I don't know how long it was after my mom met him, that George moved to Texas. I don't remember him being around all that long in Spokane. Mom had dated a few men since separating from my dad and none of them seemed very consequential. I guess kids can be oblivious to what is going on with the adults around them. I don't know what it was that motivated my mom to follow George to Texas.
I remember thinking, or knowing at some point, that life had been pretty miserable for her, and us, after the divorce from my dad. and I think she was looking for a way out of that misery and poverty. I think she may have seen George as a way out. That may not be true at all and maybe there was much more passion than I realized at the time, as I was very young, but I do understand such motivation as being very possible and being much more reasonable than passion anyway. As I got older, I realized that even in my own life, it is not the fire hot, passionate relationships that sustain you the most through life. Those come and go. It is sometimes practicality and stability that make a good relationship. Regardless, I think that my mother did grow to love George over the years they were together and it was a different kind of love than what she had experienced with my own father.
Abilene Texas was one of the worst experiences of my life up to that point. I traveled there by train with my mom and my mom used to tell the story of the kind conductor giving us a free berth to sleep in one night. As I remember it, this was one of those old fashioned kinds of berths which I have only seen otherwise in the movie "Some Like it Hot." The berth consisted of just a space that you could lie down in. There were both upper berths and lower berths and I think there was only a curtain that came down over the berth to give you privacy. I think that entire trip took about three days.
It never occurred to me when we went to Abilene that it would be such a life changing experience. I just assumed it would be another temporary location like all the other transient, temporary locations in my life. I was enrolled in school there and the first day or second day I came home from school, my mom proudly showed me her new wedding ring. I was distraught and hysterical to think that my mother had married George without preparing me or discussing it beforehand, but in those days, as I said before, the adults I knew rarely took into consideration the feelings or needs of children. You were just expected to go along with whatever the adults decided based on their needs and feelings.
The elementary school in Abilene was the first and only time I ever attended a segregated school. The school bus on which I rode to school picked up both black and white kids. The white kids segregated themselves in the back of the bus and the black kids rode in the front. As far as I can remember, they did not interact. The black kids would all get off the bus at an old schoolhouse out in the middle of nowhere and then the white kids would be brought to the modern, new school in town. For some reason, there was a kid in my class that I think was partially Hispanic. He was the only friend I remember having in Abilene. Most of the kids at the school were pretty horrible to me. I was teased on both the school bus and at the school for talking with an "northern" accent. Of course, it was not me that had an accent at all.
One day, one of the older white boys wanted me to lift up a girls dress and I refused to do it. He kept haranguing me to do it and when he asked me why I wouldn't do it, the only answer I could think to give was "because I'm a Christian." From then on, the horrible Texan white boys on the bus would call me "Christian." The fact is that I was really not religious at all. I had been in a church choir for a while with my cousin Nola in Spokane and I had enjoyed the Bible Study class when I attended Bryant, but otherwise, I really wasn't religious and I don't remember ever attending any church while we were in Abilene.
I don't remember Roger on this racist school bus of hate but in recent conversations, he remembered riding the school bus in Abilene. I remember Darlene being there and actually fainting one day when the redneck hate mongers were teasing us. It happened just as we were arriving at the black school and she was taken off the bus for a moment. I think that she returned to the bus and we continued on to school but I am not certain about that. School was pretty awful too. For instance, in Washington, children were taught that Lincoln was one of the great Presidents, but in Abilene, our teacher only questioned Lincoln's greatness. The teacher must have been fundamentalist Christian and taught against the theory of evolution..
Roger had actually been sent back to Arkansas when my mom met George. He says that he was out of control and he thinks mom wanted to get him out of the way so he wouldn't affect her new, budding relationship. I don't remember that at all. I do know that we were expected to act differently around George and be on our best manners. I was up to that task most of the time as I think I was always eager to please others. George was the first person I had ever known that didn't smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol. He was balding and what some might call a "nerd." He was an aeronautics engineer, although I had no idea what that meant. Apparently, when Roger went back to Arkansas, Darlene was shipped off to Toppenish.
Phantom Lake smelled pretty nasty much of the time. When mom and I had first arrived there, it was shortly after a flood and the cabin had been flooded and had the stench of the lake.
I do remember Roger swimming in the lake with me. He was very athletic then even and could swim from the shore on which we lived to the opposite shore. I would sometimes swim in the lake too but you would often see water moccasins and I understood that they were supposed to be poisonous and so swimming in the lake became less appealing.
I remember the scraggly mesquite trees and the inclement weather. We had a dog there but I don't remember her name. She had puppies in a shed out back of the cabin and I remember running out to try to get them into the house during a hail storm when the hail was as big as golf balls and I got hit pretty hard on the back of the head. There were tornadoes in Abilene, too, and I remember making plans for getting into the bathtub with a mattress over us to protect ourselves although it never did actually come to that.
