40 Years Ago, I Was 16 Years Old.

Perhaps the reality that forty years ago, I was 16 years old, just hit me because I had been posting old family pictures to Flickr yesterday.  It really hit me as I got into bed, and I found it difficult to even think clearly about “how old I had gotten.”  It was one of those nasty little melancholy feelings, just short of depression, each time I tried to emphasize the point, as I lay there alone.  The feelings of despair, of “a wasted life,” of the fate of a bleak aloneness sometimes just have to be embraced.   It doesn’t feel good.  It doesn’t necessarily make them more manageable, but like dark, storm filled clouds, they come, and given time, they will go.  *Of course, I guess there is always the possibility that a storm might come from which you do not survive.  That’s life;-)

Mom & Mustang 521 Riverside Drive Portsmouth VA 1970
Mom Mustang 521 Riverside Drive Portsmouth VA 1970

I was 16, and another year at Swasnboro High School was over.  A friend of the family had an automobile that had an automatic transmission, and they let me drive up to Jacksonville to take my driving test for my NC Driver’s License.  I passed, although I think I had a little problem with the 3-point turn.  Next day, I was on my way up to Portsmouth, VA to start my summer vacation, living with my mother.  I don’t recall, but that was probably one of the trips I took on a Trailways bus, passing through New Bern, “little” Washington, Ahoskie, Elizabeth City and finally arriving in Portsmouth at the bus station, downtown.

1964.5 Mustang 521 Riverside Drive Portsmouth VA1970
1964.5 Mustang 521 Riverside Drive Portsmouth VA c1970

I now had to drive my mother’s 1964.5 Mustang.  It was Prairie Bronze, and was a 2+2 Fast Back.  It was the first vehicle, of several that we/I have owned that had fold-down back seats.  *We had an AMC Pacer (Butterscotch in color.) which had a fold-down back seat.  I then had a Mazda 626 (White) which had a split fold-down back seat, which allowed one person to sit comfortably in the back while you carried something long (sports or fishing equipment, etc.) beside them passing through the opening into the trunk.

The Mustang had a manual transmission, and I had a difficult time learning to shift gears, but had much practice as taking my mother or aunt to work involved about 50 blocks up and down High Street in Portsmouth.  My aunt worked at the Naval Ship yard, and my mother worked at the Naval Hospital.  I became better at using the manual shift, but through the years, I will often find myself “grinding” the gears when I thoughtlessly attempt to shift.

Mom on dock in front of 521 Riverside Drive Portsmouth, VA
Mom on dock in front of 521 Riverside Drive Portsmouth, VA
Aunt Pete & Ervin & Boat 521 Riverside Drive Portsmouth VA 1970
Aunt Pete & Ervin & Boat 521 Riverside Drive Portsmouth VA 1970

My aunt had a long-time beau, Irwin Wilkins who was very kind to me.  He had a small boat that was tied up at my aunt’s dock, which was in front of her house at 521 Riverside Drive on the West end of Portsmouth.   Driving from Churchland to Portsmouth over the Churchland Bridge, you can’t turn immediately onto Riverside Drive because they wisely blocked it off.   Probably had been, or would have been many accidents at that turn.

Several times through that summer, Irwin would take his boat out fishing and he would take me along.  We would wind about the James River stopping periodically to cast our lines into the water.  Two events I recall regarding that summer of fishing:

Once, we got started late, and the tide was receding quickly.  We managed to get the boat in the shrinking channel, polling through an increasing amount of mud.  Not sure if we would have sat in the boat, in the mud, if we couldn’t have gotten it to the river, until the tide returned, or if we would have hopped out into deep mud and waded back to shore.

Bill in front of 521 Riverside Drive 1970

The second event  involved Irwin and me casting our lines on opposite sides of his boat.  We waited and then both of us “got a bite.”  We started to reel our lines in, and there appeared to be a pretty good “fight” on both lines, but then the lines began to converge, both of us walking nearer each other until it became obvious that the lines had become entangled.  And, as our “catches” reached the surface, what dismay to find that one of us (not sure who) had caught a good sized eel, and the other was a toadfish.  *I think it was called a toadfish, but whatever it was called, it was ugly and I had been told inedible.  Rather than trying to untangle our lines, Ervin just got out the pliers and snipped both our lines;-)

Irwin Wilkins had a good heart.  For a boy that had no father growing up, Irwin provided one of those “dad/son activities”.  No, I never thought of him as a dad.  He was just a friend of my aunt, who did “kindly” toward me.  But, Irwin had a “drinking” problem.  I do not recall him being a “mean” drunk, but I do recall him being very red-faced and smelling of alcohol at least a few times.

I lost touch with Irwin after my aunt’s death, the first year I was a Carolina (Chapel Hill).  Hey, the family didn’t even tell me that she had died until I returned for Christmas break that year.  *A couple of years ago, I visited Portsmouth, with the intent of tracking down family graves in Portsmouth.  I found all but the grave of Aunt Pete (Zeta Morton Littleton).  The cemetery keeper got out her plot book and we went through it several times, but there was no entry for my aunt.  I recall the general area where she was buried, but without going row by row, grave by grave, wouldn’t be able to find her.

But, I said I lost touch with Irwin.  I heard he had died a few years after my aunt.  It didn’t really sink in about the circumstances of his death, until a few years ago, when I recalled that they had found him, deceased, and standing upright in a narrow alley-way.  What an awful end for a man who was so kind.  Irvin Wilkins' Grave in Olive Branch Cemetery, Portsmouth, VAI found Irwin’s grave (Olive Branch Cemetery -If this is not his grave, it was nearby and had an urn like those in the center of this picture.), which was near some of his family.  His grave had a stone or concrete urn, for flowers, but was empty the cold winter day I visited.  It came to me that I should return his kindness, so I went to my truck and finally my eyes lit upon a viable gift.  There was a corkscrew/wine bottle opener, a cheap one, that I had bought at the “dollar” store.  It had a burgundy, plastic handle.  I left it in his urn.

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