Its been a long time since my last blog and this one continues my walk through my younger days.

I think my whole family was ready to leave Clarksville, so when we got the word from Dad we were moving to New Jersey – Dad was seeking a Masters in Theology from Princeton – I was ready …. as I could be. Ready and prepared are two different things. I was ready, but not prepared.

I was a Southern boy through and through and my accent was deep and my drawl was long, and I was headed into a world of fast talkers and u’s guys. The long journey by car was great and excitement was running high in the car as we endured, with varying degrees of pleasure, 1100 miles….I think. Anyway, it was way far away…from the South.

Highstown was a picturesque small township located about 12 miles from Princeton and Trenton. Its downtown areas were void by law of cars, and in the center of town was a lake that had a stone arch bridge that connected commerce to nature. Bicycles and people walking with ice skates over their shoulders and toting book backpacks was the school season norm. The public library sat on the nature side of Hightstown’s lake and kids and adults would ice skate on the frozen waters till after dark, in the light of the moon. The quaint lighting and no cars made this the most beautiful place you could imagine. The water rushing under the arch bridge made a good size creek that divided Hightstown, as I would find out one day walking home from school – the 6th grade.

We moved into a brand new split level house and it was the biggest house we ever lived in. It looked just like the one next door and on down the dead end street, but it was cool, I thought. This was a brand new subdivision that was backed by a dairy farm that went as far as I could see from my back yard. Way down at the end of the dairy farm was a Christmas tree farm…a cool, but spooky place, where I played…..sometimes. Praying Mantis ruled the Christmas tree farm and they made the place ….spooky.

We all got “our room” assignments and we marveled over having our own rooms, some up the stairs and some down the stairs. Down stairs was basement like and had some bedrooms and a large family room where Momma kept a jigsaw puzzle table set up, I had a wood board game like pool, LuAnne had her stereo, and bedroom. A couch and TV setup made this the spot we all hung out. My bedroom was up stairs with Judie’s across the hall. The kitchen was up stairs and as you entered our front door, you had to go up or down to get anywhere. The Split Level that was yellow.

It didn’t take long for me and Judie to see we didn’t fit in. Just didn’t and couldn’t. Luckily, I had sports to somewhat integrate me into the Yankee culture, but ice skating quickly threw me back out of it. A sixth grade boy that could not skate was left out 7 months out of a year.

I played Pop Warner Football but had to use my own helmet to get on the team. We played 10 games and it was great and Momma took me and was able to watch sometimes. Pop Warner League was cool because players and teams were divided into weight groups, not age groups. I was no longer smaller than everybody on my team,…… by much. Dad came 2 practice and he would volunteer me into a position and I played and Mom took me 2 the games when she could and watched and worried and laughed.

Daddy preached on Sunday at a little church (Presbyterian or Episcopal) in a nearby township that had 12 pews…so I went with him on Sundays when we didn’t have a Pop Warner League game.

The little church was like a post card from the past…just like a picture of a small chapel with a steeple and cross. Maybe 6-12 people made up the congregation and they were old. This was a very long day for Jayboy and I generally considered it a wasted Sunday in the quest to have fun cause I had be the good little preachers boy when I was with Dad. I hardly ever made it through a day without a Daddy adjustment.

My first day at school was a clear indication this was going to be a living hell. I sported a green shirt with yellow polka dots and when I got in the line for the 6th grade, I was told by the kids I was too little to be in the 6th grade line and I got to go to the principal’s office on day 1, after proving I was not too little to be in the sixth grade line. I got in trouble immediately and that entire 1st week was one person or another, cornering me and challenging me and my character. The playground allowed groups of kids to surround me and do their thing of teasing and testing.

One such group was black and lead by Randall. Day five I was back in the principal’s office after fighting Randall, who thought I still had slaves back home. He wore wingtip shoes and was later one of my earned friends. But day 5 he got his eye blacked in class while the teacher was out in the hall. After that day, I had only one more bully to deal with but I still had to walk home and it was a long way and Randall’s crew always found me and tried to scare me and more times than not I was scared sick walking home. So I would try to find new ways home and one was crossing the town creek by walking on a black pipe that spanned the creek some twenty feet in the air and 50 – 60 feet long. I learned to walk across that pipe, without looking down or back…just forward thinking and looking. But most nights I begged not to have 2 go to school the next day to no avail, my Daddy telling me 2 man up and Momma giving me a “It will be alright hug” and I took a job as a crosswalk guard that allowed me to stay at school longer than the guys waiting on me…..and I walked that pipe.

