One’s past is not alive in one’s mind at all times, but we manage to
dredge 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 WP’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 nonexistent 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 out in 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 Ave. 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
Ave. 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.