Starting College at Age 70

Note: This is a revision of a piece I wrote six years ago when I started college. I have edited it and revised a little but the principles are the same.

STARTING COLLEGE AT AGE 70

22, Oct 2013

Revised 5, Sept. 2019

Early this past spring, while enjoying an evening of solitude, I got to thinking about what I should do with the rest of my life. I had considered going into senior housing or a retirement center, but the idea troubled me. I asked myself was I really that ready to give up and surrender to old age? I could say I had a mental and emotional war with my feelings, but that would be a lie. I’ve been on my own since I was fifteen, the idea of giving up my freedom now was simply too terrifying to contemplate. So what can I do with all the free time and minimal funds I have? Then I remembered the words of one of the sweetest people I know, Jina, a Korean girl who, along with her husband Bin, had rented a room from me while she was completing her Master’s Degree at Washington University here in St Louis. She said, “Papa, you go to college. I be so proud of you!”

College? I’m thinking about starting college at age seventy? Last time I was a full-time student was in 1959 when I punched my English teacher for hitting me. I left school, and he got suspended. Now, fifty-four years later I’m thinking about fulfilling my dream of going to college full time. I may be crazy but hey, why not try it? Just no coed dorms and shower rooms, I’m too modest, and I’d be too much competition for the young dudes. This could be fun!

Feeling as though I was setting out on a long trek, my first step had been deciding to pursue my dream. The next was to acquire the means to. Step one was pretty easy, step two was going to be difficult, if not impossible, or so I thought. Being retired and living on just my social security check doesn’t leave me anything extra for frills such as an education. The weak economy had wiped out what little money I had saved, and I’m not named an heir in anyone’s will. Then how does an old man with no money find the funds to go to college? If he’s smart, he looks for the same resources a young man does. In my case, it was the Financial Aid section of the St Louis Community College website where I learned about FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). FAFSA is a gateway to many different sources of educational funding for students of all ages, and it was step two for me.

Basically, there are two ways to apply for FAFSA funding. The first is meeting with a financial aid advisor at the college and the second going online to the FAFSA website to apply. They both have advantages and disadvantages – I chose the website as it was more relaxed and I could go at my own pace. It took me about thirty minutes to complete the application, and an hour later, I received an e-mail notification that I had been approved for funding and assigned a student identification number.

Did I mention I did this at about midnight on a Saturday night? You read that right, I had taken a significant step towards realizing a lifelong dream on a Saturday night. I had no idea what I wanted to study, nor did I care at that moment, I just wanted to call somebody and shout it out, I AM GOING TO COLLEGE! Not a good idea, most of my friends are in bed at ten, so I chose option two, a bourbon Manhattan and the late news.

I had to wait until June to take step three, the ACT Compass evaluation testing. (I’ll cheat a little here and do a copy-paste so the information is correct.)

“ACT Compass is an untimed, computerized test that helps your college evaluate your skills and place you into appropriate courses. ACT Compass offers tests in reading, writing, math, writing essay, and English as a Second Language (ESL). You will receive your ACT Compass test results immediately upon completion of testing, and your score report will include placement messages informing you what courses you should take and how to register.” “ACT Compass is not used like a traditional test. There is generally no “passing score.” Rather, ACT Compass scores indicate areas in which you are strong and areas in which you may need help. Thus, ACT Compass can identify problems in major subject areas before they disrupt your educational progress, giving you the opportunity to prepare more effectively for needed courses. You and your institution can use scores from ACT Compass tests to prepare a course of study that will be appropriate, relevant, and meaningful for you.”

June arrived with the late rains of April and the ACT Compass evaluation test. I was in a state of nervous excitement as I went to the Assessment office, where I signed in and got instructions on what to do. Then a lady ushered me into a computer lab (a room which has desks with computers on each) and assigned me a seat. I’m not a computer geek nor do I type well, so I was very thankful the test was not timed. It was interesting though: easy to read, thorough and not graded. Once I was comfortable with the keyboard I dug my heels in and did my best. It took a while to complete, but that didn’t bother me, I was having fun and actually learning something new. When I was done, I had to wait while the lady printed out the results for me. My high school math scores were midline, college math was almost non-existent but English comprehension, and composition were 94 and 97 respectively. That took me completely by surprise.

