Chapter 5 – Syracuse, New York (1960-1963)

Up front, I will say that of anywhere we ever lived, our time in Syracuse was a low time for me.

Dad and Mom bought a house in suburban North Syracuse. For travelling gypsy folk, this was a dream come true. Years of living in temporary homes can make people long for roots. Roots can give you security, they can also hold you down.

Suddenly, I was thrown into a civilian culture and school system with kids who were grounded in their own rituals and values. To make matters worse, the Russians launched Sputnik and deployed missiles in Cuba. To counter the science and defence gap, schools were encouraged to accelerate learning and required a minimum of two hours of homework each night. Dan, rightly, was singled out for his superior intelligence and enrolled in Russian language lessons. They put me in a creative writing class.

One significant event did take place. Barry Maniwitz, one of my few school friends, had an electric guitar. He could only tune in a major chord, but just by laying one finger across the strings, a full guitar “twangshendo” would flow out of his amplifier. Barry wrote songs too. He said that sometimes the melodies were so beautiful it made him cry.

I had always associated guitars with cowboys and freedom of the open range. Then it hit me… if only Audie Murphy had a guitar!

The next thing I remember, Dad had orders to go to Pakistan. But, not before my grandmother “Ma” (Mom’s mother) bought me a guitar. The body was black and flowed into a gold sunburst pattern around the sound hole. Thankfully, it included a “Learn to play guitar” book which taught me how to tune correctly, along with some basic songs and chords (I still have the book).

Dad went to Pakistan several months before the rest of the family.

I had managed to get an “F” in algebra during my last school year in Syracuse. I was supremely embarrassed over the prospect of facing disapproval from my father. My Dad was an achiever. He had to overcome obstacles that no kid should ever have to experience. Anticipating his disapproval for me failing algebra was the most difficult problem I had ever faced. Instead of looking forward to seeing Dad again in Pakistan, I was overwhelmed with dread.

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