Some may ask why hold up such a besmirched picture of myself to the world? For one I promised I would be honest about me. We can go through life putting makeup over our blemishes and scars, of course, and many do. I chose not to do that.
This is also a form of confession. Confession is good for the soul because we must recognize the need for it and then confess our faults and sins to God or we can’t find forgiveness and salvation. (See Psalm 32.) I believe if we truly seek forgiveness and salvation we need to confess to everyone.
Some things seem so securely secret that no one would ever know, so why tell them? Perhaps my feeling and my thoughts are deep secrets that would remain such if I said nothing, but truth will out because frankly, somebody knows most of what I write. For instance the striping naked when my friends played war. Is that so secret? It isn’t since 2004 when Stuart put it out there in his memoir.
My most embarrassing public act was noted in a December 13, 1963 letter from my best friend, Ronald Tipton. He was passing on information he learned from his father, who learned it from the man who also told the police. Who knows whom else the man or Ronald’s father may have told. It may be mostly forgotten today, but it is hardly secret. Why pretend I was perfect in any way? Why not get it out there? One thing about confession is you no longer have to be concerned someone learning of it will use it against you, because you’ve already held it up to the light of day.
Finally, telling your past, good, bad or indifferent, shows people how you’ve changed. How can people know you’re a new and improved model if they don’t know how badly the old product was flawed? I was 34 years old when I turned to Christ. I was a lost sinner in need of salvation before then, so I must have required saving from something.
I’ll tell you, I thought I was a loser by the time I was 12, but I also thought I was a really good person. Hopefully, this autobiography shows how wrong I was about both.
We return you to our sordid story.
It was nearing the end of summer 1953 before the beginning of Seventh Grade. The weather was very warm. Temperatures had peaked in July at 101 degrees. I wore short sleeves. I hadn’t worn short pants since I was 5 years old. I decided shorts were for little kids and stuborningly refused to wear them. I didn’t begin wearing shorts in hot weather again, except for swimwear, until I was fifty. On the right is my typical boyhood outfit during the summer, short sleeve button-down the front shirt, blue jeans held up by a wide belt, socks and sneakers (Usually Keds). I had switched by the spring of
(The boy balancing atop the barrel was an acqaintance named Dallot Norris, who weaved in and out of my clique. The photo was taken in Downingtown’s Kerr Park.)
On this particular 1953 summer’s day I went to Stuart Meisel’s and he wasn’t home.
I hiked back into the woods behind his yard. (Picture: Behind Stuart’s) There was a little field of high grass just past the Slave House. A narrow path went through it and into the trees. The path followed the edge of the Millrace. Once you entered the woods you couldn’t see much of anything to the East. You could see the lake on the other side of the millrace and the back of the Bicking Paper Mill beyond it. The path would lead you to Pennsylvania Avenue coming out across from what is now called the Lion’s Trail. Lion’s Trail goes through Kardon Park and joins the Struble Trail.
This is where Stuart, Teddy Miller, Bill Brookover, other friends and I would sometimes play Cowboys or War using the large indentation we called Devil’s Nest as a bunker or fort. I now began to play one of those games by myself, running down one side of the big hole and up the embankment on the other side.
It was hot and I was doing a lot of running back and forth. There was no one there but me, so I took off my shirt. The breeze felt very nice against my bare skin. It occurred to me since I was completely alone and out of sight of anything within those woods that I could take off everything and no one would know. So I did. I striped naked and ran about the “Devil’s Nest” for a few minutes.
I was nervous someone might come. I didn’t stray too far from my little pile of discarded clothes, but no one came. After several minutes I dressed and went home.
I went back the next day. Stuart wasn’t home again. I went back to “Devil’s Nest” and this time I undressed right away. I pretended I was like Tarzan, some person raised by wild animals instead of people, wolves. I was a Wolf-Boy. This time I stayed longer and went a little further away from my pile of clothes. I felt free. I felt cool, especially out of those heavy jeans. I also felt the strange tingle inside I was beginning to experience around girls. I though it was just nervousness, but at the same time a fear in the back of my head said I could be caught.
Having anyone see me doing this was not something I wanted. It was not that I felt what I was doing was wrong in anyway. It was I didn’t want anyone looking at my bony body and once in junior high I would dislike removing my shirt in Gym or taking group showers for the same reason. Sure, I didn’t want anybody to see me nude in these woods, yet at the same time the breeze felt so cooling and the strange tingling sensation was pleasant.
After a while, I thought I heard something and hurriedly dressed. There was no one. It might have been a squirrel or a bird I heard or just a nut falling from a tree. It didn’t matter what I heard, I got out of there.
Yet I kept coming back to that place. I went there without stopping at Stuart’s to see if he was home. I found it exhilerating. I was doing something in secret that no one knew about, something daring. I got the tingle each time and I got ever more daring. Before I would remain hidden down in that hole, because I knew if someone came down the path they wouldn’t be able to see me below the embankments. If I would hear anyone coming I’d have time to dress. Now I was venturing out of the hole into the woods above it. This seemed to increase the tingling.
There was still no way I wanted anyone to see me.
After two or three weeks I was taking more risks. I left the hole and walked down the path a ways in either direction. Ever fearful of being caught I would imagine the sound of footsteps and run for my clothes. One time as I fled back to my clothes a brush struck me across the face. I got dressed and as I walked from the woods my eye hurt every time I blinked.
I thought I had something in it, but it really hurt if I tried rubbing. At home my mother noticed I was in pain and that my face was red from where I kept touching it when I blinked. She made me sit down and let her look at my eye.
“There’s something in your eye,” she said. She took me to see Dr. Neff.
Doctor Neff examined me and told my mother that I had a splinter of wood in my eyeball.
I was calm, which was extraordinary. When I had a splinter in my hand or foot and mom talked of using a needle I would sometimes run and hide, trying to work or suck the object out on my own. Now the doctor was going to stick a needle in my eye, which he preceded to do.
I didn’t feel a thing.
I took this as a punishment for what I had been doing. I stopped going to the woods after that. Besides school was starting.
I’ve never told anybody about these things.