Tag Archive: Random

The Game

The two little boys stood, staring at each other, their faces firm – stern, hard, laced with anger.  Their fists raised before them – small bald hands with knuckles staring out of them.  One had his thumb tucked in his fist – that was the wrong thing to do.

I should know.  I was one of the boy’s fighting.

Often us boys would play a game – this was back in the days of the ‘hood.  I don’t know what to call it except simply choking.

It’s been on my mind for a bit of time, so I’m going to write about it.


The two boys stood – this was another time, same place.   The teenager stood nearby, the other kids a loose ring – about seven of them, ranging in age from 3 to 12 years old.  They were my ‘audience’ – or theirs, my teenager and his friends.  My best friend and I, facing off one more time.  It seems like we were always facing off and fighting, trying to prove who was tougher than the other.  I always won, time after time.  But not in this one.  Not always.  Or at least I don’t think so.  It’s hard to remember those kinds of things sometimes . . .

I grabbed him around the neck with both hands – I can still see his sandy curly locks as he threw his head back, tightly smiling, instinctively protecting his features – broad brimmed face with wild cat green eyes – it was as if there was something feral behind them and pinpoint pupils from the bright Georgia sun.  At the same time he was opening up his neck, I grabbed him double-handed, placing both thumbs on opposite sides of the slender arching bulge of his windpipe, taking care to at least place the first joint of my thumb beyond it.  At the same time he grabbed mine in a similar grip – and I let him.  This was what the teenager told us to do.  I was about eight years old.

He started squeezing tighter and tighter as I tightened my grip.  You weren’t allowed to do it all at once – you had to do it slowly.  It was important that the thumbs remained wrapped completely around the throat – on both sides of the windpipe.  We didn’t want to take the chance of crushing someone’s windpipe – we already knew the consequences.  At least one kid had faced disaster – his windpipe crushed in.  The thumb joints, properly aligned, were where one could crush, squashing the throat below the windpipe and in the esophagus region.  This insured no one was crushing someone else’s cartilage.

How I knew that I did not know.

We would stand there stiff legged – this happened several times; not once but many through my childhood – our fingers wrapped around each other’s throats, both of us tightly grinning – an evil grin and a vicious one, but without any real malice towards our friend – squeezing tighter and tighter until someone would pass out.

The first few times I got knocked out, or at least very blank and dizzy.  There comes a time when the darkness rushes in from the edges of your vision, narrowing it down.  Outside sound becomes muted; your heart beat a dull thud in your ears . . . one that seems to grow even slower and fainter and then even it disappears, and you lose all taste and vision . . .

and you wake up on the floor.  Or the ground.  Or wherever you ended up landing.  And hope you didn’t get hurt.  (Once I fell out on a paved road . . . and woke with road rash and bruises all over my knees, elbows and hands.  At least the body had tried to catch itself . . . I don’t remember a thing.)

I won’t go into the mental aspect of knowing you are dying.  That’s a different sort of thing.

Sometimes my friend and I played with nobody watching – ‘practicing’ out in the yard.  You weren’t supposed to do that – someone could get hurt, the teenager had warned us many a time, adding that someone could die from this thing.  But on the other hand he was the one who had set the Games up . . . one of several kinds.

I learned you could hyperventilate prior to this ‘event’ to prepare – filling your body with essential oxygen until your head was swimming from the stuff – and then going right into the ‘fighting’.  I could outlast many an opponent that way – strangling him while he strangled me until someone gave up or went down.

It was a hell of a game to play.

It went on until we were about ten or eleven – by that time we were getting a bit dangerous with it.  We would hang on even though we were dying, or passed out sometimes – our hands unconsciously locked down like claw vises.  Then the teenager would have to pry them apart . . .

It was a hell of a game.  In many ways.


The Sports Ban

No More Sports.  Ever. 

That was basically what I was told when I was about twelve in Germany.  No more running. No more jumping. No joining a team with my best friend. No football – which I dearly loved – it was strictly forbidden. No hockey, no basketball, no baseball.  Add to this no TV, no radio (Except one military station), no internet, no telephone.

Overseas, while opening my minds to new cultures and ideas, new ways of thinking – led to a (perhaps) secret military program to militarize children, training them in the arts of war (for their own good, naturally) – closed a lot of doors.  It closed the door on my official “childhood” years, my childhood home, separated me from my friends, any family I had beyond my immediate family – separated from the land I had grown up in (and yet returning to the one in which I had been born) . . . no, no, no.  The military was full of regulations, my parents full of theirs.

It’s funny how one thing can lead to another, which leads to another, which leads you down an entirely different path in life than the one you thought you’d take. Sometimes it can be an accident, a move, a change in relationships. Sometimes it can be meeting a friend or losing an old one. Sometimes it’s just nature kicking you in the butt; sometimes it’s you kicking your own.

When I was a kid, I loved football. Now I’m talking about the time up until I went to Germany, and it wasn’t team football – it was that ragged free-for-all type of football neighborhood kids play. I was broad shouldered, big for my age, and had a fearsome reputation as a forward rush. I wasn’t good at catching or throwing the ball, but getting in there in the rough, and tackling my opponent – I was all into that. We didn’t have the niceties of game play, like football helmets and mouth guards. This was all one-on-one, flesh to flesh. Listening to the teenager talk, I had little kid aspirations of playing football on a team.

But some time after I turned twelve things started to change. I started to change. And the change wasn’t the subtle change of puberty. (That was to come much later, in my mid-teens.) It was something to do with my knees.

They first started giving me notice by a sullen ache, voicing their dissent with pain. Later on, they would begin swelling – for no apparent reason, until they were the size of large grapefruit (or small cantaloupes). At first my parents dismissed my complaints of “my knees hurt!” with “it’s just growing pains” – then later, as the evidence became more visual, they realized something must be wrong.

Now being overseas, the military hospitals didn’t have all the latest and greatest equipment – or doctors, it seemed. This was long before the invention of laparoscopic surgery or MRI’s. So the doctors poked and prodded, painfully twisting my knees this way and that, and taking x-rays of them. They scratched their heads, puzzling over the x-rays, and did it again. This went on for months – about six of them, if I recall. Finally throwing their hands up in disgust, they sent my medical records “Stateside”. Apparently there was some debate in the United States, because they took even more x-rays, having me assume uncomfortable positions so that they could get a better look inside my knees.

“Tunnel View” and “Skyline” were two terms I was to get accustomed to in the X-ray room. These views required climbing on the table on your hands and knees (sore knees at that) – and holding still in a contorted position while the technician made their adjustments and went and took the picture. I had so many pictures taken of my knees that they should have glowed.

