My Father met my mother in 1956 while stationed in Germany . His radar unit was stationed at an old Luftwaffe airfield at Erding, Germany. My mother still lived at the farm outside of Hoenpolding which was 10 kilometers away. She worked at the base cleaning the billeting units. She rode her bicycle to and from work everyday. My father met her at a dance in Erding. After awhile, she invited him to the family farm. The farm had been in the family name for over 300 years. My mother had 6 sisters and 1 brother. The farm was 80 hectors and grew hay for their milk cows.
My father was a very intelligent man and quite a talker. He learned how to speak German quickly. He loved to talk of the farm and Germany. He spoke German fluently. Whenever we revisited Germany later in his life, he would speak good German everywhere we went. If the schnitzel was good, he always told the cook in German, and they would always reciprocate by giving him a free tall glass of beer and telling him to keep the beer glass. My mother’s China cabinet was full of German beer mugs and glass. During Vietnam my father would send my mother tape recordings in German because she could not read and write English well.
My father loved Germany. He loved skiing in the Bavarian and Austrian Alps. He loved the people, the food, and his newly acquired relatives. My parents would be married in an old German Catholic Church in Bavaria in 1957. My sister would be born on Amarillo Air Force Base Texas on 24 July,1958. I would be Born May 4th ,1960 at Westover, Air Force Base three days after Francis Gary Powers was shot down over the Soviet Union. After Westover, the family was stationed at Glasgow Air Force Base, Montana. Then we would move to Babbit, Nevada the summer of 1963. A few months later, John Fitzgerald Kennedy would be assassinated. I was only 3 years old at the time, but my dad told us later that Kennedy’s assassination was a traumatic event. I was the same age as John junior, and my sister was the same age as Caroline Kennedy. The Kennedy “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech was close to my mother’s heart.
Our first trip back to Germany was in 1965, We would fly on a Pan Am jet across the ocean to Paris and then on a piston engined prop job to Frankfurt. Even at 5 years old, I remember the noisy engine.
Babbitt, Nevada was a Federal housing project that was built to house the Hawthorne Naval Ammunition depot employees. The Hawthorne Naval Ammunition depot is the largest ammunition storage facility in the US. The housing project had streets that were named after US Naval ships. We lived at 1202 Lexington avenue. It was the last duplex unit on Lexington, avenue. The Strategic Air Command radar site my dad worked at was a block away.
We had no phone, a black and white TV, and only two stations. We had CBS and NBC. Walter Cronkite was on CBS and Walt Disney was on NBC. We did not get ABC. I remember the Vietnam body count, and the NBC peacock in black and white. Walt Disney was on at 7PM Sunday night. We always had to take baths before we could watch Walt Disney. At 8pm, we had to go to bed while my father watched the FBI with Efrum Zimbalist jr.
Atop the old refrigerator sat the AM radio. It was white with big red knobs. It was a tube type radio and could only pick up one station. There would always be a moment of silence when Elvis came on. My German mother loved Elvis. I remember how my dad could actually fix a tube type TV. When the TV burned a tube out before “Old Yeller” or “The yearling” it was a family crisis. If it went out during Daniel Boone, Bonanza, or Gun smoke, it was damn tragedy. I remember my Daniel Boone coon skin hat and musket. Of course this became a Dasiy model 1895 Winchester bb gun. This in turn became a Marlin 3030 or 12 gauge shotgun.
Babbitt, Nevada was a safe community. My sister and I would walk to school every day. Even at 5 years old, we would run all over the neighborhood. All the parents knew who you were and where you lived. Even in a previously segregated community, everyone looked after the children regardless of color or ethnicity. We knew every family on ever street by name.
We had to be home at 5pm for my mom’s good cooking. If one did not make it home at 5pm, one would almost get the belt. Plus my mom would be pissed. My dad had a home made belt made from a deer he had shot in the Belknaps of New Hampshire. My 5 foot tall German mother new how to use it. Her specialty was hitting the legs with the belt. As an ADHD psycho brat, I was used to the belt. Even the Mineral county school district teachers loved to beat on me. I cannot remember how many times Nevada teachers paddled my ass. Today, a kid that suffered from my level of ADHD would have been under severe medication. In Nevada, humiliation and the paddle got the job done. The paddling only made me mentally tougher.
