Ken Schwartz's Stories - "Life at Lark Ellen" - Page 1

There is always a look of surprise when people learn that I lived two years in a home for boys. I sense some feel sorry for me and others wonder if I was incorrigible as a boy. However, my mother's decision to place me in Lark Ellen Home for Boys was based on difficult but very practical choices. I could go on living with her and spend much of my time alone and unsupervised and therefore open to getting into "trouble." Or I could live in a home under supervision until mother's life stabilized - whatever that meant.

Most homes for boys of that day had a military theme. Boys wore military type uniforms and activities were patterned after military academies. We visited one before mother decided on Lark Ellen. Lark Ellen was not military in any way. Discipline existed, but it was based on simple rules young boys could understand. Most boys understood and conducted themselves accordingly. The matrons were motherly in nature unless they were really provoked. Whatever it was you did to provoke them, you didn't want to do that again!

Most boys were known by nicknames. It didn't take long for me to acquire one "toothpick!" I was skinny as a rail so the name was appropriate even if I didn't like it. It was not for lack of appetite that I was skinny; I ate plenty. In fact, my Aunt Lillian always claimed "It made me 'poor' (an Ozark word for thin) to carry all that food around."

Lark Ellen boys attended regular public schools. When school was over, we walked home to find a snack waiting for us at the kitchen door. If the dinner menu included cabbage, the cabbage 'hearts' would be on a tray outside with a saltshaker. They were a favorite. After changing into play clothes our time was our own to play games, pursue hobbies, read or work in our garden plot. If a school classmate would invite us to his/her home for some occasion such as a birthday party, we were free to go - just tell our matron. Sometimes we had parties and were allowed to invite our school friends to Lark Ellen.

Every Wednesday mother would drive out from her work for an evening visit. We would drive up to a small cafe on Santa Monica Boulevard and mother would have dinner. Because I had eaten earlier, she would order me a malt - a cherry flavored malt. About a year later mother brought a man with her. His name was Bill Childs. He seemed nice enough. Thereafter, Bill Childs always came with mother on Wednesday evenings.