Saturday, May 14, 2016

Susie Q - Memories of a 50's Teenager

Susie Cannell and Ron Tipton - 1959 Bucktown Pennsylvania - Official Owen J. Roberts High School Prom picture (her prom)

Time for another trip down Memory Lane folks. (Note: in the banner photo - I'm sixth from the left in the back row - Sophomore class photo taken 1956 Downingtown High School, Pennsylvania, and by the way folks, I can still identify EVERYONE in that Sophomore photo! How sad is that?)

This morning I read a long blog post from my longtime good friend (65 years and counting) Larry Meredith.  

I met Larry in third grade when we were both ten years old.  Larry had just outed me in our third grade teacher's class (Miss Ezrah) as having plagiarized a book report for a Scrooge McDuck comic book.  Yes folks, even at the tender age of ten years old, I was already a manipulator. 

I was giving the book report in front of the class when Larry, unprompted, said "I read that story in my Scrooge McDuck comic book!"  

Me, third grade photo - already a Little Manipulator

I didn't remember this particular incident until Larry recounted it in one of his blog entries.  But what happened afterwards sounded exactly like something I would do.  Larry was worried that I would beat him up at recess because he exposed my source for my book report.  Larry said I approached him at recess and said "You have Scrooge McDuck comic books?"  Now that sounded like something I would do.  Every the opportunist, I had just found a fellow comic book collector.  I asked him "Do you want to trade comic books?"  Thus we began a long friendship that has lasted even to this day.  Oh sure, during the intervening sixty-five years there were gaps in which we didn't see each other for years, as is the case with all of us when life goes on.  But from 3rd grade until I graduated from high school, Larry and I were best friends.  We were especially close from 3rd grade until 9th grade when his family moved away from Downingtown.  But even then we stayed in contact and double dated.  

And this leads me up to the subject of today's blog posting - "Suzie Q".  The "Suzie" is the young lady with whom I have my arm draped around rather reluctantly in our official high school 1959 Prom Date picture.  This is the photo that has appeared at the end of this blog for years and which many of you have probably wondered what the history is of that photo.  Okay, maybe most of you haven't wondered but I'm going to tell the story anyway with the help of Larry's latest blog posting.  

Larry's sketch of me - 1959

A little background first on Larry's blog posting.  He first writes about a double date I had arranged with him and a fellow band member of mine at Downingtown High School.  More manipulation by me in securing a car ride because I didn't have a car.  By the way, nothing much has changed over the years.  Remember my stay last week in Philly?  Pat rented a car to pick me up here in Delaware for the ride to Philly.  And Larry picked me up in Philly to return me to Delaware.  If nothing else I'm consistent not only in securing car rides but clever manipulation.  Even after all these years.  But I digress.  Back to the story I've been teasing for numerous paragraphs now.  By the way, this is a long blog.  Lots of words from me and even more from Lar.  Like me, Lar can be and is quite verbose but he does write well.  So hang in there for a good story for the adventures of a couple of 50's teenagers embarking on their romantic adventures.  By the way, Larry is straight and I am gay but of course back in that day Larry didn't know of my sexual proclivities.  Heck, I didn't either except that I knew I was DIFFERENT.  Sure, I went to the Senior Prom but I was looking at the guys.  And funny thing, I thought I was the only one who was DIFFERENT.  Hard to believe in this day of no privacy and everyone's innermost feelings exposed for all the world but back in the Fifties, "gay" wasn't even applied to my "condition."  I was a HOMOSEXUAL.  Which I equated with dirty old men spying on other men in public urinals and I knew I wasn't ONE OF THEM.  So I was unique, a good boy who was turned on by some members of my own sex.  And no, Larry wasn't one of them.  Larry and I were just friends.  Contrary to what some straight people think, not all gay men (or women for that matter) are attract to ALL members of their own sex.  But I'm going on way too long this morning. 

Me - 1951 at a fishing rodeo - which I won!

So what I'm going to do now is post part of Larry's blog recounting our mutual teenage dating history up to me taking his classmate Suzie Cannell to her and Larry's Senior Prom.  

