Turning Point

“Curtains to the curtains,” my four-year-old Larry condemned as he aimed his talcum powder ray-gun at the window draperies and pulled the trigger. The puff of talcum sprayed itself harmlessly onto the fabric.

That afternoon he had come home from nursery school and recited the entire poem, “Twas the Night before Christmas” at the dinner table, not missing a word. I was impressed.

During the coming holidays I sat with him on the couch and reviewed addition and subtraction with dried lima beans placed on the overstuffed arm rest. When I felt he really understood that arithmetic I started multiplication. “Pick up one bean one time. How many beans do you have? One times one is one. Now pick up one bean two times. How many are one times two?” I felt he really understood the concept and the vocabulary.

He started first grade when he was six, and in April of his first grade year I drove the four children from California to Minnesota. On the long stretches of highway he read the entire Wizard of Oz book aloud to entertain his three siblings.

Larry, age 12, at Disneyland
Larry, age 12, at Disneyland

Larry continuously amazed me until the day came I decided he was a genius. He came home from his first day of high school and told us he was assigned an algebra class. At the end of the class he went to the teacher and said, “I was looking through the text and already know everything in it.” The teacher answered, “You don’t belong in here if you already know the subject.” He gave Larry the UCLA math entrance exam which he passed with high marks. “So, Larry,” I asked, “where did you learn all that?” His answer: “One afternoon last summer I was bored, so I picked up your college algebra book from the shelf and read it through.”

That year he was sent to the Los Angeles County High School math contest, and came home with twelve “firsts.” The summer between his junior and senior year he was invited to a two-week session in Ojai, CA, to study astronomy. To top it off, he was awarded by General Motors a four-year scholarship to the university of his choice anywhere in the United States.

Larry, age 16, in Latin Club toga
Larry, age 16, in Latin Club toga

His pals in school were going to Cal Tech in Pasadena, and that is where his dad got his degrees. But I felt he didn’t need any more science, and after investigation recommended Reed College, a liberal arts school in Portland, Oregon.

The day came that his two parents and two stepparents took him down to the train station to see him off to Oregon.

We had brought signs to hold up to the windows after he got situated where we could see him and he could see us. The signs read, “STUDY HARD,” “WRITE OFTEN,” and “DON’T CHANGE.”


arry in college, letting his hair grow
Larry in college, letting his hair grow

That was in September. December 24th I picked him up from the airport. His curly hair was nearly down to his shoulders; his scruffy beard was about three inches; he was wearing a chamois shirt he had bought off of a Native American. It had full-length sleeves hung with foot-long fringe. It had never been washed. He had patched khaki pants and leather motorcycle boots.

After I greeted him I told him Bob and I were offering him a men’s suit as a Christmas gift, but perhaps he wouldn’t want it? He said yes, he really would appreciate it. I took him to a men’s clothing store on La Cienega Boulevard, and as we walked in—my heart in my throat because of his attire—the greeter didn’t blink or change countenance. He directed us to the rear of the store where suits were.

As we looked over the selection the salesman suggested he might want the new look with wider lapels, developed as part of the Beatle image. Larry said, “No, I’m really very conservative. I’ll take the narrow lapels.” The salesman did not blink.

Suffice it to say that the year was 1962, the beginning of the Hippy Era.


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