In 1947, when 90 million Americans went to the movies, it was The Delta Rhythm Boys recording on Decca Records of Dem Bones; the ditty that brought multiple emphases on one word: connection.
Remember the lyrics: Foot bone connected to the heel bone; Heel bone connects to the ankle bone….Dem bones, dem bones gonna rise again; Now hear the word of the Lord. With great test, plus a splash of apprehension, my post World War II life expanded through curiosity into new connectivity.
Late 1946, Florence Badenoch, third grade teacher at Westhampton Elementary School, with proficiency to play a bouncy piano, enjoyed reputation for authentic professionalism. Calling me Raymond, she was a master teacher…with an exquisite red pen. No gimmickry here: when one resided in Badenoch’s unironic classroom, one learned.
Periodically, Weekly Reader newspapers arrived in class, dropping strange soundin’ names: Alger Hiss – Gus Kahn – Thor Heyerdahl – Whittaker Chambers; my limitations guaranteed complete ignorance. Energized by fresh classmates, this disorganized life found crisp friendships in Badenoch’s kingdom. The likes of Judy Dickerson, Cynthia Orcutt, Murray Janus, and wonderful Edna Weis, leapt out, invading a wall of shyness. Weis and I would be trapped into a “rest period” after lunchtime, laying on individual rugs, thanks to our Rheumatic Fever workups.
1947 was enmeshed in dreaded Infantile Paralysis (Polio), its Iron Lung necessity, the March of Dimes campaign, and mysterious Rheumatic Fever. The latter endangered heart health; shockingly, it landed in my direction. Multiple hospital visits ensued….at Medical College of Virginia, facing examination from Dr. Galvin, a woman heart specialist – in 1947!
Waiting forever in examining rooms, painted wall images of a fussy Donald Duck chasing a confused Mickey Mouse, amused; fear developed. Outcome: straight to bed for maybe months in the middle of a Westhampton school year. Astoundingly, these accumulated woes were precipitously eased with a new companion: radio – delivering new curiosities.
Radio became a life-long connection; those shows, ads, sounds, were therapeutic for an overwrought, bed-ridden kid. Wild imagination – through story-telling, swayed. Becoming expert on The Romance of Helen Trent or Our Gal Sunday (married to Lord Henry Brinthrope) or Lorenzo Jones or sweet Ma Perkins (supported daily by the junk yard manager: Shuffle) – debacle after debacle – was adventurous. Guy serials included Hop Harrigan, Sky King, and Jack Armstrong, the All American Boy. Rheumatic Fever had an upside.
Mid-June, 1947, I found myself standing in front of the YMCA, Franklin Street, preparing to board a bus headed for Camp Orapax. The motherly-packed VPI-aged trunk, with a belt wrapped tightly, insured additional security; in unvarnished candor, my curiosity was painful by this unwelcomed connection. Orapax hadn’t been on my radar screen.
The camp’s rural setting included two lakes – the larger for better quality swimming. The rustic cabins (ours was McGill) were in an arc; eight campers assigned – with counselor…McGill located on a far end. Two widely separated rural buildings for bathroom facilities carried the names of Berlin and Tokyo – World War II culture radiated. We took pride in the bombing action with callous disregard.
Offsite camp hikes included single filing down wide sides of rural railroad tracks, arriving at P.P. Johnson’s Country Store; a dime would do for candy purchases –maybe a cold drink. Daily breakfasts included new small boxed cereals – perforated down the flat side, with wax paper interiors…add milk, you had a “bowl”; Corn Flakes, Pep Cereal, Wheaties, Post Toasties were all available – fellow campmate, Ron Crawford, a 5 year veteran, reminds.
Orapax swimming lessons required learning strokes, treading water – all part of water-safety education. It was tall Howard Sutton, slightly younger, embedded with water skills. Sutton could swim with dolphins; his diving – magnificent…definitely championship material. Even then, he was indefatigable, basking in adulation.
Later, Sutton graduated from TJHS, 1957, serving as Captain of the cadet band. Growing up on Albemarle Ave., Sutton seemed totally assured, non-suffering – then, an excruciatingly combination of horror – shock – sadness for us teenagers. Howard went to the river, and simply took his life. Now 60 years later, with tranquility, Howard Sutton remains in thoughts. Dr. Ned Peple, Carol Mullin Raynor, and Scott Broaddus shared exchanges on all this sad connective curiosity a while back.
In the fall, a late opening Tuckahoe Elementary School beckoned, bringing curiosity, with another first – Mrs. King, a woman principal; unpacked desks cluttered the halls.
Stripping away into clarity, ill-fated curiosities brought connections, adding affective growth – never rescindable. With authentic connectivity, a mishmash of loneliness, displacement, and rootlessness, cannot survive – even as connectivity leaves residue of blemishes and scars.
And then there’s Edna Weis, my convalescing partner….keep safe, dear girl, wherever you are!
Raymond B. Wallace, Jr., a retired trustee of Virginia Retirement System, wrote his book, Essex Memories & Beyond – nominated in the non-fiction category for the 18th annual Library of Virginia Literary Award, 2015.