Youthful Secrets

What were one or two things that you did not tell your parents about?

Picking Green Beans
Picking Green Beans

When I was about 12, and wanting to earn some spending money for school, my parents permitted me to work at the bean fields. Mr. Vasche farmed the green bean fields along the Calapooya Creek on the road to Oakland. His youngest son, Gregory, was a schoolmate and was required to work at the bean field as well, but not as a picker.

At the outset, I saw myself as a good worker, as capable as the next person at doing simple work like picking beans.  I figured this would be an easy way to make enough for some cool clothes for school. I was oblivious to the reality that accumulating sackfuls of beans to generate a few dollars required a continuous effort with both hands simultaneously working nonstop for several hours.

Moreover, I did not anticipate distractions, the biggest one being female bean pickers. Some other classmates had been “hired” as bean pickers, including my neighbors, Susan and Sandy. I was very fond of these girls, and others, and more interested in interacting with them than in staying on task.

I noticed that the migrant workers from Mexico were doing almost all of the picking at this bean field. I could not figure out how they picked so fast, not that I was trying very hard.

I fell in with a group of boys interested in relating to girls and pushing the bounds of good behavior. This led to my first experience with smoking tobacco. One of the boys had obtained a pack or two of cigarettes, perhaps hijacked from a parent or relative. We slunk away from the bean field to the creekside to smoke cigarettes and plot some way to lure the girls away from the bean field to our “boys club.” Fortunately, bean picking season was over before any further mischief developed.

My parents questioned my income from bean picking, and were discouraged that it was only about $12.50 for several days’ work. I didn’t have much to say, except that the work was hard, the beans were not very plentiful, and there were lots of distractions.

When I was 15, and without a driver’s license, I took three friends to an Oakland High School dance in our old Dodge. Dad had removed the back seat to make room for more cargo, and I substituted upside-down 5-gallon buckets (these were in the days before seat belts).

After the dance I drove Tom and his date to her house in Sutherlin, near the fork where Fort McKay road leads to Umpqua. I had never been at this house before, and the area was dark with no street lights. As we were leaving and maneuvering to turn around, I became confused and shifted the car into first gear, when I wanted reverse.

When I released the clutch, the car jumped forward and ran into the house with a loud bang. Tom flew off his bucket seat, but nobody was hurt. We were all laughing like crazy. Rather than stop and attend to the damage, I drove away hastily and never spoke to my parents about this episode.

The residents of the house were probably frightened by the bang and their shaking house, but nobody ever contacted my parents about the accident, and the old Dodge bumper did not reveal my secret. I imagined the girl we dropped off told her parents, “Never mind the noise; it was just a crazy Oakland kid driving his Dad’s old Dodge. Just be glad I’m home safe.”


Best Thing Taught by Mom

What was the best thing your learned from Mom?

Mother and Marty ca 1949
Mother and Marty ca. 1949

I remember an early conversation with Mother. I am standing on the stool and washing my hands in the utility room sink. It’s too tall for me because I am only four.

Mother, with tears in her eyes: “You told Wilsie that it was time for her to go home and you wanted her to leave. Did you see that she was angry and that she left after you said that? I felt very sad when you told her to go home. I don’t want you to tell her to go home again.”

Me in 4-year-old language: “I didn’t mean to make her mad. I just wanted her to leave so you could play with me.”

Mother: “Even when you don’t mean to make someone mad, it’s not OK to tell them to go home. Wilsie is my friend and I want her to come and have coffee with me because I want to have time with my friends.”

I remembered this conversation mainly because Mother was so distressed about Wilsie’s reaction to my request. I had no idea that she was teaching me basic social skills and empathy.

I remember another empathy lesson about creatures. I had just entered the kitchen from outdoors, probably with a guilty look on my face.

Mother: “Have you been chucking apples at my chickens?”

Me: “Um, yes but I was throwing rotten apples and I wasn’t able to hit the chickens from across the yard.”

Mother: “I don’t want you to pester my chickens. It’s not right to hurt creatures just to entertain yourself. If you want to throw rotten apples, throw them at a tree trunk, or something that you can’t hurt.”

I thought that Mother might have a point there. I got that it was selfish to harass the birds for the fun of it. It was the earnest feeling in her message that made it memorable for me. I couldn’t believe that she really cared that much about the chickens.