The Mineral county Primary school was only a few blocks away. Mineral county only had one classroom per grade. I remember only 15 kids per class. My classmates were the sons and daughters of every military service ,as well as ,Federal employees and local whites, blacks, Hispanics and Paiute Indians. I would attend school with the same classmates year after year. I was the big mouth in the class with the Napoleonic complex. I was very small as a child. In fact, I did not make it past 5 feet until 10 grade. Today, I am close to 6 feet and 250 pounds with the Napoleonic complex of a 4 foot tall 75 pound 6th grader.
For a child, Babbitt had everything. We had a wooden baseball stadium complete with dugouts and a grand stand. We had a massive playground at the Safeway.
The playground was 2 acres of grass, huge swings, a huge metal missile with three levels, a huge slide and a huge carousel. The swing set had to be 20 feet high with sturdy chains. One could literally swing the height of a house. The playground carousel was huge. If there were 5 or 6 kids on it, we could get it going so fast that the riders would get pinned to the side posts from centrifugal force. So, as long as the kids kept spinning the carousel, one was pinned. This was predicated on kids of equal body weight on opposite sides of the carousel. Sometimes a big kid would show up and spin the carousel for several minutes. After awhile, the kids would be sick from dizziness and beg to be let off.
The park swing was so large that we could put a wooden pallet from behind Safeway on it. We would use two swing seats and expand them. Then we would put the wooden pallet between the seats. The wood boards would lock it into place. Then, several kids could jump on it. So, 4 or 5 kids would be on this pallet swinging 12 feet in the air. Then like characters in “Lord of the flies,” we would try to knock each other off to see what happens when a seven year old gets ejected at 10 feet from the ground.
In the Babbitt housing project, there were playgrounds every few blocks. Each had an awesome selection of playground equipment.
The baseball stadium was the most epic however. We had a huge covered grandstand, lights, a score board, back stop, and real dug outs. The grass was green, and we even had a snack bar and game announcer over loud speaker. My first team was called the Dodgers. We had real blue and white baseball uniforms, and blue hats. That year, we were beat by Paiutes from Shurz, the Black Aces. They had a little league pitcher that had the fastest curve ball in the state of Nevada. The next year, I was on the Naval base team and we were called the Stingrays. We beat both Shurz teams that year. That year, I became the catcher instead of an outfielder. Our teams were made up of every ethnicity and branch of service. Little league fosters belonging and team building skills. These style of inclusive activities are positive and nurturing for children in general.
If we weren’t playing baseball or hanging out at the Safeway park, we were playing in the tree line that circled the base and housing. Once we were tired of that, we would go lizard hunting in the desert or walk to Walker lake.
Soon, we would have horses and minibikes. My first minibike was a Briggs and Stratton 2 horse power with no suspension. My dad bought it for $40. By then, we were living on the base at 400B Connoly drive. When I needed gas, I would simply ride it to the base gas station. Gas on the base was 20 cents a gallon, so a fill up was 10 cents. To get the money, I would go through the trash can outside the Marine barracks, Post exchange, or swimming pool snack bar, and look for coke bottles. It was either that or checking every vending machine or phone booth for left change. Back then, a coke bottle was worth a nickel. A nickel bought a big hunk or a box of lemon heads. 3 coke bottles meant a full tank of gas and a Hershey bar, 5th avenue or a handful of bubble gum or penny candy. I remember when grape flavored bubble gum came out. One of my heroes was Bazooka Joe.
On Friday and Saturday nights everyone would head to the drive in theater or the Jolly Cone. Then there was having dinner at the El Capitan.
Another enjoyable event was camping and fishing in the Sierra Nevada’s 50 miles away. It was only a short drive to Mono lake, Levining and the east portal of Yosemite and Tiago pass. We started camping at June lake, Silver lake, and Grant lake, but the fishing at Lundy lake was much better and way closer to Hawthorne. Lundy lake had some of the best fishing anywhere. There was good fishing on the lake, but the river below the dam was epic. We would catch stringer loads of German Browns.
