origin


My father, also named Albert, was one of thirteen children. He was born in the north Texas town of Chicota, near Paris, an area which was dominated by his family and their kin. I know nothing about his early life, have no memory of him ever speaking about his childhood or schooldays. Nor did he often speak of his brothers and sister, although I think he felt especially close to his oldest brother, Dewey. He apparently left home at a fairly early age by joining the Army, a pattern I was to repeat. Judging by photos, he was quite a handsome young man. I am sure I must have heard the story of how he first met my mother, Martha Ruth, but I don't remember it. I think the meeting took place in San Antonio and I believe they were married after a fairly short engagement.

I learned from the Web, oddly enough, that they were married on 22 Sep 1939 in Lewisville, Arkansas. September 1939 to April 1940 does not equal nine months.

My mother was born illegitimately, probably in Arkansas but possibly on the Texas side of Texarkana. She was left in a basket on the steps of the Salvation Army where she was promptly adopted by one of the ladies who worked there, in fact her mother, my grandmother, who was inconveniently in between two of her seven marriages at the time of Martha's birth. The next husband was my mother's father and he also formally adopted her. However, neither of them would admit to being her real parents and this led to a series of often bizarre campaigns by her to independently discover who her "real parents" were. Both of them died without admitting it, even though late in her life I had written to my grandmother begging her to tell us who the real mother was and end the obsession which had so preoccupied my mother throughout my childhood. After her death, another member of the family confirmed our suspicion that my grandmother was in fact the real one. My mother was, however, raised by the next and final husband, Mr. Preston, the only grandfather I have any memory of.

They lived in a house in South San Antonio which was at that time still very much farmer territory, and they had built the house themselves using scrap lumber from the railway which formed one boundary of the small farm. Another boundary was the Laredo Highway and I am sure Mr. Preston would have built the house further from that road had he foreseen what a busy one it would become, even in his lifetime. The house and all the outbuildings were endlessly fascinating to me as a child. In the house itself was a wonderful glass-doored cabinet full of treasures from my Grandmother's rather exotic life, my favorite being the ruby glassware from the St. Louis Fair; many strange and wonderful photographs in oval frames with domed glass; and best of all, a wind-up Victrola which also had the ability to play the thick old Edison discs. I spent many hours listening to the enormous collection they had acquired and it remained throughout my grandmother's lifetime my chief joy in visiting her. It was undoubtedly a major reason why I later was the only member of the family who had any interest in symphonic music and the opera. Growing up with Toscanini and Caruso must have had that effect on many people because of their grandparents' collections of those wonderful black discs.

My mother was only 17 when I was born. My father was stationed at the now extinct Normoyle Army Base and they lived in a duplex on Division Avenue (could be seen as an apt omen of a schizoid life). I was born on the kitchen table at 2:45 in the afternoon of April 12th, 1940. A doctor was in attendance but in those days, hospitals were still not regarded as necessary for a simple act of nature like delivering a child. As the story goes, my father almost immediately took me out into the back yard to show me the world, and I was the focus of the first of many intense squabbles between my grandmother and parents when she was caught giving me raw goat's milk, something she probably sensibly considered excellent for my health. Very soon after my birth, my father left to attend the Officers' Training School in Virginia. My mother was supposed to remain in Texas but instead loaded me and our belongings into a car and drove to Virginia to be with him, a heroic expedition for a young woman in a 1938 Ford, and one she never ceased to be proud of. There was a photograph of him holding me in front of the Lincoln Memorial, a dark patch down the side of his trousers suggesting that diapers in those days were not very leakproof.

I believe we lived somewhere else before returning to San Antonio when my father received orders to join the campaign in Burma. He had time to acquire a small white wooden house in a more suburban area of the city and there my mother and I lived alone for the remainder of the Second World War. My mother was a beautiful young woman, far too young to be stuck alone with a small baby and a husband who might never return. I know she tried to persuade my father to let her get some kind of job, leaving me in my grandmother's care (where I think I often was in any case), but he was adamantly opposed to the idea. I am told she did eventually get a job as a cashier at one of my favorite places, the old Playland amusement park, but my grandmother wrote to my father to tell him about it, which ended my mother's only attempt to earn a salary.

I have few direct memories of those years. The Majestic and Aztec theatres, Playland, the zoo and the nearby Sunken Gardens; the school across the street from our house; my mother breaking the heel of her shoe on the steps of the balcony at the Majestic; her drawstring panties (in those days of elastic shortage) falling down while we were waiting in line for Victor Mature's autograph; the year it snowed for Christmas.

