Go to the end of this blog for an update.
When I was 11 or 12 my father saved me and another young boy from my grandfather.
This was 1967 or 1968 and my family was living in a walled –in housing complex called Rossmoor, in Orange County, California
My mother’s father Payne Ireton had had a proposal: he wanted to take me and his neighbor Charlie camping, somewhere near Lake Arrowhead. As far as I can remember, I’d only seen him and his wife Hope once or twice before. (It was always confusing to me when my mother would say we were going to nearby Long Beach to see Hope and Payne. I always heard it as hope and pain.)
My mother could not stand her father. He was a big burley tough drunken half Choctaw longshoreman from Oklahoma. He had only briefly been married to my maternal grandmother Helen, who then married many more times and who was always off on an alcohol-fueled wild life, constantly abandoning my mother to her parents in San Luis Obispo.
Payne himself never visited or contacted my mother until he suddenly appeared after her first two children Nancy and Chris were born. He then disappointed her by always showing up drunk or driving Chris and Nancy out on outings while drinking. She then banned him from our lives with very few exceptions until this camping trip was proposed.
This was more than 40 years ago and my memory can’t be completely accurate. But, the way I do remember it, my mother was against the trip. She didn’t think Payne had changed or ever would change. She had developed a powerful hatred of alcohol and those who consumed it, who she called, with great vehemence, “drinkers.” My father, though, talked her into letting me go, because he thought Payne deserved another chance. Did Payne make promises to my parents that he would not drink? I don’t know.
I can’t remember my opinion, but I imagine I probably wanted to go. I was 11 years old and I loved the mountains and I loved camping.
Payne came with Charlie to pick me up. He was nice at first and I quickly bonded with Charlie, who was near my age. Once we were as far as the foothills Payne began drinking from a huge bottle of red wine while he drove. He drank and drank. The more he drank the more he talked and the less sense he made. He wove in and out of his lane and kept getting frightfully close to the edge of those high mountain roads. He honked his horn and yelled and screamed at other drivers. I remember being frightened and confused. I remember having no idea what to do.
We arrived at the campsite and Payne shouted abuse at us as we struggled to get the tent put up. Somehow, he managed to prepare and serve us dinner. Then he drank several more bottles of wine, becoming completely blotto. He yelled and screamed at Charlie and me for our apparent incompetence at camping. He went on and on about queers and niggers and hippies and his bosses and co-workers and union reps at the Port of Long Beach as well as about a wide variety of transgressions against him committed by both of our parents. We went to bed at some point. I remember Payne’s snoring was a bizarre whistling wheeze that sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before. It was impossible to sleep.
Charlie and I took this as an opportunity to run away. We were that scared. We made it down to a main road and found a pay phone. I called the police and asked them to call my father to come and get us. Then, out of nowhere, Payne showed up in his car and ordered us to return with him.
I remember that for years (and even now while writing this) I felt ashamed that I led Charlie back into that car rather than running away and hiding and waiting for my dad. To be fair though, I guess I was just a little kid and didn’t know what to do – it was dark and quiet and we were in the middle of the mountains and the woods. I probably had no idea if my father would ever make it up there and find us. Either way, we went back with Payne, back to the tent, and back to that awful snoring.
At about 3 a.m., I heard my father’s voice. He poked his head into the tent and called to me. Charlie and I ran out to him. Over Payne’s loud, abusive, and hostile objections, my father took us away and brought us home. I was never so happy to see him.
After this, of course, Payne was finally and completely banned from our lives. When he and then Hope died in the late 1980s it took a private investigator several years to locate my mother, his only heir, in order to give her a pretty substantial inheritance.
However, in the late 70s, when I was in my early twenties, he contacted me. He and Hope were now retired and living in Oceanside. I think he had been in touch with my older sister Nancy. He knew I needed a vehicle and he had a 1963 completely mint low mileage baby blue Dodge Dart he wanted to give to me.
Going to get that free car was another decision of which I’d always felt vaguely ashamed. I took my girlfriend at the time, Candy Graham (she broke up with me a couple of weeks later after I’d stupidly revealed the details of our sex life to a mutual female friend who then told everyone we both knew all the juicy details). Hope and Payne served us dinner. Hope was her usual sweet and quiet self. Payne had not changed at all. He still looked completely like a warrior Choctaw with his high cheekbones, black eyes and thick shock of still jet black hair. He drank continuously and harangued me about my mother and how unfair and crazy she was, about my grandmother Helen, and about how stupid it was that my father had come that night in Arrowhead to pick us up.
He just didn’t understand what had happened As far as he was concerned everything was fine that night and he wasn’t at all drunk and was just enjoying a little bit of wine. He told me that Charlie and I were just being little sissies because we were afraid of being away from our parents and my dad was just indulging our sissy behavior. I listened politely, waiting for my chance to leave with the car.
Now, when I say that Dodge Dart was mint, believe it. That car was in perfect condition, which is amazing, because within six months I’d trashed it so completely with complete abuse and lack of maintenance that I ended up junking it for the price of the tow.
Corrections: See reply below from my father. The camping trip was NOT near Lake Arrowhead. Payne was NOT 1/2 Choctaw but 1/32 (though I’m not sure Dad really knows for sure). It is good to hear more detail about Helen and Payne, I never knew much about it all. I guess he wasn’t a “longshoreman from Oklahoma” but he was certainly a longshoreman when he lived in Long Beach and I knew him.
Okay, my dad’s blog today clarified that Payne was actually 3/8’s Choctaw, which I think is pretty darn close to 1/2. I knew he was half Indian or close to it. Just look at him.
Plus, and this is incredible, Payne’s dad David Rufus Ireton was a CRIMINAL (and NOT Native American), click on the link to my Dad’s blog and read all about it. Below is his mug shot from Leavenworth prison.