Category Archives: autobiography

The Long Road

It came to an end for Justice Ginsberg after 87 years. It will come to an end soon for my father too. He is in hospice care at 88 years and eleven months. Her turns 89 in October. But he is deteriorating every day now. The final destination can’t be too much farther down the road for me either.

Life is not a Disney movie with Bambi in it. My mother made it out of the meadow alive when I was small.

But, when you think about it, after a cute and funny childhood, there was that moment behind the car tires when trauma struck, at age ten, and after that I had to grow up faster than should have been necessary. And in my youth and in my prime, I had to struggle to prove myself. Against other bucks, and hunters with guns, and… at the end of the movie, it seems like the whole world is on fire.

So, maybe life is like a Disney movie with Bambi in it. And maybe I have to make my own happy ending.

Perhaps Bambi is my spirit-animal. The one who protects my family. My patronus. My guardian angel.

No matter how I take it on, it has been a long and wearying road to follow. And the journey now is nearly complete. But the last few miles are always the hardest to bear. Still, I know the journey has been worth it. And there will be rest to be had in that last meadow. RGB already knows it. Soon my father will too. Peace be upon us, for we have earned it.

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Filed under autobiography, commentary, family, healing, health, metaphor, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life

My Favorite Cowboy

When he walked through my classroom door for the first time in August 1988, the start of his seventh grade year, Jorge Navarro was a tiny little third-grader-looking thing. But one of the first things he ever told me in English was that he was a cowboy.

He had two older brothers. Sammy was an eighth grader that year, and Jose was in tenth grade. So, I already knew his brothers. Big strapping lads. They didn’t speak English really well and couldn’t read. But they were smart in a pragmatic, workman-like way. They all three came from a ranch down in Encinal, Texas. Fifteen miles closer to the Mexican border than where I was teaching in Cotulla, Texas. But they were not Mexicans. Their grandparents and parents were born in the USA, and their great grandparents, and possibly further back than that had lived on the same ranch-land all the way back to when everything South of the Nueces River was Mexico. These were Tejanos. Proud Americans from Texas. Hard-working, dedicated to the ranch owners who paid them to do what they loved, getting the most agricultural benefits possible from the dry South-Texas brush country.

Jorge was, at the start, a little man with a big voice in a small package. He was smarter and could read better than either of his brothers. He could even read and translate Spanish, which, of course, was his native language. And he had strong opinions that you could not argue with him about. He was a cowboy. That was opinion number one. He not only rode horses, he fed them daily, curried them in the morning to loosen the dirt and stimulate the production of natural oils that kept their coats shiny, and he even told me about the times he bottle-fed newborn colts when their mothers were sick.

And he strongly believed that a boss, or a teacher in my case, should never ask someone to do something that he didn’t know how to do himself. That was opinion number two. And he held me to that standard daily.

You should never use bad language in front of a lady… or a teacher, was opinion number three. He had a temper though. So, unlike most of the other boys, on those days when he lost it, he apologized as soon as he was back in control of himself. It made the girls giggle when he apologized to them, but that was an embarrassed reaction. He impressed them. They told me so in private afterwards.

He had a cowboy hat in his locker every day. You never wore a hat inside. Strong opinion number four.

And when he was an eighth-grader, he almost doubled in height. But not in width. He was what they call in Spanish, “Flaco,” skinny as a rail. He was taller than me by the time in mid-year when he started competing like his brothers in rodeos. And he was good. Something about the way his skinny, light frame could bend and twist under stress allowed him to stay on a barebacked horse longer than his brothers, or even the older men. He was pretty good at roping steers too. But it was the bareback bronc riding that won him trophies.

This is not a story about someone overcoming hardships to succeed. It always seemed like Jorge was blessed with it from the beginning. But it was the fact that he did what was needed every single day without fail. You could depend on it. He had a code that he followed.