Finally, months later, the doctor gives his verdict.

“Osteochondritis dissecans,” he solemnly intones, pointing to the x-rays he’s clipped on the light panels. He points to one that looks like the ghostly ends of a chicken bone. The ends are ragged.

“You see here,” he says, circling his pencil around the mountains and valleys, “the cartilage isn’t getting enough blood. It’s malformed, ragged.” He points to a white spot, like an eclipse on the left tibia. “And here is a bone tumor.” He shakes his head, regarding the x-ray for a moment while “tsk-tsking”. Then he turns and looks at my parents and I, huddled on the other side of the desk.

“He can’t run anymore – do anything which might jar his knees. No football, no playing sports.”

“What about an operation?” my mom asks. We’ve heard about knee operations. They usually have bad results. We know, having talked to several people who have had their knees operated on. And artificial knees hadn’t been invented yet.

He sits, leans back, his pencil stroking his upper lip.

“Well,” he admits, “We could look inside. But that requires cutting his kneecaps back – and we’d probably end up doing more damage than good. We can’t cure him. It’s best if we just give it time, see where it goes. But if he jams his knees – gets a good knock on them – it might break bits of cartilage loose, and then we’ll have to operate.”

And so there it was. No more playing sports, no more jumping around. No more leaping out of trees, no chance of joining a school team. The only “safe” sports the doctor recommended were swimming and walking. Nothing more. And even then – as I was to find out – my knees would still give me trouble, swelling up like balloons. And the pain could be excruciating – a grating, grumbling pain, especially in my left knee. I had to give up the high jump and the broad jump at school (not that I was any good at them, anyway), and soccer (in which I was excelling.)

But, ignoring the doctor’s advice like any kid would, I still played. I never played team games, nor was I allowed to play team sports, but I played. I jumped down stairwells, jumped from trees. I went running across the landscape and through the woods with all their trips and falls – and sometimes paid the price for it. But my parents, taking the doctor’s warning to heart, forbade me from doing those sort of things, even going to the point of putting me on restriction a time or two or three for “jumping” or playing. The only time they gave me a break was when we went skiing, and when I went ice-skating. Otherwise they’d always be warning me about my knees, until tiring of it, I’d go and do something anyway.

For their part, the doctors pronounced this condition a rarity. They made this completely clear after the initial diagnosis. They wanted to take pictures of it – that “Tunnel” and “Skyline” view – every three months or so, and watch its progress. I wasn’t too happy about that – the sessions always left my knees aching – but being an Army brat with no control over his life, I obediently submitted as required.

They got worse over the next few years – I developed a “trick” knee, which would go out on me unexpectedly like a limp noodle, sending me toppling down a flight of stairs, or tripping over my own two feet on the street. For the most part I tried to ignore it – when the pain wasn’t there I played just as hard as any kid, ignoring the doctor’s advice. I couldn’t of cared less – while I was jumping from trees or engaging in other sorts of hazardous activity, the thought was always in the back of my mind that I was taking a risk – but I just couldn’t seem to care. I viewed my knees as my body’s betrayal, and I was determined not to let them stop me from having a good time. As it was, I resented them – and my parents – for pulling me out of sports, and turning me towards a more sedentary lifestyle. For the first time in my life, I found something to hate about myself, a hate that continued to grow. And as a result I also grew more alone and separated from my peers – unable to join in their games, unable to keep up – which led to me becoming more isolated, more dependent upon myself for my own entertainment. Turning to books, especially when my knees hurt too much to walk, I found myself spending more time in my bedroom, stretched out on the bed with a scattering of books and a novel in hand. I hated it, but there was nothing I – or the doctors, apparently – could do, and my parents didn’t seem to take much notice. In the end this ended up making my life richer – I read more books than anyone else I know – but on the other hand, I think it robbed me of a lot of things – the thrill of playing on a team, the rush of victory. (Loss I already knew all too well.) But like most things in life, you gotta take the bad with the good – and struggle to find the good in the bad, though it can be hard sometimes.

As a result – this path nature forced me to take – I never did develop any great interest in sports, turning my attention more towards books and introspection. I know in part the reason is my own parent’s apathy towards sports – I don’t recall my dad ever watching a ball game, much less playing ball with us, and my brother has the same disinterest. (It was my mom who taught us how to catch and throw – which is why I “threw like a girl” for the first fifteen years of my life.) The few friends I have don’t understand my disinterest in sports, my apathy towards music – some of the things that sets me apart from them. But my daughter and my wife appreciate that I don’t spend my weekends watching games on TV, choosing instead to spend my time doing things more productive, or spending time with them.

Odd, the paths that life – whether through our own doing, or the doings of Mother Nature – takes us. Which, I think, is one of the reasons for the rich diversity of the human race.




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 . . .)

Southern Snowballs

Southern Snowballs: The Dirt Clod Wars

When I was a kid growing up back in the ‘Hood, we lived on a sand road. The road, a big old horseshoe shaped thing, stretched for about a mile through the scrub woods. It connected at both ends to the same road,  just a stone’s throw and a skip or so from Tobacco Road. It was even more undeveloped than Tobacco Road, though – saw less traffic, was much less famous – was pretty much a nothing neighborhood in the sand hills; cut through the pine barrens and dotted with scrub oak and the occasional house and farm.

But that road was the life of the neighborhood – it connected everyone and everything. It led out of the hood (a forbidden area to us kids in the hood, until later on) – and it led in. It was lined by sandy ditches and it was a sandy road.

We used to stand in the rainstorms out in the sand – in the disappearing ditches (for they would disappear as they filled with sand – and in those ancient escarpments we would plunge our feet again and again – sinking down through the sand until we were up to our knees.

Our mom talks about that thing – how funny it would be to drive by and see this row of kids, all up to their knees in the sand – ‘standing’ on their knees. Of course we were all in bare feet – us boys wore nothing but underwear and cutoffs – not a stitch more; not out of comfort (though that was there) but out of necessity. Clothes were too precious to be tearing up; shoes were for indoors, not out. They were something to be put up for special occasions – like going to the store, or church. Nothing for everyday wear. That was too expensive.

And during those days – those dry days in the hood – the dirt clod wars would begin.

There was something special about that sand in the hood. With just enough ‘binder’ to hold things together, the sand clods would explode on impact into ‘smoke’ – sand and dust – showering their victim with sand. How many times did I show up when the dinner bell rang with my head full of sand – hair, nose, ears, eyes – everything – and covered from head to foot in a grimy layer of sweat soaked and dry caked dust – runnels of dust, layers of dust, with sand dibbling from my drawers . . . my ears . . . my hair – everything.

