After World War II ended, Dad was no longer needed to build LST boats. Well-trained in his craft as a welder, he started working in the Maintenance Department at the new A. O. Smith factory about 40 miles away. I didn’t realize until many years later how forward-thinking the design engineers were.
In 1946, “The company constructed a 400,000 square foot residential water heater plant in Kankakee, Illinois. Life Magazine proclaimed it ‘the most modern water heater factory in the world.’”
About five years later, Smith’s had an open house for all the families, just so everyone could see the ultra-modern facility. OSHA would have had a conniption fit if they saw the plant tours that included me and other young children. We stood beside the huge noisy blast furnace that melted frit onto steel to make the patented glass-lined water heaters. Did that impress me at just four or five years of age? Of course not! I happened to be much more excited about the little bottles of orange drink than I was about the technology.
After my father made the round trip drive to and from work for several years, my parents decided to move our family closer to his work. So soon after the war, it was impossible to find the four-bedroom house they wanted for their growing brood. The solution was to order and assemble a structure from a precut lumber kit, rather like putting children’s building blocks together from a diagram. That was the summer of my sixth year.
The house was a 1½ story Cape Cod style with twin gables, two bedrooms upstairs, two bedrooms downstairs, and a full basement. Somewhere along the line, we had seen tightrope walkers on television. Being quite a tomboy at the time, I thought I could walk across the floor joists in one of the upper bedrooms.
Walking along the floor joists from one side of the room to the other turned out to be not only fun, it was easy, too! I just had to spread my arms wide to balance myself a little bit, especially at the turn against the far wall. When I hollered for my older sister to come watch me, she wanted to do it as well.
She started walking along the floor joists, getting more wobbly with each step. Yelling at her to keep her arms stretched out wide, I was horrified to watch her fall between the joists. Luckily, she caught herself with her arms straddling two joists. Unluckily, the workmen had just that day put the finishing coat of plaster onto the ceiling in the bedroom below.
When Mom, Dad, and everyone came running to see what our screaming was all about, there was my sister dangling from the ceiling below. More correctly, there were her legs dangling from the ceiling below. In a matter of minutes, two burly men raced upstairs and pulled my sister to safety. I don’t remember the details of the aftermath, but I never did that trick again.
When September came that year, school bells started ringing. I had never gone to preschool or kindergarten, so I didn’t really know much about what to expect. All I knew was that I had brand new black-and-white saddle shoes and a red plaid metal lunchbox with my name on it.
On the designated day, I dressed in my red plaid dress with a white pinafore attached. Hmmm, I see a pattern here! I never realized what a preference I’ve always had for red plaid! In fact, when I went to Scotland earlier this year to conduct writing workshops for schools, I was drawn immediately to the Royal Stewart plaid, which is (you guessed it) a red plaid!
Sadly, the shoes, dress and lunchbox were the best parts of that day. Mom held my hand as we walked into the huge classroom, filled with complete strangers. Since we had moved into the new house just shortly before the start of school, I didn’t know a single soul. Not only that, my teacher towered above me, with a crucifix hanging down right at my eye level. I’m not sure I had ever seen a nun before, certainly never one up so close.
Mom got me settled at a desk with my name on it, gently pried my hand from around her fingers and walked away! I started to cry, but she walked further away. I cried harder and she walked out the door. That wasn’t what mothers were supposed to do! I felt abandoned and just knew I would never find my way home again.
After such an inauspicious beginning, I quickly learned to love school. I loved getting new clothes, new shoes, new books, new subjects, and new teachers, even nuns. Most of all, I loved learning new things.
To this day, each Fall I welcome the opportunity to plan my own curriculum for the next year. Whether it’s learning Transcendental Meditation, writing a book, becoming a Personal Historian, or discovering www.mommyspiggytales.com, there is always something new to learn. Maybe continually learning something new is my way of feeling young, like when I was six years old.