I thought it wise to tell how I first got lost, how I found myself in an empty black hole and how God rescued me.
Part 1: Making of a Loner
Part 2: Losing My Religion
Part 3: On the Obverse
Part 4: All-American Dream Couple
Part 5: Desolation Row
Part 6: Change is Blowin' in the Wind
Part 7: Hippie Writer
Part 8: Peep Show into my Soul
Part 9: Atheism Has No Holy Days
And so we begin at the beginning.
Just before my parents wed, my father lost his job at a scrapyard. They couldn't begin married life together because they were too poor. Each remained living with their parents. In my father's case this meant his mother and two younger brothers. His father had died during his late teens and he had supported the family by joining Roosevelt's Civilian Conservation Corp.
In December of 1941, for reasons I have never learned and probably never will, we moved again, grandparents, parents, Nellie my mother's dog and me, to Downingtown. The picture atop this page is me, age 3, sitting on the front steps of the new home my grandfather rented for us. My grandfather was a carpenter and eventually repaired that floor. By the time of this picture my father was in the South Pacific fighting the Japanese.
From all accounts, I was a happy, outgoing, friendly, trusting lad then. I always looked so in my earliest photographs prior to 1947.
An event occurred at the beginning of that year that was to change the child I was into something different. After 1947 I would become an often unhappy, withdrawn, socially awkward, suspicious, but self-dependent boy. In the prior year my dad returned from the war and eventually got a job as a long-distant truck driver. He had been away for two years and now he was seldom home during the week. Our relationship grew as distant as his weekly delivery destinations. But even more affecting upon me was he moved us into the swamp house (pictured right).
It is not completely true there were no children my age. There were three boys, brothers, one a year older, one a year younger and one just right. But I only knew them the one summer. Their father was killed in the war and they attended the boarding school in Hershey three-quarters of the year. In that summer we became "best" friends, playing cowboys at each other's place. They had a sister. She was the youngest, about four. I witnessed her death on the highway, going with her brothers from my place to hers on the last day of summer. The boys went back to Hershey and I never saw them again.
We lived in the swamp for two years, until my dad changed jobs again and we lost the house. I wasn't unhappy living there. For a child with my imagination and curiosity it was almost a Garden of Eden. There was so much to explore and the close changes of environment, swamp here, open meadow there, a sledding field behind, a woods in walking distance, made for great adventure in my imagination.
And I was free from many restrictions other kids had. Traffic was no concern as long as I stayed away from the highway. There were few rules imposed upon me. I explored at will. I was generally left to my own devices, entertaining myself by inventing games and stories. I grew very self-sufficient.
I wasn't completely cutoff from civilization. I went to school, of course, to a school I remember nothing about as an adult. It has been erased from my memory for some reason. School apparently was not the center of my life at the time. I also was shucked off to my grandparents on weekends when my dad came home. I would be dropped off Friday night and taken home Sunday evening after dinner. Obviously an arrangement that did little to bring me and my father together.
At the beginning of 1950 we moved back to Downingtown, back in with my grandparents at first. I was back on the old block and in the school where I had begun first grade. I was now in third grade with the same children I knew then, some of whom lived on that same block and were once my closest friends. Everything seemed the same, but that was an illusion. I was different.
Living in the swamp I had learned to be alone. Back in town it didn't take my contemporaries long to show as far as they were concerned that was all I was and should be, a Loner.