I was a handful when I was a kid, I’ll admit that in a heartbeat. Hell, I admitted it back then. I was proud of that shit.
Over the years I’ve tried to figure just what it was or wasn’t in my childhood that led me down the paths I’ve taken throughout life but I’ve finally given up and blamed it on my shitty sense of direction. It is what it is, bro.
Sometimes I think my father was like I am. He didn’t understand kids and because of that, he couldn’t relate to them. As far back as I can remember, my old man talked to me and treated me as an adult. I was expected to conduct myself in a civilized manner and not only was I expected to make my own decisions, I was expected to make the right decisions. I was a fucking kid, for pete’s sake.
Before I say another word, I’m not talking down my Pops. He was the best father ever. The fact that we were best friends after I settled down is testament to that fact.
But….. this is also the same guy that dropped me off for an overnight camping trip when I was seven – 3 miles from home. I almost got ate by bears and cougars and Bigfoot, but by the time the sun rose I wasn’t afraid of the dark any more. A year later after Pops got back from the Cav in Vietnam he was teaching me how to walk point and how to patrol properly. If there were any Victor Charlies on Ft Lewis, they weren’t gonna ‘bush me, nossir. I still get nervous diddyboppin’ down a trail and I was never in combat.
Sometimes I think with him, raising me was one of those “If he don’t make it at least he didn’t die a sissy and if he does survive, then that’s cool too” type of deals. But he tried, he really did. And the things that he taught me and the way that he raised me was the way he was raised up in the 40s and 50s – you know, Honor and Responsibility and Hard Fucking Work with lots of camping and shooting and fishing on the side. Andy Griffith replayed.
Only problem was, Pops wasn’t around about half the time. He was either in Korea or Vietnam or schools scattered around the States where he could pursue all sorts of fish and game on Uncle Sam’s dime and occasionally shoot at motherfuckers in the meantime (Seriously, he went tiger hunting when he was in Korea and Vietnam). He never failed to take fishing gear when he went TDY (Temporary Duty, a short unaccompanied assignment) just in case, you know? And Vietnam? Shooting motherfuckers was just a bonus.
When the old man was gone it was Mom raising us, Bless Her Heart. Seriously, she’s an angel. Anybody that’s ever been a military wife knows exactly what I’m talking about. When Hubby’s away, she runs the household. She takes care of the kids, she minds the house. She also works full time because even if she’s gettin most of her husband’s check, the military pay back then was poorly.
Mama takes care of the kids including the ass whippin’s. Man, I got me some ass whippin’s. My mom had a technique to where she’d grab ahold of one my wrists with one hand and get to whalin’ with the other and I’d be running in a circle and she’d be following with that belt….. towards the end I’d quit running just so I’d be able to get a breather. “Nine year old dies of a heart attack during an ass whippin’, News at 10”
Only thing was, I outgrew Mom when I was 11 or 12. Not that I was a tall lanky youngster, she was just a little bitty thing. Back then I don’t think she weighed 100 pounds with rocks in her pockets, maybe stood about 5’2″ if she stretched.
It wasn’t long before I figured shit out. Mom told me to go cut a switch and started to deliver me an ass whippin’ but something in me clicked. I wasn’t moving and I wasn’t crying this time. Fuck that. She might whip me but she wasn’t going to beat me. She gave up about half way through it.
She started keeping a list after that. Every little transgression went into the Snitch List to be dealt with when Pops came back from wherever he was. I mean every fucking thing. The thing was, the only punishment I wouldn’t take from her was the ass whippin’s. I sucked up the extra chores and groundings and shit like that but everything went into the Snitch List whether I’d been punished for it already or not. I’ve been a big advocate for the 5th Amendment in regards to the double jeopardy clause for 1st graders on up ever since.
Yeah man, Pops would come in from wherever and the first day would be cool because he was all happy to see his family and he was gonna get laid, but the next morning? fuck man, he’d send me to my room and then come in about a half hour later dragging in boxes of evidence, dead turtles and shit, and the dreaded Snitch List. It was like two binders thick, everything was all cross referenced, she was fucking thorough, man. Pops would just look at me and go ‘are you fucking kidding me or what’ but I was wondering even back then if he was really thinking is she fucking kidding me or what.
