A Child of the Fifties

by Paul Schroder

Chapter 1

I guess I was about five years old when I stood in our side yard and angrily yelled up to my Mother, whom I could see through the kitchen window, "Meanie, meanie... you big fat weenie!" and then took off running down the sidewalk.

I don't remember what my mother did, or more likely, forbade me to do, to warrant my ire that day. There were times I was sure my parents had misnamed me though. I should have been named "don't touch that" or "sit down and shut up."

I have two older brothers that have enabled me to build up a substantial vocabulary of choice words and phrases, few, if any, pleasing to my mother. My mother learned from her mother that soap should be included in the diet of a errant child. In my mother's mind, profanity was just a stain on the tongue that could be removed with rigorous application of Lux or Lifebuoy Soap. Whenever I received this punishment, it was often accompanied by the uproarious laughter of my older brothers. But, Mother knew where I'd likely learned any of the expletives that I creatively used. Their mouth washing quickly followed. And, of course, this did not endear me to their hearts. In fact, I was the little pest they constantly tried to avoid.

My mother had an evening job as a waitress in a Chinese Restaurant. She would often put my brothers in charge of babysitting me after school and well into the evening. It was expected that they put me to bed around 8 to 8:30 at the latest. But, if they did so, then they were stuck indoors with me for the rest of the evening. So, often as not, they would head outdoors with me in tow. They told me I could tag along as they did their grown up boys stuff, with the caveat that I was to keep my mouth shut and not be a pest. And, my middle brother said not to do a bunch of yawning the next day when I didn't get to bed until 10 or so that evening.

I did my best to keep in the background so my brothers would let me hang out with them. I remember one instance when we were in a neighbor's yard after dark and my brothers were looking for night-crawlers by flashlight. Night-crawlers are these huge worms that crawl out of the ground and lay on top of the grass at night. My middle brother, Dick, said they were trying to get a moon tan! Anyway, my brothers would grab these fat wigglers before they snapped back into their holes. They put the worms into a box of garden soil back at our house. It was a business they told me. The intent was to sell them to fishermen. I don't know if they ever sold any or not because every fifth house on our block had a scribbled sign posted in their front yard saying "night crawlers for sale". My brothers weren't the only kids in the night-crawler business.

They almost sold some once. As it was I did it for them. They were both in school but I was in our front yard when this fella stopped his car and yelled out to me.

"Hey, young'un. I'm going fishing. Dig me out some of your crawlers." He climbed out of his car and walked over to where I was on my knees pulling the burlap sack off the worm box. We had some old soup cans by the box to put the worms in. I started pulling them out and counting them out loud as I dropped them into a can. I was a good counter outer, even though I hadn't started school. I could even sing my ABC's.

I knew what a dozen was too, and so, when I got to twelve, I started to hand the can over to the man. "Hey," he said, "don't you give a baker's dozen for my 25 cents?"

I looked at him kind of squinty eyed and told him, "I didn't bake these, Mister. I'm not allowed to touch the stove."

He laughed out loud and then stuck two quarters in the palm of my hand! "Pleasure doing business with ya," he says, and climbs back into his car.

Now I'm looking at these two quarters and thinking that I can stick one in my pocket and give the other to my brothers to show them what a good business man I am. Then again, I could put both quarters in my pocket because nothing I ever did seemed to impress my brothers. I didn't get to make any decision though as my mother was watching the sales exchange through the kitchen window.

"Here sweety. You better let me hold onto your brothers' money so you don't lose it while you're playing."

"Ahh... Popsicle!" I said under my breath.

Well, even at that early age I was a quick learner. My brother's had to be careful of the things they said or did so that I didn't repeat them to our Mother. If they lapsed in judgment in front of me then they would both just glare at me and tell me that, if I repeated what I had just heard to our Mother or Father, they would put spiders in my bed. I had just an average fear of spiders at that age. My true phobia wouldn't develop until a few years later. But, still, the thought of them as bed-mates was totally unappealing.

One day I saw a demonstration of magic from Chad, the next door neighbor kid. He would pretend to put a long stick or a pencil down his throat like a sword swallower. He'd accomplish this by standing sideways to me and simply passing the stick or pencil by the side of his head, so it would appear as though he were swallowing it. What gave it away though, was that the stick was too long and I'd see it poking out the back of his head.