The drawing that started this story is one that I did for him. I gave him and every member of his class that asked for one a copy made on my little copier at home.

And he taught me far more than I could ever teach him. Jorge Navarro was a cowboy. And you couldn’t argue with him about that.

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Filed under autobiography, Cotulla, cowboys, education, heroes, Paffooney

A Simple Matter of Character (Part 2)

Some characters need to have their story told for reasons that are buried deep in the author’s personal history and damaged psyche. For me, Torrie Brownfield, the Baby Werewolf, was that kind of character.

The book, The Baby Werewolf, is a different kind of horror story. The central question of the book is this, “Am I a monster? And do I know why or why not?” And Torrie has to answer that question because he was born with a rare genetic disorder called hypertrichosis. It is the “werewolf-hair disease” where hair growth happens in unusual places on the body and in Torrie’s case, everywhere but the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet. He is a perfectly normal boy who really only looks like a monster. But how you look can have a profound impact on how people treat you.

And the character of the boy who looks like a werewolf and thinks he is a monster is based entirely on me. Unlike Valerie Clarke whose origins I can pinpoint, I have to honestly admit the way Torrie thinks and feels and acts are all based solely on me and me alone.

You see, when I was a boy of ten I went through a horrible traumatic experience that threw my whole life into darkness. And I kept it secret from everybody. In fact, for a few years, I kept it a secret even from myself.

It is not that I really didn’t remember I had been sexually assaulted by an older boy. The nightmares and remembered pain were a constant even when I couldn’t admit to myself what had happened. I defended myself from it all by burying the knowledge deep, and worrying about things that only sexual-assault victims worried about. I embarrassed myself twice in seventh grade by wetting my pants in class, all because I couldn’t go into the boys’ bathroom at school. Whenever I would have sexual urges of any kind, I would lie down or sit on the heating grate at home, burning scars into my lower back and the back of my lower legs. I fretted about how to fight monsters. And I knew from the movies that if a vampire bit you, you could become a vampire. And if a werewolf bit you, you could become a werewolf. So, if a sexual predator bites you, do you not become a…??

In all honesty I probably became a teacher at least in part to protect other kids from the same kind of thing that happened to me. And I had to write this book to tell the story of how not to be a monster.

The true monster in this monster-movie tale is actually Torrie’s uncle, the person who actually psychologically abuses him. And the villain proves himself to be a sexual deviant, trying to create kiddie porn in his photography studio.

I suppose I just spoiled the whole whodunnit part of the book. But the murder mystery was never the point of the novel. The message of this novel is that no child is ever a monster unless he actually chooses to become one.

And that is the kind of character Torrie Brownfield is. The autobiographical kind. The kind that brings the author’s worst fears about himself to light, and tries to answer the question with… “No, I am not a monster.”

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Filed under Paffooney, characters, horror writing, autobiography, monsters, novel writing

A Simple Matter of Character (Part 1)

No man is really fit to judge his own character. You can’t see it objectively from the inside. But one of the benefits of being a fiction author is that you don’t have to judge yourself. You can get away with judging everybody else around you. And they don’t even need to realize that that is what you are doing.

I am going to dissect three examples from my own fiction.

The first, as you have probably already guessed, is Valerie Clarke, the heroine of Snow Babies, When the Captain Came Calling, and Sing Sad Songs.

Valerie is named after the prettiest girl I went to school with, the one in my class that was in school with me from kindergarten to twelfth grade. The one who used to politely laugh at my jokes and smile at me a lot when I needed someone to look at me and not scowl. She is a very lovely lady now with grandchildren and a good life in Iowa. And besides the name and the beauty, that’s about as far as the real Valerie goes in the make-up of this crucial main character.

The spirit and the personal history of this character come from a very composed and determined young lady that I taught as both a seventh and an eighth-grader. I have referred to her before in this blog as Sasha. But that’s not her real name. And I am not going to ever give you her real name because she’s entitled to the secrets I may have revealed about her in creating this character, as well as entitled not to be burdened with the things in my stories about her that she never did in real life.

