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I guess I felt like I had one foot in hell and one in heaven for many of my years prior to high school.
On the one hand, I had a pretty decent family, even if money was always short, and tempers (due to frequent frustration and financial worries) often high. And we had our own home. My parents having built a house during my first grade year, and we being moved into it by my second.
Above can be seen our new house, not yet quite finished (so we weren't living there at the time this photo was taken). But dad already had a vegetable garden a few months old in the foreground! That's dad's 1951 Ford parked in the vicinity. The house is still missing its front porch and a few other niceties.
My new home was also surrounded by a fabulous woodsy paradise: many square miles of undeveloped, gently hilled woodlands. In the early days, our house sat at the end of a quarter-mile long dead end road in the woods, with just a handful of other houses along its length.
Though that meant a quarter mile walk each morning and another each afternoon between the school bus stop at the far end and home, I didn't much mind it.
On the other hand, despite being the oldest of my parents' brood, I always felt like a little guy at school. Mostly because there were so many bullies there who were taller and heavier and stronger than me.
I think in my earliest days being bullied at the rural school, I was baffled by it. Thought I'd somehow brought it on myself, via some cultural faux pas on my part.
For I hadn't experienced anything like that at my previous school in the city.
So for a while I meekly took the abuse, while I tried to figure out what I was doing wrong with these new kids.
Of course, it turned out I was doing nothing wrong at all. I was just dealing with bullies, plain and simple.
But even after realizing that, I was somewhat ham-strung by my raising. For my parents were steadfastly against violence. Plus, being the oldest, I'd learned the hard way it was far too easy for me to hurt other kids. Kids like my little brothers and sisters, I mean. So I was in the habit of holding back in order to avoid injuring anyone.
That aspect of my personality though only served to strengthen any bully's hand against me.
Unfortunately, my in-some-ways idyllic woodlands home also came with its own resident bully: one of the biggest and dumbest bullies at my school also happened to live at the far end of our dead end road from us, only tens of yards from the bus stop. And for some reason would spend an awful lot of time at our end of the road. Let's call him Rodney (not his actual name), so as to better protect everyone's privacy here.
Above is a view of the new house maybe a year after the first snapshot, now equipped with front porch and a grassy yard. Plus my oldest little sister (one year younger than me).
Being the eldest meant I had to purposely go into harm's way to protect my siblings from such people. So that likely helped double my frequency of painful encounters.
Don't get me wrong though: there seemed to be about as much good in my childhood as bad.
My dad worked at a canning factory only a block away from a good-sized grocery store which sold sandwiches-- thereby making itself a natural spot for dad and his co-workers to eat on breaks. The store also sold comic books. So the workers would buy comics to read during breaks, and often discard them around the factory afterwards.
Dad would collect up the discards, and bring them home to me. I loved that!
The books were usually DC brand: stuff like Superboy, Batman, Green Lantern, and Action Comics. Legion of Superheroes. And others. As well as westerns, like the Rawhide Kid and Ghost Rider. Etc. This Ghost Rider was like an all-white-suited version of Zorro with a mask covering his entire face, riding a white horse, and using some sort of phosphorescent coating to glow at night to scare bad guys; and he used guns rather than a sword.
I must admit I much preferred the superhero comics over the westerns (though Ghostrider did qualify as a superhero with his unusual tricks). But even the westerns were better than the little kiddie comics sometimes read by the rural factory workers (many maybe never having attended high school, or learned to read all that well). Like Archie or Harvey comics.
Those comic books made me absolutely love to read. And would lead directly to me devouring huge chunks of the libraries of the various schools I attended thereafter.
The comics also inspired me to practice drawing a lot more. And so were a major contributor to whatever graphics skills I possess today.
Around the third grade my mom insisted she and dad buy a Worldbook Encyclopedia set for us kids-- despite its enormous expense. I loved that too. And did my best to read through the entire set within only a year or so of getting it. The collection also included a full set of Childcraft books, which offered short stories and various handicraft ideas designed to fascinate kids like me.