I liked this illusion however and practiced a form of it myself. I got pretty good at tilting my head back and pretending to drop stuff into my mouth. It would actually land on my shoulder and then I could, unobtrusively, reach up with the opposite hand and palm the object. Then I would pretend to chew and swallow the, whatever it was, when I turned to face my imaginary audience. With the item palmed, I would then put my hand under my butt and make farting noises. Voila, here is the item, having made a trip from my mouth to my butt. Now how many 5 year olds do you know that can do that?

The opportunity came along to demonstrate my trick on my brothers one evening when they were babysitting me. They were sitting on our couch with a couple of yucky girls they were trying hard to impress. I, meanwhile, had gone out to their worm box and picked out the longest, fattest night-crawler I could find. I stood in front of our china hutch in the living room and held up the worm, dangling it between two fingers. The girl sitting next to my brother, Dick, said "ewww, your little brother's got a huge worm." Dick piped up with "if you think his is big, you will really be impressed with mine! Ha ha ha."

The girls both giggled and pretended to be offended. My response, however, was to turn sideways, tilt my head way back and dangle the worm over my mouth. (Actually it was to the side of my mouth.) The girl with my oldest brother, Billy, said "oh, gross. He wouldn't. Would he?" Whereupon I pretended to drop that sucker right down my throat. Reaching up with the other hand, I carefully palmed the worm as I turned to face my audience. Then I put on a real show of acting as though I were chewing and swallowing. "Ta..daaa!" I yelled out. I was about to pass my hand with the worm down to my butt to pretend to poop it out. I didn't get that far.

Billy, my oldest brother, who I had forgotten had a kind of weak stomach, suddenly and violently threw up all over our coffee table! His girl friend was fine until Billy threw up and then they were doing a duet. Dick's girl friend jumped up and ran down the hallway to the bathroom. Dick, however, just stared at me like he couldn't believe what had just happened. He knew I was faking it. I wasn't really as good at it as I thought I was. But then he got this evil grin on his face and he said "just wait until Mom comes home!"

My head snapped up like I'd just been shot at. I had an instant vision of Lux soap roiling out the corners of my mouth and soaking my shoes. "Oh man..." I cried, as I shot out the door in a panic.

Now, we had streetlights in the 50's so I wasn't in a "blind panic", but pretty close to it. I was running for running's sake and only stopped just long enough to scream out "Dickey, you rotten meanie. You look just like my big fat weenie." (I thought that was a big improvement over the insult I had given Mother.) Then I took that poor, defenseless night-crawler and launched it somewhere in the vicinity of our steps.

The girlfriends were troopers and showed their true worth by cleaning up the coffee table and carpet. The odor was another story and tended to linger. Dick was laughing his butt off when Billy asked him where I was. He just pointed at the door.

"What? You let him run off in the middle of the night? You know Mom's due home from work soon and she'll kill us for letting him out of our sight."

It was Dick's turn to feel that stab of panic. His plan was to get me into trouble and for him to look like a cherub with a halo. He didn't plan to share any pending punishment.

"Damn," he quipped. And the two of them dashed out onto the front porch to try and spot me. But I'd reached the end of the block and turned the corner. My legs were jelly from the running. I was hungry, tired, pissed and scared. The anger part kept the fear of night critters from taking control. Dick had told me numerous stories about things that went bump in the night, and that they tended to bump off errant little boys. I didn't know where I was headed, it was just... away. I do remember musing whether a 5 year old could join the French Foreign Legion. That was a popular movie theme in those days.

I finally had to stop and catch my breath. In order to keep the fear of night creatures at bay, I sang my favorite radio jingle. "N-E-S-T-L-E-S, Nestles makes the very best... chocolate." The emphasis on the chocolate was long and drawn out because that's the way Snaggle Tooth sang it on my friend's TV. We didn't have a TV but my friend Jimmy did. I was welcome to go over there on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons with him and his little sister.

Hey... maybe Jimmy would run away with me! We could join the Foreign Legion together! His Dad is a French Creel or Crayon or something like that. Maybe Jimmie could speak French! That would help us a lot. Let's see, it will probably take us a month to walk to France and Jimmy can teach me French on the way. I love it when a plan comes together!