A lot of it was just kid stuff like fist fights after school that the cops happened upon or not taking out the garbage and shit like that but then again there was stealing hubcaps (just gave my age away again) and stealing my Uncle Leonard’s car or shooting neighbor kids in BB gun wars.
Actually most of the serious shit had already been dealt with so mostly what he had to deal with was the minor things. “Did you really egg the Pentecostals when they left their tent revival? You can’t be serious.”
Fuck yes we were serious. We buried eggs for months for that event.
When Pops was gone, Mom worked and it was nights in the cannery which means we lived with my grandparents. Bless their hearts. They came to California as Dust Bowlers. Think ‘Grapes of Wrath’ here. I’m not kidding. They faced horrific discrimination that came with all their white privilege which by the way lasted well into the 70s. I still remember a teacher screaming at me and my friend “Will you goddamned migrants shut up!”
My grandma Audrey was an Okie grandmother. She cut our hair, patched our clothes, she bought her meat from the butcher, bread at a bakery, she didn’t drive – I loved that woman dearly. She was a huge influence on my raising.
My grandpa Bud – he was an Okie but you’d never find that man on any kind of a government program. He always made his own way. I don’t ever recall him not working, truck driver by trade, mostly dirt haulers.
I spent about half my childhood with Bud and Audrey (and my Uncle Gary who was only 4 years older than me and my biggest bad influence) and they never punished me or gave me any real sign of disapproval although they really never had any idea as to what me and Gary were into. I think the reason for that was because we just didn’t get caught – this is Airport District, one of the worst parts of Modesto, and the cops had their hands full with shootings and stabbings and just didn’t have time to fuck with a bunch of juvenile delinquents stealing pop bottles from folks’ mud porches and egging Pentecostals.
I really really miss my grandma. When she was dying I took a week off work so I could stay at her deathbed. Funny memory – when she died, her regular hairdresser called to offer her sympathies and said that she would be honored if she was allowed to do her hair for her funeral service, free of charge because she considered Audrey a friend.
Of course they said yes. I mean, how could they refuse? Actually it was a blessing that this woman had offered. She was the best choice to do Audrey’s hair for the viewing, hands down. When I met her at the funeral home I realized why. She’d been doing Audrey’s hair for 40 years. The same fucking hairstyle. Picture the famous WWII photo where the sailor is kissing the babe on V-E Day. Same ‘do. I remember when the hairdresser showed up. She must’ve been in her 80s, bro. No wonder she did that style so well, it was the only one she knew. Thank God for a little humor in the moment.
But Audrey wasn’t a snitch like my mom. She didn’t rat me out to Mom or Bud. I don’t ever recall getting into any trouble for anything I did over at my grandparent’s house unless my mother happened to be there when the irate neighbors showed up.
Bud was a good grandpa. He was my mom’s stepdad but loved me as his own and I’ve never thought otherwise. Like I said, he always worked, didn’t drink, didn’t take handouts and did his very best no matter what it was.
Bud was one of those guys that could do anything with nothing. It showed, too. There were all kinds of contraptions around his place and none of it was storebought. He wouldn’t buy something new to save his life. Sometimes I think about half the shit he had wasn’t even needed, he’d just be poking around and realize that by God, he had everything he needed to build a log splitter. There ain’t a whole lot of call for a log splitter in the San Joaquin valley, about the only trees around are almond and peach trees and they don’t get big enough to split. But Bud would build that log splitter. Not only that but it would be the biggest and baddest splitter in 3 counties because Bud didn’t fuck around.
Bud didn’t discipline us kids at all. He didn’t have time to. Shit, he’d come in from work and have just enough time to shower, eat and watch Hawaii 5-0 or Hee-Haw before he was nodding in his chair. There were a few years when he was running a chicken ranch and was around all the time, but he kept us kids busy enough we didn’t have time to fuck up. Besides, on a chicken ranch there just ain’t a whole lot to get into.
Dad had his last unaccompanied tour in 1971 when he came home from Vietnam the last time. After that, except for a 2 month stay in Maryland for mom and us kids while waiting on quarters in Germany, he was stuck with us. Poor fucker.