Step four was Student Orientation day! Then came butterflies in the belly. The first significant challenge for me in college was: what do I wear to go to school? I’ve worn uniforms or work clothes all my life. I probably have only one nice shirt and pair of pants. How could I go to school and impress everyone if I wasn’t dressed cool? Scary as it sounds, I decided to just be myself but cleaner. Arriving on time, I found the conference room without a problem and immediately decide I’m the oldest person within a hundred miles. I see bright, shiny young faces everywhere. I knew they were all staring and talking about me I remember it. Oh well, I’m a pretty impressive guy, so I joined the throng, listened to the somewhat dull introduction, received the handouts and waited in line to see a counselor. When my turn came, I was asked what courses I planned to take, and I said, huh? I hadn’t considered exactly what classes I wanted to take, I was just happy to be invited to learn. We talked about my ACT Compass scores and what they felt I should do, I said ok, let’s do it. Next thing I knew I was sitting at a computer signing up for American History, Philosophy, Honors English and Algebra. I was committed or should have been. I hadn’t been a full-time student since 1959, and I had signed up for twelve credit hours of college? I hear Jina’s beautiful voice, “I’m so proud of you Papa!” That did it, bring it on.

My next stop was for my student ID card and parking permit. This was an easy one. I just needed to prove I was me, have my picture taken and sign all sorts of papers. My official ID card was mailed to my home in about three weeks. Final stop of the day was Financial Aid. I had come prepared with copies of my online applications and related confirmations. As I handed the paperwork to a pretty young lady at the front desk, she looked at me as though I were insane. “Your paperwork is all in perfect order! I just need you to sign two forms, and you’re done. Welcome to Meramec.” Guess I got that part right.

Walking out of the office, I felt a little overcome. After so many years my dream was close to becoming reality yet something seemed to be missing. I meandered around campus for a while orientating my mind and spirit to the alien environment. I didn’t know what to expect or how I would actually feel once I started classes, I just had to know what it felt like to walk on campus. Everything was so different and yet warm and inviting. I decided to just sit under a tree to watch people and listen to the wisdom of nature. As I sat there thinking, I noticed something to my right that seemed out of place. There, under a small bush, lay a weather-worn paperback book with torn cover. I picked it up to see if it had an owner’s name in it – nothing. A student needs books to help learn (insert light bulb here)! I am now a student, I need books so that I can learn!

Step five was the college bookstore, but I didn’t have the money to buy the books I needed, or so I thought. Since it didn’t cost anything to browse the shelves for the books I would need, that’s what I did. I could always come back when I had the money. As I was browsing a clerk offered her assistance. I told her I was a new student getting orientated and was looking for the books I needed for my classes. I showed her my class schedule, and she picked out those available. When I told her I didn’t have the money to pay for them yet, she asked me if I was getting financial aid. I said yes, and she asked to see my student ID card, which I didn’t have yet. Then she asked if I had a student ID number and that I had. She entered my student number in the bookstore computer system, and much to my amazement told me I was approved for a bookstore account which meant I could get books on credit until my financial aid funds were released at the end of the fifth week of class. All I needed was my official ID card, and that wouldn’t arrive for three weeks. I was both excited and a little disappointed. I wanted a textbook. I did have enough cash on me to purchase one of the required novels. So I did just that. Head high, shoulders back and proud as a peacock I strutted out of the bookstore holding my very own requisite college book. I was finally an official student.

Finally, step six was first day of class, and I was about as nervous as the Grand Dragon of the KKK at a Martin Luther King rally: I think I would fare better though. Walking into class, I got those stares, you know, the ones that said “what’s he doing here. Is he someone’s grandpa? Maybe he’s the janitor.” Nope, sorry kiddies, I’m a student too. In class, we did self-introductions just like back in the 1950s Each student said his/her name and maybe a little about themselves. My turn comes, and what do I say? Come on Papa, do the obvious, tell them what they’re wanting to know. “I’m Dick. I’m seventy years old, and I’m realizing a lifelong dream of going to college.” Reactions ranged from applause to stunned silence and a few, “No way man, you ain’t that old.” My favorite was the “Awesome dude!” Regardless what was said, the tone I felt was one of acceptance and warm greetings and it was genuinely Awesome Dude!

