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  • Story Owner: Maran  Banta
  • Story Title: School
  • Story Created: Tuesday, September 02, 2014, 12:00:00 PM
  • Chapter Author: Maran Banta
  • Chapter Created: Tuesday, September 02, 2014, 1:24:00 PM
  • updated: Wednesday, September 10, 2014 4:10:00 PM

I went to about a dozen elementary schools from Kindergarten through 8th grade, though I skipped a full year.

Many of them in and around Chicago, primarily the south side, but also in Big Rapids Michigan and Hollywood, Florida.

We were not a military family, nor were either of my parents climbing any kind of corporate ladder, but we moved around even more than most of those kinds of families. 

We moved mostly because the rent and or utility bills were due. Sometimes we moved because the landlord found out really how many kids or dogs or adults we had in the house. Funny we usually referred to it, the place we lived as our house, though most of the time we lived in apartments, or flats. Sometimes we did live in houses, sometimes we even owned them but that didn't mean we lived there any longer. Mortgages were like rent in the way they came due.

Sometimes we moved because we could actually afford to pay more and heck if we could afford to pay a little more even for a little while why not move? It generally meant at least a little improvement in the overall quality of life.

As an adult I have owned several homes and rented many apartments, my rent is never late and my lifetime record for living in one place is four years. As a kid we once lived in the same school district for a couple of years that was a treat.

I guess I really like being the new kid on the block, I've been steadily doing that for sixty years.

My husband lived in the same house from the time he was born until he went away to college. What that must be like I have no idea.

In spite of always being the new kid in class I usually loved school.

I was really smart and my teachers often acted as if they were personally responsible for discovering and nurturing the flame of my intelligence, if not in fact responsible for planting the seed of it themsleves.

From my perspective school was a haven, a respite and relatively clean. A place I could read as much as I wanted. There were no crying babies to feed or change or bathe. Meals were prepared by someone else and even the dishes were washed by someone else. 

First and the beginning of second grade were in a very small Lutheran Day School. Golgatha.

I loved Golgatha, there were four classrooms. 1st & 2nd grades, 3rd & 4th grades, 5th & 6th and 7th & 8th. There were maybe 60 kids. Miss Gutzwiller was our teacher. She was a woman of good will, just as her name said. Young and pretty, brand new to teaching she told us every day how fortunate and precious each of us were.

My older brother Rick had been held back his first time through 1st grade. It wasn't that Mom didn't like waking up early, it was just too hard to get up and get all the kids up too. Can you imagine having five kids, the oldest 7? Mom didn't just imagine that, she did it. Then she took another four year break and had two more. When I was 6, Rick was 7, Fred 5, Dan 1 & Steve an infant. 

All that and Mom didn't drive yet, I was in second grade and school had been in session only a short time when she got her license. The next day she loaded all of us into the car, this was way before seatbelts or carseats for little kids, at least we didn't have any of that fancy stuff. We just sort of piled in and continued climbing over each other and over seats until she said "Everyone be quiet and listen to me. If anyone makes any noise or distracts me while I am driving, I will kill all of us and it will be all your fault."

We believed her. It was the longest time we were ever all together and that quiet.

It wasn't long after that, way before Halloween that Mom & Dad left. Aunt Freda came and she and our live-in babysitter Franny packed some of our stuff and we, all five kids went to stay with Aunt Freda, Uncle Bob and my cousins Tommy Lee, David and Kevin Kelly in their three bedroom apartment.

Franny and her boyfriend One-Armed Johnny packed most of our stuff and disappeared with it. We never saw Franny or One-Armed Johnny or the stuff again. 

Tommy Lee was sixteen and pregnant by her thirty year old boyfriend Artie, so she officially dropped out of school to stay home and take care of the babies. Aunt Freda worked at night, leaving after we were put to bed and coming back home in time to wake us up and get breakfast started. Uncle Bob was a roofer so when the weather allowed he went to work very early way before sunrise. Chicago winter didn't allow much work, on bad weather days he slept in until noon and then had beer for breakfast.

Us three big kids went to school the next day. We were all in Miss Gutzwiller's class. Fred was in 1st grade and Rick and I were in 2nd. After lunch the principal Mr Kwik came to our classroom and asked for the Baker children to come with him, not to his classroom where the seventh and eigth graders were left on their own to work quietly but to his office where two men in dark suits wanted to ask us questions about our parents. 

The men were kind of scary and creepy with their fake smiles, pretending to be friends. One guy did most of the talking and the other kept writing stuff down. Mr Kwik stood next to us and he kept interrupting their questions. They said they were FBI Agents and showed us their badges just like on Dragnet. They wanted to know where our parents were. We didn't know. When were they coming back? We didn't know. Fred started crying saying he wanted to go home. Mr Kwik told the men to leave.

We were sent back to class. Then two eigth grade girls were sent to our room and Miss Gutzwiller and Mr Kwik met with the Minister. In Public schools the Principal was the boss, in Lutheran schools the boss was the Minister. The Minister said the Baker kids had to leave Golgatha. Golgatha was a Christian School and would not harbour the children of criminals.

Aunt Freda was called in and told to take us home.

The next day we went to the public school where Aunt Freda's son David went.

We were only at O'Toole for a short time.

One night after Halloween and before Thanksgiving Aunt Freda woke us up in the middle of the night, it was strange that she was home from work. All five of us were in the kitchen. I was sitting on a kitchen chair and trying not to nod off back to sleep with a squirming baby in my lap when the back door opened and Dad walked in followed by Mom. We piled on them a mass of hugs and tears. Where were you? Are you staying with us now? No, we're taking you away to a place you're going to really like. A big house on a farm in Michigan. Are you going to stay with us? We'll see. Come on we gotta get you guys packed and get on the road before sunup.

Kenny Starr was a friend of my parents' he had a motorcycle and a wife named Bonnie. Bonnie's Mom lived in Big Rapids. She was a nurse who lived alone in a big house on a farm. She was nice to us, never even yelling at us and never hitting us. She kept her house clean and only expected us to do normal kinds of chores, like making our own beds and taking out the trash.

She did not expect us to cook or take care of the babies, she didn't even let us do that stuff. It was our job to do our homework and then go out and play. The place we had to play was a magical winter wonderland. Lots of snow and hills and creeks some still flowing water, some covered in ice. We built forts and slid down hills and threw snowballs. And there were other kids around to play with too. 

We went to Brookside Elementary, only for a little while, about six weeks. We left right after the Christmas Party where we got new coats and scarves and shoes from the Firemen. 

Mom and Dad met us at the party, the nurse had our stuff packed in her car. We drove back to the Chicago area and spent the next week, including Christmas in a tiny, drafty apartment above a garage in some suburb. We were at Kenny Starr's Mom's house, only his Dad didn't know we were there and would have kicked us out so we had to be so quiet. It was only a week, it felt like we were living a scene from Ann Frank. The babies weren't with us, they were with Aunt Freda.

The Starrs went to Kenny's house for Christmas Dinner so we could move around a little more normally while they were gone. Christmas Dinner for us was stale popcorn. We did get some presents. I remember a beat up Monopoly set that only had two tokens and not many deeds and very little money.

The day after Christmas we packed up the car, stopped and got the babies and went to Florida to stay with my Grandma.


Comments 1 to 1 of 1
  • Keep going! I'm waiting to hear more!

    Cindy (Cynthia) 9/10/2014 6:53:00 AM