The 50s were happening all around me when I was born, but I was too young to remember much of the first part of the decade. In 1950 a year before I was born, Communist and non-Communist forces begin a Cold war on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea sent 75,000 of its troops beyond the 38th parallel the border between North and South Korea. The North was trying to impose communism on its neighbor to the south. When I was two years old in 1953 the fighting ended but after 60 years the Korean War has never been declared officially over.
The 1950s was a time that saw the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement when the American conscience became aware of discrimination and the inequality of African Americans. American Rock and Roll music was just taking off inspiring a new youth movement. The song I hear playing the most in my 50s memories is Bill Haley’s “Rock round the clock.” Although I still can hear that Bob Merrill song recorded by Pattie Page, “how much is that doggie in the window.”
Commercial businesses like Pepsi road the new consumer market wave of the youth seeking their buying power and giving James Dean his first big break by using him in their Pepsi commercials. I personally liked Ionia Grape and Orange Soda Pop that was made right here in Michigan.
My memories of my mother and father are few. The earlies memory I have is when my dad Raymond was building his house in Greenville my mother Caroline would catch me putting nails down thru knot holes in the floor boards. Even today, I can still see my mother in the kitchen area listening to my dad down in the basement complain that he is being hit by nails dropping from the ceiling. When he came up from the basement my dad said, “hay you, what ya doing young man with all my nails, and dropping them on my head like that.” I can still smell the sawdust on his clothes when he gave me a hug and I can see my mother’s face as we both got her smile of approval. Some say you can not remember things from that young of an age, but I do.
Another early memory is of being at my great-grandfathers farm in Blanchard. He lived on a dirt road in a big two-story Dutch stile house with the steep roof. A tall windmill stood next to the house and it was used to pump water. There was a small tool shed and garage behind the house that was overgrown in grape vines on one side and purple, white, and blue lilacs on the other. Great-grandpa had planted different color lilacs bushes together that grew up to be a big three-color bush. There was a big two-story barn with a hay loft in the top and the animals were kept in the bottom.
I remember being in their front yard with my family. My grandmother Viva Knauss wanted to take a picture of the men in the family. She wanted a picture of what she called the, “4 generations of the Knauss family.” This was, 1st my great-grandfather, 2nd my grandfather, 3rd my father, and 4th me. I loved my grandmother very much. I can still hear her pleading with me to stand still at the end of the line so she could take a picture. It was at the end of my terrible-twos and I did not behave that day. I don’t know why, I was always such a good boy. So, my dad had to chase me down, tackle me, and he put me between his legs so I would stand still. Then grandma took the picture. This picture was taken on the last day my parents were together.
The next early memory happened at my aunt and uncles farm in Six Lakes. I stayed there for two years and only found out why, when my mother came one day to pick me up. I was 5 years old and getting ready to start school for the first time. She pulled into the yard of my uncle’s home and got out of the car with a stranger, my new step-father Pat. When I asked, “where is my dad?”
Caroline said, “this is your dad you just don’t remember what he looks like.” From then on, I knew my mother would lie to me. It was hard to tell what hurt me more, not seeing my dad with her, or knowing that she would lie to me. This has stuck with me throughout my adult life, why would she lie to me?
My mother had dropped me off with one of her brothers and his wife and daughter while going thru her divorce with my dad. My aunt and uncle only had one child, a girl, and they lived on a farm raising horses. I was an only child also and I loved staying there. I had so much fun playing with my cousin. She was older than me and more mature, but I always had fun enjoying her company.
My uncle also worked at the local slaughterhouse and sometimes he would take us with him to work. It was an, “eye and nose opening experience,” visiting the slaughterhouse. The smell of blood will stay with you for a long time.
I was not old enough to do any farm chores and too short to saddle a horse. I must have been a little burden on the family but each one treated me as one of their own. And boy, was it fun ridding the horses! They had a large farm and the neighbors did not mind us riding across their farms, so we had a large section of Michigan land to roam.
There was an apple orchard on their farm beyond the pig pen next to where the horses grazed. We could ride thru the trees and pick off an apple without even getting off the horse. I remember saying back then, “someday I will plant me some apple trees so I can walk right out in my yard, pick an apple off the tree, and eat it.” Much later in life I did just that and I thank the Lord each time I eat one of my Michigan Red Delicious apples off the trees I planted years ago, Amen.