In the course of the novels I write, I dramatized the loss of her father, writing a scene in which she comes home to find him after he has committed suicide over the loss of his part of the family farm that he co-inherited with his older brother. Kyle Clarke’s suicide is the single most devastating scene I have ever written up until now. It stopped the novel in the middle. I had to write two other whole novels before I could pick it up and continue. But Sasha’s missing father in real life did not commit suicide. The love that develops between Valerie and Tommy in Snow Babies and the love she finds with Francois in Sing Sad Songs are also facts that do not belong in real life to Sasha.

But the part of Valerie Clarke that really is Sasha is her indomitable will, the way she simply cannot be stopped when she makes up her mind to accomplish something. And that smile that melts your defenses and forces you to accept everything she is about change in your life for the better, whether it is painful or not. The bravery that Valerie shows when she loses someone or something that is important to her is also Sasha. Overcoming disappointment and how one manages to do it is a real key to someone’s character. It helps you decide whether that character is right to be the heroine or is a better fit to be the villain of a story. And Sasha could never have been a villain.

And finally, there’s the thing about the character of Valerie Clarke that has attached itself to my own daughter, the Princess, whose real name I also never use in this blog. She was roughly the same age as the character of Valerie as I was actually putting the story of Snow Babies down in sentences, paragraphs, and Cantos. Some of the more private details about Valerie come from her, things I could never have learned about the first Valerie or Sasha because I never lived in the same house with them. And these more private details are probably the reason that my own daughter has not read a story with Valerie Clarke in it.

So, now I have revealed the basic anatomy of the character creation of one of three promised characters that I am proudest to have created in my fiction.

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Filed under Paffooney, humor, characters, autobiography, daughters, writing teacher, novel writing

Follow Wherever It Leads You…

My path in life has never been straight, never arrived at the destinations I was originally shooting for.

Sometimes you wake up and find a new path spreading out before you.

My dreams were once to go to the Air Force Academy and learn to fly planes.

But bad arches in my feet, poor eyesight in my left eye, and nagging difficulties with allergies turned that dream on its head. I was physically ground-bound, and able to fly only in my dreams.

And then I went to Cow College, Iowa State University, to be an English Major. I was good at drawing. I had endless story-plots bursting out of my fevered comic-book lover’s brain. And I was determined to be a story-teller and comic book artist. But arthritis crept into my hands and slowed the drawing down, my confidence dried up. I realized I was a graduated English major with no chance at ever finding a job just reading books.

So, I went to the University of Iowa, the Hawkeyes, and got myself a remedial Master of the Art of Teaching degree and a teaching certificate. And this time the door actually opened… to a life of a pedagogue. I got to perform my act six times a day in front of a hostile audience for the next 31 out of 33 years, with two years off for bad principal behavior, and time spent being a sub for every kind of teacher that there was. I got to teach everything from autistic special education to P.E. teacher to Librarian to Orchestra teacher.

Some days I was the worst teacher that ever lived. But most days I was a pretty good teacher. And I never let a bad day pass without learning something from it. And I learned to use my drawing ability on chalk boards and bulletin boards and dry-erase boards and overhead projectors. And I learned to be a good story-teller, whether it was by reading aloud or re-telling stories that were mostly factual from history, and funny stories from my own experiences. I became a fascinating nearly-human bean that could keep the attention of even ADHD twelve-year-olds for as much as twenty minutes. A good trick, that.

And when the time came to give it up, I did not go gentle into that good night. I had a miserable last year in 2013-2014 because my health was so poor. I lost money from excessive absences since I had the flu three times that year and had a son spend a week in the hospital. I retired that May and thought my life was over.

And then the real nonsense started.

I published the original AeroQuest in 2007. Then in 2012 I added Catch a Falling Star, published with I-Universe/ Penguin Books.

