|You can read right down from beginning to end (which is more or less the way I've been writing it) if you're desperate for some stranger's life story, but you might prefer to use the menu at the left (no menu? get it) and jump directly to a certain person. There are also some links within the story. If you click on one of them and want to go back where you jumped from, just use your browser's Back button.|
We're all 60-something now--but "old friends" just means we go 'way back. I began this web page thinking I'd just ask for help in finding the first friend I ever had, Pat Webster, but before I could write more than a few lines about him, another old friend sort of muscled in--and then another--and now it seems as though I'm writing my life story here. Well, let's see how it turns out and what comes of it.
My life story isn't likely to interest you, though, so if you recognize someone in the list on the left, just skip to that part.
George Patterson Webster. You probably know him as George, but he was Pat when we were kids in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. He started going by George when he was 16 or 17--about the same time I stopped going by Todd. He's my first and best friend, even though I haven't seen him in decades. For several years we were so close, we'd start the same sentence together. Later, when we lived in different states and didn't see each other often, we never had to get reaquainted. It was always as if only a few minutes had passed. When we get together again, I expect it'll be just the same.
See us when we were about five and read the story of how he saved me from getting beat up.
George has a small scar on the side of his left nostril, which he got while we were playing on some big corrugated boxes in his basement when we were about five. He always claimed I pushed him, but I think he just slipped.
He was working as a policeman in the University Circle area of Cleveland the last time I saw him. That was around 1970, I think. I heard somewhere later that he had moved to Miami.
His sister Peggy lived in Cleveland, but I've lost track of her, too. She's about a year and a half younger than George. They're natural siblings, and both were adopted by George and Helen Webster when they were tots. George the elder was a pharmacist. He had a Standard Drugstore in East Cleveland. Helen started "Mrs. Webster's Pies" and kept it up for a number of years, until she just got tired of baking and became a realtor. The family moved to Gates Mills, Ohio, sometime around 1952.
George the younger was in the Army during the
1950's--in armor, I think, and served in Germany for a year or
He married a nice girl named Florence--Flo--who was spunky, and as
as he was solid.
SORRY UPDATE: I found out recently (January, 2004) that Pat died
a few years ago, around 1998. He and his first wife split up and
he moved to Miami. A few years later he found and married Neva,
and they had a good life. But I wish it had been a longer one.
Bob Newton--Robert, really.
I knew Bob, in the early 1950's, he lived on Woodridge Road in
Heights with his mother Kathleen (or Catherine?) and his younger
Philip. Kathleen was the school nurse at Cleveland Heights High
School. Bob's father, a doctor, had died a few years
An uncle, whose last name was Tuttle, lived about a hundred yards down
the same street. I recall Bob saying that he was an FBI
At Heights High, Bob used to swipe blank sick passes from him mother
forge her signature on them for his friends.
UPDATE (2007-02-27): Bob is alive and well and back to living not far from the old neighborhood. Cool!
Roger Sholle. Roger and I were close friends from about age five until we were around 13. He lived on Woodridge Road, in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and went to Caledonia Elementary School. He had an older brother, Glenn. Their mother died when Roger was about 12 and their father, the following year, almost to the day. Roger went to live with relatives after that, and I haven't been able to locate him since then.
David Cartner. Dave and I were in the same class at Noble Road Elementary School (see the menu for class photos), in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, We were friends from about the third grade until my family moved away when we were in the eleventh grade at Cleveland Heights High School. Dave had a younger sister, Ann. He had a Whizzer motorbike. Broke a leg playing football in Monticello Junior High School.
After high school Dave went to work as a draftsman and began taking some further courses in what was then called night school.
He married Gertrude Hathaway shortly after she graduated from Heights High. I think she was a half-year behind us, so I guess that would have been summer, 1955. I heard that they had a son the following year and heard later that they had separated. That son is in his 40's now, and Dave is probably a grandfather several times over.
Dave always seemed more perceptive than most other kids our age. (Well, more than me, anyway.) He had that Whizzer when the rest of us were pedaling. He took me for a ride in his parents' '49 Ford a year before he was old enough to get a license. I was afraid a cop would stop us or his parents would find out, but Dave wasn't worried at all. At 15 he already knew how to turn a corner with the palm of his hand. It was he who figured out that in high school a D was as good as an A; both got you a diploma.