Several families from the base would haul their travel trailers and tents for a 3 day weekend of fishing, barbecuing, and burned marshmallows. The Breck family had 8 kids. The other families might have had 2 or 3. Either way, there would be 15 kids with fishing poles and BB guns running a muck. We would always make it back before the sun started to go down because, there would be a huge fire, plenty of tinfoil and lemons for the trout. Everyone, would quickly clean the days catch. Then, the trout would be put onto a big piece of Reynolds wrap. The trout would get a piece of butter, fresh ground pepper, and a lemon slice. It would be sealed up and placed on the coals along with corn on the cob, and hot chocolate. After the trout meal, it was marshmallow time. For an ADHD child, river fishing is a real treat. I mean, I could not wait until I had my fishing pole in hand. I knew exactly what to do and what to take. Within minutes of arriving at camp, my sister and I would be out of sight.
I can still smell the new canvas of the Pup tent that I used. Back then, a Coleman sleeping back was well made, well insulated, and made in the USA. By the time the sun went down, all the kids were tired from running up and down miles and miles of pristine river. We did not care about the surface that we were sleeping on.
In the morning, we would wake up to a huge breakfast cooked over an open fire. Then it was off to the river for another 12 hours running a muck.
The little town of Hawthorne, Nevada was surrounded by high desert. In the back ground and just a mile away was Mountain Grant. It rose quickly from about 4000 feet to 11,400 feet. Several canyon roads accessed the high valleys of Mount Grant. All one needed was the key to the gate, and one could drive to the top of the mountain. One year, a bunch of folks from Hawthorne and the Naval base got together and did a trail ride. to the high meadows of the mountain. Dozens and dozens of horses were involved. At the time, we had two horses Chipper and Swinger. One was a brown and white gelding real Nevada cow pony amd the other was a black and white mare. It took us two days of riding to reach the high mountain pasture area. Once there, the group availed itself to evening fires, tasty dinners and big early morning breakfasts. The camp cook had a huge cast iron griddle. He would cook everything over the fire, and feed over 20 people.
I was at a full gallop heading across a meadow when Chipper and I came upon a cattle loading trench. Chipper stopped immediately, and I went over his head and landed in the ditch on my back. I was OK. A cattle loading ditch is an angular cut into the earth so a truck can back into it and load cattle.
Little britches rodeo would become a slight obsession. I had one of the fastest and most talented horse in Mineral County. Chipper could herd cattle, barrel race and poll bend like a champion. he could also carry a 250 pound man all day. We ended up selling him to a fella that lived by Lucky boy pass. The last time I saw him, he was standing in a foot of horse shit. That broke my heart. I still have anxiety about not being a better child and taking better care of this animal. I was a spoiled brat. My parents did everything they could to shield us from the real world. Nevada was our little oasis. A place where children could run and play like there is no tomorrow.
I remember when Hot wheels and Hot wheel tracks came out. Soon, all the neighborhood kids would get together and build massive Hot wheel tracks. My dad had built a flat top garage next to the the federal housing duplex we lived in. he had just purchased a 1966 Ford Country Sedan with a 289. and a sand storm had ruined the paint job. So he built a garage to put it in. We would climb on top of it and build our Hot wheel track.By the time we had finished building the track, it would start on top of the garage and end across the yard, over the sidewalk and onto the street. It would have a huge loop and then a jump at the end. The only thing that would interrupt the racing event was my mom’s home-made koolaid pop cycles. Hotwheels tracks would give way to mini bikes.
One of the coolest thing one could do in the desert is find a car hood, a rope and attach the stuff to a dirt bike. One of the older kids in the town had a 400 Bultaco two stroke. He would pull us across the desert. The shape of the 1940s Oldsmobile car hood allowed us to jump sage brush. Most of the time, however, we just ate sand. A little later, I would get a Yamaha mini enduro and all hell would break loose. The foothills of Mountain Grant would become our playground. We would ride for miles and miles and miles and up every knook and canyon. On the base,we had a very nice football field with green grass. We rigged up a rope and sleeping bag combination. Then I would tow kids on the grass field with my mini enduro.
