MICHAEL LOUIS SCOTT
MAY 9, 1950
The first remembrance of my youth was killing a garter snake with a shovel in my parents's garden in Martinsville, Virginia. We would move on from there when I was four. there would be many more moves in my life to come.
I was born of mid-western parents in Alton, Illinois on May 9, 1950. My mother said she had gone to the movie that same evening, but she could never recall what was showing.
She had married my father four years before, and within a year had my oldest sister Janis. Three years would pass before I was born. My father was an organic chemist working for the Standard Oil Company in Wood River, Illinois. He had be born and raised in Champaign, Illinois the only son of a railroad engineer, Clarence Scott and a school teacher Elizabeth Gard Scott. Dad's mother was part of the French Huguenot community that had settled in down state Illinois. Grandad was of Scotch- Irish descent that seemed to go back for ever in this country. My father was a brilliant student graduating number one in his class from the University of Illinois and later on doing graduate work at the University of Ohio. His first wife was a wealthy heiress to the Household Finance Company from Chicago. After several years of turbulent marriage the had divorced with two children, one suffering from Down's syndrome.
My father Louis was to meet my mother Phyllis Boven, a nursing student of Dutch reform descent from Holland, Michigan and marry shortly after that meeting in the post World War II era. Mom's parents were of strict Dutch upbringing although her father a dry goods merchant had died earlier in the thirties, leaving his widow with five sons and tow daughters.
Holland, Michigan and Champaign, Illinois would remain the focal point of many childhood vacations, as the corporate world would gradually sweep the family further out of the region.
In 1955 we moved to Pensacola, Florida where Dad was involved in the Nylon operations of the Monsanto Corporation. By that time I had two younger sisters Patty and Peggy. Thus my mother was a full time house wife with four children and Dad was embarked on a career in the burgeoning chemical industry.
While in Pensacola we would experience a six inch snow fall which does happen in northern Florida and we would record for posterity the building of a snowman of home movies.
There would be two glorious summers of going to the beautiful white sandy beaches which are no longer so common along Florida's coasts. At age four, I once took off in a rowboat in the inlet across from our house and ended up fending off an alligator with an oar until I managed to return to land. I would always be somewhat cautious of the water after that.
Dad bought the family a new Buick Roadmaster, and after two years in Florida we would head north to Decatur, Alabama where he would manage another textile operation, this time making a synthetic called Acrilan in the middle of the old worn out cotton fields of the deep South.
In the early fifties, Decatur was a growing town with the Redstone Arsenal twenty miles to the North and new industry coming in with the lure of cheap power from the Tennessee Valley Authority. We were unable to buy a home, so we rented an old Victorian home in the center of town and waited until a new home could be built. My sisters and I pursued the game of hide and seek in the rambling old structure creating much havoc for my mother and our colored maid Wilda who would be in charge of us whenever our mother was out of the house.
We joined the Presbyterian church which was a refuge for Yankees amongst all of the southern Baptists. Decatur was in a alcohol free county, so the puritanical right was always on the lookout for high spirited Yankees. However, one was allowed to keep a bottle at the local country club, not that this really concerned myself or my sisters, although it was a constant topic of conversation amongst the adults who had urban exposure. Many years later we would find out that our maid's boy friend was one of the main bootleggers in the county and her meager salary was amply enhanced by his contributions.
In those days the South was tradition bound and ever skeptical of Yankee carpetbaggers. It did not help matters that my father was in the business of making Acrylic for carpets to be woven in the looms of the textile weavers through out the South. We were relatively prosperous and would be able to enjoy a comfortable life in the new Southern economy.
I was enrolled in kindergarten and would gradually pick up the Southern drawl of my peers while learning the rudiments of education. There would be several plays and pageants and a grand time was had by all.
