Somehow, by third grade, I was attending Grant Elementary in Spokane. Darlene remembers a street named "Milton" but I don't remember it at all. If I remember correctly, Grant was not considered by some as a very good school. I suppose that part of that was socioeconomics of that side of town and racism. Grant was the first real integrated school that I attended. There were African-American kids and Asian kids there. I remember being friendly with an African-American boy and going with him to his house but I had to wait outside rather than come in his house. This was the fist African-American that I ever knew and I remember liking him.
We lived on 10th Street in Spokane during this period. That is where I had a dog which was named Taffy. There are very few things that I remember about that house. I know we were pretty poor at the time and had our heat shut off at one point while living there and it was very cold. I think I had a birthday party there in which most of the kids were more interested in playing with Roger than playing with me and I was hurt by that. I remember one time that I spent a night alone with Taffy in that house when my mom thought I was in Palouse but I had come back early with my cousins Nola and Don and their dad, Joe.
I don't remember what my Mom was doing at this point? Was she working? I don't know. I only know she was depressed. It seems to me that she was depressed for much of my childhood. She would sometimes be crying for reasons that I didn't understand and she didn't just cry, but she would sob as in much emotional pain. I wanted to help her but didn't know how. Darlene often seemed to step in to play the role of mother when mom was in such emotional turmoil or my aunt Ole would step in.
By the end of 1959, we had been bouncing around from one place to another quite a bit. We would stay in Ole and Rex's basement, or stay with Billie and Joe, or be shipped over to my aunt Bert in Palouse. Life was full of chaos. Maybe it is because of all this chaos in my early life that I have always craved stability as an adult.
At some point during all this turmoil, my mom came to have a restaurant outside Spokane, along the old highway out toward the airport, called Carrol's Country Kitchen. The restaurant had a small apartment in the back. We attended school at a place that I thought was called "Four Square" but Roger doesn't remember going to school from Carol's Country Kitchen at all. When I tried to find a school on the internet called "Four Square," I was unable to do so but I did find an area called "
Four Lakes" near the area in which I think the school existed so maybe I have just confused the name over the years. I do think it was near Cheney, Washington which is outside of Spokane and would be in the right direction. I do remember that there were several grades in my classroom. This was similar to how it had been in Palouse as well. This was another small, country school that didn't have enough students to fill each grade level so several grade levels would be taught within each class. I don't think we went there very long, like most schools of my childhood, but I remember taking an interest in some of the reading from above my class level. We took a bus to the school each morning.
|The restaurant was just a greasy spoon sort of place, serving burgers and fries and had a jukebox and each table had it's own wall box where a patron could remotely select three songs for a quarter that would play on the jukebox. There were a lot of "novelty" songs in those days, or at least what I would call "novelty" songs now such as The Big Bopper's "Chantilly Lace," Dean Martin's "My Heart is an Open Book" was popular at the time. I remember LOVING "Purple People Eater" by Sheb Wooley and "Yakety Yak" by The Coasters. We were all singing The Kingston Trio's hit, "Tom Dooley." Jerry Lee Lewis tore it up with "Great Balls of Fire." Bobby Darin's "Splish Splash" was fun as was "Beep Beep" from The Playmates. Everybody wanted to have "Personality" that Lloyd Price sang about. It was a more innocent time. Check out my iTunes list for more great songs from that era.
I helped peel potatoes for the spiral french fries. My Mom worked long hours and I think some of her sisters might have helped out at different times.
I guess my Mom was "dating" by this time. I'm not so sure that the divorce from my Dad had actually been finalized yet or not. I remember one fool that my mom saw briefly used to say that you should only call a woman, "lover or Mother" but not "Mom." He was pretty creepy to me but I don't remember much else about him.
At some point during third grade, I must have stayed with my Aunt Bert in Palouse and went to school with my second-cousins David and Alec. The school in Palouse consisted of one, two story building. The upper floor was high school and the lower floor was grade school. There would be more than one grade level in a classroom as there were not enough students to have a classroom for each grade level. Somewhere along the line, my cousin, Guy, was giving me a haircut. Alec, David and I had seen the movie, "Last of the Mohicans." It must have been the 1936 version with Randolph Scott and Bruce Cabot as the next version that came out was in 1963. Like most kids, we liked playing cowboys and Indians and when Guy was cutting my hair, I asked for a Mohawk haircut. He obliged and then would suffer the wrath of Bert, later when she came home and saw what he had done. I loved it, though, and begged to keep it. When I returned to Spokane, to a little elementary school near John R. Roger's High School, a note was sent home with me that told my mom that the haircut was inappropriate for the class. I don't think I was kicked out. I think I was just given another hair cut to even everything out.
