Its amazing, one day we aren’t here and the next day we are. I’m not talking about being born, I’m talking about our consciousness. I don’t believe there is anyone that can say they remember being born, but you never know, somebody out there might remember emerging from the womb (or at least claim to). When you consider all the strange ailments and conditions that we humans have, not to mention the unique talents possessed by some of the oddities we call people, you know those poor people on one extreme who are unfortunate enough to have deformities or illnesses that impact their looks or intelligence or those who suffer genetic ailments that cause them to laugh or curse spontaneously among other frighteningly and surprising conditions and reactions and then on the opposite extreme we have super humans like those lucky people who have instant recall or photographic memory or those who can add crazy amounts of numbers in their head like a calculator, not to mention those who are just amazingly intelligent, like Einstein. Then you have all the normal humans in between, just the average joe from high school drop-out to the person with a master degrees. I’m sure somewhere out there there is someone who might remember their birth but I don’t mine and I’m sure the average reader (all 1 of you) don’t either.
Why is it we can’t remember the important events of our lives during that period between birth and consciousness. Wouldn’t it be nice to remember seeing the doctor that brought you into the world at birth; or your mother and father’s faces for the first time; our first steps; our first poo…okay, maybe not the last memory. There are so many firsts, so many joyous memories we lose and then even after consciousness takes hold there is so much our brains do not to retain, ongoing memories that become vague or fade altogether. I can recall what I think were my first memories, but of course the timelines are jumbled a bit so my first memory may have come later than I think it did or vice-versa, earlier. I just know that I have some very early memories of things I know helped form the person I am today.
I remember bits and pieces of life in Germany and even smaller bits and pieces of my German relatives during the time we lived there. I recall some of Italy where my father who was in the U.S. Army was stationed, recollections of dirty little Italian children searching through our dumpsters for whatever treasures the rich Americans had discarded; but my strongest memories didn’t really start to take hold until my family moved to America when we arrived at an Army guesthouse that served as temporary housing until we were given permanent quarters (quarters is what the military refers to as housing).
In Germany I have vague recollections of my older brothers and my mother and father. I remember my younger brother more clearly. My mother liked to go to the NCO (Non-Commissioned Officers) club on the military base and play slots (or at least the equivalent to slots, I just know that she would gamble and try to win money) (My mother was always a gambler… See “Inge’s Folly“). Next to the NCO club was the military base movie theater and I remember very clearly seeing two movies when we lived here, “Pinocchio” and “101 Dalmatians”. The NCO club did not allow children to enter the club without a parent accompanying them. One of my strongest memories involve the NCO club because of a particular incident. I would have been about 5 or 6 years old (give or take) and my little brother about 4 years old. My mother was planning to take us to see “101 Dalmatians”. Now the NCO club and movie theater were both within walking distance of our house however on this day my father drove us to the theater, dropped us off and went home.
We were too early for the movie so my mother told us we were going to have to wait and the three of us sat on the stoop at either the theater or the NCO club. After a bit my mother said she had to go to the bathroom in the NCO club and instructed us to wait outside on that step for her to return. It was a different time then and especially on a military base parents didn’t worry about abductions like they do now so leaving children by themselves during those times was not unusual. During this period mothers still smoked cigarettes and drank liquor during pregnancies and nobody gave it a second thought, time were different.
So as my younger brother and I sat there waiting, and waiting, and waiting.. we started becoming restless. We didn’t know at the time but my mother was inside playing the slot machines and while she hadn’t forgotten about us her gambling would tend to cause her to lose track of time. I tried to go into the NCO club to find her but I was stopped at the door, being a child I was not permitted to enter without a parent. My younger brother and I waited a bit longer and I’m sure that since we were children the time that passed must have seemed longer to us. I can’t imagine that my mother stayed in there for more that 10 or 15 minutes… but perhaps she did, I just know that at some point I took my younger brother by the hand and started walking home. There were certain landmarks that I recall to this day… a HUGE round bush… a curved walkway… I’m not sure how long a walk it was but like I said it was within walking distance. My father let us into the house and I recall him laughing at the idea that we had walked home… shortly thereafter my mother came “busting” into the house screaming for my father “Honey!” that’s what she used to call him (in fact she called him that so much that for a short time my German relatives thought that Honey was his name at first)… “I lost the kids!” she shouted, she was frantic… of course she calmed down when he told her we had walked home. Years later whenever this story would come up my mother was always amazed that I recalled this particular memory, she said I was so young that it surprised her how well I remembered but I also believe its a memory she would have preferred I had forgotten.