Poor Judie had it worse than me in a different way. Her teachers would punish her for not speaking “right” and one day she was made sit under the teacher’s desk as punishment and was ultimately forgotten about at school closing time and was left in the school. Momma had a fit and recovered her daughter and left the folks at the school with a Momma gritted teeth speech on how to treat a child. I spent a lot of time with Judie because I was all she had in New Jersey.

Marbles were the playground game and I got good at it. A large circle is scratched out in the dirt and 5 to 10 people would put marbles in the center, usually 3 or 4 per person. Another line was scratched in the dirt some 10 to 12 feet from the circle, and standing behind that line each player would “lag” a marble trying to be the closest marble to the circle without being inside the circle with your “lagze” (a big marble). The closest to the edge got to shoot first from the spot your lagze stopped.

The object was to shoot at the marbles in the center, with your shooting marble (usually a steelzy); making your marble knock a marble out of the circle. You could continue to shoot as long as you knocked a marble out of the ring with your shooting marble. “English” was necessary to keep your shooting marble in the center after hitting a marble out. On a good day I would bring home 30 or 40 marbles. So my Dad asked at supper one night where I got all those marbles. I explained marbles to Dad and he called it gambling and told me I couldn’t play anymore and I was to return the marbles I had won up to that point. I never quit nor returned the marbles and I never enjoyed walking home and seldom enjoyed New Jersey. Baseball season was ok, snow was fun at first but we got 6 feet in 1967 and it was so deep Judie had to be rescued…she got stuck in the snow and I couldn’t get her out so I got help.

The best thing about our year in New Jersey was going to New York, New York and watching Mickey Mantle and White Ford and Joe Pepitone and the Yankees play the White Soxs in old Yankee Stadium. We saw sights, including the Empire State Building, Bunker Hill, Philadelphia and Boston and Paul Revere’s house, Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower and Princeton Campus and Harvard vs Princeton in Ivy League Football. The college football games were the first place I ever heard “cussing” yelled in public and I was amazed that was allowed. I went to Atlantic City’s Boardwalk and saw The Turtles in concert too, as a reward for being a crossing guard at school.

It was in Hightstown that Daddy bought me my Joe Torre signature catcher’s mitt. I used this mitt throughout my baseball days. I broke it in just right and I don’t remember when I got a fielder’s glove but I guess I had one.

LuAnne seemed to make it fine and had a boyfriend and friends. They came to our house for dance parties and Little Red Riding Hood by Sam the Sham and the Pharohs was a big hit and we had the record.

Me and Momma and Judie worked a lot of jigsaw puzzles and we got close in the New Jersey Experiment. Bob Boras is the only name I remember besides Randall from New Jersey. Bob lived down the street and was nice to me and we did some exploring together in the woods with our BB guns and I learned to trap muskrats at a friend’s from Pop Warner football. I would go over to his house after a game when Momma couldn’t take me to the game or pick me up. I don’t remember his name but I will never forget setting and checking the traps.

I ate my first lasagna and drank my first powdered milk in “stranger’s houses” that were my “friends”. The Yankee way was no way for Jay and I was so happy to “go back home”.

And that home was the South and the town was called Milan Tennessee….Bullet Town in Bulldog Country. These next years would be some of the best and worst of my life. Daddy got his Masters from Princeton and we got the hell outta there… was definitely enemy territory and we were the enemy. And it taught me “what don’t kill you better run fast as hell”, cause Jayboy will fight till the “gorilla” gets tired, even though I was tired of fighting that “gorilla”.

I guess I am a better person because of my time “served” in Jersey, but it wasn’t worth it to me. And in truth, my time in Jersey saved my own family from moving to Chicago in 1985. I could not bare to put my kids through it and my wife wouldn’t allow it. They will never know what they missed, because you never know what you missed-because you missed it.

I know this, I know the joy of leaving a war zone, enemy territory, and I know the joy of “going home” anywhere in the South…and this time it would be Milan, TN that I would call home. Only having survived my time in enemy territory, seemed like a battle won in a war they would not let die….Yankees hated Southerners in 1967 and thought we still owned slaves. They ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed or they would move to the South and become damn Yankees…Yankees that visit the South and won’t leave. I am glad they are overall not to smart or Tennessee would look like FLA…full of Yankees….just sayin’….. in Dixieland I’ll make my stand and live and die in DIXIE….with a piece of fried chicken in my hand and no worries on my mind….Southern Style.

What did I learn in New Jersey? A lot! But mostly I learned where home was! I am a southern boy and thats where my heart is….so thats where my home is….where ever I may sleep.