My cousin was very interested in horses and she was a competition barrel rider. She and her mother traveled all over the state to compete in horse shows and they brought home many trophies along with blue ribbons. My aunt loved anything to do with horses. She did all her own leather working in the Michigan basement under their house. This was a hole under a building and the walls were made of field stone or sometimes just dirt. They always smelled musty, but they kept food from spoiling, and it was a cool place to go in the hot summer time.
One afternoon my aunt and uncle went some place and left us kids alone at the farm. My uncle gave me stern orders to be good and mind my cousin while they were gone. All was well until we found ½ of an Almond Joy candy bar that was left in the refrigerator. We both wanted some and we knew that it had to be cut in half. But, neither one of us liked using a sharp knife.
Well, I lost the argument about which one does the cutting and she handed the knife to me. Only one big problem, she held the candy bar between two fingers when I did the cutting. Yup, she got cut pretty bad on the thumb and it seemed like a long time before the adults got home. My joy to see them arrive was short lived when I got scolded about cutting my cousin. I said, “I just did what she told me to do.”
When I started school, Caroline and Pat gave me piano lesions. Years later when I was a teenager, I started playing for school dances and sometimes in a bar. They both said, “giving you piano lesions was the worst thing we ever did for you.” I always wished that they would come and see me play just once before they died, but they never did.
Pat my stepfather was born Gerald J. Patten August 25th, 1922 to his parents William and Rose Patten in Millbrook Township, Mecosta. Three years later his younger brother died at birth. From his youth he was called Pat and throughout his 44 years working at the Gibson Refrigerator Company in Greenville that’s what they called him. But they called him something else too.
When I was a student at Greenville High School and during the summer months when school was out, I worked at Gibson’s but at the Belding factory that made air conditioners. The welding department they assigned me to, got higher pay and I found out right away why. It was a hot nasty dangerous job. All the welding was done by a big and very heavy spot-welding gun that hung from the ceiling on a spring.
At that time, I was on the wrestling team at school in the 95lb weight class. The welding guns weighed much more than that. If I ever missed the mark and did a bad weld the gun would kick back picking me right up off the floor. It sent sparks in every direction that would burn their way thru you clothes and into your skin. Later in life I would still have to deal with little sparks of medal that work their way out to the surface of my skin like a pimple.
I went to high school from 1966 to 1969 during the hippie movement of peace and love not war. I started playing in a rock band my freshmen year when long hair was in for both sexes. When I first started working at Gibson’s the men I worked with used to ride me a lot about my long hair.
But within a short time, they told me, “hay you got to slow down, you are making everyone else work too hard.” What they meant was that when you are working on a manufacturing production line all workers must work at the same pace. I was just trying to do my best, the men knew that, and took me under their wing and in their confidence.
Once during lunch hour when we were all sitting around resting and talking, I mentioned that my dad worked at Gibson’s in Greenville. One of the men asked, “Oh ya, what department does your dad work in?”
I answered him, “the tool crib.”
Two men at the same time responded, “you don’t mean Grumpy, do you?”
I said, ‘no my dad’s name is Gerald, but they call him Pat.”
The conversation went a little quite then and after a short pause one of the men said, “we would have never known that you were Grump’s son because you are nothing like him.” He went on saying, “we can talk to you and you listen, and you sound like you have an adventurous life with your little musical orchestra.” They knew I played in a band that was their way of poking a little jealousy at me, but all in good fun.
Pat was a man’s man, that kept all feelings to himself but, he had a bad temper, and he had little fits of anger that made him swear. No one knew at that time I was dyslexic and struggled with ADHD. I feel so sorry for Pat because he tried so hard to teach me how to spell and I never could. After failing another spelling test, he was so disturbed with me he scolded me saying, “how could you get so many wrong after all the time I put into your homework?” He thought he had the solution and he instructed me, “I want you to write all your spelling words 50 times,” as he handed me pencil and paper.
My penmanship has always been poor but I wrote each word so it was legible. Many minutes later when I was done writing Pat looked at my work and then turned the paper over asked me to spell each word. He was in shock when I got so many of them wrong after writing each one so many times, he yelled at me saying, “I now think you are playing stupid on purpose and you are trying to play dumb.” I’m sure that Pat felt bad that day and so did I. Lucky for me in the seventh grade my Spelling and English teacher,
Mrs. Gunther pulled me out in the hall one day after failing another spelling test. She knew what kind of reception I would get when I got home and she said, “Ronnie let me tell you something. We have today in our society doctors and lawyers that we know are very smart people, and they cannot spell either. Maybe you are like one of these smart people and you will never be able to spell. So, do your best and thank anybody that tries to help you. And I believe in you.” I found out in later years why I could not spell but I’m sure Pat never did.