The only problem is that Jimmy's house is in the opposite direction from what I took tonight. I will have to go right past my house again and that just won't do! Mom could be home! She could be waving a bar of soap around and yelling at my brothers to go find me! The thought had no longer left my head when I heard the rattling sound of two poorly maintained bikes being fast peddled in my direction. Mutt and Jeff were after me!

I had no idea whose house it was I was standing next to. But their yard backed up to the empty field that continued on right past the rear of my house. If I can sneak through their yard before my brothers spot , I can still get to Jimmy's house. I was through their gate and half way across their yard before a dog started barking at me from the vicinity of the people's front porch. And from the depth and timber of that bark it must be a mixture of timber wolf and Great Dane! When you are five years old, the average sized dog comes up to your chest. From the sound of this one it was probably a good foot taller than me! I did a spin around and continued back the way I came without breaking my stride. I could hear the "Hound of Hell" gaining on me and that spurred me to double my speed!

I managed to swing that gate open and step through it in a single movement. Momentum carried me out into the street and right into my brother Billy. Billy, in turn, dominoes into Dick and there was a crash of bikes and boys!

And then from Dick I heard "Damn you, Paul. You little sawed-off, knock-kneed, febble-minded butt-licker. You cross-eyed, pigeon-toed little fart-snorter!"

My brother Dick loved to cuss. He could cuss better than a cowboy in a bar fight. I think he laid awake nights stringing insults together. But they seldom had their desired effect. They weren't really insulting they were just funny as all get out. He hadn't gotten the second sentence out of his mouth before I was braying like a donkey. I laughed until I farted! Then I gave him my version of the evil eye and said "just wait until Mom comes home." My big brothers just sat there in a pile of bike parts and looked at each other in shock. I knew I had won. My worm eating trick was safe and I was ready to go home.

I grew up before google, online social networks or personal computers. The only moon landing by this date was by Flash Gordon. And with the Flash, the Moon was just a pit stop on his way to Mars. And, man-oh-man, I had an authentic, realistic, honest-to-goodness Flash Gordon ray gun! I'd pull the trigger and an internal wheel would spin and cause sparks to fly out of the barrel. Pretty heady stuff for a five year old. My friend Jimmy didn't have the real thing and so had to make do with a cap pistol. Needless to say, my advanced weaponry insured that I played the title role in our space adventures. Poor Jimmy was either cast as my sidekick (like Robyn to Batman) or an alien life-form that badly needed eradication.

We fought some epic battles. We would leap from the roof of my garden shed to an old innerspring mattress my Father hadn't hauled to the dump yet. We would do a rolling tumble, pop to our feet and blast away at alien hordes! Once, it involved the two of us attacking the Martian Tiger Woman (Jimmy's little sister) who ended up running home to tell on us. Of course we two would run after her screaming we were sorry and promising to give her better billing in our future space operas. God forbid Jimmy's Mom relay back to my Mom that we were teasing a younger child. Once my Mom got three or four bad reports from around the neighborhood, she would have no alternative but to say "I'm going to have to tell your Father!" While it was a really bad thing to hear my brother Dick say "I'm telling Mom on you," that didn't even hold a candle to when my Mom would say, "just wait until your Father gets home!" I saw that as a near death threat and would go through hell to prevent hearing that sentence.

My brother Dick, as the middle brother, is nine years older than me while my oldest sibling, Bill (or Billy to me), is eleven years older. So, you can see how I was enough of a junior to them to be totally annoying. We had absolutely nothing in common and they had no interest in playing with a five year old. Dick would make that very apparent and I would often be the subject of his practical jokes. Billy was above all that and, at sixteen, usually spent his time mooning over girls.

To be fair, Dick had spent the first nine years of his life as the baby of the family and getting most of Mom's attention. When I made my appearance on the scene, I robbed him of the title of 'youngest' and began upstaging him. I, of course, didn't understand the reason behind his antagonistic behavior. I just figured he was a junior Al Capone who would one day end up riddled with thousands of g-men bullets! And I would likely be the one to turn him into the FBI.

His constant antagonizing and teasing me did not bode well for Dick. It seems he and his friends were picking up the big boy affectation of smoking! Junior smokers looked cool and so very, very adult. They all said so, to one another. Besides, everyone smoked in those days. Shoot, even John Wayne, aka "The Duke" did Lucky Strike ads. (He later died of lung cancer you know.) My Mom smoked Pall Malls but she called it a filthy habit. And she wasn't about to give in by allowing any of us kids to copy that filthy habit!

