Kathie, my twin sister, and I became quite proficient at the nuances of folding newspapers so they would stay firmly folded while my Uncle Kenny flung them into boxes at a clip of 10-15 miles an hour. I began to notice all the glass soda bottles laying along side the road. It dawned on me that this was a virtually untapped gold mine.
The next day I tied a small basket on the handlebars of my stingray bike and took off down the road to find my fortune. The initial harvest brought me a tidy refund at the Wray’s Grocery, a small mom and pop general store across the street. I decided to save up this small change and a few weeks later I made my way to the toy section of the Woolworth store downtown and selected an affordable set of Revell miniature soldiers.
Before long I had everything from World War II British paratroopers and German hand-grenade throwers to farm animals, Cowboys and Indians, Civil War blue and gray infantrymen, and the usual sprinkling of pedestrians. Unfortunately most of these were buried in “avalanches” which occurred in the dirt hill behind our house.
Christmas was the high point of the year. I never expected to receive what I truly wanted. Most of the toys were too expensive for our family budget. But I do remember one particular year when I awoke to find an F-16 fighter jet complete with parachuting pilot. I was beside myself with joy as I pressed the lever to eject the small pilot into the ceiling.
For my birthday one summer my Father, whose best friend also worked at a Texaco filling station, brought home an operational Texaco tanker. I couldn't wait to try it out in the bathtub that night. But the bathtub was too small to get the full effect, so the following day I took it down to a small pond in a neighbor's backyard. All the kids in the neighborhood showed up for its maiden voyage. The air was electric with anticipation. I engaged the motor and set it off into the muddy water. About half way across it suddenly stopped. Panic set in. We tried to fish it out with sticks, but all the frantic activity sank the poor thing and I never saw it again.
My usual toys were those I made myself. A carefully selected stick could easily be turned into a pistol or rifle with the help of one of my Mother's kitchen knives, and I was constantly creating communities for my miniatures out of tiny sticks and old paper milk cartons.
But my favorite "toy" was a pencil. A pencil and a pad of paper could take me wherever I wanted to go. Underground military installations, spaceships to other planets, battlefields, high finance, even presidential politics.
I would spend hours dreaming up good guys, bad guys, and everything in between. I wore holes in the paper with my eraser modifying my characters. A mustache here, a goatee there, a full beard, back to clean-shaven, then balding, even toupees. I documented the entire process from cradle to grave. I gave them names, personality, and even children.
I would stay with a set of drawings until they became totally tattered and then, out of necessity, I would start a new sheet. When that happened it was like losing an old friend.
I carefully guarded my drawings. I was afraid it was too weird and someone would laugh at me. Before I began a new drawing I thoroughly destroyed the old. It wasn't until much later that I discovered my twin sister was doing the exact same thing.
Somewhere along the line my Mother realized the importance of providing uninterrupted private time for my sister and me. We shared a room and seldom had that luxury. It became the "law" that whenever it was one of our turns to be in the bedroom that one was NOT to be disturbed. You had an hour. You used it wisely.
In the security of this arrangement I was able to let myself go with endless possibilities of my imagination. Every character provided me with a harmless way to try on an identity. Good or bad. I came to respect the ones of integrity and honor and took those qualities as ones I wanted for myself.
My Mother used our interest in drawing the way other parents use a favorite toy or some other method of child occupation. There was never a time we attended church without our drawing supplies.
One day I decided to draw the Pastor with his shirt off. I suppose that would have been okay except for the fact I penciled in his navel. My Mother threw a fit about that. For a long time I thought a navel was somehow obscene. It certainly didn't do anything for me. It wasn't until Life Drawing class in college that I dared to attempt it again.
Another Sunday my sister, Kathie, and I had begun giggling about our drawings during a sermon. Before long we had crossed that imaginary line between controllable laughter and involuntary hysterics. Mom quickly dragged us out of the Sanctuary and proceeded to search for an open room, but every door she came to was locked. We finally arrived at the Boiler Room. It was open.
After a solid paddling and a brief lecture on the proper reverence to display at church, we returned to the Sanctuary to resume our attendance.
As we came back through the door the entire congregation turned in their seats to look. It was as if someone had just played "Here Comes the Bride". They were smiling and talking to each other in whispers. It was not until after the service that my Mother was informed that the heating ducts had acted as a perfect amplifier of her efforts to make us better behaved children.