Wilmington, Delaware. My father’s side of the family all lived there and after a brief six months of living North of Wilmington, we moved into a house just South of the city line. It was in late 1968. I remember not starting fourth grade in school that year because we were going to move. Even though it was a month or two into the school year, I still passed.
This school was unlike any I’d previously attended. It covered 1 – 6 grades in one section, the Elementary school and 7 – 9 grades, called Junior High. Before school started every day there were fights in one section of the schoolyard. I went over to check it out and was quickly warned to stay away unless I wanted to fight. I don’t know how typical it was for nine and ten-year olds to act this way. It was a poor area, known for drugs. I think of the bully in The Breakfast Club who revealed how he was treated at home – years later, of course but it was not for me. I stayed in the highest grade class until the problems I faced inside myself started affecting my grades. I was a D student throughout Junior High and remained unpopular and introverted.
I discovered baseball and loved the sport. In the Seventies baseball had just started to be about salaries and greed. The Philadelphia Phillies was my home team and although they were terrible, there was always next year. Slowly, great players were coming to the team. Curt Flood may have held out, fixing a problem that bound players legally to a team, but a contract is a contract. Flood was a hero to many players, but the Phillies went to the top within eight years without him. In the Nineties, when the big baseball strike stopped the game, I left the desire for the sport for good.
Bicycles became my favorite pastime. A book about road bikes was on a shelf at the news stand. When I saw the straight diamond frame with ten and twelve speeds instead of banana seats and five speeds, I wanted one. The turned-down handlebars were odd, as were the toe clips. Racing wasn’t big in the U.S., so I never saw live races as a kid. It didn’t matter – as soon as I had one, it was every road in Northern Delaware to be explored. At thirteen I thought, who needs a drivers license. Riding probably kept me from getting fat; I was a big eater in high school. I’d have a weight problem most of my life, but not when riding.
I got an acoustic guitar for my tenth birthday. Back then, any guitar was okay – learning how to play one was the only concern. Years later I sold an Alvarez acoustic guitar, perhaps the best low-end guitar I’ve ever played, to a friend who bought it for her son. He was not happy because it was not electric. He’d likely never would learn how to play guitar. I was very happy with my guitar and wherever there were free lessons, I was there. I paid $50 for my first electric – a hollow-bodied jazz guitar with humbucking pickups. Here’s some advice: know what to look for before you buy. It was never playable. From the same pawn shop came a Gibson SG clone for $100. That was my real first electric guitar, and with the broken radio converted into an amp, I was ready for my first top ten hit! I’m glad the music bug wasn’t so strong to have me in a house with other starving musicians.
The dreadful years that made up Junior High ended at Delcastle Technical High School. My grades went back up and electronics was my career goal. I was still an outcast, but it didn’t matter there. Students came from all over New Castle County; meeting new ones meant starting new impressions. I made friends with a boy named Rob, whose father had his own business. Rob would later take over the business and it’s still there today. My family was poor, so having the opportunity to spend a week in Ocean City, Maryland with Rob and his family was an amazing privilege. I ate crabs for the first time and two men from a local church told me the Gospel of Jesus – something that no church my parents attended ever did. That had a big impact in my life. I got to spend two summers with Rob and his family in Ocean City. These are my fondest memories from high school.
My father bought a 1966 Mercury Monterey from our next door neighbor. We couldn’t afford to get me insurance, and my pay from the part-time job at the TV repair shop wasn’t enough either, so I only drove the car a few times. I don’t know what ever happened to it. That job woke me up to the dead end that was to be TV repair. I joined the Army before graduating high school and quit the TV shop job two months before reporting to Basic Training. The military then had to be different than today – the U.S. was not involved in any wars. Today, I don’t qualify for the American Legion or the Veterans of Foreign Wars, even though I served active duty for almost five years! That’s okay. The training and colleagues I met helped get me started on a long career path, for which I’m grateful.
After the Army, I spent two more years living in Delaware before leaving for good. The next six years would be in Virginia, then Maryland for twenty-six years. I met Maria and married her in 2001. I don’t miss Delaware at all. Living there formed my life since then, so there are no regrets – the good and the bad times are over. I wonder what my life would’ve been if I never moved up North. None of that is important; who I am now is.