|I was raised in a small midwestern town
called Milford. The poignancy and adventure came
roaring back as I pondered life in the old days.
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE THE MORE THEY STAY THE SAME
As many of my friends know, we have moved back to Milford. Actually, we are splitting our time between the old Milford neighborhood I grew up in and our dusky neighborhood here in Florida. In Florida that is known as being what's called a "Snowbird." It used to be a somewhat derisive term until the housing market bottomed in Florida. Suddenly, people were thrilled to have even a half year neighbor paying a full year mortgage and property assessment for what would otherwise be a vacant house. It's a cup half full compared to one totally empty or even one broken into several pieces.
The title of this little piece says it all. I trust it resonates on multiple levels especially since I'm not really sure what the heck it means. The neighbors I began meeting in the old houses of my youth seemed nice enough. In the days of yore we were all struggling to maintain, or even escape, the lower middle class. We polished our cars and planted flowers. We tried to keep the property fixed-up. A certain amount of gentrification has occurred and some of the properties now sport additions and improvements that have eased the old neighborhood into a solid middle class with allusions to escaping further into the upper middle class suburbs that have sprouted around us.
That brings me to the Strrit Family. We hadn't really noticed the unkempt nature of their yard and house. I met most of my immediate neighbors and the Straits were often brought up in the conversation. It was usually accompanied by pursed lips and a rueful shake of the head. I promised myself I'd visit all of my neighbors including the ones whose grass was about 18 inches high and partially blocked the view of 2 junked cars, a rusted motorcycle and various used tires and household appliances. The cars sat side-by-side and one of them had its hood raised giving the scene the effect of something winking at the passerby. A king size mattress leaned against the wall on the porch. A huge stain was nearly centered on the mattress.
Laster Strrit was affable enough when I walked up his front walk and introduced myself. He used his leg to force a pit bull puppy off a porch chair and motioned for me to sit. He picked up a large soft drink cup from the floor and deftly sent a small deposit of "dip" tobacco on target. We talked and he told me he worked as a lot manager for one of his uncle's junk yards "up to Blanchester." Eventually a young boy materialized and wiped his runny nose on a section of t-shirt he pulled away from his belly for the purpose. Not satisfied with the effort. He wiped his hand across his nose and wiped it on his shirt.
"This here's my oldest boy Ace."
I thought quickly and issued the boy a salute lest he extend his hand in the unlikely event he'd been taught to shake hands. He returned the salute as his father hollered for a boy he called "Deuce." I found out later it was spelled "Duse." The boy ran by pulling another pit bull puppy by a rope. I wasn't overly surprised when he introduced his third son as "Ace II." I think he may have noticed my quizzical look.
"I know what yer thinkin'. Why did they name him "The Second" when he's really the third. Bet you were thinkin' that, huh."
"Sure," I lied.
He never explained. Instead he said, "Mavis is knocked up again and I want to name that one Ace III in case we get a full house—har har. If'n it's a girl I want to call it "Flush. Get it?" He laughed and added, "She'd be a straight flush backward.." He got his little round tobacco container and rewarded his witticism with another pinch of the stuff under his lip.
He summed it up, "Probably name it Acey Deucey after her step mom what raised her after her mother died in a "splosion" back home. I somehow managed to refrain from asking where back home was. He spit into his cup again and asked, "You wanna stay and meet her an the breeder dogs she gots at the vet?"
I managed to dredge a believable getaway excuse out of my memory banks and headed home.
My wife and I agreed we may have made a big mistake by moving so close to an eyesore. She told me she'd driven by their house that morning and paused to see a very pregnant woman watching a man swinging a switch and chasing a pit bull that had what looked like a ham in its mouth. Suddenly the woman was shrieking in laughter when the same man came running back around the house holding the ham and fighting the dog off with the switch. We just stared at each other with the neighborhood pursed lips and rueful head shake.
Two days later there was a rapid knock at the front door. I looked out the window and saw 2 smiling neighbors on the porch. I called to my wife that we had company and I opened the door to my next door neighbor Tom and Roy from across the street. I invited them in but they excitedly asked me to come out.
"Look up the street," Tom gushed.
A huge moving van was backed up to the Strrit's front porch. It took up virtually the whole front yard. I didn't recognize the name on the side but it included the words Moving And Storage. My neighbors said I may be the only person the Strrits would talk to and they asked me to go up and see when they were leaving and anything I could learn about the sale of the house. I hurried up to reconnoiter.