But those dirt clod wars were fun. We would get in the ditches (they were much deeper at the end of the hill) – and sheltering in them like trenches, we would lob dirt clods at one another.

Now there were several rules to this dirt clod war – and they were basically understood. (Those who did not understand them were taken aside and made to follow our own rules.) First: no rocks and things which could hurt you. Second: no throwing of dirt clods in someone’s face – you could blind them with sand and all. (It would be a bad thing if someone ran home crying and sobbing that someone had thrown a dirt clod in their face. All of us kids would have heard about this thing, and some of them – including us – would have been scolded, if not downright punished – whether guilty or not – and none of us wanted the parents to outlaw our dirt clod wars because they were so much fun . . . and because there was so little else to do. (Which might explain . . . well, never mind . . .)

Other than that, it was “game on” – all the time. A dirt clod war could break out any time you got two or more of us boys together. And they escalated from there on up. A boy, seeing two throwing dirt clods at one another, couldn’t resist picking one up and popping one himself. There’s a fulfilling sense of self-satisfaction in seeing one ‘blow up’ on someone’s back or head. (Head’s were allowed, as long as it was the back of them. And yes: accidents do happen. But no one complained – or rarely did, as we were careful as hell not to hit someone in the eye with one of those things.)

But dirt clods are friable – they are hard to carry around. It’s not like you can stick one in your pocket and walk around. All you’ll end up with is a pocket full of sand. And loading a bucket up with some doesn’t work as well; the dirt clods underneath begin disintegrating under the weight of their brethren; you just end up with a bucket of sand – with a few dirt clods floating around on top, like little ships of their own.

It’s kind of funny. We’d wear out all of the clouds in front of our house, as well as several others – and then we’d have to go down to the “real ditches” where clods were available full time. However, you had to be careful there. There were stones in those clods from when they formed the road, and some of them were made out of a very special kind of dirt. Down here in Georgia we call them “clay clods”. They are hard – they can get almost as hard as a brick (which makes sense, since bricks are made out of them) – and they could hurt you. Or actually someone else. And you didn’t want to do that because then they would begin to use those kinds of dirt clods on you. And you didn’t want to do that; go down that kind of road. That would have led to war – the very real kind, with kids using sticks as clubs and trying to kill one another. Yeah – we weren’t always kind.

But we would stand impatiently, waiting for the rain – staring up at the cloud puffed sky – in the loose sand beneath our feet. For when the rain would come we could sink up to our knees in the sand – and the next day the dirt clods would be there. Sugary crystals (though they certainly didn’t taste like sugar! I should know: I ate many of them – the hard way!) – all packed together in a layer you could skim and break up into many, many clods – or several great big ones.

The wars went on for years, off and on. It developed to the point to where we made a giant slingshot. And then things kinda got out of hand.

Using two of the mailboxes up by the road (and with the teenager’s encouragement and direction) – we rigged a slingshot – a big one. Taking an old bicycle inner tube, we strung it between the two mailbox posts and begin having a war over one of the houses. With that giant thing we found we could sling a dirt clod or two a long way – completely over the neighbor’s house and on into their back yard. And so the war began.

And it all went well – we spent a couple days at it, off and on between playing at something else – lobbing those big ol’ clay (sand wouldn’t work too well; it would fall apart on the way ‘up’) – clods over the house. Until someone noticed something.

There was sand all over everything. All over the house and cars. All over the fence. Huge clods (some of them weren’t breaking) all over the yard. And while we had found we could use the big slingshot for some of the sandier clods – most of them were filled with clay. And so when the neighbor would get mowing (not that they had much to mow; after all – everyone had basically a ‘sand’ yard) – he’d be hitting these big ‘dust clouds’ as he’d be mowing on.

So the parents had us put up the thing – no more slinging clods across the yard. Or the house. Or into the next door neighbor’s yard. And that was pretty much the end of it . . .

But –

I still enjoy a good dirt clod fight. Always have and always will, I suppose. It’s the Southern version of snowballs is the best I could explain it. And done right it can be so much fun.

Little kids – and little boys – playing in the sun; showers of sand – laughter – running, good times; the feel of sand beneath my feet; the cool water playing around my calves as my feet sank down through cool dirt –

Sometimes things were good.

Swimming Lessons 2
(Or Why You Don’t Piss Off An Old Wet Hen)

I had my first real “pool” epiphany about two or three months after I’d begun to learn to swim, courtesy of the old Sargent at the military indoor swimming pool. It was a hot Georgia summer – and trust me, summer in Georgia can get really HOT. It’s not like that nice dry heat they have out west; here it’s more of a steam bath, a sauna – a “just pop me in the pot and boil me ’till I’m done” type of heat. Maybe it’s the pines, or all the lush vegetation – you can literally see the humidity in the air come June, and it lingers like a fog until September or so. Cut it with a knife? Heck, you can eat it with a spoon.

Back in the “old days” – or at least the days of the ‘hood, when we were poor – air-conditioning was a thing of dreams. WE had one – at my mid-western mom’s insistence – which put us about a half-leg up the other envied folks in the neighborhood – the people with the brick sided house. But of course it was one of those huge old monster window units – a really big boxy thing that intruded its noisy nose into our kitchen, breathing out cool wafts of air. It made so much noise that dinner conversations were more of a shouting match than a conversation – but we didn’t mind. At least it kept the kitchen and dining area cool.

But this is about the pool. No, not that one – the indoor one, where we learned to swim. It was about another one – one that was famous for over sixty miles around – because it was huge, outdoors, and spring fed with a sandy bottom.

No, it wasn’t a lake. It was a place called “Misty Waters” – because the water had a sort of whitish look from all the sand upwelling from the springs – and it had concrete block sides, and seemed to go on forever. There were deep ends, shallow ends, it wandered around for what seemed well over an acre – and because this was “in the day”, in the Deep South, blacks were not allowed in. Not that I cared; I would boycott such a pool now, or scurry around the side and help whoever wanted to get in over the fence and wall – but back then segregation was “normal”, and I didn’t even know there was such a thing. Doesn’t really even matter considering where this story is headed. The time? About 1968 or 1969 or so – yeah, deep into the civil rights movement, but this is Georgia we’re talking about – a state that, while ‘comfortable’ with working alongside blacks, couldn’t accept blacks into its recreational facilities.  Come to think about it – I can’t remember any black kids in school, either, though I’m sure they were there. They were probably segregated among the classes, since law wouldn’t allow them to segregate the school.  Oddly enough to us kids the color of your skin didn’t matter – it was how you played that counted.  How smiling and friendly you are.

