One of my daughters when she was little used to ask at bedtime, "Daddy, tell me a story about when you were little."
I've procrastinated long enough and have decided to start writing these stories down for my posterity. It's something I wish my parents and grandparents would have done.
My earliest memories were of living in Pocatello, Idaho. Most of those memories are center around my grandparents home on South Johnson Street. I spent most of my time there because my mom worked full-time and my dad was going to school and working part-time.
The first home I remember had hardwood floors and two small bedrooms. In the basement lived a guy with a funny name. He was eastern Indian, I think, or perhaps from Pakistan, Iran, or one of the middle eastern countries. I want to say his name sounded like Hodge Podge, but mom has long since passed on and I can't ask her.
He played the bongo drums and guitar. He was kind of a beatnik. I would go downstairs to his room and listen to him play his guitar while I'd pound on his bongos.
Next door was the Bowser family. They had a boy my age named Ricky. His mom was pregnant and she would watch me on days Grandma couldn't. He was a bully. At least two occasions he bloodied my nose with a punch.
Ricky always made fun of me because I couldn't run, throw or catch a ball. He called it Kidder-Guarding and demanded the other kids "guard" me while some of them would go throw a ball around.
When Ricky's mom had her baby, they named him Mark. I was so jealous and I wanted a baby brother named Mark so I would have someone to play catch with.
We moved shortly after Mark Bowser was born, and I saw Mark and Ricky in 1966 when they came through Moscow, Idaho, where we were living. We spent the time throwing Super Balls off the 3rd floor of the apartment building to see how high we could get them to bounce.
As previously mentioned, I spent most of the time at Grandma's and Grandpa's house on South Johnson. They were very permissive when it came to my play time, but very strict about coming when I was called. Neither of them ever spanked me. I knew without a doubt they loved me and that made me happy to be around them.
My best friend in their neighborhood was named Robby. He had a little sister and a red wagon. We'd pull her around in the wagon with their mom supervising. When she'd go in with his little sister, Robby and I would play hide-n-seek or cowboys and Indians. Caps and cap guns were our favorite toys.
We find pennies in the gutter and laying on the sidewalk, and when we'd get enough we'd ask to go to Del Monte's (that's what we called the corner store because of a painted Del Monte's ad on the side of the building). We'd walk the 2 blocks to the store and buy some caps that would be immediately put to use in a gunfight. Or, we'd roll them out on the sidewalk and smash them with rocks.
Between Grandma's and Robby's house were the Robbinsons. They were an older couple and he had the coolest truck. They were always super nice to us.
Across the street were the "Twins", as Grandma called them. A couple of days a week it was just me and Grandpa. Grandma would go across the street to watch the twins. One of them played the trumpet and taught me how to blow and play a note on the trumpet. From that time forward I wanted to play the trumpet.
Across the street, and on the corner, was a house with several kids who were older and a little rough. The older boys would dig for night crawlers and then go down to the Portneuf River and fish. I'd follow them down there with their younger brother. We discovered if you took a can from behind the pie factory (they made those Hostess Fruit Pies there) and placed them in the river, in a few minutes it would be full of minnows.
I never mentioned the trips to the river to Grandma or Mom because I knew I'd be in BIG trouble. To keep this in perspective, this is BEFORE my brother was born, so I was only about 4 years old. Like I said, my grandparents were pretty lenient about my playing outside.
Around this time, my Grandpa Walton came to town to see his grandson (me) at my father's insistence. He did't show up, and my dad said he knew where to find him.
Dad too me and drove me to a hotel. We went upstairs to a room where Grandpa Walton opened the door. He and my dad proceeded to get in to a heated discussion about Grandpa's gambling. One of Grandpa's gambling buddies took me aside. I remember this as vividly as if it happened yesterday.
He said, "Here, little boy, watch this."
He took out a book of matches, and proceed to show me how to light a match. He then handed me the match book and said, "You try it."
I tore out a match, attempted to strike it so many times it went limp. He told me to try another one.
After destroying 3 or 4 of them, he then said, "Here, try it this way."
Placing the match between the striker and cover of the matchbook, he pressed on the cover over the match and quickly drew it out and it ignited.
Handing the book back to me he said, "Try it that way."
I mimicked what he did and the match lit. He cheered and told me to keep practicing. He stood there at the window smoking his cigarette while I practiced lighting matches.
Dad was off after that to who-knows-where. I think he went up to the university in Moscow, Idaho. I just new he was going to be gone for a long time again.
I was excited to show Robby what I had learned. Stealing a pocket full of matches from Grandma's and Grandpa's kitchen drawer, I invited Robby to go to the shack in the alley behind our houses.
This was an old cedar shack where there were a couple of very dry, brown, old Christmas Trees.
You might see where this is going...
I lite a few matches and taught Robby how to do it. After lighting up a few matches, one of the matchbooks caught fire and was dropped. The dried pine needles on the floor of the shed started burning which spread to the dried tries, then WOOSH. The whole place was ablaze.
Robby said, "My mom is calling," and ran home.
An old 55 gallon drum full of water was nearby, and I tried to splash water on the flames but I could see my tiny hands could never move enough water to extinguish those huge flames.
Earlier in the day, I had built a fort in my bedroom at Grandma's. My bedroom was my Uncle Allen's bedroom when he was a kid and off the back porch. The fort was of quilts and blankets between Allen's desk and the bed.
I ran home and entering the back door I yelled, "I'm going to take my nap now," and I dove into my fort and began to shake out of fear of going to jail.
Sirens roared down the alley a few minutes later.
"Brent," Grandma yelled, "Do you want to go outside with Grandpa and see the fire trucks?"
Now, previous to this, when we'd hear a fire truck, Grandpa and I would walk outside to see if we could get a glimpse of the fire. One time, we did. It was at the apartments on the other side of the river. However, this time I KNEW were the fire was.
"No," I yelled back, "I want to take a nap."
Grandma later told me that my refusal to go see a fire truck was indication that something was wrong and I had been up to something.
She asked again and I responded again that I was tired and wanted to take a nap.
About an hour later, a knock came on the door. I could hear someone talking to Grandpa, and then I heard the door close. After it closed, it opened again and I heard Grandpa yell, "Wait, come back."
The next words I heard were a long drawn out, "BRRRENT! Can you come here?"
Slowly walked to the livingroom with thoughts of being handcuffed and taken off like the criminals you'd see on TV.
There in the living room stood Grandpa. He was a big man. Probably 6'1" and 250 pounds. Outlined by the light coming through the front door was a man in uniform.
He asked what I knew about the fire, and I broke down and started to cry and confessed the whole thing. After a lecture on how dangerous my actions were and seeing my contrite spirit, he thanked Grandpa for calling him back.
After he left I learned that he was sent away the first time because he asked if a "Dennis" lived at the house. Going by my middle name, I had recently learned my first name was "Denis" (with one N) and I had gone around the neighborhood telling every one my name was, "Dennis... like Dennis the Menace, only spelled different." One of the adults in the neighborhood remembered me from that encounter about my name.
The fear wasn't gone. I feared what my mom was going to do when she found out, and even more, I feared what my dad would do when he returned from his trip.
Mom's reaction wasn't as bad as I thought, but she rubbed it in my face when a story in the newspaper came out about a boy who had started the fire. By the time dad returned, it was too far in the past and I don't even think he gave it a thought.
Grandma and Grandpa moved the matches after that.... what few were left. I about emptied the drawer that day.
Grandma enjoyed telling the story about the day I volunteered to take a nap. It brought some great comfort knowing she told it in kindness and in a way that made even me laugh.