For some old snapshots of this time, click here.
April, 1942—September, 1960
I turned out looking fairly French with light brown hair and blue eyes, though some claim to see Native American cheekbones. After shedding some extra weight as an early teen, I grew into a decent adolescent physique and was blessed not to have acne or bad breath. Unfortunately I was cursed with crooked teeth, and so I usually gave tight-lipped grins. Also unfortunate were the hairstyles teens wore in the 50’s. In high school I had a flattop and thought it was way cool.
By the way, that tiny scar on my forehead (right in the middle of my third eye!) came from getting hit with an expertly thrown oyster shell. The story is too juvenile to tell. What strikes me most now about this photo are my full lips (and of course those tiny ears).
After an oblivious childhood in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, continuing in LaMarque, Texas, I wound up in the pinewoods of southwestern Arkansas. My somewhat more aware boyhood was spent there living with, if not relating to, father Ray, mother Yvonne, and little sister Judy. In 1954 my dad bought a truck stop on US Highway 71, a café, service station, motel, and house on 14 acres of woods, called Penney Hill. Six miles from the nearest town, Lockesburg, it was almost that far from the nearest neighbor. My bus ride south to Ashdown High School was about 20 miles each way. Penney Hill was a very effective isolation chamber.
For no apparent genetic reason, I also turned out to be phenomenally smart. Maybe it was from having read most of the classics of the western world by the age of 12, or maybe it was because my memory was very nearly photographic. On a 10th grade IQ test, I scored like 184, so school presented no challenge whatsoever. In 11th, I won an essay contest and represented the state of Arkansas at the 1st National Youth Conference on the Atom. At graduation in 1960, I was valedictorian with a 4.0 grade point. (They didn’t grade higher than that way back then.) These credentials won me admission to Tulane University with a hefty scholarship, apparently the first in my larger family to go to college.
Now for the clueless part. Like it probably is for all teenagers, my world was a jungle of confusing questions, fears, hopes, ambitions, and emotions. In that rural solitude, my only lifelines to modern culture were the Mickey Mouse Club and American Bandstand, and they only increased the confusion.
Through the MMC, I stupidly, or maybe inevitably, fell in obsessive teen love with Mouseketeer Annette Funicello, the first teen sex goddess (way before Britney Spears!), though at the time I wasn’t allowed by the Church to think of sex.
Thereafter I didn’t or couldn’t relate romantically to real-world females. However, the lyrics of the rock and roll songs on Bandstand kept pounding straight society’s sugary, strict attitudes about boys and girls into my innocent mind, fueling the futile passion for Annette. Add to that noxious mixture an inexplicable and intense love for my handsome best friend at school, Dennis, and you’ve got genuine clueless consternation.
For more detail about the dubious doings of this cute, clueless kid, check out my autobiographical novella (better called semi-fiction), BAT IN A WHIRLWIND. Using the setting and a hero much like the kid I was, I’ve written a story of which the good parts never really happened, but should have.