From Babbitt to Baghdad
A childhood in the deserts and mountains of Nevada (freedom defined)
My Father met my mother in 1956 while stationed in Germany . His USAF 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 the 10 kilometers to and from work everyday. My father met her at a dance in Erding. Unlike many of the German women after WWII who gave into US soldiers, my mother would give Milton the full “no” treatment. Milton would not take “no” for an answer and became a pest. After a while, Rosina invited him to the family farm. The farm had been in the family name for over 300 years. My mother’s father had served as a German cavalryman on the Western Front for all of WWI. He was also a conservative senator during the Weimar Republic. When Adolf Hitler took over in 1933, Opa Zep would not take the oath to Hitler. The farm would then be taken by the Nazi party. Opa Zeppie would go into hiding and later spend time at Dachau concentration camp along with utter thousands of German WWI veterans that supported the Kaiser.
My mother had 6 sisters and 1 brother. The farm was 80 hectares and grew hay for their milk cows. The farm was carved out of the lush and green Bavarian countryside. The winters were cold and white, but the summers were warm and conducive to farming. The clouds would roll off the Bavarian Alps and deposit rain pretty much every single day. Then the clouds would give way to the sunshine. Like clock work, it would rain an hour or two and then turn shiny and warm.
The cows would be pastured during the day. Later in the day, a bell would be wrung and the milk cows would head for the stalls for fresh hay and milking. During the 1930s in Bavaria, there were no milking machines. The 6 girls would manually extract the milk from the massive and healthy cows while they ate their fresh grass or hay. When Opa Zep would not take the oath to Hitler, the farm was nationalized and the family forced to live with relatives or friends. In lieu of eating healthy as a byproduct of farming, the family was reduced to poverty.Rosina and her twin sister Magdalena would suffer the effects of malnutrition as infants.
My father was a very intelligent man and quite a talker. He learned how to speak German quickly and fluently. He loved to talk of the farm and Germany. Whenever we revisited Germany later in his life, he would speak good German everywhere we went. If the schnitzel was good, he always had the waitress bring the cook to the table.
He would then compliment the cook in German. Many times they would 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. Germans love it when an American actually takes the time to learn German and speak it well. During Vietnam, my father would send my mother tape recordings in German because she could not read and write English well if at all.
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 in1958. 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. I would get my middle name Andrew from my Grandfather. He was named Andrew Jackson Brodhead. He was named after president Andrew Jackson. My Gret Grandfather on the American side would be named Andrew Douglas Brodhead after Andrew Jackson and Senator Stephen Douglas. My Great Great Grandfather would be born in 1824 and be named Andrew Jackson Brodhead as well. Brodheads had been Democrats since the rise of Jacksonian Democracy. Today, the great Democratic party does not exist. It has become the Democratic Socialist party. The party of wealth redistribution, intolerance, a corrupt and worthless higher education system, the government takeover of health care, neo-moral relativism, gender confusion, celebrating sodomy, division, anti-cop, elevating racism, and a plethora of downright liberal stupidity. They are anti-Christianity here in America while supporting Islamic immigration. Islam, the religion of intolerance, sodomy with little boys, 8-year-old virgin weddings to old men, beheadings, stoning, zero women’s rights, amputation for low-level crimes, death for homosexuals, and terrorism. The utter lack of cohesive logical thought application is simply staggering.
My father taught me to respect the pillars of society like police officers, and teachers. I never judged my parents for their positions on morality. Today, liberals have adopted neo-moral relativism positions on everything. They challenge folkways and morays of 10,000 years. Then they are intolerant of other people’s belief systems. Some even feel sorry for their parent’s morality and belief system. They feel that they are enlightened while the 1970s free love baby boomer generation is obsolete. Aided by social media, many in our society have become thought police. They expect others to fall for the stupidity that they have fallen for. American exceptionalism has been replaced by $700 Chines made smartphones, a bus ticket, and THX-1138 lemming-like mind control.
The marriage to a German Catholic woman would not go over too well with Milton’s family. They were New Hampshire Methodists that had live in New Hampshire since 1800. Congressman John Brodhead would be accredited for bringing Methodism to New Hampshire in 1800. He would hold the same congressional seat as Franklin Pierce. The Brodhead and the Pierce family would be close friends and inter- marry. Thorton Flemming Brodhead would be Franklin Pierce’s cousin and they would serve in Mexico together.
Laconia, New Hampshire was the place that the book and TV series Peyton Place was based on.
