My Primary Years:
Part III

Fourth Grade (1949-50)

     Once the summer school was over, we trekked our way back to the flat plains of western Kansas, to another small town, called Belpre. Several events stand out strongly in my memories of this school year. One was particularly special, and in the romance department. The fad that year was that the boy-friend-girl-friend pair should design a code in order to send secret love notes back-and-forth between each other. The recipient of my coded notes was a little red-haired girl, named Rothalea. Miss Olive Rothalea Rudd to be exact. Her notes to me were very sweet. Romeo and Juliet pale in comparison to the sentiments she sent to me, especially the final ones, written near my departure in May of 1950.

     In was in this grade that I had my first big day in sports. Basketball has always been my favorite game. My chance came in the first game against Zook Grade School. Zook was just a few miles to the north of Belpre. Being only 8 years old at the time, I played in the younger age-category. I scored 4 points in our 17-12 victory. Wow!

     During the spring of that school year, track and field events were the focus of everybody's attention. I preferred the high jump event, but not because I was very good at it. I just liked it. What I remember most about that spring occurred at a track meet for the various high schools in our athletic league. It is a common practice for athletes to warm up their muscles and throwing arms while other events are taking place. Most events are performed on or around a football field, but the javelin is rather dangerous and requires a lot of space, free of crowds. I was watching this event with my father some distance away from the main field when we decided to return. As we came down a gentle slope, I glanced toward the end-zone nearest us. I saw a boy tossing his javelin, preparing himself to compete a short time later. He heaved his spear into the air without carefully looking around. As it came down, it struck another athlete - in his eye! I was simply awestruck, seeing the boy fall to the ground, crying out in agony. Coaches quickly came to his aid, of course. However, I was too disturbed to look anymore. Years later my father told me the boy did not die from this accident, but I've never felt the same about the javelin event since.

     This year the childhood disease that got me was the mumps. (The year before it was the chicken pox. The year after I had the measles.) It wasn't the mumps that was so bad, it was what I did one day as I stayed home from school that made this disease so memorable. Both my parents and Gary had to be at school and Corky was at the baby-sitter's home. Our house was only a few blocks away from the school. With the telephone handy, I could reach my dad quickly if the need would arise. During the last day or so of my "vacation", I began feeling frisky enough to turn my parents' bed into a trampoline. Jumping up and down, twirling my arms all about - I was having a great time. Until my arm hit the light bulb that was hanging down from the ceiling. My arm hit it with enough force to break it, showering pieces of glass into the bed. My right foot stepped on a piece, that then entered the sole. Blood began flowing out, nothing I could do seemed to stop it. I ran to the phone and called my father. He rushed over immediately. He took me into the bathroom where we had some first aid materials. Quickly he began applying alcohol or some antiseptic solution. Then he took out some tweezers and dug out the offending piece of glass. All the while I was screaming bloody murder, crying my eyes out, and begging him to stop. Naturally, it was a good thing he didn't listen to me, because contrary to how it felt to me, it was soon over. A good lesson was learned that day, I guarantee you.

     On the musical side of things, this was the year I met the French horn. I had begun taking piano lessons when I was about 3 years old. I took up the snare drum during my time at Windhorst. Who decided that the French horn was the instrument for me, I don't know. Maybe it was a relative of Prof. Harold Hill, of The Music Man fame. However the decision was made, it meant commuting weekly to Larned, a town several miles to the north, for private lessons. Pity my poor brother, Gary. He got stuck with lessons in tap dancing at the same time. Come to think of it -- I think I had to learn a few moves of that as well! Oh dear.

     Unlike in today's world, going to the movies was a super special event for me and our family. In fact, I truly remember only one movie from this time: The Wizard of Oz. We had no TV of course, so that left going to theaters. Belpre was too small to have a theater, so we had to drive to a larger town. The evening we saw Dorothy's journey through the land of Oz was one that I'll never forget. Not because of the greatness of this classic film, but the impression it has on me. It scared me to death! Well, actually just the wicked witch of the West, and her flying monkeys. I got through the tornado part and the singing and dancing okay, but that ugly old witch and her evil, cackling laugh just scared the beejeezus out of me. So much so that I had to leave the auditorium and sit in the corridor. As the film ended, I did come back in to see the happy final. For several nights afterwards, I couldn't fall asleep normally. The fearsome effects of those visions took a long time to subside in my mind. Every time I now see this film or even hear it mentioned I think about that little 8-year-old boy, huddled into a little ball outside the viewing area and the ensuing nightmares he suffered later at bedtime.

Click HERE to see a collection of photographs of our family for the school year.

* *** *

     After school let out in May, the Trotter family headed back to Pittsburg for one final summer session. My father achieved his goal this time, graduating with his master's degree. I attended the Laboratory School once again. The morning activities were similar to the year before. Again I received an evaluation letter when the session was completed. It reveals something about my character relating to interpersonal relationships in group settings. Click HERE to see what it says.

     As to the afternoon program, I returned to swimming, of course, my second favorite sports activity. Because I now had just recently taken up the French horn, I was encouraged to enter the youth orchestra. Being the extreme novice that I was at this time, I'm certain I was not asked to play any solo portions. It was fun nonetheless to be a part of a musical organization that contained violins and other stringed instruments. It brought back fond memories of music appreciation class in Windhorst. Sister Constance often played a record for us called Rusty in Orchestraville. In that story, Rusty was a little boy who didn't like to practice the piano. One day, he fell asleep while practicing his scales, and dreamed that the orchestra instruments could talk. They explained all about their roles in producing beautiful symphonic music. When the boy woke up suddenly, he had a new appreciation about the greater world of music. This attitude carried over to me, as I still enjoy a broad spectrum of music (though I do draw the line regarding some types!).

     This summer we did not live under the football stadium, rather in a small 2-bedroom apartment within easy walking distance from my school. Our quarters were behind a large, private home. My brothers and I became friends of the children living in that house. One was a girl whose age was between Gary's and mine. A favorite game we all enjoyed was "getting married". The ceremony took place under some large, green bushes along side the house. One of us was the groom, the other was the preacher, but who was who has faded into uncertainty now; perhaps we took turns. The girl of course was the blushing bride. The act, following the pastor's final words of "you may now kiss the bride", was always marked by high tension and a flood of giggles.


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