We only lived in the blue house for about eight months before moving across town. We had to remodel the new house, which meant new everything. Mom put up new wallpaper, and Dad worked out in the yard. Grandma used her sewing skills and made curtains for all of the windows. I didn’t want to move because it meant I had to change schools, but after moving I ended up making a lot of new friends. This is something I got used to doing over the years, and while it was hard at the time, I think it helped me later on in life.
While we were in Roswell, Lottie started gymnastics with Shelly Wigley. I thought gymnastics was a “girl” sport, and the meets were really boring. There was a big YMCA in Roswell where Lottie took gymnastics. I learned to swim there and Dad played basketball with Mr. Wigley. I always enjoyed going to the “Y” unless it was for a gymnastics meet.
We had a TV at that house, and I would watch football with Dad in our own living room. In those days Green Bay lost a lot so they were still not on national TV much. I also brought my turtles to that house and by then they were so docile that I could pet their faces without them biting me. We didn’t live in that house long, but it was nice and I had fun exploring the desert.
The new house was on the edge of town, which led to many adventures for me. Right outside our back door was a whole world of bushes, trails, lizards, snakes, and a few big ravines to explore. I got a BB gun and had a fun time hunting whatever bird landed close enough for me to shoot. I also caught Horny Toads. I loved Horny Toads and used to keep them in a huge aquarium. I had so many at one time that they laid eggs in the cage, but Dad told me I should let them go so the eggs could hatch. I really wanted to keep them, but I took them out and set them free in the wild.
Before we moved, Don Sloan came over one night talking excitedly about the movie “Jaws,” which he had just seen. He said it was real scary and told Dad he should go see it. After hearing his description, I couldn’t wait to go, but Don said he thought it was too scary for a boy my age. I didn’t think so and was kind of mad at Don for saying that. Dad went to see it, but he didn’t let me go. Since then, Dad has been afraid of sharks.
I was invited over to the neighbor’s house for watermelon one night, but Mom wouldn’t let me have any because of my bed-wetting problem. I was mad about that, but I did have a bed-wetting problem. Each night, Mom would cut me off from any drinks, and I would have to go to the bathroom right before bedtime so that I would not wet the bed. This was a very embarrassing problem, and I had to deal with it until I was almost eight years old. Dad said he wet the bed until he was sixteen, and it was a big problem for him when he was on Boy Scout campouts. Courts had to deal with it a lot longer than me, and I felt sorry for him. I don’t know why some boys have that problem, but many do, and it can be tough on a young kid.
One year, when Halloween was on a Sunday night, we didn’t get to go trick-or-treating because we had church. I was so upset about this because in those days we rarely got candy, but on Halloween we got lots of it. I used to hide it in my drawer and allow myself to have a piece a day so that it would last longer.
Mom finally said we could go trick-or-treating Monday night, so Lottie and me, along with Ruth, who was not very old, got all dressed up in our costumes and headed out shortly before dark. In case you ever wonder about taking your kids trick-or-treating the day after Halloween, it is not a good idea. People were really surprised when we knocked on their door. They would say things like, “Umm, Halloween was yesterday,” or “I’ll see if I have any more candy.” We got a lot of, “Sorry, I’m all out of candy.” That was one year when our candy haul was not so good.
While I’m on the subject of Halloween, I should tell you how I cleaned out Lottie, Ruth and Courts’s candy stashes. After we would get home from a night of trick-or-treating, we would all empty our sacks and separate all of our candy into piles. We put all of the same kinds together and counted who had the most. Dad would usually eat some of it while this was going on because he said he had to test it to make sure it wasn’t poisoned.
Then I would start the trading. Lottie was hard to trade with, while Courts was easy to clean out. Sometimes I would take my cheap, hard candies and give him ten of those for a Snickers bar. I don’t remember all of the trades, but I do remember always coming out on top. While I was trying to cut deals with Ruth or Courts, Lottie would be explaining to them what was wrong with my deal. She made my trades a lot harder to pull off. But we still had a lot of fun trading candy each year…or at least I did!
