Early Years

CHAPTER FIVE – Early Years

These are stories that occurred before high school and my teenage years. They comprise from early elementary school (which was called grammar school back in the day) to high school and teenage years.

Life in Glen Burnie, Maryland (age +/- 4 to 8)

The first TV: I think it was around 1952 or something like that. We were living in a single-wide trailer in Maryland. (They were not called mobile homes or modular homes in those days, just a trailer.) My dad brought a TV. We were excited. It was black and white (of course). The screen was about eight inches across and round. It looked like an oscilloscope. But who cared? It was a TV. I remember the first cowboy movie. The horses must have been former plow horses. As the sheriff posse “raced” across the screen in hot pursuit of the bad guys, the horses seemed to be moving at a snail’s pace. But again. Who cared? It was Cowboys on TV. I thought it was the greatest thing ever. I do not recall watching any other programs. I guess it broke and was no longer available (or maybe the guy at the shop wanted his oscilloscope back). That small initial pleasure has become a primary controlling feature in the lives of many, maybe most. Lesson: Be careful about your pleasures. A small one can become controlling.

A Manly Eight-Year-Old: When I was eight, we lived in Glen Burnie, Maryland. We lived in a suburban area at the top of a long hill. One day, I decided to ride my bicycle down the long hill and prove I was a man by flying down the hill road in front of our house without holding onto the handlebars. Down I went, wind in my hair, heart-pounding, gaining speed with each rotation of the wheels, feeling more manly as each moment passed. As I approached the bottom of the hill, hands still off the handlebars, going at least a hundred miles an hour (or so it felt), I noticed I was heading straight at a chuckhole in the pavement.

My mind flashed: Shall I grab the handlebars? No! I might twist them and crash. Or shall I ride my way through the dimple in the road? By now, I have hit the pothole (which was no dimple) with no hands controlling the front wheel. CRASH. FLIP. BOING. BOUNCE. Over the bike, I tumbled, asphalt tearing through my jeans, collecting road rash on all flexing members of my body, bleeding from every wound, and having to push the bike back up the long demonic hill. I wanted to cry, but big boys don’t cry. I wondered what fool had put me up to the idea. Lesson: Find better ways to prove you are a man, like beating your father at chess.

Golf Clubs Can Be Dangerous: We lived in Glen Burnie; I was good friends with the guy who lived a couple of houses up from me. When it was his birthday, he invited me over to see the present he got. It was his golf club. He wanted to show me how it worked, so we went onto his front lawn. He took the stance: Feet spread, head down, hands on the club, wiggled his body, swept the club back and forth several times, and swung just like a pro. The trouble was he was a right-handed golfer. I stood parallel to his left. He had warned me to stand back. His swing caught me square in the mouth. I had a lump in my upper lip for years. Lesson: Golf clubs are longer than you think. Stand across, not in line.

Little Sister Wanted Turtle Hunting: Where we lived in Glen Burnie, our backyard was backed up by a railroad track. It was outside the back of a chain-link fence. The railroad track was also elevated, maybe ten feet above the level of our backyard. Beyond the track was a wooded area where my buddies and I would go hunting turtles. I was around eight or nine years of age. One day, my sister Anne decided she wanted to go hunting turtles. As a dutiful big brother, I took Anne by the hand (she was little). We set off to the small opening between the trees and brush that were interposed between the backyard and the train track. We went up the hill; it was a bit slippery and somewhat steep, so I pulled Anne. We finally arrived at the top next to the track; we looked. There was a train barreling down right in our face. I had not heard it. I yanked Anne. Back down the hill, we plunged and slid. I was a hero; I saved my little sister. Lesson: When hunting turtles, listen and keep your eyes open.

