Facing My Greatest Childhood Fear: Swim Class

The Liberty School Pool as seen recently.  The school and pool are closed.  A special thanks to Kennedy Baughman for the photo.

The Liberty School Pool as seen recently. The school and pool are closed. A special thanks to Kennedy Baughman for the photo.

My elementary school years went fairly smoothly until fourth grade.  This is when we were introduced to swim class.  My greatest fear would be met head on, and I would lose the battle for several years.

Midland school didn’t have a swimming school.  Every Tuesday afternoon, we would take a school bus to Liberty school for swim class. The bus ride was the highlight of this most difficult time in my life. The bus driver always seemed quite cheerful and talkative; however, his cheerfulness couldn’t help ease the pain of my worst hour of the week.

Hank is the first one on the left. He is remembered by most of the students during my era.

Here are some of the bus drivers.  Seth is the one I remembered the most.

After arriving at Liberty school, we were introduced to our routine for the year. Mr. Munro, our teacher, told us that we were to totally undress. This was difficult for me because I had never done this before in public. What even made it more difficult is that we were not to wear swim trunks. We would be spending the whole time in swim class in our birthday suits. To this day, nobody has given a satisfactory explanation to this rule. The girls wore swimsuits during their swim time. Why didn’t my parents complain? Why didn’t any parent complain?! Why didn’t some newspaper expose the practice? I can’t imagine this happening today.

After we took off our clothes, Mr. Munro told us that we had to shower before we entered the pool area. After the shower, he would inspect each one of us by rubbing our collarbone area and our wrist. If no dry skin came off, we were good to go. Eventually, we learned that we only needed to clean our collarbone area and our wrist.

Now, the worst part would soon come.  We were to get into the pool.  The pool at Liberty, looking back, was not very large, but it looked like an ocean to me.  The largest pool I had ever entered was my bathtub.  I would have been quite content if it had remained that way.

When I entered the pool, I lived in the shallow end. I may have ventured out a bit with a board to keep me afloat, but I still didn’t go any further than where my head could stay above water. Mr. Munro probably taught many a boy to swim, but I wasn’t one of them.

There were many Tuesdays when I would come to school feeling quite well, but by afternoon, I would develop a stomach ache. I wasn’t making this up, I was so afraid of swim class that I would literally get sick. I would be sent to the nurse’s office and she would give me some kind peppermint to settle my stomach. The bus would leave and I was spared one week of agony in swim class.

When I arrived at Ford Middle School, I think Mr DeSantis, our swim teacher, took me on as a personal challenge. It seemed like I was the only student in sixth grade who couldn’t swim. Mr. DeSantis tried and tried to get me to leave the float board and start swimming.  Soon, he threatened me with an “F” if I didn’t start to swim. Finally, the day came when I actually swam the width of the Ford School pool. I had learned to swim! I avoided my “F”!

However, Mr. DeSantis was not done with me. In eighth grade, I had a new challenge.  Mr. DeSantis said that I must JUMP into the deep end feet first and hit the bottom of the pool and bounce up and swim the LENGTH of the pool. If I didn’t accomplish this feat, I would receive an “F”.  I don’t know how many weeks passed, but every time I would get to the edge of the pool, I would think that I would never survive the JUMP.

You also had to know that Mr. DeSantis was a bit overweight. Could he save me if I were to drown?  I had even asked him once: “Why gym teachers tended to be heavy?”  I do not know what possessed me to do this, but he chuckled and said: “When we were younger we ate a lot and we exercised a lot.  When got older we kept eating, but we didn’t exercise as much.”  I have not forgotten this lesson in my life.

Finally, judgment day came. If I didn’t jump, I would get a big “F” on my report card.  With great fear, I looked over the side of the pool. I looked at Mr. DeSantis, who said: “Don’t worry, you can do it.” I don’t know how I did it, but I jumped in and my feet hit the bottom of the pool and I bounced back up and swam the length of the pool. That was the last time I have ever jumped into a pool.

