1959. Colorado.

So there we were in northern Colorado, in the fall of 1959. I’m told that we were greeted by ‘Welcome Lady’ Phyllis Mattingly and that I played with her son David in a ditch while she told Mom about our new home town. We looked for housing, visiting at least one house that I used to wish like mad we lived in (NW corner of Mountain & Shields), and settled on good old 512.

Our friends, the Brookses, were already in town, and they helped us get set up. It couldn’t have been too long after that that X-L-Art (Brooks’s company) employee Ron Kerr became Dad’s best friend. Ronnie made us a blue neon house number that we switched on with pride at night. Who wouldn’t be proud? 512!! A small house with three modest bedrooms, in the middle of town where it was easy to walk a handful of short blocks and be right at Al’s NewsStand. And many other places, I guess.

Hanging out a lot was a way of life. I felt fairly free about my right to go walking down the sidewalk and all the way around the block. I used to roam around and explore. I think I once walked right into the Straubs’s house when they weren’t there, gazed this way and that, and perhaps realized I shouldn’t be there, though that may be giving me too much credit at that point. I not only wasn’t unusually aware, I may even have been unusually unaware, or at any rate, not paying attention to the right thing.

We had at least one visit from Uncle Don & family in the early 1960s, and took their photo on the same front porch where we photographed ourselves. Dad and Uncle Don being hikers, we all went hiking. Better still, they hiked while we played Magic Police Boys (for some reason, not superheroes yet) in the obliging forest whose trees provided us with scenery and props, up to and including horses (horizontal trunks).

 

Smile!

Field work

I said if I got a more recent pic that was good, I’d share it here. She had a class assignment to photograph herself with the setting sun at four specific times of the year. Once the first one was finished, I asked her to smile for the relatives. See how nicely she smiles for you?

(Hover your cursor over the photo, and a larger version appears mysteriously. Ooo-OOO-ooo! Well, it does for me, anyway. Maybe you didn’t make the noise loud enough.)

A Very Good Place to Start

My earliest memory is undated, unlocated. I was in a bed, maybe my crib, looking at the room I was in. There was a door—a cabinet, or a closet—and I wondered what was behind it. I had some sense that the room door led to a corridor. That’s the whole thing.

Another early memory has a time and place, thanks to others in my family that I’ve told it to. We (no consciousness of who I was with) were walking along a gravel (I suppose) lane in a neighborhood. Someone said something about “along the beach,” or “Long Beach,” and I wonder where the beach is. We pass a house with a swingset in the yard, with a swing where the two seats face each other. I wanted to be on that swing, but didn’t try to go to it. Then we arrived at our destination, the back porch of a house (actually a cabin) where I see a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup, possibly near a hot plate. I’m informed that this was Aunt Linda’s cabin in Long Beach, California, and it was most likely 1959.

I would occasionally dream of California in later years, but for the most part I was putting in names and places my family had talked about. I doubt that these have much of value as valid memories. My dream of driving toward Disneyland may have some accuracy—we were going through groves of orange trees. If I didn’t get that from someone else, it’s a bit of a real memory.

Stories are told of our California days. They used to have me on a leash and harness so I wouldn’t dash out into the road. The harness still hung on a nail on the wall of the outside back porch of our house on Horsetooth Road (2221 Horsetooth Road, aka Rt 1 box 276N, aka Rt 5, box 276N, aka 2221 W. Cty Rd 38—they changed the street name after we were gone). We visited the Russian River in California, and were wading in it, and I went out too far and was caught in the swift current and floated off, laughing, while everybody panicked and ran along the bank, until they fished me out somehow. Should have had me on a harness.

Photos exist of our California days. We visited the San Diego Zoo (“Go San Diego?”) and the Griffith Observatory and Apple Valley (where the girls were so cute eating pie they got their picture in the LA Times, and Givhan’s name was printed as Gixhaix, a nickname that stuck) and Roy Rogers’s ranch/museum in Victorville or Silverado, whatever.

Dad's hat//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

There’s one of Dad and me, possibly in Colorado. It’s dated 1958, so it would most likely be in the hills of California, which sometimes can pass for the ones in Colorado.

