The Writers Voice
My Life 1967-1973 - Part Two
Michael D. Holcomb
I'm 13 years old and currently in the 8th grade at Lamar Jr. High School. Our apartment is on the 2nd floor and is actually temporary housing while waiting for a house to come available in Fort McIntosh.
One of the things I remember is watching the trainer jets fly above the apartment. With binoculars you could see the pilot and co-pilot sitting side by side. The T-37 and T-38 jets sure made a loud screaming sound when they went over. No way to carry on a conversation until it passed.
We were only in the apartment for a few months. I walked to and from school most days. One morning in particular I noticed a stray cat following me and I began to feel sorry for it because I could tell he was hungry, so I spent my lunch money and bought some cat food and fed the critter.
Laredo is located on the Texas/Mexico border and is ninety percent Spanish. I had a few Mexican friends but mostly hung out with other military brats. I once made up a flyer and taped it to the mirror in the boys bathroom. It said L.B.J. ought to make it an order and send you Mexicans back across the border.
My grades improved here a lot because the school was teaching on a very basic level for the kids. In fact seeing an 18 to 20 year old Mexican in your 8th grade class was common. I went from nearly failing in the beginning of 8th grade in Rantoul Illinois to straight A's here in Laredo when we moved in November of 1967.
On occasion the school would have a live band play for the students and we were allowed to dance. This is where I got over being self-conscious out there dancing. I realized I didn't look any more spastic than the others. This one band I remember was the best I've seen yet. They played "Hey Jude" by the Beatles perfectly. That cute little Mexican girl sure smelled good and was nice to hold close while dancing to the music.
Around March 1968 we finally moved to Fort McIntosh base housing. This was outstanding because this community was right on the Rio Grande River.
The old community college down the road had a coke machine which allowed you to pull two cokes out at the same time. Fort Mac was a huge area with a stone wall around the perimeter. Old Army tanks were kept in one area and I remember the Border Patrol Building where the illegal wetbacks were jailed. We would go in there to get free salt tablets at the water fountain and heckle the prisoners by flipping them off.
One night soon after moving in two girls knocked at my back door after dark. I went out to meet and greet. One of the girl's names was Vicky ******* and the other Was Michelle *****. They were Officer's daughters who lived on the other end of base housing. Officer housing and NCO housing was always separate. Vicky and I hit it off and went steady for most of the time.
I would meet up with her in 1972 (age 18) in Orlando, as both of our dads retired to Florida. We were older then, and things weren't the same as they were back in Ft. Mac in 1968 (age 14). Plus the drive to Orlando every weekend got old. Anyway back to Laredo………………
We had this game where you added our ages together and you had to kiss that many times. First couple to mark off the total won the right to visit the hut we had built in the woods on the bank of the river. This hut was a 8 x8 foot thrown together shack with an observation deck on the roof. We had stolen some old school desks from the barn at the College and put them up on the deck. Vicky let me take her measurements at the old hut.
You did what ever you could get away with. After some coaxing she stripped down to her bra and panties and I took her measurements with the measuring tape I swiped out of Mom's sewing box. Talk about a case of the blue balls afterwards.
The word was on the street that a staff Sergeant's garage was full of Playboy's, so one night Charles ********, Jimmy *****, David ********** and myself crawled up to the bedroom window of his house to peek in. He and his wife were lying in bed naked with a fan blowing. It must have been 100 degrees that night. We then proceeded to sneak out to his detached garage. Sure enough, once inside there were several stacks of Playboys, both current issues and old ones. Imagine what they would be worth today!
We took probably 6 or 8 apiece and went down to the college to swap magazines. The security guard walked up on us and scared the hell out of us. He just told us to get off the campus.
During the summer the Rio Grande water level was down low enough to where you could walk across to the US side. Border Patrol helicopters were always flying up and down the river with loudspeakers warning the Mexicans to stay on their side. These people were always coming across and hiding.
Went to see the movie “Green Beret” at the theatre on the Air Force Base. This flick really opened my eyes to the reality of war. At the commissary you could purchase a quart of chocolate milk for 25 cents. I could chug-a-lug the whole quart walking from the commissary to the theatre.
July 7th was my 14th birthday and my parents actually got me an electric guitar with an amplifier. Jimmy ***** and Pat ********and I practiced a lot and learned to play a couple of tunes like “Louie Louie.”
Ft. Mac had a regular sized baseball field with a chicken wire backstop. The outfield was decorated with little cacti that grew just above ground level. You had to be careful running around out there. Beyond the baseball field was the tree line of the woods, which had several paths leading down to the river. One of these paths was used as a bike trail leading down close to the river and back up to the baseball field. We would time each other on how long it took to complete the course on a bike. I can’t count the times I went head over handlebars on that trail.
The song “Judy In Disguise” came out that summer and for some reason I really loved that melody but it was too complicated to play on the guitar.