So one day there wasn’t a me and then there was a me… a child sitting in front on an NCO club in Germany waiting on his mother. Then I was gone again… Then next time there was a “me” we lived in Italy (or maybe Italy was first… don’t know anymore)… I remember I carried a little black doll. I think black dolls were rare then but I had one and I loved the doll. I was a only around 6 or 8 years old at this time. Then, gone again, (another period of non-existence) I returned and the doll was gone and I cried for that stupid doll. Its strange how it just disappeared; I think that someone in my family took it because of the oddity of a small white boy carrying a black baby doll. I have other vague recollections of both Italy and Germany but they are for the most part too mundane to rehash in blog form. As I said earlier my memories become stronger and they seem to have solidified when my family arrived in America.
My father was stationed at the Edgewood Arsenal Army base in Edgewood, Maryland and after being given permanent housing we lived in military quarters (apartments) off base. These were horrible brick apartments, very old buildings full of roaches and decay. They have long since been torn down. All around the housing development we were encircled by military owned privacy fencing that divided our impoverished development from the private housing on the other side. I remember thinking that the people in the single family homes on the other side of the fence were rich. merely for the fact that these were single homes. After all, who could afford a home like that. When I drive by these same homes today I see that they are far from opulent, and of course it could be their age, but they are downright awful looking. In this complex where my family lived is where I met my best childhood friend Vicki; Vicki with her long braided pony tail that went midway to her butt. Her family lived in the apartment over my family. I believe we were in the 2nd grade at this point. So there was nothing unusual about my memories of growing up in the military housing. The year was about 1972/73 which made me around 9 years old.
In 1974 my parents purchased an single family home. I didn’t know it at the time but my oldest brother had loaned them the down payment on this house but I remember thinking we were finally rich like those people in the homes that had surrounded us on Hawthorne Drive (the military housing). My father decided to retire in Edgewood and he and my mother both ended up living in that same house until they died. That little one floor rancher on Sequoia Drive… There were some good times on this street but many more bad times… I wish that my family had moved on instead of just settling for Edgewood, my mother told me many years later that my father could have retired in California or Key West (the military base was still on the island in the 70’s) but it was just too convenient to stay in Edgewood. I remember as a teen (around the time I started discovering that I was gay) and telling my parents that unlike them I refused to rot in Edgewood, Maryland. I had big plans… I was going to go to New York or California or even Florida where I would become successful and life comfortably the rest of my life. Instead I bought a house a mile away from my parents, they are now long dead and I, in my 50’s, am still living in Edgewood, Maryland but (my favorite Golden Girls quote) “I digress”.
Forgive the way I jump all over different subjects and different time periods. I find that if I think too much about what I want to write nothing happens… but if I just let my fingers and mind go then the result is a minimum something to review and later proof for typos (I am always finding them) but generally unless “too far out there” I leave the subjects as my fingers type them… So again whether digression or commercial interruption, please forgive this interjection.
So my parents bought this single family home and no more would we be sharing a public corridor with up to 8 other families in a construct of multiple dwellings. We had our own house, our own yard and my father made all sorts of plans and promises for making our home wonderful, everything from a back porch to stairs going up the hill in the back yard leading to the top of the hill where he was going to help us build a clubhouse (or “fort” as we called them back then). My father rarely finished what he started and while we did have a half finished patio we never did get the stairs going up the hill or the fort that we boys had dreamed of (at least not with his help, we built our own). My father’s never finishing anything didn’t really bothered me and why should it I was a kid, but it drove my mother crazy. There wasn’t a room in the house that my father hadn’t started to improve but never finished… it reached a point where my mother forbade him from attempting any further improvements telling his she was tired of living in a half finished house. Now it wasn’t as bad as the Green Acres farmhouse but similar in that rooms were half painted or woodwork would run halfway down the wall before it stopped. There was even a faux fireplace my father had built in the living room that until the day my mother insisted he tear it down some 10 years later, was never finished.
But these little inconveniences didn’t make life tough on Sequoia Drive… it was the dynamic of the residents on the street. Youngish families (parents in their mid-30’s to early 40’s) with teenagers, pre-teens, toddlers, and infants. Most of the families where pretty quiet and kept to themselves but there were several that did impact and influence the neighborhood… There were the Conway’s that lived to the left of us facing the street. To the right of us were the Mougan’s. Across the street we had the Mitchells… and then there were the poor Bouve’s. (All these names are made up to protect the innocent).
