Chapter Cover Photo
Photo of Pre-teenage Bruce Whealton

This chapter is about childhood and kids.

I remember being very scared very early in life and being told that I had been a sensitive baby.  Some of this knowledge was told to me by my family in the stories that are told.  Most of my memories from when I was growing up are about living on 15 East Mountain Drive in Southington, CT.  We moved to that address from an address on Woodruff Street a couple of miles away.  My mother's parents were in their 70s and 80s and we had to move to a bigger house for them to move in with us.  The first house was a two-story house but I guess it wasn't big enough. 

My maternal grandmother stayed in a room downstairs because her legs were not that strong and she used a walker.  I remember being sad for Grandma because she seemed to be especially concerned about me and my happiness.  She had a mark on her leg that I always wished would get better.  It never did.  Grandpa couldn't see too well.  He had a room upstairs at the new house.  Grandpa used to call me Brucie and I would say "I'm Bruce" because it embarrassed me for some reason. 

Context is very important for my story, social context.  We lived on East Mountain Drive which was near a small mountain called Ragged Mountain, which was part of the Appalachian Trail.  To me, it was just the blue trail, because there were blue markings on the trees and rocks that we followed when we were hiking.  There were a few other trails with yellow or red markings but the blue trail was "the trail" for me and it was where I spent a lot of my time.  

Photo of Bruce and Carrie Whealton - sister and brother

My sister and I spent time in the woods near Woodruff Street also.  Carrie must have been about  4 years old and I was 7 when we went for a walk in the woods.  We came out of the woods a few yards up the road from our home when we were found.  It must have been scary but it turned out that we had not gone very far at all.  I am sure it was not the only time we spent time in those woods which to us must have been much more vast than they really were. 

My social life was first shaped outside the family at Flanders Elementary School in Southington.  I still remember the schoolyard.  Out front, there was a parking lot with a basketball area, a place to park your bikes and a place where we got on and off the buses.  At the back of the school, the yard was much, much bigger.  There were monkey bars, swings and a rocking horse on a spring on the left.  There was a big brick wall where we played dodge ball.  On the right, there was a baseball or kickball field and more fields behind that.  

I remember I had a friend named Leon Lamonte who lived in the neighborhood that was behind the fences at the back of the schoolyard.  A few of us hung out together at recess.  I remember Leon telling me that one of the male teachers was gay because of the way he moved his wrist.  I didn't have a good understanding of what that even meant.  I just knew I didn't want to be like that.  I had been picked on a bit in my first two years of school and I felt so ashamed about it.  I didn't want anyone to know it happened.  

In first grade, I would hide behind my desk instead of bringing the lunch money up to the teacher as if I could hide behind a desk and not be seen.  I don't know what I feared.  Maybe I just worried about being recognized as a wimp, a sissy or whatever - some target of scorn and disapproval from the social environment that defined my reality back then.  I wanted to be invisible.  In a way, I was invisible.  No one really pays that much attention to us, not as much as we imagine.  No one was beaten up as you see in the Stephen King stories.  Remember the movie "Stand By Me" - based on the story "The Body" - by Stephen King. They go looking for a dead body and the bully named "Ace" appears particularly menacing and cruel.  In retrospect, I think he would have violated one of the social rules of Southington, in that Ace was picking on kids that were so much younger than him.  He would be called a wimp for picking on kids so much younger - I think. 

I know that not all of my teachers understood how to deal with a very shy boy.  My parents did point that out and try to help me accomplish the goals they had for me early in life.  I was great in class.  Math class was the best.  We had a program where we would take a test and based on how well we did we either studied the material further or took the next test and moved onward to greater challenging material.  I know that I got a lot of praise for how far I went in math during elementary school, myself and a guy named Keith.  

I also had a new friend by 3rd grade.  His name was Paul Plourde and he moved into the neighborhood.  I was this skinny little boy but Paul seemed big to me.  He helped me come out of my shell so much.  We started doing everything together at school and after school.  You see in Southington, if you don't live in the same neighborhood, you don't see your classmates after school.  At least that was the case for where I was living.  We lived in a somewhat rural area with woods around the houses and each road ended on a dead end.  That was great for kickball because cars were hardly ever seen on the roads where we lived.       

I also had a friend named Frank during those elementary school years.  We used to compete around report card time, each trying to get bragging rights to the best grades on our report card.  I don't know who won - it was a different person at different times, no doubt.  I'm pretty sure we both got mostly all A's.  Frank lived in the neighborhood too, kinda.  He lived on Andrews Street with intersects with the streets that end in dead ends, like East Mountain Drive.  Andrew's street was busier with traffic.  Frank's younger brother died when we were both very young.  He had been riding his bike down a driveway and crossed onto Andrews street.  My mother told me that "a new angel was in heaven."  That was an important belief to have.