Step seven, at long last, I was in college and ready to learn. Unfortunately, I was learning things about myself that threatened to compromise my education. First is hearing, I am gradually going deaf. My hearing was damaged years ago when I worked as a paramedic/emergency vehicle driver. The driver’s cab of emergency vehicles was not insulated sufficiently to mute the sound of the sirens mounted on the roof, directly over our heads. No one thought of taking precautions to protect our hearing. I developed Meniere’s disorder, a fluid imbalance in the brain which presents as tinnitus, vertigo, and progressive hearing loss. Just when I have the chance to realize my dream it may not come because I couldn’t hear and couldn’t afford hearing aids. To my good fortune, the college has helpful people, and I was steered to the Access office where they do more than their best to help disabled students. The Access staff outlined what I had to do to get help. I needed doctor’s letter stating I have an impairment and current Audiograph test results to verify the primary diagnosis. Once everything was done and approved, they provided me with an electronic amplifier to use in classes and letters to each professor instructing them to work with me. Things were going good until another issue arose. I cannot do algebra. I carefully listen to the lectures, take copious notes, do as much of the homework as I can but cannot retain the formulas long enough to pass the quizzes and exams. Back to the Access office and this time it wasn’t so easy.

Short term memory loss is pretty common to all ages but increases as you grow older, what I’m experiencing isn’t the same. With short term loss we usually remember within a short time, not now, this time it’s a total block. As my doctor told me, “You may be experiencing a cognitive impairment. We need to set up an appointment with a Neuropsychologist for a complete evaluation.” Earliest I can get is 12/10/13, just before end of semester. The Access office can only give me limited assistance until a final diagnosis is made, I’m screwed in algebra. My hopes and dreams of becoming a space explorer are gone. But I refuse to give up trying.

Am I going to stop at step seven? No, each new challenge is a chance to learn something new. I came to school to learn. I am learning at school. I will remain in school to learn for as long as the Spirits allow me to. I’m a fighter! Today, if I were asked the most important thing I’ve learned in the process of starting college at my age, I would have to say – know yourself and do not be afraid to voice your limitations. If you are considering enrolling in college, please take the time to meet with the counselors in the Access Department well in advance of the start of classes to discuss your challenges and the support available to you.

Living Mitakuye Oyasin

A true story.   

At the turn of the 21st Century, I received my Social Security Disability which allowed me to stop living on the streets and get a place. I found a furnished room with bath and carport (I had no car), in the Casa Grande no-tell Motel on Rte 66 (Watson Rd.) in suburban St. Louis. It wasn’t the Days Inn, but it was out of the weather. The rules didn’t allow cooking in the rooms, so I got a small grill and put it in the carport, there to enjoy my grande cuisine; also got a microwave and small coffee pot.

The motel still exists; it’s on a business strip, heavily trafficked with a small creek and wooded area in the rear; probably more like a drainage ditch. I suspected there were raccoons and possum back there, so, rather than throw away foods I couldn’t eat, I would place it in a small dish I secured on a low tree limb. It worked; miraculously, every night, the food disappeared. Lol.

What I also began to notice was raccoon paw prints in my carport, so I got dry dog food and a couple of plastic bowls from the dollar store and put it out there and the miracle of miracles, every night the food disappeared All that remained was soggy crumbs in the water bowl.

Slowly, as the raccoons and I got accustomed to each other, I would leave my room door open while sitting just inside; there to watch the action. To say the least, it got interesting. I had eight regular visitors and a couple of party crashers. I tried getting them to wear name tags, but they refused to be labeled.

On the perimeter of my carport was a concrete curb. The side away from my door had bushes where the raccoons had blazed a trail to the food dishes. Almost as soon as the sun started going down, they would appear; most heading towards the food but one occasionally marching right into my door and checking things out. Then one night, she sat at the top of the curb trying to climb down, but her front paws weren’t working.

As I watched her struggle, she would look at me cautiously as if to say, “Will you harm me?” Using my walking stick, I put some food on the end and slowly pushed it her way. She was hungry but couldn’t feed herself. It was then that I noticed that both of her front arms were broken so I walked closer and put food within her reach.

