Chapter 1958, age 15-16

Themes and Events:
* The Boeing 707, the first U.S.made jetliner, begins commercial passenger service with a Pan American flight between New York and Paris.
* There is a worldwide boom in the use of “credit cards” as the debt medium becomes widely available to the public.
* This is a peak year for the “Drive-in ” theater with 4063 outdoor screens nationwide.
* The Hula Hoop is introduced and becomes a national pastime fad selling 100 to 200 million units in about six months.
* President Eisenhower signs a bill that creating NASA (The National Aeronautic and Space Administration).
* The North American air defense system introduces interactive computing, with punch cards giving way to continuous calculating. This leads to networked computers accessible by remote terminals.

Life goes on – on Robert’s Road
Dad was just about finished with the two years required to earn his B.A. Degree (Bachelor of Arts) in History when it was decided that he should continue an additional year to earn the M.A. (Master of Arts) in History. Mom was still working as a seamstress at the garment factory.
Sometime during the year, Mom had the misfortune to run the needle, of her industrial sewing machine, through the end of her left index finger. The painful experience caused her to miss several days work.
In order to reduce our house rental cost, we moved two or three houses down the block south on Roberts Road to:

Mr. and Mrs. Robert F. Pierce, 411 Roberts Road, Tempe,  AZ.
The “new” house was essentially the same as the one we moved from, but had a different owner with a lower monthly rental fee.

[A circa 2007 Google Street View  image of  411 Roberts Road. There were few trees in this fairly new, but dusty subdivision in 1958 and  no sidewalk. The Roberts Road subdivision was largely located in the country with few houses between it and the main street in Tempe, about a mile away. Behind the back yard was an irrigation ditch and beyond it, a  large farm field. Shanna Carr lived down the street to the right 3-4 houses.]

New neighbors
A new family moved into the subdivision and rented a house about three houses down the block from us. The Carr family consisted of the Mom and step Dad, a son about ten years old, and daughter, Shanna Lee, who was a couple of years younger than myself. As the weeks passed we occasionally saw one another while loafing around our yards, but there was little communication. I supposed she was always in the house doing homework or watching TV. At the time, I was usually either at school or in a different neighborhood, hanging around with Charlie and the fellows, or at church functions, so had few recollections of Shanna other than our seeing one another occassionally across the mid distance of several properties.

[Drawing: Map of Tempe, Arizona showing key locations mentioned in this story.
1) Our house on Roberts Road.
2) Shanna’s house.
3) The corral where ‘my horses’ were kept.
4) The riding stable/corral where Shanna’s horse was housed.
5) Charley’s house.
6) the Dairy Queen.
7) Garment factory where Mom worked.
8) The Baptist Church we attended was in this area.
9) The squiggly line on the roads around Roberts Road was my ‘paper route’.
Not numbered) Tempe Union HS was located at the bottom right of the map.
All our Halloween pranks were pulled in the square residential area  delineated by 8th to 13th street and Roosevelt Rd to Mill Ave. Tempe Union HS is seen at the bottom of the map]

Learning to drive the car, but…
After my sixteenth birthday, I took the high school’s short Driver’s Education course and received my Driving-Learner’s Permit. Upon completion of the course, I passed the written and driving exams and was issued a Arizona Drivers License.  Normally, this achievement was a real joy, a passage to manhood as it were, for a teenager living in suburbia. Possession of your own drivers license, meant you’d passed one of the coveted hurdles on the road to adulthood. With the driver’s license you could become really mobile. Whereas a very few high school students were given cars by their parents, most were allowed to use the family car for an occassional date or for some other important, local social activity.

I should point out that at this time most families only had one automobile, affluent families had two or more. In any case I was refused use of the family car for any purpose, except on one occasion. Once, while Dad was heavily absorbed with studies and it was time to pick Mom up at work, he conveniently “let me” do the job for him. It was only a three-quarter mile drive straight drive down a semi rural road, to the garment factory.

Grandma Elsie Pierce ill and our impromptu vacation
I think it was during the spring of the year that Grandma Pierce became ill,  apparently there was concern that she might not recover, so the family took time from work and school and we drove back to Michigan to visit with Grandma Elsie and Grandpa Glen Pierce. I remember Grandma was in her bed when we visited, but I don’t remember that she was quite as sick, by the time we arrived, as she had been a few days or weeks earlier. Anyway, after a day or two to visit and pray for her, we left. Grandma recovered splendidly, and if my memory serves, she was back to her health with in a couple of weeks. I don’t remember what ailment she’d had, but she made a full recovery.
On our return trip to Arizona we drove southwest into New Mexico and visited Carlsbad Cavern.