The Brodheads were from British Imperialist stock dating back to 1664. The progenitor of the family Captain Daniel Brodhead I was from Yorkshire England. He would come to America as part of the Nichols Expedition.He would be “second in command” and led the 400 British troops that disembarked Man-O-Wars and took control of New Amsterdam away from the Dutch. New Amsterdam would then be called New York and English speaking rule established.
After Westover, the family was stationed at Glasgow Air Force Base, Montana. Then we would move to Babbitt, 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. When it was built, it was actually a segregated until the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Hawthorne Naval Ammunition depot is the largest ammunition storage facility in the US and possibly the world. The Babbitt housing 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 before Hawthorne proper at the time. The Strategic Air Command radar site my dad worked at was a block away. The radar site looked like two huge golf balls. It also sported other radar equipment that would fry birds when they flew by too closely. We did not have a phone. My dad walked to work a block.
The radar site was called the Detachment 12 of the 1st Combat Evaluation group. It also went by the Hawthorne bomb plot. B-52 aircraft would fly bomb routes across Nevada and simulate bomb releases over targets in Nevada. The radar site would track the aircraft while it engaged in electronic countermeasures and chaff dispensing. They would also score the bomb release point using radar, speed, triangulation, and winds. In 1966, Milton would be sent to Vietnam and direct B-52 strikes as part of “Operation Combat Skyspot.” The ground directing radar site would be called OL-25 in Dalat, South Vietnam. The radar site sat on top of a hill that had been exfoliated with Agent Orange. The air conditioning system at the revetment radar trailer and other buildings would concentrate the Agent orange off-gassing. Many 1st Combat evaluation members that served at the site succumbed to physical ailments and schematic heart disease. As it was, the members of the 1st Combat Evaluation Team, increased B-52 bombing accuracy by 90%. They could put the bombs right along the fence line at the “Siege of Khe Sahn.” They also bombed the hell out the Ho Chi Minh trail.
We had a black and white TV and only two stations. There was only CBS and NBC. Walter Cronkite was on CBS and Walt Disney was on NBC. I remember the Vietnam body count. The NBC peacock in black and white signaled that we were on the channel for Walt Disney. Which was on at 7 PM Sunday nights. We always had to take baths before we could watch Walt Disney. At 8 pm, we had to go to bed while my father watched the FBI with Efrem Zimbalist jr. Sometimes we would get to watch the FBI during the summer months, otherwise, it was off to bed at 8 PM on a school night.
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 or two AM stations. There would always be a moment of silence when Elvis came on. My German mother loved Elvis. In Babbitt, Nevada during the 1960s, the station only played country music. Rock and Roll could only be listened to on TV shows like Ed Sullivan. Nevadans were reactionary and thought rock and roll polluted the minds of children. My first rock and roll album was Neil Young “Crazy horse.” Then again, one could go to Reno and listen to FM.
I remember how my dad could actually fix a tube type TV or radio. He had attended the New Hampshire technical institute and studied electronics before he enlisted. At the radar site, he was the NCOIC of operations. He was always training people. He could talk about every aspect of electronics and resite Ohm’s law to the fullest from memory. He also taught gun safety. later, he would have a part-time job cutting hair at the base BX. To save money, the enlisted would bring their kids to our house and get free hair cuts. It was always the same. Inevitably, the kids would all get the Milty cut of bleeding on the sides and short on top. After a while, many kids in the neighborhood had LBJ/Milty style crew cuts. I would be 12 years old when I finally said to hell with your crew cuts.
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, and Gun smoke, it was damn tragedy. I remember my Daniel Boone coon skin hat and musket. Of course, this became a Daisy model 1895 Winchester bb gun. That 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 every street by name. My father never spoke ill of other races, hence, I was not taught racism in the home. As an Air Force NCO, my father adhered to Martin Luther King’s position of judging people by “Content of character!” Milton spoke highly of folks that did their best. He had nothing but respect for hard working people. My mother never spoke ill of anyone.
We had to be home at 5 pm for my mom’s good cooking. If one did not make it home at 5 pm, one would almost get the belt. Plus my mom would be pissed. My dad had a homemade belt made from a deer he had shot in the Belknap’s 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. Today, they medicate kids into submission.
The Mineral county Primary school was only a few blocks away. Mineral county only had one classroom per grade. I remember only 15 to 20 kids per class. My classmates were the sons and daughters of every military service, as well as , Federal employees and local whites, blacks, and Hispanics. 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 10th grade. Today, I am close to 6 feet and 250 pounds with the Napoleonic complex of a 4 foot tall 65-pound 6th grader.
