I can’t remember much about where I lived…other than the 14-foot trailer in which I recovered from a badly broken leg when I was five…until our house in Loves Park, a small suburb of Rockford, Illinois. We lived on Loves Court, a one-block long street off North 2nd Street, the town’s main road. The house was actually a converted garage at the rear of a larger house owned by the Straits, who had three daughters, Pat, Bub, and Sally, then just a toddler. I really was a strange child because I remember deliberately making Sally cry so that I could comfort her and make her stop. (The photo above is of the “gang”—I’m third from the right.)
I can’t actually remember much about the physical layout of the house, other than it had to have been tiny—though huge in comparison with a 14 foot trailer.
I remember the people, though: the Straits and, down at the far end of the block, which abutted the school I first attended, Loves Park Elementary—lived the Wrennas, who were Jehovah’s Witnesses and therefore viewed as some odd type of outsiders. The Wrennas had one son, David, about my age. More on him in a moment. And then, across the street from us, were the Yorks, who had two daughters a couple of years older than I (to my left in the photo), and a son, Sonny (2nd from the left) about a year my junior.
On the street behind us, the one on which the school was located, lived Mr. Bement. He was very nice and, to my child’s eyes, incredibly, incredibly old. He was, in fact, about 90 at the time and had therefore been born before the Civil War (of which I of course knew nothing).
We were living on Loves Court when WWII broke out, and the entire nation was plunged into uncertainty and fear hard for people today, used to constant war, to understand. I had just turned 8 less than a month before, and was in second grade. Wars were something totally beyond the ken of an 8 year old, though I do remember the outburst of patriotism on all levels. At the school, we held paper drives, and scrap metal drives, and collected cans of used lard and bacon grease somehow needed in the production of weapons to fight the war. I had somewhere acquired a fleece-lined ‘bomber jacket’ and felt very grown up and important.
Ration books, containing stamps to be used to obtain a limited number/amount of food and goods necessary for the war…from gasoline to butter, sugar, and meat…were issued in 1942, but those were grown-up concerns of which I was largely unaware.
I can’t really imagine what life had to be like for the Wrennas, but I knew poor David was harassed terribly at school because, as a Jehovah’s Witness, he could not pledge allegiance to the flag, and every morning, when class started with the pledge, David had to go out into the hall. I felt very sorry for him.
About once a week during the summer, when the weather permitted, some organization or other showed old movies in a nearby vacant lot, projected on a suspended bed sheet. It was the highlight of the week.
It was in another vacant lot, overgrown and with an overturned wooden outhouse, that I had my exposure to the female anatomy. One day, after school, a girl in my class and I wandered over to the lot and somehow got involved in a game of “you show me yours, I’ll show you mine.” I must admit, I was so utterly horrified it seared a revulsion of female genitalia into my psyche. I had already experimented with checking out another male classmate, and it reaffirmed my decision of to whom I would be attracted for the rest of my life.
I remember we had only one African American (in those days, before today's strictly PC world, they were known as negroes and not yet “blacks” or “African Americans”) in my class. One day his mother, a very heavy-set woman, got angry with him and he ran into his bedroom and hid under the bed. While trying to get to him out from under the bed, she had a heart attack and died. This was, I think, my first real exposure to the concept of death. And thus began my awareness that the world was not always good, and that there were things I could not be protected from.
We moved from Loves Park the next year, but the memories have never left me, after almost three-quarters of a century. The times change, the places change, but I am still me.
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).