Elsa Mautz. My
first love. She had brown hair, usually with ribbons in it,
in Pom-Pom Pull Away she could run faster than any other girl in our
at Noble Road Elementary School, in Cleveland Heights, Ohio--faster
the other boys, too. She played the violin and, later, the
She seemed very serious about her music, and her parents encouraged her
to practice every afternoon after school. In the second or third
grade she and I were partners in a science project that had us testing
the sidewalk on Yellowstone Road to see if it really was made of slate,
as people said. I was so nuts about her, though, that I don't
I ever finished my part of the job. I just remember gazing at her,
to tell her how pretty she looked to me.
2004: Elsa is semi-retired from teaching music and is living
happily in Michigan with her husband.
Loretta Lorz. I think Loretta was Elsa's best friend at Noble Road Elementary School. She was the best singer and, I think, probably the all-round kindest person in the class. She was kind enough to go to a movie with me when we were in the fourth or fifth grade, when Roger Schole and Jim Crankshaw dared me to phone and ask her. My mom drove us to a matinee at the Shaker Square Theater. Loretta had the lead in our sixth grade class presentation of Bizet's Carman. (I was a non-singing guard in the chorus.) Her uncle P. T. Lorz was my high school German teacher. I was a mediocre student, but learned enough to get along, years later, in Germany and Austria because P. T. Lorz NEVER spoke English to his students, even outside of class. The nifty thing was, we could almost always understand him. He was one of the most effective teachers I've ever had.
Derry Muehlhauser. FOUND! NOW AN ARCHITECT, LIVING NEAR ATLANTA and still a good friend. They had excavated a ditch for the water and drain lines in the lot next to Derry's house and had piled the dirt in a great mound beside the ditch. It was late fall or winter and it had been raining. The ditch had rocks and several inches of muddy water at the bottom. Derry and I were playing king of the mountain on that mound of dirt. I had just shoved him off and was exulting in triumph--I AM THE KING OF THE MOUNTAIN--when Derry charged up the hill like a one-kid Mongol horde and smashed into me so hard that I sailed off and all the way down into the ditch. I remember lying there on my back, half submerged in that icy water, rocks jabbing me all over, feeling cold and wet and miserable and feeling very sorry for myself, about to start crying. Just then I saw Derry peering down from the top of the mountain, down at me at the bottom of that ditch. As soon as he saw I was alive, he started laughing. I could tell he was relieved, but all the same it made me sore for a second, but then it came to me that it really was funny, that I wasn't hurt, except for my dignity. There I'd been, so full of myself, crowing about how I was king of the mountain, and the next instant I was down at the bottom of the ditch. Got just what I deserved--and had a good laugh, too. In the house, Derry's mom got me a blanket to wrap up in while my pants dried, and fed us hot chocolate in the kitchen and we all laughed a lot. It was one of the best afternoons ever. Here he is, spring, 2005.
Jayne Otis. FOUND--but read on. A photo of Jayne I met Jayne at Monticello Junior High School, when were both on the Monticello Megaphone newspaper staff. (She was an asset to the Megaphone; I got there because an English teacher liked something I wrote about a model airplane and assumed that I could write--and WOULD.) Jayne had come from a different elementary school. We had never met before and because we didn't have any classes together at Monticello, saw each other only once or twice a week in the Megaphone office. But she was lots of fun and we used to kid around all the time.
One day in late spring Jayne said her family was moving away, to a town called Chagrin Falls.
I'd never even HEARD of Chagrin Falls, but--little jerk that I was--said "Oh, no! MY family's moving to Chagrin Falls, TOO!"
Jayne was a lovely, guileless person, and so when she said, "Really?" naturally I said "Yeah!"
Then I asked, "What street are you going to live on?"
"Oh, no!" I said. We're going to live on Bentleyville Road, too! What house are you going to live in?"
"The big white house at the top of the hill."
"Oh, no! I'm going to live right next door to you!"
"Oh, NO!" she said. Then she said, "Which house are you going to live in" and for a second I thought she had me "the white house down the hill or the brick one on the other side?"