I learned to hitchhike in Texas. I don't think it was too long after Roger arrived in Abilene that he had done something that had angered George. I had never really been disciplined by George that I can remember at that time but Roger was more rebellious. Whatever it was that Roger did, George hit him with a clenched fist. I don't think it was in the face- maybe the arm or a leg or something but it upset my mother quite a bit and she took Roger and I and we started walking toward town. I can't remember if she actually stuck her thumb out but I think she might have and we got a ride with a stranger who took us quite a ways, but not all the way into town. I think that George showed up in the Volkswagen about that time and there were some tears and he and mom made up and after that, he didn't really attempt to do any more disciplining of us kids. Mom was always pretty much "in between" as a "buffer" between us and him. George never felt like a "father" to me since we still had our own dad. He was the guy that married our mom. He was our mom's husband.
George was a pretty good man actually, He didn't drink or smoke and he belonged to the Sierra Club and was athletic and health conscious. He was a bit of a nerd too.
I still remember one present I got for Christmas while in Texas. It was a pictorial book about Broadway actors and shows. It may have had cinematic actors as well but I'm not sure about that. Regardless, it was the perfect gift for a young gay boy that wanted to be an actor when he grew up. At another time, George came home with a business card with the autograph of Jerry Lewis. I was a big Jerry Lewis fan and it was thrilling to have the little card. I think I saved that card for years and it was in mom's cedar chest when the cedar chest was stolen some years later.
All our lives that I can remember, my mom had an exquisite cedar chest in which she kept family heirlooms and treasures. One of Darlene's favorite dolls from her early childhood was in there. I remember an elaborate smoking pipe carved from white ivory. There were dishes and fabric and the record that Roger and I made later in our lives when we were with the Luv Please. All those treasures were lost one summer when mom and George left the cedar chest at their place in Hunters Washington.
George's parents lived in San Diego. He also had five girls there by a previous marriage: Sandy, Carol, Barbie, Connie, and Georgie. A few of them had visited the cabin out at Phantom Lake in Abilene but I don't remember anything about those visits. I know there came a time that Darlene and I might have gone back up to Washington or took a flight somewhere on the day that we were all dressed up. I think people got dressed up to fly back then. I'm not sure if Darlene stayed in Washington and I went back to Texas but the next thing I remember is taking a trip to California in George's blue Volkswagen bug. I seem to remember it was Roger and I in the back seat for that trip. I think that we stopped along the way at the Grand Canyon and maybe we went to Crater Lake on that trip but I'm not certain. George was a mountaineer as it turned out and did take us to such places.
I think it was on that trip to California that we went through San Francisco and Roger and I got sick after eating some clam chowder or something and we spent most of the time in a hotel room while Mom and George went out. We also stopped at Disneyland and that was the highlight of the trip for me of course. The trip ended in San Diego and meeting George's parents. I think we may have even stayed in their home but I'm not sure about that and I don't remember going back to Texas, so maybe we had actually driven out to stay in California but for some reason, I think we came out to visit for one trip and then moved on another trip. I am pretty sure Darlene was with us when we were there looking for a house. I do remember being in Escondido at some point and staying at a motel and mom and George taking our clothes to a laundromat and must have left them there unattended and they got stolen. I think that was the same day or around the same time that I had my first McDonald's hamburger or it may have been some other fast food place where hamburgers were ten for a dollar or ten cents a piece.
There were times when I would live in Palouse. I think Roger and Darlene also spent time there. I don't remember if either of them actually went to school there or not.
My aunt, Bert, had a piece of land in Palouse and at various times had chickens and milk cows and horses. It is there that I learned to ride horses.Bert had a Shetland pony at one point that was pretty ornery and I think even bucked me off one time but sometimes we would hitch the pony up to a cart Bert had and we would ride in the cart with the Shetland pony pulling it through town. There was very little car traffic in those days and so it was pretty safe to ride a horse and cart through main street.
I was in Palouse during the Cuban Missile Crisis and remember overhearing the adults talk about what was going on and hearing about bomb shelters. Along with my cousins, David and Alec, we began digging a hole for a bomb shelter but we didn't get very far before we gave up and it rained and turned to a hole of mud.
Guy was my cousin but he was much older than I. He was in the same age group as my half-brother, Jim. My mom's sisters Hank Moore and Flo Moore were older than my mom and her sister's, Billie and Ole. Hank and Flo's kids were probably teenagers when I was born as were Bert Emerson's kids, Guy and Joe. Darlene, Roger and I didn't really have much in common with Jim or the Moore kids or Bert's kids. Bert's grandkids, Guys children, (my second cousins), David and Alec were closer to the age of Darlene, Roger and I as well as Gail, Nola and Don.
David and Alec knew how to milk cows and they got up every morning to do so. It was my perception that Guy was having difficulties with alcohol and there were times that I felt he was horrible and cruel to his son David, (although I am not sure if David actually would have agreed with that assessment). I never had the opportunity to discuss any of that with David as an adult. I don't remember Guy being quite as cruel to Alec but maybe he was at other times that I wasn't present. I remember David having some problems not unusual for a child his age. Problems that kids have at that age can not be beat or harangued out of them. I suppose every parent gets frustrated at some point with every child. It is never an excuse to be abusive and from my perspective, I thought Guy was abusive to David at times.