Even today, I am not much for the water, but I can swim a few laps in the pool, and maybe swim enough to save myself.  I am thankful for Mr. DeSantis and his great patience with me.  He helped me to finally meet my great fear and win the battle.

P.S. Please visit my other blog where I talk about spiritual topics such as: “Candid Thoughts about Crowds”, and “Five Great Promises as I Travel this Life”. The address is: http://www.markjemilbooth.com.

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Second Grade Memories of Midland Elementary School (1962-63)

My friends and I ready to go to Midland School in the Spring of 1963. Notice that we had no backpacks, because we had no homework!

My friends and I are ready to go to Midland School in the Spring of 1963. Notice that we had no backpacks, because we had no homework!

The buzz, buzz of the alarm bell went off. We quickly lined up to leave our classroom. This drill was not the typical fire drill. In a fire drill, we would leave the building as quickly as possible. This alarm bell’s urgent buzzing was different from the fire alarm. Also, instead of going outside, we went downstairs to the gym. Then, we were herded to the back of the stage, where we sat down on the floor with our legs crossed. The final step was to place our hands over our ears and bend down towards our legs.

There was one of these posted on the Midland School Building.

There was one of these posted on the Midland School Building.

The school repeated this drill several times in the fall of 1962.  As a second grader, I had no idea why we were doing these drills. Our teacher, Mrs. Schlabach didn’t explain; neither did my parents. Only a few years later would I learn about the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The first day of our new school year, Mrs. Schlabach, stood in front of the class. It seemed like every year my teachers were getting older. Miss Robbins, my Kindergarten teacher was quite young.  Mrs. Thomas appeared middle-aged.  Mrs. Schlabach had gray hair and was short and a little plump. She looked like a grandmother instead of a teacher. However, looks were deceiving, because Mrs. Schlabach did a great job of teaching. She did care for each one of us like a grandmother, but she wouldn’t let us get away with anything unlike a grandmother.

On the first day, Mrs. Schlabach gave us a list of things that we would need for the class. She also asked us to bring money for some classroom expenses. I can’t remember all that was on the list except five cents for Kleenex. I remember this because Dad seemed quite unhappy that we had to pay for such a thing. I think it might have had something to do with taxes.

Second Grade was memorable because  I was able to leave my first grade friends: Dick, Jane and Sally. Mrs. Schlabach introduced me to some new friends called Thomas, Abraham and George. These new friends introduced me to history.

Mrs. Schlabach shared the story of Thomas Edison with us. He was raised in Michigan, which made him a very important historical figure for our class. The story of how he became hard of hearing is still in my memory bank.  Also, his persistence in his work as an inventor still inspires me to this day.  Mrs. Schlabach marked Thomas Edison’s birthday (February 11th) on our calendar. I still celebrate February 11th as Edison’s birthday.

Of course, the other two friends that taught me history were George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. I don’t know how we did it, but we made silhouettes in black pasted on white paper of these two presidents. I enjoyed the stories that Mrs. Schlabach shared of these two presidents. She was giving me a love for history that I still have today.

In early November, Mrs. Schlabach wrote on the blackboard, which was green. She wrote that George Romney had won the election as governor of Michigan. This was my introduction to government  I soon had a small understanding that we have a President of the United States, as well as a Governor of our State of Michigan.

I was beginning to see that the world was bigger than my family, my neighborhood and the Detroit Tigers. I had a desire to learn more about the world around me. My Weekly Reader helped me with this, but I also enjoyed watching George Pierrot after school. He would take me to far away places every afternoon when I wasn’t playing outside.

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One other memorable event in second grade was the big freeze. One day, the temperature went down to minus twelve degrees. This was cold! For some reason, Mom didn’t see that it was a problem for me to go to school; however most of the other mothers did. That day only five students were in attendance in our class.  It was a strange feeling to have so few students at school.

