Saturday, March 22, 2008

Memories of Mr. Tippett

"Mr. Tippet."

I'm smiling as I write this. I'm smiling because when I think about every young man who grew up in Longmeadow, Massachusetts during the 60's, then into the 70's ... and I think about them hearing those words uttered today, my hunch is that as soon as the sound waves hit their ears, their minds immediately make a shift. And when that shift occurs, hunch #2 leads me to believe that the following words then follow, flowing from their mouths in a long, drawn out, monotone-like voice:

"Boys. Step away from the vices."

I hated metal shop. Wood shop, I enjoyed. But metal shop? No friggin' way. While the girls in middle school went to their home economics classes, it was two varieties of shop and mechanical drawing for us. I don't know how it's done these days but, back then, it was all about gender separation when it came to those so-called career-skills classes.

With wood-shop, at least Mr. Shube's classroom presented a lighter, more cheery environment. Was it the light pine or oak? Perhaps it was the smell - I loved the smell of the freshly cut wood, the feathery shavings coating the gray concrete floor. But metal shop? Whoa. Dark and grayish black, the stink of rust - that metallic odor wafting it's way up my nostrils every time I entered that place. It always smelled like something was burning in that room which, to me, always seemed a lot more dangerous than good ole' Mr. Shube's work space. I was always thinking a blow torch was going to sear off my eyebrows or a soldering iron was going to melt my fingers into the table top.

Trip To Bountiful - Okay. So it's not as though I think about metal shop a lot these days. But while home for Emma's birthday a few weeks ago, I had a chance to take a look around the old neighborhood - actually two old neighborhoods. I've done this kind of thing before but, for some reason, never seemed to have a camera handy. This time, with the Canon by my side, I decided to drive through Springfield and Longmeadow to take some photos. I figured it might be nice to share a few on here.

I loved the Springfield house. Whereas my younger brother remembers the next (Longmeadow) home better, this is the house I connect with my childhood. To me, this is the house. As I drove by to snap these photos, I opened the windows to let some of the crisp, cold winter flow into the car. I smelled burning timber - a familiar smell. I'm not sure, but I think there was always some kind of controlled burning area in Forest Park, located right across the street from our house. I remember that from when I was very little and smiled when I thought that now, some 45 years later, the burning apparently still happens, in that very same spot. As I closed my eyes, it could have easily been 1963 again. The birds chirping, the soft hum of the cars driving by on the noisier Dickinson Street side, the sound of melting ice cracking and dripping ... Yep. This is where I grew up all right. And there was the house - 499 Trafton Road.

I circled around to the other side and, after snapping off a few more photos, headed toward Tiffany Street and then past my elementary school, originally called, aptly, Tiffany Street School. Now it's named after a woman, Alice Beal, but, other than the name change, the place looks exactly the same. A quick memory: I was what? Five? Six? What age are you when you're in kindergarten? There was a hill outside, with a playground (both are still there, of course). I remember one day back then, heading back into school after recess and something about the lining around one window caught my attention. The building was brand spanking new and I discovered some kind of gummy sealant around the edge of the window, where glass met concrete. Of course, I started to play with it, digging my finger in as far as it could go; it was kind of like "Silly Putty." I made all kinds of designs in the gooey, mucky stuff and I'm sure they appreciated my arts & crafts contribution to the building. I remember checking out a number of the school's windows in the days that followed; it's a good thing the whole building didn't fall down with the chunks I was taking out of the place. Come to think of it, that's probably the single most destructive thing I've ever done in my life. And now, it's 2008 and I remember those windows; that's funny to me. Part of me wanted to get out of the car, walk over to the side of the building to see if my artwork was still in place. But I didn't go and proceeded to head to my next stop. Anyway, I'm guessing there have been some new windows installed since 1963.

"Well, We're Movin' On Up ... " - My family moved to Longmeadow when I was in the 4th grade. That was a strange year for me which I won't get into here. New home, new school, new friends - a lot happened in a very short time. 4th ... then 5th ... then on to 6th grade - it was time for a shift. But not just any shift - a pioneer-like shift, in a manner of speaking. That was the year Massachusetts changed their school structure with the concept of junior high becoming a thing of the past. 5th grade graduation meant it was time to head to ... middle school.

So, don't worry. I'm not going to recount every memory from my childhood on here. So, it's time to go back to the two words that triggered this entry - "Mr. Tippett."

As I approached Williams Middle School, I decided to take the turn down the familiar long driveway, lined by the ball fields where I played some of my first baseball games, with the Senators. I remember the navy hats with the big red "L." And as I drove up to the building, I found myself drawn to one side of the school, in particular. Then, I drove the car up to one door on that same side. Stepping from the car, I pulled out the camera and, after walking up to one of the entrances, carefully placed the camera lens up against the door window.

There it was. The hallway. This was the same hallway where I remember walking to gym a few times a week, yes. But that's not the reason I was peeking through this window, staring at this view. No, no, no. This was all about the route to a very different destination. This was all about that dark place. That gloomy, rusty gray-scale of a dungeon room.

"Mr. Getzov, where are your safety glasses? How many times do I have to warn you boys about your safety glasses."

I snapped off a few photos, then turned the camera to get another angle.

"And, don't forget the rivets. The rivets, boys."

For some reason, that line about the rivets popped into my head. I think it had something to do with a spatula which was, from I can remember, my first metal shop project. I'll have to ask her later, but I think my mom actually used that spatula in the house every now and then - to flip burgers or pancakes.

My contribution to the family. Manufactured with fire, sweat and yes ... rivets.

Thank you, Mr. Tippet.

1 comment:

Betsy B. said...


I never had Mr. Tippett, but I know my brother did. I was down the hall with Mrs. Meese and Mrs. Sanders, learning to be domestic. Since I actually use my cooking skills most everyday, I guess the girls' education was more valuable than the boys. You wondered what they do now? My oldest son and my daughter went to Williams (not my middle son, but that's another very long story). As the Longmeadow School budget gets chopped more every year, these "creative arts" classes evolve and dissappear also. First, one of the shop rooms became the computer lab. Bet you could've guessed that if you gave it more time. Yes, if you look to the ceiling you can still see the pencil holes from my brother tossing his up out of either boredom or frustration at not being suited to those tasks. And "NO", there has been no upgrades in ceiling tiles budgeted since the '60s.
When my 2 sons started middle school, they still had "cooking" at Williams, and "family & consumer science" at Glenbrook. Both are co-ed, of course. Shop and sewing have been replaced by "tech ed.", which is actually wonderful with the right teacher. They learn to use basic tools (girls, too!) and think like an engineer. By the time my daughter came around, tech ed. remained, but cooking went the way of the other irrelevant arts. Health is important some years, and not others. Now tech ed is rotated with music, art and gym and there's not much left that's fun or enriching. I fear that with our beloved friend Elliot gone, the town meetings will be void of his impassioned "support the schools" speeches and we'll lose even more.
I love your blog...I'm hooked!

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