I Was A Latch Key Kid and Other Fun From 1981

I seem to be tripping merrily along memory lane at the moment, so let's continue. This post was triggered by my dad's comment to my last post, which immediately struck me because, well, I have a very different memory of my 7th year on the planet.

By the time I started going to Vine Hill Elementary and riding the bus on my own, it had to be 1981, or damned near close to it. His claim is that he didn't allow me to come home on the bus because I would come home to an empty house. I don't dispute that I did spend some time with Cindy after school—she did live just up the hill from the bus stop I had to walk to.

Cindy is as wonderful a mother as anyone could have. Even though I wasn't her kid, she cared for me like her own, long after Dad and Cindy split up. She was always nice to me, even when I was being a little turd. Now David, on the other hand, Cindy's new husband/significant other/whatever, was a class act. He would berate and belittle me. He had some anger management issues for sure. Once had me go across the street to the Standard station and buy him a pack of smokes from the cigarette machine. He even gave me a note to show the station attendant if I got caught. There is one other event involving David that happened around the time that I won't get into here, but needless to say, David was a winner. I'm surprised Cindy put up with that asshole for as long as she did.

While it is possible I stayed at Cindy's house at times until dad picked me up, if it did happen, it was the exception and not the rule. I have plenty of memories of taking the two city buses home and showing up to an empty house. In fact, one of the most frequent complaints I can remember from this timeframe was how I was supposed to come home and leave him a note where I was. I most certainly didn't want to sit around an empty house, though I'm sure I occasionally watched cartoons on our black-and-white TV that took a minute to warm up. More often than not, I went out on my bike and rode around the neighborhood to see which of the neighbor kids were around to play with. Or I went and explored the area around the river that ran behind our house.

And, of course, being a kid with no particular idea where the hell I was going, I usually just left a generic note—something on the order of "out riding bikes." Dad didn't like that I wasn't specific enough about these little notes. Hard to write a note where you are going to be when you don't exactly know where you're going. But I rarely didn't venture beyond Lazywoods, down by the river, which did include a couple of friends houses on the street. And no, I was smart enough not to go in the water.

1981 was a rough year financially speaking. Aside from living without power for some of the time, there wasn't always a lot of food around the house. In fact, I remember one night where we split a packet of ramen because we didn't have much else than that. Some nights, particularly on nights where he worked late, I ended up having dinner at the neighbors.

Later in the year, we moved in with his mom—Granny. Now Granny lived in an apartment in Capitola. Given the fact she was handicapped, she had a sweet deal on rent. I have no idea where her money came from, considering I don't believe she was working, but I do know where some of it went—poker. Between my Uncle Andy and her, I learned a fair amount about the game long before I was able to gamble in a casino. Not that I would be dumb enough to do that for any serious amount of money.

The good news, for me at least, was that with this living arrangement, which started around the time I entered the third grade, I always came home to someone. Granny being confined to a wheelchair meant she didn't get out all that often. Her feet seemed larger than usual and her knees were locked in a sitting position. Some childhood disease, as I recall. She did have a specially fit car so she could steer with one hand and work the gas pedal and brake with a special handle, and she could get her wheelchair in and out of her car unaided. She also cooked fairly well. Her chili—more like a soup than the usual thick chili—was fairly memorable.

At least 1981 ended on a good note, but the beginning of 1982 started out a bit differently. I'll save that story for another day.