Anyway, this place, this “Misty Waters” – it was the place to go during the summer, not that we went there very often. After all, it cost money to get in – and when you have a fist full of kids and not many dollars – money becomes an issue real quick.

We’d pack up – us and the family across the street – their mother and three boys, plus MY mom and us two boys – and head out to this huge ‘swimming’ pool. I remember they had a TRIPLE high dive, a couple ‘regular’ dives – and that endless sandy bottom. And the water! So cool – almost cold after driving through the summer heat, all us kids suffering like dogs in the back of the old car – panting and complaining (and occasionally getting a few licks from the eternal wooden spoon my momma carried like an accessory – like a part of her arm). It seemed we had to drive forever to get there, though in retrospect I know now it was only about twenty or so miles over country roads – and when we’d get there! Us kids couldn’t wait to get through the line, get in that pool – and escape our mothers.

Like I said, I only remember going there maybe two or three times (times were hard for us back then – in more ways than one – and even harder for my brother and I, seeing we were stuck at home with our mother – our slightly insane mother who had a penchant for violence and terror when the doors were closed). But this one time really sticks out in my mind. It was when I learned that you don’t piss mom off, not in a pool. And you definitely don’t interrupt her when she is in the middle of a conversation with her friend.

This particular day – sunny, hot, white puffed clouds drifting in the sky like malformed marshmallows – I’d been swimming around for a while. I can remember how good it felt – that cool, cool water, the sand shifting beneath my feet – taking a few daring leaps off the high dive (which was always crowded with kids and redneck athletes out to impress ‘their women’). But I’d gotten bored, and had lost track of my friends in the rambling pool – it wasn’t square, but instead was built like a confused set of building blocks, rectangles and squares all interconnected – and it was huge. Finally I spot my mom in the shallow end talking to her friend, the woman across the street.

I push my way through the water – so clear and blue, and yet with that slightly whitish tint from the fine particles of sand – until I come up behind her. She’s busy talking; the waters right up to the top of her butt – she’s not a tall woman – and right about collarbone level to me.

“Mom! Play with me!” I say.

Wave of the hand behind the butt, she indicated I should go away.

“Please, mom! Come play with me!”

The hand waves more insistently; she continues talking. I get up closer to her. She’s got on one of those one-piece bathing suits, that much I remember. The woman she is talking to – my ‘second mom’ is laughing, talking back.

“MOM! Come on! Play!” Okay, now I’m being a little bit more stupid, a bit more daring, and a lot more dumb. I should’ve known better than to mess with this woman – my mom – especially here, while she is having such a good time – and leaving us kids alone – and there IS a huge pool to swim in – why am I doing this? I don’t know, I’m just bored. And like I said: being stupid. REAL stupid.

No more hand waving. Mom spins in the water, her face going in a flash from laughing and talking to pure rage.

Play with you? PLAY with you? Okay. I’ll play with you!”

Before I can back away – and trust me, knowing that look I’m trying to back away! – she snatches me up. Faster than you can say “fish” she’s got me by the ankles, and I hear – sort of through the water as she lifts me up – “play!”

And she starts spinning me around – around and around in the water – holding me by my ankles. And it’s NO fun at ALL, not this type of playing! Like I said: the water was hip deep on her; holding me by the ankles, I’m in from stomach to the top of my head – and she’s swirling me through the water like a turd in the toilet – and I can’t get any air! I’m twisting, turning – trying my darnedest to snatch a breath – trying to scream for her to stop, she’s drowning me – can’t see anything but blue water and flashes of sky – and around and around we go.

I’d just started to really begin drowning – choking in big lung fulls of mixed water and foam – trying to kick myself free from those nails driving into my ankles – it’s no use, she’s got a good hold on me – and I can hear the occasional “play!” – when her friend reaches forward and stops her.

Good thing she did, or else I think I wouldn’t be here right now, and my momma’d be in jail for murder.

When she let me go – I back off, crying and choking and sputtering – going from “lets play” to “run away!” in an instant – terrified, out of breath, and staring at my mom as I keep backpedaling away, not stopping for anything – not the other kids in the pool, not even to finish catching my breath. I know she scared me BAD that time – not as bad as in the story “Kissing the Thin Man” – but bad enough. I’ve learned my lesson – swimming lesson number two.

Don’t interrupt momma while she’s talking. And don’t EVER get near her in a pool.

Oddly enough, though – I was never afraid of the water – only afraid of her – and I never lost my love for swimming – though I think I did lose some of my love for her.  I know I learned another level of terror that day . . . one involved with drowning . . .

It wasn’t the first time she’d scared me like that, and it wouldn’t be the last, but it was the last time I ever bothered her while we were in the pool.

Discovering Loneliness

Discovering Loneliness

 When I was a kid and we moved to North Carolina, I was about nine years old. I went from a neighborhood where I knew everyone and a school where I knew some to a place I was unfamiliar with. I went from having friends all around to having none. I went from a poor Southern neighborhood to a middle class establishment; a place of unpaved roads and hard scrabble life to one that seemed to represent luxury and wealth: paved roads, brick houses, many people – and nothing that I knew from my past.

As a result I should have felt a little lonely. Surprisingly, I didn’t. I was too busy trying to adapt to my new environment to feel very much alone. After all, I had my parents to take care of my, my brother to torment me (or leave me alone) – and a dog in the yard. What else could a kid my age want?

Well, I wanted something, that’s for sure. I spent a lot of time looking around. I went to my classes in a modern brick school building for awhile – and then (I think) something changed. No matter; we got moved again. I’m not real certain about that thing.

The dog? He came with us wherever we went. His name was ‘Caleb’ which my mom says in French meant “black”. He was a black dog – a large Weimaraner – that would eat anything, including our marbles and toys.

We had a lot of marbles back then. My aunt would send them to me (Aunt Dottie) and my other aunt gave me a bag (Aunt Nelle or Aunt Lizze). In that bag (my brother had one, identical to me) I kept all my trinkets and toys – including marbles at this time. Up until they all got ate up by him (Caleb). He would go wandering around looking for something to eat. It’s a wonder he didn’t eat me and my brother some time!

I remember once us taking him out to the airport. There he chased the planes. That’s because he was a bird dog (my daddy said) – and he ran out on the tarmac and chased them all until my dad (becoming concerned for his safety) reined him on back in. My mom was a little mad about my dad letting Caleb run around like that – she was afraid he’d get run over by an airplane – but he didn’t. It might have been the best thing.