Another huge highlight of my childhood was getting a five-speed banana seat bicycle for Christmas one year. I would plain wear that thing out over the next few years or so, eventually riding it regularly all the way to the city park which lay a few miles away through the woods, and still farther, like into town itself, which was another mile or two distant.
Last and best of all though, was my best friend from those days. But accounts of later years already on-site deal with that subject.
My bike looked much like the cycle seen above-- sissy bar and all. In the often wet and muddy forest tracks on which I rode it, mud would be thrown up onto my back from the rear wheel.
Once, some childless neighbors of ours gave us an old junk bike to play with. The bike was way too tall for us kids to ride-- our feet couldn't touch the ground when we sat on it. And the bike had no brakes of any kind. In fact, it was the most dangerous bike I ever personally dealt with. Besides there being no way to stop the thing when riding it, it also boasted powerful springs which, in combination with the bumpy, pot-holed dirt road we lived on, frequently would cause a rider to be violently bucked off the bike entirely.
A massive bar ran atop the bike frame too, in the perfect place to nearly castrate any young men in the throes of puberty or beyond, who dared to ride the beast.
Our neighbors told us it was an old racing bike (which made it sound intriguing to a young boy like myself). I tried it out, and quickly learned of its deadly nature.
After that I simply had no choice but to trick Rodney into riding it. And riding it in such a way as to maximize his personal injuries.
After all, when someone purposely hurts you over and over again for no apparent reason but to see you suffer, you tend to want some payback if you can ever get it.
My scheme worked. I got immense pleasure from seeing this huge guy who regularly tortured me finally get his, as he struggled mightily to master the strange bike. It was almost like watching a cartoon, but with blood and cursing. He got repeatedly thrown off at high speeds, skidding for yards along our gravel road. Banged his crotch over and over again against the man-eating metal bar. Was forced to crash into roadside ditches to stop due to no brakes, and then be flung into trees and briars off the road. It was exquisite. Especially since Rodney never learned from his experiences. In the end, I had to persuade him to stop hurting himself and give up riding it (after I'd gotten my own malevolent fill).
My folks sent me to 4-H summer camp a couple times during these years.
Each annual camp lasted two weeks, I think. And may have been situated in otherwise undeveloped countryside in the vicinity of Greeneville TN (I'm guessing there).
Life in the camp was strongly regimented, with fairly strict scheduling of your time. We had classes of some sort part of every day (I can't recall the topics now). And way too many religious services for my tastes. If memory serves, we not only had church services Sunday and Sunday nights, but Saturday nights, too. Yuck!
From my perspective, a wooded hillside rose from the back end of where the main camp buildings sat, while mostly open fields occupied the camp's other surroundings. The pic above resembles the outer perimeter of one of those fields. A view like this one could have been what you saw stepping outside the crafts-making building, which sat by itself a bit remote from the rest of the camp.
Well, I guess I do remember one class topic: riflery. Firearms instruction. With live practice at a small shooting range, using 22 caliber rifles. I think I was around eleven or twelve at the time. There seemed to be boys there both younger and older than me.
There was a swimming pool, too. Usually jammed, as it was one of the better choices for recreation in the otherwise dreary place.
One major highlight of my first stay there was some naughty pulp-style comics someone had smuggled into the camp. These were something like cheaper and lower quality versions of the Eerie and Creepy comic magazines which would become nationally famous in years to come. Like Eerie and Creepy, these earlier black and white pulps specialized in horror tales, spiced up with the occasional titillating image of a curvaceous woman among their pages.
At the time these things seemed wondrously wicked to me. No doubt because of the region and era in which I lived. If cable TV had been invented by then, I sure never heard anything about it. And neither had anyone else I knew. A single solitary color TV in a house was considered a new and expensive high tech luxury. We used a huge TV antenna 20-30 feet tall outside to get maybe two or three channels sufficiently legible to watch. The TV shows I most wanted to see though, we couldn't get. Like the campy Batman starring Adam West, or the original Star Trek with Kirk and Spock. I believe Batman played on ABC, which had too weak a signal for us to comfortably watch. I think we got NBC clearly, but the local station didn't carry Star Trek during its run. Damn it!
