallas, where Route 118 made a left, too.  The closer to Sweet Valley I got, the shorter the time I had to wait for a ride because more and more people who knew me would come by.

The Garden drive-in down in Hunlock Creek had special features on the nights before Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day.  They’d show “all-night” movies, generally 5 films, that lasted until dawn.  The school year hadn’t ended by Memorial Day and I made arrangement to be brought home by an upper-classman with a car if I could hitch down to the drive-in.  I think it was my junior year that My brother Bob was home on vacation but neither he or my brother Cliff wanted to spend all night at a theater and refused to take me.   I said “nuts to you!” and hitched down to Hunlock with no return ride planned.  Luckily. I ran into John Morningstar.  His family was of some American Indian heritage and his Dad was a minister of some small Protestant sect, which I guess, was akin to Mennonite.  John’s very pretty younger sister and his mother wore little white bonnets.  We, of course, called John “Chief”. Mid-way through “Cimarron” starring Glenn Ford, an announcement was made.  “Ronnie Hontz, report to the entrance.”  Bob and Cliff had come looking for me but I refused to go with them.  “I’m with Chief and he’ll bring me home.” Chief and I watched all the movies and, being little devils, blew the car’s horn often when the projectionist seemed tardy starting the next movie after an intermission.  Alas, we managed to run down his battery and, only luckily, got a jump start from a fellow moviegoer the next morning and made it home.

Two things that I can place specifically in my junior year had some influence on my post-high school years.  The first was the PSAT or Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test.  As I’ll later relate, I never took the regular SAT (or “College Boards”) my senior year because A) I had no plans, as a poor farm kid, of ever going to college and B) the SAT’s cost money.  I would no sooner have asked Dad for the money for the SAT’s than to get a driver’s license learner’s permit so I could take on-the-road Driver’s Ed. (Why take Driver’s Ed when we had no car on which I could practice?)  During junior year, however, the guidance counselors from King’s College came around the local schools giving the PSAT’s for free.  King’s was, at that time, still an all-male school but I think they let our girls take the test, too.  In any case, the results came back and for five of us (all guys, I think), the results were marked “Advanced Acceptance.”  I was told that that meant “If you ever want to come to King’s, just walk in and you’re already accepted.”  “Tee-hee”, thought I, “like this poor boy is ever going to go to college! I’m headed for the Navy.”

The second junior-year occurrence also ALMOST caused me to not attend college.

Although I did well in any English course when it came to grammar or writing, I ran into a personality conflict with my junior-year teacher. Upon advice from my proofreader, her name will not be divulged here. I will say, however, that she weighed even more than I do now! We wise guys, of course, nicknamed her “Punkin’ Ass” and her thighs made an audible “swish” as she waddled.  Her big thing was poetry.  While I enjoyed the works of Robert Frost and e.e. cummings, I failed to “get” the imagery cast by her favorite poets, chiefly the females like Elizabeth Browning and Emily Dickinson.  The girls in the class were her pets because they “got” this imagery and we boys, for the most part, didn’t.  Both Benson and I got into great difficulty with her near the end of junior year.  We were supposed to write a paper for her class but we refused to.  We only complied when she threatened to give us an “incomplete” which meant we couldn’t have become seniors.  Grudgingly, we plagiarized the heck out of our papers and, then, instead of giving a speech about them, merely read them back.  She gave me an “F” anyway, and I expect Benson got the same.  Regardless of that one black mark, we both moved on.

 

Ronald E. Hontz

33 Whitcraft Lane

Shrewsbury PA 17361

(717) 235-5791

cell phone (717) 309-1402

e-mail: Sweetvalleykid@gmail.com

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