From West Coast to East Coast

From the Southern California Desert to a valley in the Rocky Mountains of north-central Idaho would seem to be a shock for anyone's system, but I don't remember noticing it much. Having snow to play in that winter was so much fun it made up for any chills, I suppose, and my memories of first grade all are pleasant. Not that I have a lot of them; the main ones are of hiding under the teacher's desk for a lark, and learning cursive handwriting.

At first Mother rented a travel trailer that had been permanently parked as a home, and supplemented her fixed income by baking cookies for the local 'health food' store and by teaching children's dance classes. Much to my disgust at the time, though later the experience paid off, I was perforce part of every class and performing group. The immediate pay-off came when Mother got a class going in the neighboring town of Ketchum. For most of the winter it was not possible to drive there from Hailey, so Mother chartered a local pilot to fly us back and forth once a week, weather permitting. This WWII survivor smoked a cigar at all times, flew a Piper Cub like a fighter through the mountain passes, and routinely rolled it 90 degrees to point out game animals on the snowfields below.

Soon after arriving in Hailey we got a dog: a magnificent German Shepherd female named Chlöe. She was mild-tempered as could be, but come Hallowe'en we got no visitors because the local kids were terrified by her appearance. She, on the other hand, was terrified by all the monstrous inhuman beings roaming around and hid underneath our trailer. After one litter Mother took her to a local vet to be speyed; he called with the sad news that she had not survived the operation. Only years later did Mother tumble to the likeliest explanation: the vet got an offer he wouldn't refuse for such prime breeding stock, or else kept her himself for the same purpose.

By the time second grade came along we were in a proper house. My most vivid memory from there is of playing under a blanket-covered table to spare my illness-sensitized eyes, due to some water-borne disease I'd picked up by drinking from an irrigation ditch that flowed, seemingly clean and clear, from the surrounding mountain snowfields. A life-long admiration for comic books and their illustrators got going at about this time, too, and I believe I got sucked in by at least one of the selling schemes on comic books' back covers. I know it was from ads in comic books that I bought full-scale WWII pistol models in solid aluminum; now wouldn't those be hugely illegal today!

As third grade approached we were on the way again, this time in a classic black 1932 Chevy 2-door with rumble seat, from Hailey to Pocatello, Idaho, and then on to Denver, Colorado. In Denver Mother rented an apartment near the school I went to; it had a shared bathroom and I came to dread using it after the batchelor neighbor had spent half an hour reading and smoking in it. That pretty well put the cap on my existing reaction to smoke-saturated bus upholstery, which was to get a headache and eventually vomit, and left me with a life-long disgust for cigarettes especially and smoking generally. I again had just one good friend at school, and we had grand times roaming in off hours through an apartment building that was under construction in the neighborhood---collecting punch-out disks from electrical boxes.

At the end of that school year Mother figured it was time to make our break for Europe, so she bought tickets on one of Cunard's liners and we made our way by bus through New England to Montreal ... where Mother got cold feet. She cashed the tickets in and instead we went to spend the winter, and my fourth school year, in Florida. I remember seeing Fort Lauderdale's new luxury neighborhoods, strings of mansions build alongside canals with docks for boats from cabin cruisers to yachts. Some of the boats were WWII surplus, powered by pairs of 12-cylinder aircraft engines and said to cost $100 (of 50-cent-per gallon gas) just to warm up to operating temperature. We spent most of the year living on the fringes of Orlando, where I was bussed to school for the first time. My main memories from there are of cracking a bone in my little finger when punching another boy at the bus stop (the closest to a broken bone I've ever been), and experiencing the wind and rain and dead-calm eye of a hurricane. Oh, and the coconuts floating in a local canal ... that swam away when hit with thrown pebbles. Alligators.

We spent the following summer and fall in Florida, including a quick tour to Key West, then bussed back to New York City to board the M.V. (motor vessel: diesel-driven) "Italia" in mid-November, sailing to Naples, Italy. That is not the month for fine weather on the Atlantic Ocean; I was seasick for most of the 11-day trip, and from other vessels making the crossing to the north of us there were tales of passengers with broken arms from being tossed out of their bunks. It was a shame to be seasick: at the calm end of the trip, in the Mediterranean, I quite enjoyed the intensely Italian menu. It was also fascinating (if deafening) to see the huge pair of diesels that drove the ship. Smelly things they were, too. But my sharpest memory is of the DeHavilland "Vampire" fighter formation that flew low over the ship near sunset when we were quite close to Naples. In the poor light I couldn't tell if their markings were RAF or Italian, and I believe that by 1951 the type was in service with both countries.