I was born a dead, black, conehead whom the Dr. discarded in the trash bin so that he could attend to my mother whose life was in peril upon my birth in a two story farmhouse in Plainfield Township Mi. just north of the thumb.
Fortunately for me a midwife was present and took to slapping me around and dunking me in a sink full of hot and then cold water when she couldn’t find another needle to stick in me.
Apparently both my mother and I survived the ordeal and I never bothered to ascertain the midwife’s name to thank her, but I wasn’t speaking then and my penmanship would have been horrible. About like it is now.
I was born on my mother’s family farm, but only lived there a year or so before my mom and dad had a falling out over some wages my dad was owed by my grandfather.
I really don’t know which side of my family is the best grudge holder, but I didn’t even know I had the Stonewall side of the family until I was ten years old when we learned that grandpa Stoney was dying of cancer.
That was when I met my grandma Lucille, Aunt Ellen & my cousin Doug who was born in the same house as I one year & 3 days later. I also met most of the rest on that side of the family over time and by and large found them to be as weird as the lunatics on the La Vigne side of the family.
I spent the first 12 years of my life on June St. a gravel road about a quarter mile long in a subdivision half way between Pontiac and Rochester called Auburn Heights, later to be known as Auburn Hills after we moved out and the place could become more sophisticated.
June Street was off Crooks the paved two lane road that intersected with Auburn which ran East 15 miles to Pontiac and West 10 miles to Rochester.
On the SE corner was a modern gas station. On the NW corner was a drugstore and local grocery store. On the SW corner was a lumber yard which the back of our ½ acre fenced in back yard bordered and between the lumber yard and Crooks road was Jim and Jerry’s gas station. This was thee place. It was a little two bay gas station with a candy counter, pin ball machine and an automatic air pump for my bike tires, yet it was the place that swallowed up every nickel my younger brother Rodger and I made delivering the Pontiac Press. At a nickel a game you could literally play all day not to mention the 5 cent candy bars and 8 cents for 6&1/2 ounces of bottled coke.
On the other corner was a vacant lot except when an actual three ring circus came to town every summer and a carnival every fall.
One half mile West on Auburn was Elmwood elementary school, which shared a driveway & parking lot with the Methodist church my mom made me go to, but I don’t remember my brothers ever going there. There was a Lutheran and a Baptist church next to each other between the school and the gas station on the corner of Crooks. I don’t remember exactly how it happened or the time line, but I do remember being Baptized in all three and the best was the Baptist because in was like a built in swimming pool right in the front of the church.
My mother never had a job and my dad never cooked or did housework of any kind. We never even had an outdoor Barbeque and I think it was because he would have had to cook. I don’t ever remember them ever talking about it, but I’m pretty sure it was an iron clad arrangement, because I never saw one exception. Not that my dad was a tyrant, anything but, in fact he was about the most gentle man I ever knew. Not one time in my whole childhood do I ever remember him ever laying a hand on me or my brothers.
My mom on the other hand was a notorious head slapping, butt whooping screaming Banshee who loved us kids, but had a short fuse when it came to us minding her. She was kind of the nervous type and never quite got used to the yelling and fighting and disrespect that she was shown by us until the “beatings” began once she caught one of us.
I don’t know how she escaped being noticed, just try to imagine the sight she made chasing the four of us boys out in the yard and down the street with a wooden spoon in her hand while wearing an apron and high heels.
She surely must have escaped notice though, because at around ten in the morning all the ladies would gather at one house for a two hour coffee clutch where they discussed all the local matters and gossip and then reported to their husbands what needed to be done, whether it was finding a neighbor a replacement job or how they would help their neighbor whose house had just burned down.
That’s just the way things were in the suburbs in the fifties though we never called it that, let alone the burbs or suburbia, we just called it home.
Our house was just a little place that kept growing. At first it was a front room (we never heard of a living room or family room) that you could enter from the front yard which was about 60 feet to the big ditch that separated all the houses on that side from the road and about 100 feet from neighbor to neighbor wide. The most memberable item in the front yard other than the ditch was an ugly crabapple tree that shed hundreds and hundreds of hard little red apples about the size Bing cherries that we had to rake up constantly. Well my mom and dad did anyway, but the worst part was, that they were inedible. I loved the sour little green apples we would pick from the orchard at the end of the street maybe a ¼ mile away. My brother Rodger and I spent a lot of time in that orchard eating and throwing those apples at each from one tree fort to the next the next tree fort. You know I don’t remember us ever getting hurt or sick in those apple fights, imagine that.