Negotiating My Allowance
One day at school, some of my friends told me about something called an “allowance.” They said their dads gave them money each week for doing chores like taking out the trash, cleaning up their rooms and washing dishes. It sounded like a really good idea to me, so after dinner that night I approached the subject with Dad.
I explained to him that if he gave me an allowance, my chores would become my job. I would take out the trash, help with dishes, and Mom would not even have to tell me to do it. Dad listened very closely as I made my case, and after I was done he asked, “How much should your allowance be?” When he asked that, I got really excited, but was nervous about how much to ask for. My friend got one dollar a week, which seemed like a fair price to me. So I said, “I think one dollar a week would be good.” To my surprise, Dad calmly replied, “That sounds fair to me.” Then he asked, “What exactly will you do each week?”
I agreed to clean my room, take out the trash, and help Mom wash the dishes after dinner, plus clean up the yard, and pick up all of my toys. We agreed to the duties and price and, as I proudly walked away, Dad added, “Wait just a minute, let’s sit down and figure out what it costs for you to live here.”
I didn’t know what he meant, but I sat down. Dad then asked, “How much is lunch at school?” I replied, “Thirty-five cents.” He said, “Since we make your lunch to save money, I’ll only charge you ten cents.” He then went on to add ten cents for breakfast, ten cents for dinner and rent for my room each night. He told me he was giving me a deal for only five cents a night in rent.
Then, he took out a piece of paper and added it all up. It came to thirty-five cents a day, which he multiplied times seven days. The grand total was $2.45 a week. Dad turned the paper around and said, “Looks like you own me $1.45 a week to live here. You might need to get a job making some extra money to pay for your room and board.”
I thought about it and had no idea where I could get a whole $1.45. So I sheepishly said, “How about I just do all the chores like before and you don’t charge me?” Dad said he thought that would work, and then explained why doing my chores was not a job but part of my responsibility.
Soon, Dad took a position as the educational and youth director at College Heights Baptist Church in Plainview, Texas, where Joe Knowles was the pastor. We didn’t live there long, but we didn’t live anywhere long. I do remember some fun things at that house. We had a cat named Cheetah that I liked a lot. I don’t like cats much now, but I really liked Cheetah. I remember sitting on the porch during rainstorms and holding Cheetah while talking to her about all kinds of things.
Cheetah had a litter of kittens, which was a lot of fun for me. Those kittens were so cute and I enjoyed them. Then one morning I went outside, and they all were dead. It was not a pretty sight with all of the dead kittens strung all over the yard. Mom said a dog must have gotten them, and that made me mad.
The music director at the church had a boy who was about the same age as me, and we would race each other barefoot down the gravel alley behind our house. In those days, I went barefoot a lot during the summer. I always won those races, but I don’t know if it was because I was faster or if my feet were just tougher. Walking around without shoes in the summer was not easy. The street and sidewalks would be hot under the Texas sun. We tried to walk in the gravel, dirt or grass as much as possible.
I caught the mumps while we lived in that house, and I still remember hurting from them and asking Mom to do something to make it hurt less. She tied heated rags around my jaws, which did make me feel somewhat better. That house had a tall TV antenna right next to it that was perfect for climbing. It was my first time climbing onto a roof, and once I discovered how easy it was, I climbed up there often when Dad was gone. One cold night, Dad forgot to turn the sprinkler off and when we woke up the whole front yard was covered in ice. I think we still have a picture of it.
We lived there on July 4, 1976, the 200th anniversary of America. Mom and Dad let me stay up until midnight to watch all of the fireworks going off. It was in that house that I have my first memories of Mom’s homemade bread. Plainview was the home of Wayland Baptist College and Dad would invite all of the college kids over for supper on occasion. Sometimes we would have fifty or sixty students over and Mom would start baking all of her small bread loaves a few days before the dinner. It was made clear to us that we were not allowed to eat any of them. That bread was good then, and I still love eating her warm loaves of homemade bread today.
Learning to Read
I mentioned that I was a slow reader in first grade and that the other kids made fun of me. Because of that, I didn’t like reading and avoided doing my reading assignments. Until, that is, I attended Mrs. Ruby Henderson’s second grade class. Back then, I thought Mrs. Henderson was mean. She was a big, black lady and nobody got away with anything in her class. If you talked, got out of your seat, or failed to do an assignment, she would “fire you up.” That’s what she called giving a spanking.
