During the summer between fourth and fifth grade, my family moved out of the house next to Uncle Denny’s to a small property near Claysville, Ohio. I can’t say for sure if the house is still there as Google Street View doesn’t extend to that area and the satellite image is inconclusive. I’m not even entirely sure that I have the correct area in the above picture because things have changed so much. The area is more built up than it was when I lived there (as are many places, of course). Still, with everything I’m able to piece together, I’m pretty sure the property is visible in the above, but the house has either been replaced or substantially renovated (the brown roofed building near the center of the image).
Fifth Grade, 1972. I was 11. The family across the street had an older boy, a daughter perhaps a bit older than I was, a boy about my age with some form of speech impediment, and a younger daughter, perhaps my sister’s age or a little younger, with some more severe impediments (to the extent of being completely non-verbal). Farther up the street there was a family with, again, a boy about my age.
The folk across the street had chickens, lots and lots of chickens, a hog, a pony, and a few ducks. The ones up the street had two horses, a Pinto and a dappled gray. I don’t know what breeds.
We were…friends, of sorts.
In the picture behind what I think was my house, there’s a lot of open field. When I lived there the open field ended at our property line with a large tree just on the inside of the fence that marked the boundary. There was also an apple tree on the north side of our property about midway back toward the property line. Back behind the property line was woods. The property to our south was alfalfa fields. The immediate property to our north was empty field, just tall grass. A little beyond it a new house was building.
Not far behind the house across the street was more woods. And the house up the street, to the north and on the opposite side of the street from our house, there was pasture where the horses were kept, then more woods before getting too far back from the street.
Woods, woods everywhere.
This was before cable was much of a thing, let alone home satellite receivers. Bruce set up a mast extending up from our back patio with a big directional yagi antenna whose rotation we could control by a box on top of our TV set. Even so, reception was spotty at best.
The house had a garage, which Bruce immediately took over as his ham radio station. His and mother’s cars both sat out in the driveway when they were home.
When we first arrived at the house, the yard, all 1 1/4 acres of it, had been tilled and seeded with grass but the grass had not yet come in. That gave the place a raw, unfinished look. The woods all around kind of intimidated me, at least at first.
Fifth grade was in this small school maybe half a mile from the house. My sister and I took the bus which picked us up in front of the house. This was my second experience with school buses and one that cemented my utter detestation of buses ever since.
As, perhaps, I should have been used to I was not popular at school. “Not popular”? Such an amazing understatement. Smaller than most of my peers and weaker. Didn’t know much about the stuff they thought was important, and, to be honest does have considerable importance. A lot of “city folk” have an unfortunate tendency to look down on the folk who provide the food that they eat every day. But it wasn’t my thing and, so, I was very much an odd duck in that group. And while we had a fairly nice house, if a bit on the small side compared to a lot of the older properties around us, well, little of that “niceness” trickled down to us. Our neighbors had horses and ponies and motorbikes. I had shank’s mare (for those who aren’t familiar with that term, it means “walking”). Neighbor kids, all the neighbor kids, had wheeled carts that they could do “street sledding” with. They weren’t motorized but there were enough hills to make for some exciting downhill races.
I did, at least, get a new bicycle to replace the stolen Huffy, a 26″ “middleweight”. Single speed where the others in the neighborhood had three speeds.
It was in fifth grade where I cemented my love for Science Fiction. One of the first books to do that was in the class (as opposed to school) library. It was a spy-thriller-science-fiction book aimed at kids called “The Space Eagle: Operation Doomsday.”
Oh, I loved that book. Looking back, it strikes me as silly fun but just what I needed at eleven. But what really did it for me was another book I found in that fifth grade school library by this author, perhaps you’ve heard of him, Robert A. Heinlein:
(Sigh, the link was supposed to be to the edition with the cover I remembered back then, but Amazon and WordPress clearly had other ideas.) Rocket Ship Galileo, about a group of kids big into rocketry, making rockets hoping to win “Junior prizes” for rocketry who go on to do…
I wanted to be those kids. From that moment, whenever I went to a new place, with a new library, I sought out Heinlein’s work.
Unfortunately, with the good, there were…other things. As I said, I was not popular. The truth is, I was bullied. Nobody liked the new kid. What made it particularly worse was that my sister did seem to be popular. People liked her and hated me. I had a couple of “friends” which meant that we would sometimes play together during recess, but that was about it. All of this combined, probably with a natural tendency, to bring about what I now recognize was full-blown depression.
As a result of all this, I tended to retreat more and more into books and comic books. I read incessantly. I read encyclopedia articles. I read comics. I read science fiction (anything I could get).
It was also about this time that I started to develop an interest in girls as girls. I had previously had girls as friends when we shared an interest in something together (Lisa, from second grade being an example). I never went through a “girls are icky” phase. But girls as girls was new to me. Not to put too fine a point on it, I became interested in sex, or at least some of the preliminaries (you know, the hand holding, the kissing, that kind of stuff). Mind you, that interest was purely theoretical. I might have been interested but nobody, absolutely nobody, returned that interest. There was nobody I dared approach about the idea.
So, once again, I retreated into books.
I mentioned that at first all the woods around the house intimidated me. Well, that soon passed. Soon, I would step over a low spot in the fence that marked our rear property line and go wandering and exploring.
I’ll pick up there next time.