I was thirteen and Mom and Dad called me into their bedroom and after I sat down on the end of their bed they expressed how happy they were that I had graduated from eighth 8th grade. They asked me where I wanted to go to school in the United States.

Now, to put things in perspective, I had been raised in a small oil camps where I had spent the better part of my adolescent years growing up with very close friends of mine. The list of childhood friends seems endless. We were, in my mind, a “family”. We did not date one another; instead we “hung out” together. Sure we would sneak a kiss – maybe a “French kiss” and a hug and if we could get away with a little “searching” or what we boys later referred to as a “dry f____”. We did that and that was about it but it was exciting nonetheless. The girls kept coming back so I know they were into the excitement as well.

I remember my first “French kiss”. I had just finished a Snickers candy bar behind the new Tia Juana club movie screen and my mouth was full of peanut bits from the Snicker Bar and I French Kissed (?) who following my kiss spent considerable time spitting out the bits of peanuts I left in her mouth. Not too classy you think but it was a start!

Well, you see, I loved hunting and I loved “War” of any kind because I followed it in the comic books and I knew a lot about it. I read every Tarzan book that was published – over and over. I wanted to have my own gun and I wanted to shoot “gooks” which at that time were North Korean Commies.

So, I had my choice of boarding schools and I selected Georgia Military College, Milledgeville, Georgia. That was where John Schobal and Doug Bazemore went to school. Doug was the older brother of Palmer and Tony Bazemore. Palmer was a long childhood friend of mine and their parents were likewise friends of my parents.

I wanted a military school so I could get my hands on a real rifle and I did -- even tried to steal a 30 cal. machine gun from the school armory--but they kicked me out of the armory before I had all the parts.

So, there I was at the Maracaibo Airport and my mother was in tears, and my Dad patted me on the back and I had a tag attached to my shirt for the Creole Rep in Miami – “save our poor boy” and I was thirteen. I said goodby to my little sister, Cris, (The “brat”) and my parents and I climbed the steps into the DC-7 and away I went.

Landed in Aruba and had my first of several “gratis” Cuba Libres and then slightly intoxicated landed in Miami and the Taxi took me to the hotel “Colombo” where vaguely I remember being assigned a ticket on a train to Sylvania, Georgia where the Bazemore family met me. From then on it is vague, except that I finally ended up at GMC (Georgia Military College) where I went through a major conversion. (My father kept every letter that I wrote home and which I have to this day). Boy, was I naive!! I believed everything that was told to me.

My first year, Palmer Bazemore and I bunked together in the Main Barracks and we went though a endless hazing by older boys. The barracks was old with no air-conditioning for those hot humid days and nights. We could have a small fan. We used to sit at our room desk during study period and we used to shoot paper clips at the mice that came into the room on the overhead steam heater pipes. The building was old and crawled with mice, rats and roaches. I would lay in the upper bunk with a broom and jab the ceiling when I heard a rat scuffle across or smack the wall beside me when one worked its way down by me inside the wall.

What I eventually learned was that I had absolutely nothing in common with the other boys at the school. They were essentially “Dorks” in today’s terminology. I could not relate to them. They were shallow. I quickly received the nickname of “Little Way-Out” because I was perceived as different and I guess I was.

I had never experienced discrimination in my life and here I was in the center of Georgia in the middle of the “movement”. I would go to the court house and see white and black water fountains, black and white restrooms, bus stations where the “niggers” sat in separate waiting rooms and road in the back of the bus. What was this shit? I was involved in removing burning crosses from our campus that the KKK had placed there and I was threatened by KKK with shotguns for removing their hatred-filled literature from the windshields of cars in town. Dad, once he found out from my letters, called me via radio-phone telling me to keep a low profile – that the KKK was crazy. I knew that!!

So, I what I ended up doing was purchasing a shotgun and I would load up a bandoleer of shells and I would head out through the “black” community to the swamps down by the Ochicochee River. I would spend many hours walking through the swamps where I felt at home. Later, I purchased a military surplus British 303 Enfield rifle which I sporterized and I would shoot anything except people. I used to shoot at the town’s water tower from about half a mile away and listen for the ring as the bullet hit it. Occasionally I would stand on a high river bank and shoot way up the river into the water immediately in front of blacks who were fishing off the river bank of the river. They would jump back upon the impact of the bullet in the water in front of them. That was more like it. I bought an Italian switchblade and sewed a pocket for it along the stripe of my Confederate Grey military pants where I carried it for years...

I recall standing before the Commandant of Cadets who threatened to send me home for stealing a dime except that the school could not afford the airplane ticket. I spent 300 hours in the first year walking off discipline hours on the “bull-ring”. I had to have my shoes re-soled several times and I added steel taps to the toes and heels to stave off the wear. I eventually could walk the ring with my eyes shut. I attended GMC for 6 years – through Jr. College.

I used to swig the worst tasting bourbon during classes through small flexible rubber tubing from a flask that I kept under my trousers and I flunked American History because I was “Out of it” most of the time. Never got caught. When I could not afford the bourbon, on weekends, for fifty cents, I would buy a pint of “Grandma’s” concord grape wine at the Piggly Wiggly grocery store down town and on those holiday weekends when most of the students went home to their families, I would chill the wine in the school’s fish pool and then sit out under the stars in uppermost bench row of the football stadium and proceed to drink that sweet wine and day dream of all the great things I would accomplish...

Every summer I returned home to Tia Juana, then Lagunillas and then Tia Juana. Oh, heaven!!! I had a crush on Shari Norsworthy which consumed me for years after her father broke it off. For a while we wrote each other every day while in school and I once visited her and her sister, Sandy, at their Aunt’s home in Louisville, KY and our grades suffered until her father broke it off. I was heart broken – used to mope around and listen to 45 records on my dad’s record player for hours on end about love lost — it was painful. My father was heartless; he used to say I was “cow-eyed”, moping around the house day after day. I met Shari at the San Antonio reunion after so many years and it was like yesterday. Such a lovely person – still spunky. Happily married with grown kids. Such a loss for me……. What can I say – that is life.

I guess, I never adjusted. Even after I went on to College at the University of Maryland in my Junior year, and you know, it took me years to get my act together. I was a very late bloomer, spent 4 years in the Army Security Agency in Germany which I loved. Met my first “love” in my late 20's while in Germany and lost her when she returned to the States and then after I had mustered out of the service in ’69 later met my “real” love, Pat a beautiful red-head and we were married after a short courtship. Pat, learned quickly that I still had the drive to follow every trail to the end, no matter what the condition early in our marriage and you know, I still have it today.

Today, I receive a great deal of pleasure as I flip through the albums of pictures that I took and those of my parents when we lived in Venezuela and read the stories each of you share. They are wonderful!!

I will never trade the memories for anything else…

 

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