You Only Get Baptized Once, Maybe: I was baptized into the church when I was age eight. Baptism in our church is by immersion. The day came. My father and I went down into the font of water. We took the position, my father said the prayer, and he put me under the water. The problem was my toe came up. I was never totally immersed for a moment. The baptism had to be repeated. Again, we took the position. Father said the prayer, and under I went, except for my toe. The third time is a charm, correct? Wrong! We headed to the fourth try. Except for this time, my father got smart. He put his big foot on my toes. Success. I do not remember, but afterward, my mother said I commented: “Boy, we sure washed away a lot of sins today.” Lesson: Some little kids are bigger sinners than others. 😊

The Liberace Popcorn Fiasco: When we lived in Glen Burnie, the church meetings were held both morning and evening. Sunday School was held in the morning, and the Sacrament Meeting (worship service) was in the evening. Mother and Dad were in the habit of leaving us kids at home in the evening and going to evening service, just the two of them. We ‘kids’ (my father never liked to call the children “kids” because kids were baby goats. He was a farm boy, after all, before he was in the US Air Force.) Anyway, we ‘baby goats’ got a babysitter. She was a nice teenage girl. She would make popcorn for us. The only problem was she LOVED Liberace, and his program came on TV right when she was babysitting us. We always hoped to watch exciting programs, like cowboy movies or cartoons, rather than some guy singing and playing the piano. Oh, Gag!!! (Liberace was excellent and was world-famous, which we “baby goats” did not know, nor would we have even cared.) One night, the babysitter was so enthralled with Liberace that she burned the popcorn while being enchanted instead of attending the popcorn. Wrong! Never forgave her! We complained to our parents, but…Lesson: Make your own popcorn when the babysitter is a goo-goo-eyed female.

Life in Fair Oaks, CA (age +/-9 to 13)

Black Widow Gang: My brother David, a neighbor Bobby, and I were the founding members of the Black Widow Club. We did nothing but ride our bicycles around the neighborhood and think we were cool. By the way, Bobby had a brother named Billy. He used to pee in his clothes drawer in his bedroom. Billy was a strange one, but he turned out OK. Lesson: You do not need to be really cool to think you are cool.

Creature from The Black Lagoon: When I was twelve, one of my friends wanted to take his girlfriend to The Creature Among Us movie (I think that was the name of the movie). The girl’s mother insisted upon a supervisor. I was chosen to be the supervisor. I do not know if her mother agreed because I was a good kid who did not hold with making out with the girls or if she thought I was a rat and would tell if my friend made any untoward advances toward her daughter. No matter. My friend paid my way into the movie. That was A-OK with me. We sat in the movie house in a row with my friend, his girlfriend, and me. My friend was no dummy. He wanted to block me from seeing anything he did not want me to see. I had no intention of staring at them and keeping notes.

It was a scary movie (as scary movies went in those days), and my friend had his arm comfortingly around his girl. I watched the film; I did not concern myself with my friend’s and his girlfriend’s doings. I do not know what they were doing over there if anything. By the way, the full feature movie cost 25 cents to get in; eat your heart out.

I should have charged my friend (or the girl’s mother) for my supervision service, but I did not know much about entrepreneurship in those days. Lesson: Never miss the chance to make a buck (or even 25 cents).

Cat with Nine Lives: I dearly wanted some parakeets. Finally, my father built a cage about two feet by three feet and was standing on legs off the floor. It was placed in the basement of our split-level house on Archer Street in Fair Oaks, CA. Into the cage were placed four parakeets. I was one happy boy. Somehow, a cat had entered the basement and attempted to get the parakeets. The birds were safe from capture but were frightened by the cat. They had flown chaotically back and forth in the cage while the cat circled, looking for a way into the cage. The birds were dead, having broken their necks in the chaos. I went into the basement to feed my birds, discovering the dead birds and the cat. After assuring all the escape routes were closed, I hunted down the cat, stuck it in a gunny sack, and took it outside.

For you young folks, a gunny sack or bag was made of burlap and contained about 50 pounds of grain, such as wheat or oats. The cat in the bag was taken outside onto the concrete walk. I was busy bouncing the cat back and forth on the concrete, educating the cat as to the wickedness of its behavior. The squalling of the cat brought my mother to the porch, asking what I was doing. I informed my mother I was offering punishment for its evil behavior. Bless my mother; she told me the cat was doing what cats do and directed me to cease. She said the cat had enough education and told me to release the cat. I was disinclined to release the evil creature but much less inclined to disobey my mother. I was a good kid. Reluctantly, I opened the gunny sack.

The cat staggered out of the sack like a drunken sailor, never to be seen again. Cats are reputed to have nine lives. I figured I had used up about eight and a half of that cat’s nine. Lesson: Be careful not to use your extra lives in one event.