Perhaps Caleb was the one who made us move. I’m really not sure about that thing.


You see, one day Caleb got out of the yard when we were living in that really nice house right there at the end of the courtyard where the trees grew big and tall. It was a brick house with nice windows – nice ones with white frames all around – whereas the ones we’d left in the neighborhood (the ‘hood I’m meaning) were plain and simple.

Caleb got out and ate up some cats. He was that type of dog. He would eat anything.

And that’s when the trouble started.


Like I said previously in one story, we always rode our bikes through this neighborhood and some others on our way to school. (One day I saw a rabbit crunched flat; his guts spattering everywhere. I didn’t know rabbits lived in this ‘hood.)


But that’s when the trouble started; Caleb eating those cats. Only they were kittens, and they belonged to someone in the neighborhood we were staying, and the trouble got worse and worse until finally . . .

Well, I reckon we left. At any rate I kinda ‘woke up’ to find myself in another place: the apartments we were staying at.

I think my dad had something to do with it; I later learned: the Army ordered him to go back on base; made him – and us – live there.

I didn’t want to live on base. It was . . . well, not terrible, but not nice, and it wasn’t peaceful there. There was always a lot of commotion going on – kids and grownups yelling and screaming and running around; kids on bikes; gangsters, the rest.

You know those types of ‘hoods. The ones the regular people lived in. Enlisted housing.


Anyway . . .


While I was there we had a fun time going down a long hill each day on our way to school. It was about a mile long – a straight shot running down a little pathway that all us kids would take. Everyone looked forward to going down; no one wanted to come back up. But that was the ride that awaited us every day – huffing and puffing up that long hill, dragging our bikes behind us; maybe mounting them and standing up on the pedals trying to make our way.


It was a hard time.


Nevertheless, while I was in this ‘hood (the first neighborhood and not the second one – I mean the apartments by the latter; that fine brick house in the former; neither one references the neighborhood I had come from: the poor one from way down South) the teachers must have taken some pity on me, for them gave me chores to do.

You see, the thing is: I was the ‘only one’ there at the time (maybe this is a personality speaking? No; we were waiting to go on back home). And the teachers ‘knew’ this thing about me: I had showed up in the middle of the school term. I knew nothing there – not a single person, a single child, nor a single friend. I would stand out in the playground watching – the other kids playing, running around – but there was nothing for me to do. I took my bag of marbles sometimes – I was quite a good marble player because the teenager I had left behind had shown me how to do this thing: shooting marbles with one hand, thumb flipping them out between a cupped finger; how to shoot them out of a circle; how to shoot them in. How to play “bombsies” and “keepers” and what they were for. How to drop a bomb on a marble – I had some good ones! – even ones made out of steel. Those I reserved for those special fates: when I wanted to hurt someone – because I could drop them on someone’s marble and it would break it in half. Each and every time. (They were huge ones; I learned later that my big steel marbles were tank ball bearings for the turrents.)

I would also skip rope with someone – the girls usually. They were into skipping good, and so was I. At first I wasn’t so good at it – getting my feet tangled in the line – but as time went on I got better and better until I could compete with the girls – playing double-dutch and things, reciting all the rhymes. I got so good the other girls – the black ones – would smile big toothed white smiles of delight – because they delighted in challenging me, a little ol’ lonely white boy from the South.

Sometimes I would play house with them – drawing lines in the dirt and calling them imaginary walls. I was always “the husband” and I was often “going to war” – which meant the end of the game for me. That was their hint: “You are going off to war” – and I would take the clue and wander off to some war of my own.

The teachers? Great teachers, some, I suppose. One of them even told me I was a genius. Others didn’t seem to care. I was just another small face blending in the crowd – an ever rotating crowd, I suppose, from the teacher’s view and mind. I was allowed to go to the library and things – but couldn’t check out a book because they didn’t trust me with one. I guess that’s because we moved around; I was only there temporarily, and they knew it. So did I.

I guess that was one of the hard parts about it: waiting to go back to my old neighborhood, the one I’d left in the South. Wanting to go back some of the time – and then getting caught up in the crowd and by discovering things on my own. Being constantly amazed all the time. Planes flew overhead; bombers, too. Helicopters abounded around the base. Tanks crawled on the dirt, throwing up clouds of dirt and dust clouds. It was a strange kind of thing, seeing these great turtles crawling across the mud and knowing how deadly they were to me (fragments of an old dream invading my mind at the time). But I wasn’t scared of them; I welcomed them – they were cool.

However, this teacher this one time . . .

I guess sensing I was bored, and seeing me standing around all the time – there was nothing for me to do most of the time out on the playground. After all: I knew nobody and they knew me as a somebody that didn’t matter – I wouldn’t be around long. It rankled me some of the time that the boys wouldn’t play – but they had their own forts, their own minds, and didn’t want anything to do with me (for the most part). After all: they had their friends. What did they need another one for? Especially an army one who would be disappearing in a while? So as a result I got no invitations to the parties; no invitation to the prom (so to speak). Just left hanging and alone to my own devices most of the time . . . riding my bike to nowhere (and I had no money to speak of); walking around aimlessly, just looking around – again, always caught somewhere between being amazed and confused by the things I found.

But this one teacher . . . I guess one day she caught me standing around and decided she should make a hall monitor out of me. I would work lunchtime and the breaks. I wouldn’t get recess anymore: instead I would stand there at the back double doors ‘monitoring’ them. That mostly meant just watching people come in and out – that door constantly opening closed opening again – groups of kids either smiling or wandering out; or unhappily coming in. I would watch them all, feeling this strange sense way deep down in my chest; a strange sensation to me.

I guess I was finally learning the feeling of “lonely”. Because that is what it was. Lonely and all alone – at school, in the streets – even in the games I played in, including that baseball league I was in: I was useless and lonely and often left out of play. Not that I blame them. I didn’t know a thing about the game and the coaches weren’t into showing my nuthin’ – because they knew: this kid ain’t gonna be around for long. Why bother teaching him a thing? So I would stand out there with my catcher’s glove in my hand and watch them playing – throwing the ball around, taking batting practice and things.

I suppose my brother was in school, but I never saw him there. Not ever.

This was the place my father first tried hypnotizing me. It didn’t work, but it did kinda work on my brother. I remember him doing it at the dining room table – holding that thing (some kind of silver fob) and waving it around first his face (and then burning him with a match, testing if this thing was true) – and then mine. After seeing what had happened to him! (my brother) there was no way I was going along with it! So instead of ‘staring at the fob’ I stared through the fob and kept my eyes locked on him – my dad – and his chest. Just right there on his chest, catching the swinging thing from the corners of my eyes.