Mrs. Gunther changed my path in life when she used those four words, “I believe in you.” She taught me that even though all people are different there are some of us that are just alike. This was around the time I first got exposed to tobacco. She gave me self-confidence and I turned away from the fellows that smoked in the bathroom and hung with the kids that were good in the classroom.
Things between Pat and I always got better. He was a great step-father and I know he loved me because he always said so. I have no memories of Caroline telling me that although I’m sure she must have when I was a baby sometime. She had one real problem with my father’s first born, I looked just like him and she hated my real dad with a passion.
When I was in Boy Scouts Pat volunteered to be a scout leader. I was so impressed with him. “My dad was the Boy Scout leader.” All the boys like him. He took us camping and showed us how to ruff-it in the woods. He talked Caroline into to sending me to Boy Scout’s camp one year and I think she must have loved getting rid of me for a week because she sent me there each year after
One year I was voted by Troop 133 to be the only boy that year to have the honor of attending the Order of the Arrow weekend ceremonies. This was a right of passage to these young men. Once a year a secret ballet was taken in each troop to select one boy to attend the Indian like celebration. The chosen few arrived at Camp Berragea on Friday and at the campfire that night each boy had a small stick tied around his neck with a piece of binder’s twin. During the time of the initiation if you talked to someone or did something wrong a notch was carved into your stick. We all wondered what would happen if we got too many notches. We all danced around the fire and one by one each boy was blindfolded then taken into the dark forest and dropped off alone
Each boy was given a small package by the leaders that were dressed as Indians. Inside the package was, some raw dough, one hot dog, and a wooded match that was stuck into the dough. If you did not open your package right away and remove the match you had no way of starting a fire. I got my match out right away and built a fire in the dark. With my feet I moved the leaves and dug a little trench. I put down a layer of hot coals, covered them with the leaves and dirt. I kept very warm during that cold night and I slept well.
The next day all the boys were put to work doing chores around the scout camp getting it ready for winter. Later that night we were all given a white sash with a big red arrow on it. I still have mine today hanging on the wall. I never got any notches carven into my stick and nothing was ever said about the ones that did. When I got home, Caroline did not have much to say but I’m sure Pat was proud of me even though he did not say so.
Pat never spoke much about his family but, I did meet his mother Rose and his uncle Earl and aunt Visey. He lived with his aunt and uncle when he was younger. Pat had some siblings, but he never talked about them or his father. Rose was a gentle woman with a sweet personality. I remember eating stale cookies at her house. Shortly after I turned my heart over to the Lord as a child, I had an opportunity to witness to her. She always seemed uncomfortable around me. She did not have the excitement in her face when she saw me like my grandmother did. She was very kind and tried to make me comfortable in her home.
One afternoon while visiting Rose at her home in Millbrook I told her about my personal experience with the Lord. I asked her if she wanted to give her heart to Him and I talked her thru how with the words I learned in Sunday School. Years later when she was in the hospital during her last days, a preacher asked her the same question. He led her in prayer to the Lord before she passed. I always felt sad that she did not remember her conversation with me. Why didn’t she just tell the preacher she was led to the Lord already by a child. The feeling that I messed up my first real chance to witness stayed with for years.
Pat’s uncle Earl taught me how to trout fish in the stream that ran past his house in Millbrook. He was a kind man that was always smiling showing some missing teeth. He was a master Michigan angler and he had a special way to bate your hook. Two worms hooked thru the middle made a nice little “wiggly” thing to tempt fish to bite. But when he wanted to pull a big one out of a hole or from under the bank uncle Earl would make a mass using 5 worms on his hook. I still use his two worm, five worm secret he shared with me that afternoon.
Uncle Earl unknowingly gave me good advice while teaching me how to fish. He said, “always walk up stream while fishing so the gravel you stir up as you walk will not spook the fish in front of you.” Years later when I felt like I was always walking up stream, against the current of life, I remembered that the gravel of failures will float away if you are walking in the right direction.
My boots were not high enough on my legs to stop the deep water from filling them to the top. First the water was ice cold as it soaked into my sox then it became a worm layer between my leg and the stream.