During mid morning, we took a guided tour with maybe fifty other people on a developed, paved trail deep into the cave. The ranger was right in suggesting we bring our sweaters, it was chilly in the cave.  It seems like we walked for a couple of hours, always going deeper, winding around on the trail, going down steps, to the point that my legs began to feel the stress. The interior of the cave was unbelievable!
There were enormous auditorium size rooms and larger, filled with stalactites and stalagmites, there were rooms filled with ornate veils, multi-hued deposits, and small ponds that were so clear they looked three feet deep, but were more like fifteen feet deep. The cave was awesome and beautiful, in an alien way. [Photo above, Internet image: Entrance to Carlsbad Cavern, New Mexico.]

Around noon, after about a 1.5 mile subterranean hike with frequent stops for natural history discussions, our tour reached a fairly well lit cafeteria, deep in the bowls of the earth. The cafeteria had small packaged lunches, of what I recall being foods like, a simple peanut butter and jam sandwich with a orange and napkin served in a small cardboard box, with a paper cup of water to drink.
We took the opportunity to relax at one of the few tables. After lunch it was only a short walk to an elevator that brought us back up to the hot desert surface.

Mesa Verde NP and White Sands NM
There were two other grand places we visited during vacation while still living on Roberts Road; most notably were, Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado and White Sands National Monument, New Mexico. Mesa Verde was a visually interesting large Anasazi cliff dwelling community.

On another trip. we were traveling from one historic site to another when it so happened we found our route would be passing White Sands National Monument. To tell the truth, it didn’t look like much of a park. There were only a couple crude camping sites, it was summer and hot. I think we were the only people ‘overnighting’ in the park. Fortunately, we arrived in the late afternoon and took a spot near the base of a dune. I admit the dunes were pretty impressive. I’d been to both the east and west coast, and had climbed on the large sand dunes along Lake Michigan, but these great white dunes dwarfed what I was familiar with.

Early the next morning, as the sky was just coloring with dawn, the family had awakened and I crawled out of the tent to look around. It was  a nice cool and refreshing morning on the desert; the ground was cool so I didn’t put on my shoes. I told Mom and Dad, that I was going to climb the near by sand
dune and would be back in a few minutes.

[Internet image: White Sands NM. At the northern end of the Chihuahuan Desert lies a mountain ringed valley called the Tularosa Basin. Rising from the heart of this basin is one of the world’s great natural wonders – the glistening white sands of New Mexico. The snowy white dunes rise to more than 60 feet and cover 275 square miles. The dune field is about 10,000 years old. Sand blows in from a seasonally-wet lake bed where gypsum continues to form. There were no developed campgrounds in the park, but a  one-mile hike off the scenic drive leads to backcountry campsites.]

Since all we could see was sand, distances were deceiving. It turned out that the ‘near by’ dune was a little further across a sand plain than it appeared, it was also taller than it looked from our campsite. Once on the crest of the dune, I hoped to have a panoramic view of the vast dune field, but found my view blocked by the slightly taller dune immediately behind it. So, I bounded down one side and climbed the second.

The sun was above the horizon by the time I was at the top of the crest on the second dune, the air was warming and the sand was starting to become uncomfortable to walk on. Still unable to see much of the dune field and knowing it would soon be breakfast time, I started retracing my  route to camp. By the time I was back on top the first dune, the sand was hot, so hot that I had to sit down and raise my feet to get them off the sand for a few moments. The next 10-15 minutes were painful. The sun was rising, the sand was burning my feet. I had to briefly run, stop,  sit, and raise my feet, but then my hands would burn touching the sand. So I’d run some more, try kneeling in the sand and raising my feet off the ground behind me and try balancing so as not to touch the sand with my hands.

Needless to say, I was glad to get back to camp. My feet were red from being nearly baked. I didn’t complain about the misadventure other than to say the sand was hot, no one guessed the true situation I’d encountered. A few days later, some dry skin on my feet, flaked and fluffed off.

The church cleaning job
I kept my newspaper route for about a year then quit taking a better job. The new job was custodial for the small Baptist Church we attended. The job involved sweeping the floors and dusting the pews and chairs. It wasn’t hard work by any means, but it was hot in the closed building, even in the morning without the air-conditioned turned on. The job required about three to four hours work every Saturday morning and paid better than I made delivering newspapers.