Now for you as a reader and if I haven’t lost your interest you don’t have to worry that I am going to tell you all the boring details of my growing up on Sequoia Drive but there were some events that I feel need mentioning… and again… one may wonder why I’m even doing this, writing these stories about a street and about my life that quite honestly may not be of any interest to anyone other than myself??? I hear you… The other day a friend told me that I shouldn’t be broadcasting all of my life’s troubles on the Internet because it will never go away. First… I don’t think of these stories and experiences as anymore than stories or experiences… they are not therapy (but of course I guess it could be therapy on some sub-conscious level like when I write about my drinking or the way people treat me or I treat them). Second I am 50 years old which means I am on the downward side of the slide… I have had many friends and family die, some young and some old and I know from experience that regardless of when they die on average every person once put in the ground or set on a mantle in a marble box or brass urn is eventually forgotten… Every person I have ever known that has died is now a vague memory to not only me but all the other people that loved and knew them, I don’t expect my demise will result in anything different…. maybe somehow posting these inane “memoirs” (for a lack of a better description) will allow me to live on a little longer after I’m gone… even if like in the I Love Lucy episode in which Lucy’s manuscript was used by a publisher as a teaching aid to show people how “NOT” to write…
The Conway’s were an all American type that despite being a larger family made one think of the “Leave It To Beaver” clan. A perfectly respectable and God-fearing family that did everything as expected and required by law and society. Having a military background the father was a rough rugged man that enjoyed all things manly from hunting to fishing to leading a boy scout pack as a head master. As a father he was very strict and his children were quick to be disciplined if they stepped out of line. The mother was definitely the June Cleaver type doting over her husband, cooking three meals a day, cleaning house and packing lunches for her brood. For the most part the Conways stayed out of the limelight when it came to neighborhood atrocities and drama, however their presence alone was a force whose support for whichever family they backed at any particular moment could influence what everyone else thought. Also, as a side note, the elder Conway boy would prove to be my playmate in sexual experimentation when I reached adolescence and to this day is probably my fondest memory of this family.
The Mougan’s were a typically Italian family have originated in the New York area, they were also a military family that were replanted. Their dark hair and dark skin were matched by the darkness of their personalities and in their interaction with folks. The younger children in the family had a strange mix of “Italian-esque” darkness but were also very dark red-headed and freckled which together made them seem anything but timid gingers; a strange part of this family that would sometimes claim to have ties to mafia members and old Italian curses. This family was quick to share their opinions at the expense of and to influence others and, not surprisingly, they would be the first family to cause trouble in the neighborhood… Often police cars would show up as a result of the disputes and arguments they would start with other families so much so that our street could have been mistaken scene from the television series “COPS”. A person could find that they were on the family’s shit-list for something as simple as parking too close to their driveway or anything else that the Mougan’s found objectionable on any particular day; unfortunately for the Bouve family these poor people were frequently victims of Mrs. Mougan’s ire.
The Mitchell’s were largely the Mougan’s pawns or puppets and seemed to exist on Sequoia Drive for no other reason than to represent that family in many of the public tirades that would take place. The only thing unique about this family is the eldest son, Drake Mitchell, would become a small time movie actor after his family moved away.
Finally the Bouve’s… this family made the mistake of getting on the Mougan’s bad side shortly after moving in to their new home. Also not helpful to the Bouve’s was the fact that they were an extremely “homely” family. I remember everyone from the youngest daughter, father to mother, and everyone in between… all (sorry) “ugly”, but NICE. I think their looks made it easier for the families of Sequoia Drive to gang up on these poor people. It seems that the ongoing and hateful exchange at which the Bouve’s were a minority were the result of the Bouve daughters not allowing the Mougan daughters to play “Barbie” one day… this small dispute between young girls not even in their teens escalated to the point where mothers were pointing and screaming at each other in the streets. Father’s where threatening to bash in the brains of each other and eventually the police would be called to calm the situation… again and again and again…
We (my family) along with the Conway’s would sit on our stoops and enjoy these antics which were quite possible as entertaining as “Happy Days” or “Welcome Back Kotter” was in those days. After the fights would conclude Mrs. Mougan would make her rounds spreading her propaganda doing damage control for her own reputation and biasing opinions of the Bouves to each family who during this period were usually too frightened to come out of their house.
The fights seemed to happen quite regularly and definitely would escalate during the summer months. I remember one particular fight in which the Mougan’s guard dogs, the Mitchell family joined in on their assault of the Bouve’s (of course they joined on many occasions) and the young future performer emerged from his home carrying a baseball bat which he used on and impacted at least two or three times on the Bouve’s car. This neighborhood was NUTS!
Eventually the Bouve’s had enough of what was becoming a weekly assault and moved… not sure where they went but I had heard out of state. Things grew calm in the neighborhood, Mrs. Mougan was ecstatic that her arch enemies had gone, but soon she turned her sights on my mother and my family, not to the extremes at which she treated the Bouve’s but my family would soon become the neighborhood pariah.