About the only times any of us got hurt that I can recall was in a little league game when I tried to catch a pop up with my nose. I spent two days in the Rochester hospital on that one. Rodger caught a fish hook right in the eyelid from a line I was casting. I don’t think he even cried, at least not as much as I did when I turned and saw him holding that hook away from his eyeball. Fortunately the McRynalds lived close buy, (I guess that’s why we called it McRynalds pond) and I called dad who took him to the dentist to have the hook cut so it could just slip out. I think my dad would have done it himself but he didn’t want to take any chances with Rodgers eye after he once got his butt burned badly one time when mom was washing him in the sink as a baby, apparently she got distracted for a minute and he turned the hot water on himself.
The house had a side door to the kitchen until my Dad and a couple of his friends built an enclosed breezeway that connected the kitchen to the garage. Actually it was much more than a breezeway; it was a whole other room that we played in a lot.
The back yard must have been a 100 yards long and bordered all around with a row of very tall arborvitae shrubs planted by my grandfather Irving La Vigne, I guess that’s how you spell it. I don’t know for sure because I don’t think I ever saw his name written out.
He built his own house on Stein Rd off Dixie highway about 5 miles north of the Ohio border. There are a lot of things I remember about his house and yard. I remember the big mulberry tree in the back yard close the house and how much I liked to eat them. There was a horseshoe shaped driveway that went around the house and separated the tree from a cement block garage and a horse stable on the other side.
There was a bed like area in the stable that apparently my uncle Bill slept in so he said and I never verified, but the whole room was about the size of a single horse trailer.
Irv was quite a guy with a lot of different interests. At one time he held the record for the fastest boat and the fastest motorcycle, yet I never saw him drive over 35 miles an hour. He was at one time a street car driver and I believe the street car ran right next to his to his house before he turned that section of his property into a world class garden. He also was very well known as a terrific horticulturist. I still have the silver spade Henry Ford had made for him for all the wonderful landscaping he had done on the “Fairlane Manor” property that Ford called home. The Fairlane Manor was so vast that it was also the home of the first airport.
Irv was only about 5’2” & married to 5’ Lila who was also pure French and they had four boys and a girl. Apparently sometime after all the kids left whatever if any love grandma and grandpa had for each other was gone, but you would never have known it, at least I never noticed all the times I stayed there or visited during the holidays. I know that my grandfather was a generous man as he took in Lila’s mother Micholie and her retarded sister Marjie until they died.
Speaking of the holidays, Thanksgiving was always at our house, Christmas was at Grandmas and Grandpas and New Years was always at Aunt Irene’s (my Grandpa’s sister’s) house that was less than one half mile from Grandpa’s house right on Dixie Hwy. Regardless which holiday or what house, two things were certain. There would be a turkey feast with pumpkin & mince meat pie for desert and three card tables after the meal full of La Vignes hollering fresh meat once the losing team got beat at Euchre so the next team of pigeons could sit down to meet their demise.
Now Aunt Irene was a real trip being at least as big around as she was high, but never short on energy and you just knew without any thought about it, that she not only ruled her house but just her presence dominated all. All except for my Mom & especially my Dad who wouldn’t hesitate to make a stand against any and all when it came to us kids or other matters which were and had to be very important to them for him to say his piece.
In fact and I don’t know why, my dad and soon to be followed by his brother Myron, left home in their early teens to work their grandparents farm. Dad worked there until he lied about his age to join the navy in 44. All I know about my father’s time in the service is that he was a carpenter in the Philippines and was in the battle of Leyte Gulf, which was the biggest battle in the Pacific.
My dad’s oldest brother was my uncle Bob who served as a medic while in the Navy during WWII and moved to Texas shortly after he mustered out and became a mortician. On the few times I saw him, he was always a jovial and fun loving guy and quite the practical joker.
He met Jerry Noggle on a troupe ship headed back to the states as the war ended in the pacific and arranged for no duty or work assignments for Jerry the entire trip because he lost all his private parts in combat when in all actuality he lost one testicle, but Bob wrote “the strain was just more than he could bear”, however it didn’t stop him and his wife Joyce from having three kids. Bob shortly thereafter introduced Jerry to my dad and they became the closest of friends. Bonnie and I still visit Jerry and his new wife every couple years in Arizona just to honor their friendship.
