Reviewing a Lifetime
(A Psychotherapist's Nightmare)
by John D. Sedory

Copyright©2013,2014 by Daniel B. Sedory, Editor. All Rights Reserved.

Chapter 5
The Two-Room School[*] and Related Stories

 

Little Red School House

    The school I attended while living in the new house was the Haley School. It was quite large and had many students and classrooms. This little red schoolhouse had just two rooms, four grades in each, and maybe five or six to eight or nine children to a grade—some more, some less. It was a new and exciting change for me, mainly because in that first summer in our new surroundings, I'd lost the infirmity I'd suffered at the Haley School—the inability to communicate with my teacher. It may have had something to do with the newness in the area, the freedoms, the playing, the new friends, the wonderful teacher in Ms. Driscoll; but whatever it was, it was a new and exciting experience for me!
    Further, I was no longer a newcomer, a first grader. I was an "old timer" who had a kid sister in the grade below (Marie was now a first grade student). Phil had reached the fourth grade, way up there!

    It took some adjusting to learn to listen in on four different grades of study in a day's time. In ways it was an opportunity to look ahead to what I'd one day be experiencing, while on the other hand it offered confusion because of my inability to understand what was being taught in the higher grades. But in time I learned to concentrate on my grade level mostly in order to keep up with classmates, and to even try excelling over them.
    Learning now had become easier for me than in the past, perhaps because of the smaller class setting or the general environment. I had good friends, a wonderful teacher in Ms. Driscoll, a small but close-knit community, and everything I could have wished for. All this lent itself to the desire to excel, along with the encouragement from Ms. Driscoll. Her praises for work done well lifted my desire [for] more than keeping up with my classmates; I wanted to rise above them. This attitude had its positive side, though as I'll reveal later, it also had a negative effect[1] on my life.

    This seeking to excel above everyone else in my class merely for the sake of receiving the praise it brought, ultimately led to a lifetime of getting good grades for the praise and honor they brought rather than for what should have been learned. Many who got lesser grades, even in college level courses, learned much more than I did. Today I can tell you it's not the way to go! If I could back up life to those grammar school days, the first thing to go would be that attitude of getting grades for the sake of the praise alone.
    A big part of daily school activity was the recess periods, one in the morning and one in the afternoon—probably fifteen minutes each. Everyone looked forward to those times. Games usually filled the time, games which ended as the bell sounded and brought an inconclusive stage to them. But the freedom, enjoyment, excitement, exercise and fresh air added to sheer delight. The games were merely instruments to make us aware of those things.

    Since much of my life's story has to do with my spiritual life and my faith in God, I don't want to give the impression I was or now am on a level above anyone. You have read about my many shortcomings to this point, and more are to follow. It is by the grace of God I haven't turned out to be much less than He would have me to be. Whatever good has shown from my life has come from Him. It truly can be said of me when seeing the down-and-outer, "There but for the grace of God go I !"

The Cemetery and Sunday School

    This is an appropriate time to insert something of my training in spiritual matters...my Sunday School days. It may be that before I had recollection of things, we were introduced to a Sunday School classroom somewhere. But the first experience I can recall about actually attending was somewhere right after we'd moved back onto [the land owned by] the Sanitary District of Chicago.

    There was a church-sponsored Sunday School in Stickney located over a half mile due west of where we lived. I think it was a Reformed Church in Cicero which headed it up. The building[2] was located right across the street from a rather large cemetery which was enclosed by a tall iron fence.[3] It was on 41st Street between East Avenue[4] and Oak Park Avenue.


   [ Editor's Note: In the map above, the green area south of 39th Street and east of Ridgeland Ave. is now the Veterans Memorial Park. The
MacArthur School and all the homes that once existed here are long gone. We are currently searching for more information on the history of this area
(bounded by 39th Street at the north, Ridgeland Ave. at the west, S. Lombard Ave. at the east and perhaps down to 43rd Street at the south).
   We recently found in MWRD documents (see references in previous chapters), that houses and a school had already been constructed in this area
years before the Sanitary District of Chicago (now the MWRD) had even purchased the land in 1925 through 1927. It was in 1926, when the SDC
started renting the homes. We still need to establish when everyone had to vacate the property. And when were the structures demolished?
(See Footnote 4 concerning the different names for Avenues in the map above.)
If you have any records, letters or pictures of this area, please contact us.]

