I had a mommy and a daddy until I was about three years old, but I was never orphaned or abandoned.
For the first five years of my life, home was an apartment on the second floor of my grandparents’ house. The space had been bedrooms before my mother and her siblings grew up and married, but someone in the family had wondered aloud, “…why Evy never seems to find a man who’s working,” and my grandfather probably took steps to insure a roof would cover the newlyweds.
Memories of those first five years are few but significant: watching our cat give birth to kittens under the baby grand piano; meeting my life-long friend Bekir, whose tall silhouette appeared against the bright late afternoon sun as he passed through the apartment door; quickly saddling my rocking horse at the beginning of a song on the radio, riding to the beat of the music, and unsaddling when a song ended – repeated with every song in the late afternoons; and listening to the early evening radio dramas with my father at our small, round, red-topped dinner table while my mother washed the dishes in the nearby kitchen. There were two shows I loved: Straight Arrow, and Red Ryder – although my memory of the Red Ryder comic books being read to me by my father is more clear than the radio broadcasts, probably because the images seen reinforced those memories.
Straight Arrow was the cowboy equivalent of the Superman we know today. To all who were acquainted with him, he was Steve Adams, a Comanche orphan who had been adopted and had inherited a ranch when his adoptive parents died. He was a struggling rancher, but whenever “bad guys” threatened anyone, Steve would slip away to a secret cave, don war-paint, his indian breaches and feathers, and emerge as Straight Arrow, galloping on Fury, a mighty palomino horse, shouting, “Ken-ee-wah, Fury!”, righting the wrongs and capturing the bad guys. He would then almost magically disappear, leaving the grateful townsfolk to remark, “It was that masked injun!” Only one of them knew – and kept – the truth, an old prospector and friend of Steve’s named Packy McCloud.
Red Ryder was also a cowboy on a mighty steed who righted the wrongs of the old west. He lived with an older woman, his Auntie Duchess, and had a young “injun” sidekick named Little Beaver.
Those cowboy and indian stories never ended. When the radio was turned off, I became Straight Arrow or Red Ryder, and as an only child, my evening playmates were my parents… who became Packy McCloud and Auntie Duchess, and so by age four, I had lost my Mommy and Daddy – replaced by a kindly aunt and an old prospector.
So it would be until the day each died, although over time the names shortened to Duch and Pack. It was all I ever called them. It was easier for my foster sisters too, because as lacking as those men and women might have been as parents, each of my sisters already had a Mommy and a perhaps a Daddy or two.
Being politically correct hadn’t been heard of in the late 1940s, but if it had, I probably wouldn’t have these wonderful memories. And far from being orphaned, I was blessed.