From No Sparks and a Bitten thumb to Sparks Gone Wild

I had my first date with Peggy Whitely for the Junior Prom on April 25, 1958. By the end of that school year, sometime in early June, I pinned her. Now don’t misconstrue that expression. There was nothing untoward about it. I said pinned, not nailed. For the younger folk out there who may not be familiar with this practice, it meant you gave a girl your school pin and you became a steady couple (in college it would be his fraternity pin). This was kind of a prelude to giving the girl your class ring, which we didn’t have yet, to hang about her neck as a symbol that she was yours. Now I can hear the chorus of Women Libbers out there booing and hissing, Well, get over it, this was a custom nearly 60 years ago and that is what the heck pinning symbolized, like it or not.
We continued dating all summer into the fall of our senior year. Peggy was a horsewoman and I went to horse shows with her, including the big one at Ludwig’s Corner on Labor Day. She rode in some of the ring events,  but didn’t win any place ribbons.

We bowled, played miniature golf, danced, roller skated, went to the movies and went  somewhere every week, usually several times each week, but through all that time I had only kissed her good night. I realized partly that was my lack of aggression and partly my shyness, but the truth was there was no magic there. Peggy and I got along. We enjoyed the times we spent together and we had no difficulty talking.But that's a friendship, not a love affair.
Our relationship jumped the shark on a double date with Richard Wilson at the Exton Drive-in.
I suppose I must describe what a Drive-in was. I’m not certain anyone of Millennial age or younger is familiar with the phenomena. They were very popular in my youth and there were many, many around. Today they have practically disappeared from the scene. A Drive-in was a movie theater without the theater. There was a field made into a parking lot. The parking spaces slanted up on mounts of packed earth or concrete. At the front of the lot was a giant movie screen. In the middle of the lot was a small building. Inside were the projection room, restrooms and usually a refreshment stand. You could buy popcorn, hotdogs, hamburgers, fries, candy, soda and several other edible items at an inflated price. You carried your purchase to your car in a cardboard box. One of the pathetic sights at a Drive-in was some poor soul, loaded down with his refreshments, wandering aimlessly about because he forgot where he parked. They would project ads for the refreshment stand during intermission. We always laughed at the poor construction of one message. 
“Our restrooms are located in the center of the field. Please join the folks chatting and chewing…”
There was a pole with a speaker at each parking space. You took the speaker off the pole and hung it over the glass of a side window. This was how you heard the voices of the actors on the screen. The beauty of the Drive-in was the privacy. You could talk if you wished. A family could bring the kids knowing they wouldn’t disturb anyone around them if they fidgeted or fussed. Teenagers favored it as a great make-out spot. My friends and I went to the Drive-in a lot, especially to the Exton and The 202 south of West Chester. Both are gone now.

I drove on this double date, naturally. Once the movie began Richard and his date disappeared from my mirror’s view somewhere in the back seat. They were “smooching”, “petting”, “making out” and going at it “hot and heavy”. Peggy and I were watching the film. She had moved over against me. I put my arm around her shoulder.
And she bit my thumb.
She bit hard. 
I yanked my arm back from around her and we watched the rest of the movie sitting apart in silence. I knew this relationship was doomed from that moment. It was ridiculous. We had been going steady for five months and she is going to bite my hand because I put an arm around her? I wasn’t going to do anything else. I wasn’t going to put my hand anywhere it didn’t belong.