Once I retired, I published Magical Miss Morgan with Page Publishing. Then, disgusted with traditional publishers whom I paid more money than I ever earned from, I began self-publishing with Amazon.

Snow Babies followed, with Stardusters and Space Lizards after that.

The Bicycle-Wheel Genius, Recipes for Gingerbread Chidren, The Baby Werewolf, Sing Sad Songs, and Fools and Their Toys followed that (in order).

Then I doubled down on writing more than one story at a time.

I began rewriting AeroQuest, publishing 1,2, and 3 as of this writing.

I wrote the prequel to Snow Babies, When the Captain Came Calling. I also wrote The Boy… Forever, the sequel to The Baby Werewolf.

Most recently I have published A Field Guide to Fauns, a novel where all the main characters are nudists. And I completed a book of essays from this blog, which I call Laughing Blue.

And then I began working even harder to get my books read and reviewed.

I have gotten more five-star reviews than any other level.

My current work-in-progress is The Wizard in His Keep. It currently stands at 30,000 words out of a probable 40,000.

How much more I can get done now until my life has ended remains to be seen. But I keep on trudging on the path into the future, not knowing where it will go next… and not really worrying about it.

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Mr. Don Knotts

Being a child of the ’60s and also being fifty percent raised by the television set, it was my privilege to witness and learn from the master comedian of self-deprecating humor and ultimate humiliation. And there is no better preparation for becoming a Texas public school teacher than to learn how to be laughed at from Don Knotts.

I have spent a goodly number of hours during our recent COVID quarantine watching old DVDs of Don Knotts movies. The last four nights I viewed, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, The Shakiest Gun in the West, The Reluctant Astronaut, and The Love God. If you have never seen them, they come with the highest of Mickian recommendations, “They made me laugh so hard I cried.”

Of course, my favorite Don Knotts movie of all time is The Incredible Mr. Limpet.

Knotts always seems to play a character put upon by life in general, yet always believing that he has the inner something to make himself into a huge success. Every time he gets knocked down he quivers with frustration and throws a punch at his tormentors that invariably hits nothing unless he hits himself. In Mr. Limpet, we find a man so frustrated in his inability to help in the war effort that he throws himself into the sea, turning himself into a fish… a fish that helps defeat German U-boats. He makes himself into a hero, He even finds love among the fishes.

Knotts found the perfect comic partner in Tim Conway as they made The Apple Dumpling Gang and its sequel, The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again. Slapstick antics and serious battles against the laws of physics somehow manage to win out over real bad guys with real guns and horses.

I guess the thing that makes Don Knotts such an important part of my television-sourced education is how much I identify with him. Life is a never-ending parade of humbling defeats and blush-inducing humiliations. I have spent most of my life being one with the little-guy within me, the put-upon fellow who has never quite overcome all the little hurts incurred by a desire to overcome the gravity holding me down.

And in a Don-Knotts world, based on a Don-Knotts movie script, things eventually turn out all right in the end. Mr. Chicken is proved right. Abner Peacock ends up marrying the beautiful girl who is the perfect one for him. The dentist who is mistaken for a gun-fighter still gets to be the hero in the end. So, there are worse things than living a Don Knotts sort of life.

Rest in peace, Don Knotts. For though you are no longer with us, you will always live on in my heart… and the hearts of many other Don Knotts wannabes.

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Filed under art my Grandpa loved, autobiography, comedians, education, empathy, goofiness, humor, movie review, nostalgia, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Andre Norton, Sci-Fi Royalty

It began for me in 1977 with this wrap-around cover illustration. I knew there were a lot of this guy’s books on the shelves of the college bookstore along with works by Robert E. Howard, Roger Zelazney, and Theodore Sturgeon. And I knew this guy had also written paperback books under the name “Andrew North”, a name I had seen on the twenty-five cent novels in the drugstore where you could buy the really good pulp fiction novels only slightly used.

I had never before bought one of his books. And the book money I had for the fall quarter at Iowa State was supposed to all go towards the book-list given to me as a Junior-level English major. But the naked kid on the cover had a wired-up collar around his neck. And I had only recently recovered long-suppressed memories of being a victim of a sexual assault. I had to have it. I had to know what that illustration had to do with the story inside.

So, I bought a book that I judged by its cover.

And it was not the wrong thing to do.

The main character was a boy named Jony, the naked boy on the cover of the book. He is taken by alien beings as a study specimen along with his mother, the pregnant woman on the back of the wrap-around illustration. The story starts with Jony in a cage, treated like an animal. His mother, also a study specimen has been mated to a Neanderthal-like humanoid specimen who cannot speak, and she has given birth to twins, a boy, and a girl. They are kept in separate cages by their inhuman captors.

Jony manages a mass escape, taking his mother and his younger siblings with him, and releasing as many of the other study specimens as he can. Luckily they escape onto a very earth-like planet. But unluckily, the mother is in very poor health and dies soon after escaping. Jony is then responsible for his little brother and sister in a wilderness that is not empty of others. Luckily, the others they first run afoul of are the bear-like ursine aliens who share their need to not be recaptured by the zoo-keeper aliens.

It was a perfect novel for me. I identified strongly with the main character, who had been violated in a very personal way by monsters. And then had to build a new life in a world full of potential other-monsters. Andre Norton shared my pain and helped me overcome it.

But she also fooled me big-time. She was not a he.

She was a librarian and editor of pulp fiction who wrote enough sci-fi and fantasy in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s to finally become a full-time author.

She was already on book number 29 when she retired from being a librarian to write full time.

And I would go on to own and read several of her other books, which were good, but never quite lived up to that first one I read. Of course, that may have been because of the timing and circumstance that led me to a book that I actually needed to read. That book set me on the road to recovery from my personal darkness. And it may have sparked in me the need to eventually become a nudist. And more important than that, it may have led me to a lifelong need to teach reading.

Andre Norton was a real writer. And she made me one too. Though I never knew who she really was until after I bought that book because of the picture on the cover. And I never got around to properly thanking her for all of that… Until this very moment.

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Filed under aliens, autobiography, book review, science fiction, strange and wonderful ideas about life

Fighting the Good Fight

I like to think of myself as a good person. In fact, having been a successful public school teacher, I basically feel that calling myself a hero is not the same sort of toxic narcissism that Prexydental Trumpalump displays when he thinks of himself that way.

I need to get it through my thick head that everyone sees themselves that way, and that it is universally untrue. We let too much badness go unopposed. We are hard-hearted too often towards our fellow men and women… and children… and animals… and the planet as a whole.

We see others who are different than ourselves as “others” and exclude them from our groups, some of us going so far as to villainize others just because their skin is green, or because they know what “Blogwopping” means and we don’t. And what we villainize, or demonize, or verminize, we feel righteous in harming, even exterminating.

So, what’s the point I am making? Am I such a loathsome creature that the only way I can make the world a better place is to curl up and die? Of course not. That’s the darkness talking me back into grave ideas and depressed thinking. I need to spread a little of that old Norman Vincent Peale peanut-butter on the slice of toast that is my world. Yes, a little bit of positive thinking can re-butter your toast for the better in order to prepare you to battle the battles that must be fought and won.

A true warrior is not the guy doing the most killing on the battlefield. And he is not the one who dies for his country either. Both may have their place in a war, but neither is the one who wins it. A true warrior is the one who endures to the end. The last man standing. The one who rules the battlefield at the end of the day.

So, what do I mean with all this warrior nonsense? I mean, my Great Grandma Hinckley was a true warrior, because she steadfastly led her family through five generations of it, and made more generations possible.