A few years later, I wanted to impress my neighbors Susan and Sandy. While our parents were square dancing I decided to entertain them by taking apart and putting together mother’s table radio. I did well on the taking apart, but failed miserably on repair. The next day Mother and I had a conversation.

Mother: “Did you do something to my radio? It no longer plays.”

Me: “I thought you didn’t want that radio because I don’t hear you play it — so I was showing Susan and Sandy how to take it apart and put it back together.”

Mother: “That radio was my special radio. It’s the only radio that plays my favorite station in Roseburg. I play it when you are gone to school to keep myself company. It’s not OK to just take someone else’s things and take them apart — even if you think they don’t want them anymore. When I saw that my radio was broken I was so upset that I cried. I want you to promise me that you won’t use things that belong to others without their permission.”

I felt very, very guilty about ruining her radio. What was I thinking? I don’t know how to assemble a radio. Anything beyond plugging a vacuum tube into the socket is beyond me.

Mother’s way of interacting helped me to respect the feelings and property of others much more efficiently than other parenting tactics such as lecturing, shaming and punishing.

Mother provided empathy training about the big picture in human events as well. Throughout our primary school years, Mother routinely took time to read to us at bedtime. The most memorable book she read was “Brave Men” by World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle. Pyle was a well-known author who covered the War in Europe from the perspective of the ordinary soldier, sailor, and marine.

Pyle told stories from the point of view of men who did the work and the suffering of combat. Through this reading, I began to grasp the terrible cost of war. I don’t know if Mother intended to teach pacifism, but her readings about the experience of war taught me empathy for those that serve and an abiding conviction that war creates far more problems than it solves.



Best Thing Taught by Dad

What’s the best thing that your Dad taught you?

"Always tell the truth."
“Always tell the truth.”

Most kids need to learn honesty from their parents, because to a child dishonesty seems to offer the best advantage, and I was among those. Dad believed in honesty, and mostly taught it by example.

Dad once used the occasion of selling a group of ewes as an object lesson in honesty. He had selected ewes from his flock and trucked them to the Douglas County Livestock auction. Sheep have a short lifespan and age is an important determinant of their value. Dad took the trouble to catch each ewe, open her mouth and count the teeth. Since sheep gain an additional row of teeth each year, he could work out the number of 2-, 3-, and 4-year-olds.

When we reached the auction, Dad made a point of reporting his counts to the person who received the animals. The auctioneer reported the tally of ages to the crowd. A heckler in the crowd shouted “how do you know the ages, did you count them?”

The auctioneer replied, “they don’t lie to me.”

When dad explained this interaction to me, I was proud of his reputation for honesty and wanted to have a similar reputation. I was able to develop a reputation for always telling the truth to my teachers … even when telling the truth was self-incriminating.

In the third grade, something possessed me to toss a rubber eraser to a classmate who sat near the front of the class. The eraser overshot and hit the teacher’s desk with a thump. My teacher looked up and asked, “Who threw that?”

“I did.”

I heard Miss Premazzi say, “report to the Principal now.”

I went to the Office and waited a long time for the Principal. When he finally called me in, I told my story and he chose to be lenient because I had admitted my guilt. I was relieved that my punishment didn’t include a paddling, which was still practiced at my school in those days.

Favorite Memory of Mom

What’s your favorite memory of your Mom?

Mother and I finding springtime flowers
Mother and I finding springtime flowers

My favorite memory about Mom was exploring outdoors. She was adventuresome about exploring hidden areas around our farm. I loved to follow rivulets of running water in search of creatures and she indulged me. We enjoyed visiting the creek,  poking around the bank to see what the rains and high waters had left behind.

Mom’s craft projects often were kid-sized — from constructing papier-mâché objects to creating a child-kitchen from orange crates and bread tins. Such projects usually required messy gluing, taping, and painting, but Mom didn’t seem to mind the messiness.

Mother also taught kindness. She would not permit hunting or harming creatures found on our farm. We were not allowed to shoot birds, throw apples at chickens, nor chase animals with dogs, bicycles, or motor vehicles. I admit some these things were done in disobedience, but they were not allowed.

Mom had a habit of reading at bedtime. She read many books both in the rocker and at my bedside. After reading, she always said a bedtime prayer, “Bless my boy tonight and keep him safe till morning light within thine arms of love, Amen.”

