Who Do You Think You Are?


I first came to California from New York just after my birthday in 1953. My father had been posted to Korea, and my mother and sister, Barbra, and I were deposited in an apartment  complex (Hillsdale Garden Apartments, below) in San Mateo, California, to await my father's return in 18 months time. 

Hillsdale Garden Apartments was a haven in the early 1950s. A fresh water creek ran past our two-storey apartment and I could walk to school in about five minutes. I remember playing "two square" and "four square" in the playground, and buying school lunches for the first time in my life. My mother and sister attended courses at the local junior college and I saw Blackboard Jungle, which introduced me to a whole new kind of cinema as well as rock'n'roll.

I remember travelling down to Santa Cruz when I was a seven-year-old. My mother, sister and sister's boyfriend took me down there for a picnic one weekend. We'd planned on meeting some other people at a place called Half Moon Bay, but couldn't find it. Eventually, we ended up at the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz. The day was cold and grey and the amusement park shrouded in fog and empty of people except for us, who wandered through the mist like shadows looking for a summer that had already departed two or three months earlier.

My most vivid memory of the place is of the merry-go-round. One of those colourful old carousels with rearing horses and lots of mirrors everywhere. There were also brass rings you could reach out and grab as you passed by, which you were s'pose to throw into the mouth of a clown painted on canvas. If you got your ring into his mouth, you won a prize. What, I'm not exactly sure. Probably another ride. It wasn't the prize, though, that excited me - it was the rings. Magical objects, shiny and full of promise. The problem was, my arms weren't long enough. I'd lean as far as I could, to the point where if I leaned anymore I was gonna fall off the horse, but each time I swooped by the rings were just out reach. It was a cruel amusement for a solitary seven year-old on a shiny white horse in a deserted fun park. I trace my interest in poetry to that seminal event.

We left San Mateo in late December 1954. I remember staying in a motel in Los Angeles on New Years' Eve 1954/1955, before we headed out across the desert for my Dad's next duty assignment in Texas.


(ABOVE)  Billy at William Land Park, Sacramento, aged 17.


When my father retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1961, my parents decided they'd retire in California. My mother wanted to find a place in the Bay Area, near San Francisco, but so did everyone else, and the little towns that she had so loved in the early 1950s had bloated into a spreading megalopolis that was well beyond the means of my father's rather modest retirement pay... so we ended up in a little subdivision (Customaire Homes) in a place called Rancho Cordova, halfway between Sacramento and Folsom, California. The house my parents bought was situated at 10805 Segovia Way and cost a phenomenal (at the time) $19,000. We were the first owners and in 1962, when we moved in there were no trees or bushes or even a lawn. 3-bedrooms and a fence backward. The awning you can see in the photo was installed by my parents.

Above: The house in Segovia Way, where I lived from 1961 to February 1969

Below: My parents' bedroom at 10805 Segovia Way, where my father died.


I went to Mills Junior High for my freshman year (Year 9), then Folsom High School for year 10, and into the brand new high school in Rancho Cordova (Cordova High School) in 1964, where I graduated in 1965.  


 Below: Looking from the living into the den, where we spent most of our time. 



Whilst living in Rancho Cordova, California in 1967, I was asked by Kelland Ingram and Hugh Conley to join their band, THE TRADITIONS. For the next three years we played gigs all over California and Nevada, including featured performances at the California State Fair - where we came in second in the Battle of the Bands (the group that would later be known as Poco won) and the San Jose Teen Fair. The group underwent many personnel changes during the three years of the band's existence. This was the band nearing the apex of its noteriety.

   My mother and father....

died within a month of each other, December 22nd 1968 and January 21st 1969,respectively. 

My mother died of breast cancer after a protracted struggle to rid herself of it. Her death was slow and painful. My father died a month later, in his sleep as far as I know. I found him the evening of the 21st January, in his bed.

They were buried in Woodlawn Cemetery near Fairmont, West Virginia. I didn't attend my mother's funeral, but was there for my father's. It was the last time I would visit West Virginia for almost 36 years. The birth date for my mother is incorrect - she was actually born in 1906, though she often lied and said it was 1907. I suppose some kind of mystical vanity was still at work even in death. RIP 


 After my parents died, I moved from one house and/or apartment til another, until Paty Campbell and I married in June 1970. One of our favorite places was the Consumnes River, up in the Sierra foothills, east of Sacramento. Crystal clear water and sandy beaches with great boulders and waterfalls everywhere.  The picture below is typical of the place.