I saw my friend crying and was perplexed.  I didn't think that was allowed of boys.  It seemed to be a sign of bravery.  I envied him, not for losing a brother but for having the courage to feel and there was something else that made me feel envious.  I envied what it meant to cry.  It seems like a form of communication... to the world... to God?  What reason did I have to be unhappy or envious?

Something happened later with our friendship.  Frank stopped coming.  Wait, why was it his job to come to me?  It just felt like something happened between us.  Maybe it had to do with me being friends with Paul, but I have no idea what that would have to do with anything.  I just know that things became awkward to me.  After a certain time way back during those early years of life I stopped hearing from Frank and never received any form of direct communication from him since then.  Talk about awkward!   

It felt weird to me.  We lived in the same neighborhood yet I was avoiding him and I had no idea why.  I was scared... and only because I had no idea of what to say.  Maybe by avoiding him, I sent the message that I didn't want to have anything to do with him.  What I meant was that I don't know what to say or what is going on and I was too scared to say just those words.  Why?  I have no idea what would happen if I just said: "I'm confused and I'm sorry if you thought I blew you off."

At school, there were plenty of awkward and difficult experiences.  How to act around girls was a big issue for boys and probably likewise.  As an adult, I can relate better to women than men but back then, I had been trying to follow the rules required for survival.  At some point, you learn at school in the first few years, through 2nd or 3rd grade that girls are yucky and have cooties or whatever it is.  Later that would change radically, as in who has cooties.  When a girl in 3rd grade declared that she loved or liked me, I was so embarrassed and nervous about how to respond.  Potato chips were symbolically eaten to cleanse oneself from having been touched by a girl.  

After I was kissed in the classroom by Donna, I declared that I hate girls.  Obviously, a declaration like that would get a very different response if one is an adult.  Those changing rules are so important for making sense of reality and our place in it.  Mrs. Felt, our teacher, wasn't helping much by declaring that we make a cute couple.  I had not really thought that much about girls at that time.  I was just trying to follow the rules.  I know that by 5th and/or 6th grade I was interested in girls but I wasn't sure if it was okay for me to let that be known.  I know that sounds strange but the rules were changing and I was shy.  A shy person feels like he or she may not know the rules correctly and that others might use our mistakes against us.  

By junior high and high school I was regretting my rejection of Donna.  I mean that only in the context of being a teenager who is very shy.  If a pretty girl likes me then it is so much easier because then I won't get rejected.  I needed to do whatever is necessary to avoid social rejection.  I guess I still worry about that.  Anyway, throughout junior high and high school I never dated and I never went to any dances or anything.  I became more and more invisible again.  

I did reveal to Donna this insight sometime after we were both adults - the insight that I had thought of her as a pretty girl growing up and would have been lucky to have gone out with her.  At one point that became awkward because it might have seemed that I was still into her.  So, I found the courage to apologize a few years ago because I was afraid I had said something inappropriate to a married woman.  I had meant only to compliment Donna based on the past.  

I had other times to feel like a wimp or sissy also.  I remember trying to run a 100-yard dash or something like that in junior high and having my pants unbutton while running.  The obvious thing would have been to ask me to start over but the gym teacher just recorded my pathetic time with the period I spent buttoning my pants included.  

The most daring I got was to take up a dare by my friend Leon in the elementary schoolyard.  He dared me to run up and take the hat off Wes Clark.  I have no idea why I took that dare nor do I know how I reached up and got the hate.  I remember running off.  I guess I figured Wes was an okay guy and wouldn't really hurt me.  That might not sound like much to you but for me it was amazing and to this day I can't believe I did it  It is the only thing I did growing up that was truly brave.   

In the neighborhood, I did spend a great deal of time alone.  I loved to climb trees and we had this enormous evergreen tree behind our house.  I felt sure that snakes didn't climb trees so this was a perfect place for me to have fun.  I had a phobia of snakes.  Fear is a great motivator.  I had no fear of heights at all.  I felt free and wonderful when I would climb to the top of this very tall tree.  The tree trunk was about a foot in diameter at the base and near the top where I climbed it was only an inch or so in diameter.  I enjoyed the way it would swing in the wind.  It was relaxing.  I could see so much from up there and it was like hiding.  

Obviously there is a limit to how much time one wants to spend alone.  I just thought I would make it clear that the fact that reality is social doesn't mean that I am discounting the fact that our lives involve time spent alone.  I was a dreamer and a writer back then.  I kept a diary and I wrote stories and shared them with our neighbors and friends.  I had an active imagination and I liked to tell stories.  For example, we would imagine that this house across the woods was haunted.  When I say we, I mean my sister and me, my friends and neighbors.  I guess I wanted to believe.  When you are raised as a Christian, you want to believe that there is more than just our physical bodies.  Ghosts, spirits, angels and such are not necessarily limited to a place of fear and horror for us, but they point to a search for verification of the other world.  That's also why my cousin Teresa, my sister and I had seances.