Bob and his first wife, whose name I don’t remember, it might have been Wanda had one son, Roland my only cousin who is older than me. Roland went to college so he could work with his father as a mortician. Bob and his second wife Mary had three kids I think and at least two of them were boys, the oldest one’s name was also Bob.
My dad was the second oldest and then Myron, who also moved to Texas when he got his discharge from the Army after serving on a tank in the Korean War. I never saw him in all the time he lived in Texas working as a truck driver, but my folks and brothers did and whenever his name was mentioned it was always accompanied with how big a liar he was. I understand that he would lie even if the truth would do. All that changed when he came back to Michigan after his divorce and married Rose a family friend who also lived on Stein road. Rose kept Myron on a short leash and his days of stretching the truth were over. Myron drove a tractor trailer and was real handy with his hands. I remember him teaching my son Mike how to weld once.
Myron had two kids by his first wife that went by the names of Buddy and Elaine. I’m not even sure if Buddy is his birth name or not, but it’s the only name I’ve ever heard to this day. I never met either until I was out of the Army, but I do remember one story of the two of them as kids in Texas was how wild my mom thought they were. I guess both of them spent the whole time of my mom and dad’s visit running up their living room wall and doing back flips back down to the floor. I guess my mom thought that was unacceptable behavior with adult guests present, but the only thing she had to compare them to was the four of her own angel sons and none of us could do back flips.
Climbing and falling out of trees was my specialty. In fact one time while I was shinnying up skinny Elm trees to ride them down to the ground I grabbed one too big and it only bent half way. So there I am hanging on to this half bent over tree like a monkey with no Banana and getting tired. Fortunately, my buddy Phil Barnes was underneath me yelling to let go and he would catch me. After weighing all of my other options I let go and true to Phil’s word, he caught me that is if you count bounces. My leg snapped so bad that you could see both broken bones sticking out of the skin. Well we were certainly equipped and trained for such an emergency as Phil and my other buddies hoisted me on their shoulders and proceeded to yell and scream as they ran around in circles to either find their way out of the woods or to possible calm me down by demonstrating their expertise.
That episode should have cost me three months in a walking cast and probably would have if I didn’t break it twice more playing sand lot football. One time I went roller skating with it still broken. I had my own size 6 & ½ skate on one foot and a size 13 on the other and came in second in the roller skate race. I didn’t do that well before.
I’ve met Elaine a few times here in Southern California both here in HB and at Camp Pendleton where her husband just retired as a Sergeant Major although they’re called something else in the Marine corp. I don’t know what happened to Buddy, except one time he insulted Aunt Donna so bad that neither she nor Myron would talk to him for the longest time.
Billy was the youngest of my uncles and my aunt Donna was just a couple years older. I doubt they got along all that well and I’m not sure if they did really grow out of it or even grow up for that matter, but it never stopped them from counting on each other and most of the time they were there for each other.
Donna might have graduated high school. Actually I don’t know if any of them did. I know dad quit after the eighth grade. Mom was the only one that I know graduated. However when it came to common sense and just plain intelligence, they all had their fair share, but dad was sharp and by far the most respected.
Donna, from all indications, never really liked being young. She was completely gray while in high school and she always talked about being a grandma. That doesn’t mean she didn’t like to laugh and have a good time, no far from it. Speaking of laughter and having a good time that was a trait of all of us La Vignes and continues on through my kids as well. To us, nothing was better than a gut wrenching, side splitting belly roar that lasted 15 minutes, especially if it came at the end of a practical joke.
Donna was a conniver and schemer, maybe because she was always alone. I don’t mean no friends and acquaintances, hell she practically lived in every house on Stein road at one time or another over the years, in fact last I heard she’s staying at the Bates house right now and that’s right across the street from Rose’s house and right next door to a big old house that I even stayed at when I visited her as a kid.
The one thing I remember most about that house was when she sent me upstairs to get a belt whipping. I stuck a paperback book in my pants and thought I might get away with it if she used a belt instead of her hand. Instead of a sigh relief I feigned shock that she was actually going to whoop my butt. She must have had a hell of a time controlling her laughter while she spanked my ass that had to stick out four inches and sounded like two wood blocks clanging together every time she laid into me and me balling hysterically.
Donna kind of got married to Uncle George Shelp, another world class character. No one actually went to their wedding that would have happened in the early sixties because there really wasn’t one. They just moved in together had a couple of kids named Valerie and Sandy and after ten years together the state determined that they were indeed married by common law and that was the first I heard of such a thing. I understand the reason for no marriage is because George was catholic and never divorced.
