We didn’t know it at the time, but this was the last year. Afterwards, everything would be different. In 1958 my brother Jim and I shared a paper route in the Chicago suburb where we lived. We were both still in grade school ( a Lutheran school actually), 5th grade for me and 8th for him. The next year he’d be off to high school and I’d still be a kid. There were signs though. The girls were paying a lot of attention to Jim at school. It was crazy. On the playground, if my brother wasn’t paying attention to them, the older girls would chase me, and if they caught me, they’d hold me down and kiss me. I did not appreciate this, but this would be the last year for that too.
That school was nuts! Kids were just as poorly behaved, maybe worse, than those in a public school. Fights on the playground, initials carved in the wooden bathroom stalls (mine, but I DIDN’T DO IT), whacks with rulers, dunces caps and sitting in the corner. This was contrasted with memorizing bible verses, creeds and hymns, forced choir practices and mandatory church attendance. Lent was a time of misery.
I had a couple of ancient teachers named Mr. and Mrs. Keester (no jokes please) and one really cool guy in 1958, Mr. Hatfield who was also the choir director. He got us little “crazies” so whipped up on religious music, that I can remember thinking at the time, why would anyone want to sing anything else? But while we toured the state, beating the musical crap out of every other kid’s choir we faced, my poor brother was stuck with Mr. Siverson.
Mr. Siverson (not his real name) was not only Jim’s teacher, I believe for two straight years, but also the principal of the school. I’m not exactly sure how Mr. Siverson qualified for school principal, but it might have had something to do with his ability to delegate. While he was reading newspapers in class, if he wanted some fried chicken, he’d just pull Jim from class and send him downtown for some. If he needed more bats and balls for a noon time soft ball game, Jim was on the way. Some of those softball games got pretty intense, with teachers as well as kids playing and no one paying any attention when class bells rang.
We’d bring these stories back home, but our parents either didn’t believe them, or felt somehow that there were compensating factors that merited our continued attendance. That was until the more troubling news about Mr. Siverson came to light. Forging checks and car theft do get some attention and were probably the deciding factors in 1958 being our last year in that school.
But on Thanksgiving morning of that year, as we woke at 6:00 am, our only concern was weather-related. You can find anything on the internet these days, so I dug it up. That morning it was 12 degrees at 6:00 am. Our lucky younger brother, Phil, looked so snug and warm in his bed; man why me! To top it off, since it was Thanksgiving, the papers ( The Chicago Tribune and Sun Times) were huge, so that would slow us down and keep us out in the weather longer. In those days my parents had essentially one winter uniform for us. The uniform was made up of a parka (either gray or olive-green) with a fake fur hood (that smelled like dog fur) and zipped on and off, and a pair of black rubber boots ( the ones with metal buckles) that slipped over our shoes. This basic uniform was augmented with whatever crappy hats, gloves, mittens, scarves, etc. one could find around the house. This outfit was worn by us for years, and was a great source of embarrassment.
The real problem though with 12 degrees, was that although that’s mighty cold, our parents had a “zero degree rule.” If it was anything above zero, we were not to even think of waking them-up and asking to be driven on the route.
Because this day was so much colder than those that preceded it (no Weather Channel back then), perhaps we missed some vital parts of the uniform. I don’t remember. But I do remember that before we were very far into the route we were both really suffering. This was a residential neighborhood, so there were no stores or gas stations to go warm-up in, nothing. I was never much of a trooper back then, hell, eventually I’d move to North Carolina! But, I was what we’d call now multitasking, plodding along, delivering papers and whimpering. But with toes and fingers freezing, we both got more and more desperate, and finally agreed that we’d have to knock on someone’s door, wake him up, and ask if we could come in to warm up.
We knew most of the people on the route and finally decided to knock on the door of a guy who at least had on occasion seemed kind of friendly. We rang the bell and waited, rang it again and waited. Maybe they’re not home. No, there he comes. Finally shuffling into view was the guy in his pajamas and slippers.
No telling what this poor guy thought at that early hour on Thanksgiving Day, but he took us in when we asked and let us sit for a while, thaw-out and warm-up. I don’t even know what Jim and I thought at the time. But on that day, Jim and I were brothers, bound by our common suffering and our profound release from it. Over the years we’d drift apart and come back together, but our memory of that day is something we’ll always have, and still like to reminisce over.
So, alright, there was another Thanksgiving that stood out in my memory. Thanks for reading.