My father got a job managing a small, man-made lake south of Tucson on the two lane highway to Mexico. It was in a tiny town called Kinsley. The name of the lake was Kinsley Lake. My father took me and my brother, Daniel, to the lake very early one morning. When we got there, there was still a little chill in the air in the shady places but already the Arizona sunshine was getting hot. He taught us how to “police the area” which meant picking up trash. There was a building that had a long hall inside with pinball machines along the walls. Near the front entrance was a counter with a cash register where tickets were sold for picnicking, swimming, fishing or to rent a rowboat or kayak. Behind the counter were shelves and racks with fishing rods, fishing tackle and fishing lures for sale. My father sat on a stool behind the counter, selling tickets and let us explore the lake. He gave us each fifty cents for helping him to police the area.
My father kept taking me and either my little brother or older brother with him to police the area in the morning and enjoy exploring the lake and the surrounding area. We found a concrete irrigation ditch to jump in and play in the water. We wore blue jean cut offs in those days because that was the cool thing to do and just let the short pants dry on us. My father brought all three of us to the lake one day with our fishing poles so we could go fishing. Sometimes my brothers didn’t want to go to the lake because they wanted to play with their friends in the neighborhood so I would go with my father. My father taught me how to run the cash register and sell tickets. He showed me how to count back the change to the customers. He left me to run the cash register while he went out managing the lake. He had to make sure that people had paid. My father would give me a five dollar bill for helping him. Later he would pay me more.
I became very proficient at operating the cash register. When people came and asked about the cost I was able to add the totals very quickly and accurately in my head the way my father had taught me. I became very good at selling rods, reels and tackle. When the owner of the lake came in he was so impressed that he would order more rods and reels. He even brought in live earthworms in round, cardboard containers that I started to sell very quickly. Eventually he even bought more fishing lures to stock the shelves with because I was starting to sell those. I always seemed a year younger than my actual age so when adults walked into the office and saw me behind the cash register they started looking around to see if there was an adult around. When they realized I was the only one there they would start asking questions. Sometimes they seemed really amazed at how competent I was at what I did.
When my older brother came to the lake he spent his time playing pinball. He got so good at playing pinball that he became a pinball wizard. He could knock the machine on the side without tilting it to keep the ball in play. Once he walked away from a machine that had 150 games on it just because he was bored with playing. When he wasn’t playing pinball he would go out and explore the little town of Kinsley with its western style buildings. There was a restaurant and saloon there. On the winding road that went up a hill behind the buildings there were the homes of people who lived in this desert area with its surrounding farm fields.
When my little brother came to the lake he wanted to fish all the time. He was very good at catching blue gill and bass. He was so good at fishing that if he forgot to bring bait he could catch fish with the cotton from cigarette butts that he found.
More often my brothers would not come and it would be me and my father. When he gave me a break and worked the cash register himself I would go out exploring the lake in one of the kayaks. Sometimes I would walk out on the wooden wharf and untie one of the rowboats. I would row out on the lake. I liked to row out to the middle of the lake and look down at the bottom of the lake. The water was so clear. Twice I swam to the middle of the lake and looked down. I felt like I was floating high up in the air and after a little while it became scary so I swam back. I felt aware that sometimes when I walked out on the wharf to untie a boat or came back and tied up a boat that the cute, young girls who were swimming and sunbathing in the swimming area must have thought I looked pretty cool. One of the popular shows on television was Flipper which had two boys who were always walking out on a wharf and untying a boat.
My parents had become acquainted with Jimmy’s mother. My father decided that he wanted to invite Jimmy and his brothers to come with me and my brothers to Kinsley Lake on a Saturday to enjoy the lake and camp out overnight. When we got to the lake we had races where we raced in the kayaks, then grounded them on shore and ran around the hall to come back to the kayaks to race them around the lake once more. When I took them out on the wharf I felt that Jimmy noticed the cute girls in the swimming area watching us. When I looked at Jimmy while we were in the middle of all these fun activities it seemed that he noticed I was looking at him. It seemed he felt proud of being at the lake and enjoying what it had to offer all for free but he never smiled. I realized that Jimmy was too overly competitive with others.