I returned to my anxious wife and neighbors. Tom and Roy had been joined by their wives and I looked as 2 other couples hurried toward us as I returned with the great news: "It's a moving van alright. They have it up on blocks."
OUR WONDER YEARS
Those were scary times growing up in those days. The advent of self serve gasoline virtually insured most of us would be permanently unemployed. Many of us took refuge in 3.2 beer and drive-in theaters—either activity would have been even more rewarding had we been able to get a date to share the activity. Second dates were even more elusive. I can't recall a guy in high school actually having one. It was frustrating for us to be surrounded by beautiful girls but have the self-image and self-confidence of a guy who rang the bells in the cathedral.
A close friend confided that his greatest fear was he'd walk across the graduation stage and be given a blank diploma. He did, but he earned my eternal admiration when he didn't even change expressions. I'd like to name names for you people who opened your diploma only to find that instead of a diploma you got a photo of the principal giving you the finger. You ought to come forward and confess. I couldn't have been the only one.
OUR CAREER COUNSELOR
I'm sure many remember Mr. Azole Potemkin? If you don't remember, he was my distant cousin and the guy they brought in as a third counselor to start a career preparation program at Milford. He had had some sort of controversy setting up a similar program at a nearby school he opened and named Potemkin Day School. I'll say more about that later if I can get my foggy memory to work.
Correct me if I'm wrong but I recall he started by having everyone take the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test and the Rogers Personality Assessment? He then set up goals and training programs that the tests indicated would be most suited for what the tests indicated about our interests, intelligence, aptitude and potential. There was probably more to it but my memory is flawed.
The tests peeled off 7 girls and 5 boys and they were immediately placed in a college preparatory fast track which featured small classes and such things as field trips. There was a lot of what I now recognize possibly as envy of those dirty rotten jerks who did so perfect on those tests. The bastards sure could flaunt it but I'm over it now and I hope they choked on their diplomas. A bunch of us guys cornered two of those prissy teacher's pets and tried to fight them but neither girl would fight us.
The career room was OK and Mr. Potemkin assured us and our parents the jobs he'd picked to prepare each of us for matched our aptitudes, interests and intelligence to a "T."
The boys had three choices. Shepherd, Men's Rest Room Attendant or Gas Station Attendant. Of course we were all car crazy and we all chose Gas Station Attendant except for the one guy who asked if he would get to be alone with the sheep.
Final exam required us to fill a gasoline order, pop the hood to check the oil and check the tire pressure of a teacher's car at a fake gas station that had been set up with real pumps outside the career room. I wish I could apologize again to the teacher whose car I drew to service but he's no longer with us. You all knew him and we liked him but I swear to God in Heaven that I did not know that there was an extra cap under the hood that was for coolant and not gasoline. We never covered that in class and when he said "10 gallons" Ethyl. I thought he was ribbing me. I joked back, "Sure thing Alice" and I raised his hood and started the gas pump while I checked the tire pressure. I hoped no one noticed how much gas I spilled. I was as surprised as anyone when he drove off and immediately caught fire. And God knows there is no way I could have known that instead of water that bucket contained gasoline for cleaning greasy parts. I swear it. So much for a great career. Unfortunately my next choice was limited due to the fact the sheep farm no longer allowed Milford students near the property. Passing out paper towels and brushing off a fancy suit is OK. It's the career I was trained for. At least I can get by without reporting the tips, such as they are.
The girls apparently qualified for only one career track. I peeked in their room once and saw them practicing roller skating while they brought a tray of drinks and food to a car window. They were lucky. Mr. Potemkin's controversy and scandal in his previous school is coming back to me. He studied the behavior of the girls in that school and devised a career track without using the more informative tests he used later to evaluate us. I know career preparation for them had something to do with bright red lipstick, high heels and something about standing on the corner under a street lamp. They don't make teachers like Mr. Potemkin anymore.
Neil Young sang, "Any girl in the world could have easily known me better."
Like many of my friends, dating was a tense and frightening experience. Dating was alright...once you got over the terror of asking a girl out. Many of us tried to deal with the anxiety by asking a girl to go steady. That way you had an arrangement where you were expected to go out on Friday and Saturday and be together for all the big dances and athletic events...all without asking.The big problem was catching a girl off guard to where she couldn't quickly think of a way to reject your proposal. I myself, asked 7 or 8 girls to go steady.
