I’m not sure how it was possible, but I spent eighth grade in three schools and still missed months of schooling altogether.
We lost our house in the county and my father had to take my brother and me in. My mother moved in with a couple of friends.
The school year began at
My father had recently married a woman named Helen. Helen had a daughter my age named Cindy who wasn’t happy with two new brothers moving in. It was an incredibly domestic scene for my dad.
We lived on a hill on property owned by an old man who farmed the valley below. We also had our own lake.
Cindy had a horse and a Shetland pony. I would wake up at the crack of dawn, ride the horse to the lake and go swimming. It took the horse a while to get used to me. He would brush up against trees hoping to knock me off. He eventually grew to like me, I think. I would ride to the edge of the lake and drop his reigns so he could roam as I swam. Once he got agitated and began to kick and snort. I saw what got him so excited. There was a snake swimming toward me. I think I learned to walk on water that day.
The farmer had a grandson my age who became my best friend. I think his folks shipped him out to live with the old man because he got into some kind of trouble in the city.
We had free reign of the property and he was allowed to drive the old man’s car. This was incredibly exciting to me. Unfortunately my friend was reckless and we rolled it into a ditch. I can’t believe I only hurt my thumb in the accident.
On the week ends my dad would drop us at the local bowling alley. We’d hang out at a pool table smoking cigarettes and playing Maggie May over and over on the juke box.
Somehow the authorities got wise to the fact that my brother and I hadn’t gone to school for months. I found myself at the
They put me in with the average kids. I discovered the country curriculum was a year behind my old school. I quickly advanced to the higher classes.
I auditioned for the school band with my trumpet and didn’t do well. They put me in with the beginners. I was crushed. I’ve always had an incapacitating stage fright.
When my mother finally got it together to take us back we moved back to
I auditioned for the school band again. This time things were totally different. Our band instructor was an old woman named Mrs. Lewis. She thought I was a prodigy. She would take me to north side Baptist churches on Sundays to play with the gospel groups. I was the only white person there. At the end of the school year she had me audition a piece, Chopin’s Intermezzo, for Walter Suskind. He was the director of the St. Louis Symphony then. Somehow, having never heard the piece before, I passed the audition.
I got free lessons from one of the symphony’s horn players that summer. It was a program designed to groom kids for the “Young People’s Symphony.” Unfortunately I hated the sound of trumpets then. I traded my horn for a violin for my brother. He was much more passionate about his instrument. I wanted an electric guitar.