I took a guess. "The white one."
"Oh, NO!" she said. "You really ARE going to live next door to me!"
Summer vacation began a few days later. I heard the next fall that Jayne's family had moved away--but by then, callow as I was, I hardly remembered her.
That ought to be the end of the story except that three years later my mom and dad were worried about the kids I was hanging around with. They wanted me to transfer to The University School, one of those private schools for boys whose parents wanted the best for them. I hated school in general, and U. S. had the reputation of requiring lots of homework, so naturally I refused to go near the place. So the only thing for them to do was move away.
And so one summer day a moving van hauled all the furniture off to our new address in--yep, that's right--Chagrin Falls, Ohio.
The next morning my mother came in my new bedroom to get me up.
"It's a beautiful sunny day," she said, the way mothers do. "I've just been talking to the woman next door. She's such a lovely person--and she has a daughter just your age."
At that I sat straight up in bed and "Jayne Otis!" came out of my mouth. I was as surprised as she was because I hadn't thought about Jayne in almost three years.
"Why--how did you know?"
I told her the Megaphone story, but she didn't believe me. She said, "That's impossible!" But later she went and found the daughter--Jayne, of course!--who remembered it all exactly as I had.
Now, in a perfect world, that would have been Fate at work--kismet--and Jayne and I would have fallen deeply, desperately in love and would have married and had a bunch of guileless kids of our own and lived happily ever after.
It didn't work out that way, of course. My father got transferred almost immediately to Pennsylvania, and mom and I moved there to be with him the following summer. I heard through them a few years later that Jayne's parents moved to Florida and that Jayne had married some guy from Chagrin Falls. I seem to recall hearing she wasn't happy with him, but I probably made that up. Everything else is true, though.
If you don't believe me--help me find Jayne. Her name probably isn't Otis any longer (her father was Jay Otis; her mother, Elody Otis; and she had a brother--Bob?), and I haven't any idea where she might be living. But I'll bet she still remembers this wonderful coincidence.
Look at that photo of Jayne again.
Topographical map of Bentleyville Road
my email on 31 August 2000. A few messages from students and
a couple of SPAMS, the usual-- Whoops, what's this? TODD
YOU WERE - TODD YOU'LL STAY (TO ME, ANYWAY)
Even before looking at the sender's name, I know! And
enough, there it is--Jayne. It's Jayne Somebody--not
Otis--but there's only one Jayne.
Take a breath. Hold the mouse still-- click on
and-- It is Jayne. It's Jayne Otis.
Well. I'll spare you the catching-up-after-46-years stuff--except for this one part about the Megaphone story:
". . . yes I do remember the story the same way. You told me you could see into the future and I believed you. You teased me unmercifully, didn't you?"I guess I did--without meaning to. Jayne is the merciful one.
And what do you think about the story now? Can you explain it? Is it merely coincidence?
Susan Green. Have you ever met someone so gorgeous you couldn't talk in their presence? Susan Green had that effect on me. For years as a kid I had fantasies about her--kissing her, going to bed with her (no sex, just IN BED), holding her hand. Unfortunately, I just went dumb when she was in view, so those fantasies never came true. Susan was the daughter of Don and Virginia Green. Virginia had been a high school friend of my father's--maybe even a girl friend, although they never let on a such thing. Her mother, also a Virginia, whom I knew as Mrs. Shalling, grew up in Virginia, so I suppose that's where the name came from, too. I live in Virginia now, and always get a laugh seeing the road signs "Keep Virginia Green." I'd rather keep Susan Green, myself. I don't suppose she's available for keeping now and I'm well married, myself--but if you know how I can get in touch with her...
Bobby G. Thomas is a guy I knew in the army. We were in Field Radio Repair school together at Ft. Gordon, Georgia, in the mid-fifties. He was from Tennessee. When it got really hot toward the end of our six-months school, we used to stop at a Dairy Queen on the way back to the company area after classes were over in the afternoon and buy a pint of vanilla each and eat it while ambling the length of the parade grounds.
We had to march in a parade there every Saturday morning, thousands of us students in the Signal Corps schools, our large companies massed in battalions.
