|Mom, big brother and I. I'm the baby.|
The world marches forward! Why doesn't it turn around? - Arthur Rimbaud.
What have I done?
It started innocently enough. I was a baby. First I was a new born. Of this I have no memory so I can only imagine what it was like. Going from the comfort — if rather cramped conditions — of the fetus into the bright lights and sharp sounds of the outside world must have been traumatic. I assume I calmed down considerably once I was held and got to suckle at my mother’s breast. I further assume that sleep was highly desirable and early on I took advantage of the boundless opportunities to snooze.
There are pictures of me at a very young age. I seem happy enough. I was certainly small fitting comfortably into the arms of grown or nearly grown people. Often I was being held by my mother or father or a grandparent or an aunt or uncle or even my big brother. What a luxury to have a big brother to guide me through those early years. Though six and half years older than I, he was no adult so could better relate to my circumstances. In any event I was forever being held by one person or another and imagine that this was not entirely unpleasant. When you’re a baby people tend to be forgiving of your faults. You can cry or defecate or spit up and no one minds. More than simply being held I was being loved and cooed at and pampered. This included being fed. Meals were not only provided but I didn't have to so much as lift a finger. I was also bathed and I could perform bodily functions anywhere anytime and no one blinked. They even cleaned me up afterward. Who doesn’t love being a baby? What a great way to start life!
Eventually I began to walk and have thus far in my life continued the practice. Indeed I am confident in saying that I probably walk a lot more than most people, especially in today’s highly mechanized society. Soon after getting comfortable with walking I commenced to running. Doubtless at first this running was neither particularly fast nor long in duration but it was — as they say — a start. In later years I would run at a fairly fast clip and added distance to my runs as well. Today, for a man of three score and two years, I run quite fast and quite far. But enough braggadocio, back to my formative years.
Along with walking came the power of speech. I’m sure this was a mixed blessing for those in my company because as a young person I tended to overuse the gift of gab. On long car rides my brother would offer me a quarter for a set period of silence. In those days a quarter had a fair amount of buying power, especially for a youngster. You could purchase two comic books and a candy bar with two bits. Nonetheless this enticement was not enough to keep my big trap shut. I babbled ever onward.
I also early on developed the ability to entertain people particularly through humor. I was a natural comic and I took to having an audience as a fish does to water (if my meaning here is unclear the reader should note that fish very much like water and are hard pressed to live without it). I was a source of amusement to my family although I think my poor beleaguered brother grew weary of my act rather quickly. Along with a propensity for comedy I could be downright obnoxious. My brother was a gentle and kind soul but I remember him picking me up by the arm pits, digging his hands into my skin and perfunctorily dropping me. Based on my hazy memories of those days I can safely assert that he should be assigned no blame.
Being a toddler was rather a fun time. I had no obligations, school was still a ways off and I was too young to be assigned chores but I was ambulatory and enjoyed the attention of elders and was befriending others of my age group including some cousins. Life seemed like a pretty good deal. My father was my absolute hero. In my eyes he was the picture of manhood, impossibly tall and handsome and rugged but loving, kind and playful. He was, as the sports cliche goes, the complete package. Big brother was also a boon to have around. When I wasn’t annoying him he was playing with me and providing early instruction in the ways of the world.
Mother was a different story altogether. She had natural maternal instincts and attended my daily needs as well as any other mother could. But she was also losing her mind and when alone with her I’d be subjected to her angry arguments with people who were either not there or didn’t exist in the first place. There were rantings and ravings that clearly did not fit anywhere in the spectrum of normal human behavior. But until I was about 11 she could turn it off as soon as anyone else appeared. I managed to put her aberrant behavior behind as soon as dad or brother came home. I became adept at forgetting.
You might be getting an idea now that my childhood was a rather mixed bag. Indeed it was. When alone with mother life was a living hell. At other times it was an absolute joy. I had a knack for having fun. Being a creative, clever and imaginative young man, blessed with a nimble body and good health to boot made me an ideal candidate for a happy childhood. Playing games of all variety — whether re-enacting a Civil War battle or scoring a touchdown or in a rousing game of hide and seek — was within my skill sit. Meanwhile I had no trouble in school. I abhorred math but did passingly in it and shined in other subjects. If anything I didn’t find school challenging enough. It all seemed rather slow and pedestrian, the teachers were uninspiring and many of my classmates were dullards. I longed for more. (I digress to share this memory: As a wee lad I understood that eight plus seven equaled 15 but thought it rather odd. Eight and seven put together just didn't seem like they should end in the numeral five. Meanwhile nine four equaling 13 made perfect sense and of course who couldn't appreciate the sanity of ten and four totaling 14? I the same vein I still maintain that the city of Cologne should be in France not Germany and that the city of Stasbourg belongs not in Germany not France. I strongly urge the cities be swapped or the names exchanged.)
Escapes were always coveted — especially given mom’s highly erratic behavior — so trips out of town were appreciated as were visits to various members of our extended family. Lacking those opportunities I found escape in movies, TV shows, books and my own imaginative play. My imagination was so rich that I could have a jolly good time while all by myself. No friends about? No problem. I could always invent them. An early childhood friend of my own invention was named Macaroni. Later I made up sports heroes, the greatest was a basketball star named Horatio Kumquat. He was 6’5” and had curly golden hair and was a veritable one man team.
Friends were welcome too. Finding someone who saw parts of the world the same way I did, who liked the same games and stories and shows seemed a miracle. To share ideas and laughs and insights -- even at a terribly young age -- was to me a gift. One that kept giving. Play had another dimension when it was a cooperative effort, there was so much more that two or three or more could do than one could manage alone.
Ahhh, great runs and jumps and skips and leaps and twists and turns and loud laughs and joyous shouts. "Going out to play" was a great delight in the world and one could do it most every day. Even school days were punctuated by recess and were over by mid afternoon. Saturdays were a positive blessing especially as they began with a few hours of TV cartoons with the likes of Bugs Bunny cavorting about. Sundays were marred by the obligatory trip to Sunday school but even there my imagination was tickled by some of the stories we were read and told. After church a full afternoon of unbound glee lay ahead. Playing was the best.
Babyhood seemed a distant an embarrassing memory when I was a child. To paraphrase the bible: When I was a baby, I spoke as a baby, I understood as a baby, I thought as a baby; but when I became a little boy, I put away babyish things.