Odds & Ends From The Hood

Before I get to the last story of my last days in the ‘hood as a child, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t include the odds and ends of recollections that I carry in my head like eggs in a basket. The ‘hood defined my childhood more than any other period; that time between the ages of five and eleven. What came before and what came after . . . was something different. Profound changes lay in my future; I was unaware of what awaited me and the huge impacts these changes would have. But for now, for this, I include – and conclude – my time in the hood, with the exception of one more story; one to come, entitled “The Last Days of the ‘Hood”.

You will pardon me if I ramble a bit, skipping back and forth through time – a period roughly between 1963 and 1971. These memories are pure flashes; smaller stories of that time . . .

Pre-hood Tidbits

I remember being very small, sitting on a concrete driveway somewhere and picking the flakes of rust off the bottom of the door of my father’s car. I loved the gritty feel and the irony taste when I’d put my fingers to my mouth. My dad, I remember, was washing the car one time while we were in the driveway. He fussed at me about that – picking holes into the bottoms of the side panels – but despite the aggravation he smiled and left me alone . . .

I remember when we first arrived in Georgia. There was no home for us. The Army put us in a a barracks style building out on Fort Gordon. We were given steel framed beds – cots, it seemed – in a big room with other families, similarly displaced by their father’s move. . . . My teddy bear, which my parents had bought for me overseas when I was born was my only companion. My mom is amazed I remember that place.

I remember as a very small child creeping into my parent’s room at night. We weren’t allowed to go into their room. It was strictly forbidden – very much so. But I would lay down next to their bed, taking comfort in their presence – and then getting caught in the morning, scolded, and sometimes spanked. By the time I was four years old I knew, and would sleep in the hallway, pressed tight against the door like a dog waiting on his master. Even that was punishable, and by the time I was five I had given up on the idea, shivering in bed with all the fears of childhood while storms raged outside, or just hurting inside because I wanted to be near my parents . . .

I remember my brother running into the first house we had, before the ‘hood, screaming. Blood was running down his face. He had picked up a baby blue jay, and landing on his head, the parent pecked a bunch of holes in him. After seeing that, there was no way I was going to mess with a baby bird. . . .

I remember going to the neighbors one evening after supper to see if the kids could come out to play. Their front door was open, but the screen door was shut. Just as I raised my hand to knock, I looked down to see a giant snake crawling into a vent. With a scream, I burst through the screen into their living room, where they were sitting with TV trays eating dinner and watching TV. I didn’t even bother opening the door. Boy, did they look surprised – but they were not nearly as surprised as I had been by that giant snake. . .

My parents bought me a luxurious toy – a pedal powered tractor with an umbrella and a wagon. I was four. It was my pride and joy. My mom had to chase me down several times when I decided I could compete with the traffic in the street, and would be madly pedaling away. . . .

I remember the floor furnace in the living room of that old house. In the winter it was something to be wary of. If you stepped on it when it was running, it would leave a pattern of burns that looked just like the grating covering it. How I hated that thing. It would roar and murmur, with its red eye looking out at you from the darkness of its innards, and even in the summer it would tick and chuckle to itself . . .

I loved my pajamas with the footies. I wore them out . . .

In The Hood

Like many children I had a soft “blankie”, or blanket. It was blue. It disappeared sometime early on while I was in the ‘hood, becoming nothing more than a memory by the time I was seven. I missed that ‘blankie’ for years. . .

I remember us kids piling into the station wagon – that trusty Ford Grand Torino – and going to “Kelly’s”, a fast-food restaurant some miles away. It was always a special treat for us to go, and we only went when my father was home. Each time my dad would order for us all – and ordering something I liked, and something I hated.

What I hated was what my dad insisted we ALL would eat: the chili dogs. I hated chili dogs with a passion, but he would order them for us anyway – and then make us eat them. No matter how much we complained (and we didn’t complain too loudly) – chili dogs it was. I can still see the place – it had grand illuminated arches, not like McDonald’s, but different – and it was always a cool place to go. But those chili dogs – I was in my late twenties before I got over my aversion to them.

My love? The soft drinks. This was the only time we ever got soft drinks: when we went to Kelly’s. Otherwise they were non-existent. We didn’t even know what they were called – just that they were fizzy with wonderful carbonation – and so sweet! Like any kids, we slurped them up, washing those disgusting (but probably pretty tasty to a grownup palate) – chili dogs down.

