I was a fun loving, active, little kid and ornery as hell. I was a tomboy in the biggest way and everyone I knew called me that, I liked and I enjoyed being the only tomboy in my neighborhood. I wore that name like a badge of honor. I played football, baseball, kickball, cops and robbers, climbed trees, road my bike and generally the same stuff we all grew up on in our little town. If a boy could do it so could I. I made friends easily as a child and met my very first friend the first few days we were in Lewes at our new home. She lived up the street and she had walked down the street to watch what was going on. I walked up to her and who knows what we said but I vividly remember us standing there together in front of my new house, Dawn Zigman and I were inseparable from that moment on. We were both three years old and Market Street was our haven of adventure, fun, laughter and games. Mom called us “salt and pepper” because I was fair with white blonde hair and Dawn had a tan almost American Indian complexion and dark brown hair, we even had very similar haircuts, in fact, they were the same.
I soon made many other friends, there were many kids on our street. If we had enough kids to have a game of football, kickball, or basketball we were happy. Of course “smear the queer” was on that list too; this game deserves a definition, we threw the football in the air and some fool “the queer” would catch it and run like hell and try desperately not to be tackled. Someone always tackled them and then they were “the queer”. Sounds just like a down-home wholesome activity for youth, doesn’t it, we didn’t even know what that meant, and for the life of me I can’t recall where it came from.
Of course, I never understood then what gravity that word would hold later for me in life. Who would have thought one day I would be Queer. When you are “Queer” you’re allowed to say it about yourself and your friends who are. The other instance when its O.K. to be called “queer” is if you are crazy enough to enjoy catching a football thrown in the air that no one else wanted to catch just so you could be tackled. However when others scream it out of a car window at you, it certainly does take on a completely new meaning.
I was the leader of the group I was and still am outgoing and a bit bossy, but persuasive and I always had some kind of scheme going. I had a plan for everything and would direct us all to whatever end and I always seemed to have it all figured out. We once took one of Mrs. Zigman’s checks and made it out for what we believed was a million dollars; although I really think that was a collective effort of scheming this time. Oh, the absolute joy of buying the biggest booty of candy at Lehman’s Market. Lehman’s was a little convenience store in the middle of our street that we all bought every tooth rotting goodie we could get our hands on. The Lehman’s were very patient people and would wait for us to make up our minds choosing the best possible combination of junk food for the day with the pennies we could scrounge from deposits on coke bottles.
They had an old-fashioned wood case with glass on the front we pressed our grubby little faces against it staring with glazed looks in our eyes, our mouths watering for penny candy. They had shoestring licorice, root beer barrels, squirrel nut zippers, Mary Jane’s, bazooka bubble gum and just every possible delight one could imagine. Little did my family know that when my dad and grandparents sent us checks for our birthdays, Christmas and other special events that this would become a clever scheme of forgery and deceit for the sweets of our youth.
We walked in to the store and smacked the check down like we knew we were the ultimate consumer and had no other thought about it. We told Mrs. Lehman we wanted a million dollars worth of candy. She let us get settled in and think we had our own destiny in our little hands. We hunkered down picking out the bags full of goodies we were going to get and then the gig was up we had been ratted out by sweet Mrs. Lehman. She called Dawn’s parents, they came over dragging Dawn off, and we never did that again. But we had fun trying. Dawn kept that check and I saw it many years later, we didn’t even know how to write it was all scribbles.
We used to bug the hell out of the employees at the telephone company up the street where we would beg for this cool colored wire, we all made rings, bracelets and necklaces out of. They never seemed to mind as we banged on the door they obliged our whims. We thought they were the fashion statement of the year; we were trendsetters and we knew it; spending hours making them. I found a pool stick carrier in our attic; it made an excellent display case for my wares. I decided I would sell the Amy Kratz Collection of handmade jewelry on the street. I sat all day in the sun and waited for the flock of customers that would obviously want my jewelry. I sat there most of the day undaunted by the lack of interest in my product or talent and finally my next-door neighbor Pam Faust who was in her late teens; early twenties came to see what I was selling. Ah my first, real, potential customer of the day; she was interested and told me it was nice and then left for the day.
She returned to find me still there eager to make my fortune; she asked me how much would I sell the whole Amy Kratz Collection for; I sat thoughtfully and then said, “Twenty dollars!” She did not seem surprised by this figure and actually seemed as if it was a fair price for its obvious timeless originality and without any hesitation, she gave me twenty dollars. I closed up shop for the day, actually I had no more stock and had to make more.
Every rooftop, alley, backyard, and hiding place in the block was ours for the discovery and the taking we explored every inch of it. We had real live adventures and the games of hiding go seek that were long and difficult; if you were “It”, finding someone in that whole block could be grueling. I hated having to find everybody so I found the very best spots and was rarely the one that was caught to be called, “It”.
If you were in a car driving in our neighborhood, watch out because we had figured out that the very best place to throw water balloons at you was the corner of Market and Third Streets where there stood the graveyard of the St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, with a wall around it and the two-way Stop. There, we had sitting duck targets and the churches outside water faucet for every balloon that needed water. None of us ever worried about being a bad aim; we only worried about the police catching us as they pulled up many times and we would split, never to be found in our maze of cracks and crevasses we had planned our escape to. The excitement of it all was that we always knew the police would eventually arrive. We were fugitives and utility thieves on top of our early endeavors of forgery. We were never caught but then again they probably were never that enthusiastic about looking for us; yet we wouldn’t have ever believed that at the time. What fun is it if there isn’t the potential to be caught?
