My Life on Herman Street BY RUTH SIMOS
In 1939, I became a freshman at Bay View High School. I was a science major and my elective was art. When I saw the art classroom, I thought I was in heaven! There was a supply room at the back where we could pretty much help ourselves if we needed something. There were kids of all grades in the art class because it was a half credit subject and lots of people took it as a fill-in. There were only four students in my class of over 400 who took art for all four years – two girls and two boys.
Back at Immaculate Conception, we had very little art and often if someone misbehaved, Sister could use that as an excuse to cancel, which happened more often than not. One of the disadvantages of taking art as a four-year class is that I had my share of color wheels and block prints. We had three different teachers during those four years however, so we learned from different people and one always learns something new that way, even with repetition.
Much to my amazement, I actually passed algebra and was exempt from the exam. Geometry was another matter. I did not
understand any of it, and no one at home could help me out with my homework. I would struggle and work on those darn theorems and be completely original from the rest of the class. If I did happen to do one correctly, I then made a mistake in the arithmetic and my correct method was all for naught because it would still be marked wrong. I squeaked by and passed and vowed to never take another math class in my life – and I never did.
The science classes were lots of fun. Mr. Dennis, who taught biology to the sophomores, should have been teaching college biology – he expected that much of us. He also liked to spring surprise tests on us and since I was in his first hour class, that was a real disadvantage. Kids from later classes would stop us in the hall and ask if there was a test so they could cram for it before their class; we didn’t have their luck. One of the great things Mr. Dennis did was keep some of the bloopers that kids made on their exams over the years and in the days before exam time, he would read some of them to us. One favorite of mine that
I still remember was that someone said that a female moth was a “myth.” There were a lot of original thinkers taking biology!
Chemistry came along in our junior year and Thursdays were lab days. I still quake when I think that they turned us loose with both fire (Bunsen burners), and running water. There were four of us to a lab table and I remember that when we were working on a condensation lesson, a klutzy girl who was at our table accidentally knocked a hose off of a tube and surprised her classmate with a shower and made the teacher run to turn off the water. At least we didn’t burn the building down.
I loved all of my English classes and was always reading way ahead in the textbooks because the stuff was so good! Our freshman year, we had a mythology class and in our sophomore and junior years we had American Literature. As seniors, we had English Literature, including Shakespeare and all the Lake District poets and Dickens – it was wonderful. In our sophomore year, we had to dramatize some of the poems. This assignment was given to us according to our seating row in class. It so happened that row five was all boys and they chose a poem by James Whitcomb Riley that I can’t remember; one of the boys was “Elivery” and wore a babushka on his head. He was an extremely ugly girl. Another boy had brought a picture frame and when it came to that part where her lover looked in through the “winder,” another boy held up the frame – and
that was the window. This was especially funny because a couple of the guys were fullbacks on the football team and were quite embarrassed by any kind of poetry.
It was getting closer to graduation in 1942 and we were getting more excited to finally be grown up and through with high school. One Sunday in 1941, I had some classmates over to practice a skit we were doing for the election of officers to Round Table, a club at school. That’s where we were then we heard the announcement that the Japanese navy had attacked Pearl Harbor. Everyone always remembers when something momentous happens in their lives. The United States then declared
war on Japan and also joined the war in Europe – something that had been going on since 1939.
The school went into war-mode and started selling war bonds, having lookouts on the roof of the school and even having some of the boys enlisting before graduation. That also set us to lobbying for caps and gowns for graduation because the boys would never wear the suits they would need for graduation afterward. We didn’t get anywhere with our requests and were told we didn’t warrant caps and gowns until we graduated from college. Some of the enlistees were able to stay until June and graduate and some were not.
Life at home changed, also. We received ration books for groceries and no new cars came out of Detroit because all of the production went into war vehicles. People were giving their pots and pans to the war effort to be turned into ammunition and machinery. There also was less clothing and fewer groceries in stores. Now when I tell people about how life changed and the shortages it caused in everyday life, it is hard for them to grasp. It really does seem like ancient history to them – but not to me.
A few years ago when we were remembering Veterans Day (I can remember when it was called Armistice Day – after World War I), I thought to myself, “What a bunch of old guys!” And then I realized, that’s me! And I also realize what an impact that period had on me when I see television programs or movies about those days and pictures of the veterans – those that remain. I surprise myself by weeping; something I am not given to doing in public, and then I know that I am still affected by the events of just stepping out into the world of adulthood at such a crucial time in our history and I am still here in the same place when so many of my generation are not. THANK YOU