In the Fall of 1959, we moved from California to Colorado. I was mostly oblivious to what was going on, but the Streamliner that Mom and I were on was memorable. While Dad was driving the girls cross country (Martha or Givhan had a nightmare once that they were driving through the desert and an arrow came out of nowhere and hit Dad in the head.), we were following the track, including the famed Georgetown Loop, through the Rockies. I was impressed by the green glass domes on the observation car, though all I remember doing up there was playing on the carpet for a few moments. Then Mom said we had to give someone else a chance to enjoy it (a real Momism) and I didn’t see it again. I was probably wasting my chance to look outside, playing on the thick carpet.

The really memorable thing about the train was the bathroom. A metal stool, integral with the tread-metal flooring, and the pedal on the floor made the bottom drop right out of it, and EVERYTHING JUST WENT OUT THE BOTTOM OF THE TRAIN AND ONTO THE TRACKS. How could I not be impressed by that? By the time I was in sixth grade, I had discounted the memory as a child’s fabulation, but I learned later that I had remembered it exactly right.

We arrived at Denver’s Grand Central Terminal and were met by Grandma Mimi and Aunt Mary. Walking out of the station, we passed a display of flip-flop blocks, flipping and flopping automatically on a motorized display. Of course, I wanted those too. I eventually got some at a thrift shop a few years later, which fell apart after a while. And for a time, I had a wallet that worked on the same principle. I think if you flexed it just right, all your bills fell right out, though I don’t think I really possessed any bills to test that theory.

If any other California memories pop up, I’ll add them.

family words and catch phrases

Stoopoo icky-ock-ock [a generalized term of distaste]

Gunk, gunk, grizzly bear! [somebody just wanted to say gunk]

Doddle [infantile term for milk: compare to ‘bottle’]

Yong-ee-tong egg yong [all purpose fake Asian]

Smud; also Smudbone; also Crudbone [Dad expressions, sometimes after yawning]

C’n I shum pie? [somebody wants pie]

Petey Petey George [still waiting for an explanation]

“C’mon, Baby Doll…” [Mom would give other drivers names, sometimes based on their license plates]

“…It’s not going to get any greener.” [when you’re second in line at the traffic light]

“What do you want me to do? BOW you across?” [Mom, to a too-slow pedestrian]

“You’ll take what you get and be happy with it!” [I’ll try this on my daughter some day, just for the novelty.]

“GO AHEAD. EAT EVERYTHING IN THE HOUSE!” [Backstory: I would ask Mom if I could have something to eat, like one of the expired Twinkies we bought at the bakery thrift shop. No answer. I’d ask again, and there would still be no sign that she heard. If I started to ask a third time, I’d get that response.]

Teeny Tiny Little Records

kid with record

At some point, we got a piece of junk mail with a little gimmick — to answer “yes” or “no” to whatever magazine subscription (or whatever) come-on it was, you were supposed to detach a little tiny plastic toy of a phonograph record and enclose it. Or something. One record said YES, and the other said NO. My parents, to whom it was addressed, looked at it for three or four seconds and threw it away.

I fixated upon it.

How old was I? Four? Five? Less than four? I was aware of the outside world and some things on television. Our TV worked sometimes, and sometimes I went and hung around at someone else’s TV. At any rate, internal evidence indicates I knew the characters in the Rocky and Bullwinkle universe, specifically Boris Badenov and the Moon Men, all of whom appeared in dreams that were at least somewhat memorable. I believe Cloyd and Gidney (the Moon Men) were in a dream first, where maybe I saw them in a grocery store or something. There was even a faint flavor of California in the dream, like it was from early on in the Colorado years, when I still dreamed of the old place some of the time.

At any rate, the more elaborate dream concerned Boris Badenov, and he had an elaborate and unwieldy contraption (My dreaming predilection for unconvincing visuals: could it be a legacy of these cartoons that I watched so much? Like the ‘squalid’ dreams seem to echo the poverty-stricken backdrops of Fleischer and Columbia cartoons they showed on TV when I was a kid.) that was capable of playing those little YES and NO records.

(Later, Kathryn or Martha asked me what the record played. I said I didn’t know, and they theorized that they were just the one word on the label, repeated over and over. No doubt this was correct.)