Uncle Earl told me, “still water runs deep.” Later in life when things looked to be going well, I was careful not to fall into a hole that would be hard to get out of later like finical debt or a bad relationship.
Uncle Earl also told me how to fish on a lake with artificial lures. He always said, “dark days, dark bait, bright days, bright bait.” He told me to choose what kind of fish you wanted to catch, then use a bait that will fit the weather of that day. He said, “try to make your bait look like the fishes natural feed.” As a teenager I made a serious decision on what path I would follow. I looked for professional musicians that were already successful at what I wanted to do. I always tried to play with musicians that were better than me so I could learn something new. Whatever you choose to be successful at learn all you can from people that already are. Their experiences can shine a light on which path you choose to take. Later in life I called the big fish in my lake that I could never catch, old Uncle Earl.
I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and stayed at their home often. My grandfather was a local pastor and I remember always going to Church and Sunday School. I can still hear my grandpa playing his trumpet, someone playing an out-of-tune piano, and everybody would sing the hymns because there was no choir. Wednesday they went to prayer meeting and Saturday afternoon they would clean the church building.
One day while my grandma and aunt were cleaning, I set down and started to play my piano lesson. Grandma stopped me and she said, “there will be none of that kind of music played on the church piano.” I did not get it then but, as a mature Christian I do now.
When it came time to pray everybody turned around and bowed down on their knees. I can still hear my grandma quietly trying to keep me quiet. See struggled with me sliding on my butt under the benches. She kept pink candy in her purse for times like these and one piece usually calmed me down enough to get thru the prayer.
My grandparents lived in Breckenridge about 1 hour drive east from my home. Their house was next to a railroad track and I loved to hear the train when it went by. My cousins stayed with them sometimes when I was there, and we would run to see the train when we heard the whistle blow. If we hurried and got down by the tracks before the engine went buy, we sometimes could get the engineer to blow his loud train horn. We used our arms to imitate the engineer pulling the whistle and sometimes he did. That was a big deal to us.
I remember my grandpa taking me to the Stock Yards to see the animal’s. He would buy me Cracker Jacks carnal corn & peanuts to eat as we watch the men move the stock from one pen to another getting ready to be sold. The auctioneer could be heard over the loud speakers making a deal for someone with his gibberish. I never could make much sense of what he was saying but, I did enjoy watching his performance entertaining the audience in the arena.
When I stayed with them my grandma would always have something special for me the eat each day. One day she would make homemade French fries, another day waffles, then blubbery muffins, all things she knew I liked. I can still her yelling at me and my cousin, “you kids get out of that cookie jar,” as we tried the keep the screen door from squeaking while we raided the cookies.
I used to wait by the windows looking out for when my grandpa got home. He was always so happy to see his grandchildren ready to greet him when he arrived. This man was the strongest Christian I personally knew as a young man. When my grandparents said they loved me I knew they did.
At meal time my grandpa would reverently bow his head and start his prayer always the same way, he would say, “Our precious heavenly father.” I always knew he had a personal relationship with Jesus, and it was the most important thing to him. It was first and foremost in both my grandparents and Praise the Lord they passed that passion on to me.
Summer of my 7th year 1958 I asked the Lord Jesus to come in my heart and be my savior. This was a familiar Sunday school lesson and I knew what to say. Caroline and Pat were members of a church close to our home and I went there with them. One year when our church building was under construction on a second floor, the pastor met with me between the unfinished 2 X 4 walls.
The scent of the fresh cut wood and drywall dust is still with me today. At that time and age, I was ready to make a life time commitment to love the Lord Jesus and to seek out HIS will for me in my life. I followed my pastor’s direction and turned my heart over to the Lord. But my personal experience with our precious heavenly father came a few months earlier in the spring.
My childhood was blessed by the Christian values of my family and the community I lived in. I learned from these Christians that you must take every word of the Bible as the true and complete word of God in faith, or not. It is our individual choice to believe fully or not at all. There is no place in the middle.
With my family I attended a local church on a regular basis. But something was missing from the experience of fellowship. I was a believer because I was told to believe. Yet I did not share the joy of having faith in the church teachings. Was the Bible a book of truth or had something been lost in the translation?
My grandfather’s church was out in the country surrounded by the local cemetery. The building was cold with that, been-closed-to-long smell. And the piano was out of tune. I ask him once why he stayed at a small church instead of one of the fancy ones.
