Bortrum's Bio Continued
CHAPTER 3 - DANCING MY WAY INTO COLLEGE
I'm starting this column/chapter on Sunday, October 17, 2010 after watching one of my favorite programs, "Sunday Morning" with Charles Osgood. One segment was about the publication of the autobiography of Mark Twain, which he specified could only be published 100 years after his death! I got the impression that his autobiography doesn't follow a time sequence as in ordinary autobiographical works but skips around, covering subjects that struck his fancy at the time he was writing. Hey, if Mark Twain could do it why not yours truly.
Another segment on the program was about the singer Tom Jones. You may remember that TB played an important role in my life, being directly responsible for my birth. It turns out that TB also played an important role in Tom Jones' life. He was destined for a life as a coal miner in Wales but contracted tuberculosis. Because of the effect it had on his lungs he was advised to stay out of the mines; instead he became a singer and achieved tremendous success. Back in 1968, I took my family on an extended business/pleasure trip to Europe and one of our evenings was spent in Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark. As we were walking through the park there was an outdoor concert in progress and we stopped briefly to listen to the singer, one Tom Jones. We had never heard of him and moved on. We obviously were not with it musically, Jones having already made his mark in the pop world. Some 42 years later, he's still singing and in good voice!
Well, having taken Mark Twain's approach of not adhering to a sequential format of autobiography, let's get back to 1941, where I left off in last month's column. Having survived our trip to Denver and our auto accident, life in Mechanicsburg returned to normal - until that " day of infamy" in December when everything changed. I learned about places I had never heard of before such as Pearl Harbor, Corregidor, etc. Even in our small town in Pennsylvania we practiced blackouts. There was gasoline rationing, we learned to mix in yellow coloring with margarine to make it more appealing and various food items were also rationed.
My mother impressed me into service in our Victory garden, which consisted of two plots, not just the usual one. I became fairly adept at "farming" and we managed to supply several of our friends and neighbors with produce from our garden. The garden actually was responsible for my first published work. Our newspaper, the Philadelphia Record, had a section devoted to contests, puzzles and the like. One feature was the Pet Peeves section. Readers would send in their pet peeves and if they got published there was a prize of $2.50. Not much today but that would pay for several visits to double features at our local movie theater.
I won a prize with my pet peeve, which went something like this: "After spending several hours working in our Victory Garden, I asked my mother if I could go out and play baseball. Her reply was, "Well, if you've got that much energy why don't you go back and do some work?!" My mother, who was always entering contests, but never won anything, then sent in her pet peeve complaining that her son had entered a contest for the first time and won with his peeve. She did not have her peeve published. I later entered another contest, one of those where you completed an entry in 25 words or less, and won a ballpoint pen. They were quite new at the time and the pen smelled so bad I threw it out. Either the ink or the plastic had not yet been made customer friendly.
Of course, there were much more serious things going on all around us in those days. A number of our high school teachers were either drafted or joined one of the services, including a couple of our women teachers, who joined the newly formed WACS or WAVES. Our gym classes were modified to become more strenuous, I imagine to better prepare us for military service. Somewhere along the line, a doctor had found I had a slight heart murmur and my mother managed to keep me out of gym class because of it. This didn't make me happy and I continued to play baseball, basketball and touch football in the streets of our neighborhood.
The pain of war was starting to hit close to home. William Guyer, who lived across the street, joined the Army Air Corps. Bill ended up missing in action somewhere in the South Pacific or perhaps Burma. To my knowledge, his body was never found. We learned how sad it is and how emotionally draining when we saw how his parents suffered, not knowing of his fate. Later, one of the fellows I played baseball with, Loraine Fetrow, returned from the war a paraplegic. He was someone I truly admired, showing up at our reunions over the years, always upbeat and cheerful, even at the last one he attended, wheeled in on a gurney.
As for me, I was a few weeks from turning 14 when Pearl Harbor was bombed. My classmates were typically a year or two older and most of the males would see service by the time the war ended. I was very shy in those days and never, ever said a word in class unless directly asked a question. On the other hand, I was reasonably good at test taking and my grades were typically A's, except when it came to art or shop, in which I believe I once got a D! I remember making a simple corner piece intended to hold a flower vase or the like. Somehow, the two main pieces were supposed to fit together symmetrically but did not. I'm still not good at 3-dimensional visualizations.
