Joseph William Perry Life Story

Chapter Three

While we were living in New Hartford a little girl came to live with us as a part of our family. She came from Albany; her mom couldn't take care of three kids so she looked for help placing her children in good homes. Russell and Melissa Gleaves bought Sandy to our house one afternoon and after we had had supper they went home. My mom and dad would care for her as a "ward"; She was a year and a half old then and they wouldn't be able to finally adopt her until she was seventeen years old.

That evening as the Gleaves got ready to leave Sandy gathered up her little dresses and things to go back with them. I don't remember how they managed to make an exit without her crying but I do remember her walking around the house with those few little dresses. She was sure she wasn't going to stay at our house. But she did. She became my little sister. I remember how happy I was to have a little sister. I bragged about her to my friends. I daydreamed about taking my little sister places and having fun. I had been wanting a little sister for a long time and now I had one. But it wouldn't be long until I went away to college and so Sandy grew up for the most part without her big brother Joe.

In 1964 dad's job with G.E. ran out and he looked into an overseas job with the foreign aid program of the U.S. State Department. He accepted a post in Bolivia but before he actually went for orientation in Washington we found out we would be going to Pakistan instead. So we packed up a small percentage of our belongings, put a bunch of furniture in storage and got rid of mountains of stuff. In those days no one had heard of a garage sale so we either gave it away or threw it away. I gave away a shoebox full of baseball cards; there were no card-collector shops in those days. I read in the paper the other day that a Mickey Mantle rookie card had sold recently for a hundred and twenty thousand dollars. I am racking my brain to remember which Mickey Mantle cards I owned—well, no matter.

Next stop was Alexandria, Virginia. We got a little efficiency apartment in the Presidential Gardens Hotel; I went to the George Washington Middle School. I don't remember much about it; I was there less than two months. I do remember I had to take a city bus to school. I wasn't used to urban life. Well, I take it back; we stayed in the city of Honolulu for a couple of months when I was in the seventh grade. Dad's job took us out there too. Maybe I should start a new paragraph and go back and tell about our Hawaii trip. Back to '61.

We took the time to drive across the mainland; my brother and I had never been west of Denver before. We saw California for the first time (I haven't been there since either.) and all the sights along the southern route to California. We visited some family friends and then put our car in a garage in San Francisco and flew to Hawaii. I believe that was my first airplane trip.

We lived in Lao Leong's apartments on Ala Wai Boulevard and I took the bus to school there too. At the end of my first day of school there I caught the wrong bus, got off when I realized it was wrong and ended up walking all over town it seemed. I don't remember how I got home, to tell the truth, but I did. I sure did feel embarrassed and alone. I walked for two or three hours, looking for some sign of something familiar. I guess I finally found my way to Waikiki beach cause our apartment was just a few blocks from there.

My memories of Hawaii are of banyan trees, people speaking different languages at the beach, and a pitiful-looking old man who sold newspapers. That old man looked so sad that I used to beg my mom to let me buy the newspaper, rather than having it delivered, so that he could sell all his papers. I felt sorry for him. And our landlord must have felt sorry for me cause he gave me a ride to school lots of mornings in his Corvair. Mr. Leong seemed to me to be a kind of Chinese version of my grandfather.

I had halfway expected my school to be kind of backward—after all, they had only been a state for two years then. But no! I tell you that was the hardest school I had ever gone to. A lot of the boys came to school barefoot but they weren't dumb, that's for sure.

My brother and I had a friend there about our age but he got away with not going to school. I guess his parents were beach bums or something; but they didn't make the kid go to school. One day we were all climbing in the big banyan tree in the grocery store parking lot when some bully came along and started throwing rocks at us. We were up a tree— we couldn't hide or run. That was scary. I remember our truant friend trying to help us figure out what we could do to defend ourselves in case such a thing happened again. It seems like I remember talking of slingshots or maybe of hiding large rocks in the clefts of the tree branches, but whatever it was it seemed too violent to me (We didn't want to kill someone.) so we decided we would just keep a sharp lookout and be careful when we played around that place. Banyan trees are the finest climbing trees in the world. I wouldn't be surprised if it is illegal to climb one now-a-days.

