The arrival of the fall season of 1941 saw the world in turmoil. The drums of war were beginning to be heard in America. England was still under siege from Nazi bombers. The threat of war was the number one topic of the day in America. Little did we know that a full-ﬂedged war was only weeks away.
1941: The “super market” as we know it today was born. A loaf of Jane Parker bread cost eight cents. A pound of Chase and Sanborn coffee cost only 40 cents. You could buy a brand spanking new two-tone Studebaker “Champion” for $695. Hollywood was hard at work. “Gone with the Wind,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” and many classic releases were playing at the Trent, Princess, Rialto, Park, and other Trenton theatres. The Gaiety theatre over on South Olden Avenue, and its twin, the “Centre,” had just completed a summer of Tuesday matinee productions. For 11 cents, any kid who loved the movies could get at least three hours of solid entertainment, courtesy of Roy Rogers, Tim McCoy, Ken Maynard, Red Ryder or Gene Autry. We met the Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, Bugs Bunny, Heckel and Jeckel the talking Magpies, and countless other Hollywood entertainers. And, of course we can’t forget the 12-chapter serial. Is there a boy out there over 70 who hasn’t thrilled to “Fighting Devil dogs,” “Mystery Squadron,” “Flash Gordon,” “Buck Rogers,” “Don Winslow of the Navy,” or maybe “Zorro’s Fighting Legions?”
Alan Ladd, Tim Holt, Randolph Scott, John Wayne, and even Wallace Beery gave us role models. Our sisters were patterning themselves after the likes of Shirley Temple, Deanna Durban, Gloria Jean, Claudette Colbert, Veronica Lake, and other wholesome American girls.
But alas, dear reader, it’s that time of year we all have come to love and know as “back to school.” Summer vacation is over and we must get back to school. You know, the place where a “lavatory” is a bathroom, Aunt Ethel and Aunt Bertha are called “Awnt” Ethel and “Awnt” Bertha. It’s the place where tomatoes are “tomahtoes” and potatoes are “potatoes” and a clothes closet is a “cloak room.” If we don’t “get a move on,” as my dear Mom used to say, we’re all gonna be “tardy.” Not only that, you’re about to meet Miss Ruth Margerum, one of the prettiest, kindest, nicest, musical teachers you ever met. Just take a seat and be still so we can have roll-call.
Turn to page 48 in my “Kuser School Diary:”
September, 9 1941: Third grade! Our teacher is Miss Ruth Margerum. She is very pretty. She has this black and grey hair (Mom calls it “salt and pepper”). She has real red lips and beautiful white teeth which show often because she smiles a lot. I think I’m gonna like her. I’m in the “Glee Club.”
September 15, 1941: Shirley Whitebread and I are practicing a song Miss Margerum asked us to learn. It’s called “Tying Apples on a Lilac tree:” She would like us to learn it for next week’s assembly program in the Kuser school auditorium. It’s an easy song to sing and I like it a lot:
“A little boy and a little girl, in an ecstasy of bliss,
Said the little boy to the little girl, ‘Please give me just one kiss.’
The girl drew back in great surprise, ‘You’re a stranger sir,’ said she.
‘But I will give you just one kiss, when apples grow on a lilac tree.’
The boy was very sad at heart; she was the only one.
The girl was quite remorseful for the terrible wrong she had done.
So bright and early on the very next morn, he was quite surprised to see,
His little sweetheart, standing in the garden, tying apples on a lilac tree.”
September 28, 1941: Tomorrow’s my 8th birthday, and Shirley and I really did well singing our tying apples song. Now I like Shirley even better than Mary Lou. The audience clapped and clapped; they really liked it.
And so we end an all too brief visit to Miss Ruth Margerum’s 3rd grade, but as we leave we savor the refreshing aroma of brand new text books with that fresh “new “aroma and covering them with recycled trash bags. And I almost forgot: I drew a heart with “Shirley” under it on the front cover of my English book. She has such a beautiful voice.
From a 21st century retrospective, I was so very happy that I was able to bring my memories of our family custom of singing around the Glover piano in our Hartley Avenue home to the Kuser School classroom. It was really the beginning of a lifetime of my love of music which carried me through my grammar school years, and gave me a lead in our Hamilton High operetta “Tulip Time.”
How could I know that close to a century later, I would be bringing music to our local citizenry with octogenarians Jack Pyrah and Tom Glover’s Sunday summer Kuser Park concerts? Life is good!