Up to that point, the longest he’d been around us was 3 years with quite a few field problems to break the monotony. Other than that it was 6 months, maybe a year here and there, but even when he was stationed in the States he was gone for a couple months at a time while he attended different schools. Now he had 3 kids and a woman that was used to being the boss of the household and it was full time. Vietnam was over, so he couldn’t even get a little relief there.
Now when I was a youngster, my punishment was usually just an ass whipping. Once I hit my teens, I was still getting them but because Pops realized that I figured out that a spanking only hurts while you’re getting the damned thing, he started grounding me as part of the punishment. Hurt me by taking away my freedom, right? You bet.
A quick back story here – I’d gotten into a motorcycle accident that fucked me up pretty good when I was 14. You can read about that HERE. I was your basic pretty good kid up til then, when I recovered I was a complete and total fuck up. I had realized that when your number’s up, it’s up so you might as well enjoy life while you can.
I started out with the usual groundings – I wasn’t allowed to go out at night. That didn’t have much effect so it progressed to not being able to watch TV either. Big deal, we were in Germany – we had one fucking channel.
Then it went to short term room restriction where I wasn’t allowed out of my room except for meals and personal hygiene. Again, that was light shit. I had enough in there to keep me from getting bored whether it was reading or slot cars or whatever. One of my buddies lived right below me so we’d spend hours hanging out the window laughing and joking.
Then came fucking bread and water room restriction. My room looked like a prison cell – I was allowed schoolbooks, one novel or history book and a set of encyclopedia. That was it. Everything else was packed up and put in the storage room downstairs. My door was removed because Pops ‘can’t trust a goddamned pothead’ and if the window was opened I had to be on the other side of the room and not hanging out of it talking with Frank.
What was fucked up was me and my little brother shared a room so his shit was packed up too to keep me from regressing 5 years and reading his books. Oh well, if you wanna roll with the big dogs…..
But yeah, hardcore room restriction. It wasn’t no 1 or 2 week stint either – I was catching that shit a month at a time. If I got busted doing something at school while I was grounded, it would just get added onto my sentence. At one point it was looking like I was going to be on room restriction until I was 23.
I can’t put the blame on the old man for my extended sentence – he couldn’t just ignore a transgression but he was seriously running out of options here. He had to do something, right?
But still, that shit kinda pissed me off. Now here I am, 15 years old, and already pretty much doing a life sentence. At 15, a young man should be socializing, falling in love with any cute young thing that smiles at him, going to dances and football games, shit like that. Me? I’m working my way through the L-M volume on the encyclopedia and beating off to a topless Bantu pygmy woman in the National Geographic in the bathroom. Give me a fucking break here.
When I was home I was under my parent’s control. School was an entirely different matter and it didn’t take me long to figure that shit out. It wasn’t long before I went when I wanted and skipped classes when I didn’t or was too incapacitated to go. The school’s attendance and notification policies were so lax that they might as well have been on an honor system. But still I got caught – somebody would spot me, the MPs would pick me up, something, and when I did I got more time added onto my sentence. It was a vicious circle.
I remember one time me and Steve Winters were skipping school, we had taken the entire day off to go to a party about 20 klicks up the road in another town, and were trying to hitch hike back. So here we are standing along the road with our thumbs out and Steve goes “Hey, that’s your mom pulling over!” Bigger than shit, Mom pulls over, gives me a shitty look and says “I’m telling your father” and then she fucking takes off! She doesn’t even give us a ride! What the fuck, man?
Then there was the time I got busted when my folks went to a parent-teacher conference. I knew I was going down in flames on this one, man. It was one of those deals where they go and talk to each and every one of your teachers and get a glowing report on your progress and all that other bullshit. Yeah well, about 9 o’clock they came home and Pops was screaming mad. “YOUR FUCKING 5TH PERIOD TEACHER DOESN’T EVEN KNOW WHO YOU ARE!!!”
It’s cool, I probably wouldn’t recognize her either.
But yeah, I guess she didn’t know the name so Pops pulled out a picture of me and showed her hoping to jog her memory. No joy on that one either.