George was twenty years her senior and had already retired as a telegrapher for the railroad and used his childhood connections to not only get a job as an agent for the Teamsters, but became Jimmy Hoffa’s right hand man. He eventually parlayed that into becoming the President of the Teamsters Retirement Committee. He also set Donna up as a trucking agent that lined up loads for truck owner operators. Eventually my brother Rodger partnered up with them as an agent for Ryder Truck Lines. All a trucking agent really needed was an office and a phone and oh yea connections came in kind of handy. They made their money in the form of 8% of the total charged.
George and my dad were very close, maybe as close as Jerry and dad. So close in fact that dad would not go to George’s funeral as per George’s request and I know how much that upset him.
George loved the ponies and spent the whole winter in Florida blowing over $40,000 without Donna celebrating his retirement from the Teamsters.
They never owned their own home together except for Donnas’ house trailer on a lot on Silver Lake and when Donna inherited the house on Stein when grandma died in 84. They just bounced around from place to place and one time they even lived together with Uncle Bill and his wife Dorothy.
George always had a new Cadillac and always had the radio on full blast in case the feds were listening and they probably were during the Hoffa trial.
Yes the wedding was uneventful if non-existent, but the divorce and funeral, that was a whole other matter.
Donna met Carol at the truck stop and they became so close that Donna invited her to not only stay with her and George, but she could sleep with Donna. I’m not sure were George was sleeping before, but he was sleeping alone after that.
Well the writing was on the wall after that and I’m sure George referring to them as Lesbians didn’t slow the train much and in his mid seventies he didn’t care all that much. On the day the divorce was final, they made a big show of getting a Limo and celebrating. Well, Well, Well.
Less than a month after Donnas’ and 2 ton Carol’s victory celebration George died in Chicago of a heart attack and as far as I know Donna arranged for the mortuary service and funeral which I believe was a cremation just west of Detroit. Everything was going very well, very prim and very proper when a quest from the west (Chicago) made an announcement pertaining to the demise of the guest of honor George who was just minding his own business awaiting his roasting.
The visitor was female and proceeded to announce that recently divorced 75 year old George Shelp did indeed die of a heart attack but that it was in fact induced by the Monica Lewinsky that she herself was performing on him. You could have heard a pin drop, but when Donna was informed by both of her daughters that they knew of George’s Chicago dalliance, she lost it and proceeded to try to rip George’s remains from his resting box.
To this day, George is the only person I’ve known who actually had the last word after his death.
To leave it at that and go on wouldn’t be fair or do justice to Donna. She loved our family and had nothing but respect and admiration for my dad & mom as well. She always meant well and we all loved her. She just couldn’t help being the kind of person who over promised and under delivered.
She loved to give and do for all of us, but there was no doubt that Rodger was her favorite even when we were kids and she bought him a Cushman scooter just to tool around Stein Road on. She and George even made him a partner in their trucking agency. To this day I don’t know the details of how and why they split up, but there was a ton of acrimony and hard feelings. In fact to this day they still don’t talk and that was over thirty years ago. I really don’t know anything about their break up, I just figured it’s none of my business and if they wanted me to know they would have told me.
Speaking of holding grudges, us La Vignes do that real well, at least some of us do.
One time George and Donna had a bunch of cats and they asked ole marksman Myron to shoot them all except for their pet, the momma cat while they took off for the weekend. Well ole marksman Myron told them it would no problem for a big game hunter such as himself. George and Donna left 12 cats to the care of ole marksman Myron to be disposed of in short order.
Upon their return from their three day sojourn, what was there to greet their arrival, but 11 starving screaming cats, three of them wounded, but of course none fatally. None except the one Myron was able to hit and kill. Oh yea, your way ahead of me aren’t you, the only one Myron killed was their pet old momma cat. I don’t have to make any of this up.
The truly funny part of this whole scenario was that they had called a truce from their previous tantrum apparently so they would have more fuel to throw on this next one.
I guess I could have held a grudge myself for Donna and George taking my younger brother Rodger to a New Years Eve party and leaving me behind to baby sit their spoiled kids. At least I didn’t get sick and throw up all night like he did.
My Uncle Bill
I never spent more time, learned more, experienced more or got into and out of more trouble, grief and just plain foolishness than I did with my uncle Bill. To say he was one of kind or they broke the mold after they made him, just isn’t fair to axioms or molds. No one in their right mind would or even could have developed a mold for him.
