I am a fish in liquid, on frozen water I excel, by land I stride. I have been a snow-skier, surfer, skin-diver, scuba diver, sailor, dirt and street motorcycle untamed, paintball enthusiast; horseman, glazier, stained-glass window creator, electronics and computer geek; a marksmen, and outdoorsman. I can make a fire anywhere, on a windy beach, or in the snow. Sports I excel at are table tennis, tennis, baseball, soccer, pinball, pool, and chess. Of all these things that I am, one I most certainly am not is a traveler. That might be due to a 3000-mile journey when I was 10 months old.
I was born Kermit Nilsen Hylen on August 26, 1953, around 6:30PM in an Arlington, Virginia hospital to Knute, a dentist, and Ellen, a nurse. Mother went into labor on a Wednesday afternoon. Mom recalls that event usually on my birthday, when she tells us that back then the doctors were golfing on that fated Wednesday afternoon. Such was the case with me, starting mid-day, arriving late afternoon.
My brother loves the story of bringing me home from the hospital: he carried me to our house, and was very proud of me.
My heritage passed down through the years imply that my Mother was Pennsylvania Dutch, and my Dad was first born to America from parents born in Stavenger, Norway. My Dad’s parents were first cousins that had met each other in Norway, moved to, and made their home in San Francisco.
Dad’s Father, Ingvald, was a shipbuilder in Norway, but in San Francisco, his claim to fame was as the first secretary of the Longshoreman’s Union. Of my grandfather’s brothers, one was a captain, and one was a missionary to Madagasgar. When the latter died there, my Father’s Mother, in Norway, came down to breakfast and said her brother was dead, a month before anyone knew the fact.
In my mind, the Hylen and Nilsen names are well-known in Norway, tho’ I suspect that’s romantic sillyness. My father’s side of the family is very interesting, with many stories that I have long since forgotten. Dad held to the fact that one of his ancestry brought the art of skiing to Norway. I suppose every Norwegian thinks this (as I suppose every Dane and Swede).
Before I was a year old, I nearly died. I was allergic to cow milk. It was fated that soybean milk was available, for it saved my life. Soybean milk is now known to vanquish allergies for those that are fed it within six months of life. The exception is an allergy to poison oak and ivy; poison sumac.
My brother likes to bring up an old tale that I don’t remember. Seems I had an interest in snails. He often implied that I fed myself of them in that they would find me in the grass with snail guts all around my mouth. They never saw me actually eat one. They say one of my past-times was handling a snail, then squeeze it to mush.
At three, I crawled across the floor to my Uncle one day. He was a huge figure of a man, was Uncle Rod, and of Cosack blood. My Dad’s sister, Norma, had married Uncle Rod. The house seemed to be on Mariposa Street, and brand new, ‘cause I remember the layout, on my right were the windows and the patio door leading to the backyard, where we were, the living room, behind me was part of the dining room, and to my left, the kitchen behind the wall.
My Dad loved the story of him and Rod in the bar one evening. Both worked the lumber camp outside Susanville, in the middle 1930’s. My Dad was at the bar with Rod on one side and this fellow next to Dad obviously wanted to fight him. My Dad faced off with him and said, “Do you want to fight?” The man replied, “I sure do.” My Dad stepped back, motioned to Rod, said “Rod, this man wants to fight.” Rod turned to the man, said “Let’s fight.” The man backed down immediately.
I remember sitting in my uncle Ray’s lap in one those Japanese lazy-boys while he did the bee thing to my tummy, making me squeal with laughter. Uncle Ray and Aunt Ingeborg lived their lives in San Francisco; Ingeborg was my Dad’s sister. We seemed to visit them about once a year.
I bear the scars of helping Mom with the milk bottles. In the 50’s, in Watsonville, milk was delivered in glass bottles to many doorsteps in the early morning hours. I had begun helping Mom bring in the milk bottles. Once the dew on the bottle was too much for me, it slipped, and I hung on for dear life following the bottle down to the floor, watching it burst open, watching as it cut my hands severly that morning. This marks the first time I recieved stitches for a wound. My palms bear the scars to this day.
I met my Mother’s family in Shenandoah. Her Father was a train mechanic. I vaguely remember running a locomotive. My grandfather took us to the station yard, we got into an engine, and I was at the controls, peeking out the front of the engine. Mom has a photo of that somewhere. Virginia, during summer, held wonder for me: fireflies, fireworks, lightning and those heart-stopping peals of thunder.
