By 4th Grade, the Country Kitchen must have failed and we were living on Broadway in Spokane and I was attending Bryant Elementary School. Roger was a crossing guard and wore a badge.
I remember him getting me into trouble when a little classmate girl gave me a kiss or I gave her a kiss and he reported it to the principle. At least some of the afternoons were spent in Bible class even though this was a public school. The whole class would be taken out of class and walked across a bridge over Maple street to what is now Christian Redeemer church. I'm not sure if that is the same church that had the property in 1960 though. I remember Donna visited us there and she and I were walking back from a store a block or so away and we got robbed by a Hispanic boy.
Mom got a new restaurant about this time in the skid-row area of Spokane called "The OK Cafe." It was another greasy spoon and most of the clientele and employees were down on their luck types and alcoholics. That part of town was razed a few years later when Spokane hosted the 1974 Worlds Fair. Mom spent much of her time there and we kids were left alone more and more. I remember being fascinated my monsters and reading "Monster" magazine and going to movie marathons of horror movies that would go from noon to midnight and the sleazy Ritz or El Ray theaters where one would have to dodge the dodgy pedophiles that lurked there. By this time, I think I was a little less naive and knew more of the score and would know to move to a different part of the theater if an older man came and sat down by me. I was there to see the movies! I wanted to see Dracula and The Blob, The Fly, The Werewolf, and go to The Center of the Earth. I was a Vincent Price and Lon Chaney Junior fan.
In 1960, while we were still living on Broadway, Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" was released and played at the Fox theater in downtown Spokane. The line went around the block. I think I had seen the previews and, being a fan of horror, I was excited to see it. It was the most terrifying moving I had ever seen up to that point and it didn't even have a traditional monster in it! I became an immediate fan of Alfred Hitchcock. I was already of fan of "Monsters" magazine and had read about hollywood makeup and how latex was used to create werewolves and other beasts. After seeing Psycho, I became more interested in the way stories were told on film and the film making process itself.
I remember watching Johnny Carson at night on Broadway street. I think that was because my mom would be out that late. Actually, I think I probably first started seeing Johnny Carson and the late show in Toppenish when I would often fall asleep on the floor in front of the television. Dad and Irene were also often gone until two in the morning.
When we were living with my mom in those days, we were living in poverty really. It was such a different life than when we would visit in Toppenish. Sometimes we went without hot water and I remember heating water on the stove to take a bath and it was often the case that bath water was recycled for siblings- one would take their bath and then the next would take their bath in the same water and with each subsequent sibling, the water got cooler and dirtier.
Sometimes there wasn't much to eat and we would eat white rice or cinnamon toast. I don't remember my mom every taking us anywhere but Goodwill or Salvation army to buy us clothes. Roger got the clothes from Goodwill or Salvation Army and then I got his hand-me-downs. My mom was a child of the Great Depression and she knew how to save a dime and how to scrape by. In those days, there was no concern about fashion or style or concern about whether any of us fit in with the other kids at school. There was no concern about what school we went to or how we were doing in school or how long we went to any school. I don't think my mom or dad ever attended any parent-teacher meetings in those days. We were essentially on our own.
Living with mom, there was many a time that I remember eating white rice with milk and sugar and having nothing more than cinnamon toast for dessert. Soda pop was a rare treat when we were with my mom, while at dad's house, they drank it like water.
I came very close to burning the house down on Broadway. At school, we had done a project where we went out an collected leaves. Then we brought the leaves back to the classroom and placed them between two pieces of wax paper. Then the teacher sealed the two pieces of paper together with an iron. I figured I could do the same thing at home. By this time, I was using the stove by myself to melt paraffin wax to make vampire teeth and it didn't seem like any big deal to use the iron, except that I was intending to go downtown Spokane on the bus and it was almost time for the bus. I ran out of the house to the bus stop in front of the house but I missed the bus. When I came back into the house, there was a small fire. I had left the iron on and the wax paper had ignited. If I hadn't missed the bus, the house would have surely burned down.
