Crawling Through Purgatory: Memoirs
Background and Early Childhood
Davy Crocket famously boasted he was "half-horse, half-alligator, a little touched with snapping turtle." I was pupped to be a U.S. Marine, but somehow only turned out to be one-quarter marine, one-quarter Red Neck, and half television. All in all, the kind of person I like to call Modern. My parents tried to keep me from watching television, but it did no good. I watched The Monkees and Star Trek and The Smothers Brothers Show and I was lost to them.
My first memory is of being hit by Mother, or perhaps by Father. Or perhaps my first memory is of fear, because I already knew I was going to be hit. Perhaps there is no one incident that defines my first memory, for clearer memories—of doing something myself that resulted in being hit—come later.
I am told I was born at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, on February 2, 1955. According to my birth certificate I was the first child of my mother, Bessie Juanita Meyers, but from my earliest years I remember having a big brother not quite a year older than me. So perhaps the certificate is in error on that point, or on other points, or perhaps I was adopted, or Thomas James Meyers, my brother, was adopted. I am not very interested in researching that issue.
Camp Lejeune is a United States Marine Corps base. My father was an officer in the Marines. My mother was a housewife, but she had been a Marine during World War II, which is when she met my father. They were both stationed in Hawaii. They did not get married until the war was over. Then they got married twice. First in a civil ceremony in Valejo, California, then later in a church in San Francisco, after my mother had officially converted to the Roman Catholic faith of my father.
Mother was born and raised in Hunt County, Texas, near Greenville, now a suburb of Dallas. She was born Bessie Juanita McClendon on January 15, 1922. Her father may have owned a farm at some point, but while she grew up he was mostly a tenant farmer. The family story is that he lost the farm he owned in a poker game. They were pretty poor, but not really at the bottom, as her grandparents owned a farm and her father owned a Model T pickup that allowed him to sell vegetables in town. She dropped out of school at the age of 16 when she heard the local clothing factory was hiring. They had received a big order for military uniforms, as President Roosevelt was getting the country ready for war already in 1938. She worked for a while as a stock girl, but then got promoted to the secretarial pool. This was towards the end of the Great Depression.
Religion is important in my story, so it should be mentioned that, according to Mother, my grandfather and grandmother fought about religion. One was Baptist, the other Methodist; I don't know which was which. At the factory she had a Catholic boss who impressed her as being from a nicer class of people than her parents, who both were very anti-Catholic. Being anti-Catholic was a pretty common thing in Texas back then, as the Klan was anti-Catholic, and the Protestant sects were united in thinking the Pope was the Antichrist.
Mother would not say why she left her secretarial job to enlist in the Marine Corps. Of course Women Marines did not fight back then, they mostly did office work. After boot camp they shipped her off to Hawaii, to be a typist there. She was quite a beauty, by all accounts, and of the male Marines who spotted her, she chose my father to date. He was not an officer then, but he was already a sergeant.
Father was born in Chicago in 1918. In later life he went by Captain William Peter Godfrey Meyers, Jr., but his birth certificate says his full name was William Meyers and my grandfather's full name was Wm. Meyers, occupation chauffeur. He claimed his ancestry was German, descended from Hessian deserters during the Revolutionary War. His parents were Catholic. He graduated from high school during the Great Depression. He worked odd jobs for a couple of years, then enlisted in the Marine Corp. That was several years before Pearl Harbor. When the war broke out he served at Guadalcanal in the signal corp, where he contracted malaria and amoebic dysentery. Evacuated to Hawaii he started a long career of desk duty, and of course met Mother. Their first date, according to them, was going to Catholic Mass together.
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