    Each Sunday as we treaded to the school, that cemetery held my concern, especially since we'd heard numerous weird stories told by adults of scary things about death and ghosts and cemeteries. This was not my first choice of location for anything. Whether or not my sister or brothers held any such thoughts, I don't know. I do know I had the cemetery in mind more than I did of what we went to the school to learn.
    After a time we left that school. It could have been some doctrinal issue which confronted my folks by way of material we brought home, or it may have just been that a new Sunday School they'd heard of was sponsored by a Lutheran Church and was exactly what they'd wanted for us kids—since the whole family had a Lutheran background from way back when!

    Anyway, there was an immediate negative feature about that school. And that was its location—another several blocks to the west, right past the entire length of the cemetery! And, in addition to that, we also had a view of the gated entry on the west side. Whether it was the huge headstones, the high iron fence, or the ominous appearing gate, I can't say for sure; but I dreaded that place which dealt with death. And what could be more to that point than a cemetery?

    The classes were held in the home of one of the members of the church which was in Berwyn[5]. I liked it better there than at the previous Sunday School, maybe it was because of the teacher.

    Some time later the entire family attended that church and joined it. We kids eventually went through the Confirmation Classes and were confirmed into membership. Phil and I attended at the same time, though he was two years ahead of me in school. He seemed to pick up memory and general studies much quicker than I, and when the day of Confirmation came and the usual questioning took place in a church service (Palm Sunday), I was a nervous wreck. I eventually came out unscathed, though shaking for fear of being asked a question I couldn't answer.

Murders and other Crimes

    The two room school had many related experiences with which to associate those days and times. For example, earlier I told of Al Capone's activities at the speakeasy. When we moved back to [the land owned by] the Sanitary District of Chicago, his and other gangs' activities were evident. I said "other gangs' activities" only because I doubt Al Capone's was the only one operating in the area. If you've seen some of the old Elliott Ness movies, you'll recall that gang wars persisted throughout. What I didn't know as a youngster was that Al Capone was probably a national figure, if not international.

    Victims of gang slayings were sometimes dumped in our area because of its country setting, few people or houses around to inhibit such action. Going to school one morning we found the body of a male lying on the road, though I'm not certain if this had been a gang slaying or a natural death (doubt the latter). And at other times decomposed bodies were found in shallow graves, having been covered with lime to assist in quicker decomposition or removal of the evidence, the corpus delicti[6].

    Another activity for gangs was to steal and strip autos of their valuables, and to then abandon them in our area—usually found them on blocks without wheels or other disposable items. Sometimes even the engines would be taken. Though this wasn't as morose as finding bodies, it still left us with creepy feelings when going by later and knowing what had taken place there. It's sort of like asking a kid to sleep in the bed of one recently departed from a family—not too pleasant!

    The police department was either working hand-in-hand with Al Capone, or they just figured this was something too big for them to fight, "...so why not go along with it?" Or it could have been that they (at least those at the higher levels) were paid to do or not do certain things. I do know that many people who lived in the area knew Al Capone personally and thought of him as a Robin Hood type, taking from the rich and distributing to the poor. Frankly, in thinking back, he probably would have taken from the poor, too, if they'd had anything worth taking. I seriously doubt (let's say, "can be sure") he gave very much of what he took or got illegally.

Recycling Remunerations

    One of the great enjoyments of our time (as kids) was to go hunting for junk in alleys all over towns near to us. This was usually done after school and especially on Saturdays during school months, though in the summer it occupied much of our time. It's related to gang activities in a way in that sometimes we found burned and rusted containers behind these illegal houses or businesses in which would still be some coins. To find a few to a dozen or more nickels or some quarters would be like finding a roll of cash today. After all, in those days one could attend a movie, buy candy bars and drinks and maybe another snack of some kind for maybe a half dollar or less!

    Of course, we didn't find coins that often, though we always found some items made of brass, copper, zinc, pewter, aluminum—all things which brought what we called "good money" in those days when sold to the local junk man. He would come around with his horse and wagon or dilapidated old truck shouting out "Rags and old iron!" This was as regular a thing as were the ice man, milk man and produce vendors' visits.

    The junk man seemed to pay pretty well for the stuff we'd collected, but I'm sure he did a lot better where he sold it. In any case, we were happy to get whatever he'd pay us. And as we got a little older we learned to do some bargaining or bartering to get a better price.

