Monday, June 03, 2013

Random childhood memories

In fourth grade, pupils are in line between classes. I have a pocket dictionary and announce in a too-loud voice to a classmate, "See, 'bitch' isn't swearing. It means a female dog." An angry teacher confiscates my dictionary, and I never see it again.

Mickey Mantle
Dad takes me to a July 4 doubleheader at Fenway Park, Yankees vs. Red Sox. I love the Sox because they're the home team, but I worship the Yankees because they win so often. Mantle hits a single, and in the blink of an eye he's on first base. Later he belts one far, far over the left-field wall, up around the lights. I have never seen anything like it. The teams split the doubleheader. My Red Sox heroes are Ted Williams, of course, and lesser gods like Harry Agganis and Jimmy Piersall. Agganis is a local kid from Lynn who graduates from college in 1953, joins the Sox in 1954, and dies of pneumonia in 1955, an awful loss. Piersall is a flashy right fielder who suffers from mental illness. There's a movie about him, Fear Strikes Out. I listen to Curt Gowdy announcing a lot of games on the radio.

In fifth grade, our teacher warns the class that there's a strange man in the area who is asking children to go for a walk with him. Warning: Do not go with him. Shortly after, that man approaches me, and I run away in terror.

Our first car is an emerald green 1953 Chevy, complete with an AM radio. We take it on a three-week trip to Texas to see Mom's relatives, and we make a side trip to Monterey in Mexico. We make lots of stops at watermelon stands on rural roads, and I become thoroughly sick of watermelon. We decide to stop for lunch at a family restaurant in the South, but Dad sees a sign in the window saying they don't serve blacks, and he says we aren't going to eat at that kind of place. There are no interstate highways. We enjoy seeing the Burma Shave signs along the country roads, one sign for each line:


We see lots of them, because Dad drives relentlessly, 500 miles per day at 55 miles per hour or slower. My brothers and I come to look on family road trips as ordeals. In cities, he routinely runs red lights if he thinks it's safe. We kids keep count and treat it as a joke. Oh, and he's a spitter. Spits out the car window when he's driving. One day I'm in the seat behind him with my window open. I complain that he's just spit in my face. Close your window, he says.

We get our first TV when I'm 12 or 13. It's a used console, and Dad examines it in the store. The thing is huge. Dad finds a dead mouse in the case behind the picture tube, but we bring it home anyway. Probably all he and Mom can afford. We watch lots of Jack Benny, The $64,000 Question, Playhouse 90, and the Friday Night Fights. No station broadcasts 24/7, so we also see plenty of test patterns.

Audie Murphy
Movies at Loew's Theater in Beverly are as little 16 cents for matinees, usually including cartoons and a pair of movies. In the evening, a newsreel replaces the cartoons. We're Catholics, so we pay attention to the Legion of Decency ratings. The bad movies are labeled "Morally objectionable in part for all," or at the worst, "Condemned." I'm too young to understand the immoral stuff anyway. My favorites are the Disney and war movies. World War II hero Audie Murphy stars himself in To Hell and Back and thrills me to no end.

Dad has an unpredictable temper, often arguing with neighbors or our family. Sometimes the police show up. At his best, he reads to the family on Friday evenings from Reader's Digest Condensed Books. I love that, especially when he reads The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant. But his anger can flare with no notice, and he can get physical with all of us. There are times when he threatens to kill us all, but in time I learn that he's just letting off steam. He doesn't like other people swearing, but in his rages he tells Mom and us boys that we can all "go take a flying fuck at the moon." I only understand the moon part, and I can't picture it but I know it's vile. The most memorable physical hurt I remember is a Christmas morning when I quarrel with my older brother and Dad breaks it up by hitting me in the face with his leather belt. Mainly, his weapons are words.

And you know what? I still love him, at least when I'm not busy hating him. Life frustrates him, and when his moods sour I just try to stay out of his way. The storms usually pass quickly. Mom, though, never forgets. Decades after his death, she still complains about him.

