Sometime after my mother and the guy I knew as “Dad” but that my mother didn’t “count” among her husbands (see Part 2, The Trailer Park) we moved to a place in Portsmouth Virginia. Portsmouth is flanked on three sides (no, really) by Chesapeake and, with the rest of it’s boundary mostly defined by Norfolk and the mouth of the James River.
We lived on a Greenwood drive. My mother at that time was waiting tables in a bar/restaurant and we shared a house with one of her waitress friends: My mother, my sister and I, my mother’s friend and her two daughters. I was maybe six, so this would have been 1967. The house was a modest three bedroom arrangement with pink clapboard siding. It was this distinctive pink coloration that caused my sister, then 4, to dub the street “Pinkwood Drive.” We all thought it was great and so that’s what we called it.
We had a swing set out back. I remember playing on it with some of the neighborhood children. Behind the house was a large field. Looking at maps today, it looks like the neighborhood has been rebuilt as a more upscale place and the big field I used to play in is now a subdivision.
My mother was being courted by two men at the time, both men in the Navy, serving on destroyers. One was named Eddy, the other Bruce, George Bruce Savage III. My sister and I favored Eddy. Eddy was great. We got to tour his ship once. I don’t remember much detail. A block and tackle that Eddy said, was used to drop marines over the side (in a boat, I presume looking back on this) and rolled up cargo netting that marines used to climb aboard. In my childish imagination I pictured Marines being dropped in the drink and then, wet marines having to climb up the net.
Eddy “popped the question” to my mother just before shipping out on a sea tour, with the idea of marrying her once her returned, but my mother was unready to make a decision between the two men. She tried to reassure my sister and I that she hadn’t made up her mind. I predicted that if she didn’t accept Eddy’s proposal Bruce would have her convinced before Eddy got back.
I was right, and this proved to be a very bad thing indeed as things would turn out. My mother’s waitress friend moved out, my mother married Bruce, and Bruce moved in.
It was about this time I started school. I’m not quite sure whether it was before or after my mother and Bruce were married, but it was somewhere close to then.
I did not do kindergarten, starting directly with first grade. Apparently that was optional in Virginia at that time. (When I later moved to Ohio, my classmates thought it quite shocking that I never attended kindergarten.) The school I attended was just a bit up the street from our house. Up to the corner, cross the street, turn left, cross the street again, then a couple of blocks to the elementary school. Academy Park Elementary which appears to have been closed.
First day of school, my mother walked me to class. Second day, I walked myself. On that second day, I went to the same entrance my mother took me to. This proved to be wrong. Someone showed me to where I was supposed to line up with the other kinds in my class to be let in when the bell rang.
The two biggest problems I had in first grade were 1) learning to write the numeral “2”. I don’t know why that caused me trouble, but it did. I had no trouble with threes and eights and fives, but twos? Gave me fits. Eventually my mother sat me down and we spent an evening practicing. Over and over again until I could write that pesky “2” consistently.
The other problem I had was reading. Oh, not that I had problems reading but that my mother had already taught be to read before I started first grade. We had the World Book Encyclopedia and Book of Facts with the Childcraft collection (1965 edition, I’m pretty sure). Oh, how I loved those. And I loved them right up until they were lost in a move something like a decade later.
I could read and read pretty well for a six-year-old. So in class, I grew to loathe those insipid Dick and Jane stories. Hated them with a passion.
The reading class was divided into two groups. One group, the one I was in, read Dick and Jane. The other group, some book about a character named Tom. There would also be a daily instruction session where the teacher had a giant book at the front of the class where we would all sit and she would read it aloud while pointing to each word in turn. On the one hand, this was mind numbing to me. On the other, at least it wasn’t Dick and Jane…again.
A minor problem I had was my mother showed me writing “1’s” with serifs. I thought that was cool and so used it when writing my own. Unfortunately, I didn’t do it consistently so I ended up having math problems marked wrong when I used serifs because my teacher counted them as twos–since I did some ones as a simple stroke and others with serifs.
One day the teacher said we would have a bit of a challenge the next day. We would each go up to the front of the room and count from one until we made a mistake. It was just to see how well we would count. That night, when I went to bed, while I lay in bed I practiced. I don’t recall how far I got, but it was well over a hundred. The next day, most of the other kids would stumble somewhere along their teens or twenties. But when my turn came I just kept going and going. Got to over a hundred and twenty before the teacher stopped me as I clearly knew my counting.
One of my neighborhood friends was named Milton. He lived two doors down from the pink house we were still living in. Now, Bruce was an Amateur Radio Operator (AKA Ham Radio). He had at least a General class license back then. I know eventually he reached Amateur Extra class (the highest level for Amateur Radio), whether he had that rank at this time or not, I don’t know. I do, however, remember his callsign: WA4OGZ.
Now, as it happened, Bruce had several mobile radios in his car, a little gray Corvair (yes, that care of infamy–frankly, unjustified infamy but infamy nonetheless). As a result of this, the car was festooned with various antennae. Now, one of those antennae are why this relates to my friend Milton. You see this antenna had a vertical mast up from the rear bumper, then extending backward from it a horizontal loop about 18 inches in diameter. So one day, I was just getting ready to go outside and saw Milton standing behind Bruce’s car with a basketball in his hands. My mother was right behind me and she shouted at Milton and scared him away. “That is not a basketball hoop.”
Probably to Milton’s good fortune that it was my mother who caught him, not Bruce.
Bruce also had some taller antenna’s at the house. He had taken over the third bedroom as his amateur radio lab. One of the antennae was tall enough to require guy lines. And one of those lines fastened to the swing set in the back. I remember one day when climbing on the set–after all, we didn’t just swing on it; if it was climbable, I climbed it–and touching the guy wire. I received a very mild electric shock. Nothing serious, or even painful. Just a mild tingle. Hardly worth noting except I do remember it even after all these years and, so since part of the purpose of these things is to get down my early memories as fully and completely as possible, I note it here.
About halfway through first grade we moved. Not far, just a mile or so up the street, still on Greenwood drive. But that will wait for next time.