Dick would try very hard to keep his smoking a secret from our Mom. But he wasn't able to hide it from me, because I kept close tabs on my arch enemy. "Mom," I'd yell, "Dick's smoking in the shed!" The next day "MOM... Dick's smoking in the back yard with Tharon." So it was easy to see that we weren't about to become tried and true friends anytime soon. All we did was give one another ammunition for constant pay back. The problem is, I was really no match for him. He had years of life practice ahead of me but he did teach me to stay on my toes and peer around corners.

One day I had gleefully informed my Mother of a smoking occurrence that was in the process of happening, and then I set off to Jimmy's yard to play Flash Gordon. But, unknown to me, Dick had put a couple drops of machine oil down the barrel of my official Flash Gordon ray gun. By oiling the spinning disk inside, that effectively stopped it from producing sparks. I was flabbergasted. I might just as well have been pointing my finger and going "buzz buzz buzz". Jimmy pointed out that at least his cap gun made loud bangs and so, perhaps, he should play the part of the Flash. I could, of course, join in as his side kick if I so desired. What a jerk.

Well, Dick and I didn't call an end to the hostilities but we did make a truce of sorts, sort of like North and South Korea would eventually do. The war was still on but we knew future battles wouldn't benefit either of us. We never made a pinky promise or anything; it was more of a mutual understanding. We had occasional flareups, like the one I already told you about with the night-crawler.

Sometimes I got on either of my brothers' bad sides simply by doing dumb kid stuff and not knowing any better. One day I was in our bedroom (we three boys shared a room) and I was looking through Billy's Monopoly set. I opened the window to try for a bit of a breeze. The house was stuffy. There was no screen on the window because Billy had broken it sneaking out at night to be with his girl friend or perhaps from Dick sneaking out to smoke after he thought I'd fallen asleep. So, leaning out the window I saw Jimmy's little sister walking past our house. An idea for play occurred to me and I yelled out "Suzie, do you want to play store?"

Suzie was pretty smart for a four year old, so she wandered over to the window and answered, "okay, how do you play?"

"Well," I explained, " I'm the shop keeper and I sell you stuff out this window.

"What kind of stuff," she inquired.

Glancing down at the Monopoly set I said "houses and pretty cards and stuff."

I had one, intrigued little girl on the hook now.

"Should I ask my Mommy for some money?"

No problem," I responded, "I've got tons of money." I proceeded to hand Suzie a fist full of Monopoly bills. Now, the games in those days didn't contain stamped plastic pieces. Everything was die-cast metal. The houses, hotels and tokens were all metal. Buying that kit in new condition on ebay today would probably run the cost of an entertainment system.

We began to wheel and deal in real estate and I soon had two or three other friends gathered to get in on the deals. I was having just scads of fun when suddenly the bedroom door slammed open and there stood Billy with the next door neighbor, Chad. Chad was holding a couple of hotels in his hand. He had realized what I was doing and ran to show Billy what I had passed to him out of our window.

Now, when Dick swore, it could be humorous indeed. But, when Billy lit into me for passing nearly his entire Monopoly set out the window, he used ALL the dirty words in the English vocabulary. I would say all of them in the Oxford English Dictionary but I doubt that some of these words, as vile as they were, had ever been in print. There were words I hadn't heard before; words that caused poor Suzie to cry and hold her palms over her ears. There were words that had the accumulated neighbor boys standing slack-jawed. It scared me so bad I tried to jump out of the window... head first! But Billy caught me by a leg and hauled me back into the room. My brother took a few deep breaths and then squatted down so we were nose to nose.

"You, my little brother, are going to go to all those kids out there and gather every single item you gave away from my game. AND I MEAN ALL OF THEM!"

Well, I did exactly that. It took me a couple of days. I had to do some real wheeling and dealing to get everything back. It cost me a few of my favorite toys and finally a threat that I'd send Billy over if they didn't cooperate. The ones who had heard him that day weren't anxious to deal with that prospect. I got everything back but for one hotel and two houses and an undisclosed amount of cash. I learned years later that Dick had gathered those final pieces and gave them to Billy on the sly, just because he could.

In the next chapter I learn the "f" word and that homos and hobos only sound the same.

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