I remember the one and only time I actually got to witness a Star Trek episode in those days. There was a TV band on a radio my parents had recently bought, and I picked up Star Trek playing on it. While sitting in a closet for privacy, I listened intently to the audio, trying to figure out what was happening on the show. The episode was the one about the planet over-crowded with people, which needed something to kill them off for a gain in breathing space.
I wouldn't get to see Star Trek as it was meant to be seen for years to come after that.
Our TV reception and choices improved a little as the years passed, and we got more advanced antenna gear. Like a motorized way to remotely turn the antenna for different channel priorities.
My main memories of TV from those days include things like the local Cas Walker morning show (a feisty Knoxville business man and TV personality); Captain Kangeroo; Astroboy (yep! I actually saw some of the first Japanese anime to ever hit our shores!); Rod Sterling's Twilight Zone; Alfred Hitchcock; Margo Thomas in That Girl; Sea Hunt; a very young Clint Eastwood in Rawhide; Have Gun, Will Travel; Steve McQueen in Bounty Hunter; Bonanza; Gunsmoke (all five westerns); and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Get Smart (both somewhat comedic James Bond TV knock offs).
Sunday night's Wonderful World of Disney was a major weekly draw for us. For back when Walt's influence was still strong on the corporation, their Sunday night content could range from their feature films to wildlife documentaries and original made-for-TV mini-series. I think people like Kurt Russell got their start there.
I also frequently watched the Mickey Mouse Club for several years, right after getting home from school on weekdays.
In my first 4-H camp stay I endured more violence, similar to that found at school and home. The next year, I played entrepreneur there, and happened to meet someone who'd become a big part of my life in the years to follow.
In my first 4-H camp experience I found the camp counselors (boys maybe sixteen through early twenties) liked to run the place as their own private fiefdoms, with their charges as their serfs.
If we serfs (the younger boys) didn't strictly follow their every order and whim, the counselors would gang up on one of us, and beat us into submission.
I recall once being horrified by the sight of four or five counselors carrying an unhinged door atop their shoulders down a hill one day, upon which lay sprawled the body of one of us little guys. They were using the door as a stretcher, to bring the guy back from where he'd received his punishment.
I can't recall the exact sequence of events now, so long after the fact. But at some point during that two week span I used the resources available in the crafts-making areas of the camp to assemble myself something like a nine-tailed bull whip for a weapon. From some sort of narrow, flattened vinyl strips or straps from the crafts store, which I braided together according to some handy instructions-- only with my own improvised changes to the design. The whip ended up being blue and white in color I think, and maybe six feet long or more. With a metal clip embedded in the handle's end, by which I could attach it to a pants belt loop for easy access, like a holstered gun.
Of course, I could also wad the whole thing up and stuff it into a pocket for concealment.
The business end of my whip was unbraided, with several of the vinyl strips hanging loosely there, in lengths of maybe a foot or so.
It was a formidable and wickedly effective device, and served me well. At one point allowing me to hold off several camp counselors at once while scrambling about in the rafters of our barrack building to escape.
I never did end up being carried on a door like that other kid.
Sometime during the last half of this timeframe puberty began washing over me, and I began noticing and feeling things I never had before.
As my parents (especially my mom) were fairly puritanical regarding many matters, I never got any talk at all about the birds and the bees. At least not that I can remember. So apparently me and all my siblings were utterly on our own there.
I can recall some hilarious guesswork about sex being passed around among the boy crowd between second and fifth grades. But until puberty strikes, the situation is much like that old joke about blind men describing an elephant, based on the wildly different sorts of body parts they can feel (trunk, tail, ears, legs, etc.).
Of course, with no adult advice to help guide you, even after puberty hits you remain in the dark for quite a while about a surprisingly wide variety of sex-related topics. I suppose a large portion of my own generation in my rural region had to simply make do with experimentation and trial and error, growing up. But that's far from the ideal way to get through such matters-- just from the risks of pregnancy and disease alone.
Of course, I guess ignorance might have saved me from getting into trouble at a very young age, in at least one instance.
You see, both my parents were working full-time by the point I reached maybe twelve years of age. So naturally for those times they'd both be absent, they employed babysitters for me and my siblings.
