On returning to Ohio I started, again, at Garfield Elementary School, this time continuing 4th grade. I noted, frankly, a significant step down in academics. I expected I would be doing “Ohio history” much as I had been doing “Virginia history” in the Virginia schools. Nope. And the math and science courses were…watered down compared to what I was used to.
It was also cringeworthy whenever the teacher had one of the students read from the screen (filmstrips and overhead projectors features a lot in the instructional materials). The other students stumbling over what should be simple words was hard to bear.
There was, however, a bright spot. The teacher had a small collection of books on a shelf that was right. next. to my desk. I could literally reach out and grab one. And the shelf included a number of books of the Tom Swift Jr. series written by Victor Appleton II (which name, I was to learn many years later, was a pseudonym owned by the Strathmore Syndicate with most of the books written by James Duncan Lawrence). This, right here, is where I developed what would become a lifelong love of science fiction. Oh, I’d read comics with a science fictional theme (Green Lantern chief among them) before this and certainly the Freeman’s “You Will Go to the Moon” was science fiction but I really didn’t think of science fiction as a particular kind of story until I got to these books. And I was in love.
Returning to school here, the bullying that I had first experienced in 2nd grade and was on abeyance during the Virginia interlude resumed. Part of that was, in part, my own fault. When I started class, the teacher asked…well, there was the following exchange:
Teacher: “We have two Davids in class. Do you prefer ‘David’ or ‘Dave’?”
Teacher: “Well,” (points at other student) “he also prefers ‘Dave.'”
(If you’d already made up your mind, then why are you asking me?)
Me (in anger and frustration): “Maybe you should just call me ‘Brickhead’ then, since that’s what they called me before.” (Okay, that was a bad mistake on my part. And, yes, ‘Brickhead’ was one of the insulting names folk came up for as part of the bullying back in second and third grade.)
Well, the name stuck. My own damn fault, but then again, it would have been something so I can’t take too much blame for it.
There are two things that came out of that into my adult life. After about the third time I was asked “which do you prefer” and gotten a “but he prefers ‘Dave.'” I grew to despise the shortened version of my name. To this day I go by David. Period. Second thing was that when I married and my then-wife kept her family name (Tsuboi), I decided then and there that variations on “Burkhead” were going to be far and away preferable to what potential bullies could do with Tsuboi. My children were going to have my name if I had anything to say about it. It might not be so bad for a daughter but I wouldn’t want a son growing up thinking he’s in a Johnny Cash song:
In any case, this was also probably when I first started getting hit with the real depression that would plague me most of my life.
We had a children’s book on “the body” which I devoured as I did most anything of a “sciencey” (Shut up spellcheck, that is too a word) nature. I hung out with the few friends I had.
There were three cartoons I distinctly remember from that time. The first was Jonny Quest. It had long since completed its run but was still available in syndication and was, without a doubt, my all time absolute favorite cartoon. Indeed, the first series (1964-5) is something I can still enjoy. The second was Hot Wheels. Again, looking at the time frame it would have finished its run but I’m pretty sure I saw it in syndication during this period. Indeed, when Halloween rolled around, I had a costume of the main character from the show. The third was Skyhawks. Once more, in syndication by this point.
Skyhawks was interesting in that during one episode the lead character was trapped (forced down in a crash I believe) on a mountain and made a giant kite to glide down to safety. We had scrap wood. I had access to a hammer and nails. And so I tried to make such a kite for myself. Fortunately for everybody I never actually completed that project since I likely would have broken my fool neck.
I still had the bicycle I’d gotten in second grade and used it to ride around the neighborhood with great abandon. One day, I was trying to learn to “pop a wheelie” as I had seen other kids doing. I’d jerk up on the bars and get the front wheel to leave the road for an instant but that was it. Only one day I was trying that and I took a bad spill. I hit the pavement hard enough to break one of my upper incisors, breaking it horizontally in half. The break itself hurt, but what really hurt was the exposed pulp cavity which made that tooth painfully sensitive to everything. Heat. Cold. Contact. Anything and pain would flare up through that tooth. I suffered through it for some time, trying to do things like when eating, stick food into the back of my mouth so it wouldn’t touch the broken tooth or pouring beverages past, again, trying to avoid any contact with the broken tooth. Eventually, my mother got me in to see a dentist about it. The dentist provided two options: a root canal or extraction. My mother said “Go ahead and pull it.”
Well, I panicked. Remember my previous experience with a dentist was pure misery. The dentist eventually talked me down and…dentistry had improved. Unlike the previous dentist he used a topical to numb before using the needle and apparently they had realized that it was better to inject slowly to give the medication time to disperse rather than quickly to “get it over with.” So, in the end, the tooth was gone and although the others have moved forward to mostly fill the gap there’s still a small one there between those front incisors.
From time to time someone would ask to borrow my bike and I’d let them. One day, my mother very firmly told me to stop doing that, to not let people borrow the bike. Well, one day I forgot, and when one of the neighbor girls asked to “rent” my bike (she paid me a quarter, a whole quarter, which was a lot of money for a kid my age), I let her. My mother and Bruce were out; I don’t know where. When they came back I showed them the quarter and explained how I got it.
My mother was vexed. She reminded me that I had been told not to let people borrow the bike. And, so they took the bike away from me, there to sit forlornly in the back yard. Strangely enough, even though the bike was just sitting there, not locked or anything, it never even occurred to me to sneak clandestine rides when she and Bruce weren’t around. One day, I saw the bike was gone. No, my mother and Bruce didn’t get rid of it. Someone stole it. And no, I don’t think they would have lied abut that. We never learned for sure what became of it but I’m pretty sure I saw it in the yard of one of the, let’s say less nice families in a nearby neighborhood. I didn’t go close to check and confirm but, yeah, I’m pretty sure I know who took my bike.
Up above I talked about that book on “the body”? Well, one thing it discussed was the reproductive system. There was a picture chart showing how things worked: spermatozoa fertilizing an egg cell, then dividing and differentiating until you had a baby. What it most expressly did not show was how the spermatozoa got there in the first place and at that age I didn’t really know how things “worked” in that respect. Well, some of the older neighborhood kids thought it was amusing to ask me if I knew what “sperm” was. And, remembering the book, of course I did. I described the process, much to the amusement of the older kids.
I continued to be a fan of Star Trek and pretty much anything “Science fictiony” I could find (now that I knew science fiction was a thing). And I was thinking of building and designing space ships. One of the articles in the World Book Encyclopedia was a bit on ion propulsion. They had an experiment one could do and I thought it could be adopted for a space drive (it couldn’t; it was more the principle of an electrostatic fan). Well, my interest in space and my determination to make it happen was yet another source of the bullying.
Thus ended fourth grade. During the summer we moved out of the house next to Uncle Denny’s and to a rural plot out near Claysville, OH. More on that next time.