Turk Lake Elementary school was a three-room school house with a kitchen for serving meals and a large playground. They put kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade students in one room. In another room were the 3rd and 4th grades and in another room 5th and 6th graders. I attended grades kindergarten thru fifth. Once a year the PTA (Parents Teachers Association) would have a banquet at the school for the families.
The dining room tables were kept folded up so the floor space could be used for some indoor activity. The janitor would take a big round key and stick into the table and turn it. This allowed him to unwind and set up the tables. The kitchen people would bring out the table settings for the meal. When this was done the teachers would set little name cards at each plate. They separated the students by grades and seated families together.
The kids in the school could tell there would be a banquet that night because all day they could smell a meal being prepared in the kitchen. After school the kids would run down to the dining area to find out where they were setting that night, and who were they setting by. More than once I got asked this question, “how come your mother has a different last name than yours, doesn’t she love you?”
Divorce was not an option in a failed relationship during most of this time. But families were starting to be undermined by more liberal views. Hollywood provided movies that supported this erosion of the foundation of the family. Marriages were being put to the test with advertising and easy access to television. And women that went thru a divorce were usually frowned upon and blamed for the separation. This was so obvious to me because it was ingrained into the children I went to school with to blame the mother.
The highlight of my week at Turk Lake school was the day we got to wear our cub scout uniforms to school and attend the meeting that night. This only child was glad to have some boys to play with. Some cub scout mothers opened up their homes to the troop for meetings and I still remember these great ladies. Scouting taught me how to get along with other kids, how to work as a team, and the benefits of doing so.
Sometimes during the school year when one of the scouts had a birthday his mother would invite the troop over for cake and maybe a stay-over-nighter. I got to go to many different homes and meet some really nice people. Everybody would sing, “Happy Birthday” and “For he’s a jolly good fellow.” Then we would all play games together.
When my birthday was approaching, I asked Caroline if the troop could come to our house on my birthday. She surprised me when she said, “yes.” I delivered a personal invitation to each boy and they said they would attend. Caroline had it all figured for a meal of cake and ice-cream. She got birthday napkins and made my favorite white cake with white frosting.
The day of the party the boys in the troop all let me know that they were not coming, and they told me why, “your mother is crazy, and we don’t want to be around her.” That is what these young boys said.
I rode the school bus home and told Caroline that nobody was coming. She blew up at me saying, “What did you do? You must have said something wrong to them. Maybe you were not good when you were at their house, now they don’t want to come here. After all I did. I spent all this time to give you a party, well I won’t do this again.” I left her to her anger and my home did not seem like a good place to have a party anyway.
Caroline was my mother and I loved her. I called her, Ma when I was younger, but she hated me calling her Ma or Mother. She would say, “don’t call me that.” So, I started calling her Caroline.
There was a Christmas tree farm within walking distance from my home and I got my first job there when I was 14 years old. It was, cold in the early morning, too hot the rest of the day, outside work. The first day I got so sun burned that blisters formed overnight. I learned to go easy on the exposure to the sun and ware a shirt.
My first pay check was already spent before I got it. I knew just exactly what to do with the money. Caroline bless her heart, sent me to school in high wasted, skinny belt, dress pants. Most of the other kids wore blue jeans and I wanted a pair. New blue jeans back then were stiff, flat legged pants that took a ton of washing to soften up. And the pants needed a little fading to make them look cool.
Well, after I got my new blue jeans looking old and they turned up missing. I ask Caroline if she saw them and she told me, “they were looking so faded and old I burned them up in the garage.” When I was younger, and she thought I was too old for a Teddy Bear she made sure I knew she burned that up also. I understand she just wanted me to look good. But she would not try to understand the peer pressure at school. I went and got another pair and washed them myself after that.
As I got older, I spent much of my time away from my home as I could. I took an extra subject instead of a study hall. And I joined any sport that would let me play. I was never any good at any ball game. I lived alone in the woods with my parents. The closest kid I could play with was over a mile away. Sometimes I would ride my bike to his house and he always wanted to play baseball.
When I came home, I would try to play the game by myself. I place sticks around the yard in a diamond shape. And I was the pitcher, batter/runner, outfielder, and catcher. To play this game of, “one-man-baseball,” I would through the ball up into the air, the pitcher. Then if I could swing and hit it, I would run the basses, the batter/runner. Before I got to home plate, I switched roles, became the outfielder and chased the ball across the yard. With a mighty arm I would throw the ball at home plate. When there was no catcher, I switch roles again and chase down the wild pitch. At this point I could decide if whether I was out or safe at the plate. Some game, I played it a lot.