My father was an avid hunter and sportsman. During the 1960s, the Walker lake water level was mush higher. We would fish Navy beach at the South end of the lake. Back then, the water level at the treed area of Navy Beach was up to my chest close to the shoreline.Today, at Navy Beach, the area is covered with natural pasture land and the lake has lost 80 feet. I remember when my father caught a 3 foot long Cut throat trout. It was almost as long as the bath tub at our Babbitt duplex. It had swallowed the hook line and sinker, so we had no choice but to eat it. Back then, we caught trout right off the beach. Swimming at Walker lake was a love hate relationship. We loved swimming and fighting for an inner tube place, but if one ingested the water, one would puke because of the PH level.
The Hawthorne Naval Ammunition depot had a place where they threw away wooden boxes and pallets. Sometimes, my father would get copious fresh wood and huge boxes for building tree forts. The treeline was littered with tree forts. I once built a three story tree fort. The Brecks built a huge tree fort out of a massive cargo container made of wood. It was in a huge Cottonwood tree close to the Hawthorne dog pound. The tree was located at a irrigation pipe that fed the entire tree line. The water came off of Cat Creek and Black Beauty reservoir. I was once captured by the Brecks and enslaved. So, me and Robert Brecks had to load up buckets of rocks for their ammunition and out fit the tree fort for long sieges. Alas, we came back later and attacked them with home made slingshots.
When GI Joes came out, I begged my parents for GI Joe with kungfu grip and lifelike hair. Instead of the GIJoe jeep, I had to settle for a faggie Ken-mobile. I cut that into a truck. My friends and I would set up elaborate breastworks in the tree line and man them with GIjoes. It would look like a Vietnamese prison camp. Then we would blow up the GIJoes with firecrackers and BB guns. We were soldiers in training. A GIJoe could take a beating before it gave up the ghost.
My favorite bike was a 3 speed stingray with a banana seat and sissy bar. I outfitted that with a double canteen belt. I rode that bike all over Hawthorne, Babbitt and the base. I made a mistake and turned it into a chopper. When I was a toddler, I rode my tricycle towards Hawthorne from 1202 Lexington. I made it passed the radar site only to be picked up by Clarence the highway patrolman. He said, that I had my right blinker on and was about to turn onto highway 95 across from the airport.
I don’t remember our first dogs Nellie and Pawchie. Someone in Babbit had poisoned them when we first came their. I do remember when we obtained Mitzie the cat. My mom climbed up a cottonwood tree to get her. She would be with us for over 20 years. Our first Dachshund was named Baron Von Cocktail. He had a crook in his tail. He hated me after I accidentally road over him with my bike. He would hang out with us in the treeline, but once we were at home, he avoided me like the plague. Our next door neighbor had a full sized dachshund named Alex. He must have been 30 pounds with a wonderful demeanor. He always hung out with us. He was hit by a car at his hind quarters when we came out of the treeline. I cried so hard. I can still remember how he was up on his front legs and looking at us for guidance.
As a child, I was very ADHD. I remember all of my teachers from Kindergarten to 7th grade. Each had an impact on me whether it was positive or negative. The last teacher I had was during seventh grade. She read us “Hiroshima” and “Animal Farm!” She also liked to pick her nose. Imagine a class room of kids secretly watching the teacher. Like clock work, the teacher would dig into her nostrils and then pull out a huge booger. Then she would analyze it like a jeweler analyzes a diamond. After gazing at the booger like it was thing of beauty, she would dispatch the hardened mucous into her mouth. Sometimes, she would allow the booger to dry on her finger while she read to us. As soon as she was done reading a page about the horse getting sent to the slaughter house, she would gobble it up like it was a prize. Every week day for the entire school year, we were treated to the teacher gorging on huge dried Nevada boogers. What a treat. Of course, the behavior would cure all seventh graders of picking their noses and eating boogers from then on.
In third grade, the teacher taped my mouth shut with masking tape and put me in the corner. She actually wrapped the tape around and around my head. When my dad found out, he went to the school and chewed her ass.
My 6th grade teacher paddled me for throwing a snow ball.
My mother was 4 feet eleven and barley spoke English. She worked in the Mineral County school cafeteria. So, I got to see my mom every day at lunch time. All the kids would politely say “hello Mrs. Brodhead” as she spooned out a ball of mushy salmon cake. We always looked forward to pizza or fish sticks day. In the little town of Hawthorne, one was quite popular if one dished out the pizza or fish sticks….. It is all relative.