For a child, Babbitt had everything. We had a wooden baseball stadium complete with dugouts and a grandstand. We had a massive playground at the Safeway. We had fenceless massive tracts of desert and mountains to roam. There were no computers or violent video games.Children did not stay in the house and sit on their asses. Children went outside and ran amuck. We rode bicycles or walked for miles in the desert.
The Safeway 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. In Babbitt, we had a designated big kid whose only purpose was to spin the carousel. He would become part of the “Babbitt Hall of fame” as the guy who could spin the carousel and make kids puke. Whenever there were kids at the park, it would only be a matter of minutes before he would show up to spin the carousel. Soon, we would get all the kids in the neighborhood to ride the carousel and let the big kid pin them to the posts like a fighter pilot in a G-force machine.
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 spacing of 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. One of the swing set areas was dominated by a 2-year old that always had a huge turd in his diapers. He was the spitting image of Bam bam. He once offered me a fist full of melted M&Ms that had been in his hand for an hour. He was always snotty nosed, dirty-faced with a baseball sized turd in his undies. By the end of the day, the diaper would actually be dragging the ground. Other than that, he was a gangsta and a dear friend.
The baseball stadium was the most epic, however. We had a huge covered grandstand, lights, a scoreboard, 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 beaten by Paiutes from Schurz, 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 Schurz 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.
When I was playing outfield, I remember having to cross my legs so I didn’t piss my pants. If we played a good team, I was stuck out there for days on end. I once had a slight problem with my shit/fart diverter valve and sorted of soiled my nice Dodger uniform.
After school on the way home, I would often poop my drawers before making it to the bathroom at home. Upon reflection, the Mineral County School system’s salmon cake delight Tuesday was the culprit. The rich seafood fare was overwhelming for a 5-year-old’s system. Apparently, ADHD and salmon cakes did not mix well. I would make it to the playground across the street from our house, walk like I had a stick up my ass and accidentally cut loose after a tremendous sphincter/colon battle that lasted blocks and blocks. As a last resort, I would sit on the swingset seat and ponder my next move. Inevitably, once I got up and my hands touched the gray galvanized handles of the slide, my sphincter would give up the ghost. I would engage in the throes of a grimacing pirouette as I filled the Fallon NAS PX “Fruit of the loom “ shorts with salmon cake poopoo parfait. Once I arrived home, my mother would know immediately that I had doodied myself again. She would yell out “stinken” in a heavy Bavarian accent. It was the Mineral County School system salmon cakes I tell ya!
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. A good Nevada lizard hunter knew all about Nevada lizards. In fact, there were dozens of different species that one had to out smart and hunt down. The easiest to catch were the “Horned Toad” or “horney toad.” If one held them by the horns and let them dangle, they would do the cha cha. Next came the little gray sand lizards. Occasionally, we could catch a Western banded gecko. The next most common lizard was the black Skank. The fastest lizard was the zebra tail. The biggest prize of them all was the Leopard lizard. They were huge and fast and could eat a sand lizard whole. I caught maybe one Leopard lizard and that was it. Back during the 1960s, there were copious flocks of Nevada Chukar and Quail at the foothills of Mount Grant. If they saw you, they could run up the side of a steep hill like nobody’s business. The desert was also filled with huge Jackrabbits and cottontail rabbits or rock bunnies.
Behind the base, there was a canyon called Cat creek. It had a huge damn that looked like a mini Hoover dam. In fact, it was built by the same company that built Hoover. We would sneak passed the locked fence, walk up the canyon road and play on the massive dam. In the winter, the ice would be several feet thick. We stayed off the ice entirely. When the water was released, the ice would cave in in big huge thick sheets.
A few times we were stupid enough to walk across the military firing range. We even picked up non-spent ordinance and threw them to see if they would explode. A friend in my class would later be killed doing the same thing.
Soon, we would have horses and minibikes. My first mini bike was a Briggs and Stratton 2 horse power with no suspension. My dad bought it for $25. By then, we were living on the base at 400B Connolly 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. All the hot rod cars would be on display. The Jolly Cone was right next door and sold huge vanilla ice cream cones. It was the place to be after baseball games too. 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, Lee Vining and the east portal of Yosemite and Tioga 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 day’s 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 bag 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 background 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 and 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 pole 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 Kool-Aid popsicles.