Well, my classes in school there were challenging but I also had the challenge of keeping up with the class at home in New Hartford. I had started the seventh grade in the "accelerated" math class. That means we were going to cover the seventh grade math text in the first semester and the eighth grade text in the second semester. So I got my mom to let me leave school a couple of weeks before our scheduled return home so I could use the time to catch up with the math text book I had brought with me. My teachers knew I was scheduled to leave on a certain date so, when I told them I had to leave, they questioned me about it: "You have to leave so soon?" they asked, and I lied and said, "Yes, I have to leave."

I can still remember the smell of that seventh grade math book and the algrebra problems in it. When I got back to New York state I was felt like I was too far behind and so I asked my guidance counselor if I could go to the regular classes. He let me switch classes— it was a real relief. Actually I pulled another trick like that in college, but I will save that one to tell later.

We went to a big church in Honolulu, the biggest church I had ever gone to regularly. The churches of Christ in the Northeast were all young plants planted by Southern preachers bringing their own support with them from Texas or Tennessee but this church in Honolulu dated from before the war. They might have even had a neon sign— I can't remember for sure.

When we left Hawaii I soon forgot the sights and sounds, the smells and the feel of the place. Thirty years later as I was stepping out of a deplaning ramp in Honolulu I caught sight of those misty mountains and got a whiff of some of those lush plantings. It all came flooding back to my memory— just as if it were yesterday.

We went back to the frozen north, but I was glad to be home.

A few days ago I spent a couple hours on the internet trying to find some information or images of New Hartford, New York. I found some generic pages (Rotary Club, skating club, etc.), but mostly I found dead ends. Then I found the pages of the New Hartford Central School district. Most of the information was about proposed bond issues and other school board business, but then I saw a line that said "for more information on the needed repairs go to the photo gallery." So I went and there were my memories: the interiors of the old restrooms, the pot-holes in the parking lot, the outdated long-jump pit, the gym locker room. All the pictures were there to illustrate the dilapidated condition of the facility but to me they were memories of almost forty years ago. I could almost feel myself back in those places again. I could see my d.a. greaser friend's face in the lavatory mirror; I could feel myself jumping into that long-jump pit, as I did when I was on the junior high track team; I could still smell that humid sweaty locker room with the wiry distance runners and the hefty shot-putters.

I was a half-miler when I ran track. I didn't have enough natural speed to run the sprints and I didn't have enough endurance to run the mile so my coach let me run the half-mile—twice around the track. I think I ran in a half-a-dozen meets total. I think I won the half-mile once—in a meet with little or no competition. Once another kid said to me: "You're a psychological runner, I can tell." I didn't know exactly what that meant (if anything) but at least someone noticed me. That was eighth grade, but I never was in a position to be on a track team ever again since we moved to so many different places. I did learn how to "western-roll" on the high jump. I could do the form really beautifully but I couldn't jump very high since I didn't have a chance to practice. I really liked to do the standing long jump but that wasn't a real track and field event, so I only got a chance to shine at that at summer camp field day. Then there was the year there were some black girls at camp from the inner city. All of them could beat me at everything, even though they were girls, ha. That was humbling.

There was a kid in my church who had such pale skin—his grandmother, who he lived with, wouldn't let him play outside or roughhouse or do anything really fun. He was my friend but I thought he was really skinny and weak. Finally, there came the time that he broke out from under his grandmother's thumb and I was surprised to learn he could run the fifty yard dash a full second and a quarter faster than me. Wow, that kid could really run. It was a source of shame and embarrassment if a kid couldn't run or jump like his peers in school.

