“Passing thru” – Chadron, Nebraska
For so many years I felt that my life actually began when just days after graduating from high school in 1955 I departed Nebraska for California. However as the years pass I discovered some old faded photo’s of my life that brought back some pleasant memories of my youthful days in Chadron, Nebraska.
Certainly not the most popular guy in my elementary and high school days, I also wasn’t the most popular at home as my father often reminded me I was a Milliken, not a Rook and he was consumed with hatred of my natural mother Gladys following their divorce when I was five years of age. At best I remember my dad as being extremely domineering and mean spirited always reminding me “You look and act just like your damn mother,” as he took delight in verbally and physically abusing me with my older brother Charles being first born granted special treatment as he “looked like a Rook should.” Perhaps that’s why Charles and I were never very close even to this day though I did open the door for him to have a lifetime career in broadcasting.
I held down three jobs and played no sports after breaking my glasses playing football in my first year of high school. Dad was furious and it wasn’t until the local Lions Club replaced them a year later that I could see again. Earlier it was my grandmother, “Mommie Rook” as she was known, that took me to church and introduced me to Christianity as a child. At my baptism while I was in grade school, only my step mother Della attended as my father never attended church but instead was a staunch member of the Masonic Lodge and the local Elks Club.
While I didn’t play sports, hunting and fishing became my time to get away from home on a limited basis. I purchased a used shot gun and a rifle and taught myself to aim and shoot pretty good for a kid in Jr. High School. I even was first in the county to bag a buck deer and returning home with the fish and ducks it was my job to also clean and prepare them for freezing at the local cold storage place where we had a pull out drawer storing food for the months ahead. When taking a bite of duck, if dad found a single pellet I had missed in cleaning the bird, I was sent away from the dinning table and told to go to my room “until you learn how to clean” the bounty I brought home. Neither my sister Dottie nor I can think of a single fond memory of our father. Upon his death in more recent times he named our brother Charles as his heir though it was I who paid for his burial and placed him beside his sister, mother and father at rest in a Ohio cemetery. Our father never gave a hug or a word of appreciation to Dottie and I, instead we were the ugly duckling Milliken’s while our brother was the handsome blonde haired, blue eyed prince in dads eyes.
Employed as a fry cook at a local drive inn restaurant at night and without a car or a suit to wear, I didn’t attend the annual prom or many of the school events. Dad insisted most of the wages I earned were given to him so that I could learn early what it cost to run a household. I learned a lot from my father as I attempted to do and be the exact opposite in my life.
My real enjoyment came from watching and cheering on my best friend Eddie Kuska, who besides being president of the class, a classical music pianist, was also a football and a basketball star playing center on our Chadron Prep basketball team leading it to the state championship. How he ever accepted me as a friend is beyond me but Eddie was my protector as we walked the many blocks to school each day.
In my estimation our school also had the best cheerleaders in the entire state. Being well mannered and polite in those days mattered as they would frown and express disapproval if any Chadron Prep fan applauded or expressed approval of an opposing teams foul or injury. I was so proud finding myself with the teams biggest supporter, Joe Lichty, a barber known for ringing his cowbells loud in support at basketball games featured in the Omaha World Herald at the state championships in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Working on ranches in the summertime, I became an experienced horseman that led to my being a small part of the Wild Bill Hickok TV series a few years later in California.
It’s especially nice knowing that my childhood friend Eddie Kuska in the 50’s is still in touch with me as we from time to time update each other and talk about those youthful days in school and Chadron, Nebraska.