My Life Part 11: Friends and Neighbors, (and a Budding pyromaniac?)

This is a “catch up” on some things I have recalled that are part of earlier “parts.” A lot of old memories are coming back to me as I put these together.

When we were living in the pink house on Greenwood drive, my mother shared the house for a while with another single mother who had two daughters. One of them was about my age, the other younger, probably about my sister’s age or maybe a little younger. We spent a lot of time together, the four of us, roaming the neighborhood, particularly the huge field back behind the house (now a housing development).

We had a neighbor around the corner and down the street that we were also friends with. They had a swing set in their back yard. (We would get one in ours some time later.) Once, one group of friends and I had a “falling out” with that particular friend (I’m sorry, but I have no clue about names at this late date). So, when they weren’t home the group went over and did some minor “vandalism” of the swing set. We disconnected the seats. I tried to “tangle” the chains for the swings. “I’m good at tangling things” I said. Of course I couldn’t tangle the chains when I wanted to so I ended up just winding the chains around the top bar of the set.

I don’t know what the issue was, why we were on the outs on that particular day but we were all friends again before too much longer.

Eventually the other mother and her daughters moved out. For a while, it ws just the three of us, my mother, my sister, and me.

Halloween came during this time. My sister and I were strictly enjoined by mother to only go to the houses on either side of us. We managed, however, to cajole the babysitter (mother had to work that night) to let us roam a little farther so long as we didn’t cross the street. We were good. We didn’t. Once we came back, I helped give out candy to kids who came to our door. In time, we ran out. So, wanting to be helpful, I started handing out candy from my own haul so the kids coming to our door could get something. As you can imagine, that didn’t stretch far and to try to make it last and give something to everyone who came, I, well, I would drop a single piece of candy corn (Hey, say what you will but I liked candy corn) into a trick-or-treater’s bag. The babysitter thought this was hilarious when she related the story to my mother.

To this day, I buy lots of candy to hand out on Halloween–and note that I can’t eat it myself. It’s really my favorite part of the holiday.

When mother married Bruce, he set up his ham radio station in the house. Part of that was an antenna on a mast. One of the guy wires for the mast was secured to our swingset. I remember while climbing on the swingset (just swing? In the seats? Are you mad?) I touched the guy wire and received a mild electric shock. Just a light “buzz”, nothing dangerous or even painful. I only mention it here because the memory is quite vivid. I’m not sure why there was a current through that wire. There shouldn’t have been.

Also about this time I developed a fascination with fire. I would often steal a pack of matches and light them just to watch them burn. Sometimes I would use them to light small fires which I would then quickly stamp out.

Time passed and we moved up the street to the new house. One day, at school, while I was still in first grade, while hiding it behind my desk I lit a match intending to watch it burn for a second then shake it out. Only I dropped it. Into my desk. The contents went up like a Roman candle. End result was that I got in serious trouble but that did not end my fascination with fire. It just meant that I was more careful about where I lit fires–just not careful enough, not yet, as we will see.

At the same school, I had a friend in class who I found in the back sitting with a girl and trying with…something, I don’t remember what…to make a small cut on his arm. He said they were trying to become “blood brothers.” You know the old thing in the movies where two people cut themselves and press the cuts together with some degree of ritual to swear that they are brothers? On reflection I can’t help but wonder if that wasn’t just a made up excuse and, well, as someone who has suffered from lifelong depression starting from a relatively young age, I wonder if he weren’t getting a head start on my own issues.

But, I didn’t realize that possibility then and so I decided to “help” them. I had heard that a razor blade can cut painlessly. Later, when I started shaving, I learned how…incorrect…that claim was. Sure, under some circumstances you can nick yourself and not even notice until you see the blood or when soap and water gets into the cut and starts to sting, but mostly it hurts. May only hurt a little bit, but it hurts. So I went into the bathroom and stole one of Bruce’s razor blades. (He used a double sided safety razor, very common in that era.) I stuck the blade in my pocket.

You see where this is going, don’t you?