I had my first job in New Hartford—actually my first two jobs. I admired the kid who delivered our newspaper. So when I got the chance I took over a the first paper route that came open in our neighborhood. It belonged to two brothers who used to do it together. They got tired of it and so they said they would put in a recommendation for me. I wasn't officially old enough but they took me anyway. I would go down to the corner gas station six afternoons a week to pick up my newspapers. Mr. Miller would take them out of the back of his station wagon in bundles of a hundred, cut the wire and rewire them together in stacks with our route numbers on them. Sixty-six papers can be pretty heavy for an eleven-year-old kid, especially on Thursday (the heaviest advertising day). The other paper-boys used to scare me, telling me stories of the heaviest paper of the year, the day after Thanksgiving. Well, if the papers were too heavy I would just leave half of them there and come back for them. I could do the route on my bike (I had rear baskets.) or I could walk with my over-the-shoulder paper bag. How relieved I would be if the paper was thin; it was like getting a partial reprieve.

Now for the financial arrangements. On collecting day Mr. Miller would leave a little brown envelope that told us how much we owed, wholesale, for the weeks papers. We collected forty cents a week from each customer and kept the difference for our profit, stuffing the wholesale amount into the envelope and handing it to him on the appointed day. Six dollars a week seemed like a fortune to me in those days; I thought I would be able to buy lots of cool stuff, but I spent all of it, I think, on Cokes and candy. I don't remember getting anything of lasting value.

Once, the day after collection day I had to go and try to collect from some people who weren't home the day before. I got my dad to drive me to a couple houses, since it wasn't going to take long. I went up to one guy's house and told him I was collecting for the paper. He said, How much? I said, Forty. He said, A quarter? why is it only a quarter? But I thought he said, Forty? why it is only forty? I mumbled something because I thought he knew that forty cents was the regular weekly rate. So he shrugged his shoulders, reached in his pocket and handed me thirty-five cents. I looked at that money (a nickel short) and looked up at him with my mouth hanging open. He said knowingly, t'salright, t'salright. I walked back to the car, my mouth hanging open, looking at the measly thirty-five cents, powerless and amazed. My dad saw and heard the whole thing; you see from the man's point of view he had given me the quarter he owed me plus a dime tip. He was trying to be really being nice to me. Dad told me to speak up and speak more plainly. From then on I enunciated very plainly, Forty cents, please.

The other thing I didn't like was when I couldn't get the money for several weeks in a row. Some people were never home, it seemed. So when I caught them home I would pull out my little collection book and inform them they owed for four or five weeks. I was always afraid they would balk at being told they owed more than two dollars for a newspaper bill. I don't guess anyone really stiffed me during that year or so I did that paper route, but if they had, you know, I don't think it would have entered my mind to drop them from my paper route.

When I think about all that change I got paid with I must say—from the vantage-point of now-a-days—all that change was "real" change. All the coins were actually silver, except of course the nickel and the penny (which was real copper). Today, all the coins we have in the U.S. are base metal. I understand that the first sign of the downfall of a nation is the debasing of the precious metal coins. Rome did the same thing as she declined, you know.

In my community it was standard procedure to place the newspaper between the storm door and the front door or under the doormat, or in whatever place they told us to put it. We certainly were not allowed to throw the paper on the front step like my dad told me they did it in his day. And today they do it that way also—throwing them most anyplace on the property from cars going about forty miles per hour, it seems. Well, those were my paper route days. I quit so I could go to track practice in the afternoon, I think. I never was so relieved as when I had my afternoons free again to be a kid.

The other job I got before we moved away was that of church janitor. I took the city bus over to our church on Saturday morning and mopped the floors and cleaned up. I got five dollars each Saturday for cleaning the church. That entailed quite a responsibility but it was much less bothersome than having to carry those heavy papers all over the neighborhood six afternoons a week. It made me feel good when the preacher handed me a crisp five-dollar bill upon completion of my task every week.

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Photo of Josephus Aloysius (alias Joseph Perry) by John Randall Moody
Photo by J. Randall Moody

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