A Rather Short Piece of Autobiography of Carl Madison
My father grew up in Old Meadows, Idaho; he was schooled in the one-room schoolhouse there by Grandaunt Irma, and he served in the Navy as personal yeoman to Admiral Halsey with the rank of Chief Petty Officer during the war. My mother grew up in Bozeman, Montana; she was raised by a well-to-do-family after her father and mother fell into bootlegging during the 30’s depression, and she worked in an aircraft plant during the war. They both met while Dad was home on leave to enroll at the Boise Business College (now BSU) and while Mom was a fraternity girl at Nampa’s Nazarene College. They married and I was later born in California’s Coronado Naval Hospital on April 27th,1951—actually the day General Douglas McArthur came home to lots of media celebration. I was named after dad’s best friend, Carl, who had passed away.
Dad was discharged, attended college with straight A’s, and then we moved to Mtn. Home, Idaho. He worked his way up from the grocery store, to the farm implement dealer, to the newspaper, and finally, to a position at the bank. Mom was socially involved with church and with her sorority sisters in town, and she settled in as mother and homemaker. We first lived in an older two-story house near the park. “Aunt” Hattie lived behind us across from the park and she’d baby sit my new brother Roy. I remember we could see all the trees from her porch and Mom and Dad would take us for walks in the park in the stroller—and to go shopping downtown a few blocks away. I can still recall lots of smiling faces stopping to talk to us during our walks.
After an open upstairs window incident, and then my dropping my red rubber tomahawk into a small opening of the well hole out back, our new house on 10th Street was finally ready enough to see. I’d just turned four years old and raced ahead inside to all the fresh new smells and rooms to explore. Luckily, though, something stopped me as I plunged through the door leading from the kitchen to the basement. I can still remember that empty void of blackness before me as I teetered on the edge of the floor, got my balance and breath back, and carefully backed back into the kitchen—very carefully closing the door behind me and barring Roy from going in. The stairs had not been put in yet and I never did tell how close a call I’d had (or Roy, either!).
Anyway, our house was brand new and it had a full basement to keep us cool in the summer and, with the oil furnace down there, to keep us warm in the winter. There were two bedrooms upstairs, one for Mom and Dad, and the other for us kids. This is the room I grew up in and where many of my earliest memories remain. I still liked to wear diapers when we moved in and I can still remember one time lying beside my brother seeing who could pee straight up while Mom changed us. There was also all the bottle feeding of my baby brothers and sisters, too—as each one was placed in there with the rest of us—and getting to take a slug of their bottle sometimes. And then, of course, when we’d get sick with the flu, or scraped up playing, Mom would be right there with a fresh cool rag for our foreheads or at our bedside with her medical tray for our hurts. This was the romper room where we played with our toys and board games, and where we’d play make-believe in our mattress forts to mark out our own territories.
As you can probably tell, I was the oldest. My brother Roy was a year younger, our brother Ronnie was next—but he died of pneumonia (which was probably because the neighbor kid kept running in and out and not shutting the front door). Then came Vern (he was the cute one the girls liked later on in his teens). Then Mom had a miscarriage the next year—which really depressed her—but next came Marie, then Joanie, and then after another year, in succession, came the three younger boys: Ken, Earl and David. Each were named after friends of Mom’s or Dad’s and I got to name David (from the Bible). Ronnie was born in ‘53, Vern in ’54, Marie ’56, Joan ’57, Kenneth ’60, Earl ’61, and David in ’62.
Being the oldest, I was responsible for our behavior. And, since Roy was such a tease and Vern hollered at the drop of a hat to get him in trouble (even when we’d all get spanked), I was eventually given the responsibility to discipline them as I saw fit. This didn’t sit too well with Roy and Vern—literally—but at least with me they could at least sit down afterwards compared with one of Mom’s spankings. And, actually, this was a clever tactic by Mom because of the added humiliation of being disciplined by one of our own competition. That little extra not only quieted things down before they got started, but I think it also turned Vernie away from the idea of teasing his own littler brothers and sisters later on, too. (And it also got him to stop hollering at the top of his lungs and me always having to shove a magazine down my pants before Mom came roaring in each time!)
Outside of us kids’ squabbles, later on there was only one memorable event other than my close call with the basement. That was when Ronnie died. I’d gone across the street to explore the big machinery in the construction area with my new squirt gun. A bully named Eddy appeared and tried to take my gun, and so I climbed up on the arm of a steam shovel to get away. I can still recall his snarling face as I blasted away at it till he finally retreated. I was shaky and scared as I got down, and so when I got home I fell asleep exhausted on the couch. I only dimly noticed Mom pacing back and forth and crying into the phone with baby Ronnie bundled in her arms. Then when I awoke I was told he’d passed away from pneumonia, and I realized what I’d seen. We mourned Ronnie for a very long time after that.
Aside from that experience my early memories are good ones. We lived in a nice new home—we never did get the driveway paved, though—and we’d sit cuddled with Mom and Dad on the front porch in the evenings. This was before TV and we’d be wrapped in blankets while they’d read to us or tell stories. We’d watch the cars go by, or a nice sunset, or we’d watch a gathering thunder storm until the lightening signaled it was time to go in. Our first dog, a lab I named Blackey, had a tail wag so strong it’d hurt. He was a great pal as long as you stayed in front of him, and it was entertaining watching visitors jump around him. Out back we still had high alfalfa from the field behind and Dad and I would play hide-and-seek together on all fours. Blackey was great fun for this when Dad couldn’t play, and sometimes I managed to sneak up on him and scare him. That was always great fun making him bark like crazy!