I recall a faint memory of somewhere in Virginia, at night. A huge storm was thundering, my sister was significantly anxious, while I pondered the noise and the flashes, but her fear caught me good. Denise was near hysteria, and I was following her lead. My Mother’s Mother, NAME, was sitting in a chair, seems like there were other people in the room, but no memory of whom. Denise ran in after a particularly loud bang followed by that wondrous peal, NAME waved Denise over to her as she ran towards someone, anyone to hold her. I was following Denise, so I was standing in front of Grandma. NAME looked at us and said so serenely, so calmly, so stunningly cool, “you have no need to worry, it’s just God clapping His hands.” The house fairly shook with the verbal onslaught, and here this woman sat completely, fully composed. It could have been an act, but for the fact she didn’t stir when the thunder blew, she seemed to shrug as God clapped away. She was a rock in a terrible storm, and it ingrained itself forever in my grey matter.
The Pacific ocean showed its desire of me early in my life. Mom and I were walking along in the dry sand on the little hills the ocean often makes. She was ahead of me and turned around to see a wave arrive and roll me over a few times in the sand. After getting the sand out of and off me, we continued our stroll without further incident.
Not a month later, we were at the beach again, this time she was sitting in one of those chairs while I played in the sand. She looked over and saw a wave capture me. Mom had to leap out of her chair, run into the ocean, and drag me away from the wave. I was being rolled out to sea.
I remember walking to school by myself at age five. My Mother liked to tell me how she got me to do that: during the summer before kindergarden, she would walk me to the school, on the other side of our block, and get me to peer into the windows and see all the cool stuff inside. She worked my curiosity, when my first day arrived, I was bold enough to walk to school by myself. Kindergarten was also when I had my first girlfriend. To this day, I don’t remember who she was, only that she was my favorite friend.
Betwixt kindergarten and second grade, playing marbles became the thing. We each had our bag of glass marbles. During recess and after school, we would battle for ownership of another’s marble. The play was draw a circle in the dirt, toss in some marbles. With one hand, lodge marble between thumb and forefinger, flip your thumb out to shoot that marble at another’s marble. Hit it and win it, miss and your marble is a target. We all had our favorite marbles which kick-started superstition.
I must have been around five or six when I had a terrible cold. Mother gave me cough syrup to soothe it, and left it on the table near my bed. I crawled out that night, got that bottle and emptied it. In the morning, she asked my brother to rouse me, and he couldn’t. I spent that morning drinking coffee and being walked around the house until my body had worked out the potion.
There were a few Christmas’ on Mariposa Street, when I got wondrous toys that boosted my imagination: Lincoln Logs, a train set, a hover-craft, a girder set that let me build sky-scrapers. That train set had this tough locomotive. One evening, I think it was when my brother was baby-stting me, he took me and it to the Crockers house. He and Greg Crocker had set-up a straight track for a head-on collision. At first I was seriously appalled, but my brother talked me into it. They placed the engines opposite each other and turned the switch. When they hit, it was quite the thunk! The engines hit head-on, mine stood while the other flopped over.
The first movie I remember seeing was Swiss Family Robinson. My brother took me the backyard fence of a friend’s house. Perched like birds on the fence, we looked down the hill to the screen of the drive-in theatre. The second movie I saw was PT-109 in an actual sit-down theatre. I don’t remember much of the movie ‘cause I had a ferocious case of athlete’s foot.
One Christmas, the shopping center a couple blocks from our house, had a special event: snow and the Santa setup. I spent the previous night at a friend’s house and the morning of the event I was excited. Their house was heated by a floor heater, an inquistor’s idea of heating a house. That type of heater was always placed in the hallway, so as to make it impossible to get from the bedrooms to the living room without stepping over or on that terrible device. As usual, I was barefoot, excited to see Santa, and running. One foot hit the center of that torture device and I felt the immense pain of burning as I stepped fully on the center of that hot grid.
All the kids on the block had a bike, even those years younger than I, which allowed them to ridicule me. I remember riding a friends bicycle and having to prove to my dad that I could ride a bicycle. I was six when he decided it was okay to buy me a bicycle, a Schwinn.
I have been told that the teachers forced me to write right-handed until my mother stepped in and made them accept that I was a left-handed person. I am dyslexic, and I know only know this from what it means today.
Many small memories exist in my mind: my Dad building my brother a really nice fort in the backyard on the ground; helping my Dad with the car by filling the tank with water from the hose; one Fourth of July when it seemed I was a hero, but only because Dad had brought twice the usual fireworks.
My parents smoked cigarettes through their forties. At this writing, my brother still smokes, I quit for a couple years then restarted, my sister has never smoked. I smoked my first cigarette when I was six. From Jimmy’s house, about four blocks, I was returning home. A lady was rushing to her car and tossed a half-smoked burning cigaretter in the gutter.
A big memory was me at age eight, my gradeschool years. We had moved from Watsonville to Rio Del Mar, from the city into the country. It is now a suburb before the country was known as suburbia. I had left all my friends behind, all those that knew Kermit was a cool cat, for those that wanted to tease me mercilessly.