One Saturday as we were standing at parade rest, waiting for something to happen, Bobby said, "You want to go into town with me this afternoon? I'm going to buy some pear trainsisters." At least, that's what it sounded like he said. (He was from Tennessee, remember, and I wasn't.)
"Some WHAT transistors?"
He gave me a vexed look as if I was being really slow. "PEAR trainsisters--you know, pee oh double you ee oar, pear."
I think he considered me a bit stupid after that.
After graduating tied for first place in our class, we both were sent to Ft. Knox. Some sergeant handed us our orders, train tickets and meal vouchers. We got downtown, somehow found the right train, and arrived in Louisville the next day. At Ft. Knox we were set to working on tank radios. We lived in a barracks with a sergeant who used to come in drunk after lights out almost every night, yelling "Great balls of cat shit" as loud as he could.
An even more notable feature of that barracks, though, was that the latrine had five toilets set in an L pattern, three in one leg and two in the other. They were close together, and often busy, so you had to get used to shitting knee to knee with other guys. If you got one at the corner, you were shitting face to face, too. It was the hardest adjustment for me in my whole army career.
After a few months at Ft. Knox, I got orders for Korea, and haven't seen Bobby since. But I'd like to know how he's doing.
Ye Shin Bun and Ok Chun Lee. About a week after arriving in Korea I was sent on TDY to an army aircraft maintenance depot at Alpha Three Three. In civilian English, that means I was sent on temporary duty to an army airfield identified as A-33.) The "temporary" in that TDY turned out to be for all but the first and last weeks of the 16 months I was in Korea. It also turned out to be the best duty I had in the army and one of the best periods in my life. Most G.I.s hated being in Korea, but for me...
It was unlike any other duty I had in the army--military, yes, but much more relaxed than is usual. Of the 90 or so Americans at A-33, most were aircraft mechanics. There were about 10 test pilots--lieutenants for the fixed-wing aircraft and warrant officers for helicopters. Everyone had had special training of one kind or another, and a good many enlisted men were college graduates.
The first morning at A-33 a woman's voice woke me
up. This was back when the only women in the army were WACS and
segregated from the men. So hearing a woman in that big Quonset
was shocking. She was Ye Shin Boon--everyone called her Shiboom,
after a song that was popular then--and she was one of the house girls
whom the men hired to do their laundry and help keep the quonset
Another was Ok Lee Chun. They lived in a nearby village with their
doing the best they could, given the times. They were surrogate mothers
for us young Americans, so far from home, lovely women who managed to
cheery despite the terrible condition of their country.
HAPPY UPDATE--December, 2003: Found!!! Tom Rudesill, who had the bunk under mine for nearly a year in Korea and with whom I worked in the radio shop there. He's doing fine in Wisconsin. Lots of kids and grandkids.
"Sure, they will," we said.
"No, I don't think so."
I remember wondering what he was talking about. It didn't make any sense to me at all.
But then Bill, who was from the Baltimore area, said, "Maybe he's right. They didn't used to serve colored guys in southern Maryland, either."
Other than Bill, we were from Pennsylvania and Ohio, in the South for the first time. The other white guy and I wanted to go in the bar and beat up anyone who wouldn't serve us, but Bill started the engine and drove through town to a Piggly Wiggly (or maybe it was a SevenEleven). We bought some beer and drank it in the car. Later Bill drove from one side of Augusta to the other, and we looked for the first time at how things really were there.
I'm having trouble writing this--keep feeling a need to explain--but maybe it's beyond explaining. It was the first time I'd encountered segregation--didn't even know the word for it then, back in 1956, even before Beaver Cleaver was born. It never even occurred to me that it would be a law.
We drove on one main road through the town, and I can still see it. One end was brightly lit and modern-looking, everything clean and painted up nicely. The other end had only a few streetlights, dim ones on leaning poles. Sidewalks, cracked and chipped, and none at all in many places. Many of the stores and houses looked run down to my Midwestern suburban-trained eyes, needing paint and glazing.
I'd had no idea. That young soldier--me--seems so callow and naive now, half a century later. I'm probably still naive; but at that time I just didn't know anything.
Chris Sunde. He was one of my best friends in college, but I lost track on him in the late sixties. At that time he was living in Manhattan, trying to establish himself as a commercial photographer, but his real interest seemed to be in portrait photography. The last I heard of him was when I came across a photo he'd taken of his father shaving, standing in front of a bathroom mirror in his undershirt.
