(Just for something different . . . random memories from before “The Hood”, and one my wife liked because of the  frost thing.  I put it in here as part of an honest listing of the tales from my childhood, because not all memories are bad . . . just sorta sad sometimes.  Like anybody’s childhood.  And this was about as close as we ever came to living near extended family – usually they were over 1,500 miles away, sometimes more.  And it’s another example of how we were constantly moving – at least once per year.  Time? About 1962 or ’63 I suppose.  Place?  Perhaps near Fort Hood in Texas . . . I dunno . . .  That’s one of the things about being a military child – you never know where you were at . . . and sometimes ‘home’ isn’t a home at all . . . it’s just a cruel rumor you’ve heard about; dreamed of . . . something the kids around you who seem so much happier have, but you don’t.  You are always moving on . . . leaving your life behind like pieces of your mind; family, and friends, too.)

Texas: Bits & Pieces

I guess I was three when our family moved to Texas, and four when we left, so I’m a bit surprised that I remember as many things as I do. My mom tells me a few little things – like, for example, that the house we were in was small and roach infested. I don’t remember any roaches at all, and to ‘me’, that child’s perspective the house (from what I can remember of it) was huge and cavernous, and the backyard stretched to the limits of my horizon. Beyond lay ‘forbidden land’ – places I could not go. The backyard was fenced in; the front was not. That I remember quite well.

There was a sidewalk in front – a real one, and a concrete one, along with a paved drive which led up to a garage – which again seems large (though not overly so) in my memory. However, when I asked, my mom said with scornful distaste, “Yeah, there was a little shack next to it, nearly falling down.” (Albeit there again, she looked somewhat surprised that I remember this thing.)

There’s an interesting story (to me, anyway) regarding that shack. My dad used to keep his car parked in there – and I my tricycle (it was red and I loved going ’round on that thing, pedaling like mad). One morning I walked out with him – he was on his way to work I reckon, all bundled up in a dark trench coat There again – I am having to rely on my “child’s” perception of these things, so I may be wrong – he could have been wearing a military issue overcoat, or his old wool one – or none at all. But I don’t remember noticing his sateen Army greens, and he had his gloves on (black, and ribbed on the back with raised stitching), and I know it was winter because of the following question I asked.

Our breath was puffing in the air like steam as we walked to the building he kept his car in. It’s sunny outside, but it’s cool and shady in the shed; it’s a bright white morning sun, and the sky is clear and blue. I had parked my tricycle on the left side towards the wide opening. (I think there was a door; it was just leaning off to the right hand side like a picketed drunk). I think there might have been two drives, or the else driveway forked , but I can’t be sure. I know the part up next to the house seemed pretty open and wide. Anyway – I go to get on my tricycle and there’s something on it.

It’s white and furry and gleaming like sand or paint or some kind of coating, and it’s on the seat and handlebars. I’ve never seen such a thing; it’s dulled the color from a bright red to a cherry pink. I look up at my dad; I’m nervous about this thing. Uncertain; torn between wanting to get on my tricycle – and wondering what the stuff was: is it going to hurt me?

“What’s that?” I say nervously, pointing. I want to get my tricycle out and ride – but I can’t. I haven’t a clue what this stuff is.

He laughs; tousles my hair with his gloves.

“It’s frost!”, he chuckles, bending over. He grabs the seat and starts swiping at it with one hand, which is why I remember his hands – those gloves – so well. I’m intently watching in absorbed fascination. To my amazement the stuff comes off under his brisk quick rubbing. “It won’t hurt you!”

“Thanks, dad!” I say, getting on and rolling it out backward. It was fun. I had learned something – and by now I’m watching him start the car; the clouds of fog rolling around out from behind – and I’m rolling over to the house where I used to ride a lot of times – up and down that drive.

My mom has a story to tell about that tricycle as well – about how they’d have to watch me sometimes.

One day (she says) they were sitting they noticed a spiral of smoke rising up beyond the privacy fence that screened off the front yard (it was on the same side of the house as the driveway I reckon). Going out, they found me riding around in circles, smoking a cigar – puffing and pedaling, proud as could be. It appears we had a friend who used to come over, and sometimes he would discard his cigar before coming in – and this time I had found it and decided to take myself a ride . . .

I also remember the TV in that ‘great room’ (great only in that it seemed really big). Facing the TV the kitchen was off over to the left of me. Watching that thing on Saturday mornings was always a treat that we enjoyed, and I’m pretty sure it was on this TV that I saw Orson Well’s “Time Machine” (the 1960’s version) – which gave rise to that ‘scene’ of a hairy man-monster getting his head smashed against a cave wall, and all the blood (dark and black in my mind – after all, it was on black and white TV!) – leaking out of his head and mouth . . .

That ‘hallway’ (actually it was just a door cut between the two rooms) was also the scene of one of the last ‘fits’ (temper tantrums) that I can remember throwing – and it must have been the temper tantrum of all time! (Laughing to myself; I can still ‘see’ this from a child’s perspective, looking up from the floor and feeling that rage . . . and then beginning to sense the ridiculousness and futility of the thing.)