As I look back on Second Grade, there were a few special milestones. I had finally learned to tie my shoes. I also developed an interest in history.  I also realized that I was better in math than I was in reading. I am amazed that I spent nine months in second grade and yet I have only a few memories of those days. However, I am thankful for Mrs. Schlabach, who introduced me to so many new things, especially history.

First Grade Memories of Midland Elementary School (1961-62)

Midland School, a few years ago.  It is now torn down.

Midland School, a few years ago. It is now torn down. Try to imagine what it looked like new!

It was early September 1961, the summer was past. I would now begin a new stage of my life called elementary school. This five-year adventure would take place at the newly built Midland Elementary School.  The school looked very modern compared to Ford School where I had gone to kindergarten.  There would be no meandering hallways. There would be no buying milk in what seemed like a dungeon.

The school building had two floors. The upper floor contained all the classrooms except for the kindergarten classes which were on the ground level. The ground level contained the combination gymnasium, lunchroom and auditorium.  Also the ground level had the school offices and the teachers’ lounge. Everything in the building was fresh, clean and new. This is where I would get all the basics of a good education!

My first grade teacher was Mrs. Thomas.  I can see her appearance in my mind’s eye, but there was no outstanding thing about her that I can bring to mind.  First grade introduced me to some new friends called Dick, Jane, Sally and a dog named Spot.  They would visit our class every day via a filmstrip presentation and in our reading books. I soon learned Dick and Jane liked to look a lot as well as run.  Slowly, but surely Dick, Jane, Sally and Spot were helping me to learn to read.

Dick and Jane

One of the new things about first grade was our gym class that we would have once or twice a week. This was a time of embarrassment for me because I still hadn’t learned how to tie my shoes.  I would have to ask a friend or Mrs. Thomas to tie my gym shoes. You may think I was a bit slow, but the excuse my family gave me is that they couldn’t show me how because I was left-handed.

Being left-handed would be a problem all throughout my elementary school years.  Not only was I slow to learn how to tie my shoes (I did learn by 2nd grade). The other problem was learning how to write.  We first learned how to print with rather thick pencils. As I would write, I found that my hand followed the pencil instead of vice versa for a right-handed person.  This caused a large pencil mark on the bottom side of my hand.  I never figured out a solution to this problem.  As a result, my printing and penmanship are terrible even even now.

Another new learning experience of first grade was lunch.  Kindergarten was only a half day so lunch was unnecessary.  Children who lived close to Midland school would go home for lunch, but my house was a long walk from school.  For some reason, I refused to take a lunch pail. Mom would kindly fix my lunch and place it in a brown sack.  My lunch usually consisted of celery sticks, a peanut butter sandwich (with just butter, no jam), an apple or on bad days a banana, and then a dessert such as a cookie or a Twinkie.

We would all go down to the lunch room, which was in the gym. Tables were set up and we would begin eating our food, or trading our food with others.  There were also adults  to supervise us because I am sure that we needed all the supervising that we could get. I can still remember that one of our supervisors was Mrs. Street, who tried to keep us fairly quiet and make us eat our lunch.

After lunch, we would be able to go outside and play.  The playground had all the usual equipment, such as a slide, a teeter-totter, and swings.  There was an open area in the far corner where I enjoyed playing Pump Pump Pull Away with others. We also played King of the Hill on a cement slab, as well as Tag.

First Grade also was my first introduction to the space program.  One morning, we went to the library where there was a black and white television set up on a very high stand. The lights were turned off and we saw John Glenn blast off in his Mercury capsule.  Later that day, we were treated to seeing him splashdown. Many of us wanted to be astronauts as a result of the early Mercury flights.

Around Christmas, we would also be herded to the library to watch a couple of short movies for Christmas, one including the birth of Jesus Christ. I was also exposed to my first sighting of a silver aluminum Christmas tree outside of the teachers’ lounge. This was a curiosity to me because there was a wheel that would turn around in front of light which would show the aluminum tree in different colors. This just didn’t seem right to me.  Why couldn’t they just have a real Christmas tree?