This guy was not only the black sheep, but he was the black goat, black chicken and black hippo all rolled into one. Yet every person I ever met who knew him would speak disparagingly about him and then treat him like their long lost friend when he came by and hated to see him leave after they made sure they still had their fingers and toes.
The funny thing was that Bill never took anybody for a ride that didn’t beg him to do it to them. I can’t tell you how many used Christmas trees he sold for $2 in January. Some even bought another one a couple of years later and don’t think for a minute that they didn’t feel foolish when they ponied up another $2 for a second used Christmas tree.
One time as a kid, his brother Myron caught him wearing Myron’s new shoes and was going to kick Bill’s butt. Bill took off running & hitchhiked to our house in Auburn Heights fifty miles away. My dad called home to tell them Bill was at his house and both grandma & grandpa thought dad was crazy, for they were convinced Bill was still playing with Myron in the front yard.
One weekend when Bill and his buddy were 13, they took his buddy’s dad’s airplane out of the garage started it up and flew it around awhile while his parents were out of town. Neither one of them had ever landed a plane before, but they did this time right in front of the garage.
I’ve witnessed this phenomenal luck of Bill’s on more than one occasion. One time he was towing a truck tractor past my dad’s Sunoco gas station when a big tire and wheel got lose and started bouncing and rolling through heavy four lane traffic, after missing all the cars with Bill in hot pursuit on foot, I’ll be damned if that wheel didn’t make a sharp left turn before going right through our plate glass window, wobble in front of the mechanics bay, stop and lay down before doing any harm what so ever.
Another time Bill and my dad were towing two junk trucks up north. After crossing the 5 mile long Mackinac Bridge they immediately pulled into a truck stop when suddenly the chain broke and Bill and dad watched in horror as both trucks were free rolling in the truck stop parking lot sure to cause a ton of damage and grief when amazingly both junky old trucks each veered into their own parking spot and stopped against the curb. It was to my dad’s utter amazement and sheer delight that no damage had been done, but then Bill informed him that that was to be their final destination as predetermined and they didn’t even have to spend an hour in the cold pushing them around and parking them.
As a kid, I saw quite a bit of Uncle Bill. I remember the day his wedding announcements came out, yep that’s right plural. He had two announcements come out the same day in the same paper. One took off running and screaming. The other, Dorothy decided to marry him anyway.
How did that work out you may ask? They had two kids, Christopher and Robin, whom I don’t know much about, except Robin had a bunch of welfare kids and I believe she even got a college degree while her and her brood was and probably still is living off the various government programs.
She came by her ability to scam the system quite naturally of course, being the daughter of Uncle Bill who never once paid a nickel into social security or any other government collection box. Hell, he even had a card board license plate that he would change the numbers on every year like it mattered. Sometimes he would even get a new piece of cardboard. I don’t ever recall him having a real one.
I’m not even sure I had a real government metal license plate when I drove his junky old truck with no heater, no air conditioning and hardly any brakes or clutch to speak of to Texas with a load of glass on a double bottom trailer.
I’m not sure exactly how I seemed to be involved in most of his endeavors, maybe it was because I could never seem to get and hold a job that actually paid money for services rendered for any length of time. In fact the first job I ever had was at “Frank N Stein”, a hot dog stand that paid a whopping 15 cents an hour. I was a short, skinny, snot nosed kid of 15 years old and cut a fine figure if you thought a stick figure was adorable.
I was fired the first day.
Was I lazy, sloppy, stealing? Nope, none of those. So I asked the owner why he fired me and he told me it was because he already knew how to run his business. I guess it was just as well if he wasn’t going to take my directions seriously.
Soon after my abrupt dismissal, I got a job that paid 35 cents an hour just down the road at a drive in restaurant called “Dog and Suds”, you’ve seen the kind in movies, the kind with order speakers and roller skating waitresses. It was full service and even had a dining room with a Juke Box. One afternoon, the deep fat fryer I was using caught fire and I ended up burning the whole building right down to the ground. I guess that’s what they get for keeping me employed for three weeks.
Well old Uncle Bill didn’t pay much most of the time either, but he always had a good story to convince me that this would be a good deal for me and my family. I think one time I actually refused him.
