--- In the High and Far Off Times O Best Beloved A Boy A Very Solitary Boy Grew Up On Gordon Head ---
The Gordon Head I came to in 1947 was rural. It was far from town if ten miles can be considered far. It was then. Our new address was Box 2092 Rural Route 3. It was on San Juan Avenue. Over the years It simply became 1866 San Juan Avenue. The phone on the wall had no dial. It had a crank on the side which got you the operator. You gave her the number and she connected you. Our number was Albion 139Y. The Y was Morse code. Dash Dot Dash Dash. One long ring, one short one, followed by two long rings meant the call was for Y. Everyone had party lines and most everyone listened in until some one yelled, "Get off the line!"
The house, by today's standards , a shack, was old and simple. It consisted of a living room in the front and a kitchen in the back. On one side there were two bedrooms with a bathroom in between The larger bedroom in the front was occupied by Jim and Sybil. My room was the smaller one that opened off the kitchen. The bathroom, narrow and confined, had a unique feature, a concrete bathtub, Yes, a real block of rough concrete poured on site with hole in it for the water and the usual drain. I was surprised. My mother was horrified. She immediately painted the monstrosity with shiny white paint to make it look more "bathtubbian". because the bare concrete scratched. The paint cushioned the surface. Unfortunately great pieces of paint kept peeling off the concrete and stuck readily to skin. So part of our world became repainting the bath while removing paint from our parts. The toilet usually functioned normally as did the sink.
Over to the kitchen, a large open room with an elderly old wood stove that had had an oil burner placed in the fire box. Outside the window on the side of the house away from the bedrooms was a 55 gallon stove oil drum on its side on a stand. it fuelled the stove and the space heater in the living room. Such was the heating system. Next to the stove, in plain sight, stood the hot water tank, galvanized metal in all its glory. The water was heated simply, no electricity. A coil of copper pipe was fitted in the fire box of the stove. Water from the tank flowed through the these pipes heated by the stove. If the stove was off there was no hot water. An ancient sink hung from the wall. When Sybil complained about the complete absence of counter, Jim improvised sort of a wooden shelf. We had a wooden kitchen table and chairs and there was electric light provided by an exposed bulb hanging from the ceiling by its cord. The room had large old built in cupboards on two walls and there was an old refrigerator. The floors throughout the house were hardwood painted over and over and over with battleship grey floor paint. Outside the kitchen door was a crude set of plank steps and an even more crude platform that allowed access to the clothesline, the hand pulley kind, that was connected to a tree some distance from the house.
Laundry was done with difficulty. Sybil finally acquired a washing machine, a wringer washer. For the first few months, however, she used a washboard and tub. The washer was a huge step forward and the damn thing lived in the kitchen. This washer had to be rolled outside onto the platform to be filled and emptied with water and clothes. Once the washing and rinsing was done the wringer was employed. Before our modern washing machine, we had used a hand wringer that clamped on the kitchen table or the wash tub. Damp wash was hung on the clothes line or in inclement weather it was arranged on a fold up drying rack in the kitchen. The kitchen as you can imagine was always a humid place. Dry wash had to be ironed. Jim provided an iron, the old kind, the very old kind. You heated the iron and stand on the stove. You determined the readiness of the iron by spitting on it. It the spit sizzled, the iron was ready. Mummy was not amused. So, her first romantic Christmas presents were an ironing board and an inexpensive electric iron.
The living room was heated by an oil-fired space heater, that was intended to heat the house. There was no source of heat in either bedroom or the bathroom. We had a radio (known as a wireless in England), a big old thing with vacuum tubes. It was a fugitive from the 1930's. It would have been wonderful then as it had a phonograph and a few ancient 78 rpm records. I played the two Wilf Carter records over and over and over. "My Little Yoho Lady" and "A Love Knot In My Lariat" still echo in my brain. We listened to the radio. It was our lifeline and everyone's connection to the world. This was before the age of television. When my parents were out. I rode the arm of the armchair. It was my horse as I helped Red Ryder and Little Beaver, The Lone Ranger and Tonto, The Cisco Kid and Pancho and many others tame the old west. I did this as I learned that "I'd wonder where the yellow went when I brushed my teeth with Pepsodent". and with Brylcreem a little dab would do me.
My room in the back corner of the house was small. It housed an old dresser, a cardboard wardrobe, an iron bedstead, a wooden chair, and a bedside stand. Its walls were made of tongue and groove siding Jim and Sybil wall-papered over it. The wall paper shrank and tore exposing the grooves. The walls were a mess. There was a window in the corner. The sash was broken and the window would not stay open. I had a piece of waste lumber to prop it up. I can still see my piece of wood today. I found a small radio with a broken plastic case. I discarded the case and managed to get the radio to work. Using the tuner I honed in on a radio station and I usually left it there. The station was KVI in Seattle. It played country music. At night I listened to a show hosted by B for Butterfat Buck Ritchie who introduced me to Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Snow among others. When I closed the door. I often blocked it with the chair to keep my sometimes enraged stepfather Jim from harming me as he tried to do on many occasions. Fear haunted me. I lived with it as I had in the bomb shelters and under the steel table in England. My personal fear, however, originated, not with a wartime enemy, but with two men who terrorized me. First came my grandfather and then came James Edward Allan who I feared most of all.
I attended Gordon Head School, two rooms and eight grades. But it had a unique feature, a room not much bigger than a closet that housed a library full of books donated by Nellie McClung. I was a voracious reader. I read every book in the place and took many home to my room to read at night after lights out. I read many books that were published in the nineteenth century. I read the entire works of James Fenimore Cooper, the Leather Stocking tales. Hawkeye was my friend as was Uncas. I discovered Booth Tarkington and fell in love with the world of Penrod and Sam. Worlds opened up to me within my mind. I built them and lived in them.
On the farm I worked, before and after school, on holidays from dawn to dusk. Jim was a demanding taskmaster, though he did not hold himself to the same standards. Discipline was harsh. Respect was non-existent. He frankly enjoyed humiliating me in public and in private and led the jeering chorus throughout my youth. To him, I was a "split-assed mechanic!" who was tied to my mother's apron strings and "looked like a bear cub playing with his prick." Even though, I didn't have enough sense to pack sand in a rat hole at least I would be a man before my mother. He was, as my grandfather had been, a cruel and violent bully. It seemed that I was justly being punished for having been born out of wedlock. I was my Mummy's cross to bear. Real men don't come from such beginnings but "drain smellers" do.