After a year and a half we moved in the ranch style house in a new section of town with a couple of other newly completed houses and still a few of the old sharecroppers cabins with a stone's throw of our new house. However, a couple hundred yards up the road was a large playground surrounding an elementary school which had been recently completed and would be the focal point of the next six years of my education. Walter Jackson elementary school was typical of the fifties architecture brick buildings that sprang up through out the United States in that period. Uniformity was the rule of government construction and I would spend six years in the pea green classrooms until I grew to despise the color.
The family house on the other hand was a large contemporary four bedroom home of rough brick and redwood which we later painted beige. The first thing my father did was to plant twenty five pine trees in the front yard along with several oaks and to surround the back perimeter of the yard with Cherry Laurel shrubs. There was a flagstone entry way with a cherry paneled family room and contemporary living room creating the heart of the house with a large fireplace of redstone flanked by bookshelves, and a bedroom wing off to one end and the kitchen and garage off to the other. The house had wall to wall carpeting and central air conditioning through out which was a necessity of modern living in the new South.
The textile mill was on the other side of town through the colored area, and whenever we went to visit Dad at the factory we would see the poverty of the old South, a slow timeless evolution that had not changed since the Civil War. Both white and colored moved in a peaceful ritual of urban tranquility without much exposure to the outside world since television was still in its infancy.
Eisenhower was president and America was at peace, however, that did not make it easier on Yankee Republicans in the old democratic bible belt. From the first day at school I was a Yankee, and someone to shy away from.
Yet school would be only a minor part of the next six years. There would be numerous childhood adventures and family past times that would fill the days with vigorous energy and growth experiences.
Our neighborhood friends were the focal point of much activity. There were at least twenty youngsters within a quarter mile of each other riding back forth on the flat roads with their bicycles. Still there would be plenty of time for reading and reflection by oneself.
School days involved the rudiments of education with a dash of local history. At graduation in sixth grade I knew more about Alabama history than national history or the rest of the world for that matter. All six of my teachers in the elementary grades would be matronly woman who were totally dedicated to their profession. With so many years past it's hard to remember many of the exact details of that educational experience. However, I'm sure it was no different than any other average elementary education. I excelled in math and was average in English. I showed talent in art class winning first prize in the fourth grade for a crayon drawing of the Alabama state capitol, former headquarters of the Confederacy. I had a lazy tongue, so I spent several afternoons a week taking speech lessons learning to pronounce my R's and L's. I shied away from contact sports and spent most of my recess periods in conversation with a few of my peers. This would evolve into a lifelong loathing of baseball and football. The most violent exercise I pursued was kickball played on our neighbor's front yard and on the school playground which was just up the road. There was also a lot of hide and seek in the early evening hours after dinner. My sisters were prone to be tomboys, so we also pursued a number of crafts at home. The most vivid remembrance of these crafts were the production of pot holders on small looms with small cloth loops making many designs and patterns. There was a period of several years that I rode my bicycle a half mile away to feed two horses that belonged to the daughter of an associate of my father. The horses were unusually high spirited and I would spend the vast majority of the time chasing them around the pasture trying to get them into their stalls to eat. They were quite different from taking care of our Chihuahua, Togo, and parrakeet Tweety Pie.
Still, I would always love horses though I would never ride again after I left the South. In the summer my sisters and I would go out to the far side of town and ride the old slow horses at the stables through the endless trails in the Alabama pine forests never getting lost since the horses always knew their way home. Once I recall discovering a moonshine still, but I never was able to find it again. My father once took me out to the Wheeler Plantation to ride a thoroughbred that was satin black which proceeded to run away with me at a full gallop but never threw me. It was all quite exhilarating, but I was saddle sore for days afterwards.
I took up golf at age eight and spent many afternoons over the next four years perfecting my game. Playing golf taught me a love of walking and I would go out for long walks whenever I was not up for playing golf which was seldom. By age ten I was shooting in the nineties for eighteen holes. I spent many afternoons competing with my next door neighbor George on the links.