Playing the records was, of course, part of some scheme he had. I think he may have even explained it to me, or maybe he just bragged about his complicated device. (Was Natasha there? I like to think I would have remembered her.)

By my middle years in grade school, I knew that the record hadn’t been a real record. It wasn’t the only time I dreamed of a tiny phono record that could be played. One dream I had was apparently set in “The Time Way Back When Cracker Jack Prizes Were The Real Things.” Thus, even though the disk was the size of a dime, and not a perfect circle (see? unconvincing visuals!), it was understood that it really played something on some sort of player. This being a nostalgic era, the tune was some sentimental song, perhaps involving violets or lilacs.

At some point, Linder’s got in a display of a toy record player for kids that played real, actual little disks of music recorded by kids, judging from the few offerings I saw. I lusted after one of those, even with the rather idiosyncratic software you could buy for it. Needless to say, it was unaffordable, and the cheap things were soon gone from all stores, remaining behind only as unrequited product lust in my youthful soul.

Once, in third grade, I proudly brought my Spike Jones LP, Omnibust, to class, along with a portable record player slightly smaller than I was. I don’t remember asking permission or anything, just playing it to the amusement of my classmates, particularly the clownish ones who often harassed me. I don’t suppose I got a chance to play more than a track or so before getting on with the important work of third graders, but I think the incident may have given me a mental image of myself with a not-too-huge record player on which I could listen to whatever I wanted, whenever I chose. How many records should I be able to carry with it? Three? Six? No. NO! It should be a great big number, like a hundred. Yes! I should be able to have a hundred records to listen to. Maybe those weirdo little tiny ones like I never got to have.

In sixth grade, Tim Corley brought in his little tape recorder. It played reels that were only about an inch in diameter — noticeably smaller than the three-inch reels I’d seen. I wanted one of those, and was able to focus enough to save up and get a more reasonable piece of hardware on lay-away at Penney’s, which had three-inch reels and two entire speeds. I lugged it around, and as many tapes as I could shlep. After three years or so, I decided cassettes weren’t so bad after all and got a little Panasonic recorder at a department store in Kerrville when we were down there at Christmas.

After a while, I got a better Panasonic recorder. Then I got a Sony boom box (stereo!), and another Sony box later on. When the second Sony let me down, I got a much smaller Sanyo that remains my favorite such deck to this day (shortwave!). In 1984, I got a personal cassette player that was the first of a sustained series of such units, many of them free replacements under extended warranties, which really paid off with these quirky and temperamental little machines.

At the same time, I was carrying differing numbers of cassettes with me. When I carried them in a black plastic Amway case, there was room for 78 tapes. The case seemed like overkill when I started using a Walkman-type unit all the time, so I got smaller containers that were made of nylon fabric. Each one held a score or so of tapes.

It occurred to me one day that I finally had my teeny tiny record player, complete with little bitty records. Yes, they were a different shape and mechanism, but close enough! It felt like the realization of an inane childhood dream, and it would have been perfect if I could have just carried a few more titles in maybe less space.

So when it got to where you could record CDs full of mp3s and listen to them on a personal CD player, I had realized my dream even more than before. With just a single hardshell CD case and the player, I had more stuff than I could have carried on cassettes. Mission Even More Accomplished!

Now I have, literally, thousands of hours of audio on my mp3 player. I don’t think my grade-school self would have even ventured to guess at such a bounty of music. It really makes me want to go back in time and lord it over Edison. “Hey, Edison! Look at this! And listen to that great sound! Really makes your phonograph records seem shabby, huh?” Then after that, if I still had the time machine, I’d go show it to Johann Sebastian Bach.

Why Smudbone?

Dad reclines

Because Dad used to sometimes come into a room, clear his throat, stand straight, raise an index finger, and portentiously announce, “Smudbone.”

And now I’m a dad, so sometimes I just have to come in and say it. Smudbone.

ABOUT THE PHOTO
No photo is known to exist of Dad saying “smudbone.” Here he is resting his eyes on that exercise thing we used to have, with the foam pad on top of it. The marble top table is on Audience Left, below the window, which reveals a stage in the life of what are now towering trees. I might have that Muriel Cigar box. The chair it’s sitting on is in my garage, awaiting refinishing and new cushions. Shhh. He might be dreaming that he’s saying smudbone.