I remember the teenager next door stringing a fifty-five gallon barrel between two trees and tying a bunch of ropes to it. Challenging anyone to ride it, he and his friends would yank on the ropes, giving us an “authentic fifty-five gallon bull ride”. It was hard for us little kids to hang on with our short legs, and many took a tumble. But it was great fun, a huge lark, until his father had him take it down.

I remember (bad child that I was) – sitting in the sand of our driveway with a magnifying glass, trying to burn holes in the tires on my father’s car . . .

I remember us stringing used inner tubes between the mailboxes as part of our “wars”. We would use the inner tubes like giant slingshots, capable of hurling dirt clods way over the roofs of the houses – well over a hundred and fifty feet – and bombard our enemy with surprise. This kept on until one day when a kid got hurt by a huge dirt clod, delivered with deadly force at close range, which sent him crying all the way home. After that the grownups forbade the use of the “slingshots”, reducing us to throwing by hand once again. . .

War. God! Was that the only game us boys played? Sometimes it seems that it was. “Nazis and Germans”, “Vietcong and G.I.’s”. My father brought home some old helmet liners and used disposable rocket launchers (which looked like bazookas, complete with sights) from the fort where he worked. We were in high heaven. We waged war in dead earnest – we dug pits lined with punji sticks, attempting to cripple each other. Fortunately we had no real way of digging, and no knives to sharpen our “stakes” – thus no one ever really got hurt – or at least not badly. “Rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat!” we’d yell, dodging across the yard. We were too poor to afford toy guns, so we usually used sticks. “You missed!” someone would always cry, and continue to run across the grass. Amazing how many imaginary bullets missed their mark – leading to other, and much more real fights sometimes. (“I DID shoot you!” “No you didn’t!” “Yes, I DID!” “No, you MISSED!”) . . . and I ambushing a boy and breaking a fallen pine’s trunk as thick around as my arm back then across his back, and leaving him breathless in the sand. We played for “keeps” when we played war . . .

Speaking of “keeps”, I remember the teenager teaching us how to play marbles, and the endless marble games in the sandy driveway . . . the teenager usually won the “pitch to the line” games, whereas I was a deadly shot in the “knock it out of the circle” . . .

I remember busting in on my dad in the tub one time to ask him if I could go somewhere – and my fascination with that dark mass of hair – “there” – and his look of surprise. He managed to remain calm, asking what I wanted. But that sight is still frozen in my mind. I knew I had done something forbidden, busting into the bathroom like that. By “their laws” (my parents), I should have been severely beaten. . . . .

I remember watching the man across the street beat his wife with a garden hose. What started off as a game grew to something else – a something violent. I think he was drunk, or well on the way getting there. Swinging the hose in big circles he kept smacking her until she cried in pain, that just seemed to spur him to greater efforts. Her kids and I were standing around, occasionally dodging the hose. He didn’t seem to even see us. Eventually my mom came over to save her best friend (and my “other mom”) from him. He smacked her as well, until they were able to overpower him and striking him, took the hose away.

I remember in the same yard us kids gathering around to watch “Prince”, the big German shepherd, mate with a smaller dog. Most of the kids didn’t know what was going on. I knew too well, and it disturbed me.

I remember taking piano lessons from the woman across the road who was beaten with the hose. My parents even bought a old piano! I was thrilled, and remember watching the repairman tune it. I would go across the dirt road every few days, then come home to practice. When I was with her she’d sit right next to me on the bench. Whenever I hit a wrong note, she would pinch the nerves in my knee, tickling the crap out of me, and she always gave me great big hugs when I left. My favorite songs were “Born Free” and Beethoven’s fifth symphony. Often I would sit there pounding out Beethoven’s Fifth as loud as I could, over and over again. Now I can barely find “middle C”. So much for piano lessons and the aspirations of a parent . . .

I remember my dad “testing” me for worms. Coming in early one morning and waking me, having me roll over. Spreading my cheeks and taking a swab and swabbing me “down there”. I think I remember that so well because of what the teenager was doing. It reminded me too much of him. But I was too sleepy to be embarrassed or afraid. . . .

I remember when I caught worms. My mom didn’t tell me what to do with the suppositories; handing me the tinfoil wrapped ‘pills’ she told me sit on the toilet and insert them . . . down there. I didn’t know the tinfoil was supposed to come off . . .

