OR ... A BUNCH OF STUMPJUMPERS IN NEW YORK CITY
The danger in telling family stories is that they might not be interesting at all to others. Yet tales involving my dad's generation of Curtin Villagers offer insights into what life there was like in the early 1900s and how the children were raised.
My father, Walter Furst Glenn (1905-1980), Hon or Uncle Hon as he was called in the family, was the son of Curtin Village storekeeper and postmaster Jeremiah Glenn (1874-1936) and his wife, Rebecca Parker Glenn (1876-1963). Jeremiah was an Irish Catholic and there was more than one nun in the family, but my dad attended the Methodist Church in the Village and became a minister of that denomination. That's a little off-topic, but I wanted to point out my dad's religious calling before indicating how he advised dealing with growling dogs and bullies.
One imagines that there were many stray dogs running around the countryside when little Hon was growing up in Curtin. He always told me that you should show no fear to a dog. I'm quite sure it's not true in all instances with all dogs, but he counseled something to the effect that if you showed the dog who the boss was, you'd be OK.
That theory was put to the test one day when I was a little boy. My dad had taken me along to visit parishioners who owned a cherry orchard. It was off-season at the orchard and a big, snarling mongrel was freely roaming the grounds. As my dad got out of the car, the frothing-at-the-mouth beast charged him at full speed and leaped directly toward his face, obviously intent on doing damage. Instead of panicking, my dad just calmly juked his head a little and slammed the cur's snout with an iron fist, and to make sure the dog got the message, gave him a swift kick in the rump as he landed. The cowering canine took off as fast as he could go, his tail between his legs. My dad then told me it was OK to get out of the car, and we casually went about our business without any problem. When we came out of the house to return to the car, the submissive animal eyed us warily and sidled away, keeping well out of range. The next week in the local paper, there was an item about the dog viciously biting a visitor to the orchard, apparently not a Curtinite.
Don’t get the idea my father was mean to animals. He loved dogs, but he also understood when a show of force was needed for self-preservation. Same thing when it came to bullies. When I was about eight, a kid that was a couple years older and much bigger than I was, started to give me a rough time every day while I was walking home from school. I was afraid of the kid and told my parents about it, maybe hoping to receive some kind of sympathy, assistance, or protection. That wasn’t exactly what I got. Pretty much word-for-word, what I heard was, "Well I don't want you to start something, but you can take your own part if you need to."
To understand what happened next requires a little background. For several years I had been allowed to stay up late to watch the Gillette Friday Night Fights with my dad and much-older brother. I even got a punching bag for Christmas when I was about five, in order to be able to stand in front of the TV set and imitate my preferred boxer as he threw punches. It’s amusing now, but life at the preacher’s house in those days was different than you might imagine.
Back to the story. The next day, the big bully was behind me again as usual, pushing me around and slapping the back of my head. I told him to stop, but of course he kept on with it -- once too many times. Inside my brain, I heard "take your own part" being replayed and something snapped. I wheeled around and delivered a well-placed upper-cut to the jaw, and there was a lot of adrenaline behind it. The kid didn't drop, but he might have staggered a little. I never saw him again.
There might be wiser ways to handle these situations. Things might not work out so well, but biting dogs and bullies are universal and have always existed. The Curtin kids learned how to survive without the assistance of others.
Those self-sufficient youngsters were given a lot of freedom to make their own choices, too. It carried on down to the way I and my siblings were treated. My brother and I literally had no set rules. We were also not bailed out if things went bad. My sister was burdened to some extent with the double standard of those days. She wasn't allowed to date until she was 16, and she had a curfew of 11 or 12, but there was nothing much beyond that.
My late sister liked to tell the story of the time in high school when a friend's parents went away for the weekend, and the teenager decided to have a slumber party (sleepover). In truth, the set-up was to include surreptitious boy-girl visitation that would not have been approved by any of the parents had they known. Of course, my sister didn't share that part of plan, but she did ask my dad for permission to go to the slumber party at her friend's house. He looked at her a bit quizzically, and didn't say yes or no. What he said was, "Well the fact that you asked me makes me think that you think there's something not quite right about this." My sister didn't attend.
Giving kids responsibility at a young age was another characteristic of upbringing in Curtin. In a previous blog post, I told the story of my Aunt Martha living in New York City and that two of her sisters -- Rachel and Frances (Pedge) -- roomed with her there for a time and met their husbands. My Aunt Rachel and Uncle George set up housekeeping in Hong Kong. Aunt Pedge and her husband settled in Kansas and had their family there. Sometime around 1957, the Hong Kong couple and their daughter, as well as Aunt Pedge and her family were visiting my grandmother in Mount Eagle. The aunts and uncles decided that it would be fun to visit Aunt Martha in New York, and they invited my sister to go along. Four cousins, ranging in age from about seven to about 14, accompanied the four adults.
Off they go to New York City. One day the entourage were in Manhattan sightseeing with Aunt Martha. Sometime late in the afternoon, the adults decide they'd like to go out for dinner and dancing in the city. What to do with the kids? Easy solution if you grew up in Curtin. You give the kids the key to Aunt Martha's place in Rockville Center, and you send them on their way with enough money for the train and taxi to get there. When my sister told the story, the pitch and volume of her voice kept rising as she went along, "I was the oldest and couldn’t have been more than 14. And Jeff was a little boy. I might have been to the city once before. None of us knew what we were doing. There we were, a bunch of stumpjumpers in the middle of New York, and they just sent us off by ourselves and said they'd be late."
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Note -- I'm not sure a kid from Hong Kong or from Wichita, Kansas, for that matter, classifies as a stumpjumper, but my sister was a small-town kid from central Pennsylvania, and that's the way she told the story.
Jerry is a retired general surgeon and a new Board Member of the Roland Curtin Foundation. He has Curtin roots extending back to 1831, through four previous generations.