Mom buys me comic books at ten cents each: Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse, whenever a new one comes out. After a few months when we've all read them, Mom bundles them up and mails them to Dad's relatives in British Honduras. In the Sunday paper, I love to read Pogo and Dick Tracy, with his cool two-way wrist radio. Pogo the possum gives me an early taste of political satire, though I'm too young to recognize it. Pogo's artist Walt Kelley is taking potshots at government officials like Senator Joe McCarthy. Dad thinks McCarthy is a little extreme, but at least he hates those commies.


Mark Means said...

Great slice of 'Americana' there and loved reading it.

Thanks for sharing your childhood memories and a 'simpler' time.

Julie @ Anglers Rest said...

Very good, I enjoyed it.

Morgan Mandel said...

Great blog, Bob! Brought up some of my old memories as well. Such as when color sets were invented. They told us Howdy Doody would be in color the next week, so I was surprised when it wasn't. Being a kid, I didn't realize we couldn't get color on a black and white set.

Morgan Mandel

Cairn Rodrigues said...

The Burma Shave signs were largely gone by the time I came around. But every once in a while on some out of the way spot on a lonely road, there would be a tattered remnant. My mom would always start reciting all the ones she remembered and I wished I could have seen them myself.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Your mother hasn't forgotten.

The Yankees are still winning. That hasn't changed.

Mary Montague Sikes said...

Bob, thanks for sharing your memories. Amazing how things have changed in many of our lifetimes. Children now cannot imagine a time without television--countless channels 24/7!

Mary Montague Sikes

Bob Sanchez said...

Simpler times, Mark, but not better times in my opinion. I wouldn't go back to those days. Julie, I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

Morgan, I watched Howdy Doody on friends' TV before we had one. I remember there was a bit of a scandal with the host, Buffalo Bob. At the end of one live show, he was heard saying on air, "Well, that's enough for the little bastards for one day." I also didn't understand why you couldn't get color on a TV more easily than b&w, but a smarter kid explained it to me.

Cairn, there's still a Burma Shave website, but they may just sell memorabilia, not the shaving cream. They list all the old jingles.

Diane, I remember when the Yankees won I think five World Series in a row. One year they had like a 10-game losing streak and were still in first place.

Mary, I can recall the test patterns coming on right after Hopalong Cassidy and then the five-o'clock news. That was in the early '50s.

Betsy Ashton said...

Okay, I remember almost everything you write about, although I loved -- and still do -- the Dodgers. Mom took me to my first game in the LA Coliseum the year they arrived in LA. No Dad in the picture, so Mom was Dad, too. Our first TV arrived when I was seven and in the third grade. Most of all, I loved my mother and grandmother reading aloud to me. Wonderful memory.

Bob Sanchez said...

Betsy, did you follow the Dodgers when they were Da Bums in Brooklyn? I remember watching them in the World Series by walking downtown to the TV store. I can't remember the year.

When the Indians did so well, there was talk that the groundskeepers groomed the infield to favor Indian hitters when they bunted. Sounds implausible now; maybe my old brain is playing tricks on me again.

Maryann Miller said...

Nice post. There were many of your moments that resonated with me, too. Road trips with my father were always an adventure. I remember once getting stopped because my father was speeding. We were all singing "Splish, Splash, I was taking a bath..." at the top of our lungs and Daddy was keeping time by pushing on the accelerator. Trying to explain all that to the State Trooper was interesting. LOL

Karna Converse said...

Hi Bob. What a great blog post about a few random memories. A great example of how to write succinctly, without hitting readers over the head with the date and setting details. Your family will appreciate this post for sure.

Heidiwriter said...

Loved reading this. We didn't have TV till I was 12 either. That's why I learned to love reading. I remember the test patterns too, an we only got 2 channels. One was so snowy we could barely make out shapes, but we could hear what was going on. We watched Gunsmoke and Lawrence Welk. Good post!

Bob Sanchez said...

Keeping time with the accelerator? Yikes, Maryann. Your Dad lived on the edge.

Karna, thanks. My Mom has long since passed on, but she'd have had a lot to say about this post. Probably not "Attaboy" either.

Gunsmoke, Heidi! I forgot that. That was a family favorite along with Have Gun, Will Travel.