Recollections of a Small Town
I choose to blame the genes for a lack of interest in “fitting in”
to many activities considered normal by most social constructs. When I
got around to noticing such things, I did not disapprove of them; the activities
just didn’t seem too interesting. Several categories are easily recalled,
but without any particular damage to my psyche.
Life on a farm was often pleasant; the labor involved was not. Surely
there was much to learn simply by observing mules, hogs, chickens and cows–even
cats chewing on barn rats (good cat) and robins (bad cat). It was also
instructive in matters of biological function; no farm boy could remain
ignorant about results of certain sexual interactions and note there were
signs and seasons of heightened intensity. Using the knowledge was another
Still, there were practical lessons such as frog-gigging, tractor
repair and avoiding snakes with blunt-nosed heads. One leap from a barn
loft onto a hay wagon only to miscalculate taught some basic physics about
kinetic energy, apparent motion or tracking the target–also known as Kentucky
Let’s move to sports lessons, hardly more useful in my view. In the
practice of con-testing over a bag of wind or a hand sized ball covered
with animal skin, my skills were few and my interest even less. In baseball
it was the judgment that I could not hit a bull in the butt with a bass
fiddle. I prefer to believe there was not a pitcher on any team who could
hit my bat held right in front of his eyes.
My eldest brother was in love with baseball, but had to earn an honest
living and limit his activities to a couple of hours after selling stoves
and radios. If there was any sort of organized league, dinner had to wait
while he scuffled in the dust with other aging might-have-beens.
Of two others, the older was all for fitness and strength. A puny
baby with brittle bones, he began to eat heartily and exercise religiously;
lifting weights, sparring with gym bags, skipping rope–that sort of thing.
On a dare, he once backed up to a Farmall tractor and lifted one huge wheel
off the ground. And he didn’t mind driving the damn tractor ten hours a
day all summer. In football the coach saved him for special plays to neutralize
a guy who was troubling the quarterback; a broken collar bone was usually
Oddly enough, his first salaried job was labeling maps with those
names one needs a magnifier to read. Then he went to war for awhile and
retired as chief of police of our city. There was little crime in that
sweeter age, but he was good at dealing with rowdies and noisy drunks;
good smoke eater too, sometimes containing a fire before the engine arrived.
The next brother was more useful to the school on the basketball
court than in a classroom. On the boards he was a specialist in causing
accidental contacts which sidelined an opponent with loose teeth and copious
bloodletting. He was the despair of teachers; though well read, his homework
might take five minutes of searching pockets for a wadded up scrap of paper
to hand in. Academe held no fascination for him.
Another was a mathematics prodigy plus student of Latin for four
years and self-taught pianist. Studied law and voice while working as a
federal civil servant, but stayed in that post until retirement. A detail
man if ever there was one.
Not to slight accomplishments of the feminine side, two sisters played
basketball, were football cheerleaders, Beta Club (of course) and maintained
straight A grades like all the other family members–until I smudged the
family’s lofty reputation as scholars and plays-well-with-others expectations.
Two were teachers in parochial schools without benefit of a
degree or certification. Another became an all-round chef in posh vacation
hotels from Vermont to a Caribbean island so remote that a pontoon airplane
had to set down in the bay, then transfer to a motor launch to go shore.
My high school principal lectured me at length about slacking, and
more than once. He was particularly concerned when he happened to be standing
at the top of the many steps on the west entrance of the building. On that
occasion I was simply trying to determine how many steps my school bus
could mount before the rear bumper scraped on the parking lot.
He viewed my claim to a physics experiment with skepticism--scorn
actually. I don’t recall my sentence for this crime. Ha ha, Mr. Mac.
There is no redemption for the child whose better genes were overwhelmed
by a raft of recessive little non-strivers, but there’s my defense and
you may be as skeptical as my high school principal with his impeccable
credentials as a WWI wounded, decorated for valor and a battlefield commission
to captain. The fact that he was a closet gay did nothing to sully his
patriotism, valor or lifelong dedication to teaching–including putting
several poor kids through college. He is remembered and revered, rightfully.
Me? By being in the right place at the right time, I was the first
of the tribe to earn a bona fide university degree. ‘Taint much, but that’s
the way the gene balls fall.
Aug 25, 2004
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