One time he and his partner Curtis had a sidewalk snow clearing business and they needed a stooge. I only lived 50 miles away in Ann Arbor and it wouldn’t be a problem to drive though the blizzard to run a tractor up and down the sidewalks of Toledo sweeping off the snow. At least the tractor was enclosed and heated. I don’t think I ever got paid for that one either, but at least Bill and Curtiss didn’t either. Their business model was to sweep the sidewalks and then send a services rendered letter to all in the neighborhood, counting on their good nature and appreciation to send them some money.
Apparently their appreciation was not enough inducement to actually write a check. Go figure.
I remember asking Curtis if he bought his used Christmas tree yet. He told me that he would never do such a stupid thing, so I left it at that. A couple of years later he sent me word that he was indeed the proud owner of a brand new used Christmas tree.
Bill bought a condemned house for a dollar, spent $1,900 bringing it up to code and another $1,900 for cabinets and carpeting and he and Scooter lived there for ten years rent and tax free. No taxes because he didn’t own the five acre property, just the use of it.
Scooter by the way was the live in mother of two more of Bills kids. Bill took to 16 year old Scooter, 25 years younger than he when he got tired of her mother. He couldn’t marry her either because he and Dorothy never divorced.
At least he stuck around when he was with Scooter. When he was with Dorothy, she had no idea where Bill was or when he’d be back.
One time my mom and dad took a weekend trip to “drop in” on Bill and Dorothy who lived in Green Bay at that time about 400 miles driving distance from their home in Grand Rapids Michigan. Dorothy was tickled to see them as mom and dad surprised them by their visit. As she let them in the house, dad asked where Bill was and was told “he went for a pack of cigarettes”. After an hour of coffee and small talk and still no Bill, dad asked how long had he been gone. Dorothy told him two weeks. “Two weeks” dad responded. Yes, she told him that Bill took the car to go get a pack of cigarettes and hasn’t been back for two weeks. In the meantime her cupboards were pretty bare so mom and dad took her shopping for groceries and other necessities and then left her to go sightseeing. I don’t know how long he was eventually gone, but it wasn’t the first or last time Bill pulled that little maneuver on her.
That memory reminds me of the time my mom and dad took me to dinner upstairs at Fred Harvey’s when they picked me up at the Grand Rapids airport from my year in Viet Nam. I asked dad if he was worried about me and was surprised when he responded “Hell no, it’s the only time I’ve ever known where the hell you were.”
My dad and I had a truly loving, respectful, honest and at times tumultuous relationship. Like the time I brought my 19 year old bride Bonnie, 1600 miles from Colorado to live with them while we tried to assimilate into civilian life. After six weeks there, dad announced during dinner, “that if there was ever a problem between Bonnie and me that he and mom would be taking her side.” I told him “I never expected them to do anything else.”
Now let me get back to our neighborhood.
There were always plenty of neighbor kids and a lot of us would play baseball all day long across the street in a fenced in field where the pump house was, along with a merry-go-round, monkey bars and a big swing made of logs.
When we weren’t playing in the playground or pinball at Jim & Jerry’s, we could have been riding our bikes over 20 miles in any direction for whatever reason, or we might have hitchhiked 20 miles to Pontiac or the other direction to the swimming hole at Avon Park in Rochester. One thing for sure, our parents had no idea where we were and whenever they would try to constrain us by rules or grounding or whatever, we could usually wear them down by crying and whining relentlessly.
As I look back at our childhood I realize my parents never had a chance in hell. They were just too damn nice for their own good.
The move to Grand Rapids
My mom and dad typified the can do spirit of this country
Mom and dad decided to make the gutsy decision of leaving all their friends and family behind, changing sales jobs and moving the family to the other side of the state. When they got there, mom would be on her own to watch and care for us kids while dad would be gone five days straight every week making sales calls for Tewleys Seed Company.
They trusted each other enough to be able to handle this responsibility, even though dad only had an 8th grade education and a certificate from Dale Carnegie’s course on “How to win friends and influence people”
They even made a tougher decision 4 years later for him to quit his job, risk everything and open a Sunoco gas station for the main purpose of him being able to work with and be in his four son’s lives.
Amazing when you really think about the risks they were willing to take.
I was 13 in late December 1962, when my mom and dad moved us to a new house across the state to Kentwood, a subdivision of Grand Rapids. We moved in our two cars with a 14’ U-Haul trailer behind one and another trailer behind Jerry Noggle’s car. I 96 was just completed a week before, so we only had to go 40 miles on a two lane road as opposed to the whole 150 miles.
