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THE EARLY YEARS

I was running naked with the girl in hot pursuit. My short legs did not have a chance of out running her so I would have to rely on my ability to dodge and hide. If I lost this race I was going to be dunked in a galvanized tub of cold water. The water had been heated in a copper boiler to a comfortable temperature over a kerosene burner, but my brother Merlyn had lingered too long, and now I was faced with a cold bath. My mother, Opal, arrived on the scene and relieved the young girl of her duties. I marched right over and jumped in that cold water. Even at three years old, I knew better then to mess with my mom.

It was the dirty thirties and no place was dirtier than South Dakota with the dust storms blowing dirt into every crack, corner, and crevasse. The house was small but comfortable, and we had well water in the kitchen. The dreaded outdoor toilet was my greatest fear and, at the same time, the most fascinating thing on the property. The holes were too big for my little butt, the spiders looked like tarantulas, and even with help I knew I was going to fall down the hole. I think my potty training would have gone a lot smoother if they would have just let me poop behind that damn outhouse.

The next couple of years were spent getting dirty, avoiding the tub, and getting braver about the outhouse. My Grandma Karst was a short block away, my Grandma Shreck was only two blocks away, and I got to visit both of them quite often. My Grandma Karst had a chicken coop and in the coop lived a critter even scarier then an outhouse. This critter was a large rooster that hated me, and he pecked me every chance he got. I spent a lot of time thinking, "When I get big enough, I'm going to wring his neck and fry him for supper."

My brother Merlyn used to disappear during the day and go to a place called school. I was told I would get to do that some day, and I couldn't wait.

My mother's best friend lived a block away and she had a daughter named Janice. We became the youngest criminals in Miller, South Dakota. We opened the mail we found in someone's box and discovered a large bill which we quickly took to the candy store. The owner of the candy store was wise to us the minute he saw the denomination of the bill and ratted on us. Our embarrassed mothers came for us and took us to say our 'sorry's' to the mailbox owners.

When my dad, Joe, heard of this, he just looked at me and shook his head. Mom refrained from blistering my butt only because my friend Janice didn't get a spanking. Later in my young life I wasn't quite so fortunate in escaping Mom's brand of punishment.

2001 Maurice D. Karst