1961- 4th Grade- Last time I wore a dress

1961- 4th Grade- Last time I wore a dress

By 4th Grade, the Country Kitchen must have failed and we were living on Broadway in Spokane and I was attending Bryant Elementary School. Roger was a crossing guard and wore a badge.

I remember him getting me into trouble when a little classmate girl gave me a kiss or I gave her a kiss and he reported it to the principle. At least some of the afternoons were spent in Bible class even though this was a public school. The whole class would be taken out of class and walked across a bridge over Maple street to what is now Christian Redeemer church. I’m not sure if that is the same church that had the property in 1960 though. I remember Donna visited us there and she and I were walking back from a store a block or so away and we got robbed by a Hispanic boy.

Mom got a new restaurant about this time in the skid-row area of Spokane called “The OK Cafe.” It was another greasy spoon and most of the clientele and employees were down on their luck types and alcoholics. That part of town was razed a few years later when Spokane hosted the 1974 Worlds Fair. Mom spent much of her time there and we kids were left alone more and more. I remember being fascinated my monsters and reading “Monster” magazine and going to movie marathons of horror movies that would go from noon to midnight and the sleazy Ritz or El Ray theaters where one would have to dodge the dodgy pedophiles that lurked there. By this time, I think I was a little less naive and knew more of the score and would know to move to a different part of the theater if an older man came and sat down by me. I was there to see the movies! I wanted to see Dracula and The Blob, The Fly, The Werewolf, and go to The Center of the Earth. I was a Vincent Price and Lon Chaney Junior fan.

In 1960, while we were still living on Broadway, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” was released and played at the Fox theater in downtown Spokane. The line went around the block. I think I had seen the previews and, being a fan of horror, I was excited to see it. It was the most terrifying moving I had ever seen up to that point and it didn’t even have a traditional monster in it! I became an immediate fan of Alfred Hitchcock. I was already of fan of “Monsters” magazine and had read about hollywood makeup and how latex was used to create werewolves and other beasts. After seeing Psycho, I became more interested in the way stories were told on film and the film making process itself.

I remember watching Johnny Carson at night on Broadway street. I think that was because my mom would be out that late. Actually, I think I probably first started seeing Johnny Carson and the late show in Toppenish when I would often fall asleep on the floor in front of the television. Dad and Irene were also often gone until two in the morning.

When we were living with my mom in those days, we were living in poverty really. It was such a different life than when we would visit in Toppenish. Sometimes we went without hot water and I remember heating water on the stove to take a bath and it was often the case that bath water was recycled for siblings- one would take their bath and then the next would take their bath in the same water and with each subsequent sibling, the water got cooler and dirtier.

Sometimes there wasn’t much to eat and we would eat white rice or cinnamon toast. I don’t remember my mom every taking us anywhere but Goodwill or Salvation army to buy us clothes. Roger got the clothes from Goodwill or Salvation Army and then I got his hand-me-downs. My mom was a child of the Great Depression and she knew how to save a dime and how to scrape by. In those days, there was no concern about fashion or style or concern about whether any of us fit in with the other kids at school. There was no concern about what school we went to or how we were doing in school or how long we went to any school. I don’t think my mom or dad ever attended any parent-teacher meetings in those days. We were essentially on our own.

Living with mom, there was many a time that I remember eating white rice with milk and sugar and having nothing more than cinnamon toast for dessert. Soda pop was a rare treat when we were with my mom, while at dad’s house, they drank it like water.

I came very close to burning the house down on Broadway. At school, we had done a project where we went out an collected leaves. Then we brought the leaves back to the classroom and placed them between two pieces of wax paper. Then the teacher sealed the two pieces of paper together with an iron. I figured I could do the same thing at home. By this time, I was using the stove by myself to melt paraffin wax to make vampire teeth and it didn’t seem like any big deal to use the iron, except that I was intending to go downtown Spokane on the bus and it was almost time for the bus. I ran out of the house to the bus stop in front of the house but I missed the bus. When I came back into the house, there was a small fire. I had left the iron on and the wax paper had ignited. If I hadn’t missed the bus, the house would have surely burned down.

