Chapter 16 – Back to Missouri (1966)

I have never liked the saying, “What goes around, comes around”, probably because it does. We were headed back to Doe Run, Missouri. The family station wagon was loaded to capacity with Dad, Mom, Becky and baby David. Dan, Debbie and I took up the rear in the family’s second car, a little red Chevrolet Corvair. With me at the wheel, the three of us spent most of the journey working on three part harmonies to old Negro Spirituals. Near Cairo, Dad had to slow down unexpectedly – I was so engrossed in “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” we came within an inch of ramming into the back of the station wagon. Coincidently, the Chevrolet Corvair was featured in Ralph Nader’s expose, “Unsafe at Any Speed”. You cannot blame the maligned Corvair for that near-miss.

Dad’s new assignment at Scott Air Force Base in central Illinois was around 100 miles from Doe Run. We stayed with Ma and Archie while Dad and Mom worked out the logistics of our future home. It goes without saying that our family of seven was going to test the limits of the single bedroom farmhouse.

A combined need to get us out of the house, and an exercise in character building mandated Dan and I go out and look for a job. Full of youthful enthusiasm, we scoured the job market in the nearby town of Farmington. For the first couple of days we filled in application forms for positions in every five and dime, restaurant, gas station and emporium in town. I don’t know how much character got built but it wasn’t long before we were fully familiar with word “rejection”. I am (almost) ashamed to admit it, but from the third day we just pretended to seek employment. After all, we were young, we had our health… what did we want with a job?

The streets may not have been paved with gold regarding jobs, but the town of Farmington held significant importance for our family of travelling gypsies. The maternal side of our family settled the area in 1798. In 1822 they donated 52 acres of land for the installation of the county seat. Even though we had been constantly on the move as a family, we not only had roots, we had a strong bond to St. Francois County.

An exhaustive search around Scott Air Force Base did not result in Dad and Mom finding a suitable rental home. With the school year approaching and four school age kids climbing the walls of the tiny farmhouse, Dad made an executive decision. Property prices were relatively low in Southeast Missouri and Dad was looking forward to retiring from the Air Force sometime in the not too distant future. Why not buy a house in Farmington?

Spurred on by an ever increasing need to house our tribe, Mom and Dad found and subsequently bought an old (circa 1900) four bedroom house on a tree lined corner lot. The lot was on the former site of the fairgrounds.

A major down-side was that Dad was faced with a 120 mile (each way) commute to work. Ultimately, Dad opted to live during the week in B.O.Q. (Bachelor Officer’s Quarters) and travel home on weekends. As I have previously noted in this account, family separations were not acceptable to my father. I don’t know if any of us kids ever fully appreciated the sacrifice Dad and Mom endured for our sake.

The old house offered plenty of opportunities to develop. Over the years, Dad and Mom transformed what came to be known as, “Fairground on Kinzer” into a showpiece and a warm nurturing family home.

I quickly fell into the routine of being a high school senior at FHS. By now, going to yet another new school was second nature to me. My course load was relatively light thanks to the fact that I was awarded an extra year to complete my high school studies. Moving from state to state, country to country and school to school dictated that according to the algorithms involved in calculating high school credits, I needed a few more to qualify for a high school diploma.

Just when I started to feel like I was living on easy street I got a telephone call…

“I’m the restaurant manager of the Holiday Inn out on Highway 67. Our dishwasher just walked out and we have an urgent situation. Thank goodness I found your application form!”

Like a dead rattlesnake, an exercise in character building came back to bite me.

At 06:00 the next morning I reported for work. My scheduled hours were 6:00am to 2:00pm on weekends and 3.00pm to 10pm during the week. On school days I went straight from school to work. I was off on Tuesdays. The pay was 65 cents per hour. This was before official minimum wage but I can vouch that when you work for 65 cents an hour, the clock slows down to a crawl.

Dish washing was the easiest part of the job. All I had to do was take the dirty dishes off a cart, spray them off, run them through the dishwashing machine and stack them on another cart. That left me plenty of time to mop floors, drain and refill the oil in the deep fryers and the job I hated most… clean the accumulated grease out of the overhead exhaust filters. Thank goodness I only had to clean the exhaust filters once a week.

The interesting part was observing behind the scenes activity involved in preparing restaurant food. When the manager noticed that I took an interest in the operation he was quick to teach me how to prepare each day’s giant bowl of mixed salad and my favourite – how to cut whole chickens into quarters!

Another thing I learned was that when you work with people you see “the good, the bad and the ugly”. The cooks were mostly kindly elderly women (the good). I learned a lot from them about how to prepare appetizing food. But, there was one crotchety old girl (the bad) who got a big laugh when she tricked me into throwing a double handful of battered chicken into the deep fryer. When I dropped the chicken pieces into the bubbling hot oil, it splashed back on my hands and up my arms. To round things out there was a pretty cocktail waitress who asked me to do her a favour and run the glasses from the cocktail lounge through the restaurant’s dishwashing machine. The restaurant and bar were completely separate operations but how could a chivalrous guy like me refuse a pretty girl? When I returned the sparkling clean glasses to the waitress she wanted to reward my effort with a tip. Gallantly, I refused her kind offer and she got so upset that she threw a handful of change at me and stormed off (the ugly).

Weeks turned into months. Finally, one Sunday morning I came to the realization that having no life outside work and school was not worth 65 cents an hour. Worst of all, I was left with no time for music. I tendered my resignation, hung up my paper hat, apron and waved goodbye to the Holiday Inn.

Eager to exercise my new found freedom, I decided to enter a school talent contest. The other contestants were all members of various formal school organizations like the Glee Club, Acapella Choir and the Farmington High School Orchestra.

The other acts performed their numbers with admirable skill. I was the only “unaffiliated” artist and the last person to perform. Dressed in a black suit complete with thin black tie and Beatle boots, I walked to the center of the stage and plugged my Silvertone guitar into the amplifier. I played the Spanish classic, Malaguena. The haunting melody echoed off the walls of the auditorium. When I finished playing the audience was deathly silent for several seconds then broke into thunderous applause. The duration and volume of their applause was several times more than they had bestowed on all of the other performers combined.

When the results were announced I was not on the list of winners. After the event, the teacher who organized the contest told me in an around about way that school politics gave priority votes to the school’s “affiliated” performers. That did not bother me in the slightest. I knew, and everyone else knew that I could move an audience with music.

One of the audience members was my brother. Dan was quick to suggest that we once again start a band. Here we go again one more time!

TOC | Next Chapter