In spite of my shyness, I somehow found myself on the debate team! Why Miss Hackman picked me I can't imagine. We were debating the question as to whether there should be set up a Federal World Government, sort of a more powerful body than the forthcoming
united Nations. I was assigned the positive side of the argument and we went to Gettysburg to debate the issue with I presume the local high school. My only memory of that debate, which I believe we lost, was when my opponent came up with the argument that there wasn't any building or gathering space that coupled possibly house a world governing body just because there would be too many people in the body. I thought that was a ridiculous argument, but must have not been able to put across clearly the concept of proportional representation that would limit the number of representatives such as in our own Congress. I did get my only high school letter for my debating year. Without me the next year, the debate team came in second in the state!
Nearing the end of my junior year of our 4-year high school, I had never had a date. I was secretly in love with Doris White, a true platinum blonde who was the "best looking" girl in our class (according to the 1944 class yearbook). Seating in most classes was alphabetical in order and Because her name began with W and mine with T (real name), we were often seated next to each other in classes. She was of course a year older and I never showed my feelings. I didn't see her for fifty years until our 50th reunion in 1994 and learned she lived in Naples, Florida with her husband. We met them for lunch on one of our trips to nearby Marco Island and my wife insisted I tell Doris of my feelings for her in high school. Her reply was, "But Forrest, you never expressed yourself." Who knows? Had I done so, I might not have met my wife and there would be no StocksandNews or Dr. Bortrum.
Well, back to 1943. The junior prom came up and someone on the faculty as well as a classmate or so knew that Annetta Gleim did not have a date for the prom. They managed to convince me that I should ask her and I did and she accepted. When I told my mother that I was going to the prom, her response was, in so many words, "That does it. You're going to college!" To this time, I have never understood the logic behind that statement, but we shall see that would indeed be the case.
I got a corsage and joined with another couple, the boy having a driver's license and use of a car. We picked up Annetta and went to the dance. She must have had a terrible time inasmuch as I really couldn't dance (and still suffer from a genetic inability to keep time). After the prom, the couple with the car suggested we all go to Harrisburg for some sort of after-prom activities. My mother had, naturally, given me strict instructions to be home by a certain time and I declined the suggestion to party on. We drove to Annetta's house and left her off and I, being totally inept socially, did not even accompany her to her doorstep to say goodnight!
Sometime later, I realized what a stupid thing that was and always wanted to apologize to Annetta for my behavior. It was not until my 50th high school reunion that I again saw her and finally had the opportunity to apologize after carrying this burden for so many years. Would you believe that she did not even remember that I took her to the prom!
Well, my mother did indeed follow up on her decision that I was going to college and took the bus to Carlisle, where she pleaded my case for being admitted to Dickinson College at the end of my junior year. At the time Dickinson was suffering financially, having lost the vast majority of its male students or prospective students to the military. I was accepted on probation and despite my strong objections I began college that summer at the age of 15. There were roughly 50 males and 250 females enrolled at that time. I never told my mother that in one of my first sociology classes, Professor Warner stated that we were all now adults and should be able to handle adult topics. One he discussed was prostitution in France! My mother would have died.
I managed to do well that summer and my probation was lifted. That fall I still wanted to graduate with my high school class and for a month or so managed to go to Dickinson in the morning and get the bus back home in time to take a trigonometry and, I believe it was a history class in the afternoon. I had already had trigonometry in college that summer so that subject was a cinch to handle. However, my college schedule changed and I had to give up the high school classes. The school superintendant would not give me a diploma in spite of my mother's pleading so I was a high school dropout.
Another thing my mother did not know was how exciting my morning rides to Carlisle were, at least for a month or so. Daryl Rector, the brother of one of my debating classmates had this old Model A or model T Ford (I've never been good at identifying cars) and for a dime a ride drove me and another fellow to college. Daryl despised cats and would actually run the car off the road trying to hit one if he saw it! I bring this up because today Dickinson College has the newly built Rector Science Center, made possible by a donation from the estate of Rector that totaled at least $10 and I understand several more million dollars! Rector had become a very successful surgeon and apparently saved all those dimes that I and other high school classmates had contributed each time they got a ride in his car.
Finally, longtime readers of my columns will know my fascination with anything related to space and the universe in general. I had considered devoting this column to some truly significant findings that have recently made the headlines, notably the discovery of a planet orbiting another star that lies in what may be a habitable zone for life. There have also been headlines about the Moon being wet. The latter seems to be an exaggeration if you think you can go there and have a drink of water without much effort. Next month I hope to research some of these and other recent findings that seem exciting and devote less space to my own less interesting life. Hopefully, the next column will be posted on or before November 30.
Allen F. Bortrum