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Larry Penkava: Making history takes time

You know you're old when people ask you what it was like back in ancient times.

 

Like in the '50s and '60s — those days of yore. Webster defines "yore" as "time past and esp. long past ..."

 

I was reminded eight years ago of my "yoreness" when I went to interview the then-new owner of the Franklinville Restaurant. It's adjacent to Town Hall and one of the town clerks came to the restaurant to share some of the history of the building.

 

As it turned out, I was the one imparting history when I told the restauranteur that my first grade class was above us where the public library is today.

 

"I didn't know that," the starry-eyed young lady admitted.

 

"And Town Hall was the school cafeteria when I was in first grade," I said, explaining that the old school building burned down earlier that year. We had to go to class wherever there were rooms available in town.

 

"I'll have to write this down so I'll have it when school children come to visit us," the new owner said.

 

Oh, by the way, Town Hall has photos of several senior classes from when Franklinville was a high school. I'm in one of those sepia-toned photos.

 

By the time I was in high school, the wall that separates the restaurant from Town Hall hadn’t been erected and there were ping-pong tables for students to while away their after-school hours. I shared that with my new-found history student, who had, indeed, heard that there were once pool tables in the expanded room.

 

I told her that at one point during my teen years somebody had the bright idea of making the upstairs, then unused, into a game room for youth to spend their weekend evenings. It was a flop since most teens preferred to go cruising during an era when cars were more popular than checkers and parcheesi (if you’ve never heard of parcheesi, ask somebody who’s older than dirt).

 

Last week wasn't the first time I'd slipped into the role of accidental historian. Indeed, my professorial days go back at least 20 years.

 

I had returned to my alma mater to complete requirements for my degree, taking one course per semester as a commuting student. One of those courses was "History after World War II."

 

A-ha! The Cold War days were the rage during my coming of age. I remembered most of the characters we studied from those days, like Syngman Rhee, Dag Hammarskjold and Patrice Lumumba. And don’t forget Captain Kangaroo.

 

Even though it was an evening class normally for working adults, I was clearly between 20 and 30 years older than my classmates. As the weeks went by and we covered topics that I remembered from my youth, others in the class were clearly envious of me.

 

"You lived those days, Larry," they'd say. "Can we copy your notes?” “What was Tito really like?" "Were the Marx brothers really communists?"

 

Our instructor was a Ph.D candidate and younger than many of the students. And while he was well-versed in his history, there were a couple of occasions when, well, I had to set him straight.

 

Don't get me wrong. I didn't correct him in front of the class, but chose instead to confront him afterwards. 

 

"Uh sir, do you remember that you said Khruschev stood on his desk at the United Nations in protest to a speech by British Prime Minister Harold McMillan? Well, I remember watching that scene on the evening news and Khruschev didn't actually stand on the desk. 

 

"First of all, he started out by banging his fists on the table top," I explained to my long-suffering instructor. "Then Khruschev removed one of his shoes and used it to pound the table while shouting something in Russian. McMillan, in his dry British wit, asked politely to have Khruschev's words translated.

 

"Just thought you'd want to know," I said after my discourse.

 

I guess the instructor took my corrections in good humor. He gave me an A for the course.

 

By the way, I worked my way to a major in history and a minor in tomfoolery.


 

Larry Penkava is a writer for Randolph Hub. Contact: 336-302-2189, larrypenkava@gmail.com.