Memories float in and out of our lives just as events do. Things come back in bits and pieces like the picture that begins this chapter. The when and where of it I know, The Day That Will Live in Infamy. Not because of the photo, of course; it was taken on December 7, 1956, at the Downingtown Junior High School Carnival. The cutout is supposed to be Elvis. I was there with Ronald. I am certain I didn’t have a date. This was six months after I moved from Downingtown and I no longer went to that school, but I went to the Carnival as Ronald’s guest.
I would have liked to taken a girl, but those lady pirates weren’t much into school affairs and I was way too shy to approach a real girl. I did have a crush on a girl in Ninth Grade, much as I had on Mary Jane Chudleigh throughGrade School. Well, probably not exactly the same. I’m sure this time it was an attraction born of lust. Her name was Carole Davis (pictured right) and I was very attracted to her at that time. I never had the nerve to ever approach her and ask her out. It was a one-sided affair conducted from afar. I thought she was pretty, but my infatuation was much due to her early developing breasts. (I still know Carole and she is a very charming lady.)
There are people who were friends in those Junior High years, yet now the images and circumstances are vague at best. Blaine Stong (pictured left) was around quite a number of times during those years. He lived in a house up Skelp Level Road, before the woods that hid the haunted cabin or the Bergdoll Estate. I remember him as very quiet, more so than even me. He was a close friend of Ronald Tipton and so by association became a friend of mine. In my looks-like-a-celebrity mind where Teddy Miller was Jerry Lewis, Stuart Meisel was Jackie Gleason and Bobby Cuelers was Jimmy Cagney, Blaine was Boris Karloff. (From what I can remember, the photo shows Blaine's expression as it always was. I can’t recall him with a smile.)
Teddy Miller and Bill Brookover had come into my life because they were friends of Stuart. Teddy was there much more than Bill, probably because he lived next door to the Meisel’s. Another friend of Stuart and I was Shirley Ann McComsey (pictured right), known as Sam. I don’t remember how she became part of the gang at the Meisel home, but there was a summer she played baseball with us boys a lot.
At some point I became very good friends with Ronald Roberts (pictured left). I have this misty memory of meeting him at a home in the country, but he didn’t live in the country; he lived on Chestnut Street across from Esworthy’s Store. I use to go to his house and we would play pirates (no, not the Women Pirates of my fantasies) on his front porch and he taught me to eat raw hot dogs. We ate a lot of raw wieners.
I also know there was a period I was friends with one Bill Brown (pictured right), who was younger than I. Despite the last name, he wasn’t a relative. It may have been during my Entomology phase. More likely I met him in Boy Scouts, perhaps when pursuing my reptilian merit badge. I know it had something to do with nature or science. He was in the Fur and Feather Club in high school, so I’m sure our interest had something to do with animals. Maybe we were both into snakes and lizards.
There was a boy named Dallot Norris. I know we were friends for a while, but little else about that relationship. The picture on the left shows Dallot climbing onto a barrel atop a picnic table in Kerr Park. We were swinging off that barrel on a rope. I wonder if I did it, considering the height? However, I can’t recall the season or reason for what we are doing. The date is 1954. Ronald Tipton was with us because he took the picture. I am wearing a Motorcyclist Cap in the picture. I usually wore some sort of hat. I wore this Motorcyclist Cap for a good while. I replaced it later with a blue baseball cap with the skull and crossbones on the front (more pirate symbols).
By the time I left Downingtown I was a very troubled boy. If I hadn’t moved things may have gotten far worse for me. I look at my situation at that time and feel the system failed. I’m not one for blaming my faults on society, but I do believe society (and by that I mean family, friends, schools, churches and authorities) need to step forward when they see a child in obvious struggle. Why did no adult in a position of authority ever step in and do something? To my friends I may have seemed relatively okay, if somewhat shy and perhaps a bit weird, but certainly a number of behavior issues arose that some half-observant grownup should have noticed meant I was off kilter.
My father was away most of the time and my mother was too smothering, but she was also away a lot. My mother worried about me, but for the wrong reasons. My parents seemed oblivious to what was going on in my life. Their interest in my schooling was superficial and distracted. The main concern was I might fail and have to repeat a grade. The bar was set pretty low. As long as I could maintain a constant C they had nothing to say.
I would have thought somebody somewhere would have taken note. Here was a boy growing more withdrawn with each passing year. My school grades kept deteriorating until I almost flunked ninth grade. Yet, I did well when the subject matter sparked my interest enough and the school system had test records showing my I.Q. was high. I was a smart child who could read exceptionally well and above the level of my peers; had interests in science, literature and art beyond my age level, yet I kept becoming less involved and interested in school. I was obviously a loner, who went out of my way to avoid most of the other kids. Police and school officials confronted me for running outside naked and urinating. A storeowner caught me shoplifting girlie magazines. In the end there was no consequences for such misdeeds.
Yes, they did and I altered my behavior to avoid possible punishment, but it did nothing to ease my conflicts and fears or end my fantasies and fears. This simply drove me into a deeper, darker secret world. So I disagree they did their best. They should have done more. ut that was sex and the system and it had brought me to the gates of hormonal Hell.
Certainly as a kid I was happy it didn’t go further. I didn’t want to face my parents about those misdeeds and I certainly didn’t want to go to reform school, but these were clues somebody should have picked up on and realized I needed help. I got none. If my parents ever knew anything about any of my crimes they never told me and took their knowledge to their graves. No guidance counselor, minister, scout leader, teacher or social worker ever talked to me. In fact, I had teachers who told me to go away and not bother them when I did ask for help. The adult world I interfaced with taught me to distrust and avoid authority.
There were positives that came out of these experience as well as from those years of isolation in the swamp. It made me very self-sufficient; too much so, I only depended upon myself. I have never feared being alone. I don’t get bored because I learned to fill my time during those lonely years of rejection. I accepted individuals for their character, not for what group they belonged to. I grew tolerant of ethnic, racial, sexual, religious and political difference in people. Part of this was caution, a shyness created out of distrust and the expectation I would be put down, ridiculed. I kept everyone at arms length until I felt comfortable around them, thus I only looked to their inner selves. I became cynical of authority, institutions, organized groups and big anything, government, schools, churches or businesses. I fumbled along on things I tried because I didn’t trust anyone enough to ask for instruction. I did things privately, because I feared failure and teasing. I took risks where no one saw me or could have saved me if I failed and I continued to be haunted by my sexual fantasies because no one wanted to reveal the facts of life to a teenager in the 1950s.
I became very much a typical quiet loner, but I didn’t become a sociopath. I had a conscience, something lacking in a sociopath. I had empathy for others, too. I could not purposely harm another.
And now I was going away to the isolation of country once more and a whole school of strangers would have to be faced come the next fall. What would become of me there?