One’s past is not alive in one’s mind at all times, but we manage to drudge up valuable long forgotten moments and places when the occasion calls for it. Which school do we best remember: grammar school, high school or college? I think I can remember more names from grammar school than I can from college with its hundreds of individuals. When we are kids, our memory becomes deeply engraved with the few people whom we really know well.
As an undergraduate at Harvard, guys that I knew from Birmingham, Michigan and Shaker Heights, Ohio assumed that everyone knew those famous suburbs, but when I said “Winter Park,” very few people had ever heard of it. I don’t think that Winter Park is today so removed from public view, and people up North seem to know exactly where we’re talking about. I do remember one cogent fact however: Back in those old days, Winter Park was not to be thought of as a suburb of Orlando! A large sign extended above Orange Avenue making it crystal clear when a car was entering or leaving Winter Park.
Winter Park schools were reputedly more desirable than Orlando’s, and somehow a few Orlando kids managed to attend Winter Park High School with us “entitled kids.” These days, medical facilities in Winter Park are surely as fine as any in our whole area, with scads of doctors and a fine hospital right at our doorstep.
In the late wintertime, old Winter Parkers used to have the opportunity to see many of the top baseball players of the world playing practice games in Winter Park’s Harper-Shepard Field and in Tinker Field in Orlando. I remember seeing Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmy Foxx, and many others. If I remember correctly, it was somewhat later in Vero Beach that I first saw Jackie Robinson practicing with the Dodgers.
All in all, my remembrance of my school days in Winter Park is of a very placid, genteel and proper atmosphere, with hardly any hint of the hustle and bustle of today. There were few policemen, or need for many, and they were highly visible — with one whom we all knew standing on a Park Avenue corner downtown. We greeted him by his first name and he knew our first names as well. Crime was almost non-existent here and I honestly do not remember any major crime in all in the years before my 17th birthday. We lived in Forest Hills and I rode my bike some 2 miles to and from WPHS.
When we were downtown, my parents left the car keys in the ignition when we got out to shop. And our doors at home awaited us unlocked. Many unsold vacant houses on Aloma and in Forest Hills were left empty and wide-open for anyone at all to inspect. No one uninvited mistreated or disturbed them. As you notice, things were simpler in those days, and in our town people were almost universally simple and honest as well.
A bunch of us boys in our early teens used to meet at a drug store that opened wide on the sidewalk of Park Avenue. For a nickel we could get a big root beer and even have it flavored with chocolate! A big coke was a dime and that was stretching our means. The Baby Grand Theater on Park Avenue charged us kids a dime, I think it was, to see all the first run Hollywood films. After the feature film was a comedy such as Laurel and Hardy, then a newsreel with a generous sampling of football games from all over, and other sports in season.
At WPHS the classes held junior and senior dances at the Winter Park Woman’s Club where local dance bands played for anywhere from $15 to $25 for the whole evening. One of our teachers was always the chaperone, a very nice lady whom all of us boys had the obligation to ask for one dance. On Sundays most of us went to Sunday school and church. Sunday dinner at home was at midday with the family. Sunday afternoons we guys played tennis, golf, or went swimming at Rollins – or the Dinky Dock if you liked seeing alligators! One alligator ate my dog Edward! I was in the water a few feet away.