My mother worked at the home economics department at Iowa State College and my friend Dennis and I used the College as a playground. We used to haunt the halls of the college. The statue of the Winged Victory in the home economics building was impressive. Standing in front of it and looking up at its armless shoulders transported me to a different era. In the basement there were cages and cages of white rats.
The entire campus was impressive and we were given free reign to wander and explore. I don’t think my mother would have allowed me to roam the campus today but in the late 40’s and early 50’s it was a different world.
One of the most impressive buildings was the Memorial Union and we would sneak into rooms such as the Great Hall. It truly was a “great” hall. I usually went in and stood and looked up at the beautiful woodwork that was given a soft glow from the lights high on the balcony. Very impressive to my 10 year old mind. I was later to find out that members of my family helped to build the Union. I still enjoy going to the Union and watching people.
Another part of the Union that was awesome to me was the hallway through which you entered on the North side. As you approached you passed the Four Season Fountain that was sculpted by Christian Peterson. We are fortunate to have this great artist’s work in our community. They enrich us all.
After passing the fountain you entered the Union through revolving doors and walked around, never over, the brass zodiac imbedded d in the floor. The entrance took you out of bright sunlight into a reverent glow from stain glass windows through a hall with names on the walls. I did not know that these were the names of those who had given their lives for our country but learned later that way why it was the Memorial Union. I still get goose bumps when I walk through this hallway dedicated to brave men and women who gave their all to our country.
Having this resource in our community greatly enriches all of our lives. People from all over the world come to Ames, Iowa and I grew up seeing people wearing beautiful long saris from India and beautiful clothing from Africa. I am not sure that it made as much of an impression upon me at that age but as I think back on it and, occasionally, see someone wearing this colorful garb today I am grateful for growing up in such a cosmopolitan community.
One of the ways I was able to use this wonderful resource was when I developed the Friendship Fair experience when I taught sixth grade at Whittier school. I got an idea and worked with Gene Clubine, Dorothy Folly (?) and Dennis Peterson at the International Resource Office at the University. We would bring in 8 to 10 International (I never use the term foreign as that means “outside” and no one is outside the family of man.) students and they would bring artifacts from the Resource Center or which they had brought with them. We would set them up in small groups around the room and divide the students up so that there was a ratio of no more than one to ten. The students from school would be instructed to bring pictures of their families to share with the international student.
We would ring a bell every 20 to 25 minutes and students would “fruit basket upset” and move to a different station. They did not get to meet with all of the international students but they traveled to 5 to 7 different countries in the course of a day. The International students would eat lunch with us; get a tour of the school and go out to recess with the class. It was truly a great experience for all concerned and I am happy to say that the program spread around the state and occasionally I still hear of a “Friendship Fair” being held somewhere. Of course the format is sometimes changed to fit the needs of the school but I am proud that these fairs have enriched the lives of our students.
Atlantic and South Sioux City Entry # 4
I am getting ahead of myself. My mother married Charles Jackson and we moved first to Atlantic, Iowa, where my sister Ginny (Virginia Ruth) was born. Later we lived in Jackson, Neb and finally south Sioux City, Nebraska. I learned a lot during these years. One thing I learned was never to go swimming in the river and tell some friendly man your name. When I got home my mother asked me what I had been doing. I told her and of course did not get into trouble because I had not lied. I was, however, sternly warned not to do it again.
I also learned never try put out a fire with a pillow. It happened this way. It was a really hot night shortly after my sister had been born July 1 of 1952. My stepfather was sleeping in the bay window in the dining room. Mother had gone to bed and was having a cigarette in bed. She thought she was putting the cigarette out in an ashtray but missed and put it out in a mattress instead. When she woke up she screamed fire. (This scream was heard several blocks away.) She woke us all and we immediately panicked and ran all over getting something to put out the fire that had caught the curtains on fire.
My stepfather was sleeping in the nude and when the girl who lived upstairs came down to our apartment he realized he was naked and she realized that she had no top on. They immediately rectified this situation and all of continued our firefighting activities. We went right through the bathroom and it’s large bathtub and into the kitchen to get water. I picked up an iron skillet and carried this small amount of water to toss it on the bed.
Eventually I figured that I could probably put it out by beating it with something. (I am sure that I had seen this somewhere at the movies.) I picked up a pillow and began to beat on the fire. Of course it caught on fire and we had feathers all over the entire house. We eventually did get the fire under control and the fire department came and made sure that it was out. It would not have been so bad to clean up if it had not been for the feathers, which blanketed the floor in every room in the house. I learned several things from this experience mainly that you should not smoke in bed nor should you use a pillow to put out a fire.