You say the world is dying of climate change? My Grandma was a relentless garden-keeper, helping us to survive with garden-fresh sweet corn, sweet peas, pumpkins, squash, and carrots from her garden. And she planted a multitude of flowers every year to keep the bees happy and a everything they pollinated growing.

You say we may succumb to pandemics and plagues? Grandma Hinckley was a maker of chicken soup, a mender of wills and willpower in the downhearted… church-goer, psalm-singer, user of Vick’s Vapo-Rub, Dr. Scholl’s inserts, Werther’s Original Butterscotch and Hard Candies, and if worse came to worse… Castor Oil!

And for political problems… government corruption and such? Well, maybe you can’t still vote for FDR or Eisenhower… but you damn sure better vote.

Yes, my Great Grandma Hinckley was a true warrior.

And so, I am ready for the fights to come. I will be a warrior like her. I will be a problem-solver, and I will endure. Because that’s just what you do, no matter the odds against you. I learned it from her. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one with a warrior for a grandma, or mother, or father, or sister, brother, wife, or son… even daughter. We stand a chance if we will only stand together. And we do it for love.

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Filed under angry rant, autobiography, battling depression, family, goofy thoughts, healing, humor, inspiration, Paffooney

I’m More Alive Today Than I Was Yesterday

Yes, I use that picture to illustrate the character Milt Morgan, but it is actually me. I drew it from a school photo from grade school. And yes, that means a color photo from the 1960’s. I am now 54 years older than I was when that picture was originally taken. Being that old… not ancient, but a senior citizen, means I am not as far from the day I will die as I am from either the day I was born, the day this picture was taken, the days I graduated from high school and college, and even the day I got married. Especially since I am ill with 6 incurable diseases and conditions and living in the midst of the 2020 pandemic with anti-health President Trumpalump still in the White House.

Yesterday I woke up with my left arm numb, a sharp pain in my left armpit, a heaviness and pain in my chest, and a throbbing in my temples.

Yes, I know. I promised my family I would go to the ER if I had those Heart-Issue symptoms again.

But the last time I went to a doctor on a Saturday with those same symptoms, my EKG sent me to the ER, who charged me two hundred dollars out of pocket and sent me directly to the hospital. After more than a week of tests, drugs, and worry… no heart indications, stress test passed, and the general consensus among specialists that it was the arthritis in my rib-cage and the arthritis in my neck, near the spinal chord that caused both the anomalous EKG and the numbness in my arm. They got the same heart-warning EKG readings while I was hooked up to a machine that showed I was definitely NOT having a heart attack.

So, yesterday I gambled with my life. I stayed home. I finished my book of essays and published it on Amazon. (At least, if I died, I would leave behind one more product of wit, wisdom, and autobiography from a total idiot.)\

This morning I was better. It is not a hundred percent certain that I won’t drop dead from a heart attack or stroke, but my pains yesterday were definitely from sleeping for too long on my left side with an arthritic rib-cage. Arthritis doesn’t kill you by itself. Only when it masks the pains of something more deadly and disastrous.

So, I lucked out. And I have another finished work. It is Laughing Blue, a book of essays from this goofy little blog. Along with illustrations that I feared wouldn’t all be compatible with Amazon’s file-size limits. I appear to have been 100% victorious on that gamble too.

The book is now live on Amazon. Whether you can actually buy it or not, I don’t know yet. So, I will wait to post a link until I am sure.

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Beloved

Teachers are not supposed to fall in love with students. Of course, when the school district tells you that, at the beginning of the year, they are talking mostly about high school students, and they are talking exclusively about romantic love. I have never had a real problem with that rule. Romantically, little half-brained and totally immature middle school students are downright icky. Especially the walking, talking, and sometimes farting middle school boys.

But schools, even though they can’t really say it, and some administrators don’t believe they want it to be so, they want teachers to have “teacher love” for students. That means, in a vaguely defined way in administrative brains compatible with the real meaning of “fully funded,”that they want teachers to become surrogate mothers and fathers to students, the kind of love you have for an orphan you have adopted because you can plainly see they need someone… anyone… to love them and care for them… no matter how ugly they might be on the outside.

