Good memories of old friends

I’ve lost track of my old grade school and junior high buddy, John Strommer. He and his family moved to Youngstown in 1950 after he finished ninth grade. I made a few attempts to contact him after that, but I heard nothing.

I first met John when he was a newcomer in the fourth grade at Garfield Elementary. He got into a mild bit of trouble with the teachers because of his wise cracking. I’m sure he did it to get attention and the other kids loved it.

He and I became fast friends because we were both recognized as the best artists in the class. We were forever painting murals for the school under the tutelage of Miss Sarah Mae Thompson. In addition to her art class, we would spend our entire lunch time sitting in the gym drawing pictures of combat planes and steam locomotives.

Later, at East Junior, we didn’t impress our art teacher at all. She was more interested in keeping discipline and punishing us for talking with each other about our work. She would take great delight in taping paper gags over our mouths. That certainly killed our motivation to learn and create — at least for her, anyway.

As a result, John and I turned our interests to our model train layouts that were in the attics of our homes. We painted snow-capped mountains for scenery on the walls behind our train layouts and built mountain tunnels out of a mixture of powdered asbestos and water. We had no idea of the danger.

Bill Taylor, a friend of the family, came to see my Lionel railroad layout. He took flash pictures of it with a huge press camera. He inadvertently left behind a few unused flash bulbs that were about the size of a regular 100 watt light bulb.

John and I just had to figure out how to light them. We figured that we could make them glow a little by placing the base of the bulb on the center rail of the train track and the side of that base against the outside rail.

John put the bulb in place. He instructed me to turn up the wattage on the transformer a little — then a little more. Nothing. John stuck his nose close to the bulb and cupped his hands around it so that he could detect the slightest glow. More juice. Pow! That huge flashbulb went off (at about 4000 degrees Kelvin) with a powerful, blinding flash! John hollered and flailed about the room, bashing his head into the low, slanted attic ceiling, while blowing on his hands.

I guided him to a chair. He was blinded by the flash. His hands were a little burned, but he was only temporarily blinded. His vision quickly returned. A little Unguentine from the medicine cabinet soothed the burns on his hands a little.

Sometime later, John and I were flying home-made balsa gliders. We disagreed about how they should be configured. We got into it and I, being a bit huskier than John, soon had him on the ground. I pounded him on the head a few times and let him up. We made up, but it turned out that I had broken a knuckle on his hard head.

Dr. Mutchman put my hand in a light cast and I returned to school after a day off. Then, John came in to class. His face was all greasy with some kind of ointment and he had no eyebrows and no hair on his arms.

John’s dad was sanding the varnished floors at his home. John had taken the sanding dust along with the waste paper out to the trash burner in the back yard. He put a lighted match to the mixture. Again … Pow! John had first and maybe second degree burns on his face and arms.

All these things happened while we were growing up. I suppose that if we would have stayed away from asbestos, varnish dust, flash bulbs and reconfigured gliders, none of this would have happened. Then again, without these happenings, growing up would have been pretty dull.

Mumford, of Warren, can be reached at columns@tribtoday.com.

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