Once in 1962 at a cocktail party in Lagos, Nigeria, a couple of other teachers and I got to chatting about unusual names. I mentioned that I knew a "Christian Sunday"--which how Chris pronounced Sunde.
One of the others, Ellen Sarkisian, said, "Oh, I know him. I dated him a few times."
Then a guy across the room shouted out, "Hey, I went to camp with Chris Sunde!"
Sure enough, we all knew the same Christian "Sunday." It seemed so odd, though, for us all to happen to be at the same party, a world away from college and camps and dates.
A few weeks later, a book arrived in the post: Why I Am NOT a Christian, by Bertrand Russell. Just the book--no indication of who might have sent it. Who but Chris Sunde? I asked him a few years later, in New York, but his reply was so ambiguous, I still don't know for sure.
My grandmother used to bounce me on her knee to the rhythm of
To market, to market, to buy a fat pig.
Home again, home again, jiggity-jig.
One of my earliest memories is of my mother wiggling my toes:
This little piggy went to market.
This little piggy stayed home.
This little piggy had roast beef,
And this little piggy had none.
And this little piggy went
Wee wee wee wee, all the way home.
But the Yaba market--it was something else. It was covered, yes, covered with sheets of rusty corrugated iron, old scraps of tarpaulin, palm fronds, plastic film--almost anything. You could walk around in it, on the hard-packed earthen floor, but you were always having to duck under this or that. Light filtered down between the roof-things, but you couldn't see farther than a couple of body lengths in any direction because the vendors' stalls all were different sizes and shapes, making the walkways turn every few meters. There was some organization, despite the jumble. All of the people selling their chunks of cow meat, for example, were clustered together, so that if you stopped at one vendor, the others could crowd in, shouting for you to buy from them, instead.
In the deepest, darkest part of the Yaba market were the traders in native medicines, monkey paws, and such things. That's where we encountered Ellen Sarkisian for the first time. It wasn't hard to notice her and another American teacher, Dan Schaefer, even in the gloom of the deepest part of the Yaba market. They were old hands--had been there a year already--and after we had barely said hello they drifted off to some other part of the market, probably to get away from the even more-conspicuous newcomers.
About a year later, Ellen and Dan finished their two year teaching stints in Lagos and returned to their homes in the States. A year after that, Carol and I finished our stint. We flew to Rome, and two days later, in a Standa store--sort of an Italian K-Mart--I turned from looking at some underwear and there was Ellen Sarkisian. She was on her honeymoon, having just married some guy named Fox, and was in Rome only that day on the way to Yugoslavia. So that was the third Ellen Sarkisian coincidence.
Ellen's good friend in Lagos, and ours, was Harriet Elwood, the mainstay of the African-American Institute Office there. The AAI served as the local representative for the program that had sent us there, Teachers for West Africa, so we saw a lot of Harriet.
The last time we saw Harriet and Ellen was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, some time after Carol and I finally got back to the States. We heard much later that Ellen and Butterfield had split up--haven't heard anything about Harriet
Nor have we been able to find Dan Schaefer. We lived near him for a year in Lagos and once traveled with him to the town of Okure, deep in the bush, where we were introduced to the fine art of sausage-fly cuisine. Sausage flies are big and fat, their juicy black abdomens about the size of the end of a little finger. They fly so slowly that it's easy to catch them on the wing when they come in the windows in the evening, drawn toward the light of the Aladdin kerosene lamps. You hold them by the wings and roast the abdomen over the tall chimney of the Aladdin lamp. When they plump up they're done and you bite off the abdomen and throw the rest away.
Once when I was trying to learn to play the guitar, Dan wanted to me to sing a particular folk song. I knew I couldn't do it well and started to put on a record of Joan Baez singing the song, but Dan insisted that I should sing it.
"But," I said, "Joan Baez can sing!
"Yeah--but you're here.
So I sang the song--badly, of course--but I'd learned something.
Nah. But it's all for now. There are lots more Lost Ones
who are on my mind, but whom I just haven't written about here
yet. Please come back now and then for them.