[October 28, 2023] Our family moved to Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1966, when I was 14 and about to start the ninth grade. That city, one of my favorites in Texas, had a mixed history of hurricanes, high humidity, lots of birds, and little emphasis on schools. When we arrived, a tropical storm had done a lot of damage to the beaches. I’d never heard of tropical storms or hurricanes before, but I would soon gain an appreciation. Living in Texas was going to be an exciting experience, frightening to outsiders, and there was plenty of stereotyping of all Texans as Cowboys, bull riders, gun-loving, and reckless. But just average, as I was to get to know those tough Texans. I liked Texas! Fresh seafood, outdoor jobs, Tex-Mex food, guns-guns-guns (often in the gun rack inside a pickup truck), horses, boots and spurs, a Texan drawl and funny slang. As well as tornadoes, scorpions, tarantulas, horny toads, armadillos, fire ants, and lots of roaches. And sun, lots of sun and dust everywhere. This would be my last year of Junior High School before the big move to High School the following year.
My imagination often outran my technical skills. I was slightly interested in science, although I did not understand what it meant to “do” science. There was a Science Fair in my first year of Junior High, and my teacher asked us to participate. When Mr. MacGruger asked me what project I would enter, I blurted out “volcano,” the first thing that popped into my head. Constructing a volcano model with smoke and fire from the top would be cool and draw the judges’ attention. Yes, it drew their attention, just not how I hoped. My Mom helped me plan, get materials, and build it. We used plaster to form the volcano cone and a light bulb to make-believe flowing lava. At the science fair, shortly after setup, the 220-watt bulb was hot and started burning the interior volcano materials. Smoke, lots of smoke and then flames. I heard a girl scream and another yell, “Fire!” Things went downward from there. A teacher ran over and threw a bucket of water straight onto my model. Poof! Out went the gymnasium lights; they somehow short-circuited. And there was my volcano model, glowing a dark and eerie red in the dark. This was not how I imagined smoke and flames, but it drew everybody’s attention. I was given the nickname “Smokie Doug.” I got a C minus as a grade. I was relieved they didn’t kick me out of school.
When we moved out of Corpus Christi and to Abilene, Texas, in the late summer of 1967, an enormous hurricane slammed into Corpus Christi, nearly washing our old home into the creek that ran through our backyard. All of us kids loved that house, being close to the ocean beach. Living there was the first time we’d ever seen the ocean. My brother Philip and I spent lots of time in the salty water. We were goofing off, trying to attract the attention of the older girls; they sure looked good in those bikinis. The bikini had just gotten popular by the mid-1960s, and I liked them. Oh, I’d never gotten sunburned before, a real adventure. This was also the school year I improved my math skills. Kids in class hated arithmetic, so I liked it. Studying was frustrating. Memorizing math rules, formulas, and conventions was hard, and many pencils sacrificed their lives so I could learn about math. To this day, my most exciting science experiment was the fake volcano, and I earned a math award at the end of the school year. Then, onward to High School, where my interest in math and science grew, and my thoughts about the Army disappeared. Forgetting about the Army was a mistake I would later regret.
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