Garry, Dottie, and I were blessed to live in a kind, loving family, as the majority of children in America did during those years. Mothers mostly stayed at home and concentrated their energies on caring for their children while the dads supported the family financially.
Our mom was very thrifty, and made most of our clothes on her Singer sewing machine. Dad was an electrician who drove down to Highland Park every day to work at Ex-Cell-O Corporation, building machines for the auto industry. Ex-Cel-O also owned the patent on the Pure-Pak milk carton with the folded top, and built the machines that made the cartons. At that time the cartons were covered with wax, not plastic, and Dad would sometimes bring home blank cartons that had been made when the machines were tested. Mom would fill them with fruit or vegetables from the garden and put them in an old freezer we had somehow inherited from an ice cream shop. It had two access holes on the top and would hold a lot of frozen food!
In February I turned seven and in September Garry turned six. Mom always made our birthday parties really special. All our new neighbor friends would come over for cake and ice cream. There were streamers cut from crepe paper and crimped on the edges like only Mom could do. She also made favor baskets, all different types of paper hats, and always there was a homemade birthday cake with candles. She had one of those little aluminum cake decorating kits that operated with a plunger pushing the icing down through a cylindrical tube and out through various tips. She was quite the pro! My birthday fell at around the same time the Shrine Circus came to the fairgrounds. So several times that was my birthday treat. I think a general admission ticket was around 65 cents.
Little Dottie was getting bigger, almost too big to have her bath in the sink anymore. She was the first of three Gardner babies to have that honor. By June, it was warm enough to take her for walks around the block in the big bulky stroller we had brought from Berkley. All the streets had sidewalks, and no one would have even thought of needing a stroller that would fold up to go in a car. Few families had more than one car, and would question the need for a second car. People still walked for their health and for shopping and visiting with neighbors.
Because we had moved to Clawson in the middle of the school year, we finished up the second semester at our church school, Temple Academy, in Birmingham. I finished second grade and Garry graduated from kindergarten. In the fall we both began attending Log Cabin school in Clawson. It was a short three-block walk from our house, and we could come home for lunch. In fact, the only time lunch was eaten at school was when some children from Troy temporarily attended our school, and milk was brought in for them. There was no kitchen at Log Cabin, so the kids from Troy brought their own bag lunches. The rest of us walked home for lunch. We had an hour and a half to get home, eat, and walk back, and school was still dismissed at 3 pm. We also had two long recesses. I don’t remember having homework either, until high school. No pre-school, no homework, shorter school day, and yet SAT scores peaked the year we graduated and have gone downhill ever since, so much so that they have had to dumb down the test. We didn’t have standardized tests or study for the SAT, either. I can’t explain why the scores dropped. TV?
I was the youngest in my class, and sometimes that was difficult, but not until puberty struck! I’m sure you know what I mean. But more about that later. Third grade was mostly enjoyable. I always enjoyed school, and looked forward every fall to returning to class, meeting new and old classmates, and especially the new teachers!
Our principal, Mrs. Darbee, had an office that was a few steps up from the level of the second floor classrooms. I remember that she wore glasses attached to a chain so that she could take them off when she didn’t need them to read. I hadn’t seen a chain like that before, and it stuck in my mind. Her son Rocky was in our graduating class, but I don’t think he went to Log Cabin.
I don’t remember my teachers’ names at Log Cabin, except for Mrs. Hull in sixth grade. Perhaps some of my classmates could remind me. I do remember that Log Cabin had huge windows and tall ceilings. There was an attic, with a room at the back that also had a big window. Our school band met up there, and at another time we met in an area off the furnace room in the basement! We only had band one day a week, and it was only for the sixth graders. I had wanted to play the clarinet, but Mom thought it would be too squeaky, so she convinced me to take flute instead. I think there were only six or eight of us who started in band. Flute worked out OK, though, because in high school I also got to play the piccolo!
We also had music (for the whole class) and art classes one day a week. I remember learning folk songs and ballads in music class, but don’t remember anything about art class. We also had square dancing, but our church didn't believe in dancing, so i missed out on that. It seems rather silly now, but that's what life was like in 1954. We did have movies once in a while, but they were always educational films, not Hollywood productions.
In sixth grade, Mrs. Hull let some of us skip health class to work on a movie script up in the little library at the end of the hall. We used some of our parents’ movie cameras to shoot the movie and someone spliced it together. Of course there was no sound, but the script would be played on a tape recorder as the movie played. The movie was about manners. I wish I knew what happened to it. Mrs. Hull later went to teach at another school, and some of us went over there once to see her.
Once a week we had Bible class. It was a little like Sunday school, and we got prizes for learning our verses. I remember earning root beer barrels among other treats. I know the issues, but I think somehow we’ve lost a civilizing influence by banning Bible clubs in the schools. Children who perhaps never darkened a church door were morally influenced for good, and sometimes even transformed by the concern shown to them by the teachers and by learning to know Jesus personally. The schools were more civilized then, and I can’t help but think that it was in large part because as a culture we still held to Judeo-Christian values. We found meaning in life because we knew we were loved by God, and were accountable to Him. We also found purpose in knowing He had a plan for our lives. I’m thankful for all the volunteer moms who took the time to hold those classes for us.
My friend Linda reminded me that before school and during recess we played marbles in the schoolyard. There was also a little store across School Street, but we weren’t allowed to leave school during recess to visit there. However, we often bought penny candy after school. I remember dots, records, Squirrels, Mary Janes (no not THAT mary jane), Three Musketeers that you could actually break into three parts, 3¢ chocolate bars called Lunch Bars, wax lips and mustaches, Chuckles, candy cigarettes, little wax bottles filled with colored sugar water, Neccos, Double Bubble, Bit-O-Honey, fireballs, jawbreakers, and Tootsie Rolls. Most cost a penny or were priced two or three for a penny!
Some of the boys served as crossing guards on the street corners, and were dismissed early at lunch time and after school. It was a real status symbol to be a safety patrol, and we were required to obey them. As I recall, they took their jobs seriously and never bullied us.
Soon it was time for Christmas, and the end of our first full year in Clawson. We had made good friends, played in the park, started a new school, and finished another grade. It was a good year.