When I got to Junior High School in 7th grade I joined the baseball team. I was not good enough to play so they made me a team manager. It was great. I felt like I was a part of something bigger than myself. And I was surrounded by boys and a great coach that accepted me as part of the team. I was somebody. And for five more years of school I was part of the team.
When I was in junior high, I started playing music with other boys who were trying to form a band. I had taken piano lessons, but I was not very good at it. The only reason I got into any band at that time was because the good keyboard players were already in another band. When I first started to perform music in front of an audience, I had to borrow equipment and a keyboard from other local musicians to be able to play. These boys were in different competitive bands in my home town, The Blues Reaction, and the 4th Story Elevator. They had all the new and cool musical toys and between them both they set me up with an amplifier and a keyboard. When I first started playing in a band, I would have never been able to play in public without their help. I have always been very grateful to them.
To this day, I do not know why Caroline and Pat helped me get my first keyboard, but Pat insisted that they did. From then on, I had a keyboard that I could take to band rehearsals and play out live. I was lucky to fall into a band from Lakeview, The Soul Generation. Back then soul did not necessarily mean something black, it was more like, how you could feel being cool. When you did something that someone else liked they might say, “you got soul man.” The Soul Generation played cover tunes and one of them was the song, “A little bit of soul” by the band called, The Soul Explosion. Different times, different expressions.
The band got paid when they played out. Some of the jobs were at collages fraternity houses and they paid good. Caroline could not believe that the money I brought home was earned by playing in a band. This was the first time in my life I heard the word, “DRUGS,” when she accused me of selling them to get all this cash.
Caroline even went to the band manager and demanded that he tell her where I got the money. I found out this later from him and he told me she did not like his answer, “playing in the band.” From then on Caroline and Pat both told me continually, “giving you piano lessons was the worst thing we did for you.”
I thought of it this way, “Caroline would give me the shirt off her back, but she just would not let me wear it.” I was grateful to have my own keyboard and I told her so. Even though her response was always negative, I kept playing in the band anyway.
A few times The Soul Generation got to be the opening act for a band called, “The Pack.” I remember how much they hated our little high school band having to use the same dressing room as them. I was just pleased to have a private room to change into my stage clothes other that the men’s room. We were just kids and these guys were real professionals, and they were great. Our band even played some of their songs. Later after I left The Soul Generation and move west, The Pack went east to New York and changed their name to, “The Grand Funk Railroad.”
All the boys in the band had longer hair. Caroline hated mine. She tried everything to get it cut short. Her brother was a barber and she conned him into scalping me once when I went to him for a hair trim. There after he asked me not to come to his shop because he did not want to be in the middle. Caroline shocked the entire family when she offered to buy me any new car I wanted if, I would only cut my hair and keep it cut. Her talk about Corvette Sting Rays and Mustangs could not take away what was mine. My right to have long hair. Other family members that knew of this offer never stop telling this story of how stupid I was. I still think I did the right thing.
I remember the first time I tasted beer. Caroline and Pat were visiting a fellow scout master and he offered Pat a cold beer to, “quench the throat on a hot summer day,” he said as he handed it to Pat. I must have shown an interest into what he was drinking because he gave me a little taste.
I believe that alcoholism can be inherited from a parent. From the first time I tasted beer I knew I liked it. It was a carbonated beverage that was not heavy sweeten like soda pop. And it made your breath smell funny. So, later when one of the boys smuggled some beer into a boy scout camp out, I was ready for my first acholic drink.
When the band started playing in bars, even though I was not old enough, it was easy to get a beer. When I could get a buyer to get me some beer I would stock up and hide it in the woods. I had already fell into the first trap of an alcoholic, easy access, and I was not even 21 years old yet. I had lots of friends that like to drink beer too. I think they were my friends because I had a way to get it.
But the beer was pretty bitter tasting in last months of my senior year. Members of my graduating class which included students on the athletic teams wanted to have a keg party. My parents had a small cottage that was not being used so I suggested we go there. Only one problem. The cottage had neighbors that did not recognize me or my car and thinking we were strangers they called Pat. By the time he arrived with a friend of his that was a police officer, no one was drunk but we were well into our second or third glass. Pat would not press charges, no one was arrested, and the cop told everybody to go home.
That next Monday this drama was all over school and each one of us got called into the office. When it was my turn the principle and the football coach asked me, “did you drink any beer at that party,”
I knew all the athletic coaches and they were good friends. I was a student leader in gym class, and I wanted to be a gym teacher someday. I even taught as a student teacher classes to the junior high school students. I was not going to lie to them. I said, “yes.”
