The town was in a valley of the Brandywine Creek. In the 1940's there were wooded hills or farm land surrounding it. There were none of the malls, rows of fast food and chain restaurants or housing developments that stretch from small town to small town today. In the 'fifties they would build a farmer's market to the east of town, but that wasn't there yet in 1947.
His little block was quiet and had a splattering of kids his age, those born just the other side of the "Baby Boomers". Apparently he was a gregarious child or so his mom has claimed. He spent plenty of outdoor time with several friends and tended toward speaking out in public. One time at the shoemaker's shop (that seems such a quaint thing now) there was a man with some sort of skin discoloration, perhaps a large birthmark or a burn scar. The Kid blurted out, loudly, something like, "look at that man", embarrassing his mother and grandmother. (He sometimes wonders if his extensive psoriasis was some curse for this youthful rudeness.)
But sometime in that period his father mustered out after serving during World War II. Before he had joined the Navy, his job had been as a stoker in a steel mill. Now he wanted something different and heard from a friend they were hiring at a trucking company out along the Lincoln Highway. His friend told him, "don't tell 'em you know mechanics or you'll never get out of the garage." His own dad had driven a delivery truck for the family store, so his father applied as a truck driver and got the job. It paid $100 a month plus the house.
Ah, yes, the house, there is the rub. It meant d a place of their own, his dad, mom and he. It also meant they had to move out of the small town several miles east, out past the busy little crossroads called Exton to a place called "Glenloch".
Glenloch had once been the 684 acre estate of a man named William E. Lockwood. His mansion, which still stands, a sort of spooky ghost from the past, out along Route 30, a dark and brooding stone edifice to opulence and gothic charm. It had been build in 1865-68 and was designed by a renowned Philadelphia architect named Addison Hutton. He was the man known not only for his prominent homes, but also for several libraries, hospitals, courthouses and schools. He designed the Ridgway Library, Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr Colleges and Lehigh University.
This mattered little to a six year old being torn from his little town home over Christmas vacation to the desolate remains of a long forgotten estate. No, they weren't moving into that famous mansion, now known as Glen Aerie. They were going a bit further east to a house in the middle of nothing in particular. It was surrounded on one side by a marsh, very brown and half-froze in the winter they arrived and festooned with cat o'nine tails and red-winged blackbirds in the summers. It sat well back from the highway, down a long double lane little more than some hardscrabble and gravel tracks. To the west stretched a barren cow pasture and beyond, running up a hill, the broken wasted stalks of cornfields.
The house, itself, was large inside, or in the perspective of this child it was. There was an eat-in kitchen, a dining room, a living room downstairs; four bedrooms upstairs. It had these very wide windowsills. The Kid use to lay on these sills, curled like a cat, peering out on the emptiness.
The exterior was a mess. The house was cinder block that someone had begun to stucco over and quit halfway. The scaffolding still stood along one side of the building, the piping rusting, the boards warping and the structure would sing and sign in the winds.
During the week, it was just his mom and he. The trucking job his father took was driving milk tankers long distance. He was to be a long distance trucker most all his life. He was seldom home. He was a weekend husband, and not too much of that time was given to being a father. In fact, the usual routine was to deliver The Kid to the grandparents on Friday evening and take him home after Sunday dinner at their place.
He'd usually see Billy and Iva when in town on those weekends, but most of his time was spent alone. He strode down the long lane to catch the school bus and went to West Whiteland School, of which he remembers nothing, not the teachers, not his classmates. It is a blank in his mind he can't explain. There were no kids his age who lived near him year long. His mom and he dwell in isolation during the week because she didn't drive in those days. He had to learn to be comfortable with just himself for company.
When your days are spend scooping tadpoles and snakes from a swamp or following crayfish up a winding stream, when you wander in the woods alone, sled down wagon rows alone, or invent games in your playroom along, you lose your gregariousness. A hermit becomes introspective and withdrawn. You don't develop social skills in an human-less landscape of bullfrogs and skunk cabbages. Notice there is no one else in these photos but The Kid.
There was a period when there was someone his own age, a brief span within each year when he would play with others like a normal child, but even this was to have its tragic conclusion.