More than six decades after they attended high school together, a handful of self-proclaimed “Poly boys” — less nimble but still loyal Parrots — gather monthly for breakfast to swap stories about the days gone by.
“All we can do now is meet, eat, burp and bitch,” Jim Woodall, now 83, said of his Polytechnic High School classmates.
When they began meeting in the 1990s, more than 100 men would attend the monthly breakfast. Now about 45 remain. Over the years, the group has included a judge, a few lawyers, schoolteachers, businessmen, insurance agents, a pharmacist, engineers and a retired Fort Worth fire marshal.
The students at Poly were a diverse and interesting bunch.
There was Jerry Singer, who got an academic scholarship to Texas Wesleyan University after living homeless when he was 9 years old. And James Dodd, a cheerleader born with a left arm 9 inches shorter than his right, and two club feet.
And who could forget the seven Peacock boys, a long line of athletes at the east-side school in the 1940s and ’50s.
“We’re a Heinz 57 variety,” said Dr. John Smith, a graduate from the early 1950s. This month, Smith and a dozen other “Poly boys” met for the group’s monthly breakfast at Ginger Brown’s Restaurant on Lake Worth Boulevard.
Some come from far away. For example, Dodd, now 83, makes the trip to Fort Worth from his ranch in Lampasas County, west of Killeen.
“All of the guys just help each other,” Singer said. “We just have great fellowship. We’ve always been friends.”
‘Everybody was so poor’
In the 1940s, the east-side community was mostly blue-collar. Kids didn’t own cars and large families often had to move when they couldn’t pay the rent, the men said.
Donald Peacock’s parents, Earl and Ruth, moved into the area from Wichita Falls, he said. Earl Peacock, who walked on a wooden leg after he lost his leg from a rattlesnake bite, was a car mechanic. The couple ended up having nine living children, seven of whom were boys.
Many of the Poly boys had jobs as young as 12 and 13 years old, they said.
Charlie Turner, 87, said he delivered groceries for White’s Grocery on Essex Street when he was barely 14. The next year he worked as a mail carrier. Singer, who is 83, sold fruits and vegetables on the streets when he was homeless; later, as a high school student at Poly, Singer worked at Leonard’s Sporting Goods.
“We were of that era, just coming out of the Depression, going into World War II and everybody was about the same,” Woodall said.
The school was mostly concrete and not much to look at.
“It was plain vanilla,” said Turner, who graduated in 1945. “One thing young people can’t understand now is that there were not cars ... the kids didn’t have cars. At that time, everybody was so poor.”
Woodall said that when he was 15 he and another Poly boy scraped up some money and went in together for a $10 car. They bought a 1927 Ford Model T that came with only a motor, a steering wheel and four wheels.
“That was it,” Woodall said. “We had to crank it to start it. That was kind of a novelty.”
The got seats from the bus barn.
“We went to the bus barn out on Lancaster and I talked them out of two old seats out of those old buses,” he said. “We bolted those to the frame of the car and that’s what we rode.”
‘Shot ’em, all three of ’em’
Halloween was a day dedicated to mischief.
“Those days, you did everything on Halloween,” said Singer, who is the storyteller of the bunch.
“Basically, we were a pretty good bunch of kids,” said Dodd, who had surgery to correct his feet back when he was a child. “We had our mischievous ways, but nothing serious.”
In October 1948, seniors Danny Boggus, Jerry Peden and Clyde Bondell decided to play a prank on a physical education teacher at James Junior High. The boys did not like the teacher because he would require them to run laps around the building every day when they would rather be playing volleyball or basketball.
“Everybody loved him the same,” Singer said. “You know the kind of guy I’m talking about.”
The three pranksters sneaked out of church late that Halloween and showed up at the coach’s. But just as the first rock hit the roof of coach’s house, the man appeared on his porch with a 12-gauge shotgun.
“Shot ’em, all three of them,” Singer said. “Two of them were on crutches forever and one of them didn’t hardly make it. He was shot in the stomach.”
‘Gee, that’s Peacock!’
Back in those days, thousands of people crammed in to Farrington Field to watch football games.
Earl Peacock’s boys were the stars, and not just on the football field.
The Peacocks also were boxers and played basketball and baseball. Four of them signed contracts with farm clubs on both coasts before their careers were interrupted by war. A Dec. 2, 1948, Star-Telegram article praised the legacy of Poly’s Peacocks: “Peacocks Have Flown High for Poly Grid Squads.”
Growing up, said Donald Peacock, No. 6 out of 7 boys, “nobody ever picked on me. My brothers ... they were not scared of anything.”
One time, when Donald Peacock was about 12, some members of a gang followed him as he rode home on his bike. But when they saw that he was a Peacock, they bolted, he said.
“My brothers came piling out of the house,” Donald Peacock said. “And one guy [in the gang] said, ‘Gee, that’s Peacock! Let’s get out of here.”
Singer remembers when Donald’s older brother, Ed, and another student, Dan Burkhart, were suspended from the football team for three days for fighting on campus. Burkhart was trying to comb his hair in the locker room when Ed Peacock kept tossing a towel at him, Singer said. At one point, Burkhart returned the favor and tossed a towel back at Ed.
The pair ended up going after each other on the football field.
“It was the worst fight I ever saw at this school,” Singer said.
When Ed’s dad, Earl Peacock, heard about it, he seesawed up the steps of the school to meet with the principal, C.A. Thompson. Next thing you saw, Singer said, was a red-faced, limping Earl Peacock swinging his wooden leg at Thompson.
“We were all out there getting ready to go class, and that old man took his wooden leg off and stood there on one leg and was going to cold-cock Thompson with his leg,” Singer said. “Anyway, we all had to grab the old man to keep him from hitting Thompson. He kept saying, ‘Nobody is going to knock my son off the football team!’ ”
‘Connected with everybody’
Today, large oaks trees hover in front of the high school and the parking lot is crowded with cars.
On a recent Monday, Singer stood in front of the building overlooking the Poly neighborhood bluffs. He says his high school looks exactly the way it did more than 60 years ago.
“I haven’t been here in 65 years,” he said.
A monument to Singer’s favorite principal, Thompson, also now appears in front of the school.
“He was the best principal I ever had in my life,” Singer said. “He connected with everybody.”
Thompson had a saying: “Just remember who you are and where you are from.”
Dodd remembers that saying, too.
“That stayed with every one of us,’’ Dodd said. “We tried to live up to it.”