Pat had a difficult time containing his anger when he found out I was the only student that got kicked off sports, including all after school activities for drinking at that party. It was all I could do to stop him from calling the school. There were members of the football, basketball, baseball, and wrestling teams there that night. If he told the school what he new this would have killed the sports at Greenville High School that year.
I did not want to have to face my friends if something like that happened. I was proud that I told the truth. Out of 27 athletes that were at the keg party I was the only one that told the truth. I took more harassment from students saying, “why did you tell the truth, why didn’t you just lie,” than I ever did for drinking some beer. After that some parents would not let their sons be around me at all, even though they knew their sons were at the party too. And the girl I was dating was told by her father that she could not see me again.
The worst thing about it all was when the football coach asked me to cut off my football letter on my varsity jacket. I remember the first day of freshmen football tryouts. After the first practice someone let me know that the varsity coach wanted to see me. I thought to myself, “Wow what could this be? Did I play so good that I can move up the varsity team?”
Well that was not what the varsity coach had in mind but this is what he told me. He said, “Ronnie I cannot let you play football with the other boys.” He went on to say, “If anyone of them falls over on you they will break you.” He continued, “I have an idea. How you like to be the only boy in your class to get a 4-year letter in football? But I can not let you play you are too small, but you are the right size for what I need.” The coach told me he would teach me how to take care of the players, and how to tape their ankles before each practice and game.
I loved it and I thought it was a great idea. I was more interested into picking up girls with a varsity jacket than getting hurt anyway. After I got my varsity jacket, I hardly ever took it off and I proudly displayed my varsity letter for each year in high school. Now, one of my favorite coaches was asking me to rip off my own letter.
I did not do it. I turned my back on every kind of sport. And I began to turn into the drunk they had accused me of being. It was my senior year and I had more than enough credits to graduate. One of the teachers told me, “we were told to just ignore you, graduation is soon and you’ll be gone,” and most of the staff had little to do with me. I am sure if the coaches knew how much their decisions to ostracize me pushed me away from doing good into the arms of sin, they would have acted different. I’d like to think they would.
This episode came back to haunt me later in life as an adult when I applied for a job. After I got the job, I found out that one of the boys in my old band had told my new employer that, “ah he’s just a drunk you don’t want to hire him.” Years later this was still affecting my reputation.
The art teacher at Hight School remained my friend and he tried to help me. He let me come into the art room during hours when there was no class. He allowed me the gift of creation. The teacher was a great artist and I loved to see him crank out drawings and water colors paintings. He believed in me and he told me so. He also told me to, “stop hanging around with the wrong kids that will just hold you back from becoming a better person.” He gave me great advice that time would prove, I should have taken.
One night after playing in the band I went to a party. I had already been drinking too much when someone I thought was my friend offered me a party pill. I took it and shortly after passed out from drinking too much alcohol. When I woke and tried gain my senses and I struggled with recognizing my surroundings. Not only did I struggle with knowing where I was at but, I did not know who I was. This was the beginning of a very bad LSD trip that someone I trusted had sent me on.
This was not fun or funny. As the experience progress I begin to hallucinate. They started out as little flashes of something out of the corner of my eye. Eventually I could hallucinate anything I thought of. I saw a 6-foot ice cream cone that felt so cold there was a mist coming off of it making me shiver. An army tank rolled across my room and the dust from it made me choke.
All too soon I could not even see my hands in front of my face. I was in real trouble. Then I remembered that day in the rain with my aunt. I had prayed that day that Jesus would give me a sign that HE was really there. I remembered how HE touched me and my life changed. I knew then that I had drifted far away from day and I now found myself in deep and dangerous waters. I was beginning to drown in self indulgence and I wanted to be saved.
As I was laying on my back I begin to pray, “Dear Jesus please save me, Dear Jesus please save me.” I just kept repeating over and over, “Dear Jesus please save me.” Sweat covered my body and I almost went into convulsions while I prayed, “Dear Jesus pleas save me.”
Then going from one second to the next, I was tripping, then I was total straight. My body fell back into the bed. I just laid there trying to comprehend what had happened to me in the past few hours. My first reaction was to tell the people that were there what had happened to me. I even took a walk on the frozen lake to witness to the friend that gave me the drug. He had not been born into a Christian family like I had. He did not know the Lord and he was not interested in my experiences. He rejected my witnessing to him.
