I vaguely recall attending first grade at a Catholic school when I was six; we were living with my gramma and grampa in Cleveland. This was just before my dad disappeared — again. He drank and womanized a lot, and when I think back to those reeking steel mills where he worked with unrestricted, unfiltered coke ovens spewing out yellow-brown dust that covered the neighborhoods, how could I blame him?

After he left, Mom and I found ourselves back in Pennsylvania, broke, and living with Mom’s sisters and a million cousins. I didn’t like it; I was too much of a loner even at six years old.

I had attended the local public school but my mother made sure that I remained a devout Catholic by making me attend catechism three times a week and Mass on Wednesdays and Sundays. Maybe she relied on me to make up for her perceived jilting of Christ when she left her novitiate period as a nun to marry my dad. Ah, the temptations and the tests!

My mother worked at a local grocery store as a cashier, so we didn’t have much money, but since little kids don’t notice how much money they have, simple thing like a small box of Boston Baked Beans candy on Saturday nights listening to Sergeant Preston of the Yukon on the radio was all I needed to be happy. My favorite gift was from one of my uncles, a cheap rubber toy football that I played with every day in the alley next to where we were staying. Our address; ‘Rear 80 Barron Avenue’ depicted out plight perfectly — living in a back alley.

My escape from both my cousins and my religious indoctrinations were the ten-cent cowboy movies at the old Rialto Theatre in Johnstown where big skies and mountains filled the screen with plots as black and white as the cowboys’ hats and horses. The Glitzy Cowboys, like Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, weren’t for me; guitars and silver pistols didn’t belong out ‘thar’ where real men rode! I was drawn to the shy, but intense cowboys like Johnny Mack Brown and Bob Steele, and whenever the bad guys did their despicable things, I would become terribly upset. I just didn’t get it; how could the bad guys not understand that the world was good and that everybody in it was supposed to be trusting and truthful?

It wasn’t long before Dad showed up to rescue us, and with some money, he got from who-knows-where, bought a couple of acres on farmland just south of Cleveland. He would drive out to the property every day after his shift at the mill, with Mom and me tagging along, to build our little house by hand. There were only two houses on the mile-long road, so I was pretty much by myself. He knew that I was a loner, just like him, and the move really saved me. It was there that I learned to drive that old Chevy and pass my time doing all the neat things that kids out in the country do, like skinny-dipping in the creek, hunting, wandering the woods, sleeping in hay barns, and sled riding in the pastures.

Ed and I had a lot in common. My dad came from a small country town in Ohio and moved to Cleveland to work in the steel mills. I can’t remember much about my younger years but one of my sisters did say that she was made fun of at school because she wore the same clothes all the time.

Therefore, Ed and I had similar backgrounds; our Catholic experiences, report cards full of A’s, wearing glasses, playing the clarinet in junior high, and seemingly, some kind of spiritual genes that was the glue that kept us together.

With only a hundred or so kids in my graduating class, it was easy for a big kid like me to excel in sports, setting me up for a football scholarship at Furman University. Before heading to South Carolina, however, I took a moment to elope with my high school sweetheart. It wasn’t planned, just the result of her parents not wanting us to see each other because we were ‘too serious!’ So, she snuck out of her bedroom window at two in the morning and two rebels were on their way to tie the knot!

Four short years later, we found ourselves with two kids, pregnant with a third, and heading to San Francisco in a ‘57 Chevy station wagon with $400 dollars in our pockets.

Chapter 1 – Part 2: Stumbling Across Buddha; Our Amazing Journey (available on amazon)