I remember my mom slinging my most precious toy of all – my teddy bear, my constant companion and friend from birth – out of the car window one day. I was so devastated and crying so hard that she eventually turned around and got it, shoving it back into my arms with an angry scowl. . . .

I remember how badly I wanted to be a “good soldier” for my dad. I remember trying to impress him with my prowess in fighting, my toughness. Polishing his boots (and not meeting his standards). Wishing he would teach me more (he taught us very little). Seeing his pride when he made Warrant officer – and how he scolded me when I went to touch his magical uniform.

I my brother and I kissing, laying in a tight embrace on the floor. This was no child’s kiss; it was my first “grown-up” kiss – you know the kind. I didn’t like it, but did it anyway . . . I was glad when he quit. I didn’t like him much anyway. . . .

I remember the bus monitor, a ornery and bossy teenage girl. She was well developed with spade like hips and very full breasts. Her “boobs” fascinated us little boys. Getting off the bus on spring day, I reached up and “swung” down the stairs by her breasts like a monkey swinging on drooping vines. Outraged, she chased me across the road into a yard and threw me to the ground. Leaping onto me like a panther, she pinned me down. With a confused look of dawning awareness that she was about to beat up a little kid, she told me: don’t do it again, dammit. Laying there in breathless laughter, I watched her get back up and go back to the bus. I never messed with her again. . . .

I remember the teenager patiently trying to teach us little kids to play football. He taught us how not to get “taken down” by shaking your butt when someone grabbed you around the hips. That was a lesson that was to come in handy . . .

I remember us playing football as well. Due to my aggressiveness and lack of skills catching – or throwing – the ball, I was always put on “forward rush”. Small as I was I was quick and nimble, and would bust through any force. Often I would get a bloody nose and never notice. The other kids respected my talent for breaking through the defense, and even the teenager (who always played quarterback) learned that he should run.

I remember a big kid, all full of himself, coming into our yard. He was new to the neighborhood. My friends were all around. This kid started saying how he could whip anyone. My friends told him that he couldn’t beat me; that I was the toughest kid in the neighborhood. He laughed and faced off with me, doubling his fists and talking trash. Before he could throw a fist, I kicked him in the shin and he fell down, crying and begging and swearing his leg was broken and for me not to beat the living crap outta him. He lost any respect he would of gotten that day . . . from me, or any of the other kids in the ‘hood.

I remember when I went outside to feed the cat during a thunderstorm – and a lightning bolt struck right between the houses, only a dozen or so feet from me. Screaming at the top of my lungs, I fled inside, bowl flipping up over my head, and scattering cat food from the carport to the kitchen. My mom and dad, sitting at the kitchen table, laughed and laughed at the food everywhere. Us kids found a fused piece of sand there the next day, where the scorched mark lay. . . .

I remember my mom teaching us to shoot her bow and arrow – a light weight bow, cream white. We became very good at the thing, drawing it back with our strong seven year old arms. . . .

I remember we were so poor that my mom took pity on us and made uniforms for our G.I. Joes. After a few years of play the feet and the hands would come off of the G.I. Joes (my brother and I each had one) – simulating injuries for them. . . . she also made clothes for our most important stuffed animals, and each night I would change my bear from his day clothes to his red night pajamas. They were a one piece with snaps made of soft fuzzy cotton, kinda like the pajama I wore as a young child. My brother’s bear had an “Army” uniform I can recall; overalls with a patch on the front from one of my dad’s uniforms . . .

I remember my mom spent a lot of time sewing late into the night; sometimes it seems like she was constantly in her room, making clothes or alterations for money. She made custom dresses and skirts, blouses and things for most of the neighborhood women, and not a few of the neighborhood kids. She made our clothes quite often as well. They always fit better and lasted much longer than store-bought clothes, but even still . . . us kids were not happy with them. If it had been up to us there would have been but one outfit: a t-shirt and shorts; nothing else, not even underwear . . . flashing bare feet and a smile . . .