It wasn’t very long after the night of the teeth-marked thumb that  I got a phone call from Ronald Tipton. He informed me there was a dance coming at Downingtown.
“I think we should double date,” he said.
“We can’t,” I said. “Downingtown doesn’t allow students from other schools in.”
“It does if they are dates of the opposite sex.”
“So,” says Ronald, “I take Peggy in as my guest and my date takes you in as a guest and we switch inside.”
That would work, so I told him to made the arrangments.
Peggy and I picked Ronald up on the night of the dance. He directed me to his date’s home in a nicer section of the Downingtown Westside. We walk up and knock on the door. Her father lets us in. He is wearing a smoking jacket. Other than Mr. Meisel, I hadn’t ever seen anyone outside the movies wearing a smoking jacket about the house. The living room was rather ornately furnished. There was a piano in one corner, not an upright either, a grand piano. It was not a huge house and the piano dominated. Her mother arose from a chair; perhaps you could describe it as flowing up from her seat. She wore a flower print dress. Finally Their daughter made her appearance in the room and Ronald introduced her as Carmella.
After some chitchat with the parents, we left. As we headed to me car Peggy took my one elbow and Carmella took my other. 
At the car, Carmella jumps quickly into the front seat first. I shrug. Ronald and Peggy slip in the back and then I get in the Driver’s Side. It was a short drive before we arrived and parked at the high school and got out. I pulled Ron aside and asked what’s going on. He says it is all right, we have to look as if Carmella is my date. I should walk in with Carmella and he with Peggy until after we get inside and then we’ll switch around as planned.
Only inside the switch doesn’t happen. Peggy sits down next to me and so does Carmella on the other side. I now understand that for whatever reason Carmella thinks I am her date.
And I am about to do another bad thing.
Carmella is quite the contrast to Peggy. She is dark to Peggy’s 
light. Peggy is a blond with pale skin and blue eyes. Carmella’s skin is very tan, her hair almost black and her eyes brown. This girl captivated me. I pay more attention to her during the evening than Peggy. I do nothing to convince Carmella she is Ronald’s date. I dance with her more and I talk to her more and I have feelings toward her I never felt for Peggy.
It is not a fun drive from Downingtown to Bucktown that night. It was a wonder ice didn’t form on my windows. Peggy doesn’t speak. She leans against the passenger door looking angrily straight ahead. She runs from the car into her house when I drop her off. My dating of Peggy has ended. 
My dating of Carmella Cressman or Carmella Baxter has begun. She was a mysterious girl with two last names and I never did figure out which was the right one. I assume she was the daughter of the woman in the print dress for there seemed to be a similarity to their features, certainly their hair. She might have had a different father than the man in the smoking jacket that greeted us. Her mother probably remarried, but did she marry Cressman or Baxter first? You can see some resemblance between the daughter and mother. The Philadelphia Orchestra or the Academy of Music employed her father in some capacity. There was usually classical music playing in the home when I picked her up. That first night they had “The Voice of Firestone” on the TV. The Baxters or the Cressmans or whomever were very formal and genteel.
Carmella is warm to Peggy’s ice. I like her very much. I find her beautiful. I believe from the get-go this relationship will last longer and with more fire than my time with Peggy. And it might have if I had not made a fatal mistake. I decided to show her off to Richard.
No, Richard did not steal her away.
I was cruising around with Richard. I am not sure anymore why we had come all the way to Downingtown, but it wasn’t an unusual destination for us. Since we were in the area I asked if he wanted to meet Carmella. I drove to her house and we went to the door. Her dad welcomed us inside. I introduced Richard and we were standing about chatting when Richard used some course language. These were not the type of words that a teenager used in front of proper gentlemen and ladies in the 1950s. I didn’t think it appropriate, but didn’t think it got a lot of notice at the moment it happened. 
Well, I was wrong. Although nothing had been mentioned that evening it was given a lot of notice. The next time I called up Carmella to ask if she wanted to go out, she told me her parents didn’t want her seeing me anymore.
Well, thank you, Richard!
I don’t know if Richard felt bad about what happened or not. It may have been his way to make it up to me when he arranged a date with his cousin. Pamela Wilson was the daughter of Ardell Wilson, Elmer’s brother and thus Richard’s uncle. Pamela was a girl that boys turned around to look at. She was considered beautiful. Not only did she look like a model, she had the grace of one. She was younger than me, but sophisticated. She had a sense of humor and she was truly fun to be around. In more recent vernacular, she was “eye candy”.
During this same period I was carrying on a correspondence with two girls whose address I got from Ronald Tipton, Dotti Juris in Philadelphia and Linda Wood in Canada. I am using that word in the present sense, as a written communication between individuals, not in the snickering sense of dear Miss Hurloch of its meaning in the 19th century.
I began dating Pam steadily and would do so the rest of the year, but in the spring of 1959 it got complicated because Suzy also entered my life.
I had known Suzy Cannell since I came to NORCO, I guess. For most of that time she was dating one of my friends, Jon Harris. Because he was short and she was shorter they got that cutest couple tag. They had been going steady since Tenth Grade or maybe forever. But during the spring of 1959 something went sour between them. I never really found out what caused the rift. I only know that one day Suzy and I were sitting near each other and she was crying and the next thing I knew she was crying on my shoulder. In the time it takes to wipe away a tear I found myself dating both Pamela and Suzy.
There are people you like and there are people you really like. I liked Pam and she was very pretty, and it was always uplifting to walk into a room with her on my arm, but Suzy touched something deeper in me. Pam was tall; Suzy was short, under five foot. Pam was beautiful; Suzy was cute. Pam was stylish and pleasant; Suzy was always smiling and was adventurous. She was a risk-taker.
Suzy was already a pilot. She had a license and flew a Cessna out of Pottsgrove Airport whenever she could. That was one of our primary activities, flying on Saturday morning. Since she was only 17 she had to have an adult pilot with her when she flew. There were always three of us in the plane. 

