Friday, January 14, 2011


Although I am mostly a product of medium-size city suburbs, much of my boyhood recollections are of a new, post WWII neighborhood living on a street loaded with kids from one end to the other.  Like my Dad, all or certainly most of the fathers living on that street were WWII veterans.  Our street was just a simple, straight thoroughfare with none of the curves and cul-de-sacs characteristic of upscale residential neighborhoods.  No, our neighborhood was a semi-shotgun collection of 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom, 1-car garage brick homes, perhaps 1200-1400 square feet in size.

Living those 5-years in that house had some magic to them.  By a year or two the neighborhood had built out and I was the oldest kid on the block.  That enabled me to choose and lead whatever games the neighborhood kids decided to play.  There were hide-and-seek games that ranged up and down the street for several houses in all directions; trick-riding bicycle rodeos in the street; football games on the front lawn; and baseball games in the back yard.  We could get a baseball game going with only a batter and a pitcher. 

We always played barefoot outside nearly all summer and our young feet would toughen with calluses wherever they came into contact with the ground, which for a kid was pretty much the entire bottom of the feet, except the instep.  Mom would insist that those feet be washed at night, but from what I can remember, it didn’t seem to improve their condition.  However, that toughening of the feet had its upside.  One of the benefits of toughened feet was that not too much bothered you when you stepped on or in something.  The in something part was usually the leavings of a neighborhood dog, which was not of much consequence unless the dog had diarrhea.  Of course if it did, then play was immediately stopped for a quick trip to the garden hose to wash-off, especially between the toes!

A Texas summer is hot and dry requiring that lush lawns be frequently watered—these were the days before sprinkler systems were even a thought in most neighborhoods.  The climate also produced some unique species of vegetation specially acclimated to the hot, dry environment.  As I recall, there were at least 2 distinct varieties of stickers.  One of them could hurt if your feet were not toughened up, or if they found their way to your instep.  But their barbs were fairly soft such that they would bend somewhat and usually fall away as your foot left the scene.  The other sticker was a goathead, so named because of its resemblance to a goat’s skull complete with 2 horns.  They are nasty little buggers that can flatten a bicycle tire and deliver a sharp pain even to calloused young feet.  When they stuck, they stayed stuck, and required the victim to immediately cease his forward motion to remove it.

This obscure subject recently came to mind when I was thinking about how people develop into whatever kind of adults they become, accompanied by a body of experience which for most, is largely different one from another.  My friend, Bob, described his childhood as one that was much different than the childhood I had experienced.  And in trading stories with Bob, I began to understand that such disparate childhood and perhaps young adult memories tend to color our views of what, in a larger societal sense, is a relatively common history.  It’s another version of the North—South societal differences that led to a Civil War, differences that to this day are still evident between the two regions.  Whatever it is, it is a powerful influence.

I thought of all this in the context of goatheads as an adjunct to my thoughts about our disparate Vietnam service experience and our differing political views—each, I think, having their roots in our childhoods and young adult years.  Bob had described his childhood as having been spent in significant part, living in Israel and later, in Los Angeles.  The experience of growing up in either of those places would have been very much different than my own suburban childhood experience.

While I was tumbling down the gentle incline of our front lawn during a football game, Bob told of being chased down a Los Angeles street by a gang of young toughs shouting anti-Semitic taunts.  And while I was being criticized by my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Walsh, for sailing paper airplanes, Bob was being taught by Jewish teachers who displayed the serial numbers that had been tattooed on their arms in Nazi concentration camps.  Bob’s teachers taught him that like the Germans, Americans would come someday to take everything they had.  Thoughts like that are so at odds with my own maturing experience that they defy belief. 

Anyway, as I dug out some old pictures to illustrate this little piece, thoughts of childhood games of baseball, football, fishing, sailing paper airplanes, large post-war classes brought a lot of memories flooding back to mind.  Not a single thought was one of taking something from someone else, or even hearing that notion expressed in my classes or amongst my friends.  We had other things to do, and goatheads to deal with.

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