I began Junior High School in the fall of 1960. Entering the 7th grade had enough challenges, but in my case I had a little more pressure. After my Mom died, my sister and brother and I got passed around like a sack of potatoes from one well-meaning Aunt and Uncle to the next. I also missed graduating from the 6th grade with my friends. Instead, I wound up going to a school near my Grandparent’s house. There were no kids from their street in attendance, so I had to make all new friends. Worse, this was a feeder school for either West High or West Tech High school, so I knew I would probably never see them again.
My step-father remarried, which is what prompted our return to the South East side of Cleveland. I attended Myron T. Herrick Junior High, which was near East 55th Street and not too far from St. Alexis Hospital on Broadway Avenue. Mound, my old Elementary school was just one of the two feeder schools. So I got to see old friends I hadn’t seen since my mother had passed and became aquainted with a lot of new people also.
I have no idea why, but I decided to join the band. After a skills test, I was assigned to be a Baritone player. I really liked Band, and because I joined, I met and became best friends with Keith, a newly ordained trumpet player from Tennessee.
Keith lived with his sister near the school, and I soon found myself walking to his house each morning (while listening to WHK on my transistor radio) and then arriving at school together. We both started playing ping-pong after lunch and it soon became an obsession.
A ritual had been born. I got up early, devoured my piece of toast, gulped down my cup of instant coffee, grabbed my lunch bag and made the 15 minute walk to his house as quickly as possible. Keith’s sister was busing preparing lunches for him and her two daughters. The girls were watching Clutch Cargo, a syndicated cartoon show, and Keith and I were attempting to play serious games of ping-pong in her kitchen while she was frying bologna.
The smell of that fried bologna would stay with us all the way to school. He always seemed content at lunch, but now that I’m older and realize what happens to greasy food when it gets cold, I simply don’t know how he enjoyed those sandwiches. I soon began lugging my Baritone case home with me. Often, I’d stop with Keith and we’d practice for a half hour or so and then it was back to the kitchen table for ping-pong until dinner was almost ready and they threw me out. On the walk home, my Baritone case seemed to weigh fifty pounds or more. But I would eat dinner, do my homework and before I knew it, once again ping pong balls were flying and bologna was frying.