I remember the squabbles we had over my friend Leroy, especially when visting my grandmother's house when Leroy's presence would give me the courage to disobey standing orders like not going into the goat shed. The goat was a kindly creature and one of my best friends, but my mother disliked me "smelling like a goat" after our visits and banned them. After one such transgression, she was so irate that Leroy called her a bitch and we had our first fight when I foolishly thought it necessary to defend her honor and thus got twice punished for misbehavior.

I don't remember what methods of discipline she used and have no memory of being hit until my father returned from the war, decided I had been getting away with far too much, and so unendeared himself to me that I told him he should go back to China. His favorite weapon was his belt and he didn't hesitate to use it. Once he returned, my mother rarely took any direct disciplinary action but would report transgressions to my father when he returned home, an arrangement he probably liked no better than I. In one memorable exception to that procedure, I so annoyed my mother that she kicked me, injured her ankle and had to use crutches for several weeks, much to my delight. I was a stubborn child who hated obeying any order which seemed stupid to me and thus I gave my father frequent excuses to remove his belt. The one occasion which remains strongest in memory was over a disagreement as to what I should wear to school one day. It was one of the few times my father went overboard and in these modern times any child who went to school and showed the authorities the physical evidence of a beating like that would have no trouble at all getting the parent busted.

My father and I understood each other better than did my mother and I, but I had no great affection for him. He was an Army officer, on and off duty, and no commanding officer I knew during my own time in the Army was as demanding or severe. Yet there was another side to the man, remembered most by me as the evenings when I would sit in the bathroom with him while he soaked in a tub and I read my homework to him. As puberty approached I often found myself flustered and confused by my feelings, sitting with a naked man, even if he was my father, but I also enjoyed and looked forward to that time each evening. About his motives, I can only speculate. One of the most intimate moments we shared was on an afternoon when we were alone in the house together, I had taken a shower and in the process acquired an erection which I showed him and asked him to explain it to me. I knew all about it, had read several books on the subject and even had direct shared experience with a friend, but I wanted to show it to him. I think he enjoyed it, even if he did bypass much direct discussion by giving me a book he had long hidden away (and I had long since read).

There was much greater reserve on my mother's part. I only saw her naked once, when I wandered into her bedroom without knocking and was soundly scolded. The scolding was irrelevant, the traumatic experience of seeing my first naked woman was sufficient punishment, and returned to haunt me many years later during my first experience with LSD. On the reverse, however, I think both she and my grandmother got perhaps more than maternal pleasure after summer evenings when my crotch was invaded by those damnable chiggers which make life unpleasant for anyone foolish enough to sit on the grass, and the two ladies would undertake the effort of searching for and eliminating the pests, inevitably with the result of getting me aroused. Those sessions only occurred while my father was yet again off to war and after his return, my mother never again saw me naked.

I think our family life might have been healthier had we been active participants in a nudist colony.

When my father returned from the Second World War, he was sent to Tooele, Utah where we lived in a large two story house in a semi-circle of the elite, the ranking officers on the base. We stayed there almost five years, the longest time in my childhood when we lived in the same place and my father was with us, and my long-held status as only child was ended with the birth of my sister.

Janet and I have very different memories of our childhood together. Until I discovered just how different, I always thought we got along fairly well (while admitting that I had often been guilty of terrorizing her). We had moved to Belton, Texas, and were forced to share a bedroom for the first (and last) time. During afternoon nap time, if I felt the need to take a piss, I would do it in her bed, and she got the blame for wetting the bed. I suppose that is enough to create a lifelong animosity. Before moving back to Texas, she had fallen on a floor heater grill (a stupid device to have in a house with children) and had suffered severe burns. Although I am convinced I had nothing to do with it, I believe she has always thought I pushed her. But we had many wonderful games we invented and played together and I still think that despite my devilish antics at times, we did enjoy each other's company as children.

Leaving Utah and my friends there after five years was the first time I resented my father's choice of occupation although I was not entirely displeased to return to Texas and, shortly thereafter, be told my father was yet again off to war, this time to Korea. My mother, sister and I were left in Temple, Texas in a pleasant neighborhood which bordered on farmland. My mother was a different woman when my father was away. She became good friends with a young unmarried woman who lived in the next house. Together they were somewhat like college girls at a nonstop party. Beer, rock 'n roll (although it was still called "race music" then and we had to go to a shop in the black part of town to buy it), and cruising around town flirting with the soldiers were the main ingredients of the Korean War as I knew it. I doubt that my mother ever went so far as to bed any of the young men she and her friend flirted with, but they were sometimes asked home for beer and dancing, enough to give her something of a bad reputation in the community and sufficient reason for my grandmother to write to my father about it.