    The ice man is one of those of whom many stories are told in jest (and some not in jest), as is the case with the milkman. When people wanted ice they merely put up a card in their front window which had weights listed on the four corners, the amount wanted showing at the top. The ice man would then use his ice pick, a pointed, sharp tool with which he was quite skilled at picking out the desired weight. He could tell by size what the weight would be. He then carried the ice on his shoulder, on which he'd placed a leather padding. This absorbed the shock, coldness and sharp ends. Surely refrigerators would have been less bothersome, but who could afford one or the electricity to run it?

A Suicide

    On one of our sojourns of junk-hunting, we were on our way home and got to about three streets (a city block and a half) from our house, when we walked down an alley which bordered the length of a house. As we peered through a basement window (something we didn't think of as being wrong at that age), we were shocked by what we saw!

    The body of a man was hanging from the basement floor beams, a rope tightly clinched around his neck and attached to those beams. He evidently jumped off a chair or stool which was nearby. His entire face was purple and gray.

    For the first time in our young lives we wished we hadn't been so "nosey" about what went on inside other peoples' homes (open windows to us meant an invitation to look inside), as this was a thing we'd rather not have seen.

    It was said later that this man had financial or health problems which he could not resolve in any other way. Or maybe it was a combination of both, I'm not sure. Whatever the cause, it made us sick to witness what we did!

Too Snoopy

    There were other times we saw things involving male/female fondling, and even beyond. At that age I know I personally thought all that sort of thing was downright illicit, and I went home to tell my mother that "some bad things were going on at so-and-so's house." I'm sure I was warned to quit the snooping and that Mom tried her best to cover up what I'd said I had seen.

    People having a right to privacy is one thing, but a little discretion would have gone a long way toward eliminating such sightings, too, like pulling shades. [Editor's Note: Finding a dead body still didn't cure him! Our author appears to have had no concept of 'private property' either. If there was no fence, it seems he assumed it was like public land open for exploration.]

    Back to school happenings again, the third grade year must have been rather uneventful or lacking in any memorable events, as the only thing I really recall was that as I got into that grade, my brother Phil left the fourth and the "little room" to go into the "big room" and the fifth.

    As I reached the fourth grade, I must have felt rather elated in being at the top of the ladder in the little room. And that year was another good one for me scholastically. Maybe having a kid sister and brother in the third and second grade added to my feeling of well being.

Lost Marbles

    Somewhere just before this time I got involved in marble-playing, as it had become one of the major games for boys. New marbles could be purchased at very low costs for a bagful, coming in assorted colors, blends and sizes. The games would be played at school and even on the way home.

    The basic game was to draw a large outer ring in the dirt and a smaller one inside where marbles would be placed by each player. Each then would take turns shooting from the outer ring, trying to shoot marbles he had his eye on that were in the center ring. The marble was placed between the thumb and forefinger and shot out by flipping the thumb outward.

    Another version of the game was called "lagging." This was a two-person game in which one threw a marble ahead some distance and the other would try shooting at it to hit it. A "hit" meant keeping the marble.

    There was one boy, Harold Palmer, who had an uncanny ability at this game. I didn't like losing then any more than I ever had. And when we played, he'd almost always win. I think the only reason I gambled at losing my precious marbles was in the hope of beating that kid! Outside of Harold, I did very well amongst the others at school, and it could be that the marbles I lost to Harold, I'd probably won from someone else, anyway. Pride was partly involved, as Harold Palmer was a grade behind me to boot.

Switching Rooms

    Two years before, my brother Phil made the transition from the little to the big room, and here I was about to do the same. My top-dog status was about to end as I passed to the fifth.

    There was at least one obstacle I didn't care to face when entering the big room, and it came in the form of a teacher, Mrs. Blazek. She was not the soft-spoken, easy-to-get-along-with person Ms. Driscoll was, and I dreaded the move. It could have been a summer vacation in which I spent a lot of time thinking about what was going to happen to me when school started that fall.

    As the school year began, I became apprehensive right from the start, and Mrs. Blazek and I didn't hit it off at all. It was as though she could read my mind about how I felt about her. I probably imagined more than what actually existed between us, and she most likely wasn't nearly the awful person I thought she was.
    She seemed to have a knack, knowing when to ask questions of me which somehow she seemingly knew I couldn't answer. The worst torment came when arithmetic was being taught. I just could not comprehend what Mrs. Blazek was trying to teach, and I experienced the second year of my grammar school life in which I was totally unhappy— the first year being the other one.