I suppose that’s how that happened. It seems to me I got up later . . .

I don’t know.


Here I am: this hall monitor. And one day these two girls from school (well DUH, I was staying there, standing by this door!) – come in. And they are bickering and fighting. Fighting as in as soon as they stepped through that door they started scrapping – throwing punches, clawing, pulling at one another. So I did what a hall monitor is supposed to do.

I stepped in.

Big mistake! (as I soon found out) – because these two girls (in their rage) – turned on me instead! The next thing I know I’m having to fight off these two girls (I’m wearing my ‘monitor’s sash’ – isn’t that supposed to stop them, mean something in some way?) – and they are winning hands down in this fight.

For one thing: they were a lot larger than me – several grades ahead. And for another thing: they were quite determined to finish their fight on their own, and no hall monitor – no anybody was going to get in their way . . .

So . . . faced with screaming demons with contorted faces and clawing hands (and kicking feet and thrown punches) – I dived for the ground, huddling up and cradling my own head between my knees and hands as those girls scrapped all over me. It didn’t go on long – just enough to make me sore for some time. Claw marks hurt; so do bruises and punches. And these girls were BIG.

The teacher showed up just as those two girls turned on themselves again – leaving me an angry, confused, and sore little mess on the floor – I remember standing up, looking at them beneath a brooded brow – confused somewhat, for I never figured out why they were into attacking me (I just didn’t want them to fight IN SCHOOL – that kinda stuff belonged outside) – and she hauled them away. Me? She just gave one long pitying scornful look as though I had just stood there all along, not trying to stop them or anything – and yet the scratches on my cheeks and shoulders were quite clear! And I was limping along behind – following her, because it was the end of my term as hall monitor and ever standing there again . . .

It seems another teacher found out and scolded HER about it (this teacher who left me out) – and THAT teacher turned on me some. I don’t know why and I don’t know how; just that it happened. She grew sullen and scowley whenever I would come in – and I’d sit there several rows behind, my face down in my book and hoped that I would never be punished by her again. (I don’t know what happened; not exactly why and how – and I think we may have switched schools again mid-year. I don’t know – again.)

But I did learn one thing that day.

When two wildcats are fighting, you certainly don’t step in! And women are wildcats when it comes to fighting – they will scratch at and attack anything, even those who are trying to help them – especiallyif it comes down to ‘lets try to resolve this thing peacefully’ – because I liked peace and quiet as a kid – nothing to ‘set me off’ or make me afraid and angry – I had too much of that at home! – but I’d rathered my life just go along peacefully with everyone leaving me alone at that time in my life. And I wasn’t worried. I knew I’d be going back to “the ‘hood” – that this was all just temporary – not even part of my LIFE – like a stage set that I was wandering around on like some useless extra with no directions and no clue as to what the whole play was even about – ALL the time. Just spinnin’ my wheels and waiting to go back home . . . to be with my ‘family’ and friends; the ones I’d left behind (time and time again . . . leaving it all behind . . . makes me sick some of the time).

It really kinda sucks now that I’ve come to think about it: about being alone; the ‘life’ I had at that time; wandering around uselessly, never knowing when it would be time to go . . .

But eventually that time came, and ‘we’ came back to the hood.

I don’t remember that move, neither. Not one comes to mind.

The Hall Tree

The Hall Tree

Like most kids (and monkeys, which are somewhat the same), I used to love to climb trees. One of my favorite trees to climb was the hall tree, which grew in the back right hand corner of our yard. This being the sand hills of Georgia, and where we were, there weren’t a whole lot of trees us kids could climb. There were the huge pines – unscalable giants with thick fissured bark, their lowest limbs twenty feet or more above the ground. There were the scrub oaks – thin, twisted things, thin barked, no bigger around than a child’s arm, with branches as thin as your fingers. They were terrible things to try to climb; the branches poked out in crooks and angles, and they were more like trying to climb a bristling bush than a true tree. And there were the younger pines, most no bigger around than a child’s leg, most of them smaller, bristling with soft green needles and small pine cones, which us kids would sometimes throw at each other.

The young pines – those were fun to climb, but they wouldn’t support your weight, not even the weight of the young child I was then. However, we made a game with them – elevator operator – in which you would climb as high as you could go, and then leaning out and hanging by both hands, let the pine slowly bend over like a gentle parent to drop you back onto the land. They were only good for three or four of those sort of trips – rides, actually – before the bend would become permanent for the remainder of the day, and you would have to move on to another one if you wanted to continue playing on them.

Finally there was the most precious tree of all – or at least it was precious to me, and if I could go back in time and transplant it, it would be growing in my yard right now.

It was the hall tree, and it grew in our backyard, in the far back right hand corner. Starting with a single thick trunk, it quickly divided in two, forming a sharply curved vee thrusting into the air. The left hand side of the vee, while not unclimbable, was difficult enough that I tended to ignore it. No, it was the right hand side of that split trunk which held my interest through all those years between eight and eleven, for it was easy to scale, and up high it split, and split again, forming a comfortable crotch to sit in. I would climb that tree, pushing aside the small leaves, until I’d reach that place, and setting back, sit down, my back cradled by the limb, my feet sprawled across its comfortable lap, while the wind whispered through the fluttering green leaves around me.

From there I could see out across the land; a beautiful land from up there. Down across the pasture to the chicken farmer’s house; out across the nodding cove of trees which held the haunted house; up over the yard, almost into the front yard – it was a wonderful place for me, and I would spend hours in that tree, transported to faraway places in my imagination. Sometimes it was a rocket, and I was at its controls; sometimes an airplane lofting me over the land. But mostly it was a place of peace and serenity, my fortress of solitude and contentment.

I remember I’d sit in that tree, comfortable, no need to hang on or balance myself, and gaze across the field at the chicken farmer’s house. In my earliest days I imagined it was my grandmother down there, that white clothed figure moving among the gardens and vegetables. Often I’d wave and call out to her, “Hey grandma! Hey!” But my real grandmother lived over a thousand miles away, so I guess it was my way of bringing her closer, if only through my imagination. But mostly I would just sit, watching the clouds move across a pale blue sky, the leaves rustling in the wind. It was one of the few places I could escape from the hurly-burly bustle of childhood, and sink into the peace of my mind; away from my friends, out of my mom’s eye – me, the tree, and the endless horizon.