I got picked up by the MPs quite a bit just for being someplace where I shouldn’t be instead of in school. I mean really, if you see a 15 year old kid in the snack bar at 9:30 in the morning, something’s up. The first few times they’d take me back to school and escort me to the office and hand me over. The counselor would tsk tsk me, make a note to call mom and send me to class (unescorted!) and I’d just keep right on walking and laughing my ass off the whole way. It backfired on me one time though – I walked right into the MP that brought me in. He was still in the parking lot filling out a report when I strolled through the front door with a smile on my face.
I don’t recall a specific incident that brought it about but after a couple of times delivering me to the school, they started taking me home. It got to the point that they’d just pull over and motion me into the jeep any time they saw me.
Well, they seemed like pretty good guys with a decent sense of humor so after a couple jeep rides I decided I’d make ’em work for it. Any time I saw an MP jeep, I’d bolt. I didn’t care if I was skipping school or if it was a weekend and I was in between sentences or what. I’d drop whatever I had in my hands and haul ass and naturally they chase me. Hell, I remember one time the family was walking home from the movies or wherever and I saw an MP jeep and bolted purely out of reflex. Freaked my mother out when they gave chase. But yeah, I’d have them motherfuckers huffing and puffing before I’d lead ’em back towards their jeep and then I’d surrender. I did that all the way up until we left Germany.
About the time I was 16, my folks were seriously concerned because they just couldn’t control me. I mean I wasn’t a bad kid, especially by today’s standards, I wasn’t robbing and shit like that, my thing was that I pretty much did what I wanted when I wanted. There was also the drug thing, naturally my folks were understandably concerned with my recklessness there.
They made an appointment with a school psychologist. For me. Because I’m crazy and uncontrollable. How fucking cool is that?
Of course I immediately told all my friends because when you’re a scrawny little thug you need all the reputation you can get. It pretty much worked, too. I had seniors saying hey! to me in the hallway, cute girls knew who I was and freshmen damned near stampeded themselves when I walked towards them.
The appointment was a good month off because she worked the circuit of DoD schools, so I had plenty of time to revel in my newfound insanity but then the Big Day came.
It was cool. She was a nice lady, she treated me fine and I was all respectful and shit. She asked questions in a leading way trying to get me to give up stuff on my own and I did, to a point. She didn’t try to yank my chain with stupid questions though. She’d come flat out and ask me things like “why do you skip school so much?” and I’d give her the straight up answer – “Because that’s the only freedom I had” and then explained why.
She wasn’t too nosy – she asked about the drugs of course but didn’t really press the issue. She’d evidently spoke to my folks already because she was bringing up shit that had already decided I wasn’t going to mention.
But it went well. When it was over she called my folks in and told them she had good news and bad news. The good news was that I have a very firm grip on the concept of Right and Wrong and the bad news was there ain’t a shittin’ thing wrong with me. I was a kid. I had fucked up judgement as all kids do and I let things get the best of me so I turned it into a vicious circle. Yes, it was my fault – over and over and over again – but maybe we can talk this shit out.
Nutter Doc pretty much ran the talk. Basically what she proposed was that I swear on my Scout’s Honor to keep my fucking up down to a bare minimum and go to school. In exchange, Pops would commute my life sentence and wipe the slate clean.
I can do this, man. I got faith. I look over at Pops and he shrugs and says “Sure, why not. I’m tired of him hanging around anyways” and with that it was a done deal. Nutter Doc ran me out of the room and they talked for another half hour or so.
I was so fucking nervous about going out that I stayed home that first night. I just knew I was gonna get ambushed somehow – if not by my folks then by somebody else. I wasn’t trusting anybody.
The next night I asked to go out and Pops just looked at me and said “Sure” so I asked him what time he wanted me back. The last time I was allowed out of the house on a school night it was 9 PM but I didn’t know if that had changed because I was a fucking year older or if because I was kinda like on parole. It’s best to ask and get that shit out of the way – better safe than sorry.
I had my watch out ready to do a time hack and Pops came back with some weird off the wall bullshit that I never imagined coming out of his mouth – he looked me dead off in the eye and said “Let your conscience be your guide.”
What the fuck is that all about? “Really Pops, wha…”
“Let your conscience be your guide.”