My Class Ring
I thought I had a pretty good plan where I'd ask the very next girl who transferred in during the school year. That way she wouldn't have time to check into my reputation with the other girls, see me attempt to dance or get a good long look at me. I had a girl in my sights and popped the going steady question but before she had time to answer, the bell rang and everyone sprinted for class. I asked a guy who was in her class to try to listen to anything she asked any of the girls. She sat with some other girls in study hall while my friend eavesdropped.
New Girl To Other Girls: "What a friendly school! I've been here 2 days and a boy has already asked me to go steady."
Second Girl: "Is his name Potemnin?"
New Girl: "Yes, he said Potemkin. How did you know?"
Third Girl: "There's a curse that goes with Potemkin's class ring."
New Girl: "What's the curse?"
All the girls at the table: "Bill Potemkin."
GIVE ME A HEAD WITH HAIR
Remember getting a haircut for like less than $2? It was cool to sit and wait with the other "men" for your turn. The barbers were cool and when you were a little older they would even shave the back of your neck with warm lather and a straight razor. Man, it was so cool to be getting shaved! That alone kept us coming back for that rakish flat top we all sported.
Everything comes to an end. Some of us started letting our hair grow long. I was one of them. I eventually tied mine in a ponytail or wore a bandana like Willie Nelson. I guess it was kind of a protest but in my case, well, you did what you had to do. Society saw two groups, the rock and roll long hair protester type and the crew cut "Good Boys." At the time I dated a girl for awhile. She wasn't the brightest person in town but her father was the only barber in the area by then. That meant an occasional free haircut. That eventually became a problem.
Everything went well until we were, uh, discovered in a "vulnerable association" when her parents got home early and found us "studying" in her bed. I had convinced her I was considering being a doctor and would, of course, have to study anatomy to pass an admission test to what I convinced her was "Doctor's College." Her father offered to shave my throat if he ever saw me again. I dove out the window as he headed for the bathroom to get his straight razor. I joined the long hair group that same night.
A LIFE CHANGING EVENT
AND A LESSON FOR ALL OF US
I grew up along with my cousin Willy Potemkin. He eventually got the nickname "Lucky Willy." We were hanging around the pool hall when an ashen white Lucky Willy staggered into the room. He looked like he'd seen a ghost. Well, actually, he looked as if he'd almost become a ghost. We all agreed that chills ran up our spines as he told his story. The sister of the girl he'd been dating called him and invited him to her apartment to discuss the family's distrust of Potemkin boys in light of my unfortunate encounter. The sister was a knockout. She was easily the sexiest looking woman in town. Most of us had seen her when she won the local beauty contest at the county fair.
Willy took a deep breath and said, "Boys, I got to her apartment on the second floor and she opened the door wearing a sexy negligee. She told me I was her sister's first steady boyfriend and she wanted to make sure I was an experienced lover, capable of making her sister happy. She had me follow her into her bedroom and she removed what little she was wearing and reached for me."
We all asked him what he did and he took another relieved breath and said, "I did something that saved my life. I turned and ran from her bedroom and out of her apartment. I took the steps 2 or 3 at a time and sprinted for my truck. Suddenly three huge men stepped from the shadows and I saw more men and women approaching. I recognized one of the big men as my girlfriend's father. He was carrying a shotgun. The other two men turned out to be her brothers and one had a machete and the other a rope tied into a noose. Her father lowered his shotgun and handed it to his son to embrace me."
We were flabbergasted and asked him what happened next. He said her father told him that the whole night was a set-up to test his faithfulness and morality. He said her father told him he passed the test and could continue to date his daughter. The rest of the family approached to pat me on the back."
Lucky Willy looked us in the eyes and said, "Boys, I learned a lesson tonight that should change all of our lives." We all nodded at the revelation we'd just heard and he added, "Yes sir, always keep your condoms in the truck."
A cousin of mine, Rafe Potemkin (wearing the bandana in the photo), invented a dance and a song while we were in high school. He named his dance The Twit but it was beaten to the charts by a man named Chubby Checker and his song/dance he called The Twist. Angered, Rafe accused Chubby Checker of stealing his production. He also accused the singer named Ernest Evans of stealing his stage name from another artist named Fats Domino. He said he chose a weight insult and a board game for his name. Rafe took his song to record producers and used his new name: "Lardo Monopoly."
THERE IS A DARKER SIDE TO LIFE DURING OUR WONDER YEARS.
I mentioned the Potemkin Day School started by my cousin Azole Potemkin. Here is the only known photo of two of Azole"s teachers who arrived in the area after WW II. They insisted in wearing the same uniforms as the students. They quit amid an unfortunate false accusation that the school engaged in cloning and other genetics experiments.
One of the early graduating classes of the day school at their 10 year reunion.
It should be obvious that these 24 people prove the cloning rumors are a myth.
Azole Potemkin continues to deny that the school he founded took part in genetic engineering. Nine foot Cyrus Backboarder
and his taller teammates were banned from organized basketball programs due to the false accusations that dogged the school
WHO ARE THESE POTEMKINS?
It's obvious that the Potemkin family has to be Milford's foremost family! They trace their ancestry back to Mother Russia and the greatest Russian of all time, Gregory (Grigori) Potemkin. The Potemkin patriarch had what many historians feel was a most special relationship with Empress Catherine The Great. He was an adviser, government official and paramour to the great Russian leader. Catherine, according to several historians, was known for her amorous energies. I'll let you research about the horse that is alleged to have crushed her to death long after her liaison with Gregory. Personally, I don't believe the story but nobles in those days were often known for horsing around. You might say they weren't always saddled with the religious restrictions they placed on the serfs. Catherine had an unbridled passion. She was known to stirrup passions in men but she didn't keep one man in the race furlong.
Let's get back to Gregory. He helped run Catherine's successful war against the Ottomans. Why you would need an army to fight a bunch of foot stools is strange but Gregory led them to victory anyway. I assume he employed a division of moving and storage men. I am most indebted to what he is best known for—The Potemkin Village! Catherine was proud of improving Russia. She would often travel by train to have the slick Mr. Potemkin show her the building projects he had completed for her. She would ride by and be impressed by the developments she viewed. Unfortunately, Gregory usually constructed painted facades similar to movie sets. It's believed by some that he would hurriedly have the sets taken down and shipped to the next location Catherine was to visit. I want to believe the story is true.
I chose the name Potemkin to help illustrate my facetious and satirical stories about growing up in my hometown. Unlike a Potemkin village, the Milford I experienced was a fine and safe place to deal with the terror if adolescence. Memories as they look today:
The store where I bought an engagement ring! To the right was the 5 & 10 (The Dime Store)
Downtown Milford...Hymie Rottman's drug store, Hackmeister's butcher shop and grocery store,
the A & P grocery store, liquor store, post office and a hardware store...just like New York City.
The taxi company was also the dispatcher for the volunteer fire department.
Riverside field...a home run could reach the river.
NOT EVERYONE WAS RECEPTIVE
I printed these things and a bunch of other illustrated fiction about Milford. I claimed Milford invented everything from baseball to soccer. I had stories about the creation of nearly nude beach volleyball, legalized drugs and poppy harvest and the first two automobiles having a wreck. I couldn't make the stories more obviously fictional and satirical. I even had an old sketch of a mob running Potemkin (Me) out of tow. Amid appreciative remarks I received the following complaints: I'm not making these emails up, I promise. I have not corrected anything although I did remove some offensive or identifying words and names..
Your site stink
F*** you potemkin...the school never burnt down. What else have you lied about on your stinking web site.
I don't know where you got the pictures but most of your stories are full of it... I have been here since the 1954's and there was never an animal attack or fire.
They have jail for people that make money lying and you are it. How dare you make fun of [the] President. it is treason and you should be arrest until you understand what freedom means....I hope they close you down.
I have all the yearbooks and there is no Potemkins in any class. Who are you?
where are you getting your info buddy plus quit a few others-also your picture of * *Milford H. S. is way too updated -- can't you see by the air-conditioning units dumbo.* *You also have many MORE mistakes, but not wasting time with you; it's useless!
You should be repoirted
your site old potemkin is not accurate and many things are untrue how do you get
by with this on the internet and advertising your site on other sites is a no brainer
Everything you say is an insult to everything I believe in.
God bless America everyone else can get out. You don't dare to print this. Why won't you print this letter.
I know the way down there where you live