I am also the first person to provide the notion of smoking into our group, great influence I was. We went to the very same marsh that I was drug into and beaten only a couple years after the discovery of smoking; we would break little hollow weeds off and light them which provided the experience of smoking a cigarette. This was not good enough though and I decided we should buy cigars in those days anyone could buy tobacco, they sold it to infants so we bought it every chance we could get. I seemed to always have some money, either from my dad sending gifts or the many money making schemes, raking leaves in the fall, shoveling snow in the winter and selling lemon aide or Kool aide ice cubes on the street in the summer. I’ve recently seen this advertised as if it’s some new discovery. HA! We did it first; actually our parents probably did it before us.
The Easter before I was hurt I was with one of my many buddies, Jeff. I was riding on the back of his bike with a pack of cigars hanging out of my back pocket. My brother Jan found me, he had been looking for me because mom was coloring Easter eggs and wanted me to help. There was no way to keep the cigars hidden from him or my mom if I was going home. I confessed and gave them to my partner in crime and my brother never snitched.
We were very close and I counted on him in more ways than he knew. I loved him so much that I stole his change from a bottle in his bedroom, but he knew that as well, he didn’t seem to be all that upset about it. I never confessed but he had rigged the jar and he knew I had been in it when he got home. That’s what little sisters are supposed to do right, torture their brothers. I guess it would be time to pay him back. I was also playing with matches in my brother’s room and lit the trashcan on fire, I quickly ran it to the tub and put it out. That scared the hell out of me and I never let on that it was my fault, the master of deceit, or so I thought. Maybe that is why I am so neurotic about fire to this day, well besides the fact that a third of Lewes Downtown burned on New Year’s Eve in 1969, and embers were flying up our street; I was five then.
One day at work we watched a fire education film and I became sweaty and filled with thoughts about how my house could catch on fire. I live in a house that is about 150 years old and I always told my girlfriend, if this house did catch it’s so old and dry it would go up; as I snap my fingers and said my favorite saying, “Just like that!” It distressed me so much that I came home as the film suggested and planned several routes out of my house, I kept the flash light by my bed so I could find my way out through the smoke and updated all my alarms in the house. My girlfriend called me “Fireman Joe” and laughed. My thought is she would have been happy one day if the house did catch on fire because I had it all figured out so we would be safe.
I must say that some of what seemed like very well thought out ideas in my youth turned into disasters. One of my favorites was the day we all went to Freeman Highway bridge it was a cold winter day. In the summer, we took boxes and slid down the side on the long dried grass that grew there. In the winter we went sledding; it actually used to snow enough to go sledding at least once a winter. Those days are gone with global warming. Sledding could be grueling since it was quite steep, the bummer was getting back up the hill to do it again. I decided one boring winter as many of them could be when there wasn’t any snow we would slide toboggan style down the drain reservoir of the bridge, it was just an open concrete gully that took water from the bridge like a gutter to the street, in the winter it froze and was an accident waiting to happen.
There were about four of us and we all sat inside each other’s legs and what a slide it was. We zoomed down the hill laughing and yelling only to stop abruptly at the end forcing us all to be thrown forward and we systematically like dominoes all struck the person in front of us in the head with our teeth burying into each other’s skulls. The kids in the middle got up holding both their mouths and their heads, the front person held and the back of their head, and the back person held their mouth. The front and back positions were obviously the most desirable positions in this antic, if there was anything desirable about it at all. We obviously decided that being bored was better than the pain suffered on this short lived exercise in absolute stupidity. I was about thirteen when we did this maybe we could just blame it on the brain damage? It certainly sounds like a great excuse.
Another crazy idea worth mentioning, is one early summer day my neighbor and I took our bikes on Freeman Highway, I thought maybe it would be fun to ride our bikes down the side of the bridge like we were sledding. The sides were very steep, it had just rained and it did look intimidating. He said; (being in his right mind) “You go first.” Well not being in my right mind I took my banana bike down the rain soaked grass, brakes on all the way down.
The hill was so steep that I was looking right at the bottom of hill as if I were going head first in a dive off a mountain. Even though I had my brakes on all the way down I was still traveling at what felt like the speed of sound. At the end, it straightened out in a brief plateau that abruptly ended in a drainage ditch. I was not stopping and I made a slight Evil Knevil like jump and hit the side of the drainage ditch, the bike threw me over the handle bars where my gut stuck on those damn things and jolted my all my internal organs. I realized this activity needed a disclaimer; “Don’t try this in your own neighborhood!” So maybe I wasn’t truly operating with a full deck or maybe I had some kind of death wish. The latter was probably more true to life. I was a risk taker in fact I never met a risk I did not like or would not try, at least once.
Growing up in Lewes was like the hot summer day that the Coca Cola truck rounded the corner at Market and Third Street, the driver hadn’t pulled the door down on the side of the truck, it spilled Yoo Hoo, Coke, Sprite, Dr. Pepper, and whatever soda Coca Cola made at the time. The bottles rolled and crashed all over the street and there we were ready to jump onto some new treasure that lay before us. Some bottles lay broken all over the street but we were told by the driver to keep what had fallen into the street and was intact, as long as we cleaned up his mess. We did keep all the soda that were still intact and cleaned up the rest. The fun of the town lay in its little surprising joys that somehow fell in our laps at what seemed the most opportune moments and we were always somehow in just the right place at the right time to grab them up with our greedy little hands.
The funny thing about my childhood, as I have looked back at it many ways and many times is that I still have the fondest memories of being a child, even though they were short lived. It doesn’t really seem to matter because they somehow shaped the person I became just as my injuries and life struggles have. The fact that I was injured so severely didn’t stop my mind from scheming up fun and excitement. I will say though that the fun for many years took on a completely new feel and my interests changed just as my abilities did.