Jerry and Joyce spent the weekend helping our family move before going back home Sunday night. I only tell you this possibly boring anecdote to give you a better understanding what life and friendship was like back then.
We moved during the Christmas break so we had two weeks to get to know the neighborhood.
That’s when I met Don and Phil Barnes, Don and I immediately became best friends and still stay in touch to this day. Phil was also a good friend of Rodger’s and mine, but Don and I were very close.
Don got a radio and tape recorder for Christmas that year and every day and night we’d listen to the music on his radio and try to tape a good song. Sometimes he even went out barefoot in the winter snow with that radio and ended up catching double pneumonia. In the summer we would hang around a park and listen to games until the last one of the night was over.
We were inseparable until I turned 16, got my first car, a 58 Ford and somehow our interests or maybe mine more than his seem to change. I had my own car now which only meant one thing, trying to get dates.
I started high school in January 63 in the eighth grade in a brand new school house. For some reason they put me in all the advance classes, so not only did I not really know anyone, but I was way behind all my scholarly classmates. It wasn’t pretty. They were all stuffed shirts with money and I just didn’t fit in. So I did what I could, took my first ever B’s and went on from there.
From that year on, I put as little effort in my schooling as was possible then. It got so bad I ended up sleeping in every class in my junior and senior year except for that noisy ass wood shop course. Hell, I even found ways to sleep in gym (those wrestling mats sure beat slobbering on my desk top). One time I fell asleep in my speech class (she wouldn’t let me do any more speeches on sports, so I just said it must be nap time) and when I didn’t wake up when the bell rang, my fat, ugly teacher instructed all my classmates to leave quietly and did the same with the incoming class. When that bell rang the class made enough noise to wake me up, so I lifted my head, wiped the drool off my desk and went to my sixth hour class. The problem was school was over; I already missed woodshop and ended up walking 3 miles home because I missed my bus.
Another time Rodger woke me up in the library when I had 20 minutes left to go in my math final that I had to pass to graduate. I ran to the classroom, the teacher told me I had 15 minutes to finish. I took my seat and still was done before most of the class, getting an A on my final exam which got me my D for the year.
In our class yearbook, there’s an inscription written by the yearbook staff that says I bequeath my sleep ease to my brother Rodger.
I still passed all my classes barely, but it sure wasn’t from trying. I never failed on a test that I took, but I didn’t fare so well on the ones I didn’t care enough to take. I might have been the worst under achiever ever at Kentwood High school. My attitude was so bad that our asst. principle, Mr. O’reilly found out I wasn’t going to the graduation ceremony and told me I wouldn’t get my diploma if I didn’t. I believe he and my dad conspired on that one. Whatever, it worked; I went and really had a great time that night.
Other things I remember about those years in GR. before the Army & Viet Nam
I remember Don, myself & Lee Franks sitting in Lee’s back yard worried bad about the Cuban missile crisis.
I remember the Kennedy assassination and the anguish felt by everyone, especially my mom and dad and they didn’t even vote for him.
I remember getting Don and I getting kicked out of Thrifty Acres for life when I got caught stealing the record “I fought the law and the law won”. Don didn’t even know I slipped it in my pants until I got caught.
I remember raising hell with Rodger and some guys from the neighborhood every night, like burning bags of dog shit on people’s porches, ringing their doorbell and then hide and watch as they stomped out the fire. Things like ringing the cop’s doorbell until he was forced to chase us all over the neighborhood in his cruiser and never catch any of us. Things like breaking into locked truck trailers at Spartan Warehouse by breaking the metal seal tag and stealing things like a case of Milk Duds and a case of Spam. Things like putting a plastic fire hydrant on 44th St. just over the crest of a hill and watch as cars slammed into it to see how far it would fly. Things like throwing rocks and breaking street light bulbs, which were very hard to do. I was the best at it. You know the usual things that all kids did, right? One thing for sure, you never would have caught Don with our little group of trouble makers or most any of the other kids for that matter.
By the way, I am not proud of a lot of things I have done, but you asked for my memoirs and these are the things I remember.
I remember winning my letter in baseball my junior year. I hit 400 (2 for 5). I didn’t play very much, (it must have been because of my baggy ass uniform on my 90 pound frame.)
I remember only having two classes to sleep in during my senior year because of a program that allowed me to work and get a grade from my boss each semester for the job I was doing while at work. The main problem was I couldn’t hold a job. I ended up working 4 different places that school year, the last being dad’s Sunoco station. However, they all gave me A’s before they fired me.
