Either towards the end of Third Grade or early during the summer, my parents, my sister, and I moved to the house next to Uncle Denny’s. That house, too, still seems to be there:
The house, as you can see, is long and skinny. While I have no idea what internal remodeling might have been done in the years since we lived there, the lower level was divided into a living room up front and a kitchen/dining area in the back. The upper floor was divided into two bedrooms, the master bedroom in the back and a second up front.
My mother and Bruce had the room in the back. My sister and I shared the one up front. I don’t have a lot of memories of this house and living here. I had a friend up the street. His family had dogs, a German Shepherd and a Bulldog. Both kept chained up outside (in and of itself something I abhor). I had a few other friends around the neighborhood.
One day, my mother came home and told my sister and I to get packed up. We were leaving. Looking back at how narrow the time frame after her trip to the hospital could have happened to how early this must have happened I suspect she had found out about Bruce’s “fling” and decided to leave him.
I was ecstatic at the idea of leaving Bruce. At the time I had little knowledge of just what a monster had proven to be and would continue to prove to be–and I certainly didn’t know his role in my mother collapsing and going to the hospital–but I do know that I utterly loathed (even without having that word for it back then) that man. In the course of packing up I gave a bunch of my toys, that I would not be able to take with me, to some of my neighborhood friends.
We loaded up the car and headed out.
We drove through to my Aunt Pauline and Uncle George’s house in Chesapeake, VA. They were actually a Great Aunt and Uncle. Pauline was, I think, the sister of my maternal Grandmother. They were fairly well off, living in a nice house in a nice suburban neighborhood.
And, so, once again I had to make new friends. There weren’t many kids my age in that neighborhood. A girl about a year older than me (I think; I’m guessing here) a couple of houses down and across the street. I think she may have been my first crush but, well, I don’t have many clear memories of that time.
While we were staying with Pauline and George I started fourth grade. The school in which Pauline and George’s house resided was a nice one for the time. And a strange thing. For the first time since 1st grade I wasn’t being bullied in school. I remember a couple of things from this period. One was that in 4th Grade Virginia schools of that time introduced Virginia History. And partway into that one of the things we had to do was memorize Patrick Henry’s famous “give me liberty or give me death” speech.
One of my classmates would intone the famous final line and I asked him “which will you have, then, liberty or death?” He said “I’ll take death.” So I “made a gun” with my finger and thumb and “bang.” He said “I’m Superman and can’t die.” Then he collapsed forward onto his desk, playing dead.
Well, to a ten year old this was hilarious.
Not long after I started school my mother found a job and a place of our own in Portsmouth. While we were welcome enough at Pauline and George’s (as Robert Frost put it, “Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in, something you somehow haven’t to deserve”) still, it was better to not be a burden on them if we could avoid it.
The place we lived was a small second-floor walk-up. Two bedrooms. Living room and kitchen/dining area in the middle. One bedroom in the “front (street-facing) and the other in the rear (small yard and alley). There was a big pecan tree in that small yard.
For a while my mother would take me and my sister each morning to the bus stop where we caught the school bus. However, some time later we were unable to continue at that school. I think, again looking back, that the school learned that we no longer lived in the district and insisted we transfer to the correct school for where we were living.
The new school was a lot less “nice” than the one at Pauline and George’s. The building was much ratier and more run down. Less shiny new equipment. Still, it covered the same material and the kids were much the same.
We were…really poor during this time. My mother was somehow able to pick up a few comic books for me from time to time. It was during this period that I decided I wanted to be a superhero. I really wanted to be a superhero. So I had the clever idea that, hey, vitamins help build strong bodies right? So if I take lots and lots of vitamins I can get super strong to be a superhero. So I convinced my mother to buy vitamins for us (Flintstone’s Chewables, to be exact) and I chomped down a dozen or so.
No super powers, of course.
Oh, well. That idea of “how to be a super hero” was a perennial idea in my head through much of my childhood and even into young adulthood. Even today I’ll still find myself occasionally wistfully thinking “I wonder if there’s some way…” Oh, well. Life, as they say, goes on.
That pecan tree came into fruit and was the source of endless snacking. I learned how to crack open the shells without a nutcracker (or hammer or anything like that). Take two pecans in your hand and squeeze them together. One of them will crack open and you can peel it and eat the nut meat inside. Repeat.
It started approaching Christmas time. We couldn’t afford much in the way of decorations. We didn’t have a tree. I had seen the shiny aluminum trees and tried, using straightened out coat hangers and cut up pieces of aluminum foil to make one. It…did not go well. Christmas eve, my sister and I went to bed, wondering what Santa would bring us. I ended up waking in the wee hours and came out to find a big pile of toys on and around the coffee table. One of the items was one of those “football playing” games–where you place men on a metal table set up like a football field and a motor causes the tabletop to vibrate moving the men around the field. That was a pretty nice toy back in the day.
Santa had made it.
I don’t know how she did it, but I will say this for my mother: she always managed to give us a good Christmas. We had our Christmas feast. It may have been chicken rather than turkey–I don’t really remember–but it was good and the most important ingredient was there: love. We may not have had much in the way of money and goods but we loved each other.
Not long after that mother was apparently convinced to return to Bruce in Ohio. I don’t know what went on behind the scenes there but one day we were packed up again and headed back to Ohio. Thus ended probably the last truly happy period of my childhood.
More next time.
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