Wausau, WI - Middle School in the Midwest


727 McIndoe Street: Dinon's Wausau home
(Present day: Google Maps Street View)

It was the Spring of 1942 when the Boyer family moved 1,200 miles from Nahant, MA to Wausau, WI.  My grandfather, Dinon, was 10 years old at the time, and lived with his family in a huge white house on McIndoe Street.  He shared a bedroom with his 5-year-old brother, Daryll, and was down the hall from his parents and baby sister, Glenda; and up on the third floor was his bread-baking and arthritic Grandma Henness.


My grandfather lived in Wausau until 1946, and in those Wausau years he started Boy Scouts, got Scarlet Fever, attended middle school, and worked his first job.


The Wausau Junior Hi building was in the heart of the city and Dinon had to walk from his outlying house to the school, and it was on the way that he met his first job. 


"This widow lady, her husband had collected stamps, and sometimes she would give me some from his collection," Dinon said.  "But normally, for instance, in the winter, I would shovel her sidewalk, and then on the way home I’d shovel her drive if it needed it ... I only remember just having the one place to do it.  This woman was about half-way to school, and so I’d get up early enough to shovel it if needed."


And once he got to school, Dinon, fresh from Massachusetts, became a kind of celebrity to his classmates.


"At that time, the kids wanted me to talk, about anything, because I had a Boston accent and they’d never heard that," Dinon said.  "You stop and think of that time, and there wasn't a lot of movement of people, so accents were very very real and very interesting to people.  So, my classmates would engage me in conversation as much as possible just to hear the accent."


My grandfather never ran short of conversation partners, especially when this interest was combined with his deaf classmates.


"They would want to practice speaking or reading lips," Dinon said.  "Some of them had lost their hearing after they had learned to talk, and so, therefore, they could read lips or would speak, because they were learning to how to read lips and use sign language. I never did learn how to do it, myself."


Young studious Dinon

He did have classes between conversations - classes that no present-day middle school student will take.


“The Junior Hi had, really, a very good Industrial Arts department," he said.  "For instance, they had one session where we took tin cans and learned to solder and cut it.  So, we made a cookie cutter and a scoop, and my mother had them for years."


Depending on the semester, my grandfather - between the ages of 10 and 15! - learned the basics of electricity, woodworking, reading blueprints, and welding.  WELDING.


"I remember I was able to get the hang of the oxyacetelyn welding," he said, "but I had an awful time with arc welding, because you had this stick and I would start using it and it would get stuck, so ... I really had a tough time with arc welding, but I had a really good bead on oxyacetelyn welding, because I could really control that, and I enjoyed that."


There are still items in our family from his Industrial Arts education, including a magazine rack that was given to my father, Todd, and the beloved family Chinese Checkers board that I grew up playing on (and losing miserably to my grandfather).


However, one of the bummers of his Wausau days was getting Scarlet Fever, not once, but twice.


“You’re only supposed to get it once and then be immune, but I had it in the 7th grade and the 9th grade," he said.  "The first time, the quarantine ran so that I didn't have to go back to school.  The second time, there were two weeks of school left, and I had to make up all the work I missed."


The quarantine, especially in a house with two other young children, was no small thing.  For six weeks he was confined to his bedroom and only his mother came in and out.


"Mother had a metal pan about ten inches in diameter, and it had a disinfectant in it, and every time she left the room she had to get down there and wash her hands in it," he said.  "And she was the only one allowed in the room, so if I saw anybody it was out through the window.  So, it was a very boring time."


Young Dinon posing with his favorite toys

It didn't help that he couldn't even have the comfort of his favorite toys, for fear of contagion.



"You had to burn everything that you might've used: if you were reading, the books had to be destroyed.  I made some model airplanes at that time, and they all had to be destroyed," Dinon said.  "I think those were probably the only two things I had, the books to read and making model airplanes, and it just had to go, that’s all there is to it.  I mean, that was pretty disappointing, to say the least, but I had a lot of time – what else was I gonna do?  I didn't want anything to do with my stamp collection, because I knew it’d have to be destroyed."



It was even harder when he got it in the 9th grade (his last year in Junior Hi, according to Dinon), since he knew exactly what he was in for.



"I don’t know how I got it a second time, but I did," he said.  "When the doc said I had it the second time, well, I knew I was going to have to burn everything.  Very disappointing."


As he  scrambled to make up his school work, he looked forward to high school.


"We only lived a block-and-a-half away from the Senior Hi building ... and then we moved.  Ha – I remember that so well," my grandfather chuckled, staring at the living room wallpaper and through the years.


It was 1946.  My grandfather was 15 years old, and his family was moving one last time, this time an hour's drive south to Wisconsin Rapids.


(to be continued)




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Comments 1

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Patricia White (website) on Monday, 27 May 2013 02:49

I very much enjoyed the story about your grandfather and look forward to the next installment. His resourcefulness and determination were certainly evident in his early life.

I very much enjoyed the story about your grandfather and look forward to the next installment. His resourcefulness and determination were certainly evident in his early life.