I don't know how long it was after my mom met him, that George moved to Texas. I don't remember him being around all that long in Spokane. Mom had dated a few men since separating from my dad and none of them seemed very consequential. I guess kids can be oblivious to what is going on with the adults around them. I don't know what it was that motivated my mom to follow George to Texas.
I remember thinking, or knowing at some point, that life had been pretty miserable for her, and us, after the divorce from my dad. and I think she was looking for a way out of that misery and poverty. I think she may have seen George as a way out. That may not be true at all and maybe there was much more passion than I realized at the time, as I was very young, but I do understand such motivation as being very possible and being much more reasonable than passion anyway. As I got older, I realized that even in my own life, it is not the fire hot, passionate relationships that sustain you the most through life. Those come and go. It is sometimes practicality and stability that make a good relationship. Regardless, I think that my mother did grow to love George over the years they were together and it was a different kind of love than what she had experienced with my own father.
Abilene Texas was one of the worst experiences of my life up to that point. I traveled there by train with my mom and my mom used to tell the story of the kind conductor giving us a free berth to sleep in one night. As I remember it, this was one of those old fashioned kinds of berths which I have only seen otherwise in the movie "Some Like it Hot." The berth consisted of just a space that you could lie down in. There were both upper berths and lower berths and I think there was only a curtain that came down over the berth to give you privacy. I think that entire trip took about three days.
It never occurred to me when we went to Abilene that it would be such a life changing experience. I just assumed it would be another temporary location like all the other transient, temporary locations in my life. I was enrolled in school there and the first day or second day I came home from school, my mom proudly showed me her new wedding ring. I was distraught and hysterical to think that my mother had married George without preparing me or discussing it beforehand, but in those days, as I said before, the adults I knew rarely took into consideration the feelings or needs of children. You were just expected to go along with whatever the adults decided based on their needs and feelings.
The elementary school in Abilene was the first and only time I ever attended a segregated school. The school bus on which I rode to school picked up both black and white kids. The white kids segregated themselves in the back of the bus and the black kids rode in the front. As far as I can remember, they did not interact. The black kids would all get off the bus at an old schoolhouse out in the middle of nowhere and then the white kids would be brought to the modern, new school in town. For some reason, there was a kid in my class that I think was partially Hispanic. He was the only friend I remember having in Abilene. Most of the kids at the school were pretty horrible to me. I was teased on both the school bus and at the school for talking with an "northern" accent. Of course, it was not me that had an accent at all.
One day, one of the older white boys wanted me to lift up a girls dress and I refused to do it. He kept haranguing me to do it and when he asked me why I wouldn't do it, the only answer I could think to give was "because I'm a Christian." From then on, the horrible Texan white boys on the bus would call me "Christian." The fact is that I was really not religious at all. I had been in a church choir for a while with my cousin Nola in Spokane and I had enjoyed the Bible Study class when I attended Bryant, but otherwise, I really wasn't religious and I don't remember ever attending any church while we were in Abilene.
I don't remember Roger on this racist school bus of hate but in recent conversations, he remembered riding the school bus in Abilene. I remember Darlene being there and actually fainting one day when the redneck hate mongers were teasing us. It happened just as we were arriving at the black school and she was taken off the bus for a moment. I think that she returned to the bus and we continued on to school but I am not certain about that. School was pretty awful too. For instance, in Washington, children were taught that Lincoln was one of the great Presidents, but in Abilene, our teacher only questioned Lincoln's greatness. The teacher must have been fundamentalist Christian and taught against the theory of evolution..
Roger had actually been sent back to Arkansas when my mom met George. He says that he was out of control and he thinks mom wanted to get him out of the way so he wouldn't affect her new, budding relationship. I don't remember that at all. I do know that we were expected to act differently around George and be on our best manners. I was up to that task most of the time as I think I was always eager to please others. George was the first person I had ever known that didn't smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol. He was balding and what some might call a "nerd." He was an aeronautics engineer, although I had no idea what that meant. Apparently, when Roger went back to Arkansas, Darlene was shipped off to Toppenish.