I remember arguing with the owner of a hobby shop about the Kennedy tax cuts for which I was strongly in favor of at the ripe and experienced age of 13. I must have been winning the “debate” for he kicked me out of his store. Had I known what my future was going to be, I would have certainly told him I would be kicked out of places better than this. He merely had the honor of being the first. I was terrible building model cars anyway and now it appeared I wasn’t going to get any better.
I remember disconnecting the odometer cable on our new 65 Mustang when the rest of the family went to visit friends and family in the old neighborhood. I would tool around the neighborhood and take joy rides before reconnecting the speedometer and gassing it up thinking how clever I was. It never occurred to me that the neighbors would notice me and tell my folks.
I remember walking to school or work if I couldn’t get a ride and never giving a second thought about it. It seemed like I walked to school more when I had a car than I did when I didn’t, because more often than If I was expected to be somewhere, then I would be there, no excuses.
I remember drag racing every car I ever had and I went through a bunch of them.
I remember playing pickup tackle football on the front lawn of the Spartan Warehouse.
I remember all the hundreds of hours spent at Jeff Tuttle’s “Northland Pizza” where I really acquired my love for the pizza business even though he wouldn’t let me make a pizza and I didn’t like the taste of them either, although I acquired an appreciation for them when I got back from the Army. But I did love their Ham & Cheese subs, so much so that I would have one or two every night.
I would deliver for him for a free sub sandwich that might have cost him a quarter. We delivered pizzas back before pizza boxes were even invented yet. When I wasn’t delivering Jeff & Bob Stuart would try to lay insults on Don and I even though hey had no chance in a “Ranking Contest”. I’ll never forget telling Jeff if brains were crap, he wouldn’t have enough to feed Bob.
I remember quitting, that’s right quitting my job at Pizza Inn to go to work for my dad for $.50 an hour and he owed it to me.
I remember worrying before the station ever opened that we might put Don’s dad’s very well established Standard gas station only a half mile away out of business. It never occurred to me that we would be the one’s doing the struggling.
Gas station and adult life between High School and Army
I worked off and on for my dad at his station until I went into the service. What that really means is I would quit at least once a week and at least twice a week he would fire me.
One time after he fired me, I went to work on the grave yard shift at Don’s dad’s Standard gas station. That lasted one week before they fired me too, for you might be expecting this, that’s right, sleeping on the job.
So I went back to my dad and asked to come back and like always, he took me back with open arms and leg cocked, ready and willing to give me the boot again.
One time though I actually worked “showed up” 13 weeks in a row without a day off.
One thing we both learned was we could always count on each other. He could always be counted on to do the right thing and me the wrong thing.
I stayed at various places the next year, sometimes at home or in the back of Jeff’s pizzeria or the Y. I spent a little time sharing a mobile home with Don’s cousin and a bunch of alcoholics when we got busted for “minors in possession”.
The justice of the peace gave me 7 days or $70, I took the 7 days because I didn’t have the $70 and I sure as hell wasn’t going to ask my dad for it because I didn’t want him to know. Hell, he knew before I even got situated in my holding cell.
He bailed me out during my 6th day so that I would have the privilege of doing both, 6 days and the $70. Yep, that was my dad, if any authority figure gave me a punishment, you could always count on him to double it. Not that that ever did any good, but I certainly provided ample opportunities for him to test his theory.
I got my letter to report to Fort Wayne in Detroit, which was the precursor to getting drafted. After my physical, I decided to check out the Navy and Air Force, but I thought their time commitment was to long, like I had special plans for my immediate future. Not.
So I looked at the Army options. The first thing I did was look at my 100 pound frame and recall my history in pugilism. Except for the many battles with my brother Rodger, another heavyweight, I had a perfect record, no wins and countless losses.
Even Don’s brother Phil got so tired of watching me getting my ass kicked that he would occasionally step in to bail me out on more than one occasion.
So I decided I needed a little help with my physic. Maybe I should start on a training regime, maybe work out or maybe start eating a little better? Nope, nope and more nope.
That’s when it dawned on me, what I needed was a little extra protection. That’s when I came up with this brainstorm; I’ll hide inside a 52 ton tank. Yea, that’s the ticket. ot only that, but tankers either stay stateside or go to Germany. I could even tell people that I wanted to go to Germany for the Frauleins, except I still had no experience with an American woman unless you count all the lies I told.