By then my grandmother's "dying" had become a long-established habit and we were as accustomed to jumping in the car and going off to be with her in her final moments as we were to seeing the latest film every Saturday night. This decades-long melodrama had begun while we were still in Utah and the journies to San Antonio and back again were much grander epics than the relatively short drive from Temple. On one such Utah-Texas journey we encountered an unusually early snowstorm in the Rockies and our car attempted to negotiate Rabbit Ear Pass by rolling down the mountainside in three grand flips. No one suffered any major injuries, except for the car, but it did leave me with no fondness for my grandmother's frequent dying. Nevertheless, numerous quickly-planned journies were made while my father was in Korea and the frequent absences didn't help my attendance record at school even if my scholastic standing did not much suffer from them.

My reputation at school was, however, definitely influenced by my mother's lifestyle at the time. My fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Pike, paid an unannounced visit to our house. "Annie Had a Baby" was blaring on the phonograph, my mother answered the door with a Lone Star beer in her hand, and I was thereafter viewed as a promising student who had overcome his unfortunate home environment. I cannot deny having taken slight advantage of that from time to time. The reason for Mrs. Pike's visit was to discuss the first time I had gotten into a physical fight at school. My mother knew of it only because my trousers had been slightly torn in the process and I had told the truth about it rather than inventing a fall or something more sensible. My mother was furious about the torn trousers, as I knew she would be. Mrs. Pike had caught me crying some time after the fight and knew it was because of the trousers. She had been proud of me for tackling a notorious bully and besting him, so went to plead my case with my mother. My mother was so embarrassed over the music, beer and whatever she was wearing that the entire incident turned out much in my favor.

My father's return from the war was no more welcome than it had been the first time and I think my mother felt somewhat the same way since her lifelong habit of threatening divorce whenever things didn't go her way became an even more frequent habit. For a time I actually thought it was going to happen and it might have had our lives not undergone a major shift when my father was transferred to Darmstadt, Germany. He went there ahead of us, so it was just my mother, sister and I who took a train to New York City and boarded an ocean liner for the journey across the Atlantic. My unhappiness over leaving my school and friends was that time greatly tempered by the excitement of seeing New York for the first time and the adventure of the ocean journey.

Although we lived in a large apartment house in Darmstadt, I had to travel to Frankfurt every day for school, the first and last time in my life I had to endure such a long commute. It had the advantage of giving me more time away from home and since my best friend, Terry Kent Ford, was on the same bus each day, I was always unhappy to arrive at the destination, especially on the afternoon ride home. Terry's father was an enlisted man, the first time I had made friends with a non-officer's family, and this was cause for some disapproval at home, and my mother especially seemed ever vigilant for some reason to complain about the friendship. Terry and I usually traded shoes and Levis on the way to school; one day we forgot to change back before going home, my mother had hysterics and my father brought out the belt. It was typical of the kind of incident they would waste much energy on, while far more serious things were happening which they ignored. Hysterics and the belt became quite common, and I began to understand that I really did not like either of my parents.

This was a feeling that increased as the years passed. We returned to Texas after two years in Germany, spent a brief time in Oklahoma, and then my father retired and we moved to Southern California where they remained for the rest of my father's life, first in a house near Norwalk and then, after my sister left home, in a spacious mobile home firmly planted in an adults-only trailer park. After an especially stormy period shortly after my 16th birthday, I joined the Army. They visited me once during basic training and then I did not see them again until my three years of military life were completed. My visit at that time was a brief one and they continued to deal with me as if I had been away for a long weekend, my mother having hysterics when I spent time with a friend she didn't approve of, my father at least stopping short from trying the belt.

I did not visit again for many years, but yielded and went there for Christmas in 1971. My sister and her new husband were there, and it was the last time I have seen her although I know they are living in Louisville and he is in the Geography department of the university there. It cannot be a Christmas any of us remember with great fondness. On my final visit, again at Christmas, in 1981, my sister declined to join us. My father's health was failing and he was in the process of immersing himself in religion and the Bible; my mother remained little changed.

There was very little exchange of correspondence after that. In 1987, as I was about to set out on my second journey to the East, I received a small memorial card. It was for my father's funeral which had been held two weeks earlier. What became of my mother after that, I don't know, although once again I learned from this thing we call the Internet that she is still alive.


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