Summer of the horse
Mr. Rose, the pastor of our church, was a ‘Western’ buff. He always wore cowboy boots, a cowboy style hat, western shirts and a bola tie. His wife wore fancy Indian style Squaw dresses, turquoise jewelry and sandals. The family had two sons, Bobby and Rickey, both of whom were younger than I.  Their eldest son, Bobby, and I, occasionally hung around together, when I was putzing around in our neighborhood. The two boys always wore cowboy boots and frequently western style shirts and hats. All in all, the family had a fairly heavy investment in the western  clothing motif. Complementing their lifestyle and western interest, the family leased a local, several acre fenced pasture, were they kept four horses and a  several dozen bales of hay. Their horse lot was a block from our house, just across 5th Street, at the very end of Roberts Road.

Every few weeks, Bobby would stop by the house to ask if I wanted to go horse back riding with him, I never turned him down. For the most part we rode bareback, taking 1st Street down to the bridge over the dry Salt River. Here we crossed the river bed and rode out into the desert that later became Desert Botanical Garden and Papago Park.

During the early summer of ’58, the Rose family made plans to visit an ailing relative on the east coast. In their absence the church was scheduled to  have a series of different preachers and Dad was asked to give several sermons. Meanwhile, I was offered the outstanding opportunity to feed and water their horses for the summer. As payment for my work, I was allowed to ride the horses all I wanted.
I jumped at the offer.
That summer was great. The best summer ever!
Every morning, I got up at the crack of dawn, took a bridle and walked to the end of the block to feed and water the horses. When they had finished their hay and feed, I’d put a bridle on the brown mare and lead her out of the pasture gate, swing up on her back and ride home for my own breakfast. After household chores were finished, I was out riding, stopping at home during the mid day heat for a peanut butter and jam sandwich and glass of milk.
I spent much of the summer on horseback.
It so happened, that on Hardy Road, near 8th Street, which was only a few blocks from our house, there was a riding stable and horse barn which rented stall space for other Tempe horse owners; remember that and we’ll come back to the point in awhile.

 The Superstition Mountains
Meanwhile, over the previous year or so, I’d attended the local Boy Scout troop meetings. Our family didn’t have enough money to buy me any scout clothing, not that I would need a complete outfit, but a shirt would have been nice and would have made me feel more part of the group. Anyway, I learned the Scout Oath, read and reread the thick Scout Manual, practiced various Indian lore, like making snares and dead fall traps. I loved the wilderness and survival skills. At the meetings we often played such fun games as Dodge Ball and  Capture, both of which were rough and tumble exercises in agility and speed played by several combined troops. Once we had an overnight campout not far from Tempe, however, the best adventure  by far, was the ascent of South Peak in the Superstition Mountains.

Several troops, their leaders, and adult assistants took a bus  out-of-town on the main highway to Apache Junction, then onto a gravel road to the base of the Superstition mountains.
We embarked on a narrow but beaten trail which wound around, up and about up the mountain. We weren’t in a hurry, but we didn’t dawdle as we worked our way higher and higher in the canyon and across slopes.

[Photograph: The Superstition Mountains as seen from Apache Junction, Arizona. I climbed to the South peak, with several senior Tempe Boy Scout troops ca 1957-58.]

There was a long known tradition that one shouldn’t wander off alone in the Superstition Mountains.
Somewhere in the mountains was, “The Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine”, said to be guarded by spirits. Everyone knew the stories: that people had died trying to find the gold, that maybe there was an evil spirit, maybe a greedy land owner, maybe renegade Indians that protected the hidden mine. As we hiked, we kids chatted amongst ourselves, watched out for rattle snakes, looked for mountain lions, kept an eye on the fellows in front of and behind us, and watched the ridges for any ‘strangers or Indians’. It was good to be alive, hot and sweaty, climbing to a peak in the traditionally forbidden mountains.
If there are glorious feats and deeds that boil in the blood of a young man, this was one.

Around noon we came upon a large, open and slightly sloping mountain saddle, where we stopped for lunch. After the break, we made our way up across the saddle and one last rise to South Peak. The summit was topped by a group of boulders, which we climbed, several fellows at a time, just so we could say we had stood at the highest point on the peak.

I don’t think it took over a quarter as much time to get back to the base of the mountain, as it took climbing up. By the time we were on the bus and starting to drive out, it was dusk. We arrived in Tempe around 8PM, I walked the mile home.
It had been a great day.