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 sagebrush. 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 nook and canyon. There was a reservoir that stored all the water from the Cat creek dam on the foothills of Mount Grant. All the diggings for the reservoir were scattered about and made a great dirt bike track. Some of the mounds of dirt were 50 feet high. Others were small natural jumps. I could launch my Yamaha mini enduro the length of a house. I would land so hard, it would break the frame. Another treat was riding up to the “H”. The “H” was a huge H letter that signified “Hawthorne.”
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. I was raised on Evil Knievel, Mohamad Ali, Cowboy football, John Wayne, Jimmie Stewart, Charlton Heston, and every manner of western. The Cartwrights were part of the family. Mark Twain was on the Nevadan’s reading list.
My father was an avid hunter and sportsman. During the 1960s, the Walker lake water level was much 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 Cutthroat 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.
Every year we would go deer hunting at the Ruby Marshes or behind Mount Grant. I took a hunter’s safety course when I was 10 years old. At 10, I was allowed to take a 12 gage shotgun, or .22 out in the desert. I shot my first and last deer at 10 years old.
The Hawthorne Naval Ammunition depot had a place where they threw away wooden boxes and pallets. Sometimes, my father would take his 63 Chevy ¾ ton step side truck and fetch copious fresh wood and huge shipping boxes for building tree forts. He would give us a huge bag of nails, a hammer, and a hand saw and send us on our way. Once we found a suitable tree, he would back the truck up and dump the wood on the ground for us. 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. They hoisted a 6 by 6 plywood shipping container at least 30 feet up the tree and secured it between four massive trunks of a tree. It was in a huge Cottonwood tree close to the Hawthorne dog pound. The tree was located at a 2-foot irrigation pipe that fed the entire tree line. The water came off of Cat Creek and Black Beauty reservoir. When the treeline was watered, the area around the massive cottonwood tree became a deep pond. So, the tree fort had a mote as well.
I was once captured by the Brecks and enslaved. So, Robert Brecks and I had to load up buckets of rocks for their ammunition and outfit the tree fort for long sieges. Alas, we came back later and attacked them with homemade slingshots made from rubber medical tubing. We also employed David and Goliath slings to attack the enemy. Of course, we were the youngest and smallest, so we would get our asses kicked when they caught us at the house.
When GI Joes came out, I begged my parents for a GI Joe with kung fu grip and lifelike hair. Instead of the GI Joe 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 GI joes. It would look like a Vietnamese prison camp. Then we would blow up the GI Joes with black market firecrackers acquired from the Paiute Indian reservation. The battle would start with a few ladyfingers and progress to Black cats. During the final assault, we would break out the M80s and BB guns. If we found a Ken doll, he would get tortured until he told us the secret. He was then tied up and shot repeatedly in the face with Daisy BB guns. We were soldiers in training. A GI Joe could take a beating before it gave up the ghost. But then again, GI Joe always won the battle. Of course, I was always the German when we played war. After Stalingrad, it was always over.
My favorite bike was a green 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. A trashy neighborhood kid had welded two additional forks on his bike and put a tricycle tire on the front. I thought it was cool so I modified my beloved Stingray. After that, I could not ride in the sand at all.
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 Babbitt had poisoned them when we first came their. I do remember when we obtained Mitzi 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. Everyone loved Alex.
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 classroom 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 snowball.
My mother was 4 feet ten and barely 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.
The base had a huge indoor swimming pool with a high board. We went swimming all the time. The facility had a base gym as well. Later, they would install a steam room. Of course, they were stupid enough to leave it unlocked. I would show up and fiddle with the knobs. Absent of water, the steam generator almost burned the wooden steam room down and the entire base sports center with it. Nobody knew it was me so I kept my mouth shut.
Mr. Hardy was our Music teacher. He was one of my favorite teachers. I remember when Mrs. Odoms showed me how to take a pulse.
Once a month, we would go to the Fallon Naval Air station BX and commissary. My dad had several ice chests, and the 1966 Ford country sedan had copious room for food. He would fill it up with food because Safeway was way too expensive. He would also purchase his beloved cigarettes. We were also treated to frozen T-bone steaks and frozen milk. My mom would put them on a broiler pan and broil the steaks when they were frozen. They were always good. My dad would also collect coke bottles so he could buy us milk between paydays.
My dad was thrifty. I never saw him drunk and never ever heard him cuss.