Atlantic is in southwest Iowa and I enjoyed my time there. I joined the Boy Scouts andwent to camp. We always crossed the street so that we would not have to walk past the large grey dilapidated house with monkey cages in the back. We did this because older kids told us that a mad scientist lived there and he would grab us and put us inhis cages and we would never be heard from again.. I attended Jackson Elementary School which was neat because at that time I was going by the name Jay Jackson. I learned about polio and to stay away from the creeks that went near our home. Iron lungs were a threat and we all tried to avoid circumstances which would lead to polio. It was not until several years later that the polio vaccine was invented. It was truly scary to live during those times.
I also learned that short men were sometimes difficult to get along with. There was a man who lived up the alley from us and he was just nasty to us kids. Mom told me that short men many times felt inadequate and that I should excuse/forgive him his nasty behavior. That advice has stood me in good stead for many years. Mother was a peacemaker and never liked conflict. She was a good friend to everyone and I was very fortunate to have her for a mother.
I had a paper route and remember that $10.00 went missing from my collection money and was not until much later that I figured out that my stepfather, who was an alcoholic, probably took the money to buy a bottle. Chuck was a really great person except when he was drinking. Sometimes he was great when he was drinking. I still remember the nice baseball glove he gave to me one time after he had been drinking. It was super!
We went on lots of picnics and I was never sure when I was eating fried chicken whether it was thr crunchy coating or June bugs I was ingesting. The picnics were highlights as were trips back to Ames. We would “bull it through” never stopping. Chuck would drain out some of a bottle of 7 up and then top it off with whisky to sip as we drove along. It was a wonder that we were not all killed but by the luck of divine providence and the ability of an alcoholic to function while under the influence we were spared although his job was lost because of his drinking.
We then went to Jackson, Nebraska a small, mostly Catholic, community about 10 miles west of Sioux City. The town was nestled in among some high hills and was a great place to hike. I learned never to try to heat acan of beans without putting a hole in it I went on a camp out by the (probably polluted) stream where we used to swim and took food along to cook. I built a small fire (Boy Scout remember) and proceeded to heat some hot dogs and a can of beans. The beans would heat just as well in the can, or so I thought, and so I put them in the middle of the fire. After a few moments and an explosion there were beans all over the place and I never tried to do that stunt again.
I always called my stepfather “Chuck” with an occasional “Dad” thrown in but not nearly as often as I should have. He taught me many things, how to kill a chicken without cutting it’s head off, how to toss baseball and of course, about sex. I still remember the large storeroom where he gave me “the” talk. I think most of it went right over my head. I did not make the connection between the “balloons” the older boys had and the condom box with a Greek warrior on the cover labeled “Trojans” which I carried around in my see through shirt pocket. When Mom noticed that I got another “lecture” from Chuck.
As I stated earlier this was a mostly Catholic community. I think there was one other protestant family in town. The school had been a parochial school for most of its existence. Recently it had been turned over to the state but the Catholic Church and meeting hall right across the street. You could look out the windows of the school and see the priest walking back and forth to visit his parishioners. I was not used to Catholic Priests and did not understand the long “dress” which he wore as he went on his visits.
One day I was playing with the other boys on the field between the meetinghouse and the church and he walked by. All of the kids I was playing with immediately said “Hello Father” and I just said “Hello” a big mistake as he spun around with skirts flapping and began to descend on me. I had seen him grab others by the ear and knew that I was destined for that fate. The kids started to yell “He’s not Catholic, Father” and I was spared the indignity of having my ear pulled. For some reason this instance has stayed with me and I doubt that I will ever feel comfortable around a priest in a long robe.
I learned the “Our Father” and “Rosary” by listening to the radio. We had dug a fort under the ground in the side of a hill and wired it for electricity and had a radio in our “den.” It was great fun to crawl through the tunnel entrance and hide out from the world. The only radio station close by was a Catholic one and every evening someone would read the prayer which starts; “Hail Mary full of grace. They called her “Mother of God.” I don’t think I ever could understand how God could have a mother but at that point in my life it was just neat to have a hide out from grown ups.
I had a beagle puppy when we lived in Jackson and my sister and I both loved Boots. He was a lot of fun but we had to watch him as a highway ran right through town and beagles are notorious for catching a scent and running after whatever they are hunting. As fate would have it Boots wasn’t killed on the highway but on the dirt road, which ran west of our house. This was one of my first experiences with death. While we were living there my mother’s Uncle Lew died and I suppose the experience of losing my pet helped me to understand the sadness my mother felt over his death.
Pets are great teachers for kids and I have learned a lot because of the pets I have owned. They have each enriched my life and I am grateful for each of them.
My first black friend went to school with me in South Sioux City. For some reason I had never been around a black person though I had certainly seen many of them in Ames because of the University. We had a short friendship since we only lived there for a month but it made an impression on me.
Another impression I had in South Sioux City was a teacher who could not handle her class. The boys were kind of rough and would rag her unmercifully. I think it was to get her to cry which she would do frequently in front of the class. I don’t know how long she lasted but I can still see her standing in front of the class wiping her eyes. I felt sorry for her but did not respect her. I much preferred the teachers who were stern but loving.