The Early Years

10151836_753942654658392_5272424816934146245_nOnce you have a told a story a hundred times or more, the telling becomes the most important thing, and the experience is effectively lost. I can still remember the feeling of following my brother down the alley to catch horned toads, putting them into a shoebox, hiding them under my bed because if Mother found them, she would march me right out into the back yard and make me upend the box and let the lizard go. I can still feel the look of disappointment on her face: “You should never cage one of God’s creations,” she said. I never understood why it was okay to tie Tiger, our Boxer, to a leash secured to a stake in the ground, but it wasn’t okay to keep a toad in a box. The other things, the little thing in my life: sitting by the fireplace playing monopoly with my childhood friend; shelling creamed peas while the bushel basket became empty and the Mason jars were filled, first with the peas and then with hot water; watching The Price is Right hosted by a young Bob Barker, and later in the day cutting pictures out of magazines, creating our own showcase; those moments I treasured but didn’t often recount. The stories I did tell, the “awful mute appeal” of little Dora recounted by David Copperfield in the book of the same name by Charles Dickens, and the way it paralleled by own grief of having to leave my grandparent’s home to move back in with Mother and Daddy, that was a story!! And that was a story that had become a part of my personality; no longer a memory, but a piece of history. Carol Shields in her book, Unless, states “anyone’s childhood can be an act of disablement if rehearsed and replayed and squinted at in a certain light.” I resonate with that quote because I know how truly disabling my childhood was, and not the least of it, by my own interpretations of the facts, so I was intrigued by the idea of disabling the memories to liberate myself. Although the first seven years of my life were bright; the following five were by my own definition: gloomy. In my memory, the light begins to fade when I first hid under the bed to escape the hands of my father. While I have remembered that as my first distinct memory, the retelling of it has no doubt distorted the actual facts. Like David Copperfield, I was born. (I’ve wanted to use that line for nearly forty years, at first not knowing that it would be plagiarism, then knowing it would be and not daring to use the phrase at all, finally learning that if I cite the source, I can use anything I please!) I only know this by history; I am fairly well assured by my belly button that mine was not an alien hatching; and my mother told me that I was born in an Army hospital, although that was all she told me, because in the 1950’s you didn’t talk to children about the really important things. (I well remember my mother and grandmother whispering in the kitchen about my mother’s latest pregnancy, which no one was supposed to notice, and definitely not comment upon.) At any rate, like everything else about me, the story of my early years strikes me as unusual. At least it seemed so to me when I discovered certain facts at sixteen. Most kids didn’t live with their grandparents when their parents were perfectly capable of caring for them. I was delighted to live with my grandparents, but the truth of the matter is my Mam-maw was my strongest attachment, and my mother someone that came to visit every other weekend. There is no story of abuse or neglect, no court involvement, the matter of the fact was that in 1948 there was no childcare for infants. My mother had to work and there was no one else to care for me. My five year old sister, MH and my four year old brother, Buddy, also stayed with Mam-maw during the day for the first few months, as did I, but then the story goes that Mam-maw and Granddaddy had to move to San Antonio for a reason unknown to me and not knowing what else to do, Mother sent the baby (Me) with them. And so it was that I spent the first six years of my life in relative luxury, treated like a little princess. with permed hair as early as three years old wearing a fur coat with a muff instead of mittens. It was the happiest time of my life. Even now…

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