Young love on horseback
As previously mentioned, a girl named Shanna Lee Carr moved with her family, into a tract house just down the street from us.
During the first few months she lived on Roberts Road, I seldom saw her. I later found why Shanna was seldom seen, she had a horse and was spending most of her time riding or hanging around at the horse stable, located several blocks away, on Hardy Road.

[School  photo: Shanna Lee Carr, ca. 1959, 15 years old.]

With the arrival of summer I began caring for the Rose family horses. One day while riding past the commercial stable, I came across Shanna riding her Palomino mare. We began chatting and I found that Shanna was a fun person to be with. She had medium length light brown hair and blue eyes.
Although she was several years younger than me, we were both the same height and had slender builds. We became friends right from the start and thereafter went riding together daily.
Soon our bond developed into a teenage love.

My parents took an instant dislike to Shanna, possibly because her family belonged to the Mormon faith. Mom and Dad didn’t want her around our house. Their attitude, though typical and irritating, was no problem for Shanna or myself.

As the summer progressed, almost every morning Shanna would be waiting for me either in her front yard or at the pasture where I fed the horses. Almost every day we rode out into the desert several miles north of Tempe.
This was a good time for two young people smitten by their first love. A summer of walking and racing our horses, talking and exploring, kissing and enjoying a unique time — this was a happy, exhilarating time.

[Photograph, Papago Park Tempe, AZ: We often rode our horses to this desert area which was located only a couple of miles north of Roberts Road. See the map above: We’d cross the dry Salt River, then Mill Blvd. (not shown), that ran from  Mesa to Tempe to Phoenix and enter the desert. Occasionally we rode bareback sometimes using saddles, always with canteens and usually me carrying my #25 fiberglass recurve bow and a quiver with arrows. This was a large, hot and quiet area with little reason for people to visit. While in Papago Park, we occasionally saw another 2-3 person group in the distance, hiking or struggling to ride their bicycles on a dirt road or across the desert.]

Halloween warriors, 1958
As Halloween approached, we teens heard a rumor that there was a new custom called, “Beggars Night.” Beggars Night was supposed to be the night before Halloween. On that night, if you knocked on a household door and called out, “Beggars Night”, they were to give you some candy the same as they  would the next night, on Halloween eve. We’d never heard of Beggars Night, never the less, decided to see what fun we could find practicing it.  As a group of us (Charlie, his brother, myself and several others) walked down the sidewalk on Beggars Night and not seeing much of any activity in the neighborhoods, we decided to give the new “holiday” a test. We simply stopped at the house we were passing and knocked on the door. The old man who answered the door was grumpy as hell, yelling and cursing at us as he chased us off.

We sulked away, grumbling amongst ourselves, planning some light revenge for the following night.

The next night was Halloween. We met at Charlie’s house just after dark, when the streets were full of little “Trick or Treaters” and their parents. We went back through the neighborhoods toward the house where the grumpy old man chased us off the previous night. Arriving at his house, we found lawn chairs conveniently sitting in his side yard. Two chairs were quietly set on the front porch right next to the door.

The garden hose was uncoiled and one end wrapped around the chair’s arm rests so that it pointed directly at the corner of the front door that would soon be opened. As one fellow knocked loudly on the door and a couple yelled, “Trick or Treat” in unison, another turned the water hydrant on full force. Immediately we ran around to the side of house and began walking fast down the sidewalk. Pausing to look back for a moment,  we saw the glow of the front pouch light as it came on, then we heard the door slam shut. We continued walking away, laughing over or coup…suddenly the home’s rear porch light came on. A moment later the family car was heard starting and its headlights flicked on. Now concerned about being caught or identified, we began a headlong run through dark backyards, making our way zig zag across several residential blocks. We found a good hiding place between some shrubs and a wooden fence in an alley. We stayed by our hiding spot for about ten minutes, chatting amongst ourselves, while giving the undoubtedly angry old man some time to give up his search and return home. In these and other pranks, nobody was ever hurt nor was there ever any property damage. We were neither malicious, nor bullies, we were teenagers looking for excitement in the suburbs.