For me, though, as horrible as it would have been to burn the house down, nothing compares with the horror, shame and humiliation I felt when a friend found me in the apartment in drag. I remember playing "dress up" as a small child. In fact, there was a photograph my grandmother had saved of me in a dress when I was probably about five years old. There is 8mm film of me swirling in a dress around that same time. As a small boy, I remember having some of what nowadays would be called "gender confusion." Everyone has a self image of themselves. I remember feeling confused at the time about mine and who I was and what gender I was and how I fit in with others. I think this confusion persisted much of my childhood but came to an abrupt end in fourth grade.
There were a couple of times in early childhood, or maybe it was only once, that others dressed me up in drag for Halloween. This was probably in first or second grade. I know that we went trick or treating from Ole and Rex's house. Rex was a "teaser" and teased everyone and, for the most part, this was part of his charm. He teased me over repeatedly over the years about being a "girl." I am not sure if that started before that Halloween or after but it was another ongoing childhood humiliation and embarrassment.
There were often times that we were left alone in my childhood. I don't know now where everyone was at the time, but I remember being alone in the house and wanting to put on a dress. I think I might have put on one of mom's bras as well. High heels, if there were any available, I have no doubt. I don't remember all of the details but I was flouncing around in this drag and suddenly a boyhood acquaintance came bursting through the door to find me for something. Back then, nobody locked their front doors. I just remember him looking at me in shock and my looking at him, terrified of what he might tell others. I don't remember what he said or if he told anyone else but I remember it was one of the most humiliating and life changing experiences in my young life. To this day, a gay man in his senior years, I have never felt comfortable with "doing drag." Any time it has even crossed my mind for a second, I remember back to this horrific episode of being discovered, hiding in a closet.
Hebert must have been born by this time and he and Donna and David were living pretty well by comparison. They always had plenty to eat and never went without heat and even had color television! Irene, as good as she could be to us sometimes, she always seemed to have an underlying resentfulness of Darlene, Roger or I ever getting much of anything material from my dad and made sure that her kids always got something more or better. I guess protecting your own kids and providing for them is a natural maternal instinct and I suppose it was natural for her to want more for her own children.
In addition to Irene's resentments toward our receiving much of anything in the way of financial support, I think my dad resented the idea of child support itself. Like many men, he was fine with providing us with food and clothing when we were in his home but avoided sending money to my mom for those same things. My mom often said that if the judge would have given her the business when they divorced, she could have sent him twice the amount of child support he was supposed to be sending us and she could still provide for us kids and live well. That was not the reality of the situation though.
Is it better to live inside the asylum where you are fed and cared for and there is structure and predictability or is it better to live outside the asylum where nothing is predictable and change is constant and hunger is a common experience? Even though my step-sister and brothers, Donna, David and Hebert were having a relatively more stable home life in some ways, such as not moving around constantly and not going hungry or not wearing clothes with holes in them, the fact is that they lived in their own kind of hell. They lived inside the asylum with my dad and Irene and the drinking and the violence and the screaming and the pure insanity.
It was while living on Broadway that mom meant George. She had been going square dancing with aunt Billie and her husband Joe, who was a "caller" for square dancing. They were the parents of my cousins Don and Nola and we kids also spent quite a bit of time in their home when we were growing up.
Chubby Checker, who had brought us "The Twist" was now encouraging us to Twist again with his song, "Let's Twist Again." Chubby Checker also wanted us do another dance with his song, "Pony Time" and then he wanted us to do "The Fly." Of course, I learned all these dance fads which also included The Mashed Potato. Mary Griffin and I did all these dances together at The Candy Shop in downtown Palouse at one time or another. The Shirelles had several hits in 1961 that would go on to become classics, "Dedicated to the One I Love," and "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" and "Mama Said." Connie Francis upset my aunt, Bert, when she sang, "Where the Boys Are." Ray Charles' "Hit the Road Jack" is another song I remember from the Candy Shop jukebox in Palouse.
I think that by this time, Roger must have already been taking guitar lessons in Spokane and was singing Ricky Nelson's "Travelin' Man." I can still remember the first couple of verses from that song after all these years.
One of my all time favorite novelty songs from back then is "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose It's Flavor." As a little boy, I learned all the words and loved the silly sound when Lonnie Donegan sang the words, "...does it catch upon your tonsils, and you heave it left and right... eh eh... does your chewing gum lose it's flavor on the bedpost over night?" Jimmy Dean's "Big Bad John" also had a lot of appeal at the time. This was also the year the classic "Stand by Me" was released by Ben E. King.
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: