Chapter 17

The Opposite Sex

Naturally, since I had been away for a year, I was anxious to see my family again. Another boy at camp named Alfred England owned a Model A Ford roadster. He charged a dollar for a round trip to Ogdensburg and back.

Since he already had a load of boys from Canton and Potsdam, we had to pile on at best we could. I rode from Brasher to Potsdam standing on the rear bumper while holding onto another boy on the rumble seat.  On that trip there were thirteen of us aboard, one on the rear window, four in the front seat, two on each running board, two in the rumble seat, and two riding on the rear bumpers. We dropped off some in Potsdam, more in Canton, and the rest of the ride to the 'Burg was a little more comfortable. 

Since I had a 30-day furlough coming to me I took it at once. My sister, Elizabeth, had induced me, while I was in Idaho, to carry on a correspondence with one of her friends, Irene Lalonde. I had been away for about two and a half years and my sister brought her home soon after I arrived so that I could meet her. Bear in mind that I had been away for some time while other boys my age were discovering girls. Although I had little difficulty in writing to this girl, my face-to-face meeting with her went very badly. I have never mastered the art of small talk.  Although she was a pretty girl, I was unable to say anything to her. I solved this difficulty by ignoring her. Needless to say, any hope of romance in this direction came to a screeching halt.

 Fear of Rejection

My sisters' remarks to me over many years had convinced me long before that I was unworthy of even the least of women. Therefore I had placed them on such a high pedestal that I had dispaired of ever meeting one on anywhere near an equal level.  Frankly, I was terrified of them. Even more, I feared rejection. This was so deeply ingrained in me that for the rest of my life I never, by word or action, allowed myself to be put into a position where rejection was possible. I was always courteous to women, as well as men. In the long run this might have been in my favor, since in later years I gained the trust and friendship of a lot of women who were tired of having passes made at them. This terrible shyness prevented me from ever becoming really close to anyone, save one. That was the girl who was to become my wife.

Even though I had missed my chance with Irene, all was not lost. A young girl, Helen Sovie, had become a good friend of the family. One weekend when I came home she came into the household and I was introduced to her. She was more aggressive than Irene and asked me to take her to the show. Since the show cost ten cents for an adult then, I spent the magnificent sum of twenty cents to take this girl out. A month or so later, when I wrote home, she told me that her mother and her mother's boyfriend were out of town, and invited me to her house for lunch. I was sure that my family would tease me if I did not accept, and so I did. I was teased anyway. Many sly innuendoes were aimed at me as to what would happen when we were alone. But I assure you, this girl could not have possibly been safer.

We had a magnificent repast of baloney sandwiches while her younger siblings, as well at my own, constantly ran in and out of the room or peeked around the doorframe, expecting some action.  She lay at full length on a day bed, while kissing a picture of me and telling me she loved me. I sat on a chair nearby, wondering what I should do and how to proceed. Fortunately for me, the decision was taken out of my hands. Her mother and her mother's boyfriend arrived unexpectedly. The boyfriend was a villainous looking man who was very dark, possibly Indian or Italian. Though he was courteous enough, I got the impression that he was hostile to me and I soon left. Although we were close neighbors, I did not see this girl again until the following summer.

 A Shotgun Wedding?

Apparently she was told to stay away from me. When she finally did come back for a visit, she seemed unable to distinguish me, whom she had professed to love, from my older brother. This did little for my already damaged ego, and fortified my belief in the intransigence of women, especially when they dealt with me. The following fall I received an invitation to have Thanksgiving Dinner with the family which had moved to Massena some months before. My Aunt Vina Wicks, who lived next door to us at that time, heard about it and told me I should not go. Helen had become pregnant by the mother's boyfriend and they were looking for a sucker to marry her. I was at last able to understand this man's hostility and why the girl had avoided me. I would not have gone at any rate, since by this time I had met a girl who was all that I could dream of.

Meanwhile, my cousin George Recore was living with two brothers in a small house down near the Ferry Dock and they invited me to come down and bring my guitar along. At that time I played a guitar and harmonica.  The harmonica was attached to a metal harness around my neck, making me sort of a one-man band. I knew a lot of songs and am told that I was a good singer in those days. The brothers were Walter and George Martin.  It was Walter Martin who had coaxed me to publish some of my poems in the Ogdensburg Journal while I was in the seventh and eighth grade.