We were all scared of Mrs. Henderson because she had a big, wooden paddle, and she would take kids out into the hall and give them two or three licks with it anytime they acted up. I never told Dad about any of the spankings I got from Mrs. Henderson. To lessen the pain, I started wearing two pairs of underwear to school just in case I got “fired up.”
Each quarter, Mrs. Henderson required us to read books and write short book reports on what we had read. Since I didn’t like reading, I decided I wouldn’t do any book reports. That didn’t make Mrs. Henderson very happy. My old report card from second grade has her handwritten notes on it advising me to read more and urging my parents to make me read at home. But she didn’t leave everything to my parents. Each time I didn’t have my book report done, she would take me out into the hall and “fire me up.” She told me, “If you don’t start reading, the swats are going to get harder.” Now, those swats hurt, and after the second quarter I decided that maybe reading wouldn’t be quite as painful as Mrs. Henderson’s firing of my backside.
The first book I read was a short, children’s version of “Moby Dick.” I always enjoyed listening to the teacher read, and I soon found that I enjoyed reading about the big whale myself as well. After that first experience, I started reading more and getting my reports written. Mrs. Henderson even gave me an “A” in the final quarter and wrote, “Really tried” beside it on my report card.
I have always appreciated Mrs. Henderson for being so hard on me that year. My ability to read has been one of the main reasons for the successes I’ve had in my life. Without her “firing me up,” I doubt I would have ever started reading. I look back with love for Mrs. Henderson, and even though she only had me as a student for a few short months, she had a huge impact on my life.
Sadly, Mrs. Henderson would no longer be able to fire up her students today. Parents would yell at her, and the administration would come down on her with more than a wooden paddle. Because of this, maybe some kid like me will never learn the joy of reading. I was a talkative, fidgeting kid with a short attention span, which is how many boys are at that age. It took Mrs. Henderson’s tough love to get me motivated. I can’t help but think that our education system would be a lot better today if we had fewer kids on Ritalin and more kids getting fired up by teachers like Mrs. Henderson.
While living in Plainview, I experienced my first big locust swarm. They were migrating that year, and when they hit our town I thought I was in heaven. I ran around catching every lo-cust I could. I had a big, glass milk jar that I put them in, and Lottie helped me catch them. A guy from the newspaper saw me and asked if he could take my picture. We picked out several of our “trained” locusts and put them on our heads and shoulders, and he took a picture. We told Mom and were ex-cited to see our picture in the paper, but I don’t remember ever seeing it run. I was always catching frogs, turtles, snakes, horny toads and anything else that I could train to be my friend.
We must have had a lot of bugs there because one time we went to the garage and turned on the light only to see that the floor was covered with roaches. When I say covered, I mean completely covered. Mom screamed, but I jumped in and stared walking on them, trying to kill as many as I could. They all scattered, and many of them hid around the car tires. I had Mom start the car and roll forward and backward to get most of those. It was fun for me, but Mom didn’t like it at all. She called Dad, and they had an exterminator arrive, pronto. We had to leave the house for a day after they sprayed. In those days, the bug spray really killed the bugs, but it was pretty toxic and not safe for humans either.
When we moved back to Roswell, we rented a U-Haul and stopped for lunch at a rest stop. While we were stopped, we let Cheetah out of the truck. When we were ready to get back on the road, we couldn’t find her, which made Dad mad. He said, “That’s it. We’re leaving her.” Lottie was crying, and I was trying to convince Dad that we couldn’t leave Cheetah. Finally, he got out of the truck for one more look and found her. He must have had a hard time catching her, because when he finally did, he opened up the door and threw Cheetah into the truck. She hit the other side hard and let out a disgruntled “Meeeowwwww,” and hid way back under the seat.
This made Lottie cry even harder. I was down on the floor trying to get Cheetah to come out, and we were both scared that Dad had killed her. Since nobody wore seat belts back then, I stayed down on the floorboard a long time before I finally coaxed her out. She was okay, but at our next stop I kept a close eye on her.