I may have argued against the need for baby-sitters back then-- I don't recall. But if so, I was likely glad to have lost the argument afterwards. For that change brought into our lives not one, but two attractive teen age girls. Red-headed sisters, who I believe were the nieces of our red-headed neighbors who lived alongside us by then.
Yeah, sure, I was only twelve, and had practically no idea what sex was all about. But I'd noticed myself getting inexplicably excited when women on TV took off a sweater or a stocking. Ha, ha. Stuff like that. And some of the 1960s films I sometimes saw on broadcast TV could be titillating for young men back then-- although they usually weren't nearly so racy as the edgiest G-rated films and shows of today.
I'm unsure exactly when it aired year-wise, but I believe an hour long weekly Dean Martin TV show scheduled around 10 PM was one of the wildest things I'd ever seen up to that time, sex-wise. He had a crew of female dancers called the Gold Diggers who starred in various outrageous comedic skits, sort of like would be seen much later in shows like Saturday Night Live. Only Martin's were much sexier. Martin also did some James Bond spoof films which were of similar suggestive caliber.
Anyway, to make things even better babysitter-wise, the two sisters were of different body types. Both appealingly slender, but the older one thinner than the younger. The older one even strongly resembled a particular Gold Digger dancer off the Dean Martin show!
The sisters took turns being our baby-sitters. I'm unsure how old they were, but I'm guessing maybe seventeen and nineteen. With the younger one actually seeming the more developed in size and weight (she was a bit more curvy and bigger-framed than her more delicate seeming older sister).
I don't know if my parents ever became aware of it, but these girls slept in itty bitty nighties at least part of the time during their stays (the overnight stays were due to my parents often working second or third (a.k.a. graveyard) shifts).
Of course, the fact of the nighties was by far most important to me! Ha, ha. And I seem to recall those nighties sometimes being sheer-- or very nearly so! Wow!
The girls were good-natured, and obviously well capable of handling an immature but curious twelve year old boy such as myself. I think they found me amusing. Maybe even liked me after they got to know me. For I got to get a little friendly physical contact with them from time to time, too.
My memory's awfully fuzzy from those days now, but I may even have gotten one or both to indulge me in a wrestling contest a time or two. Maybe while they were in their nightie! Ha, ha.
But of course, I was utterly incapable of doing much more than that. For I knew absolutely nothing about women at that stage. Except that some of them I liked more than others.
Twelve year olds in 2008 with an internet connection can know a million times more about the opposite sex than I did in the 1960s.
If I'd had even an inkling of what to do with them back then, I'd have been doing my best to execute it on those two older women! Ha, ha.
I think it was quite a while after the last time I ever saw the baby-sitting sisters that I got my first romantic-style kisses from girls my own age. I was woefully ignorant of many things, including French kissing. I feel sorry for the first girl who ever tried that on me! Ha, ha. I still remember her name; she was actually quite an attractive girl, practically runway model quality by modern standards. But I was never sure what I thought of her personality.
The actual circumstances of those first several hundred kisses (yeah, I'm going to explain!) were downright unbelievable by today's standards. Basically, the majority of my whole eighth grade class (and a younger seventh, too) were in a single big room full of beds in the middle of nowhere, playing kissing games. In our sleepwear. Whatever that might be. This meant some of the girls were in quite brief and alluring nighties (no sheer ones though).
Yes, I know this sounds way too good to be true. But it's fact. And it gets better. For an awful lot of these girls were very, very attractive. So far as I can figure from the math today, me and my classmates must have all been around 14 years of age, and the younger ones, 13. So we were all of us in flux, puberty-speaking. Some obviously more developed than others. But maybe most of us practically clueless in regards to teenage necking and such.
But for me (and surely lots of my fellow boys there), it got even better still!
For many of us there had been struck on one particular girl who happened to be present, for quite a while before that. A girl with a northern accent we loved, who'd transferred in out of nowhere, and without warning, maybe a whole year or two earlier (virtually all the other girls present we'd known at least since first or second grade).
The real name of that particular girl actually was "Candy". Ha, ha!