For me, though, as horrible as it would have been to burn the house down, nothing compares with the horror, shame and humiliation I felt when a friend found me in the apartment in drag. I remember playing “dress up” as a small child. In fact, there was a photograph my grandmother had saved of me in a dress when I was probably about five years old. There is 8mm film of me swirling in a dress around that same time. As a small boy, I remember having some of what nowadays would be called “gender confusion.” Everyone has a self image of themselves. I remember feeling confused at the time about mine and who I was and what gender I was and how I fit in with others. I think this confusion persisted much of my childhood but came to an abrupt end in fourth grade.

There were a couple of times in early childhood, or maybe it was only once, that others dressed me up in drag for Halloween. This was probably in first or second grade. I know that we went trick or treating from Ole and Rex’s house. Rex was a “teaser” and teased everyone and, for the most part, this was part of his charm. He teased me over repeatedly over the years about being a “girl.” I am not sure if that started before that Halloween or after but it was another ongoing childhood humiliation and embarrassment.

There were often times that we were left alone in my childhood. I don’t know now where everyone was at the time, but I remember being alone in the house and wanting to put on a dress. I think I might have put on one of mom’s bras as well. High heels, if there were any available, I have no doubt.  I don’t remember all of the details but I was flouncing around in this drag and suddenly a boyhood acquaintance came bursting through the door to find me for something. Back then, nobody locked their front doors. I just remember him looking at me in shock and my looking at him, terrified of what he might tell others. I don’t remember what he said or if he told anyone else but I remember it was one of the most humiliating and life changing experiences in my young life. To this day, a gay man in his senior years, I have never felt comfortable with “doing drag.” Any time it has even crossed my mind for a second, I remember back to this horrific episode of being discovered, hiding in a closet.

Hebert must have been born by this time and he and Donna and David were living pretty well by comparison. They always had plenty to eat and never went without heat and even had color television! Irene, as good as she could be to us sometimes, she always seemed to have an underlying resentfulness of Darlene, Roger or I ever getting much of anything material from my dad and made sure that her kids always got something more or better. I guess protecting your own kids and providing for them is a natural maternal instinct and I suppose it was natural for her to want more for her own children.

In addition to Irene’s resentments toward our receiving much of anything in the way of financial support, I think my dad resented the idea of child support itself. Like many men, he was fine with providing us with food and clothing when we were in his home but avoided sending money to my mom for those same things. My mom often said that if the judge would have given her the business when they divorced, she could have sent him twice the amount of child support he was supposed to be sending us and she could still provide for us kids and live well. That was not the reality of the situation though.

Is it better to live inside the asylum where you are fed and cared for and there is structure and predictability or is it better to live outside the asylum where nothing is predictable and change is constant and hunger is a common experience? Even though my step-sister and brothers, Donna, David and Hebert were having a relatively more stable home life in some ways, such as not moving around constantly and not going hungry or not wearing clothes with holes in them, the fact is that they lived in their own kind of hell. They lived inside the asylum with my dad and Irene and the drinking and the violence and the screaming and the pure insanity.

It was while living on Broadway that mom meant George. She had been going square dancing with aunt Billie and her husband Joe, who was a “caller” for square dancing. They were the parents of my cousins Don and Nola and we kids also spent quite a bit of time in their home when we were growing up.

Chubby Checker, who had brought us “The Twist” was now encouraging us to Twist again with his song, “Let’s Twist Again.” Chubby Checker also wanted us do another dance with his song, “Pony Time” and then he wanted us to do “The Fly.” Of course, I learned all these dance fads which also included The Mashed Potato. Mary Griffin and I did all these dances together at The Candy Shop in downtown Palouse at one time or another. The Shirelles had several hits in 1961 that would go on to become classics, “Dedicated to the One I Love,” and “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” and “Mama Said.” Connie Francis upset my aunt, Bert, when she sang, “Where the Boys Are.” Ray Charles’ “Hit the Road Jack” is another song I remember from the Candy Shop jukebox in Palouse.

I think that by this time, Roger must have already been taking guitar lessons in Spokane and was singing Ricky Nelson’s “Travelin’ Man.” I can still remember the first couple of verses from that song after all these years.

One of my all time favorite novelty songs from back then is “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose It’s Flavor.” As a little boy, I learned all the words and loved the silly sound when Lonnie Donegan sang the words, “…does it catch upon your tonsils, and you heave it left and right… eh eh… does your chewing gum lose it’s flavor on the bedpost over night?” Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John” also had a lot of appeal at the time. This was also the year the classic “Stand by Me” was released by Ben E. King.

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