I have never forgotten those moments of peace. I have never forgotten the feel of the breeze; the soft whispering of the leaves around me. The rough bark, pressed against my back. There weren’t a lot of peaceful places and moments when I was a child, but that old hall tree – in its limbs I found what I needed, albeit just a little bit; for in its comforting embrace, I could find peace.

And that was something I needed.

Playing In Puddles

Playing In Puddles

It was late autumn afternoon in the school year. I was seven or so I reckon. A brief Georgia thunder burst had rolled across the ‘hood, dropping sheets of cold rain and lashing us with wind. For us kids it meant huddling on the carport like wet chicks beneath a sheltering wing, waiting for the tempest to pass – flinching each time the lightning crackled overhead with an angry roar, and then laughing nervously at each others fear. Eventually the storm rolled over, the swollen bellies of the roiling clouds disappearing beyond the tops of glistening pines, freeing us to roam again.

There was a gorgeous sunset to the west, piled with clouds and smeared with red and gold. I remember how beautiful that was. Sheets of clear rippling water ran over the fine white sand of the sunken ditches, mere shallows in which one could stand and pump your feet, sinking in it like quicksand up to your shins. But my best friend and I had other plans as we headed to the bottom of the hill. There the water pooled around a sand choked storm drain. There we could splash and play in the deep pool that would form as the overwhelmed drain struggled to keep up with the storm runoff.

We frolicked that day in the crystal clear water as the sunset deepened from gold to red, laced with purple bands. We ran in circles, kicking silvery sprays of water and splashing each other, dressed in cutoff shorts – two kids playing in a big ol’ puddle and having a grand old time. As the eastern sky deepened to a dark azure and the western one was set on fire we heard the not too distant call of the dinner bells. So it must have been about five thirty, six o’clock or so, because that’s when the dinner bells rang. And that meant it was time to go home, eat supper, take a bath, and go to bed. Our bedtime, firmly kept, came at eight – punctual, on the clock, like a military regime.

I took a shower which was unusual for me, but considering the sand it made sense to my mom. Better that than me filling the tub up with sand! The hot shower felt good the cold chill of sitting through dinner in wet clothes – I hadn’t noticed the cold when I’d been outside playing, warmed up by my exercise – so it felt good. However, I hardly noticed, washing quickly. I didn’t caring much for showers, scrubbing the grit out of my short cropped hair. I preferred long baths where I could exercise my imagination, sending my G.I. Joe on rescue missions to save his G.I.’s floating in their cutout cardboard milk carton, which I would fill with Army men. I had learned cut the G.I. Green (olive drab) half gallon milk cartons to look like boats – some of them sleek craft, some of them just barges. There were always two or three, but after a time the rough cut edges would grow soft despite the thick waxy coating of the boxes inside and out. I would push the ships across the water’s rippling surface, the little army men inside – G.I. Joe either diving underneath the bubbles to save them, or attack them some of the time. Towards the end I would get to sloshing the water from one end of the tub to the other, delighting in the long tall waves pushing me around; feeling like a slick fish gliding from one side to another. However this time . . . no bath. Just a quick hot shower, a quicker scrubbing down; stand there let the water beat me across the face and shoulders, and get out. And when I got out I felt myself growing chilled.

I dried off quickly, and wrapping my towel around my shoulders the way a child should, I went to my room to get my pajamas on. Already I was shivering. I had barely began to draw my bottoms on when it hit me – long cold shivers, followed by waves of heat. I felt suddenly weak as the waves rolled over me, and I knew something was wrong. Gritting my teeth, I finished putting on my pajama bottoms, hoping their warmth would help. The chills were the worst; I stood there shivering and hugging myself with my arms, my teeth chattering. Aware that something was wrong, and feeling weaker by the moment, I stumbled into the living room where my mom and dad sat watching TV.

“I think I’m sick,” I told them. I remember standing there, my eyes flicking from the TV to them and back.

“Oh, no, your not,” my mom reassured, not taking her eyes from the set.

“No, I – somethings wrong,” I said, shivering so hard my teeth rattled. My knees felt like they’d become noodles. Tears were beginning to come to my eyes. I was beginning to ache. I think that’s what caught my mom’s attention – those tears. I rarely cried over anything, anything at all, no matter the pain or how distressing. Crying was more than strongly discouraged in our house – it was a sin. If you need to cry you went to your room and did it, alone. That’s where crying kids belonged. “I feel . . . sick.”

“Come here,” she said, motioning me over. I went, shambling and trembling. She placed her hand on my forehead and shot an anxious look at my dad.

“He’s sick,” she said, stating the obvious. I shivered, wavering. Her face grew a bit more alarmed as I sagged in place – not falling, just . . . sagging on my own two feet. That, too, was unlike me. I was usually an active and energetic young boy.

I must of faded fast, because before much longer, my father had me bundled in the station wagon, and we drove through the night, headed for the Army hospital (a terrible place). By the time we got there I couldn’t stand, and I remember my father carrying up the steps into the linoleum floored lobby of that utilitarian institution, cradling me like a limp fish. After asking him if he needed it, a male nurse brought a wheelchair, and my dad propped me in it. I slumped dismally, barely aware – a miserable kid; a sick one. Normally I would have been thrilled by such an excursion – I had never been in a wheelchair before, but I wasn’t. I was just well enough to notice that I was missing the thrill of it and wished I was well. For I knew I was sick; desperately sick, terribly sick, too sick to even care. I kept passing out and coming to until they wheeled me into the lab.

The lab was a small dark room dominated by a long table crowded with strange instruments. The only light came from a desk lamp; equipment lurked in the murky shadows like mysterious monsters; glints of glassware gleamed on the shelves. The technician asked for my hand; I attempted to give it to him, but my arm just hung limply, useless to me. Taking my hand, he laid it on the desk under the yellow glow of that single desk lamp. I flinched as a needle point of pain pricked my finger, and as I watched, he began sucking my blood up a glass pipet (tube). He’s drinking my blood!, I thought in horror. Why is he drinking my blood!? I passed out, bewildered, before they could wheel me out of the room – and I guess I didn’t come to until the next day. I don’t really remember: everything was fuzzy for a few weeks. Later I learned it was double pneumonia. My mom always blamed it on my playing in the rain, dancing in that puddle. I don’t know, but I do know I missed six weeks of first grade because of it, and during those six weeks I was treated like a king.