    Somehow I put up with the humility of that fifth grade year and passed to the sixth. But better even than that was the fact Mrs. Blazek left our school that year, and Ms. Driscoll moved from the little room to the big room, Ms. Jessie Dykstra[7] having taken over the little room.
    It may have been when my mother took me to school when I didn't want to attend due to having patches on my trousers that Mrs. Blazek lifted her dress slightly to reveal a small patch on her slip, saying "It isn't the patch that counts, it's cleanliness and tidiness that count." I then thought "Maybe I underestimated her qualities in that fifth grade year."

    From there to my graduation all went well with Ms. Driscoll as our teacher once again. I was relieved and enjoyed her teaching even more than I had before.

 
 
 

Chapter 4

TOC

Chapter 6

Footnotes

*[Return to Text]  The school reunion in 1967 was already mentioned in Chapter 2 (Footnote 2). This took place at the school itself, and was in honor of Mrs. Estelle Blazek. The commemorative pamphlet was mostly comprised of a list of names; including both of the author's brothers, Phil and Ed, and sister Marie. Appendix F has a complete list of all the names and addresses in that pamphlet.

1[Return to Text]  Originally the author had "affect" (usually a verb) here, but the noun "effect" is the correct usage. In Chapter 8, the author describes having problems using these two words (among others); we're pointing this out, since he would have wished for his readers to learn from this.

2[Return to Text]  Whether in his basement, a shed or some other structure, this would have been on Edward Vander Meulen's property at 6712 W. 41st Street; midway between Euclid and Wesley Avenues. Edward had immigrated from the Netherlands, where his name had been Engbert van der Meulen. (Note: Even his Anglicized name was corrupted by the enumerator in the 1930 Census, who wrote Vandermuller. Census data is not always accurate!) According to a relative, Edward never owned a car, and for many years he and his family walked to the West Side Reformed Church at 1323 S. Austin Blvd. in Cicero, IL. Curiously, this was the same church that our author's future bride attended; and the building they were married in. Eventually, those involved in the mission work in Stickney from this church, formed the Faith Reformed Church and constructed a church building just west of Edward's home. However, in 1954, that congregation moved to their new brick building on 40th Street (just across the alley from the Haley School), the property extending to the corner of Oak Park Ave. (Note: In 1955, after some refurbishing, the Stickney-Forest View Public Library moved into the old church building at 6714 W. 41st Street; finally moving into its permanent location at 6800 W. 43rd Street in 1961.)

3[Return to Text]  The Mount Auburn Cemetery (interactive map of the area), 4101 South Oak Park Ave, Stickney, IL; founded in 1895. (See: Interment.net for a list of some buried here.)

4[Return to Text]  The author had originally written "Scoville Avenue" but the cemetery was always bounded by East Avenue (or Hiawatha Ave. as it may have been called back then; see below). One of our verbal sources stated there may have been some cemetery office or other buildings between East and Scoville Avenues, but this was never considered part of the 'cemetery' according to the maps. It's worth noting here that all of the street names between Oak Park Ave. and Ridgeland Ave. had different names according to a 1930 map of the area (page 104 of "Geo. C. Olcott & Co.'s 1930 edition of Chicago Zoning Ordinance ... and Paving Record." as found in the Chicago Portage Ledger, Vol. 5 No. 2); which were as follows: Euclid was Carol, Wesley was Baldwin, Clarence was Johnson, East was Hiawatha, Scoville was Lavergne, Gunderson was Greenwood and Elmwood was Columbia (all Avenues). Note: In the 1930 Census, enumerator Christel B. Kochler used both "Carol Ave." (for 3912 to 3946) and "Euclid Ave." (for 4029 to 4033) on Sheet 1A of Enumeration District 16-2345. However, in each sheet following, none of the older street names was ever used. So we believe it was early in 1930 or possibly late 1929 that the names of these Avenues were changed, and the 1930 map we referenced above had simply not been updated yet.

5[Return to Text]  This was Concordia Lutheran Church (in Berwyn), and on their history page, we found: "With an eye towards missions, Concordia conducted branch Sunday schools in Stickney ..." which confirms our author's statement above.

6[Return to Text]  Corpus delicti: Latin for "body of a crime"; as in the context of a murder.

7[Return to Text]  Though it must be taken somewhat subjectively, it's rather interesting to note the author's brother, Ed, wrote in 2013: "When I was in about 6th grade, my favorite teacher, Miss Driscoll, [started teaching those in the other room], then Dykstra, who was very strict, took over, and it was quite difficult to follow her teaching. I remember John Hennen was one who talked a lot during class, so Miss Dykstra put a Dunce Hat on him and set him in a waste basket in a corner near her desk."