We camped out that night on the narrow strip of land between the two sections of the lake. The office with the pinball arcade was on that strip of land. We roasted hot dogs and had them with pork and beans that we heated in a campfire in one of the fire pits in the picnic area. The boys talked and laughed. We all slept well and woke up to the sound of the ducks quacking.
I was in Jimmy’s house with his mother in the living room one day. Janet Holly was sitting on the couch and Keith’s sister was there. Keith’s sister said I should sit next to Janet on the couch. I looked at Janet. She looked so beautiful. She didn’t say anything. I wanted to sit next to her but I felt embarrassed. Keith’s sister was insistent. Jimmy’s mother came and grabbed a hold of me. She led me over to where Janet was and I sat next to her. I couldn’t believe I was sitting next to Janet on the couch touching her. I didn’t want to move. I didn’t say anything. I looked at her. She didn’t do anything but just stayed there looking very calm and serene. Jimmy’s mother from the dining room area watched us with a smile on her face. Keith’s sister said, “Mark is sitting next to Janet!” just as my little brother with Ronnie and Donnie emerged from the hallway that led to the bedrooms. “Mark is sitting with Janet!” they all exclaimed with big smiles on their little faces. I stayed for as long as I could but I had to get up in embarrassment. I looked back at Janet before going for the front door to escape. She still sat there motionless, looking serene.
I was sitting with Mike in front of his house on another day. He said we had to keep our voices low because his mother worked at night and slept during the day. He said she was a very light sleeper. He wanted me to know that the place where his mother worked was a restaurant, not just a bar, and his mother worked as a cook there. This made me feel better to know that she was a cook and not a topless waitress. Mike said the reason she worked there is because it paid so well and that most cook’s jobs didn’t pay very well. Mike told me that his mother said there were Catholic priests who came into the bar to drink. I found this hard to believe but I had no reason to think Mike or his mother would lie about something like this. I didn’t think that the priests from my church would ever do such a thing.
Keith came walking up to us from across the street asking, “What’s happening!” with his usual grin. The conversation turned to Jimmy. Mike said that when Jimmy’s father came home from work all he did was have dinner and then go into his bedroom with a six pack of beer and a Playboy magazine. Keith said this was true. They told me that Jimmy would go into his father’s bedroom to look at his Playboy magazines. I said, “Jimmy said that he wants to be a priest”. They said that he still does but he still looks at his father’s Playboy magazines. I was having a hard time dealing with the idea of someone who wanted to be a priest but who looked at Playboy magazines. My feelings were that he would probably never become a priest.
One day I was in the living room of Jimmy’s house. I saw one of the album covers of a Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass albums resting against a shelf on the floor. Jimmy’s mother loved to listen to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass and they had several albums by this popular instrumental band in the living room. I noticed that all the album covers had a picture of a beautiful, young woman looking very sexy on them. My little brother, Ronnie and Donnie wanted me to come into a bedroom to play board games. They liked to play Sorry and a card game called, Old Maid. I played games with them for awhile and then left. As I walked through the hallway I saw Jimmy lying on the end of his father’s bed looking down at a magazine. Jimmy got up from the bed when he saw me and came over to me with the magazine. Jimmy tried to get me to look at the Playboy magazine. I took a glance from where I was standing and said I had to go. I let myself out of their front door and went home.
One day I came to McArthur Street and there was an ambulance in the driveway of Keith’s house. I stood in front of Jimmy’s house in the gravel and dirt next to the street. McArthur Street did not have sidewalks like our street did. The neighborhood kids were out including Robert, Richard and Diana, Jimmy and Mike. Janet was watching from a lawn chair in front of Jimmy’s house. Keith’s father had a heart attack I was told.
Life went on for Keith and his family. His father did not die. They acted as if everything was normal. I never noticed that Keith or his sister seemed upset.
To be continued.