I remember my mom standing there – at first just hands on her hips explaining things, then looking at me for a moment – then walking away while I continued throwing my fit – kicking my legs and screaming; thumping my head on the floor.

It was all about Billy going to school – and me having to stay home. I wanted to go to school so bad – but just because he was going. Like any little brother (and I was only a year and a quarter younger) – I felt I should be allowed to go and do anything he did. So when I found out he was going to preschool – I wanted in. Only I was too young.

So I threw myself down and had a good fit. Pounding my fists and my head – and my mom just coolly explaining that I was not old enough and could not go – and that was the end of it. Walking off like that was the best thing she could do. Because in the end I had a headache and sore fists and heels – I think I walked with a limp and that headache for the rest of the day – and felt kind of stupid about the thing. Not for the reasons listed (that I was too young) – but because I knew I should not question my fate about such things. Just learn to accept them . . . without getting mad. Or at least without getting hurt.

It’s a problem I’m still working on, and will for the rest of my life.

I remember another thing from there (quite a few, as a matter of fact) . . .

I remember the kid who lived across the street from the front yard. (An alley ran down the back.) He would stand there on the sidewalk and throw stones at me. Neither he nor I were allowed out of our respective front yards, so we would stand there on the sidewalk and throw stones at each other. Fortunately (or unfortunately – it depends on how you want to take it) – he could throw harder than me. I learned from my mom later on that he was about five years old. And I don’t know why – I automatically hated him, and he seemed to hate me. After all, he was the one who started the stone throwing ‘contest’.

And I was the lucky one there because my arm was not strong (I was just about three and a half, maybe?). He could pitch rocks over at me – and they would reach the sidewalk. I, on the other hand, couldn’t pitch them near as hard. As a consequence he would find himself running out of rocks – and then he’d either have to venture out into the street to get the ones where they had fallen short of my goal (his head) – or go back in his yard to find some more. And the strange thing was: I don’t remember actually being interesting in chucking those rocks at all (“he started it!”) – I was just returning what I had been giving.

The very first dog I remember ever having to deal with on a day-to-day basis was my mother’s dog. It was a small one; a half-breed of coyote and something else. However, it was the coyote nature that ruled the most, and it was the most vicious dog to anybody – except my mom.

It would howl at the moon while neighbors threw tin cans at it, and it loved my mom. It would chase us kids – there’s a photo of it. I would love to get a copy because it’s a perfect description of this dog.

In this photo my brother and I are painted up as Indians with Indian head dresses on. We’re lined up in a row, sitting on the lawn: me, my brother, and my mother holding the dog.

And in this picture – it’s frozen like a time frame – this dog is a lunging white blur in my mother’s arms, leaping towards us boys, its mouth open in an eternal snarl – . . . and us boys are just staring straight ahead . . .

It’s the best picture of that dog – and us boys! Meaning our relationship with it, and it with us – that I have in my mind.

(The fun part about writing this is that I remembered how we’d get all dressed up with that greasy War paint and go out and play – putting our “Indian clothes” on – and I think we had those cheap kid’s toys – the bow and arrow-with-suction-cup type of thing.)

This was also one of the few places we lived where there was extended family nearby – my Uncle Don, his mom (my grandmother), Kay and a few others. Uncle Don must have lived fairly close, because I remember he came over one day – walking up the dusty back alley beyond the fence. He would jump the fence to get in.

This particular day that I remember – it must have been a midsummer’s afternoon, for it was hot as all blazes; the ground was dusty and dry, and I can remember the horizons ‘over there’ – they were far and wide. Anyway, it was time for him to go (I think) – and I’m not sure what led to this ‘scene’ in my head:

It’s hot and dry and he’s going across the back yard – only it’s not at a trot, it’s a dead run – flat out getting it, dust kicking up at his heels – and there’s this barking white blur behind him. He hits the fence as fast as he can – scaling it just as the dog catches up to him. Getting over he rips his pants and arm – I can see that wide butt-rip even now – and takes off, hightailing it towards the alley and on out of sight.

I reckon that dog felt rather proud.

I in particular remember one evening – I don’t know if we had gone somewhere (perhaps Uncle Don’s and Grandma’s?) – but all the family was around. There was a fair crowd in someone’s backyard, and it was in Texas – I can still see that far horizon. And the moon is rising – huge, orange and full . . .

Us kids – there was a playground there; a little one – a backyard thing with swings, a slide – and best yet, one of those pump-pedal merry-go-rounds that four (or two) kids can get on – and pumping back and forth with your arms and legs, get that thing going! We used to love that thing – pumping and laughing and spinning – but it was a rare treat I think; not something we often got to do (which means the playground was not ours).

But that night – the adults were gathered up against the house, lounging in lawn chairs, drinking their drinks and talking and laughing as us kids did our thing. And that night the moon came up – and it was beautiful-beautiful in my young mind because I had never seen it looming so orange and large – and us kids squealing like banshee’s as that merry-go-round went around . . .

It was one of the ‘greatest fun’ and ‘most beautiful fun times’ I ever had (though a certain New Jersey sunset comes to mind!).

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