Favorite Memory of Dad

What’s your favorite memory of your Dad?

Go-Kart Project
Go-Kart Project

When I was five or six, I loved to ride the tractor with Dad, especially when working the soil. I would run down the lane from the school bus, change my clothes and wait in the field for Dad to come around. Most of the farming was done with the red Farmall Model M, which Dad bought new in 1948. The Farmall had no fenders, so I sat on Dad’s lap while riding with him. He would let me steer the tractor while we were on a straight line across the field. I was proud of my ability to “drive” the tractor straight and true, although making turns would need to wait until my arms were stronger, as power-steering was not yet invented.

Dad was doing quite a lot of reseeding in those years — plowing, disking, rolling, floating and seeding. These tasks were usually done in the spring when the soil was moist and dust was minimal. The air smelled of fresh, moist dirt, and the open air felt good on my face.

Driving tractor with Dad also introduced me to the male mode. The weather wasn’t always balmy and pleasant and the ground was not always smooth and easy. Tractor drivers were expected withstand sudden rains, cold winds, rugged fields, and natural obstacles to farming, without stopping or complaining. I learned how to be stoic without ever hearing the word.

Later, at eight or nine, I was considered old enough to drive a tractor by myself, but I still enjoyed riding with Dad. By that time we had an Oliver Model 77, and I would sit beside Dad on the fender just to enjoy his silent companionship going round and round in the field. I learned about operating farm machinery easily because it fascinated me. Dad trusted me, even when he probably shouldn’t have. I was disappointed that he rarely complimented my skills, but Mother reported compliments he had stated to neighbors, and that helped.

I appreciated Dad’s attempts to teach me useful skills in his shop as well.

When I was about twelve, go-kart racing was all the rage in Roseburg and I dreamed of being a go-kart racer. Dad suggested we could build a go-kart as a learning experience and I liked the idea of building it together.

We started with four wheels, clutch,  sprocket, and drive-chain from Sears-Roebuck. We borrowed a gasoline engine from a haphazard and worn-out lawn mower. We fashioned a frame from angle-iron bed rails and created axles from round stock. Bicycle handlebars were added for steering, and various parts as required were formed from Dad’s metal scrap pile. Too young for welding, I was able to help with filing, shaping, bending, drilling and painting.

The worst part of our project was that we worked after dark in a farm shop building that was uncomfortably cold. This cut our work time short and the project seemed to drag on all winter.

The finished go-kart was fun. It could be driven on gravel lanes and fields at speeds of about 10 to 15 miles per hour. I thought it was underpowered, but lobbying for a more powerful engine failed. Dad apparently thought it was fast enough to keep young drivers out of trouble and had no interest in pushing the envelope.

The little go-kart lasted for several years and even my little sister Annie enjoyed practicing driving skills, after I had left for college.

Favorite Pets

Which were your favorite pets, and what made them special?

Favorite Pet: border collees
Favorite Pet: border collies

Border collies were my favorite animal. They are loyal, affectionate dogs, usually restrained and safe around children. We mostly had one dog at a time. I appreciated our dogs because they liked to follow along on our outdoor adventures, which generally took us through the fields toward the Calapooya Creek. Our dog would be nearby investigating smells and small creatures — things that interest dogs.

Border collies are differentiated from most other breeds because of their insatiable herding instinct. In my early childhood, we had sheep on our farm, and the border collies helped round them up. We also had free-range chickens around our house. When our dog was not needed in the field, we could find him intently watching chickens, trying to work out how to herd them into a chicken corral. The hen house out back had been torn down when I was little, and there was no proper place to corral the chickens. Amazingly, our chickens survived the predators with their free-range life style.

Border collee holding right foot high herding chickens
Border collie holding right foot high herding chickens

I adopted a border collie — not sure she was intended as a gift for me. I named her Sydney, after that city in Australia. Sydney had developed the habit of chasing passing hay trucks and nipping at the wheels. One busy afternoon Sydney was run over and badly injured by the hay truck I was driving. Mom and I used a large piece of cardboard to load her into the back seat of our car for the trip to the vet in Roseburg. Mom drove the dog to the vet; a one-way trip, since Sydney was suffering from several broken bones. I still feel guilty that I didn’t slow down and swing wide to avoid harming the dog, and that I didn’t stop hay hauling and ride with Mom to the animal hospital.