In the morning, I called a friend who worked with wild animals and told her the story. That afternoon, she brought over a trap, and we set it up. The next morning, there was my little friend waiting patiently, as if to say, “About damn time you got up!”

We took her to the rescue center vet who operated, repairing both arms. The vet stated it appeared she had attempted to climb into a dumpster when the heavy open top flew over and smashed her arms before she could avoid it. I think the operation took about six hours. When done, the vet said he wasn’t sure it was going to work, but hoped so.  He kept her for a few days of observation then released her to my friend who would nurse her. She also paid the $ 6,000.00 vet bill.

Following about four weeks of recovery, she was fit enough to leave so we took her back home and released her. She stayed close then one night didn’t come. She was gone for maybe four weeks when she suddenly reappeared at my door with four little ones in tow. They walked up to me as if to say “Hi, gramps, we’re home.” No fear, no anger just as if they always belonged.

It was a reminder that Mitakuye Oyasin is real.

Alone again.

As a child, I spend a lot of my time alone, isolated from the rest of my family by the strict rules of my mother who believed in encapsulating in certain areas of her life. It was tough for me, especially when I started elementary school because I couldn’t bring any friends home which would have been great if someone had taught me how to make a friend. I did, in time, make one friend; his name was Henry, and he was my buddy.

In retrospect, I think Henry found me and took the effort to become my friends because he saw the loneliness. Today, thinking back on our friendship, I honestly think Henry was the first person I loved; not love in the physical sense, but the love of having someone care and caring in return. We met in the second grade, and during those years, we walked to school together, talked and collected glass containers for their deposit, but he never came to my house; he couldn’t because he was black and I was a strawberry-blonde white boy with freckles. But we were real friends. I lost track of him the summer of my fourth grade when my family moved from our apartment over our store on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis, Minnesota to a house in Bloomington, Minnesota where I had to walk to school alone; alone, scared and lonely.

            It wasn’t too long after we moved that Henry and his family also moved. I don’t know where they relocated to, nor could I find out; I had lost Henry. Several years later, when I was working as an Emergency Room Orderly (we weren’t called ER techs back then) at Minneapolis General Hospital, a white lady came in with someone who was ill. She looked very familiar to me, but I couldn’t place where I knew her from. After her friend was taken into an exam room, she came over to me and said, “are you my honey boy?” There was only one person who ever called me “Honey Boy” and that was Henry’s mom because she said my hair looked like golden honey in the summer sun. I melted! I literally lost it. I put my arms around her and broke down, crying like a baby right in front of everyone. My charge nurse, Olive Lindbergh, took us into a private room and told me to take a break.

            The first thing Henry’s mom said to me before I could even ask, was “He’s gone, baby. Henry is with God now.” I almost fainted. (I’m not ashamed to say, that as I write this now, I am crying.) When I calmed down, she told me told me that Henry had tried to contact me by leaving notes at our store, but I never got any of them. He had wanted me to know where they were moving to and how to get in touch, but I never got them. Then, the summer of his eighteenth birthday, while sitting on the front stoop of their house, Henry died peacefully. His heart, the biggest heart I’ve ever known in my life, gave out. Henry had been born with a heart defect, but he never told me because he didn’t want me to pity him, he wanted me to be his friend.

            I stayed in touch with Henry’s mom and dad until they too left me to join Henry. That was when I really started to feel alone. I had no family support, nor good friends in my life. I had only me and a need to be with people. I went on in my life searching for a connection, a person who would be like Henry; kind, smart and always there for me; needless to say, I made a lot of tragic mistakes along the way. Now, I’m seventy-five years old and alone again, only this time it’s worse than ever before because I’m losing some of my survival abilities to cope with life in this day and age.

            I am alone again, and this time it’s different. (continued in “Loneliness”)

Mother’s Day

I was asked to repost this and another paper I wrote during my first year in college.

Sunday, three A.M. a full moon illuminates a forest alive with night creatures. Their eyes aglow as if in wonderment as our emergency beacons pierced their world. Only the sounds of our engine broke the silence as we raced through the night. No need for the siren. We were ten miles from the nearest major road, fifteen from any community and hadn’t seen another vehicle since leaving the hospital garage.

