Saturday, July 10, 2010

Chapter 13 Lovington

There was a town in a valley not to far from Hossburg were my cousins lived. The cousins were Uncle John's and Aunt Helaine’s children. I loved being at their house. It was so warm and human, not cold as so many places I had lived. Uncle John was gone a lot driving his coal trucks, but still we felt that he liked being with us children best when he wasn't working.

My cousins were a friendly bunch and very positive in outlook. Bad things happened, but they took them in stride so well, you almost couldn't notice. Since my aunt and uncle had five children of their own, they understood children and related easily to me, my brothers and sisters. It seems that if we weren't at my grandfather's we were at their place.

Their house was also on route 15, about twenty feet from the edge of the road. Trucks roared by day and night. At night they didn't even slow down and you could look out the front door and see them whizzing by at seventy miles an hour. Few dogs or cats survived living at this house on the highway. A few smart ones with a natural instinct for the dangers of the road, did survive. Uncle John and Aunt Helaine lost a couple horses to route 15.

Right out the back door was a white picket fence that kept the horses corralled. It was very nice to look out the kitchen window and see the horses. When we were young and small they kept ponies and small horses. We rode them most of the summer. When we weren't riding we would be playing in the pasture. Playing in the Tioga river. There were a few places deep enough to swim in, and there were plenty of small pebbles to skip on the water.

My aunt Helaine had run off with Uncle John when she was just fourteen. He was in his twenties and back from the World War II. He had been a bombardier on a B-15 with war stories to tell, and a purple heart. My grandpa, the preacher, had a lot of trouble keeping his kids home. What with my dad eloping with my mother, and Helaine running off at fourteen. He hadn't liked Uncle John from the very beginning. The two of them kept a quiet tolerance most of the time. Grandpa used to say that he knew Uncle John's family and there was some genetic predisposition to epilepsy. He didn't want his grandchildren picking up any of that. But grandpa turned out to be right as several of Uncle John's children were epileptic. It never slowed them down much. No hiding it. We talked openly about it. It never became a stumbling block for any of those affected.

After a summer in the U.S., my father decided to go back to the mission station at Bangala, even though it was not safe. So he left us, mom and 4 children, and went back to the Belgian Congo. We kids were glad he was gone. Life would be easier with his overbearing authority weighing on us. We spent our time playing to our hearts content. My grandfather built a go-cart. It was pieced together from old mine carts, washing machine parts, and an old lawn mower engine. It looked like a little red box-cart, except it had a real motor. We rode it up and down the driveway bouncing in and out of the potholes. We chased rabbits in it, and sometimes tried to scare the old landlady. She may have been more of a sport than we gave her credit for, because we never heard a word from Grandpa about bothering here.

When we tired of the go-cart grandpa dug a pond. The rains filled it and he made a little boat from two car hoods from a junkyard welded together. Those old hoods had sides and when welded end to end, made a nice metal boat. We paddled around in that little pond by the hour, making believe it was big a big ocean. We were pirates of the open seas and dug for buried treasure on the Tioga river bank. We convinced ourselves that pirates had come up the Tioga and buried their treasures on the banks, right where we were digging.

Sometimes we took off along the railroad tracks as they followed the river. We liked throwing rocks at all the snakes that liked to lay in the tracks basking in the sun. Sometimes we took a BB gun or pellet gun along and shot at them. We tried to kill rabbits too, but we just hurt them mostly. Blinded a few, at least in one eye, before they got away. We shot a lot of robins too, even though Grandpa would remind us that they were protected by law and we weren't supposed to.

One of our favorite pastimes was to go out to the city dump at night and watch for bears. We would park along the rim of the dump and leave our lights on. Often bears would take advantage of the light and rummage through the garbage in the glare of our headlights. When the bears moved on we would drive home slowly spotting dear, raccoon, and other small animals. It was very exciting. When all was quiet on these leisurely drives, we would beg grandpa to quit smoking. He had had several heart attacks already, and cancer of the throat. We didn't want him to die and take away all our fun. But he never would stop. He liked it too much.

During the day people would go to the dump and shoot rats with a 22 caliber rifle. Not much else to do for entertainment in these hills. I didn’t like guns with bullets. I liked air guns because they were quiet. The others hurt my ears. I was in the minority though. Most of these hill people liked guns and hunting. I guess grandpa got tired of just looking at bears and decided he would get his youngest son a bear gun. What he bought was a 303 English infantry rifle. He found it at an Army Navy surplus store. Only paid seven dollars for it. It had a wooden stock that went all the way down the barrel. He sawed the extra wood off to make it look more like modern rifle. He smoothed down the edges, sanded and polished it, and what a beauty it turned out to be. He called it his bear gun. Sonny killed a lot of deer and a few bear with it over the next several years.

I didn't like killing dear. Squirrels were about as big an animal as I really wanted to shoot. My grandfather would shoot squirrels right out of the trees. He was a good shot. He would make us squirrel caps with the tail hanging down the back. We even ate some squirrel meat, but it was very stringy and tough and hardly worth the trouble.

The days got shorter and so did the fun. Then the fun ended when school began. I was taken to school early to take a bunch of tests. These placement tests were to see if I could be moved back up a grade or two. I passed the fifth grade level test with a D, so they passed me to the sixth grade. If this hadn't been done I would have been behind in school my whole life. I wanted to be with my peers just like everyone else.

The school bus left from the center of town. I had to walk there to catch it. It used to drive me crazy because this was the opposite direction of the school. After all the trouble I went to get to the bus stop, the bus would pass right back by my house to get to the school. To walk a mile in the cold and snow, then wait outside for fifteen minutes at the bus stop, only to pass my grandpa's cozy house a half hour later seemed absurd!

None of my cousins were at the school with me. They lived a few miles away. A little grammar school was just up the road from my Uncle John's house, and I would have liked to live with them and go to school half a block away, but their house was already crowded. The two cousins that were old enough to go to school were taught at home because of the epilepsy problem. I felt slighted because they got special treatment and I wanted some too.

I surprised myself and did fairly well in school. I think part of the reason was that my father wasn't there to criticize me. I did much better on my own without someone hanging over my shoulders telling me to study. I got no satisfaction out of studying for my dad, only for myself. I felt getting average grades. I didn't need to get straight A's, as my father thought. While he was gone, I didn't even flunk math. Neither did I cause undue trouble for my teachers. They thought I was normal. What a change of experience for me. Didn't get in many fights. I liked the absence of my father and relished in the freedom from constant overseeing. The good food and good television also did me a lot of good. I even got a little chubby from my indulgences.

That winter was not as fun as the summer had been, but it was good. My feelings about myself were on the mend. It was a year of much less mental pain than I had gotten used to. The change did me a lot of good. Turned out to be one of the best school years of my life! I don't associate a lot of pain with that year; that's how i know. The lack of constant torment allowed me to blossom. I knew my father had had a troubled and tortured childhood, but I didn't understand why he couldn't do better. After a year, things had settled down in the Congo. It was time for us to return as well. My father sent for us and it was back to the bush again.

end chapter 13

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