Late one summer night while camping out in the side yard we noticed the kid across the street pulling up into his driveway. He got out of his Volkswagen and hid his cigarettes under the porch of his house before going in. When the coast was clear we sneaked over there and stole his cigarettes and smoked them all.
On the bank of the Rio Grande was an abandoned watchtower with the ladder partially removed at ground level to keep people off of it. All you had to do was climb up on the outside leg for the first 30 feet and then transfer over to the ladder and continue climbing. Once inside you could see up and down the river for a long way. The kid up in the tower would shoot his BB gun at the others on the ground and the kids on the ground would shoot up into the tower. The BB’s would ricochet off the walls inside the tower and find their mark a lot of the time. No one got seriously hurt, just some welts on the skin.
Crossing over the International Bridge to Mexico was forbidden by our parents but that didn’t stop us. One afternoon Dave ********* took several packs of cigarettes from His mom and we proceeded to the bridge on our bicycles, paying five cents each at the booth. The customs agent doesn’t bother you going over to Mexico but he checks you out coming back. Once there we knew not to take our hands off our bicycles or they would be stolen in a flash. Peddlers were set up all along the street with their suitcases full of cheap jewelry and switchblade knives. We traded American cigarettes along with some money for several switchblade knives.
Happy with our trade, we started heading back to the bridge worrying about getting the knives across. The Custom’s agent asked us if we were bringing any knives or contraband back and we answered 'no' with a straight face so he let us pass with two knives in each pocket… I still had these knives after moving to Florida and I remember taking them to Leesburg High to show them off… I can’t remember what happened to those knives after that.
One day I was down on the bank of the river when I noticed a Mexican fishing on the other side. After watching him for a few minutes I decided to holler something smart to him. I yelled "Hey, I hear you all eat your dogs over there." He must have understood what I said; he pulled a gun out of his pocket and fired two shots in my direction. I got pretty scared hearing those bullets sing over my head and hit the bushes behind me. I turned tail back into the brush and disappeared, stopping long enough to collect myself. This guy couldn't take a joke.
Some of the events that took place nationally while living here were the assassination of Martin Luther King in April 1968 and Robert F Kennedy in June 1968. The Vietnam War was in full swing. Watching the news every evening you would here the count of American casualties for the day. The enemy casualty count was always exaggerated and numbered far greater. This was to broaden support from the American people on the basis that we were winning this war.
School started in September and I entered the 9th grade. I remember having the choice of going into the 9th grade at the High School or staying at the Jr. High School which also had a 9th grade. My friends and I all elected to stay at Lamar Jr. High so we would be upper classmen. Those mornings at the bus stop were comical, all wearing penny loafers and bright socks. Vicky's house was in sight of the bus stop and I remember waiting there and wondering what kind of outlandish clothes she was going to wear to school that day. She was always the last one to show up, usually at the time the bus was approaching.
Acting the fool on the bus was a daily occurrence and brother Bob would give me dirty looks sometimes. I remember one morning the bus pulled up at my school and as I was walking down the aisle of the bus I flimflammed Bobby back of the head and exited the bus in a hurried manner. It was funny at the time but I knew I'd have Hell to pay that evening. My brother made it a point to always get more than just even with me. But I knew I was safe for the moment because Bob had to stay on the bus to continue on to the High School.
By late October Dad had his retirement papers in and we would soon be moving to Florida. On Halloween my parents made me go with them to Sears to buy a new washing machine; it seemed like they knew us kids would be up to no-good that night. I missed out on the trick-or treating.
Sometime in early November '68 the moving van pulled up to the house and once again we dealt with the packing and loading. I had mixed emotions at the time about moving back to Florida. I really didn't want to leave my friends here but I knew I would get to see my old friends in Leesburg once again.
We left southern Texas and spent the first few nights at Grandma King's house in Ardmore, Oklahoma. From there we visited Uncle Slocom somewhere in Alabama. Then from there we stayed the night at aunt Melba's house in Ocala. Aunt Oveida had a rental house reserved in Leesburg at 2209 Mahoney Ave.
Dad got a job at Tube Associates working the graveyard shift. Dad would get mad at the college students next door playing music so loud while he tried to sleep during the day.
Tube Associates was located in Wildwood and they made stainless steel pipe. Dad made good money but came home with thousands of small shavings of metal on his clothes.
During the Thanksgiving week Aunt Oveida pulled up in the driveway all shook up. Grandpa ******* lost his house to a fire that morning in Webster. We all went over there to see the damage. The house burned to the ground. Grandpa was okay, just sad.
The High School was a few blocks away so I walked to and from school every day. It was nice to see my friends again. Dad bought a used '61 Chevy station wagon for Bob to drive. Christmas '68 arrived while living at 2209 Mahoney but I don't recall much about it except the astronauts circling the moon for the first time in Apollo 8.
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