School daze

Back when I was but a little squirt, my friends and I played outside in the neighborhood as long as we possibly could in the summertime. Parents would holler usually around dusk, "Get inside! You've been outside way too long." (Today, parents exclaim, "Get outside! You've been inside on that computer way too long.")

The end of summer vacation and another year of school began without incident. We had our own newspaper called The Weekly Reader that depicted the world in rosy shades in spite of the pending war. The headlines sometimes announced the winner of the spelling bee or how Jimmy helped his grandparents with their wheat crop and learned how to steer a tractor.

There was also the story about Mrs. North's homeroom receiving an award in the paper-drive contest or a description of our new "book mobile" or how one classroom visited a local factory that canned soups.

In class, there were very few details discussed on what was happening in the war itself.

Looking the part

Dressing for school was not out of the ordinary. A few kids picked through myriad hand-me-downs left over from an older brother or sister; others sufficed to wear bib overalls. A few girls disguised flour sacks to look like dresses, and some, like me, had dutiful moms sew patches on any clothes that still fit.

Kids made fun of other kids if patches were put on crooked. Some even had identical patches, which gave cause to a ribbing. Because of rapid growth rate, a real sewing challenge was dealing with pant legs ending just below the knee, about where the beltline lies on today's fashions.

A kid whose parents could afford to straighten their teeth with bulky braces developed an interesting speech impediment.

No one sported tattoos; maybe a few wore name tags, and that was about it for disfiguring the body.

In the '40s, girls would have been mortified to wear jeans slung low on the hips, revealing bare midriffs and other body parts; instead they modestly wore calf-length skirts and bulky sweaters.

It seems all styles slowly become acceptable, but I really don't think the Mohawk hair style caught on.

The lines of communication

Some days, I would finish my early morning paper route, and while waiting for school to open, the janitor would let me in when it was cold. I can't remember his name, but I do remember the conversations we had.

When it was time to give up my job as a paper boy, I did not see him again until the time I met the principal in the boiler room for the paddle experience.

While waiting for my punishment, the janitor and I talked once again.

Considering all things, our conversations were much easier when I had the paper route.

It wasn't like I could get on the pay phone to call a friend who would commiserate with me before being punished by paddle; the only phone at J.J. McGilvra was the one in the principal's office. It would have been unusual to have a nickel for the phone anyway.

We did have our own line of communication: two tin cans with a long length of string held real tight. One person talked into the can while the other one held the can close to his ear, and you could hear clearly what was said. But the best part of all was the endless free minutes.

Getting credit

Money did not come easy for anyone in those days. When I collected for the paper route, I met many people who lived in the alleys between 43rd and 42nd avenues and McGilvra Boulevard. Some had so little money, I had to carry them on the books.

There were times I went to collect and they wanted to borrow money from me!

Credit was given frequently to Madison Park residents at the various businesses. Even a kid could walk in to a store, find something to purchase and announce to the store owner to charge it to his family account. It was Madison Park's answer to the honor-roll system.

When funds exceeded the fun zone, even the pubs extended credit on what was known as "on the wall." It was a proud day to see your name placed on the wall; it meant the extra suds were consumed for good reason.

In it together

Eventually the nature of the war settled in on all of us at J.J. McGilvra, despite the attempts to shield us from it.

All of us lived through those years losing loved ones, and we all helped in the war efforts by holding paper, tin and clothing drives.

It was a great turning point to participate in class with new friends and all those great teachers struggling through life together.

Richard Carl Lehman is a Madison Park resident. Send e-mail to him at

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