Shoes were a constant concern. How happy I would be when we’d go shoe shopping in the fall! Red Goose Shoes were my “usual brand”, though I always had my heart set on a pair of the Buster Browns. I loved the feel of the soft suede leather, but my mom wouldn’t let me get any. For one thing they cost more, those Buster Browns with the boy’s smiling face that I liked – and for another, suede was just a bad idea for a country child who like to go trompsing through field and stream – with red clay no less! – and living beside a dusty road out in the sticks. Not that I would have been allowed to wear them except to church and to school – but with the playground that we had (or rather should I say the one we didn’t – it was just a big red empty field) – I would have been brushing those things until the leather wore off instead of learning to polish them the way I did . . .

I also hated getting new shoes – and by that I mean the good leather ones that were supposed to last me all year; not the tennis shoes I wore some of the time. They were stiff and made my feet sore after a summer spent running around in bare feet with calloused treads, and when you’d first put them on it was like having weights on your ankles: they drug me down, slowed my steps, tired me out sometimes. Plus I had high insteps, which made loafers – which I really wanted – even more impossible. I wanted a set so bad – you could just see it! – slipping your feet in and out rather than having to tie your own shoes . . . as a kid they were quite appealing, but we never could find a set that could fit me . . . until we finally gave up on the thing, consigning me to lacing up my shoes for a long, long time.

And I remember the Red Goose Kiosk – the one with the big fat goose within. Feed her a quarter and she’d give you an egg . . . nothing major, just a really cool thing as a kid . . .

and my fascination with those measuring machines the clerks all used – the things to measure how wide your feet were – how cool those smooth metal boards would feel beneath my feet! And how strange and suddenly important I would feel, making sit up just a little bit higher as this clerk – an adult human being! – tended my feet. It felt strange every time . . . but I always used to relish the feel of that smooth cool metal against my feet, and that little thing they used to measure the width with . . .

I remember other things; unimportant flashes through time. A boy inverting a bicycle and spinning the back tire, letting it rub him ‘there’. “I’m gonna make myself a girl!” he proudly crowed. Strange child . . . that was at my birthday party and I sat there wondering “What the hell?”.

I remember my best friend and I, thirty feet up in a tree.  He’d brought sex catalog of some kind; it was in black and white.  We looked at it for awhile, him and me; I think I was about nine years old.  I remember the wind, soft, coming over the platform’s sides of the treehouse we’d built up there; the sky so blue you couldn’t hardly stand it; the warm breezes . . .
and then he and I began to have sex; the oral kind.  And when I was giving him the pleasure he sorta started laughing and I felt a trickle come and I jerked away . . . he busted out laughing; he’d almost peed in me . . . something his brother, the big one did when he would anally rape us sometimes . . . I hated him for that sort of thing.

I remember me and my best friend smashing one another’s faces in and laughing insanely while we did it . . . we gave each other bloody noses and puffy lips, and then hugging chest to chest, eyeballing the damage we’d done to one another, we both agreed we were still tough and I could still “whoop” his ass when it came down to it . . . and we walked off to the hose cooing over our injuries and in a mutual arm-over-shoulder buddy embrace . . . we thought our friendship would last for all time (and it nearly did in some ways . . . not that I’ve ever seen him except once or twice since . . .)

I remember an extensive underground fort our teenage friend dug and built . . .

I find it disturbing just how many of us children he ‘abused’ . . . molesting his 6 year old little sister when he was about 13; me and my brother; his own brother, some other kids across the ‘hood . . .

I actually went to his wedding.  And I didn’t say a thing.  I was about 14 then and he scared the shit outta me.

I remember getting buried a couple of times.
I remember when a stack of concrete blocks fell on me.

I remember THE Halloween party my mom threw. She dressed up as a witch – which she told everyone she was. We played a 45 rpm record of “Icabod’s Last Ride” all through the night. The neighborhood was invited over; there was the classic game of “this is the dead man’s eyes” (grapes), and “this is the dead man’s brains” (spaghetti). To this day Halloween remains my most favorite holiday, even more than Christmas. . .

Speaking of Halloween: being so poor we could afford to buy costumes . . . using an old bed sheet instead I came up with what seemed to me the most horrifying monster I could be: the ghost of a werewolf. I had a hard time coloring “bloodstains” on that old bed sheet with a crayon . . . and had to explain at every doorway exactly what it was I was supposed to be. . .

The ‘hood. A place. A life time and a childhood.

Seemed quite normal to me.

(Note: we here are getting close to the end of the “Tales from the ‘Hood” . . . not much more to go from here . . .then comes the really scary part in some ways . . . both in writing and our therapy . . .)

Advertisements