As a child I grew up poor along with my mom, dad, brother and sister. We didn’t have much and it would be disingenuous to say we at least had each other. I suppose that’s technically true, but I’m not sure how much value there was in having each other - since all that meant was that we shared the same roof.
My mother Bertha was born August 28, 1926. She was 15 years younger than her next youngest sibling. She was, for lack of a better word, an accident. In those days, accidents happened and they didn’t get unhappened, if you know what I mean. Thus, she was mostly raised as an only-child. My father (November 23, 1923) was an only-child and he was adopted. Neither of my parents grew up with brothers or sisters. Both lived in an abnormal and somewhat isolated environment for people of their era.
Me at age four.
The two began communicating while my dad was stationed in the Pacific during World War II. When he came home, they married. That was June 3, 1946. My sister (Barbie) was born in 1951, followed by myself on August 15, 1953 and my brother (Mike) in 1955. Each of us were born two years and two months apart.
In the 1950’s, almost everyone came from a “normal” family environment – meaning two parents and several siblings. However, my mom and dad were both from an unusual environment – one where they didn’t experience the typical “family” atmosphere.
Consequently, when they had three children, they simply didn’t know how to impart the “family” mindset because they hadn’t grown up with it. Even so, it’s possible we were relatively typical – at least until I was 11. I frankly can’t remember that far back. In the summer of my 12th birthday, we moved from a neighborhood in Topeka, Kansas – a neighborhood of hundreds of baby boomers and just a block from the grade school - to a house in western Kansas that wasn’t even in a town, but rather nine miles from a small oil spot on Highway 56 called Pawnee Rock where we went to school.
It was culture shock on the highest order. For a young boy just beginning puberty, it was extremely difficult. Before we moved, I could have barely told you the difference between a horse and a cow. Instead of kids my age next door and two doors down and three doors down as far as the eye could see, I had my brother, my sister and sound of moos.
Barbie turned 14 just after we moved and began getting to know kids in the small town where we would be going to school that fall. Girls mature sooner anyway. Add 2+ years of age and the fact that the guys liked her… and you can see I wasn’t able to identify with her situation. Not only that, she was learning to drive. Instead I was stuck in the sticks with my younger brother.
My parents both worked. Even worse, my mom worked nights. So, we simply didn’t have a normal family time together. Despite my mom working multiple jobs and my dad working, we were always poor. I used to quip that my two favorite toys when growing up were a stick and a rock. And, I would get one sock for my birthday in August and the matching sock for Christmas. We lived in an old farm house and the floor in my bedroom was so sloped that I raced checkers from one end of the room to the other... and kept stats on it!
Due to the environment, I quickly learned how to entertain myself and it eventually culminated in me being extremely self-focused as well as self-sufficient. There was only one thing to do every day – satisfy whatever curiosity I had. In some respects, that became an obsession.
I’ve always been very mathematically inclined. I love statistics and have spent my whole life dealing with them in one way or the other – if not for my vocation, than for my hobby. I spent thousands of hours as a teenager making up pretend baseball, football and basketball leagues, drawing plays from cut-out pieces of paper in a shoe box and keeping stats for make-believe players and teams.
Even as I got older, I always took the bus home and so I really never spent a lot of time with the kids in town. I can’t say I cared. They were a bunch of hicks as far as I was concerned, but then I’m not sure I even knew what a hick was – just that whatever Martin Manley was… he wasn’t one of them! Of course, I'm sure from their perspective, they were just as happy not to be one of me.
I kept stats for the basketball and football teams at Pawnee Rock high school during my freshman-junior years. I remember being fascinated with our teams and my whole world revolved around how good they were.
During my freshman year, the football team went 7-0 in eight-man football. Every win was by a margin of 40 or more points. There were no high school football playoffs in those days. They came a few years later. But, according to some high school poll somewhere, Pawnee Rock ended the season ranked #2 in the state behind a team that hadn’t lost in six years.
That same year, the basketball team was also good, but had lost three times during the season. In the regional finals, Pawnee Rock was behind by 15 points early in the second half – a seemingly insurmountable deficit. However, the team won on a last second shot to go to the state tournament. In the first game at state, Pawnee Rock trailed 21-2 at the end of the first quarter. Early in the second quarter the team was behind 25-2... Oh, the humanity! By halftime, we had cut the deficit to 11. By the end of the third quarter, the deficit was eight. Pawnee Rock eventually took the game to overtime and won! The fact that PR lost the semifinal and third-place games meant very little. If I hadn’t been hooked on sports and sports statistics before my freshman year of high school, I certainly was by then.
From the time we moved to western Kansas, we attended a small church in Pawnee Rock. The reason was because one of my father’s co-workers in Great Bend was a part-time pastor at the church. My dad was a social worker for the county as was the pastor of this church. His son is Charles and we became life-long friends - a friendship which existed to the day I died.
I went to 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th grades in Pawnee Rock – a town of about 450 people. My senior year, I transferred to Great Bend (18,000). Instead of being bussed nine miles to school and back, I drove my own car 13 miles.
As a senior at Great Bend, I was able to exist in the background without too much trouble. The downside is that I knew almost no one. There were a few others that had transferred from Pawnee Rock to Great Bend during those years and I knew a few of them. But, again, I really didn’t have a group of friends that I felt comfortable with.
I was in the Madrical-Pops Choir my senior year at Great Bend. I was always a pretty good singer and was selected to represent Great Bend in Wichita as a member of the Kansas (KMEA) State Choir. We spent a few days in Wichita and ended it with a concert which was recorded. I couldn’t afford to buy a copy of the record and we didn’t get them free, so I never had a chance to listen to it. But, the experience at the time was big stuff.
I was always a fish out of water in western Kansas even if I didn’t fully understand it. I knew the day I left to go to college I would never be back to the sticks except to visit. I had nothing but scorn for those six years, but I also fully realized that it made me the person I had become – extremely individualistic – and one who really didn’t need anyone else. Whether that’s good or bad is a function of how you look at it.
And, looking at it from the perspective of committing suicide at age 60, my independent nature is probably why I found myself in this position in the first place. Perhaps if I had continued to be raised in a neighborhood with hundreds of other kids in Topeka, maybe my development would have been different. I don’t blame my parents. I'm not sure I fit in all that well even when I was in Topeka. Presumably, it’s all about genetic wiring. Barbie, and to a slightly lesser degree Mike, adapted much better than I did in western Kansas.
When I was a senior at Great Bend, I met with a math counselor who was visiting from Kansas State. He asked me specifically what I wanted to do. I told him I wanted to keep track of statistics – “You know, like football and basketball stats.” He shook his head and said “If that’s all you want to do, you might as well major in English!”
I never forgot that comment because I always considered – at least beyond high school. He tried to get me to consider advanced mathematics or physics or engineering. I told him I only wanted to do one thing. As it turns out, I took my share of math courses and quickly learned that computers were at least as interesting. Even so, no matter what else I learned about and liked, nothing ever compared to “keeping stats”.
I spent most of my adult life in small business. However, every opportunity I had to employ statistical data, I did. Of course, back then it was before the kind of internet and computer tools we have nowadays. With the tools available by 2013, I was capable of spending 16 hours a day on statistical research, writing and analysis – and often did.