School Dances
By the Fall of this year I’d begun attending all the high school dances. I didn’t bother telling my parents I was going to a dance, just said I was going over to hang out with my friend, Charlie. Ususaly there were 3-5 of us that  would walk over to the high school and chat for awhile with others who showed up, then we’d enter the gym. The dances were chaperoned by several teachers, one of whom played ‘single’ popular songs on a portable 45 rpm record player. When the ‘soft music’ played the teaches walked around the dance floor separating couples who seemed to be holding one another a little too closely. At any one time, about half the kids would be dancing and the other half sitting on the bleachers chatting, or milling around gossiping with friends. While we did dance a few dances, our main reason for being at the dance was to be hanging out with our friends. I suppose in retrospect, the school was helping put boys and girls together in a sanctioned way, so we’d develop experience in dealing with one another. We were just starting to date and before long would become young adults, pursuing a higher education or beginning to work. The enclosed photograph provides an image identical to one you would have seen at Tempe Union High School. [Internet photograph: Typical mid 1950s image of a high school dance, held in the school’s gymnasium.]

Grandpa, Glen Kenyon Pierce dies
During the midafternoon of 2 November 1958, we received a telephone call from Uncle Jack P. Pierce, in Lawton,Michigan.  He was calling with bad news, Grandpa Glen K. Pierce had died.

Grandma, Elsie, had been visiting for a couple of days with Uncle Jack’s family in nearby Lawton. Grandpa had some fruit trees that he wanted to prune during the week, then he was to drive over to Jack’s for a big dinner and to spend the weekend. When Grandpa didn’t show up the day he was suppose to and he didn’t answer the telephone, Grandmother phoned a neighbor to go check on him. The neighbors went down to the farm and found Grandpa’s new Pontiac still parked in the driveway and the house doors locked. So, breaking a window to gain entry, they began looking through the house. Grandpa was found dead in his upstairs bed.
Uncle Jack continued, telling Dad that Grandma Elsie, would be staying at his house until plans had been made and she felt like returning home.

I laid on my bed weeping all afternoon. I loved Grandpa dearly. Dad flew back to Michigan for the funeral. Grandpa’s body was laid to rest in the Lawton Cemetery. Grandpa died in his sleep, at age 71 years, of a myocardial infraction. After his death, Grandma Elsie did not return to the farm for several years. Her sons, my Uncle Bill and Uncle Jack brought Grandmother what clothes, a few pieces of furniture  and miscellaneous she wanted and she took an apartment in Lawton, MI.

The Kennedy family buys the farm
During 1957 and 1958 my Grandparents had been negotiating the sale of their farm to a family named, Kennedy. Mr. Kennedy worked in Benton Harbor, but wanted to live on a hobby farm and raise his family. He had no experience with farming, so part of a possible agreement to buy the farm was that he be taught how to operate the equipment, care for the orchards and sell the produce. He worked part-time on the farm for two years. Sometime before Grandfather’s death, an agreement was reached to sell Mr. Kennedy the farm on a Contract For Deed. After Grandpa’s death, Grandma met with the  Kennedy’s and sold the farm to them for cash. It turned out to be a good deal, financially, for the Kennedy family.

When I visited the farm, some thirty years later, Mrs. Kennedy expressed regret to me that they should so have profited from our family’s misfortune. In the late 1980s they were about to retire themselves, sell the farm and move to Arizona.

 Our extended family begins to dissolve
Until my Grandfather Pierce’s death, the family was tied together by my grandparents visiting each of their son’s families and they in turn, visiting their parents on the farm. Although my Dad’s family moved to Arizona, Grandma and Grandpa Pierce came to visit us just about every winter. Between their travels and the farm, which was a focal point, the family was held together by memories and periodic visits.
After Grandpa Pierce’s death and the sale of the farm, the family had lost its patriarch and focal meeting place; we lived in Arizona, Uncle Jack and Aunt Julie became separated and divorced, Uncle Bill’s family lived in the suburbs of Milwaukee, WI.
We, the six grandchildren from our three families, drifted apart.
Enjoy your family and close friends all that you can, when you can, things change, you all grow older, folks move… you can never get it back. In the end all you have are the memories.

What’s on TV tonight?
My favorite programs in 1958
•  Cheyenne –  a western
•  Sugarfoot –  a western
•  Dragnet –  police drama
•  Maverick – a western
•  General Electric Theater –
•  Wagon Train – a western
•  Zorro – a western
•  Sea Hunt – scuba diving adventure/drama

The only movie that I saw with my  neighborhood friends this year was,
The Fly with Vincent Price, Al Hedison, Patrica Owens, Herbert Marshall

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Filed under Autobiography, __2. Childhood: 1942-1963

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