Phantom Lake smelled pretty nasty much of the time. When mom and I had first arrived there, it was shortly after a flood and the cabin had been flooded and had the stench of the lake.
I do remember Roger swimming in the lake with me. He was very athletic then even and could swim from the shore on which we lived to the opposite shore. I would sometimes swim in the lake too but you would often see water moccasins and I understood that they were supposed to be poisonous and so swimming in the lake became less appealing.
I remember the scraggly mesquite trees and the inclement weather. We had a dog there but I don't remember her name. She had puppies in a shed out back of the cabin and I remember running out to try to get them into the house during a hail storm when the hail was as big as golf balls and I got hit pretty hard on the back of the head. There were tornadoes in Abilene, too, and I remember making plans for getting into the bathtub with a mattress over us to protect ourselves although it never did actually come to that.
I learned to hitchhike in Texas. I don't think it was too long after Roger arrived in Abilene that he had done something that had angered George. I had never really been disciplined by George that I can remember at that time but Roger was more rebellious. Whatever it was that Roger did, George hit him with a clenched fist. I don't think it was in the face- maybe the arm or a leg or something but it upset my mother quite a bit and she took Roger and I and we started walking toward town. I can't remember if she actually stuck her thumb out but I think she might have and we got a ride with a stranger who took us quite a ways, but not all the way into town. I think that George showed up in the Volkswagen about that time and there were some tears and he and mom made up and after that, he didn't really attempt to do any more disciplining of us kids. Mom was always pretty much "in between" as a "buffer" between us and him. George never felt like a "father" to me since we still had our own dad. He was the guy that married our mom. He was our mom's husband.
George was a pretty good man actually, He didn't drink or smoke and he belonged to the Sierra Club and was athletic and health conscious. He was a bit of a nerd too.
I still remember one present I got for Christmas while in Texas. It was a pictorial book about Broadway actors and shows. It may have had cinematic actors as well but I'm not sure about that. Regardless, it was the perfect gift for a young gay boy that wanted to be an actor when he grew up. At another time, George came home with a business card with the autograph of Jerry Lewis. I was a big Jerry Lewis fan and it was thrilling to have the little card. I think I saved that card for years and it was in mom's cedar chest when the cedar chest was stolen some years later.
All our lives that I can remember, my mom had an exquisite cedar chest in which she kept family heirlooms and treasures. One of Darlene's favorite dolls from her early childhood was in there. I remember an elaborate smoking pipe carved from white ivory. There were dishes and fabric and the record that Roger and I made later in our lives when we were with the Luv Please. All those treasures were lost one summer when mom and George left the cedar chest at their place in Hunters Washington.
George's parents lived in San Diego. He also had five girls there by a previous marriage: Sandy, Carol, Barbie, Connie, and Georgie. A few of them had visited the cabin out at Phantom Lake in Abilene but I don't remember anything about those visits. I know there came a time that Darlene and I might have gone back up to Washington or took a flight somewhere on the day that we were all dressed up. I think people got dressed up to fly back then. I'm not sure if Darlene stayed in Washington and I went back to Texas but the next thing I remember is taking a trip to California in George's blue Volkswagen bug. I seem to remember it was Roger and I in the back seat for that trip. I think that we stopped along the way at the Grand Canyon and maybe we went to Crater Lake on that trip but I'm not certain. George was a mountaineer as it turned out and did take us to such places.
I think it was on that trip to California that we went through San Francisco and Roger and I got sick after eating some clam chowder or something and we spent most of the time in a hotel room while Mom and George went out. We also stopped at Disneyland and that was the highlight of the trip for me of course. The trip ended in San Diego and meeting George's parents. I think we may have even stayed in their home but I'm not sure about that and I don't remember going back to Texas, so maybe we had actually driven out to stay in California but for some reason, I think we came out to visit for one trip and then moved on another trip. I am pretty sure Darlene was with us when we were there looking for a house. I do remember being in Escondido at some point and staying at a motel and mom and George taking our clothes to a laundromat and must have left them there unattended and they got stolen. I think that was the same day or around the same time that I had my first McDonald's hamburger or it may have been some other fast food place where hamburgers were ten for a dollar or ten cents a piece.