My partner, a trainee, scanned the road ahead for a sign of our contact while I wondered what we were rushing into.  Our only information was a call received by the dispatcher requesting an ambulance to an isolated rural area. The caller did not reveal the nature of the emergency and his location directions were vague. He said someone would meet us on the main highway. That made me nervous! I decided to radio the dispatcher for police assist. Unfortunately for us, that meant a town constable at home in bed twenty miles away. On the plus side, the dispatcher at the time was my wife.  As she still liked me back then, she decided to request assistance from the Sheriff’s office and two other police departments from adjacent jurisdictions.

Suddenly, headlights flashed in front of us. A large, dark car pulled out from the shoulder of the road, its driver waving frantically as he turned onto a narrow, gravel township road forming a dust cloud between us.

Maintaining a safe distance back, we followed the dust cloud at a slower speed allowing my partner time to note any landmarks he could radio to the dispatcher.

Abruptly, the dust dissipated revealing the dark car with its mysterious driver stopped next to an open grassy area.  A dirt drive wound its way up to what appeared to be an old basement dwelling set good eighty yards from the main road.  We stopped a few feet behind him.  As I exited our rig in an attempt to approach and question the driver he silently pointed toward the dwelling then sped off down the gravel road.

My attention turned to the house. It was built on a low knoll, had large front windows and, thankfully, was well lit both inside and out.

“Something is missing!” I whispered. “No vehicles, people, dogs or movement.”

Slowly we inched our way up the drive. When almost parallel to the dwelling, it made a sharp right to an exterior wood frame, enclosed stairway atop the knoll. There, in the glare of our floodlights lay the body of a woman. Dressed in a blood-stained, pale green nightgown, her head turned away from us; she appeared to be sleeping,  but it was an illusion. An obvious gunshot entry wound to the back of her head told a different story.

Immediately, my instincts and training took control.

“Shut off all our lights, give me the radio and get your ass out of this rig now!” I yelled to my partner. “Hide in the woods beyond the tree line!” Next thing I knew he was running fast and low towards a large pine tree.

I radioed the dispatcher, “We have a D.O.A with G.S.W.!  We need help fast!”  *

Now, what do I do?  Sitting in a darkened ambulance, on a small rise next to an illuminated earth home, I was a sitting duck. If the shooter was still there, one well-aimed bullet could have hit me or the large oxygen tank and I am history.

What if there are more victims inside? What if they are still alive? Call it brave or insane; I had to know. It was my job to save lives.

Flashlight in hand, I made my way through the shadows to the stairwell. Standing to one side, I held it high above my head to disguise my position and exact size as I peered through the door. Looking down inside, I saw a single, bare bulb ceiling light, a child’s bicycle in a corner and a second body at the foot of the stairs. As the woman’s, it was face down in a pool of dark, clotted blood. It was a man with a gunshot exit wound in the back of his head.

The bicycle – is there a child here?

Against all policy, I descended the stairs, stepped over the man’s body and entered the living room to a scene of rage and anger. Furniture overturned, appliances were broken, dishes shattered and personal items everywhere but no child.

Cautiously I searched the remaining rooms. I saw a lifestyle of modest income and means but no child or other bodies. I was relieved.

Retracing my path, I exited the house to call in what I’d seen. As I reached the radio to give the dispatcher update, the dark car returned. As if in slow motion, it appeared on the gravel road and turned onto the grassy area in front of the dwelling.

Cutting my report short, I waited and watched. The car stopped, and the headlights went dark. The only light was from the house and beautiful, setting full moon.

I could hear the radio in the ambulance as the dispatcher is telling me the closest police unit it still fifteen minutes from our location.

Estimating the distance from my position to the car at forty yards, I realized I did not have many options.

I saw one person, the driver sitting behind the wheel staring at the house seemingly ignoring me.

Was this a neighbor, friend, relative, curiosity seeker or…?

I had to know! I could not be out here in the middle of the wilderness trapped by my fears.

Heart in throat, I walked to the car while keeping my flashlight trained directly on his face.  I got within ten feet when he suddenly turned on the interior dome light and looked at me. He was young, late teens, early twenties, long black hair, average size and scruffy appearing. He had a strange, peaceful look on his face, a calm as though his burdens were gone.