His answer was right to the point, he said, “The larger churches have a lot of people attend to their needs. At a smaller church there are the same needs but less people to help. There is more to do at a smaller church.”
Then we talked about my faith in Jesus Christ. I ask him, “how could I love someone that I never met?” Then I told him, “I do not want to believe in the Lord just because my Sunday school lesion said to.” Grandpa listen as I continued asking him, “How can I know the Lord is real?
His answer is still blessing my life today. He put me on his knee and held me close. Then he said, “You need to just ask the Lord to make himself known to you when you pray”. Grandpa encouraged me to have a personal conversation with HIM. “Speak to the Lord the same way we talk with love towards each other”. Grandpa told me to, “simply ask the Lord for a sign that HE is there.” I was not aware that my aunt was listening to this little chat.
Then a short time later my aunt and I were in her car riding home from a family get together. It was after dark during a bad rain storm. The rain was so heavy it was hard to see the road and drive the car. But it was the thunder and lightning that scared me the most. It was that quick flash of light so bright it lit up the night. A loud crack like a gun always followed. I was having an awful day in the rain. My aunt tried to settle me down and get my thoughts off the storm. She did this by suggesting that I try to pray for what grandpa had shared with me earlier. I knew then she had heard him tell me to ask for a sign that the Lord was there.
I was blessed to grow up surrounded by men and woman that knew how to pray. So, breaking into a serious prayer during a rain storm was no problem for me. I closed my eyes and began to pray. Soon thereafter time stood still. My body was overcome with a breathtaking good feeling. This was also experienced by my aunt setting next to me. She was so affected that she pulled off the road and stopped the car. We just sat there hugging each other between the flashing light and the roar of the thunder. She was first to speak. “Honey you got what you asked for now let’s go tell grandpa”
I was very much aware that I had experienced something spiritual and physical. Oddly enough I was also aware this new feeling would not last and it was slowly fading. This blessing lasted for three days then it was gone but the memory never fades. Members of the church came to my grandpa’s home to see and talk to me. Some of them said that the Lord had touched me because my face had a healthy glow.
All at one I could recognize sin and it was offensive and appalling to me. Sadly, this feeling would slowly fade and leave me back in the old way of thinking. But now I could firmly stand on the faith that the Lord Jesus had made himself known to me. Many times, later my path crossed with someone that did not have any faith to stand on. I wished they had experienced something like what happened to me as a young Christian. I thank the Lord nonstop for answering the prayer of a young man. This experience is as fresh and real today as when it happened back in the 50’s. Several times during my life when I found myself in an uncomfortable position, I was able to call upon his name to help me.
After that day in the rain I had a desire to become some kind of a missionary. At that time, they were being killed in foreign countries and this discouraged me from wanting to go there. In Sunday School I learned that we can be missionaries right in our own community. My idea was to use music to witness to other young people and share what I had experienced that day in the rain.
My biggest fear when I graduated from High School in 1969 was getting drafted and having to go to Vietnam and fight in the war. During my high school years, the dreams of being captured by the enemy, kept me from getting a good night sleep. Back then if your grades were not good enough, they would draft you right out of high school. One day you were in school and before you knew the military was your new home.
When I was requested to register at the draft board, they told me they needed small young men like me for a special service. They would give me a flash light and a 45 pistol. They would make me a tunnel rat. My job would be to seek out and destroy the enemy that lived underground in the tunnels. I knew that the Lord was always there for me. It was easy to put my trust into HIM because of my personal experience as a child. To this day, how a 4F military deferment came to me in the mail, is a mystery. But I knew that my personal relationship with our Lord had saved me from what I feared.
I have witnessed other people struggling with the trials in their lives. With some, it was easy to see that they did not have the Lord in their heart. They could not fall back on the truth that the Lord was there for them also. Sometimes I tried to share my personal experience with them. But it seemed too hard for them to believe so my testimony sometimes was ignored. I felt almost ashamed that the Lord had made himself known to me, and I had that to stand on, and they did not.
My favorite prayer these days is to thank the Lord for my heritage that came during my youth from the Christian men and woman that raised me. The Lord was a real part of their daily lives. They taught me how to pray and worship HIM. I am sure that I did not live up to their expectation’s and I appreciate their patience with me. The best I can do is to follow in their footsteps and seek HIS will for me and witness to others.
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