Around 25 December 1957. 4 min read.
In fifth grade I got a kitten for Christmas - my first pet. But my parents said it was "just an alley cat" and would not vaccinate it. The next summer it got distemper and I got to watch it puke its guts out for two weeks and die - while my parents forbade taking it to the vet. Strangely, after it was dead, they did take it to the vet, to find out why it died.
That summer was the Cub Scout "five mile hike", with a heavy unstructured rucksack with sharp equipment edges digging into my back, along straight, flat, level, utterly boring rock roads. Wearing the bizarre bifocal glasses that put the spot where my next footstep would land in a different world from where I was currently standing. My spirit and posture were utterly crushed into a blind, emotionless robot, just shuffling one foot in front of the other.
But that was also the summer of Sputnik, and my first shortwave radio kit. Hints there was an interesting world somewhere beyond my limited horizons. (Shortwave then was a bit like the internet is now - your choice of news, education, propaganda, and music from all over the world!)
My parents built an addition to the house and I moved to a sunny new south-east bedroom, far away from the rest of the family. My little sister moved to the room where I'd been "Consumed by the Light", and was often mysteriously "terrified" of the closet next to the window where the light had appeared... (She did not hear my story until many years later.)
In sixth grade I was back in the hospital for supposed heart problems. But my parents finally got their first telephone, and a television set! And I discovered guns - another solitary pursuit. My parents didn't forbid them, but wouldn't pay for them, so I earned the money as a bounty hunter, killing the birds that were threatening my uncle's dairy cattle with a deadly disease.
Toward the end of sixth grade the school decided I had an emotional and "social problem". No adults took any interest in learning what my real problems were - I was not consulted at all until the day the principal walked into my class and led me to a desk in the next grade up.
My sister sent me the school's "plan" she found after my parents died. The entire report fails to spell my name correctly! They declare my medical problems are not real, despite all the times local doctors and city specialists put me in the hospital. And my mother agrees I'm not physically sick! She has "Complete faith in the school", and "Doesn't like to think" I'm gifted or different.
They say I'm "Highest in his class". No mention of testing four SD's above the mean, top 0.004% in the nation (at least in second grade, before years of stupefying boredom). But all those records had apparently burned with the school building.
They suggest three options:
A - I'm supposed to believe I'm not exceptional and just "adjust".
B - Give me special attention (extra busywork). They suggest other kids would like me more if I got special attention. (These people are idiots! At least they admit a chance of the reality in the "con" section - other kids hated me for any recognition I received.)
C - Move me ahead a grade. They had begun by saying I was three grades ahead of my current class. So moving me up one is supposed to fix that? They did correctly guess the kids in the next class were slightly less bigoted...
To be fair, the school was a tiny backwater with zero support professionals and mostly simple, proud-to-be-country kids. But anyone who thought holding me back was supporting my social development was cruelly blind.
Reading that "plan" makes me put most of the blame on my parents. Like always, mom doesn't want me to be recognized as gifted or even different. I'm "Little Hitler" and need to be squished into submission. Four tortured years after conclusive proof that I'm not ordinary, things are so bad the school is pushing for something to change - and mom is resisting! And dad meekly follows her lead.
My two months of seventh grade went quickly, and the new group of kids were a bit more accepting, or at least didn't have so much accumulated hostility.
What I remember most about eighth grade was my "pocket" transistor radio. I carried it everywhere like kids carry phones now. I followed space launches while walking to school and at recess. I carefully re-aligned it for long-distance reception and absorbed popular music from Chicago and Boston and LA, genres that never made it to the local stations. I began to care less what the local kids thought of me.
By high school I'd gotten subscriptions to electronics magazines, and was building my own stereo gear, mail ordering parts from Chicago. I couldn't afford to buy records, and local stores had none I wanted anyway, so mostly I connected the AM radio and listened to my distant, fading favorites from afar. School became an insignificant interruption to my remote and solitary electronic interests.