Guy was married to Blazena, but she was his second marriage and she was not the mother of David and Alec. I'm not sure how she actually spelled her name and so I am spelling it phonetically. She was from Czechoslovakia and had lived in a concentration camp during World War 2. Her daughters were Toni and Mary and they had the last name Griffith. Mary would be the first girl in my life that I ever kissed and one of the few in my life that I actually made out with. She was a couple of years older than I and we always seemed to have fun together.
In my ancestry, my great grandmother on my mother's side was a "Wear." Her descendants, "the Wear brothers" also lived with Bert at various times. The Wear boys were always pretty well accepted by most in the Walling family. Bert had essentially taken them in and practically adopted them. Blashna's daughter, Toni, would marry a Wear.
Palouse was otherwise an idyllic place for me. I loved riding horses. I loved the farm animals. I loved the little school that we went to at the time. I am sure they must have torn down the old schoolhouse by now, but when I went there, it was a two story building. High school was upstairs and elementary school was downstairs. I think that sometimes classrooms at Palouse would contain kids from more than one grade level. I learned to swim at the Palouse pool. I did the twist with my cousin Mary Griffin at the Sweetshop downtown.
Blazena's daughter, Mary, was an important person in my childhood. I think she was really the first girl I ever had a crush on. She was a year or two older than me and we had some great times together. She introduced me to the music of Johnny Mathis. I remember her reading Edgar Allen Poe stories to us and was especially dramatic when reading Poe's "The Tell Tale Heart." She was the first girl I ever really kissed which I remember took place in the schoolyard in Palouse and I think David and Alec might have been at that event.
I don't remember if Mary was in Palouse when I was in second grade. I think it was probably over a couple of other visits to Palouse a few years later that I developed a crush on
her. I know that I knew her by the time I went to live in Escondido a few years later when I was twelve or so and still wearing Brylcream in my hair. I still have the picture she sent to me to remember her by. It was definitely what they called "puppy love."
I remember Mary in association with songs on the radio: Chubby Checker's "The Twist" (1960) and then "Let's Twist Again" (1961), I would have been about nine years old. I think I was also in Palouse about the time "Monster Mash" was released in 1962. I also remember listening to "Where the Boys Are" in Palouse and my aunt Bert feeling it was a little obscene.
That first year that I got to know Mary, we used to go to a little joint downtown that sold hamburgers and I think they called it "The Sweet Shop" but I could be wrong about that. People would play Chubby Checkers, "The Twist" or "Let's Twist Again" or the Starliters' "Peppermint Twist" and she and I would dance. There wasn't a whole lot of entertainment in Palouse at the time so people were easily amused. I think we were even given a free burger or a dollar or something and were pretty excited by the attention.
|Another year, marked by Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe," I was in Palouse again and my crush on Mary continued, even though I also had a girlfriend in Escondido by that time, named Kathy. It must have been 1965 by that time and Mary could drive. I am not sure whose car she was driving at the time but I do remember going with her to the drive-in and making out as kids did in those days. We both still loved to dance that year and I remember that Mary would pull the car over, wherever we were at the time, when a hit we both liked came on and we would just get out and dance right there by the car in the middle of nowhere.|
I guess we lived in a bit of a kids fantasy world at the time and somewhere along the road in 1965, when I was visiting Palouse, Mary and I decided to go to Los Angeles to become the "next" Sonny and Cher. Apparently she didn't really have her own car and we considered hopping freight trains but then settled on hitchhiking. I must have been about thirteen or fourteen at that time and Mary must have been sixteen. After getting several rides, we made it to Moscow, Idaho which is about 26 miles from Palouse. I'm sure we didn't have any money at the time but we were not really concerned about such realities. We were going to be famous!
On the last leg of our journey to Moscow, we were picked up by an older, heavy-set man that took us into Moscow and offered to buy us dinner. We went with him to a little greasy spoon restaurant and it seems to me that he had a heart attack or something medical, and we left. Apparently someone at the restaurant called the police or the police just saw us walking along the street as dusk was approaching and we were picked up and brought to the city jail. Mary was put in one cell and I was put into another. We weren't bothered by it at all. We were on an adventure and loving every minute as far as I can remember. We were singing Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe" and other songs of the time. There was one other person in another cell nearby that called out to us, "Do you know "Far Away?" Neither of us knew of any song called "Far Away." Then the stranger we never saw yelled out, "Sing Far Away... sing far, far away..." Which we got and laughed at the joke.
Meanwhile, the police had contacted my Aunt Bert and a little while later, Guy arrived to bring us back to Palouse. He was furious. He implied that something sexual might be going on but there wasn't and we just thought he was crude and boorish. He was probably drunk at the time. My aunt Bert might have been in the car too, but I'm not sure about that. Regardless, that was the end of our Sonny and Cher fantasy and probably the last year that Mary was a part of my life.
I believe Mary passed away in the late 90's or early 2000's. I had not seen her since we were kids in Palouse. I have often wondered where her life took her and what kind of a life she had.
Nola and I visited years later and then Milton and I also visited. Here are a couple of pics of Bert's property years after she had sold it and had moved to New Mexico and passed away:
The little theater downtown Palouse: