BEGINNINGS — SOME FAMILY HISTORY
I was born in 1948, February 7th, in Kalamazoo, Michigan. My parents were average middle-class, working class people. They believed in the value of hard work and both came from religious families. My dad grew up in the Pontiac, Michigan area and my mom grew up in the Comstock, Michigan area. My father’s uncle Clifford helped him get a job in the paper industry in Parchment, Michigan (near Kalamazoo). He left his job to serve in the 2nd world war. I am not sure of many of the details of his army life, but I know he was in Algeria. I have a ring that he gave me that he got in Africa. It is inscribed with the word “Oman”. When he returned from the war, he returned to his job in Parchment.
I believe he met my mother thru his job at the paper mill. They were married and bought a house on the east side of Kalamazoo. Washburn Avenue. That is where I grew up.
My dad’s parents were Roy and Lillian Skinner. Roy was killed in a gravel cave-in when my father was 12 years old. Later, Lilian re-married. She married Fisk MdGregor. Since my dad’s family lived on the other side of the state (Pontiac area), we did not see them often. Maybe twice a year. I remember visiting his parents (my grand-parents). They had two bedrooms upstairs and one downstairs. Grandpa and grandma slept downstairs and we slept upstairs. My mom and dad had one room (I think my sister slept on the floor in there). My brother and I slept in the other room. I remember the bed seemed really huge and quite high off the floor, with a massive wooden headboard. Breakfasts there were special to me, because they used real butter and I remember how much better it tasted than what we used at home. There was a railway track out behind there back-yard and my brother and sister and I would climb the fence and tempt fate (or so it seemed at the time) by watching and waiting for a train to come along. I remember putting pennnies on the track and then collecting the flattened coins after a train had passed. Once we put a bananna peel on the track. Fun and adventure for kids from Kalamazoo with no experience with trains. I have no memories of my dad’s parents ever coming to Kalamazoo to visit.
My dad had two brothers (Don and Charles). Charles and his wife, Mildred, had a daughter, Carol. They lived on a farm (my dad’s Aunt Ida’s farm) when I first remember them. Later, they moved to live next door to my grand-parents. Don and his wife, Marion, had three boys. Sometimes we stayed with them when we went to the Pontiac area to visit. We thought it was neat hanging around with my cousins (Uncle Don’s boys) Jimmy, Allen and Danny. They would take us out into the woods, swamps and over to Dunham Lake and let us shoot their BB Gun.
My dad’s father died in a gravel cave-in when my dad was twelve. His mother re-married (to Fisk McGregor). She died in 1955 from cancer. I remember going to see her shortly before she died. She was lying on a bed in the living room of their house. Her skin was very yellowish.
The following is some biographical info that my father wrote:
“In early January, I received a letter from the draft board telling me my draft number would be called in March 1941. On March 17th in 1941, I called to join the army. This was St. Patricks’ day so I will never forget that day.
Quite a few men from Kalamazoo were put on a train and a very short time we were in Fort Custer in Battle Creek. We stayed there for about three days getting our physicals and shots. While I was there I got my first taste of what army life was about. I went to the washroom and there was a G.I. there who seemed to be in charge of things. There was a cigarette butt on the floor and he told me to pick it up. I told him I didn’t put it there and he said to pick it up anyway. After that he told me to get a mop and pail and mop up the floor. I proceeded to do that too. I wouldn’t be surprised if that G. I. planted that cigarette butt there. Also I was woke up very early one morning for K.P. duty. That was the first time for me to have to do K.P. duty but later I was called again for the job.
After about three days at Fort Custer, a lot of us were put on a train for training at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. Fort Sill was located in the Wichita Mountains near Lawton. It was about the biggest artillery bas the army had. When I got there I found out the army wasn’t anywhere near ready for war. We had uniforms that were used in World War 1. Also there were not hardly any small arms available to train us. The first few months there we done a lot of hiking and calisthenics to get us in shape. After that we started spending some time on the artillery range. Little did we know what was going to happen next.
We found out the artillery guns we would be using were World War 1 howitzers that had been stored for twenty years or more. These guns had been packed in cosmoline, a type of grease and extremely hard to remove. We had to use gallons of solvent to get it cleaned up. We finally got some of the guns cleaned up and we were able to use them. Now we would be ready to go on the range and start learning about these 75 mm guns which were made in France. When we were ready to go out on the firing range, the guns were lined up four in a row. Each gun had its own crew. My job was to load shells in the gun. They use shells that were called “high explosives”. Each shell had a white nose piece which was the high explosive. During the loading process, the crews were very edgy. We were told the nose piece could explode very easy if we were careless. Later we started training on a larger gun which was made in the states and it was 105 mm in size.
Later in the year some of us were put in another outfit at Fort Sill. It was called the 8th Field Artillery Observation battalion. This unit was supposed to go ahead of the regular artillery and with instruments, could detect enemy fire and sounds. Also in this group was a group that was called the Meteorology Unit. This is the group I was in. This group checked on weather conditions that might effect the artillery shells being fired. Mainly we checked wind speed and direction and humidity.
In the fall of 1941, about Oct or Nov, I found that some of the fellows were getting furloughs. So I went through the proper channels and was granted my first furlough. I was glad to get home and away from army life. On my way home on furlough, I took a bus and when I got as far a Joplin, Missouri, we had a stop. When I got off the bus, I didn’t have mine pocket book, nor my furlough papers. I had my bus ticket so I was OK. for traveling. I’m sure the people who sat behind me took my billfold.
My mother’s family all lived in the Kalamazoo area. There were many family get-togethers on my mother’s side. My mothers parents were Claire and Grace Schuyler. My mother had a brother (Uncle Bud) and a sister (Doris). We had big holiday gatherings and huge meals. My mother’s parents loved to play games, such as Dominos, various card games and Chinese marbles. Claire was a bit of a rascal. He liked to smoke cigars and was known to have a drink of liquor from time to time. He also called square dances. My grandma Schuyler always kept a Parakeet. She was a prolific letter-writter. We received many letters from her to let us know that she was thinking about us and to keep us informed about what was happening back in Kalamazoo.
Growing up on the East Side of Kalamazoo was great. Lots of kids to play with. We went to Woodrow Wilson Elementary School. Kindergarten thru Grade 6. We used to walk to and from school in the morning and in the afternoon. And we used to walk home for lunch each day also. It was about 6 city blocks from our house to the school. That sure kept us in shape. Not alot of over-weight kids in those days. After school, on weekends and thru-out the summer we rode our bikes alot, went exploring and hiking south of our place. There it was wooded and swampy and hilly in places. There was a big ridge or hill down there that we called Devil’s Back. It was a great place for sliding in the winter. And there was another wooded hilly place a little closer that we used to play in and build forts. We used to dig big holes in the ground and then cover them over with trees and branches. They were actually quite roomy. We played baseball and football. There was a park a few blocks away and that is where we played Little League baseball. In the winter, one of the things we did (that was actually quite dangerous) was wait around on street corners for a car to stop at a stop sign and then we would run over and hang onto the bumper of the car and “skate” along behind it. What were we thinking!!!!!
After Woodrow Wilson Elementary School (the building has been demolished), we went to Northeastern Junior High School. Some of the things that stand out in my mind in my Northeastern Junior HIgh School days were:
- a trip to Chicago with my 7th grade English teacher and my friend Mike Survilla
- trying out and being accepted into a drama group – “Junior Civic Theatre”
- typing class – in grade 7. This is where I learned to type. A very valuable asset.