As I mentioned last time, I had to re-take 2nd grade. As one can imagine, I blew through the second time (after all, I’d already covered that material right?). But the big advantage was my teacher was not Miss Faircloth.
Also as I’d mentioned, I was infatuated with space and the idea of space travel. I read everything I could get my hands on about it, which mostly meant the entries on stars, planets, the space program, and the like in the World Book Encyclopedia and Book of Facts and in the included Childcraft books. (Damn, I miss those still.)
It was also about this time that I became infatuated with dinosaurs…as many a young boy will. When we had time to go to the school library, I went straight to the section on dinosaur books and grabbed what I could.
My reading was far and away above grade level (even discounting that I was repeating a grade for that very reason) and I swotted up “science stuff” like a sponge. I loved it and that was reflected in how quickly, and how much, I picked up.
I gained a few friends in this period. I also ended up getting bullied a lot, to the point of being beat up with disturbing regularity. Part of the reason was my own social awkwardness issues. Another part was that I stood out as being the “brain” in class (yes, despite repeating a year). “Beat up the geek/nerd” has a long history it would seem.
When I told Bruce this and, in frustration and anguish I wished aloud that I could “get rid of some of that knowledge” (which I saw as the prime reason I was being picked on–not recognizing the “social awkwardness” angle). Bruce’s response was “You don’t know anything. Would you like me to snow you under?” I had no idea what he meant by “snow [me] under” but, in retrospect, this incident shows me just what a crappy father he was. And, indeed, as I’ll get into shortly, he was a crappy human being.
Christmas in the new house I’m not sure which one–first time through 2nd grade or second–“Santa” left me the one present I remember from that era: a Huffy bicycle in bright purple with 16″ wheels, “high rise” handle bars, and a banana seat. Somewhere along the line the smaller bicycle I’d had in the trailer park disappeared. When we were in the “Pink house” Bruce had taken off the training wheels with the intent that I learn to ride without them. That…did not work. And I guess it either got pitched or passed on to someone else. I don’t know what.
When the weather was good, my mother took me out to try to teach me to ride this new bike. As anyone who’s ever ridden a bike knows, this amounts to getting going, then falling down. You fall down over and over and over again. Until one time, without warning, you don’t. You’re up, and you go.
That bicycle opened up a broader neighborhood to my explorations. People tend to freak out now, but back then we went all over the place exploring. There was a small store up on Deep Creek blvd. A mile or two away from the house, I’m guessing, where I would go to buy candy when I had a little money. Back then “penny candy” was still a thing and it was great.
During this period I had my first experience with dentistry. Now, as I mentioned in the last installment how I resisted wearing belts? (Still have no idea why I drew the line there.) Well, I was equally resistant to brushing my teeth. So, when I saw the dentist I had a number of cavities. Today, even with deciduous (baby) teeth, dentists would be more likely to fill and leave them in place, but back then it was pull, pull, pull. And this, right here, was the source of the great fear of needles that I had for many years. The novocaine shots were pure misery, as in screaming pain. I had to go through that several times before they got all the teeth with decay out. And the last one, they didn’t quite get things numb enough. Pulling hurt. The dentist offered to give me some additional novocaine but I was adamant that he wasn’t putting that needle anywhere near my mouth. He insisted that I was already numbed up so it wouldn’t be bad. Nope. Not gonna do it. I’d rather have the pain of the extraction, thank you very much. (A later dentist told me that back in that era it was frequent practice to autoclave and re-use needles, and also the idea was to inject quickly to “get it over with” whereas now they recognize that a more gradual injection allows the material time to disperse in tight tissues such as the gums and greatly reduces the pain.)
During this time, Bruce joined the Portsmouth City Police Department. He bought for my mother a police scanner as this was before the use of scrambled communications and particularly data (like the laptops now so common in police cruisers). Anyone with a receiver tuned to the appropriate frequency could listen in. He also got her a card listing the various “10 codes” which in later years, with the rise of CB Radio, caused her no end of annoyance as people would misuse those codes.
Somewhere along the way here I completed second grade and started third.
It was during this time that I got my first “girlfriend”. Her name was Lisa Corp. Well, she was a friend and she was a girl, so… Like me, she was interested in science. And, wonder of wonders, she had a microscope. Oh, I was so interested. Relating this years later, my mother said she was a black girl but for the life of me I don’t remember that. I suppose that was the beginning of my “color blindness” with respect to race. (Why, no, I really don’t care what your skin color is, your hair texture, the shape of your features. What I care about is how you behave.)
During third grade is when lessons on telling time on an analog clock face were given. Lisa and I picked it up quickly. Not only picked it up quickly but mastered it so thoroughly that the teacher told us that for future time-telling classes we could just go to the library.
Of course, as fate would have it, the only future class on telling time was when we had a substitute teacher who was, of course, unaware of the arrangement and certainly not willing to take Lisa’s and my word.
I turned eight somewhere in here and my mother, herself a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints although not a particularly observant one, decided it was time I was baptized into the Church. You have to understand that the LDS religion does not practice infant baptism. Children under the age of 8, according to Church doctrine, are not considered “accountable” for sin being as yet insufficiently mature to understand the concepts of “right” and “wrong.” “Allowed” and “not-allowed” is as far as it goes. Now, from what I’ve seen in psychology, this is not really correct, but that was the doctrine. So baptism was reserved for those who had reached the “age of accountability” i.e, age 8.
My mother didn’t just want me to go and be baptized. She wanted me to understand what it was all about. So she had the Church missionaries (the LDS being a strongly proselytizing religion, they have missionaries everywhere) come to teach me the same lessons they give to new prospective converts. So we went over some of the basic LDS theology: the pre-existence of spirits, the truth of the Bible “insofar as it is translated correctly”, Christs post-resurrection mission to the New World (the “other sheep” mentioned in John, per LDS belief) with the Book of Mormon being “a second testament to Christ”, the “restoration” of Christ’s “True Religion” through Joseph Smith, the Three Degrees of Glory to which all but the most truly wicked will eventually ascend, with the highest being reserved for those who complete their Earthly mission, including eternal marriage, and so on and so on and so on. As I have noted before, a lot of my early emotional imprinting comes from that, particularly the idea of “heaven” being a continuation of the ideal family (and, indeed, continuation of a really toxic family can be a pretty effective version of “hell”).
And so, I was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints which would color much of my life to follow until I finally found I just could not believe much of it any more (about which I have written elsewhere and will cover again when I get to that point of the “My Life” narrative).
Sometime while I was in third grade, something happened. My sister reported to my mother something Bruce did. (Note that I later learned what the issue was but…not my story to tell. And anybody who has guesses of their own? Please don’t share them in the comments. I will delete them and quite likely block the commenter. I’m serious. Again, not my story and not for this blog.) The result was my mother bundled my sister and I up and we ended up going to the police station. The detective who took my mother’s report got out a big book apparently to look up the charge and said “Oh, that’s a felony.”
I don’t have much clear memory of the immediate aftermath. Bruce lost his job as a police officer and… As my mother reported it much later, his “brother officers” came to her and “convinced” her to recant her charge. (And this, right here, is probably the germ of my distrust of police as an institution–individual officers can be great, but the problems go beyond “a few bad apples” and are instead systemic in nature.) The upshot is that not only was Bruce not convicted of whatever the charge was (as I said, I have my suspicions), but my mother remained married to him. This was one of the first indications of a serious problem my own mother had of what, these days, we would call co-dependence.
Not long after this event Bruce put the house up for sale and move back to his boyhood home in Cambridge, Ohio. This was during the winter break of third grade–winter 1970-71.
We’ll get into that next time (or maybe not).