This is what the tree looked like at Midland School.  By the way, if you are interested you can buy this tree on etsy.com for $450.00!

This is what the tree looked like at Midland School. By the way, if you are interested you can buy this tree on etsy.com for $450.00!

In first grade, I also learned a couple of new words; “room mother”.  A room mother would be called on to organize a special party or bring cookies on special occasions. One thing I could never understand is that the cookie of choice always seemed to be the Windmill cookie. My mom would become a room mother a couple of times during my stay at Midland.  I always thought that she was the prettiest room mother at Midland school.

Soon, June arrived.  First grade was over. My report card said that I had passed on to second grade.  There would be a whole summer of playing baseball, collecting baseball cards, and playing outside with my friends.  It would also mean attending some Detroit Tigers games. Summer would also mean going with my mom to Patton, Pennsylvania for a couple of weeks. This small town had all sorts of adventures for me.  However, September would soon return. Second grade, here I come.

My First Grade Photo

My First Grade Photo

P.S. Please visit my other blog at: http://www.markjemilbooth.com.  I have several articles such as “God’s Waiting Room”, and “Moving Beyond Fear to Courage”.

Dr. Winston Wreggit, My Highland Park Doctor (1908-1992)

Dr Winston Wreggit and his wife Elizabeth.  Her parents served as medical missionaries for several years in India.

Dr Winston Wreggit and his wife Elizabeth. Her parents served as medical missionaries for several years in India.

There are many treasures that we receive from our parents after they leave us. One of the treasures that I received from my Dad is a 1925 Polar Bear Yearbook. Looking at the pictures of life during my Dad’s time as an older teenager is quite interesting.

While looking at the Senior Class of 1925, I saw a familiar name, Winston Wreggit.  I looked at the photo. and I recognized that this is a photo of our family doctor for all the years that I lived in Highland Park (1955-1977)! My mind couldn’t help but go back to my many visits to Dr. Wreggit’s office at 79 Highland Avenue, which was located across from the Bell Telephone Company building.

Winston Wreggit's senior photo in the 1925 Polar Bear Yearbook

Winston Wreggit’s senior photo in the 1925 Polar Bear Yearbook

My Dad knew Dr. Wreggit from his high school years. For this reason, Dad felt a special connection to Dr. Wreggit. Dad knew that Dr. Wreggit would take good care of his family, and he had the utmost confidence in him.  Because of this confidence, I would never know another physician for the first twenty-seven years of my life.

A visit to Dr. Wreggit began with opening the door of what had been a first floor flat. Entering the door, we (Mom and I) would be greeted by Dr. Wreggit’s nurse, receptionist and office manager (all in one person!). The nurse would then direct us to the waiting room.  This room was rather spartan in its looks, but I liked sitting in one of the straw chairs.

A former patient (Kennedy Baughman) in front of what use to be Dr. Wreggit's office.

A former patient (Kennedy Baughman) in front of what was Dr. Wreggit’s office.

The highlight of the waiting room was the Highlights magazine. I would enjoy looking through the magazine, especially finding the hidden objects in the picture. Later on, when I was older, I probably picked up the Time magazine or some other magazine.  I don’t ever remember that we ever had a long wait.

After some time, our kind nurse would call us into one of the rooms that Dr. Wreggit used to see his patients.  One of the things that amazed me were all the file folders. There were file folders on the desk, as well on top of his cabinet. Everything was a bit cluttered, but I am sure there was some organization in it all.

While I looked around, Dr. Wreggit would enter the room and greet me with his deep bass voice. Then he would open up his file and perhaps say: “It is time for your tetanus booster” I don’t know why but it seemed like every time, I would see Dr. Wreggit, he would give me a shot.

