When I was in first grade, we lived on Marietta street in Spokane and I attended Cooper Elementary. I remember loving my teacher at Cooper and I played one of the wise men in a school Christmas play. For years after this, I thought I wanted to be an actor when I grew up. I also remember several humiliating experiences during that year on Marietta.
This was the first year that I had been anywhere that I remember having separate restrooms for boys and girls. I don’t know that I had ever seen a urinal before. I must have, you would think, but I guess it is possible that I had always been with my mother in the women’s restroom up until this point in my life? Since my father was pretty much absent by this time, I don’t think I had been in many public men’s restrooms and I was not used to these contraptions on the walls that the boys would walk up to and use, standing up. I tried to fit in and use them like the other boys, but I think one of them must have suspected my discomfort and teased me and made it a pretty miserable experience. I remember that I much preferred to hide in a stall to do my business after this.
First grade boys can be merciless. Since it is the first year that one is really out of the home for eight hours of the day, a hierarchy and power structure begins to develop. Those boys that are most comfortable in the world at that point and are fearless and aggressive, take the power. It was in first grade that I first had the experience of being subjugated by another boy. His name was Pat and he lived on the next block from where we lived, but I didn’t know that the first day we met in a field that I was crossing on my way home from school. As I was crossing this field, I encountered Pat for the first time and he confronted me and for some reason, told me to roll up my pants a few inches above my ankles. I don’t know why he would have wanted me to do that or why that would have been so humiliating, but I guess that it was more about his being able to inflict fear in me and force me to do something, regardless of what that something was. I know that I obliged and then went home crying… but after this, Pat probably became my first best friend for the brief period that we lived there on Marietta.
It was also in first grade that I remember becoming sexualized for the first time. A neighbor girl and I did some innocent minor exploration and my mom found out about it and I was reprimanded. First grade is when I first became aware of some of the cuss words and remember asking my mom what they met. It was also a time of exploration with other boys, including Pat.
Since I was in first grade at the time, and about six years old, Darlene must have been about ten. Now it seems unthinkable that such young kids would be left on their own, but I think that we were much of the time. Darlene tells of a couple of incidents when we were this young. One of the incidents involved a man in a park that tried to get her to come into the bathroom with him. Roger was there and yelled and screamed and rescued her. In another story, she had gone down by the Green Street bridge in Spokane where Roger was fishing, and some teenager about eighteen years old attacked her and her girlfriend went for help and a women responded and scared the teenager away. Somehow the police were involved and came to our home.
It also seems to me that by this time, I was going downtown Spokane by myself or my friend Pat when I was only in first grade. The Ritz theater in Spokane seemed to always be showing the horror movies that I loved and a ticket only cost a dime back then. The El Rey theater also showed horror movies on occasion when they were not showing more adult fare. I remember going to the movies at these old, decrepit theaters and adult men would come and sit beside me in the dark. I remember one wanting me to meet him by the Spokane river on a particular day, at a particular time, but even at this young age, I was wise enough not to go.
There would be other men in other situations that took advantage of my naivety. I know that I was not the only one of us kids that these things were happening to as others have shared their experiences with me later in my life. On the surface, Spokane seemed like such an innocent, ideal place to raise children, and I do think that in most ways that it was, but maybe because of this, and it being the late 1950’s, parents were not on guard for predators like they are now. At the time, in the late fifties, people didn’t really talk about such things and parents were much more naive. I realized very quickly, at a young age, that adult men could not always be trusted and that I was pretty much on my own when it came to dealing with them. I learned that you couldn’t trust what you saw on the surface because men would sometimes have ulterior motives for being nice to you. The men that ignored you and made no pretense at being nice to you were actually the ones that you could trust the most- at least to be consistent and not want anything from you.
If adult men could not be trusted, they were also very scary to me. In my youth, adult men were much more serious disciplinarians than women and mothers. Sure, our mother might spank us with her hand or even a belt, but my father could do it with much for forcefulness and terror. All adult men had the power to terrorize children and apparently had societies permission to do so. It was a much different time. Nice men were not to be trusted and all the other adult men were to be feared.
