My “formative years” the mid 50s through the mid 80s
Answering the call to duty in World War II both of my parents enlisted in the United States Navy and eventually met when they were stationed at the Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. Mom was a Hospital Corpsman X-ray Technician and Dad a Commissaryman in charge of one of the base dining facilities, known as a galley in Navy speak.
They were married in 1952 and, in 1953, discovered a little bundle of joy (me) was on the way. At that time pregnancy meant an automatic release from the service so Mom left the Navy after 9 years and settled into my Dad’s hometown in southern Ohio while Dad stayed behind in Maryland, expecting orders to sea duty.
I came along in April 1954 and Dad got his orders to a ship home ported in Norfolk, Virginia. Mom followed him to Norfolk and shortly after Christmas 1956 my faith in Santa Claus was shattered when I got a baby sister instead of the pony I had asked for. I’m still holding a grudge against that fat man!
Things went from bad to worse in the following years when I was “blessed” with two brothers born 22 months apart. If I had had my way we would have had enough ponies in the backyard for me, Mom and Dad to go for a ride whenever we felt the urge but N-O-O-O! just two more rug rats putting their feet under the kitchen table! I’m not saying they were unwelcome but I sure got tired of pushing them around in that wheelbarrow. The ASPCA made us stop putting the dogs in the wheelbarrow with them because they kept giving Thunder & Lightning fleas.
While Mom and Dad were trying to figure out where all those house apes were coming from Dad found it necessary to take on a second job, slinging suds in a Chic’s Beach beer joint known as Allen’s Grill. No, we didn’t own the places as everyone thought, but I did spend enough time there to learn my way around a BAR.
Yes, I know I had cap locks on when I typed BAR. The reason for that will soon be revealed.
Dad was still on active duty in the Navy which frequently took him to sea for extended periods of time. While Dad was gone, Mom was in charge of raising the family. Two more crumb snatchers, both female, had come along but I no longer paid much attention to them because I was in my teens and busy seeing just how much mischief I could get into without Mom finding out. I was 18 in that shot and, as you can see, had a passing interest in photography back then.
I mentioned the word BAR earlier and this is where the concept first starts to have an effect upon my behavior. Having Dad working in a BAR where I could observe grown men and women making fools out of themselves was one thing. When Dad’s brother, Uncle Paul, came home from a tour in Vietnam he bought his own BAR, No, I don’t mean a beer joint like Allen’s, I’m talking about one to go in our house! He couldn’t take it to his house because he was also in the Navy and his house was big, steel, haze gray and often got under way.
My dad was happy to let Uncle Paul keep his BAR at our house, especially since it looked so nice sitting beside the draft BEER dispenser that Uncle Paul also purchased.
Try to picture this: there I am, an impressionable teen aged boy, frequently left to supervise the lesser siblings and my parents and favorite uncle leave a fully stocked BAR and BEER machine out in plain sight!
My friends said the same thing……..LET’S HAVE A DRINK!
It was no time at all before I was VERY popular, especially when we discovered that the bottles were marked but you can’t mark a beer keg! Besides, as long as we drank clear liquors (vodka, gin or rum) all you had to do was add tap water to the bottle to replace what you had consumed…….as long as you hadn’t consumed too much because six inches of water added to one inch of vodka ain’t fooling nobody, especially sailors!
I’m telling you, there was something about that BAR that just made everyone who ever laid hands on it act silly as all get out. The photo above illustrates my point. Will you just look at those faces? Mom was even feeling the effects!
By this time Uncle Paul had put his 20 years in, retired and bought his own house, actually a house and a cottage, right on the beach! That shot, taken in his cottage, is a classic. It also set the tone for my residency in this very same cottage when I returned from my first tour in the United States Air Force.
If I had a nickel for every lopsided grin, guffaw of laughter and short term love affair caused by coming in contact with that BAR Bill Gates would be typing this for me.
As I said, Uncle Paul’s place was right on the beach, well maybe not RIGHT on the beach. There was a sand dune between the house and cottage and the actual beach itself. Those familiar with that dune will attest that the height and difficulty of negotiating that dune increased exponentially as the volume of alcoholic beverages consumed increased. This was especially true for the female party animals because they had to climb that dune to use the bathroom in the cottage. The guys just walked around the corner and let fly on Old Man Wagner’s bulkhead (that’s it on the left) .
There were so many parties thrown on this section of beach that Dad got creative, drafted several of the less beach wise party animals and put them to work building a permanent frame for a sun shade under which many a cookout was held. He also had them put up a sign he painted on a 4’ X 8’ sheet of marine plywood which read “Private Property, no police vehicles allowed!” That put an end to the cops sneaking up on us with their lights out at night and spoiling our fun.
For special events, such as when all of my friends, especially young ladies, showed up all at once we often erected a cargo parachute or two to make room for everyone to get out of sun when the need arose or when someone passed out and someone else had enough presence of mind to drag them out of the direct sunlight. Take it from me, sun poisoning is no joke!
Lest you get the impression that all we ever did was hang out on the beach, drinking and raising hell, my group of friends had other pursuits as well. There were times when it was just too damned cold to hang out at the beach! January and February come to mind but there was that one New Years Eve…….. Anyway, when it got frigid outdoors we made the rounds of our friends and relatives houses. If you look very carefully at the photo above you can just make out the top of that BAR. This was taken at my brother’s house and, by this time, the BAR had been passed down to him.
This was rarely a problem because I had set a precedent, throwing what was essentially a non stop party at the cottage and later a house I shared with another single guy in the service. I was on active duty in the USAF Reserves and Mad Max (yes, I had a roommate named Mad Max), my roommate was in the Navy.
That brings up a point I’d like to make. While my circle of friends and family were party animals to the core, with very few exceptions we were all employed, most of us in highly skilled trades and several owned their own successful businesses. Partying the way we did was not cheap and many bar owners put up with our raucous behavior because they new that when we rolled in the door we were sure to spend money like it was water. The only time there was ever any real trouble with us was when some idiot made the mistake of mistreating a woman. Most of us were raised to respect women and those who weren’t soon learned to because not doing so was a sure fire way to get a ride in an ambulance.
As I said, this sort of behavior was rarely a problem. There was a time when my sister in law complained about a house full of rowdy party animals EVERY WEEK END but it fell on deaf ears when my brother pointed out that he had met her AT ONE OF MY PARTIES and that she had not only attended that party but she STAYED FOR THE ENTIRE SUMMER instead of going back home to Delaware!
While I enjoyed being a party animal and playing the field with all the young lovelies (There was a sort of urban rumor going around for years that the chamber of commerce had released a “survey” that said women outnumbered men by a ratio of 7 to 1 during tourist season and I believed them!) nothing lasts forever. I met my future bride at one of my youngest brother’s stinking, staggering, knee walking, falling down in the gutter birthday bashes. Both of us had been married before, gone through messy divorces and sworn off ever getting serious again but something just clicked between us. It wasn’t long before she had me half tamed and I quit chasing other women. I’m still allowed to look at other women but THE BOSS (my bride) says I can read the menu all I want but I have to take my meals at home!
By the way…….that BAR is in the room right behind the two of us in that photo!