I remember when Robert F Kennedy was shot. I was 8 years old. After Tet, Dad was again sent to South East Asia to direct B-52 strikes. Some civil workers that maintained the housing were painting our duplex unit. One fella was named Otis and he was a friendly African American with a huge beautiful smile. At the time, my mother still spoke English with a very heavy German accent. When Otis told her that Kennedy had been shot, my mother stated, ” I know that!” He instinctively knew she thought he meant JFK. He told her that the brother had been killed and she finally understood. We would see Otis all over Babbitt repairing things and freely giving us his good core and friendly demeanor. He was the type of positive role model one will remember for a lifetime. He always had a kind word and a smile to offer the folks that lived in Babbitt. He had been a Federal employee since the days of Babbitt segregation. In 1968, as a black man, he could not enter the El Capitan and several other establishments in town. Even then he overcame adversity and was a positive role model in our community. The byproducts of his legacy and others like him would produce a generation of positive winners and downright good people that would go forward and thrive.
The gas in Austin, Nevada was very expensive to purchase when we went to the Ruby mountains to hunt deer. To avoid paying a dollar a gallon for gas, he installed a 50-gallon water tank in the back of his 63 Chevy ¾ ton step side long bed truck. He converted it to a gas tank. We would fill up at the base for 23 cents a gallon and then head to Ruby. He also built a cab over camper that had a cutout for the 50-gallon tank as well. My dad could build things, work on cars and knew electronics. He was a smart man who knew how to use his hands and mind.
Every year, the Naval base at Fallon would have a “Toy land!” They would dedicate a big room for just toys. When Christmas came around, the first order of business was to talk our parents into taking us to the Fallon NAS. The GI Joe selection was epic. One year, I was given a GI Joe Apollo capsule. I was supposed to be an Astronaut.
In 1971, the entire Mineral County School system, the teachers, and the students engaged in an “End Vietnam” walk out and sit down. Even the people that stored the bombs had enough. They had witnessed first hand the drug problems that the military had acquired. They saw the suicides and the mental illness that results from a year in a jungle battlefield. The epicenter of patriotism was throwing in the towel on Vietnam.
When the Vietnam war ended, my father retired from the Strategic Air Command after over twenty years of service. A new Air Force Academy butter bar lieutenant had tendered him a less than stellar enlisted performance report, so he said “to hell with it” and called it quits in August of 1973. He pondered keeping the family in Hawthorne, Nevada and working on slot machines at the El Capitan, but Colorado was calling. My German mother had an identical twin sister that lived in Denver. Ultimately, the family would move to Longmont, Colorado and purchase a little rambler on a horse acre in Boulder County. The rambler would cost $28,500. Now the little 1500 square foot rambler is worth $400,000
For me, at 13 years old, moving to Colorado was a new adventure. My mother, on the other hand, would cry from Hawthorne to Austin as we made our way across Nevada on highway 50. The family had lived in Babbitt, Nevada or on the Hawthorne Naval Ammunition depot since 1963. My sister and I had attended school with the same 15 to 20 children from Kindergarten through 7th and 9th grade. She and I were a known quantity and had nothing to prove to anyone. We belonged and we left friends, teachers, and familiarity behind. We were leaving the foothills of the Wassuk mountains, Walker lake, and the immense beauty of western Nevada and the Sierras. We would trade a small town and miles and miles of open range for the Eastern slope of the Rockies and copious less freedom. Vast tracts of desert and mountains that were open to dirt bikes and horses would be replaced with a few places to ride. The freedom culture of Mineral county, Nevada would be replaced with the suburbs of Denver and a whole new way of doing business and viewing the world.
When we left the Hawthorne Naval Ammunition depot, the base sported lush green and trim grass areas. Every building was manicured with the pride of the Navy. It was a beautifully maintained oasis in the desert. The housing community of Babbitt, Nevada was filled to the brim with families. Many of the yards were well kept. Countless happy children ran amok. It was a place that facilitated a lovely childhood away from the streets and behaviors of the city. It would be a gift that would be fondly missed and cherished for a lifetime.
While the children ran free and got into all manner of trouble, the Federal workers that lived in Babbitt, Nevada, moved the bombs in and out on rail cars. Some bombs were destined for storage. Others were destined to be destroyed. Most went to Vietnam. Throughout Vietnam, the trainloads would come and go like clockwork and fill the 3000 bunkers to the brim. The Hawthorne Naval Ammunition Depot was truly the largest “Arsenal of Democracy” in the world. Once the war was over, the downsizing would begin in earnest. The Brodhead family would not see the total destruction of Babbitt, Nevada and the place we lived as a young family. We would trade the East slope of the Sierras, the wide expanses, and the small town Nevada life for the East slope of the Rockie mountains and the suburbs of Denver.