I was out and about, visiting friends and, without thinking, I stuck my hand in my pocket. Oh, yeah. Blood everywhere. And yes, it hurt. The neighbors were great. They got the wounds (several fingers were involved) cleaned, painted with Mercurochrome (the antiseptic of choice at the time, much less painful than rival tincture of iodine) and bandaged. They didn’t give me the well-deserved mocking for my silly “it cuts painlessly”, simply pointed out that perhaps I should rethink that position.

I graduated first grade and went into 2nd (See “The Teacher Bitch and One Small Step“). Remember a bit ago I mentioned that fascination with fire? Well, I still had it. I still would steal matchbooks and light small fires which I would quickly stamp out. Well, one day, things went awry.

I was with a somewhat younger friend, up the street a bit from where I lived. We were kind of in a back area between houses. There was a chain link fence separating the yard we were in from the yard of the house behind. There was a raised bed on both sides of the fence which was full of dry leaves.

Again, I think you can see where this is going.

I wanted to show my friend how I could start a fire and stomp it out. I lit a match, ignited a couple of leaves at the edge of the raised area and…the fire spread too fast for me to stomp it out. It crossed the fence and was heading toward the tree. My younger friend ran towards the houses screaming “fire!” I just ran. This was not exactly my proudest moment. Ever since then, I have been scrupulous about fire safety. So call it being a stupid young kid having a learning experience.

Later, at the houses on Garfield Ave I had a friend who lived with extended family up the street, big house with a big yard on the corner. We never played at his house. Part of that was that they had two dogs chained up in the back yard, one a German Shepherd, the other, I think a Bulldog in a black and white pattern very similar to that typical for a Boston Terrier. Neither of these dogs were “family pets.” They were completely unsocialized and downright vicious.

One day the bulldog got loose. I was on the porch playing with something, toy cars maybe? when this dog suddenly came over the side of the porch barking and biting. I got bitten several times as I backed toward the front door of the house screaming for mother. She came out and managed to drive the dog off then got me cleaned up and taken to the emergency room. No stitches, just cleaning and bandaging and a tetanus shot. The dog, apparently had been vaccinated against rabies so there was certainly that. However the owners of the dog, despite early protestations that they would, refused to pay the out-of-pocket for the ER visit. I don’t know why my mother and/or Bruce never sued, perhaps the cost of a suit would have been more than they could have expected to recover. I don’t know. But nothing ever came of it.

The owners of the bulldog were part of that “extended family”. This issue with the dog didn’t come between me and my friend. My friend had an…active imagination let us say. One day he told me that he was actually an Indian (as in Indigenous American People). He offered to make me a “blood brother.” Well, we didn’t have a knife, not a sharp one (and see above about the incident with the razor blade, so I wasn’t about to try to steal one of those). Well, after much figuring I scratched open a small scab and got it to bleed. I was a very active boy and pretty much always had a few nicks and cuts in various stages of healing. He scratched at a spot on his arm and claimed he’d got it bleeding. I didn’t see a bit of blood, but he said that I wouldn’t because “Indian magic.” So I pressed my bleeding spot to his “bleeding” spot and wouldn’t you know it, when we separated, I could see blood on his arm “proving” that I was now part Indian too.

Yeah, I was pretty gullible as a ten or eleven year old. Part of that was that I wanted so very much for it to be true. This convincing myself that I was now “part Indian” would come into play in the next couple of years.

Uncle Denny had a lightweight recurve bow. Maybe 20-25 lb pul. I had, in the past, tried to make “bows and arrows” from sticks where the bows were little teeny things that you could maybe pll back to your elbow at most. Seeing Denny’s it finally clicked the actual size they would need to be. In the years to follow I’d develop an interest in archery and, somehow–I’m not quite sure how–I ended up “inheriting” Denny’s bow.

And that’s the high points that I missed in previous segments. More to come.

One thought on “My Life Part 11: Friends and Neighbors, (and a Budding pyromaniac?)”

  1. I find these entries so compelling. In some ways it follows my own life, and in another, it’s very different. I’m lucky in some ways as my mother refused to date after her divorce.


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