Instead of sleeping in my bedroom, my mom put me on the day bed in her sewing room where she could monitor me. The smell of frying bacon would make me nauseous; this room, abutting the kitchen and dining room (where she usually stayed) became my new haven. She would shut the door in the morning while she was fixing breakfast – an acknowledgment of my condition – and open it later on. I know I was weak and frail for the first few weeks – I can still feel it – and sleeping often, barely moving from the bed. It took me a long time to recover my strength; nobody came over to play with me. I don’t think they were allowed to. But by the fourth week I was longing for the outdoors, becoming more restless, by the fifth I felt trapped in that room. However, by the sixth week I was once again set free, to go roam and romp in the woods. But for the first month or so the other kids were gentle with me – not challenging me to the endless fights, nor having me run after them while they rode their bikes. Instead they would get off their speedy machines, and walk the road with me, slowing down to my pace. Odd how I remember that: walking down the hill with a friend, him pushing his bike instead of riding. I guess I must have been pretty sick for them to have such understanding. But sometimes in kids you can find compassion for one of their own kind. Strange.

And no – it didn’t cure me of my love of puddles. I still love them today. And yes, sometimes – sometimes, if my wife isn’t looking – I will dip my foot into them.

Some things never change.

(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!).

Marking Time

When I was a kid living in the ‘hood we all played outside almost all the time during the summer – from dawn to dusk, as soon as the breakfast feed was done we were outta there – skipping out the back door to see our friends, get into things, play, and generally just run around. We’d play in the woods, build forts, climb trees, fight sometimes – crawling in ditches waging our dirt clod wars; riding bikes (for those who had one), playing ‘war’ (our most popular game) or wandering the pine and scrub oak woods.

Come lunchtime our mothers would bring us in, either collectively to eat at someone’s house, usually on the carport outside, or one at a time, us kids dispersing to our various homes only to quickly reappear – running down the dirt street kicking dust up from the road, wandering ‘them woods’, and mostly having fun.

There was no internet, nor TV – TV was for viewing at night and Saturday morning cartoons – the only time cartoons came on back then. This was long before the era of Sesame Street and kid’s channels running 24/7. We weren’t allowed to talk on the phone; using them was a strictly regulated thing with the parent overseeing the entire process, or at least in our childhood. I can’t speak for other folks. I suppose other kids used the phone. I didn’t, except when Mickey came over for babysitting and we would sit and make prank calls.

We would play until the same time every day: five-thirty, when our father would come home. My mom would be busy cooking – and shooing us kids from the kitchen if we came in – and as soon as he’d gotten changed out of his military gear we’d be sitting down eating. That’s where the dinner bell came in.

My mom got the great idea early on to do something about us kids and our wandering habits which made us so hard to get hold of sometimes during the day – and to regulate when it was time to come in, or simply go on home.

She’d got this big iron triangle – a big one, the kind you use to call the cowboys home on the range. It was thick and heavy with a long iron rod – and she’d take that rod and beat that thing, clanging it in a circle. You could hear it all over the ‘hood. You could hear it in the borderline woods, you could hear it in the fields. Sometimes you could even hear it ringing down in the underground forts – and while soft and muted, its clanging was as demanding as thunder.

It wasn’t long before someone else in the ‘hood got the same idea – no doubt from hearing it clanging down her street. It was a good friend of ours; a family of friends, actually, and the only other military family around. They were our friends, and despite our difference in religion (they were Jewish), we came to treasure them – as many families treasured ours, and each others – as a sort of extended family, as it were. Everyone became part of one extended family. You know what they say about it takes a village to raise a kid – the hood was a village of ours; one we lived in, and helped make sometimes. Certainly there were some outsiders – for instance, the house next to the one that we owned. It was a renter’s house, and was occupied by different families during different times. And then there were the other outsiders – the ones who belonged there, but didn’t take part in our life in the hood. And then there were the social rejects and outcasts – the one up the hill: the fat girl, who was plagued by weight issues during her young life, and the Stevenson’s, who were at times some bullies, and then there was the Proctors, who were German – or at least lived like they were. Their dogs were usually drunk, wandering around rolly-eyed lost in the tall grass (the Proctors would never mow it, preferring to let it grow tall during the year, and then burning it all down come fall – another reason the neighborhood disliked them). Then the dogs would fall down or get lost – or one of the Proctors would come stumbling out and collect them . . .

But that bell . . .

It started simply enough – those bells would call, the mothers marking time together – hell, their husbands sometimes even rode together, they worked at the same Army installation, and it was no joke that our families swapped dads when it came time for discipline (though their father was never as mean as our dad). And us kids – the army ones – would go home. After awhile the neighbor next to us – the one with the mason’s son, the family of my dear friend – began to eat dinner at about the same time. Before the week was up so were my friends across the street. Then it seemed to spread to almost everyone. Typically those bells would ring about five-thirty or six o’clock – and then all the kids would go in. Soon there’d be dinners eaten – and if it was summer or during the weekend, some more time spent outside – then in for your baths and your bed. For us it was at eight o’clock – we were to have one of the earliest bedtimes in the ‘hood, I later learned as an adult – and as a result I missed a lot of TV. I know we used to go to bed when the Red Skelton Show came on.

But from that time on – from the moment my mom got that first triangle – it set a pace in the hood. Not a new pace, no – but a timing and a beat which eventually caught on between all the families in the neighborhood. Between the woman up the street – she lived at the very top of the hill – and our mom, living two-thirds of the way down, there was no missing or mistaking dinner’s call; nor it’s demand. If you heard one of them calling – the one up the street being for my military friends, and the one down being mine – you’d better get on home.

I note this to give you some idea of life in “the ‘hood” . . . how intertwined and connected things were; not only by time and proximity, but by the very emotions and heartbeat of the ‘hood. It was an unusual community, even for its time – a throwback to an earlier time, perhaps as much as a hundred years earlier when communities were small (this one was); alone and isolated (this was true as well, to some extent – especially for us kids). Neighbors helping neighbors raise their children, aiding one another, looking out for the other one. I remember my mom talking about how the man across the street – a good friend, and like a rough and redneck (and sometimes drunken) father to us would come over, checking our cabinets to make sure we had food, knowing how our father was (typically this was while he was overseas spending his money on charities and whores).

They say it takes a village to raise some children, and in this case ‘they’ (the grownups) certainly did. I can’t say how all faired for certain. I know most certainly survived, and while we (the young ‘uns) don’t keep touch with each other, we were like comrades, best friends when we were kids. Strange how things change: the old neighborhood is still there, but it’s changed. It was changed the moment I got back from Germany . . . or maybe it changed that Halloween. The one before we left to go overseas . . .

A lot of things changed back then.