I remember those children inflicting their taunts and how it hurt me. During the first few weeks of my third grade, I was found often crying. My older brother, seven years older, soon chose to stop this, he was not going to have his younger brother be known as a cry-baby. He taught me to physically fight, and he toughened me by hitting me in the shoulder every chance he got. I remember well how he would sit on me and pound first one shoulder then flip me and pound the other. Cries of pain from me, elicited guffaws from my parents of “he’s not hurting you” then ignoring me.
My brother’s (and my parent’s) methods soon proved their worth. Inside of a month, there was a period of days in a row that my mother had to go to the principal’s office to pick me up. The school disapproved of fighting, and I was knocking down anyone that dared reproach me.
Of third grade (eight years of age), I possess only one vivid memory, the rest of that year in school is lost. During a play period, a couple kids complained to me about something and I told them to kiss off. They went across the yard to the teacher that had the duty that day to watch us play and complained to her. She told them to fetch me. They returned to me, and stated that I had to see her now. I refused. She told them to physically bring me to her. The whole playground of kids stopped playing to help with this task of dragging me across the yard to this teacher. I remember being held firmly in the arms of several children and looking back from where I was to see a string of children, nearly like good little soldiers, dragging me to this teacher. As I recall, I only knew that teacher from her duties as yard attendant. I was led to the principal’s office, I’m hopeful that yard attendant regetted her decision that day, after watching what she created, but deep within, I know she never cared.
I remember fourth grade (nine years of age) inasmuch on the last day the teacher said I had the best hand-writing of the class for the year. It’s a ponderance to me now, ‘cause today I can’t read my own writing.
I was a very athletic fellow, yet not one recognized my potential. My reaction time for most sports was incredible and still is to this day. I usually see things before they happen and adjust accordingly. Of the few memories of fourth grade, I remember I was typically the last one to be hit during a dodge-ball game, it took the children a serious concerted effort to hit me out.
In fifth grade (ten years of age), I met my first great teacher. However, she soon proved her worth. I spent considerable time working on a paper about the Renaissance. She rejected my work, then later accepted it. I found out much later in life that my parents confronted her by which she reversed her decision. This was the same teacher that began the first fifth grade year book, and assigned everyone specific tasks yet ignored my support. During recesses in fifth grade, I spent most my playtime at school by myself. I remember many many playtimes being at the edge of the field playing in the dirt, imaging civilizations. Pieces of dirt were houses, castles, horses and knights.
I have no memory of six grade (eleven years of age).
The summer between my sixth and seventh grades, I met and became a member of a group of friends. Three other people that stopped teasing me, respected me for who I was, and accepted me. Of these three, one would become nearly unseperable until his marriage. He and I spent many, many times swimming, with no adult supervision1, in the ocean after school. Rain or shine, we would run home, change, meet at the crossroads and head to the beach. I started surfing, with a board(!) in the spring of eighth grade. In ninth grade, one of my friends and I cut that board, a ten-footer, down to seven and re-finished its surface. It was such a bad board, but all I had until my sixteenth birthday.
We wore bathing suits, no neoprene. Between the mountains and the ocean, I spent much of my life near death, in that my body, hands, feet, and lips were often blue. Thermal-something.
Seventh grade (twelve years of age) was a turning point for me. I was at my worst then. I made straight Ds for that year. I was always a C person. Rarely did I see a B. I never saw an A, that I remember. I know now that it was due to both crappy teachers, and unaware parents. Considering what was occuring at home, it is no surprise that my seventh year was so poor. My older brother, then of nineteen and I of twelve, had moved out and away up to San Francisco. All the events that I had thought would continue with me, ended. It was made very obvious that my brother was wanted, and I was not.
The summer between my seventh and eighth grades, I was taken and shown a few private schools and one military academy. From their perspective, my parents were trying to help me, from mine, my parents choice was to get rid of me, rather than be imbarressed by my poor performance. Is it ever so hard to talk with your child?
In the end, they choose to let me continue my education in the same school. The only reason for this odd decision is my Dad wanting to save the money for his own purposes. In eighth grade, I excelled once a real teacher was present. I recieved As and Bs that entire year but only from my home grade teacher. In the science and drama classes of that year, I discovered those that kiss up to the teachers are fed the most, something I consider to this day a crime.
Eighth grade (thirteen years of age), homeroom, was English language and writing lessons. The mechanics of English: Verbs, nouns, pronouns, adverbs, and the rest. It was pulling apart sentences in structure that I excelled. Most found it very difficult, yet I found it a breeze. I contribute this to the teacher, her instructions, and her sense of fairness. She was fair with all the children, a very rare attitude in schools.
Between my eighth and ninth grades, two of my best friends moved far away.