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I finally got kind of used to literally living over the edge of a river, but anytime there was a thunderstorm, I just knew the place would fall in the river! George had a boat and we’d go on rides often. I always wore my life preserver, and I got to drive sometimes. I got to love the wind and the salty smell of the air. It was taken for granted, living on the water then. While I enjoyed it immensely, I didn’t appreciate it like I would now. Part of me will always be drawn to the water, particularly the ocean.
Another thing I loved to do was stay up late. I still do. George would let me stay up with him some nights It was our tradition to make toasted peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Nestle Quik chocolate milk. Most of the time I wouldn’t make it to morning, usually falling asleep by eleven. It was supposed to be fun, but George was easily irritated. Especially when it was a kid doing the irritating. You had to sit there quietly and let him do whatever it was he doing without bothering him. The slightest peep at the wrong time and it was immediately to bed. He would make me feel like I had done something extremely bad by his loud overreacting. One night when Big Charlie Smith was also spending the night, I dared to wear a long tee shirt with a belt around it, you know, like in Peter Pan! I even had a wooden sword. George immediately thought it was a dress and berated me for being a sissy. I probably embarrassed him in front of Charlie too. I was ordered to bed and to take that “homo shit” off. By this time of the evening, he was pretty drunk and smelled like the forbidden room, so I should have known better. On the lighter side of staying up late, my favorite memory of staying up late was when Mama, her friend Wanda and me watched the TV movie The Count of Monte Cristo. I was laying under the coffee table and Mama didn’t catch on until it was too late, and she let me stay up to finish it.
The forbidden room was downstairs next to the living room and the snake bathroom. George was an alcoholic of Barney Gumble proportions, but pot was his love at this point in his life. George and Clarice would disappear into the room downstairs for long lengths of time, leaving me alone with Susan and Robin, and it was always followed by that smell. One time I decided to play “Throw the Shells At The Fish Tank” game resulting in a cascade of water and guppies spilling onto the carpet. They came running out to see what I’d done, but George, after seeing what happened, was surprisingly not angry. He was actually comforting and told me everything was okay. He must have been REALLY high. Also, I shouldn’t have been left alone that long, I was only five! Turns out George and Mama were growing their own weed in that room, for their own use and to sell. I was forbidden to go in that room EVER. I didn’t, but I sure remember that smell. When George was out of the business and the room was finally deemed open to all, I was so excited to be able to go in. Imagine my disappointment when all that was in there was washing machine parts and fishing tackle all over the place.
In addition to Playboy magazines, empty beer cans, incense and full ashtrays, there had candles lying around everywhere. These were not any ordinary candles, these were homemade candles! Clarice and George were into making their own candles. This was another aspect of their hippie personas. I loved the smell of them, I can almost smell those candles like old rose could smell the linens on the Titanic. They were made with Gulf Wax paraffin blocks which were melted with a colored wax, poured into molds and cooled.
Most mornings, I would sneak into Mama and George’s bedroom in the mornings as they slept away their hangovers. I’d go through whatever boobie magazines George had and look through their vinyl record collection. He had one record that scared the shit out of me: The Moody Blues: In Search of the Lost Chord. The music didn’t scare me, the cover did. George did explain to me once how it wasn’t scary and what it represented. Yeah, I’m surprised he took the time too. But interestingly enough, George referred to the album as In Search of the Lost Child. So, there is that. It’s all very similar to Stewie being scared of the album cover of Queen’s News Of The World on Family Guy.
This is also about the time the weekly parties began. George had a large number of friends who would often come over to drink beer and get high. These fine people included the likes of Richard Sears, Cheryl Ladd (not her), Charlie Smith, couple Curtis and Jane, and some guy they called Latt. There was also John Hasty. John, or Haste, as George would call him, was always up for a party. For some reason, George had no problem picking up the tab for him. Literally until the end he paid for this man’s party because George genuinely enjoyed this man’s company, which was fine. Being the biggest loser and addict in the city was fine by George. It shows the hypocrisy of George that he showed his hoodlum friends more respect and love than he did me. I guess George WAS a “Harper Valley Hypocrite”.
These parties would go on all night and usually lasted all weekend. I actually enjoyed a lot of the partying, as it took George’s focus off of me. Sometimes these parties were at other places like the Forest City Gun Club of which pretty much every Davis and splinter families were members. In addition to the skeet shooting machines and the club house, there was a big lake. There was a dock there and we would go and picnic and fish. One particular day, John Hasty decided to try out a bow and arrow and shoot one of the ducks in the lake. Of course, he succeeded with the cowardly act but the duck’s body was far from the dock. Cheryl Ladd and Haste decided they both should jump in to get it. I supposed they were going to eat it. George once tried to say this didn’t happen, but Haste remembered. Cheryl Ladd came around less often after this and eventually stopped until one day we came home to find her waiting outside our house, crying. I don’t know what happened or why, but I never saw her again after that. I liked her, I hope she’s okay. We would continue to go to that lake, or “The Gun Club” for many more family holidays to come and they are mostly good memories. George even took me skeet shooting once and I think I impressed him with my aim.
Jumping off the roof into the river was also a common occurrence at a George Party. It didn’t matter that the screaming drunks had to fly by my window with each jump, I was terrified by the thought of being in that water. What horrors were in there?
During one party, I fell onto the brick patio and hurt my knee. Really hurt it! I couldn’t walk. I really couldn’t walk! George wouldn’t stop the party though. No sir. He told me in-between long drags off his Winston, to be a man and walk it off. He said something about being be a pussy, as he swigged off his Pabst blue Ribbon (he would switch to Budweiser in a few years). I crawled around for a week before I could walk again. George thought that I just wanted attention and he would accuse me of this many more times for much less offences.