“Let your conscience be your guide.”
Fuck it, I ain’t got time for this. I went out, had a good time, got reacquainted with some friends, why I even got a wink and a smile from a cutie I’d known since before she had titties but was filling out rather nicely now.
I was home by 8:30. Same thing the next night and the night after. I don’t know what kind of liberal hippie shit Nutter Doc told them but it seemed to be working.
Come Friday night I wanted to go to a club in a neighboring town and asked Pops if it was cool – I wouldn’t get drunk or high and what time did he want me back because after all it was my first weekend night and I was hoping he’d say midnight because I was really fascinated by Jody’s Armstrong’s aforementioned new titties that seemed to have sprouted overnight and she was gonna be there and I needed time to ply her with alcohol and work my magic. You following all that?
He looked at me, gritted his teeth and said “Let your conscience be your guide.”
I finally rolled in the door Sunday night having no memory at all of Friday night or Saturday with Sunday spent straightening up enough to face the shitstorm I knew was coming. I didn’t even know if I got to feel Jody up. I had some flashes of a cave and a spring and laying in the grass somewhere but other than that I was lost.
Okay, so much for that little experiment. I went back to being grounded again, I continued to skip school. Nothing changed until Mom came up with a brilliant idea.
No more room restriction. There was no sense in me wasting time in there for months at a time wearing out the only set of encyclopedia in the house.
She had slave labor in mind. My sentences were much shorter allowing me some time outside in the hopes I’d start going back to school on a full time basis, but when I was grounded, I worked. I worked from the time I got home until 8 o’clock on a school night with an hour break for supper. I scrubbed floors and I washed walls and I cleaned out the storage room and when I was done with all that she loaned me out to the neighbors, man. I’m not fucking kidding. We lived in a 4 story apartment building and Massa Mom had me washing the walls in the stairwell!
I was still getting the occasional ass whipping from Pops. Most of the time when he popped me it was cuff alongside the head, but for special occasions he’d still break out the belt. He knew his limits though – I can remember him more than once saying “I’m so pissed that if I whipped your ass right now I’d fucking kill you. Go to your room until I calm down.” That’s how special those occasions were – it had to be a major fuck-up on my part.
I can’t remember my last spanking but I can remember the first time he kicked my ass.
I was 16 years old and fucking full of myself, I mean I thought I was the shit, all 140 pounds of me. I’d been out getting fucked up while he stayed in getting fucked up. I was sneaking down the hallway past the living room when he saw my reflection in the blank TV screen he was staring at, probably waiting for me. “Hey Boy.”
“You fucked up?”
“Yeah. You too, huh?”
That was all I said but that pissed him off. He stood up and took his belt off and told me to come here. Man, fuck that shit. I told him “Hey, I’m 16 years old, a fucking man, not a boy, so you need to treat me like a man.”
He shrugged and said “Okay” and nailed me right in the fucking jaw with the fastest right hook I have seen to this day. I never even saw it coming. Shock and awe, bro. I picked myself up out of the corner and shook my head to clear the cobwebs and snot and blood, then I stood up and took off my belt and tried to hand it to him. He declined and sat back down with his back to me having firmly put me in my place beyond any doubt.
Funny thing – that was the first time he whipped my ass but the last time he ever had to lay a hand on me. I wasn’t as tough as I thought I was.
That’s about the way it was up until I was 17 when I did a complete 180. I started going to school, my drug use dropped to a very occasional joint and me and my folks actually started enjoying each other’s company.
What changed? My environment. Pops got stationed in Georgia and I started a new school. I didn’t really fit in with any of the kids there and I only had a year to go so I didn’t see putting a whole lot of effort in making friends. I had access to all kinds of hunting and fishing which I re-discovered was a lot more fun than getting fucked up and puking on myself and took full advantage of it, spending a lot of my time alone. It seems that I was influenced as much as I influenced my friends.
Yeah, it was rough there for a while especially when I was in my teens and me and the old man were butting heads but I guarantee you one thing: By the time it was all said and done, I damned sure understood that there are consequences for my actions, every one of them.
The moral to the story? Damned if I know other than if you have a problem child, be thankful it wasn’t me.