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Albert Maywood Courtright II

Reminiscences of Maywood Courtright

The 1924-25 School Year

I still had no certificate of any kind showing I was qualified to teach high school so the superintendent, Mr. Tyler, again issued me a temporary certificate. I wasn't sure yet that I wanted to continue teaching or whether I wanted to get back into engineering because of the likelihood of being able, in the long run, to earn more money. I was in no hurry to settle down, get married and raise a family. I wanted to see a little more of the world first. I was already planning a trip to French Canada for the next summer tho I told no one. I continued reading books in French so I would not forget what French I knew.

I made many changes in the drawing room and tried to improve the courses I was teaching. The drawing tables were all too high - the smaller students had to draw with their knees on their stools, the older ones had to stand. I had all of the desks cut down so everyone was able to sit. The former teacher had required every student to buy his own drawing board. I had ordered boards thru the school board in the spring so there would be one available eat each desk. I discarded the use of textbooks except for reference and made blueprints and lesson sheets for the students to work from. Instead of just copying from a book, they had to do a little original thinking. These are just a few of the changes I made at the beginning of the semester; I made others as I thought of better ways of doing things.

Like all of the other teachers, I was expected to put in some time at extracurricular activities not directly connected with the job I was hired for. Mr. Bolt, the high school principal, for example, expected me to make any signs or posters he might need. All of the men teachers worked at the football games either selling tickets or taking them at the gates. We were paid extra for that, however, the money coming from ticket sales. The games were on Saturday afternoons at first but in later years lights were installed and the games played at night. It could get very cold standing out in the open in a snow storm toward the end of November. We would be kept busy at the half issuing passes to people so they could run home for a hot cup of coffee or a drink of whiskey. Two of us worked at one gate so we would have an opportunity to change off watching the game. I was a very strong Heights booster and felt elated when the Heights won and depressed if they lost, just has I had been at Michigan. The Heights became known as a very strong football town because of all the husky young Poles, Hungarians, and Negroes who had come to live there when their fathers were recruited to work in the foundries during the first world war.

Whenever the high school orchestra played in public, Miss Coye asked me to sit in with the violins (that was before she loaned me the cello). We always performed at the junior and senior plays. At that time there was a small pit in front of the stage where we played before the performance started and during intermissions. Miss Royce was head of the speech department and coach of the debating teams as well as putting on the plays, a big job that marshaled the talents of the whole faculty. I was given the job of designing and painting the scenery. For much of it I got six foot long rolls of paper from the paper mill which I tacked over the canvas scenery which the school owned. I did an elaborate view of New York Harbor as seen from a roof garden for "The Melting Pot" which the senior class put on in 1926. Miss Coye put on a musical that spring too for which I designed the scenery and the lighting.

The grade school superintendant - there were five grade schools in the Heights - was an intelligent woman of about fifty who took her meals at Mrs. Siney's. She was dark-haired and dark-eyed and a Christian Scientist. I was curious about why a woman as intelligent as she was would be attracted to that sect so I invited her to go canoeing with me so I could talk to her about it. We rented a canoe at Mona Lake Park then paddled the length of the lake, which is long and narrow, out to the channel that opens into Lake Michigan. We pulled the canoe up on the beach and then sat on the sand for a couple of hours and talked. She had had what she thought was cancer of the thyroid, her doctor had told her that was what it was and there was nothing he could do for her. She quit her job and went west, expecting to die there. However she met a Christian Scientist who had come to visit her regularly and pray for her. The swelling in her neck gradually went away and finally disappeared completely. Harriet (her name was Harriet Ratliff) told me she couldn't prove it was the prayers of the scientist practitioner which had cured her but she had joined the church anyway.

There were two other teachers in the Heights that I became acquainted with who were also Christian Scientists. They both lived in the rooming house where Frances Meader was. Margarite Cook was an English teacher who was engaged to be married to a man from her home town near Lansing and Dorothy Hamilton, who had come from the same town, were both Christian Scientists who refused to consult a doctor about illness. Margarite married her boyfriend some years later and died in childbirth as no doctor was present when complications developed. Frances Meader later married Margarite's former husband. I dated Margarite once and took her skating in order to show off my figure skating skill. Margarite was the only one of the group of girls who could skate. Like Frances, she was on the plump side so I was not at all attracted to her physically.

