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  • The ink still dry on a master's degree in forestry from Utah State University, and his family of six soon to be seven, it was urgent that my father work to earn, and there was nothing for which he was better suited. My parents bundled us all into their old Hudson sedan, and drove north into western Wyoming and the fabled Jackson Hole. We lived on savings, the small benefits of a former B-17 navigator in WWII, Dad's high school principal's salary, and the pay from two part-time jobs, Mom all the while handled the more difficult set of tasks that included keeping house and home together during the run-up to birthing, almost simultaneously, my last two brothers, totaling four.

    Mom doesn't know when I learned to read. The only time I asked about it, she said I just started reading, and I'm sure that's what happened. It made sense in light of the intensity of an innate curiosity that, even to this day, compels me to advance when a more prudent fellow would hold back. Explorations of unfamiliar territory are especially fraught, but the most time is consumed by reading whatever is at hand, where there is little or no choice. It started in much the same way ethnolinguists absorb a new language, by discerning patterns, building vocabularies, sussing sounds and asking questions. By the time I entered kindergarten I had memorized every word, even the finest print, on the milk carton and cereal box at breakfast. My parents knew I needed more enlightening things to read, and one day a large carton of new and used books appeared in the living room. They were discards from the high school library and the publisher's samples meant for purchase in class-size numbers by the district. Unsold books were dumped, most were either classics of literature or those with "inappropriate content", and they were mine, all mine. Some comics were included, the "Classics Illustrated", and they were more thrilling and finely drawn than the most lurid superhero fare, which would nonetheless have been just as welcome.

    I hadn't finished first grade before I had read 1001 Arabian Nights, Robin Hood, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and much of Doyle and Kipling. I didn't understand all, or perhaps even much of it, but I couldn't have been more stimulated by the experience if I had understood every word. Curiously enough, it was this reading that instilled in me a fluid moral relativity that failed to embrace the mythical American perspective on belongings and property as sacrosanct, and thus imparting a sense of equivalence between wealth and virtue. Robin Hood wouldn't approve of it certainly, and I found no appeal in it either. It was a concept that cried out for experimentation. When I discovered the small dish full of nickels and dimes in teacher's desk drawer, to be shared with classmates without milk money, it revealed a tantalizing opportunity to test the concept of taking from the rich (there must be a hundred coins in there!) and giving to the poor (I hadn't two nickels to rub together in all my long 6 years of life!).

    It would, furthermore, remove an increment, in my consciousness, of burden for my parents if by having a little cash on hand, I would be covering some of my own costs. Looking back on it, It would have spared me a lot of paranoia and the entire summer of my eighth grade year in school if that teacher had even once realized she was being raided, and shut my little operation down. It didn't happen, and along with an occasional, but manageable twinge of guilt, Right or wrong, I had gotten the message, and it was no harder to accept than my kindergarten teacher's scolding on my first day of school the previous year, for coloring carelessly, and outside the lines.

    The rest was penny candy.
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