Many young people used to come there, and I can't even begin to remember all their names. I remember Francis McPherson. There were the two Gladle sisters. One of them was named Ginger, and the other was not. There was a young girl whose name was Gemmill. There was a lot of beer consumed there, but I did not drink at that time. Mostly I just provided the entertainment. The Gemmill girl asked me to come to a house where she was baby-sitting and keep her company, but since she was supposedly Walter’s girlfriend, I declined. Nevertheless, Walter got wind of it and politely asked me not to return.

 Out of the CCCs

In the early spring, according to the records, I had turned twenty-one and was no longer eligible to remain in the CCCs. I had to get out at the end of my enlistment, which terminated in March of 1939. When I came home for the last time and told my mother I was no longer in the CCCs, I received little but glares, and the distinct impression that I was no longer welcome. 

I was somewhat embittered by the fact that so many times, even in my presence, my older brother was praised for taking care of his family.  Of course, he deserved praise, but at least he was home and was allowed a generous allowance out of his pay on the WPA. I, on the other hand, was away from home for years, also taking care of my family. Except for five dollars a month, I was sending all my money home. But not once in those years, or even up to the present time, did I ever receive credit from anyone for my own contribution. 

I tried desperately to find a job ­ any job. I used to go up to the paper mill and stand in line, hoping someone inside would drop dead. But the people who worked there were the longest lived people I have ever seen. I have an absolute conviction that if I were still outside the gates looking for a job, not one of the men then employed there would have died or retired even though this was more than forty years ago. I did find a few odd jobs as a laborer, and naturally gave all that I earned to my mother. I was still rolling my own cigarettes out of Bull Durham and Dukes Mixture, but that only cost about five cents a week.

 The Congress Street Gang

Meanwhile, around this time, my sisters Elizabeth and Bernice were hanging around with a crowd of friends they had made on Congress Street.  One day they asked me to go with them. I declined for some time, since I was not very good at small talk. To tell the truth, I was terrified of girls, but my mother added her insistence also. Finally, under all this pressure, I relented. My sisters had constantly told me of a girl in the crowd named Fanny Cayen who had broken the hearts of all the boys in the crowd. Although I had never had a girl friend, I was ready to commit myself to one to the exclusion of all others, and expected the same in return.

I first met a girl named Beatrice Pearson. She lived with her brother Dean and their mother Dorothy, who played the piano. Dean also played the piano and he and I played together. Beatrice was a very attractive girl, but she already had a boyfriend, a man by the name of Larry from Canton, so I had little interest in her. In a short time we were all sitting on the Pearson's front step where we played the guitar and sang.  In all humility, my voice could not have been that bad, since they never seemed to tire of it. This became a nightly occurrence.

One girl in the crowd especially caught my attention. I say crowd, since there might have been as few as four or as many at a dozen get together at one time.  These young people were typical of teenagers, giggly and rowdy. But this one girl was always grave and mature. She acted like a perfect lady always and was much more mature than the rest of these kids. She was not only very beautiful, but had an air of breeding that somewhat discomforted me. She seemed unattached. In fact, the other kids referred to her as an old maid because of her seeming indifference to boys. I could not hope to attain a relationship with this girl, so you can imagine my surprise when she invited me over to her home to examine and to tune a guitar she had. She had taken lessons on the steel guitar, but had forgotten most of what she learned. She was, of course, Fanny's sister Betty. 

From that time on, no other girl existed for me. If I should mention her occasionally, I hope I will be forgiven. She was, and for the rest of her life remained, what I can only call a lady in the old fashioned sense of the word. She was only fifteen at the time and I, in actuality, was nineteen. I knew very little about girls and she knew little about boys, but in the years to come we learned from each other. This statement may seem a little naughty at first glance, but I assure you that it was not. You must remember that we were both painfully shy.  Just being near her was all the thrill I needed. Believe it or not, although I saw her almost every day, I went with her for almost a year before I even kissed her, even though we were alone most of the time.

 The First Kiss

Our first kiss came about in this way. One night when I was leaving, her mother told me that it was customary for a boy to kiss his girl goodnight. Thinking this was a dare, I proceeded to do so. Naturally, from then on, I never tired of it. You may well wonder what we did to pass the time away. We both liked poetry, and I knew a lot of science from reading science fiction, which I discussed with her. Naturally we talked about a lot of plans that lovers discuss and which would mean little to other people. 

Her father disliked me after a while. I could not blame him, for it must have seemed to him that I was constantly underfoot. Her mother, though pleasant enough, was noncommittal. But we had a great ally in her grandmother, Kate Walling. Kate was a small, birdlike woman who was constantly finding small jobs around the house that I could do. Then she would pay me enough so that I could take her granddaughter to the show.   She worked as a cook and housekeeper for the Westbrook family. Besides being our ally, she was great fun to be with.