As I attempted to talk to him, I visually searched the interior of the car with my flashlight. He had no less than eight guns and what appeared to be hundreds of rounds of ammunition scattered over the seats.

He asked me, “Are they dead?”

I believe so.” I replied.

“Good!” he yelled as he slammed his foot onto the gas pedal and sped through the grass to disappear down the gravel road.

There was a return to silence as a soft glow in the east announce\d the rising of the sun.

It was going to be a beautiful Mother’s Day – for most.

G.S.W. = Gunshot Wound

D.O.A. = Dead on arrival

Thoughts of an Early Saturday Morn

I’m going to get off the politics this morning and talk a little about what it’s like living with Type II, Insulin Dependent Diabetes.

Since being diagnosed with Diabetes, I’ve done a lot of research on how I feel about the disease and, how I plan to live with it. I believe in knowing my enemy, to better deal with my feelings; to accept the fact that genetics is the primary reason I have the disease; I saw my father die at age 47 from it and my beloved Nana lose her legs in her failed battle. The list of people succumbing to Diabetes grows longer every year, many more are added because of lack of knowledge, lack of willpower and even lack of money to treat.

The ancient Chinese general Sun-Tzu wrote in “The Art of War”

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

Although not completely analogous to living with Diabetes, for me it is akin to being in an arranged marriage to an extremely diabolical person whose ultimate goal is to make my life miserable until I’m dead. However, unlike a marriage between two people, one cannot get a divorce from Diabetes, you either learn to live with it, or you refuse to live.

I feel that the primary battle of every Diabetic is within the self. Denial is the first battle that must be won; to deny one has Diabetes equates to running through a pen filled with starving carnivores while carrying fifty pounds of raw meat.

Knowledge, knowledge of the self, the disease and more knowledge of the self. Sound redundant – yes? Good, it’s meant to be. To live, not just exist with Diabetes is to fight small skirmishes every day. When buying food processed foods, read the labels for sugar content; you will be surprised at how much sugar is in our foods.

I love potatoes and ketchup; I’d kill for a plate of old-fashioned French fries, not the potato sticks of McDonald’s. A plate of them with good rich ketchup is a treat for me, but it’s also carbs and sugars (potatoes and ketchup), sends my blood glucose * up. It takes a good 24 hours before it does that, so if I eat French fries with Ketchup today, Saturday, I won’t see much of a difference in my blood glucose test tomorrow morning, but Monday I will.

Did I mention Diabetes being diabolical? The lesson I learned, the hard way, of course, is that in my arrogance, I didn’t know that it takes over 24 hours for some sugars to register in blood glucose. Therefore, the meal I eat today may not affect my morning glucose test tomorrow which gives me a false sense of security in what I eat tomorrow. If I have more French fries tomorrow, Tuesday’s reading is going to be higher and I’ve just added 25 pounds of raw meat to my dash for life through the pen.

Knowledge, I can’t scream any louder!  Knowledge of the disease, its management, and the self, are the primary keys to managing Diabetes.

If you are unwilling to work for yourself and those you love, then screw it. Go eat a dozen Hershey bars and drink a six pack of beer; just make sure your life insurance is paid up to date because your family will need the money to plant your ass.

I will have more on this subject next week.

  • A blood glucose exam is done every morning to check the level of sugar in one’s system. I have to prick the end of a finger and place a drop of blood on a test strip. Will discuss that in detail in a later post.

 

 

Things I Never Told Nana

I

My father and I never bonded, hell sometimes I wondered if he even knew who I was. From the time I was born until age 15 when he died, he only actually communicated to me twice. Oh yeah, once in a great while he told me to do things, but that’s talking, not communicating. My bad, I forgot, he taught me the difference in spelling lavatory and laboratory when I was about eight, but that was it for father/son bonding. I can remember as a young kid how I wanted to badly for my dad to notice me the way he seemed to notice my two older brothers, especially the older one, Ronnie. But he didn’t: as a matter of fact neither did Ronnie.

