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Len Hawkins

Growing up in Reno

Growing up in Reno


It is six days before Christmas, 2013, and I have just received a phone call from my best friend of, let's see, the last 60 years telling me that his childhood sweetheart, wife and mother of his eight children was just killed in a head-on car crash! She was my special friend, also, and is the second special person I know in the last month who was killed in a head-on car crash; both victims of careless, distracted drivers. I have practiced a kind of defensive callousness toward death for most of my life, beginning with the death of my father when I was nine. But this news is different; I am shaken, I am devastated. I don’t know what to say; I stammer a few condolences and then we hang up. I hesitated beginning this Reno High 55th reunion “blog” (as Al calls it) on such a non-happy note but decided that this experience kind of frames my experiences growing up in Reno.

I wasn’t born in Reno.

My mom moved our family to Reno in 1956, a short time after my dad died. We were living in Herlong, California, about 60 miles away, and I was regaining some semblance of emotional balance after finally accepting that my dad wasn’t coming back from the hospital. My mom didn’t tell me we were moving; she sent me off to Boys Scout camp for a week. When I returned, a family friend was supposed to meet me, inform me of our move and have me stay with him until the next day, when mom was coming back to get me. Well, times got mixed up or directions were unclear or … Anyway, our friend didn’t meet the bus. I got a lift to what I thought was still my house, unloaded my stuff and waved good bye to my ride. I walked up to the front door. It was locked. I knocked, called out, and looked in the front window. The house was empty! I mean really empty; no toys, no curtains, no furniture! Oh, crap, I’ve been abandoned! I didn’t think I had been THAT incorrigible. Well, it all turned out ok; our friend came to the house, found me sitting on the front steps, apologized for not picking me up and saving me from the shock of the move. The next day my mom came to get me, and we began our life in Reno.

When junior high wasn’t really junior high.

With a month or so of the remaining summer to adjust, I started school at BD Billinghurst Junior High School. Except, it wasn’t really a junior high school; it was a “transitional” school that was, year-by-year dropping the lower grade and adding the upper grade until it would become a true, 7th through 9th junior high. Whoever concocted this brilliant schema had never been the bottom class for three years in a row! I came into the middle of this situation, in 6th grade, so I only had to endure two years of being the dog class.