Being merciful, Dr. Wreggit wouldn’t begin with the “shot”. He would first take my blood pressure. Then he would say: “Please take off your shirt.” With his stethoscope, he would begin to probe my chest.  Then he would probe my back. As he was probing, he would say the words that I can still hear in my head: “Take a deep breath, let it out.” Then he would say: “again” several times.  After this he would check down my throat and pronounce me healthy.

The next part was the hard part. I saw the needle in his hand. He would swab the target spot on my arm with something clear. It didn’t seem to help with what was coming. He would inject me as I tried to show courage and not cry. After the shot was given. he would reach up to the top of his cabinet and grab a box. As he opened the box, I could see that it was full of suckers. I grabbed one and off I would go, another satisfied patient.

There were a couple of occasions when I was sick that I didn’t go visit Dr. Wreggit. He would come and visit me. This just seemed natural in those days. Dr. Wreggit would come into our house with his black bag filled with all the instruments that he needed to sort out what needed to be done. He would go through the same basic routine that I experienced at his office. Those words: “Take a deep breath and let it out” were repeated. He would tell my parents what to do for me and then he would leave.

After leaving Highland Park, I never visited a doctor for many years. However, in 1983 Sharon (my wife) and I needed a physical to get a visa to move to South Africa as missionaries. I told Sharon about Dr. Wreggit. Dad still went to Dr. Wreggit; so it was only natural that we would go to him though he now had his practice in Southfield.

This would be the last time, I would ever see Dr. Wreggit. He was in his mid-seventies and though he looked older than I had remembered him, his voice was still strong. I heard for one last time those words: “Take a deep breath and let it out.” He also gave us his favorite shot, the tetanus booster. This time, there were no box of suckers. As we left to pay, he told us that we owed him nothing.  For some strange reason this didn’t surprise me. My Dad had told me how generous Dr. Wreggit was with his services.  He charged my Dad seven dollars per visit until he quit his practice in the mid-eighties.

Like so many people in my life, I never really knew the real Dr. Wreggit. I saw him as a kind, and committed doctor, but I didn’t know the whole story until I was preparing to write this post.

What motivated him to practice medicine in order to help others?  Why would he treat many of his patients for only what they could afford or for free?  In Dr. Wreggit’s childhood, he made two very important decisions that would rule his life. One decision he made was to accept Jesus Christ as his Savior as a result of the ministry of the well-known evangelist, Billy Sunday. He would continue to follow the Lord and serve Him for all his life. He was also faithful member of Highland Park Baptist Church.

At the age of ten, Dr. Wreggit made another decision that would change his life. He was near death as a result of spinal meningitis. As he was lying on his hospital bed in old Grace Hospital, he made a promise to God that he would help other people as a doctor if he would get better. God answered his prayer. Dr. Wreggit would practice medicine almost until the day he died.

Over the years, I have had a few other doctors, but none of them were like Dr. Wreggit.  Here was a man who cared about others. Not only that, but he cared about a little boy growing up in Highland Park. For this reason, I wanted to write this post about him.

P.S. Here are a few more photos of Dr. Wreggit.

Dr. Wreggit served in the US Army during World War 2. He was an army surgeon in New Guinea. He reached the rank of Lt. Colonel

Dr. Wreggit served in the US Army during World War 2. He was an army surgeon in New Guinea. He reached the rank of Lt. Colonel.

Dr. Wreggit and Elizabeth at their son's (George) wedding.  George followed in his Dad's footsteps as a doctor.

Dr. Wreggit and Elizabeth at their son’s (George) wedding. George followed in his Dad’s footsteps as a doctor.

Dr Wreggit at a reception in honor of forty years of service at Grace Hospital.

Dr Wreggit at a reception in honor of forty years of service at Grace Hospital.

P.P.S. Please visit my other blog: http://www.markjemilbooth.com.  I have several articles concerning our spiritual lives including, “A Heart to Walk with God” and “The Joy of Morning Prayer.”