Elusive

steakhouse meal

Sarah has a standard reaction to the camera nowadays, though she will occasionally exert sheer force of will and not only stay put but assume a pleasant expression for the sake of faraway relatives who want to track the changes as she grows up or who’d like to see her in person but will settle for a photo today.

So, December 14, eating something with chopsticks — that would be a special meal in the steakhouse part of the Plum Garden. There was much smoke and flame in the air that day.

Anyway, here she is. This is the most recent photo I could find on file, though I know she’s allowed others to be taken this year. If I find anything good, up it goes. She’s wearing that hairband now, so that could almost be a picture from today.

Kip

Outside

two kids and a toy tractor

When I was four or five, I was hanging around quietly inside and Dad came into the room. The room where I was! And he started talking. To me! I was interested, of course, and as much as his words, I was interested in a small cellophane bag of red pistachio nuts that he was eating as he talked to me. He asked me if I was interested in something called Vacation Bible School. Thinking at the time that it had something to do with the pistachio nuts, I said sure, and he nodded and left, taking the bag with him, and leaving me with an outsized craving for the pistachios.

Vacation Bible School was held at the old First Christian Church downtown, where Dad was the organist. I know I attended at least one service, and was amused by a joke Reverend Charles Patchen told during his sermon:

A fellow was visiting an insane asylum, and his guide showed him a young man clutching a large doll. “This unfortunate fellow was in love with a girl he wanted to marry,” he explained. “But she left him for another man.” The visitor shook his head sadly, and they came to the next cell where a patient was trying over and over to hit his head on the padded walls. “What about this one?” asked the visitor. “This is the fellow that got her.”

(Another church joke I recall involved a saloon parrot being moved to a church, where he looked at the minister and said, “New bartender,” then at the choir, “new chorus girls,” and finally at the audience. “…But the same old crowd.” I eventually learned the joke it was cleaned up from, where the former abode had been a cathouse, but I digress.) I sometimes wonder whose idea it had been for Dad to ask me, a young heathen, to go in for games and indoctrination. His own? Really?

The VBS was held, it turns out, in one of the ground-floor classrooms. Actually, the room was a couple of steps below ground level. The teacher was a very happy woman, and she said we were going to play a game where one little boy or girl would go outside and the others would choose an item in the room, and then the little boy (I hoped it would be a boy. Me!) or girl (No, Me.) would come back in and try to guess it. I must have held my hand up really good, because she chose Me! to go outside first. The room door closed behind me, and I looked down the hall. Both ends led outside, but the back seemed more direct. I went down the hall and stood outside. Then I looked over and saw the windows. One of them was the class window. I went over to the class window and looked in, and everybody started laughing and smiling and pointing. At me! So I waved at them and I smiled too.

The teacher didn’t smile. She made herself heard through the glass and told me to come right back inside. I did, and what happened next was a bit indistinct to me. I gathered that she was upset, but I couldn’t see why. All I did was go outside, like she said. I’m pretty sure that the teacher never, at any point, realized that I hadn’t deliberately disobeyed her in order to be a hell-raising hooligan and a bad example.

Anyway, that was the end of Vacation Bible School for me. I was just too much of a rebel for them.

ABOUT THE PHOTO
Taken about a year before the story’s events, this seems to date from 1961 when Uncle Don and Aunt Nell drove through with Andy and Betsy. I must have been extraordinarily generous that day, to be able to watch calmly as another human being sits on my tractor, which had a chain-wheel drive and could really move on a good sidewalk, or even on ours. Not too long after that, we moved out of town, where the only pavement had a widely disregarded 45 MPH speed limit. (Once in a while, we’d have the diversion of another crash down at the corner where the road curved. Drinkers coming down from the Deerheart Inn were often able to keep it together right up to the time they literally hit that curve.) After a time of frustration, the tractor was given to the family next door, who had a cement deck and some sidewalks. During the time the Glass kids were wrecking it, I rode it more than I’d had a chance to since we moved out of town, pretty much commandeering it whenever I wanted, because of it being rightfully mine and all that. It was particularly fun when they had put in the cement floor for the garage. I could go in all directions, and the tractor was actually lighter once they’d busted the pretend engine off anyway.