I think that my mom was pretty depressed for some years after she left my dad. I think there were times that she would just lay in her bed and sob. I do remember other times that she read to us Greek mythology and encouraged us to learn poetry. By this time, I was beginning to have my doubts about Santa Clause but do remember a great Christmas where Pete and Jim visited Christmas eve and all of our presents materialized under the tree that night. We always seemed to have a piano and it was on Marietta, I remember Darlene and Roger learning to play violins. I think that Darlene played with her class in a concert that we went to and at some point was also learning the Harpsichord and the Hawaiian guitar.
There was a time that I was hit in the face by another little boy on Marietta street and was expected by the other kids to fight but instead of fighting, I went crying to my mom in the house. Her response was to tell the story of Jesus turning his cheek. I retorted “I’m not Jesus!” It did make an impression on me though. Although my mom never seemed religious, there were sporadic encounters with Christianity as I was growing up. I think that it was around this time that I might have been in a church choir with my cousin, Nola or maybe that was later. I know that one friend took me to a Catholic church around this time for Ash Wednesday and somehow I got the ash on my forehead. I think that I somehow even took communion as I remember I was told that I shouldn’t chew the wafer that they put on my tongue.
Donna was also born about the time I was six years old. I don’t remember seeing much of my dad up to this point. Maybe his life had been a bit chaotic too?
I don’t remember anything about second grade and I don’t have any pictures or video of that year. David must have been born that year as he is a year younger than Donna. I think part of the year may have been spent in Arkansas. I think that my fathers parents lived near Little Rock at the time. It seems odd to me that my mom and the three of us kids would take the train to Arkansas without my dad but Darlene says that mom was close to Dad’s parents as they had lived or visited in Grandview. Dad’s brother Pete had lived with us in Grandview as well and often credited my mom with being an influence in his life and education which led to his being a judge.
I remember very little about that trip. I think it must have taken about three days to get there. Roger says that we got off the train and spent a night in a hotel in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Darlene vaguely remembers the trip as well.
I think I always had a pretty good attitude under whatever circumstances I was presented with but I don’t think I liked Arkansas. There were plenty of cousins and I remember playing in some red clay outside. I know I attended school briefly in Arkansas but I don’t remember anything specific about it. I went out hunting with my grandfather and Roger and I don’t remember anything about hunting except for mud puddles which had some kind of live creatures and wondering how they got there. I guess they must have been some sort of minnows or slugs or something or maybe it is just a dream I had. There was wood to chop at my grandparents house for the wood stove and Roger was strong enough to actually chop wood but I didn’t have the strength. I got the only case of poison oak or poison ivy I ever had while I was in Arkansas. It was a pretty miserable place for me.
|The first time I saw Elvis Presley on television was that year at my grandparents house. I would have been six in January of 1957. He sang “Hound Dog.” He made a big impression on me. 1957 was a great year for Elvis Presley with multiple hits such as “All Shook Up,” “Teddy Bear,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and “Love me Tender.” The Everly Brothers had a couple of hits that year with “Bye Bye Love” and “Wake Up Little Susie.” Once Roger had started guitar lessons, he would come back to these songs of 1957 often. He did a version of “Jailhouse Rock” and “Hound Dog” at various times. I know we all loved Jimmy Rodgers’ “Honeycomb.” Debbie Reynolds had a hit with the theme song from the movie of the same name, “Tammy.” Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard seemed to compete for songs that tore up the dance floor and had us screaming with Jerry’s “Whole Lot of Shakin” and Little Richard’s “Keep a Knockin.” These are all songs that would stay with me for the rest of my life. 1957 was a very good year for music fans. Elvis would go on to have a long career as “The King.”|
I don’t remember how any of us got back to Washington from Arkansas. Darlene and Roger don’t either. Did dad drive down to get us? I wish I could remember. We were in Arkansas, and then we were back in Washington. I think I finished out second grade or started third grade in Palouse. That is how much of my childhood memories are- fractured and shattered..