There was never many people on the course on weekdays. so we had most of it to ourselves, although we were not allowed to play on weekends. My sister Patty tried to take up the game, but she never pursued it with much success. Many long days were spent at the country club with my mother and sisters. When not playing golf there always afternoons at the pool although I never really learned how to swim. I would just dog paddle around in the shallow end, and hardly ever go off the diving board. I was somewhat skeptical of pools since the water was much deeper that the beaches of Florida, not to mention the chlorine always hurt my eyes. When I was six I spent about five minutes at the bottom of a pool sucking in water only to be rescued at the last minute by my mother. Ever since then the smell of chorine tended to make me ill, and I would prefer to keep my feet on solid ground or shallow water.
I would spend many afternoons walking down to the Tennessee river where there was a bird sanctuary about a mile from our house . There I would skim rocks on the water and watch the many birds that were in the sanctuary. I can recall many red wing black birds, king fishers, and orioles. The plague of the birds were the starlings that would show up in thick black clouds and frighten away all of the more gentile birds. I developed a strong affection for Robins and Cardinals, although I found the Blue Jays to be somewhat aggressive.
In the fall the sky would fill with thousands of Geese and ducks much to the thrill of local hunters which included my father and many of his friends. There were quite a large number of doves, although I never noticed any eagles or hawks which were probably out of my range of vision. I always had to dodge the cattle whenever I was in the bird sanctuary particularly the bulls, not to mention the myriad number of cow chips drying under the hot Alabama sun. The red clay was fertile and the grass was always shoulder high. I never noticed much in terms of wild animals, and I was more preoccupied with the frogs and tadpoles along the riverbank. I never ventured in the water of the river because we were always warned of water moccasins and rattle snakes, not to mention copperheads. I never particularly cared for reptiles, although I always keep a worried eye toward them whenever I'm in warmer climates. The main bane of frustration on the sanctuary was an old Coca Cola machine which never seemed to work particularly on the hottest days. Also the electrical barb wire was not fun to try and climb through whenever going in and out of the sanctuary. The cattle for the most part ignored us, but not the horseflies. I'm sure there were mosquitoes, but I must have had good karma.
Another place of adventure was the old stone quarry. It was a hundred feet deep with trees growing all around it. It was interspersed with several caves which we frequently explored, but we never found the skeleton of the confederate soldier that was supposedly lurking in there. There was an old rope swing one could swing on over the cliff, but it was cut down after one of the older boys got a concussion when he let go. The scariest part of the quarry was the pond filled full of water moccasins which we always steered clear of. On the far side of the quarry through the woods by the highway was a store where I use to buy candy with my grandfather's Indian head pennies which I found in my mother's closet. I never seemed to have any money of my own except a quarter for church on Sunday.
I had an intellectual mentor, Scott, who was always trying to tell me about sex, but I never was interested, although his parents had tried to explain it all to him when he was ten. They had lived in California and were more liberated. Although most of the older kids were quite wild in their early teens with drinking and wild record parties.
I joined the cub scouts when I was seven and would pursue its folklore until I was ten when I declined to join the boy scouts because all they did was run around camp fire in loin cloths. There were about a dozen boys in our scout pack, and we spent most of our time earning badges by basket weaving and carving figurines. We also learned to tie lariats and went on many field trips to the water purification plant, brick factory, and other points of civic pride. I generally declined to play baseball and would spend my time talking to the pack mother. I always did like the blue and yellow uniforms of the cub scouts and never particularly cared for the green uniforms of the boy scouts. The older boys were always too rowdy for me, roughing me up and calling me a sissy and a yankee. A lot of them were my older sister's friends who would spend all of their time listening to Elvis Presley records and other current rock and roll favorites.
Television was just in its infancy in the mid fifties and I can remember watching many hours of Zorro and developing a fond hatred of country western music which always seemed to on whenever nothing else was on. There were several children's shows with a cowboy master of ceremonies and clown. They said if you saved potato chip bags you could be on the show to try and win prizes in an auction. Needless to say the great potato chip bag collection campaign started. We collected chip bags from school, church, and my father's factory. One Saturday we packed up the station wagon and drove to Birmingham to be on television. I remember hauling in shopping bags of stale potato chip bags into the television studio to bid for prizes.