I knew this boy when he became a man. I tried to witness to him through out our lives. I don’t know if he ever listened to my testimony, that was between him and the Lord. He died at a too early age from drugs and alcohol abuse. It saddens me to think I never reached him with any spiritual food he would accept.
I have always thought if I had been a better person myself, more perfect, then friends like him might have listened. I hoped by sharing my experiences with my friends they would seek out the Lord and desire to have a personal relationship with HIM like I did. Only the Lord knows if they did.
Pat had two things he looked forward each year. The second thing was, the Indy 500 race which he listened to each year on the radio. Television stations were not allowed to broadcast the race because they thought no one would attend if you could stay home and watch it. Pat told me he got to go see it live once with his uncle. The following year they were both in a car accident outside of Six Lakes. Pat spent a long time recovering with a pin in his leg and his uncle was killed. Pat would jump if I bumped his leg in the wrong place, but he never complained.
Hunting was the first and most important thing each year to Pat. He almost always got his buck on the first day of the season. He hunted with a rifle and later also with a bow when they became legal. Pat judged my charter by how I reacted to things he liked. I know I let him down because I did not like to hunt.
As small as I was, it was hard to keep warm out there in the cold. Pat was a man’s man, and I was little bit of a whimp in his eyes. I would ride with him when he went hunting, but I would stay at the farmhouse instead of going with him.
The Orstrander farm was a small one-story farm house with a Michigan basement. Their large red barn had a hay loft where I used to play with my cousins on Caroline’s side of the family. My uncle that lived there use to let me milk a cow and once and a while sit on their backs. They were always hot and sweaty, so they got my pants wet.
The Ostrander farm was where Pat came to go deer hunting. He built a little shack along a stump row fence so he could be out of the weather. One year my favorite uncle took me to a certain spot along the edge of a field. He told me to, “stand right there,” as he pointed to the ground he said, “don’t move, even when you hear other hunters leave at noon for lunch, don’t move. The deer will come right to you.” Then he showed me in which direction there was houses or roads, so I knew where it was safe to shoot.
My uncle was right I shot one a little before noon that day when other hunters got hungry and left the woods. As I walked over to tag my buck two men came out of the woods and tried to claim my kill. Both men had been drinking you could smell it around them. One man had a perfect circle about the size of a rifle scope cut deep into his forehead. He had surely taken a shot while holding his gun’s scope too close to his face. The blood was still dripping down his cheek into his beard.
I told them, “hey you guys this is my kill.”
The one with blood on his face took out a knife and started gutting out my deer. The other man said, “well there is two of us here and only one of you so, what you going to do about it.”
About that time my uncle came over walking through the woods from his deer blind because he had heard my shot. I told him, “these two guys are trying to take my deer.”
My uncle stood next to these two men and his size and weight changed the conversation in my favor. Then he said, “I don’t think so,” and he grabbed ahold of the deer’s antlers and said to me, “come on, I got your deer, let’s take him home.” We dragged the deer back to the car and did a field dressing away from any more company.
When we got back to the barn my uncle told the rest of the family quite a story. He told them, “Ronnie shot a deer and two guys tried to take it away from him. When I got there, he had beat one of them so bad he was bleeding, and he had the other one down on his knees gutting out his deer for him.” I don’t think anybody believed his story, but it sounded good to me. Then we hung up the deer in the barn and I still had enough time to get to my hunting spot before dark.
I shot the second deer that day as it was crossing the same field just before sunset. Then it was all I could do to just grab on the antlers of the second deer and throw my body backwards to drag the animal out of the field. The first dear was a six point and second deer was a seven point so I told people that I got a 13 point buck that day.
Before the next deer season began, my uncle went with me to exact spot where I stood the year before and built me a little shack. For the next several years I hunted standing in the same foot prints. And almost always I got my deer on the first day of hunting just before lunch time. I had a little heater that kept me from freezing and I used it to warm up hot dogs. I never was a happy hunter. The cold weather bothered me, and I did not like killing. But I did like filling the freezer with meat. But, being out in the woods close to the animals and wildlife was always a very exciting and rewarding time.
One time during deer hunting season when some of my older cousins must’ve shot an illegal deer. Because they had to dress it in the dark, in the barn, and they panicked when a car came in the driveway. Everybody got a big laugh out of it. The deer must have been killed by friendly fire.
Caroline and Pat did so much for me. They provided a good home. I never went hungry. I still have all my teeth today thanks to Caroline sending me to the dentist. But the most valuable thing they gave me was their time. And they stayed to gather until death separated them for six months, then they were together again with the Lord in heaven.
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