At first I wasn’t sure about this aspect of our going out. I was afraid of height, now I was on a runway in this tiny plane about to go higher than I had ever been. I was in the rear set. I could see the prop spinning as the plane gained speed down the runway. It was like a wavy yellow line. The plane rose and I gripped the edge of my seat tightly. It is a wonder I didn’t pull out the stuffing. I peeked out the side window and I when I saw the wheel below hanging over nothing I felt fear in the pit of my stomach. I found if I stared ahead I lost that terror. I stared straight ahead.
After the initial flight I came to relax more, although not totally. Still, I liked being in the air with her, even if we weren’t completely alone. It proved to be a good thing we weren’t.
One Saturday she flew south. She was following the Pottstown Pike, which was like a black, tangled ribbon dropped below us. We were past the area of Pughtown and there was nothing beneath us now but trees. Suzy took the plane into a 180-degree bank. She went into it too sharp or something. The engine conked out. Now we were simply coasting on a slight downward path over all those far away trees, which were getting less far away by the minute.
Suzy was bouncing about throwing switches and so was the co-pilot. They got the engine started again and we flew directly back to the airport. Suzy stepped off the plane and threw up on the tarmac.
Next Saturday we were flying again.

The Senior Prom was on the horizon. I had already asked Pamela, but now Suzy wanted to go as well. I decided Ronald Tipton owed me for that mix up with Carmella and Peggy. I called him and asked if he would please take Suzy to my Prom. He agreed, but explained he had a school band concert the same night. He played the Sousaphone. He said the concert would be over by eight thirty and since the Prom didn’t start until nine it shouldn’t be a problem. I figured we could make it from Downingtown to Owen J. in a half hour certainly the way I drove in those days. I once drove from South West Chester to my home in Bucktown, a distance of 23 miles, in 18 minutes. That was an average just under 77 miles per hour. In those days those were mostly 2 land macadam roads, not super highways, plus I had to stop for lights. Pamela’s house was approximately 13 miles from Downingtown’s high school. Surely I could make 13 miles in a half hour.

I went to Downingtown to pick up Ronald. Eight thirty came, but the band played on. I was pacing the floor of the hallway. We were going to be late. It was nine o’clock and finally the band finished up with one last cymbal crash and Ron came out. He had to put his horn away and change into his tux. We got that out of the way and I rushed him out the door. We still had to pick up Suzy and then Pam. I was frantic. They were going to think we stood them up on prom night. As it was we were over an hour late getting to the dance, but everybody seemed to have a good time, maybe all except Ron. He was a little uncomfortable dancing cheek to belly button.
Ron was six foot four and Suzy was four foot eleven. Does this look like a guy comfortable with his date? Or he may have been uncomfortable because of other secrets he was carrying.
There was a post prom party we attended and when that ended sometime around 2:00 AM  we joined some others from my class and went bowling in Reading. There we were in the wee hours of the morning with the girls bowling in their gowns and we in our tux. We certainly brought elegance to the lanes. It was after dawn when we got the girls home. I didn’t get back from dropping Ronald off until 7:00 AM. 

I suppose it was that it was fated for Jon and Suzy to be the cutest couple. She and he made up after the prom was over and she went back to being his steady before the year ended. I continued dating Pamela well into the summer after graduation. 

Suzy and Jon did not get married. This was a high school romance that went no further. By the fifth reunion Jon was single and at helicopter school. For a while he was married to a Sue D. He must have liked the name Susan, and then later he was married to Patricia Weil and has 1 son and 3 daughters. Beyond 1994 I don’t know too much, except he is still alive and well and living in Florida.
Five years out of OJR, Suzy was married to Albert Boerner, Jr. with two children. Albert was out of the picture and Suzy was married to Gary Mahr with three children by the tenth reunion. Her adventurous spirit continued into adulthood. She took up motorcycles. One day she hit something on a ride that flipped her Harley and she suffered several serious injuries, including some damage to her nerves. She gradually recovered from her injuries.
She passed away in August of 2014. Here is her obituary from the Pottstown Merury.
Susan J. (Cannell) Mahr, 73, of Pottstown, wife of Gary L. Mahr, passed away on Saturday at Pottstown Memorial Medical Center.
Born in Pottstown, PA, she was a daughter of the late George Cannell and the late Violet (Groff) Cannell.
Susan was a graduate of Owen J. Roberts.
Susan was a member of Berean Bible Church, Christian Motorcycle Association, and was a notary & pilot.
Surviving beside her husband are two sons, Cale S. Mahr and his wife Bernadette, Sanatoga, David S. Bonerner and his wife Penny, Reading; two daughters Heidi S. wife of Craig Stout, Boyertown, Wendy L. wife of Tom Brynan, Phoenixville; a sister Patricia Laverty, Pottstown; nine grandchildren, and one great granddaughter. - 

In 2001, I combined Suzy’s flying and motorcycle accident, Jon helicopter pilot pursuits, Dick Kuntzleman’s family bar and Lane Keene’s hunting accident in to a story called, “Pour Out My Life at the Old German Tavern”.