I don't really remember winning any thing, but at least my sisters and I got to be on television. Howdy Doody was a great Saturday morning favorite along with Mighty Mouse cartoons. Every weekday afternoon at four o'clock was spent with the Mickey Mouse club. The show would teach all of us youngsters how to imitate teenagers. M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E was here to stay. I never particularly cared for Anette, but Spin and Marty seemed to be having a good time. Jimmy Cricket was one of my favorite cartoons along with Uncle Scrooge and the nephews.
There was one scientific program on television sponsored by the company my father worked for called, " The Man and the Challenge," with rocket sleds and other scientific prototypes. My mother loved Ed Sullivan and Dad occasionally watched the news. In the late fifties one of our neighbors would get a color television and we would spend every Saturday night watching Bonanza over at the Goodwin's house.
My comic book collection was a great retreat into fantasy. I think I had every Superman and Superboy comic published in the late fifties, not to mention Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge. My sisters all liked Archie comic books.
We all read continually since television did not offer that many programs. I can remember reading the World Book Encyclopedia and The Encyclopedia Britannica some time between eight and ten years old. My older sister was always reading adult books which my parents gave her, and mother and dad always had at least a dozen books by their bed. I did enjoy "Hardy Boys" for lighter reading and my sisters were involved in the "Nancy Drew" mysteries. At age six I received my library card from the Carnegie library down town and would spend many hours of my childhood down town reading in it. Of course there was plenty of reading provided by our school and I was always enthralled by the Scientific text books since my father had majored in Science.
We would always enter the science fairs at schools with projects we had worked on. I remember doing one project with seed germination. My sister Jan once did a scientific project showing the chemical process of the textile plant with which she had help from my father. They later had to change it since it showed too much of their secret technology. We were always taught not to discuss my father's business.
I can remember once being in a hobby shop with my father when I was six years old and I wanted a camera. I was very disappointed when I put a piece of paper in it and tried to take a picture and nothing came out on it. I soon learned the process of photographic reproduction was somewhat more difficult than it initially appeared.
I spent many afternoons playing with my electric trains and always enjoyed crashing them together, although my mother was somewhat skeptical of the electrical transformer since it would give a mild shock whenever one disconnected the wires.
There were a number of fine old Southern homes of brick nearby and my friends and I would always pay visits to some of the older folks who lived close by. A few of my friends lived in the older houses and they were steeped in the traditions of becoming young southern belles and gentleman.
I remember going to a girl friend's party and one of the games was to remember as many items on a tray we were able to look at briefly, and then to write them down. I was terribly excited when I won.
Birthday parties were always a big event in the neighborhood. My birthday and my two youngest sisters fell within a month of each other, so we always celebrated them together. We usually invited over our fifty closest friends and would have a barbecue and picnic. My mother was always a great trooper at these events, and there were many home movies taken to document them.
One of my past times was watching the goldfish in the neighbor's goldfish pond. They were much larger than ones in my fish bowl at home. All of the classrooms at Walter Jackson had aquariums in the classroom, and it always seemed to be one of my jobs every couple of weeks to clean the aquarium. I recall the first time I used scouring powder and all the of the fish died. It use to be great fun in school counting the guppies as they multiplied.
Once the janitor of the school, an old negro man named Zanny took me fishing out by the river. We caught one small perch which his dog ran away with and almost chocked on. Zanny was always a source of much amusement to the kids as we would sit in the janitor's rooms listening to his gossip. To this day I can not recall what he use to talk about, but he was the first negro I ever talked with besides our maids. He was a pleasant distinguished cordial gentleman, however, all people in the south were that way for the most part. The teachers did not like us talking with Zanny, but when you're young you can get away with a lot.