In 1964, when my husband was 12 years old, the family left the small Indiana rural community to take a church in the northern area of Chicago. They were located close to the Naval Training Base in Waukeagan IL.
Changing schools again, and going into a school system of another state made my husband’s desire to excel in anything academically more difficult. This was the 4th school in 6 years for him.
Instead of a classroom with the same teacher, he was in middle school with several teachers and classes. This is a difficult transition for most children. Add to it that he was the “new” kid in many classes as opposed to the “new” kid in one class and soon it spelled trouble. Again, my husband was fighting and there were many “meetings” with the principle over his behavior.
Because of the Naval Base, there were many ethnic groups i.e. Puerto Rican, African American, Hispanic. His behavior caught the attention of the “tougher” kids of the school and my husband was invited to run around with this diverse and multi ethnic tough group of kids. Hanging around with these kids was quite an exciting change from rural Indiana.
Because of his fighting, he quickly gained a reputation for being a “tough” guy. He soon became a part of the juvenile system. This brought into his life a person that soon took interest in him; his probation officer.
My husband described this man as a 40 something, big black man who seemed to show up every place and every time he was just about to do something “stupid”. My husband credited this man with saving him from having to do jail time. Many of his other friends had already been in jail and it is only through pray and this man’s vigilance that kept him from following in the footsteps of his buddies.
School was not a priority to my husband. The difference in school systems caused him to be behind the grade level of those in his class. That seemed to drive my husband’s disinterest and he began to focus on the “social” aspects that presented themselves through school.
There were many times that he would walk in the school building and on through it to a local coffee shop across the street. Again, the probation officer came to his parent’s door. This time it was for his truancy.
There were a few bright spots. The name of the school was Jack Benny Junior and Senior High Schools. This school offered orchestra. It was through the director of the orchestra that my husband began his love affair with the bass violin.
This man would give my husband private lessons at his home to ready him for the “First Chair” in his orchestra. Through this avenue, my husband learned and played the classics…Vivaldi, Handel, Beethoven, The New World Symphony,…all of the great music that caused his heart to sore. Music was already an intregal part of my husband. He loved of all kinds and types of music, but the classics was his introduction to another world. One that was full of beauty and grace. His love of classical music was birthed through this teacher’s interest. It was one of the few saving graces of my husband’s young life.
His home life was becoming more splintered and fragmented. His mother was consumed with his now adopted brother. Caring for this child was her main focus.
His father was pastoring the small church and working in a shoe store to earn extra money for his family. When his father was home, he was working on his college courses to finish his degree and to qualify himself for seminary. Like many of us born in the ’50’s and coming of age in the ’60’s, our parents were absent even when they were home.
My husband told of the time when he wanted and needed to talk to his father. I don’t remember if my husband ever said what was on his mind at the time, but he decided that the only way to get his father’s attention was to write a letter to his dad and leave it in the typewriter.
When my husband told the story, there was pain and dejection in his voice. He viewed this story with the saddness of an abandoned child.
When his mother told the story, she viewed it as one of those stories where your child did something that was just “so cute” that you just had to share it.
My husband’s parents never knew the desperation that was in his heart. As he hunted and pecked out the words of this letter, his heart’s cry failed to be heard. My husband went to the one thing that he knew his father would go to on a daily basis; his typewriter.
i don’t know if my husband and his father ever had the “talk” that my husband requested. I doubt it because it wasn’t long afterwards that my husband began using drugs and staying gone from home for days.
Where does a 14/15 year old get the money to buy drugs? In the mid ’60’s, they work for it.
At 15 years old, my husband began working at the same shoe store where his father worked. He began earning enough money to do as he pleased. He not only worked everyday after school at the shoe store, but he worked weekends for a catering service.
When he told me about the catering service, scenes from Dirty Dancing came to my mind. He told of the white shirt, black dress pants and tie that was required for this job. It brought to my mind those scenes with the waiters in their white coats serving the guest at the retreat. That movie captured a lot of what life was like at that time.
My husband also talked about hopping a freight train to downtown Chicago. For the longest time, he never told me what he did downtown. I thought that he was just going for the sake of excitement. It wasn’t until he was in 6ICU at IU Med in 2005 that I learned what he did.
Because, he had thrown two blood clots and they lodged in his left lung after the debulking surgery, he was told to lay still and not to move. I sat by his bedside as he dozed off. He woke up and said that he wanted those “Goombas” to get this 5 pound bag of sugar off of his chest. Before I could ask any question, he went back to sleep.
I sat there wondering what a “Goomba” was. I could understood the 5 pound bag of sugar. He had pressure in his chest from the clots, but I couldn’t figure what significance the Goomba had.
He awoke again and said something about getting the Goomba out of here. I finally asked him what was a Goomba and why was he so afraid of it.
It was then that he told me that when he was 15 years old, he would hop the train and go downtown Chicago and “run numbers” for the Mafia. He said that they let him drive a big Cadillac and go to the barber shops and pool halls and pick up the numbers and the money. He was a kid and if he got caught, he would be charged as a juvenile and nothing would happen to him. He said that he made a lot of money by doing this and that he always knew that if anything came up missing, the Goomba’s would hurt him.
Finally, I knew what a Goomba was and why he was so afraid. Even though he wasn’t Italian, the Mob was using kids to run the numbers and transport money. All the “wise guys” were identified by wearing a pinky ring. In this picture, notice the pinky ring on his hand.
It explained how he always had money. How he could buy the “trike” that he kept at his girlfriend’s house, how he had the money for drugs and how he always was aware of his surroundings. He was “street” smart. He didn’t need school except to meet girls.
It was this time in his life that his father learned that he smoked cigarettes. He was at work at the shoe store when his father came in and saw him smoking in the back room.
His father lost his temper and began hitting his son. My husband said that he couldn’t hit his father and he was taking a hard beating when the manager/owner of the shoe store saw what was happening and called the law on his dad.
With eacg blow, hardness was forced deeper into my husband’s soul. Hardness against God, against his father and all he represented. This beating hardened his heart against all things spiritual. I believe it completed the detachment that he was developing. He could detach himself from almost anything; even those he loved.The beating provided the determination that he was going to live his own life and he didn’t care what anyone thought.
My husband said that he most likely would have given up smoking had it not been for that beating. He loved his parents dearly, but he decided that the life that they had, the “church” thing, was definitely not how he wanted to live. If he ever was going to go “church” he didn’t want what his parents had. He wanted what his Grandmother Lela had. He believed all “Christians” in his father’s church were as hypocritical as his parents and he wanted nothing to do with it.
This break with his parents only led to more “acting out” behavior. It led to his “road trip”. At 15 years old he and his buddies decided to go to New Mexico…..