When it was time to start school in my fifth year I began kindergarten. It was about four blocks away and Dad would follow a block behind every morning until I’d forgotten he was there. (My parents always warned me about strangers and made sure I was safe.) I enjoyed going to kindergarten—first with the smell of Mom’s lipstick from a big kiss I’d get as I went out the door, and then with all the smells and colors of finger painting and white glue with colored paper when I got there. I looked forward to seeing all the new faces—and it was quite an adventure learning to get there on my own, too!
In the first grade—a few blocks further but straight down the street—it was all the new smells again that added to the excitement of more new friends. A big pencil, a big pink eraser, crayons, and a watercolor set—all in a cigar box—all called out to me with their great smells to use them. One problem for me was seeing the green chalk boards through the sun’s glare on them, though.. And I also slipped on the ice waiting in line to come inside once, too. My resulting huge black eye horrified teacher after teacher—even the policeman who drove me home—and then when Mom saw both, she fainted almost all the way. After those two things I ended up having to get glasses—but other than that school was pure joy for me. The only other problem I recall for that year was when I showed my shiny new key that had come in a mail advertisement to the little girl next door. She’d immediately took it and kept it, and that’s when I learned what stealing was—and what it was like to be tricked. (And I didn’t like either one!)
In the second grade I got my first girlfriend. The class was playing Sleeping Beauty and the teacher asked what brave person would knock the poison apple out of Sleeping Beauty’s mouth. I could tell no one was going to do anything about poor Susie just lying there, and so I, now wearing glasses, stepped forward to save her by lifting off the apple. Her eyes opened, the bell rang to go home, she grabbed me by the hand, and she practically dragged me the couple blocks to her house to show me off to her mom. It was a pretty cool reception as I recall, but a polite one, nevertheless. Turns out Susie’s family was one of the most prominent in town (her house bordered the park) and for their little princess to bring home just any kid could be a social problem. A couple days later Susie told me at school she couldn’t have a boyfriend yet, and so we’d have to be just friends. And that was Ok with me; I didn’t really know what to do with the idea anyway. Actually, as I look back, this may have been what turned me into the playground Sheriff that I became after that. It was like there needed to be someone who’d step forward when something needed done—or stopped—and no one ever wanted to help. There were the “Horsekickers”—a gang of girls who’d terrorize the boys and drag them into their hidden alcove of the building to either kick or kiss them. There was the bully Jo-Jo who needed to know he’d be told on when he got pushy. And there also needed to be someone at the bottom of the slide to help get the girls to slide down so the others could get to go, too. I always made myself useful for the playground teacher, and when I’d get protective of a kid the others would know it.
In my third grade things went south for me, though. It all began when one of the girls spotted me having a nice moment to myself in our new playground area. She invited me with a gleam in her eye to play hop-scotch with her and her friends. And then after a week or so of playing together she invited me home to meet her mom. She played some records on her new little record player, I think we tried to dance to them, and then she gave me one of her school pictures to keep. I guess that’s what hooked me because I remember looking at it a lot. Anyway, suddenly there was this brat kid dogging me every recess accusing me that I loved her. And then, finally, while swinging on the jungle gym one morning, after I’d repeated over and over that I only liked her, somehow I blurted out the word “love”—and then, “Yeah!—so I love her!” Well, he dashed off to class ahead of me and, as I entered, the kids were all singing, “Carl loves LeAnn!!” over and over while she sat in a corner desk red-faced and outraged with embarrassment. No matter how often I’d put my milk carton next to hers, or look as sorry as I could, she’d only glare at me with a “I hate you!” on her lips. And then, after that, the brat and I’d meet every recess to wrestle over her—which lasted quite a long time. I finally wore down, though; said how stupid this was—especially with her always glaring at me—and that he could have her. I’d learned by then how treacherous a gleam in the eye could be, and I was done with the idea of winning a girlfriend.
There’d been other memories during my eighth year to diffuse this one, though. I’d tried to walk the fence out back and one little slip had cost me a hernia operation. And then right before the operation I thought I’d seen a vision of an angel and swore to Mom that I’d seen one. It was probably just one of the nuns at St. Luke’s hospital but I guess I needed something special for protection. The down side of my hospital stay was that I had to learn to walk all over again, and all the comic books I’d been given—and promised they’d be there when I got home—were all gone when I got home. I think in looking back, those comic books meant more to me than any girl at school could. And also I remember that was the Christmas my brother Roy and I had been taking turns seeing who could hog-tie each other the best, too. I remember while Mom was fixing the Christmas Eve turkey, Roy and I had been in the basement playing with Mom’s new clothesline rope. I got to be the mighty hunter this time and, after I’d lassoed Roy and tied my catch from end-to-end, I hoisted him from the water pipe—rather upside down—up high off the floor to air dry. Then I gave my turkey careful instructions that he had to let out a gobble-gobble every ten seconds so I’d know he hadn’t got away. Mom called me upstairs about then and, bursting into the kitchen and seeing the drumstick on my plate, I forgot all about Roy. Well, when Dad started to say grace, but then noticed Roy was gone, that’s when we heard the gobble-gobble from down below us. And then, when Mom went downstairs and I heard her kind of scream and cry at the same time I figured I was about as cooked as the turkey in front of me. Fortunately, though, Roy confessed it was his idea while they were coming up the stairs, and also that he could have gotten loose if he hadn’t been interrupted. By the time we sat down to eat Mom and Dad were trying not to laugh and Dad gave Roy the other drumstick—and no matter how much he tried to say that he could have gotten loose, I knew I had a guardian angel after all. And plus, the next morning there were so many presents — well — it turned out to be my best Christmas memory ever!