My high school graduation was on June 2, 1959. I was 17 years old. Our class sat down the toward front of the auditorium until our individual names was called. Then we went up steps on the right of the stage, crossed to the middle to receive our diploma and exited down the steps on the left side. There were speakers around the stage and other equipment. One of the early recipients tripped on the cables starting across the stage and everyone who passed that spot afterward caused a fountain of sparks to shoot upward. Fireworks for my final day just seemed appropriate.

At our fifth class reunion I went to the bar to gets drinks for my wife and I. There was a studding blond sitting on a stool. She was wearing a black dress that barely covered her curvaceous body, and as they said about a character on Seinfeld, “they were spectacular!” I ordered my drinks and nodded at her. She smiled and said, “Hello, Larry.”
I turned and stared at her.
“You don’t know who I am, do you?” she said.
I shook my head.
“I’m Peggy.”

I guess that was her form of revenge.

Larry with his wife Lois - photo taken this past Monday, May 9th after Larry carted my behind from my stay in Philly - Larry and Lois have been married 54 years - he found his princess


  1. Holy smokes, Ron - double whammy blog - Soooo enjoyable. And Larry writes very well too. I always enjoy meeting up with him when we get together down your way. You have a remarkable selection of friends including all your blog friends. Great reminiscences. (Wow - I spelled that correctly without spellcheck). Thanks to you and Larry for great stories and photos. Larry's wife looks lovely.


    1. Thank you Pat. Larry is a good writer and has such a good memory for detail, much of which I have forgotten. I am very fortunate to continue to have him as a good friend.

  2. You put a lot of work and love in this entry - well done!
    I have that comic book!
    Your 3rd grade photo is cute as a bug's ear.

    1. Dr. Spo,
      I knew there was something I liked about you! I had no idea that you were another Scrooge McDuck comic book fan. I had so many comic books saved. Unfortunately, when I went into the Army in 1960, my Mother threw them all out, as I sadly found out when I returned home from leave. She said "You don't need these any more." I've never gotten over the loss.

  3. Ditto Pat's remarks...

    Larry's blog is a great reminder of more innocent times of the past, and how we all seemed to have similar experiences growing up.

    Your blog documents a similar life, but takes a *bit* of a different direction eventually.

    Great reading, both!



    1. Andy,
      Indeed, more "innocent times" of which I am glad was my time. I can't imagine growing up in these times and what my memories would be like sixty some years from now. I was very lucky to have grown up in the Fifties. Some said the Fifties were boring. They were not to me, memories were made to last a lifetime. Good memories.

  4. Ron,

    Just a little follow up. I mentioned in the posting that Suzy had died in 2014. You and I are a couple of the few survivors. Richard Wilson passed away in 2002 at the age of 60. Peggy Whitely died in 2009, she was 67. I have no idea of the fates of Carmella or of Pam. I do still have my Scrooge McDuck comic books. Rereading this I notice a number of typos, most of which I think I caught and corrected in a later edit.


    1. Lar,
      I had a few Scrooge McDuck comic books as well as many others including all the Crypt Keeper comic books. Unfortunately my Mother threw them all out when I joined the Army. Thanks Mom.
      You're right Lar, we are among the survivors. Who would've guessed we would be where we are now, with out luck?

  5. Ron, I'm late in reading this but I'm glad I did - it's another fascinating post. I always love the trips down Memory Lane that you and Larry have been writing.

    Regarding that first photo - wow, are you tall! I'm 6'1" and it looks like you could have dwarfed me.

    1. Jon,
      I was 6'4" when I was 18 in that picture for Suzie's Senior Prom. I've since shrunk a good inch. I'm "only" 6'3" now. Even so, I am the smallest of my two brothers. My youngest brother John is 6 5 1/2 and Isaac is 6'5". Both weigh almost 300 pounds. Could be more now because they both like to eat but I haven't seen them in a while. I weight 170 lbs. For most of my life I've weighted 160 lbs. but in my later years, I've added 10 lbs and can't seem to get rid of that extra poundage.
      Thanks again for your complimentary comments. You're the best Jon!


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