"Learning To Speak American"
Category: "Air Force"
In the late 20s, my dad was a radio mechnic on P-26 "Peashooters," the first pursuit airplane to have a two-way radio. He was stationed at Barksdale Field outside of Shreveport, LA He wanted a pair of boots “like officers wear” and asked his dad for the $25.00 they cost. My grand dad refused to give my dad the money, but back then, one could buy ones way out of the service and my grand dad bought my dad out of the military for about $300.00 so he could join him in wheat farming in Washington state.
When he was out, he married my mom who had just graduated from Nursing school at Sentitary College in
Shreveport. They moved up to Walla Walla, Washington where my older brother and I were born, me in December of 1935.
In about 1936 my mom had another boy and in 1938 she took us to Benson, Louisiana, where her dad had a cotton farm, for a visit. With war clouds looming, my folks decided to leave the three of us with our grand folks in Benson. At age three, my vocabulary was expanding rapidly and an understanding of symbolic and abstract language like "now," feelings like "sad," and spatial concepts like "in" were becoming part of my language, all of it in the syntax of Louisiana cotton farms. My playmates were both black and white kids and my vocabulary included such words as kone [corn] and “care me o’er yonder way soz I kin git up wif Bobby Bill.”
At some point when I was about three, my memory kicked in and I started to have a memory of things that we did in Louisiana like crawdad fishing, lightening bug [fire fly] catching and listening to the Grand Ole Opry. Memories of my life prior to Louisiana were quick flashbacks and had no continuity.
As a little kid in rural Louisiana, we had no problems with the war and the only time we realized that we were involved in one would be when we would see convoys on the highway that passed through Benson, on the way to Shreveport. At age 5, my grand folks put me in the first grade and about the only thing I can remember about that was that the word “said” gave me a terrible time in spelling.
When it came time for the second grade, we moved to my dad’s wheat farm outside of Waitsburg, WA. Entering the second grade, the teacher, Mrs. Combs, would put me up on a stool in front of the class and call me “teacher’s pet” and hug me. I had no idea at the time why she was doing this but in later years it occurred to me it was because while I could understand them, she and the class could not understand me – although I have no memory of being teased about it from my class mates. I suspect my pronunciation of words was so strange to these small town Washington folks, they thought I was something out of the circus.
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