Dorothy, on the contrary, was extremely attractive, the one girl I ever met before I met Yvette that I might have married. She and her sister, who was also very pretty and about the same age, were orphans and had been adopted by Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton who lived in Howel, a small town just east of Lansing, and were Christian Scientists. Not only was Dorothy a very pretty girl, she had an extremely pleasant personality, tho quiet and unassuming. She had come to the Heights with Margarite Cook, was just out of college, having graduated the previous year from teachers college in Ypsilanti and was doing her first year of kindergarten teaching. Margarite told me she had a boyfriend in Howel but I dated her anyway. Once I took her on what was called the "loop the loop trip," consisting of taking the steamship Alabama as far as Grand Haven (it went on to Chicago) then getting the electric interurban back to the Heights. Unfortunately the weather turned cold and we had to spend most of our time in the cabin instead of on deck. She only taught two years in Muskegon Heights then took a job near home. I remember that she came to the Heights once to visit Margarite, who had moved into my old room at the Carl's. Margarite went up to her room and left us alone in the living room but all I could talk about was my trip to Québec and a girl I had met there by the name of Yvette Côté, a very poor way to entertain a girl.

Talking with Miss Ratliff about Christian Science had awakened my curiosity about religious sects and that winter I resolved to visit a different church each Sunday to find out what their services were like. I started with the Christian Science Church which was located near the library in Muskegon, went to all the different Dutch Reformed churches where hell-fire preaching was still the rule - they were always full to overflowing - then to the Baptist, the Methodist and the Episcopal which were all close together in downtown Muskegon. Their services were very similar to those I had grown up on in the Church of Christ so I felt right at home, except in the latter which was much more formal. There were two big Catholic churches near the downtown area, St Mary's, [which] was attended mostly by Irish and Polish, and St. Jean's that had been built by French Canadians. Muskegon had had many French Canadians in its early days. They had come first as hunters and trappers and later as lumbermen. The forests around Muskegon had rebuilt Chicago after Mrs. O'Leary's cow had kicked over the lantern and burned it down. I had never been in a Catholic church in my life and was completely baffled by the actions of the priest during the mass. It was in Latin, of course, which didn't help me understand what was going on. I tried to imitate the actions of the people in the pews ahead of me so I wouldn't be too conspicuous and managed to sit, stand and kneel when they did but I didn't try to cross myself or genuflect toward the altar before taking my seat or leaving it at the end of the service. The chanting of the priest at the altar and the antiphonal response of the men's choir at the rear of the church were highly impressive and I enjoyed it. It was my first experience at listening to Gregorian chant. The priest's movements at the altar reminded me, more than anything else, of the fancily dressed snake charmers I had seen at the circus. It wasn't until some years later, when I was studying music in New York, that I had a chance of attending an orthodox Jewish service and a Russian Orthodox church. The latter was even more incomprehensible than the Roman Catholic service. There were no seats in the church at all; you either had to stand or kneel. In the synagogue the men sat on one side and wore their hats or a black cap, while the women were on the opposite side with their heads uncovered.

It was probably more than idle curiosity that pushed me to investigate as many religious services as I could tho by 1925 I had pretty well made up my mind that there was no such thing as a divinely revealed religion; they were all the product of man's wondering and thinking about the origins of the universe and particularly about why we are here and what is the best way to live our lives. Christianity, because its founders were Jews, developed from the Jewish Bible, which, in turn, had many elements taken from the sacred writings and practices of ancient Egypt and Persia. I still wasn't sure, however, whether I possessed an immortal soul or not tho I had rejected both Heaven and Hell. When I finally became acquainted with Horace Hollister and began singing in the Congregational choir I practically became a Congregationalist, at least as far as church attendance was concerned. Reverend Oliver, the minister, was intellectually head and shoulders above the other ministers and priests in Muskegon.

Table of Contents
Trip to the West Coast - Summer of 1924
Trip to Québec - Summer of 1925

Last modified on 21 March 2017 @ 19:10