Candy was somehow more developed than all our local girls the very first day she'd shown up. Thereby scoring big on the like-it meter for us boys. Then there was that novel accent. Mmm! And atop all that, she was sort of bitchy and self-centered. Even towards the teachers.
Put all that together, and you got the most desirable girl in our class! At least for a bunch of immature boys. Ha, ha.
And here she was now, playing kissing games with us! In a nightie!
Kissing Candy was heady stuff for me back then. And we all got to do it! As much as we wanted! And everyone (including Candy and the other girls) seemed just as enthusiastic about it all as we boys!
I guess part of the reason for the enthusiasm was those students who didn't want to participate simply left before it began. Only a handful seemed to take that option, though. And most of them were likely of the younger seventh-grade girls category.
I don't know if this was my first lesson in anticipation sometimes being better than the event itself, or if the effect simply got diluted by all the kissing with other attractive girls there, but my several kisses with Candy just didn't turn out to be as thrilling as I'd expected.
I mean, I definitely enjoyed the hell out of it! But I was also noticing how cute lots of the other girls there were-- some of them looking lots different in their sleepwear than they did in street clothes. And there was just so much fun going on in general!
There may have been another factor too limiting my enjoyment of kissing Candy. Namely, that she may have been a third or fourth cousin or something of mine. Or some other type of comparatively distant relation. I can't recall the specifics now. But it was distant enough that I'd never heard of her before she showed up at our school. And since my high school days I've never seen or heard of her again.
Or maybe that was merely my first and earliest teenage crush. And kissing her was all I needed to satisfy and end it.
OK. You're probably saying to yourself by this point, where was the adult supervision? And the answer is-- right there in the room with us. The kissing games had been their idea, so far as I know. And I for one will be forever grateful to them.
The one adult there was a wonderful lady who sometimes served as a substitute teacher at my school. She and one of our male teachers had accompanied us students to this place, where we then stayed maybe one week, or maybe two (it's tough to recall). The male teacher was not present for the kissing games.
This lady also had her own daughter there in the mix. A very pretty (downright beautiful I believe most would agree) slender and tall girl, who some years later would become a UT basketball player of some note. Maybe even a super-star; I'm unsure because I never had much interest in following commercial sports.
So did I and the other boys kiss her daughter? You betcha! Ha, ha. Lots and lots of times!
But there were just so many pretty girls there (Tennessee surely has its share of beautiful women)....
We kissed and kissed for hours. Sometimes changing the game rules a little on occasion. We literally kissed there until we were exhausted and passing out: dropping out, one by one. I think I finally called it a night when I simply couldn't hold my eyes open any longer-- even in the very middle of a kiss!-- and left the room for my own bed.
So far as I know, no one there got wilder than French kissing. If any second base or other bolder actions took place, it was likely mostly by accident. Especially as we got more and more tired.
It seems amazing to me today that I couldn't stay awake any longer than I did, in the midst of all that kissing of dozens of gorgeous girls! But I do know I kept at it for hours before I succumbed. I think the party didn't start until 8 or 9 PM. Maybe it was 1 or 2 AM when lots of us were forced to retire. The lady teacher though seemed willing to let us keep going at it as long as we could.
Too, I and my cohorts were still all fairly young. And so not yet having adult level hormones surging through our bodies to overcome fatigue with sexual desire. We were old enough to be having fun with our kiss play-- but not old enough to really want a whole lot more than that. I don't think the lady teacher had to scold anyone there about such things a single time.
It may also be that we'd all been quite fatigued before we'd even started. For many of the day activities in that place included long and grueling hikes in the wilderness. Once, we even crossed a stream that today I'd say was incredibly dangerous and irresponsible to take a bunch of young teenagers through. So stuff like that may explain us getting tired of kissing after only 4-6 hours! Ha, ha.
POSTSCRIPT: The real-life Rodney from this story grew up to eventually go to prison for murder. However, he did surprise me by not getting charged with murder lots sooner than he did. He managed to stay out of prison for whole decades after the days described here! And no: none of the bad guys like Rodney were present at the kissing party.
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