“To be a good teacher, you gotta learn to love ugly,” Head Principal Watkins said to us all for the two years he managed to love our faculty. And he meant it. I was not the only teacher I heard him tell, “You are a wonderful teacher because you care about kids.” And he meant it. Not like most principals.

But when you see a picture of David, the way he was back then, you can see he was not ugly. Just his situation was ugly.

He was one of six kids that lived with his single mother in the housing project for low-income families. His mother had, at the time the principal called me into his office, been cited by authorities twice for neglect of her children.

“Mike, I know you have mentored and helped several kids outside of school. And we have a boy coming into your seventh grade class that we would like for you to help out however you can. We know you went through the whole social-services and foster-parent training from San Antonio. And David Gutierrez could really use a bit of a boost from you,” the Head Principal told me behind closed doors.

Boy, was that ever an understatement. I was spending considerable time hanging out with the pretty blond reading teacher. The first time I cooked for her, fried hamburgers and instant mashed potatoes, David had a plate already at the tiny table in my little apartment. And, skinny little thing that he was, he ate three quarters of all the food I had badly cooked. Annabel didn’t mind. And not because the burgers were burnt and the potatoes were runny… I am still not a great cook. She would become David’s second mom for those next three years. She gave him as much if not more “teacher love” than I did.

He was not a good student in any of his classes. But he was an adequate reader, and he actually improved noticeably in the time he was hanging out with us.

But he gave us a turn during that first fall when he got sick. He had the seventh grade History teacher first period every morning. And one day in October he reported to class all listless and red-eyed, And Mrs. Finch was a sharp and capable teacher, knowing what drug problems looked like, and what they didn’t look like. She sent him to the nurse. It was a fever of one-hundred-and-three degrees. The parent was called, but the parent didn’t answer. So, immediately after school Annabel and I took him directly from the nurse’s office to the doctor. And after it was determined he had a bad sinus infection, we took him to my place and put him in the spare bedroom (all apartments on North Stewart Street were two-bedroom, but there was only one of me.) Annabel stayed with him while I filled the prescription for antibiotics. We got him dosed and rested at least before his mother returned from her cleaning job in Laredo, sixty miles south. We told her everything that happened. And she took him home. His two older sisters took over nursing duty.

But when the school contacted the doctor, it was explained that the infection was severe mainly because David was malnourished and dangerously anemic. Of course, that was evidence of neglect and had to be reported.

In order to avoid having to give up custody to the State his mother moved him to Laredo, closer to her work. Both of the older sisters, Bunny and Bea had advised their Mom to give him to Annabel and me. But, of course, we were not married and in no position to become his actual parents.

So, David spent two months in Laredo, calling me every night from a pay phone. His grades in school tanked. He was miserable and lonely.

The problem was worked out in David’s family. His older brother sent money every month to his two older sisters. And Bunny had a job and kept the apartment in Cotulla for herself. So, as a compromise, since Bea was already living there with Bunny to attend high school, David came back to live with them, along with his younger sister. They returned to the school where all their friends were.

Through the rest of David’s seventh grade until the end of high school he was like a son to me. He was constantly at my place, playing computer games, watching VHS movies, and charming my girlfriend. (Annabel had the apartment next door for three of the next four years.) I played games with him. I fought with him about getting his homework done. I basically did the Dad-thing for him, something no other man had ever been bothered to do. In later years he would work as a substitute teacher for me. He would introduce me to new girlfriends. And the last time I saw him, in Uncle Moe’s Mexican Restaurant, he introduced his pregnant wife to me and my wife.

In Hebrew, the name David means, “Beloved.” Hence, that’s the only part of his name in this essay that is real.

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Filed under autobiography, humor, illness, kids, Liberal ideas, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life, teaching