With all the spooky, not quite traumatic, experiences involving open water, I was terrified to swim. It didn’t matter if it was a pool, I was sure I’d drown. Summer came around and George decided to send me to YMCA Camp. It wasn’t explained to me what it was, I was just put on a bus and told to have fun. I was terrified. I didn’t know anyone and I was sure I was going to drown when they forced me to get in the pool. I saw kids doing archery, and was sure I’d have to have arrows shot at me. They had refreshments for sale, but I wasn’t given any cash (Surprise, surprise). I waited in the line and asked the kid if I could charge my Coke. I was so thirsty. He said no kind of mean like, but then had a change of heart and gave me the Coke. I did like the arts and crafts stuff. I made a keychain with beads, you know, for all my five-year-old kid keys. By the way, five years old seems really young to be alone at camp. It wasn’t an overnight camp and I’d take the bus to and from each day. I hated it so much, and thought I had to go there forever. I finally started hiding from the bus and pretending I missed it. I guess mama and George got the hint, because I didn’t have to go back. I also had to really poop once while waiting for the bus and had my second experience of number two outdoors.
One good side effect from George’s partying was getting to meet and know the Kicklighter-Smiths. I think that’d be a great name for a country band – “Ladies and Gentleman, let’s hear it for Kicklighter-Smith!”. George’s good friend Charlie Smith had married Lex Kicklighter and she came with her two young-ins Pam and Charlie. I got so excited whenever I heard they were coming to visit. They lived in Dublin Georgia, and Lex’s parents lived in Savannah and the kids would stay with their grandparents more often than not. Sometimes Big Charlie and Lex would show up without Little Charlie and Pam and it’d break my heart although this happened more when we got older. Sometimes I’d get at least one of them and I never had so much fun as when they were around except maybe with my cousin Summer. One time they showed up late with Pam. I had already gone to sleep, but Mama woke me up to play. I think we played Laverne and Shirley somehow. I’m sure I was Laverne. Their mom, Lex, had excellent taste in music and whenever I hear Steely Dan or Tina Turner I think of her. I loved talking music with her once I was old enough to get into music. This family was always there for me and have even opened their home to me at one point. I love you guys, always. Thank you, Charlie, Lex, Charlie and Pam, you were more family to me than most and I’ll never forget your kindness.
1975 was also the year I started school. I went to kindergarten at Wilmington Island Presbyterian with Ms. Tink as my teacher. Many of the other kids who went there also followed kindergarten by going to Savannah Christian School including a fellow student named Russ Beets who is now an openly gay lawyer in Atlanta (Hi Russ). I loved to do arts and crafts since before I can remember (I know I’m saying that phrase too much, but it comes up a lot when doing a memoir). Each month we would have a construction paper cutout for our name plates that we would color and cut out. I was always very proud of mine and was very careful to cut it out exactly. Also, school room clay was an important tool for my art time as I made many a perfect clay snakes that year. I remember at our graduation we put on a show with some delightful old racist southern songs. ”Oh Susannah”, “Dixie”, all your basic Civil War era tunes. Mama did confide in me that Ms. Tink had contacted them to tell them I had the highest IQ in the entire class, and that they usually don’t tell parents these things. I also have some Stanford Test results from tests taken during 2nd, 5th and 8th grade where I was performing way above my grade level. Despite these results, I never did good in school for pretty much my entire academic career, and it drove George crazy! Much more on that late
I can kind of see why it pissed him off. I was a smart kid I suppose.
We got a surprise visit from Granddaddy Bill in October. Barney and Phyllis were there too, but all eyes were on Granddaddies’ new wife and my new grandma, Marilyn. Marilyn Kicklighter (no relation to the Kicklighter-Smiths) was from Greenville Georgia. She was tanned to the color and texture of brown leather. She smoked cigarette after cigarette using those disposable filters you put on the butt. They weren’t working because her voice had the resonance of a cheese grater. God forbid she laughed as it always turned into an uncontrollable coughing fit. Her hair was a tight curly perm that she gave herself once a month. Marilyn had three kids all with the same exceptional class as her. They would all show up at some point to borrow money or sleep over. Southern trash is a good way to describe the four of them: Marilyn, Rhonda, Timmy and Tony. There’s a reason I am this harsh about them, and it will be coming up in the future.
I was only five, but I loved her right away since I didn’t know any better. She always called me “Grandson” when talking about me to Granddaddy. This was the first time I had seen Granddaddy since mama and I left with George. I wouldn’t leave his side and it was the best few days in a while. I also became closer to Barney that visit. He was the closest to my age and made a pretty good playmate. Barney ended up staying with us through the New Year and had Christmas with us. Santa brought him a tacklebox and fishing pole and I got pretty much everything on my list. If you notice on the actual letter to Santa, the Raggedy Anne Clock I wanted was changed to a Bugs Bunny Clock. I’m sure Mama did this to protect George from anything not normal. Otherwise, George did his usual Christmas transformation from Monster to Santa and was as jolly as he was every Christmas while I lived with him.
On the Christmas tree this year there were a few new ornaments. Beautiful felt birds with feathers and sequins that Grandma Gloria had made for each of us. George’s was green, Mama’s blue and mine was yellow. I can see them when I close my eyes, they were so beautiful, especially to a Christmas obsessed 5-year-old. Gloria had also made them for all the extended family. I don’t know what happened to those birds, but I don’t remember them on the tree past this house and the next. And speaking of our next house…
UP NEXT …. The Yellow Brick House
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KICKLIGHTER-SMITH FAMILY PHOTOS COURTESY OF PAMELA JEANETTE KICKLIGHTER