I first began to notice this when we moved from our house in Camden, a suburb of Minneapolis to an apartment over the “dairy store” my parents bought at 1119 East Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis. In the front room, which was over the front part of the store, my parents had their bed set up in a closet area. Next was the living room with an inside staircase to the store, then my brothers’ room (I had two brothers) was next to the dining area where the space heater was. At the back wall of the dining area was a door into the kitchen, bathroom and my room sort of behind the refrigerator (a Kelvinator, in case you wanted to know). My room was the darkest as it only had one window which had a large tree overhanging it. I always wanted to climb that tree but never did because I was afraid of heights: the fact is heights still bother me but not as bad as when I was a kid.

The kitchen had a door leading out to a very scary old set of wooden stairs leading down to the dirt parking lot in back of the store. About halfway down, there was a small landing then where they made a left angle (if you were ascending) turn and ran adjacent to the “bottle shed” where we stored all the empty refundable bottles. Everything was refundable back then, well not exactly everything, I wasn’t, but then that was my fate. Almost from the time I could walk, it was my job to sort the empty bottles by make, size and what they were used for. I learned to hate Grain Belt and Hamm’s beer bottles cause their labels were always sticky.

Constructed of corrugated tin panels over the wood frame on a dirt floor, the “bottle shed” had no heat in winter and no air conditioning in summer. Winter wasn’t so bad, but summer was a killer with the heat, humidity, and bugs. Come to think of it, we had those same three problems in the apartment, the bugs especially in my room because it was almost right over the shed. I can remember having a lot of those sticky fly traps things hanging over my window and the doorway. The spiders never had to weave webs in our home, the fly traps provided their meals.

My room was the coldest one in our apartment, but I got used to it. Guess that’s why I can’t sleep well when it gets too warm in my bedroom now. Thank God for central air conditioning, back then we cooled at night by setting a block of ice in a large bucket then having a fan blow over it. If that didn’t work, we soaked our sheets, then got as much water out of them as possible before wrapping ourselves in them to lay down in front of the ice block. I’m surprised I never wet the bed, then or now.

I don’t recall my mother ever coming into my room at bedtime for anything other than to tell me to put the book down and go to sleep. My dad didn’t even come in to do that. Nope, I never heard: “Did you brush your teeth? Did you go to the bathroom? Did you say your prayers? I wasn’t subjected to any of those ridiculous practices. To this day, I don’t know if my brothers were either because they slept near mom and dad; I didn’t have to.

I was lonely at times, but I had my good friend Teddy with me. Yep, you guessed it, I had a real Teddy Bear. Nana gave him to me, and I named him Teddy; I was talented even as a child. Nana told me that Teddy was named after President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt so I should be proud; I was, and still am.

I told Teddy everything – all my hidden stuff and more. Even things I tried talking to Nana about, but they might hurt her to know. I don’t know why I felt that way other than the fact that I never, ever wanted to hurt her in any way. I guess I was afraid of losing her love yet knew Teddy would always love me: he was the brother I never had.

For awhile, I wanted to call Nana and tell her everything, but I didn’t dare. Back in the 1950s, we didn’t have cell phones, and long distances calls were expensive. There was no way I could hide calling on our phone, and I didn’t have money to use the pay phone on the corner. I think I once tried to call her on the police call phone next to the pay phone, but the operator told me to hang up. It was ok though, I probably could not have heard Nana with all the buses and streetcars making noise. I liked the streetcars but the buses always coughed black, smelly smoke when they started to more.

My older (by 3 years) brother David hated Teddy, but I think he hated me even more because he would do things to hurt me. He would think it funny to steal from me, lie about me and even harm Teddy. Once, he even cut Teddy’s neck so bad I had to suture it up. That’s when I learned how to sew, not real well but I did suture my Teddy until Nana could show me how to do it properly. She said I did a good job of basting it then gave me a curved needle and heavier thread to “heal your Teddy.”  I actually enjoyed hand sewing for many years and later in life when I began getting arthritis, I started to do satin stitch embroidery. I figured that is Rosie Greer could do needlepoint, so could I.

“Be sure you sew the cloth, not the fingers!” was Nana’s credo. Funny, even now, some sixty odd years since last we spoke, I can still hear Nana’s voice. She was a born teacher; one that never stood at the head of a class but she was always at the head of my class.