In writing stories for our wife as a trade: she gives us a pack of cigarettes for two of them – we wrote this one today and thought whut the heck, let’s share.  It’s a long one; mostly about when we were young – before or at first grade.  We intentionally left most of the abuse stuff out – we wanted this one to reflect . . . a more even tone; a more ‘normal’ childhood.  I guess it offsets what was going on.  Helping us to remember these things is hard; we’ve been plying little Mikie’s head – and little Michael’s, too (since he is the ‘heart’ of him, Little Mikie; we’ve figured that one out: a split sort of personality where we used to  think there was one; but there is: the true one: little Michael, who was a real kid, and this persona he is into projecting – a more ‘perfect’ kid; one that he thinks CAN be loved – because the true kids think they are unlovable, too.  But we love them anyway for that – and for this long post, and for sharing.

Thank you all you little kids inside.  Thank you all for sharing 🙂   <–that’s me the adult and Matthew, the teenager who has been working with our kids.

Early Memories, Mostly Good

Sometimes I think it strange that I still have memories of my early childhood. Things I haven’t remembered in years coming up – some good, some bad, most of it neutral. Bits and pieces; snapshots and short films; fragments in other words.

I often wonder about those missing pieces, and am sometimes given clues in stories I’ve heard – either from my mom and dad, or someone in the family. We don’t remember everything, that is for sure, but on the other hand they say the unconscious mind never forgets anything: it’s just stored away; locked from your conscious mind – though it may reappear in your dreams, morphed into something else (perhaps) – a symbology of an event which once occurred.

But some things I remember forever – bits and pieces and snapshots of this world. The world of early childhood. When we first came ‘here’: Augusta, Georgia.

Before kindergarten there are memories of that road – Ruby Drive. A row of identical duplexes riding on a hill. A lot of things happened here; first dreams, first stories, some of them not good. I remember when a man – a G.I. – got a snake. He had shipped it home from ‘there’ – there being Vietnam. Even that young – about six years old – I knew what “Vietnam” was. It was a place where a war was being fought, and it was no good.

But this guy had gotten this python – it had to easily be six foot long, if not longer. Despite being a little kid I knew this snake was big. Even by grownup standards it was a big snake.

The call had gone out all over the neighborhood: ‘Come, see! The great snake!”, and it stood there out in his yard. I went despite my mother’s objections; she was preoccupied with something in the house. And just a few doors up this guy – I don’t know where he was; I don’t remember him at all, and I’m not sure, but I think the story goes that the snake showed up before he did, coming home from Vietnam. And a boy’s momma opened up this big large crate – it was sitting there in their front yard – and there was this giant snake in it. Along with instructions to treat it good.

But that box rose clear up to my chin – and like I said, I was about six years old. Almost; not quite there, and this (from the feel of things) was in the spring.

So rising up to the balls of my toes, I stretch and I look in – and there was the biggest snake I’d ever seen, rising up, its head just inches away. It was a huge thing – huge and green – and its mouth was agape and I could see its recurved teeth angling back like white daggers. I stepped back, not nearly so bold as I had been a moment ago. I was scared of the thing.

But that was something about that neighborhood – the house next door to us had snakes. LOTS of snakes. We’d find them out in the yard, we’d find them in the drive. They were everywhere and they were emanating from this yard – from under this house. It was a brick house with a low crawlspace – bricks were lined up in rows, functioning as vents. And you’d see snakes going in and out from under this house all the time. And most of them were quite poisonous – cottonmouths, water moccasins. There’s be sprawls of them; piles of them – batches of young snakes squirming in the yard – and the owner would have to come out and kill them before us ‘babies’ could get into them.

I remember one batch of snakes – they were squirming in the grass – and all us kids gathered around watching them while someone ran back to get the grownups. We all had gathered as close as we dared – and I wanted to pick up one of these things so bad – but knew I shouldn’t (it could be poisonous, or so I’d been told) – and the other kids were daring me – and I reached out to the pile and touched on – was about to pick it up when the owner ran up and stopped me. He was very mad – pale faced and red, both at the same time. Now, here, later on in my lifetime (and after pursuing a biology degree, not to mention a lifelong interest in ‘anything wild’) – I realize that chances are most of those snake were NOT poisonous; perhaps garter snakes of some kind. But I’ll never forget one scaring me into busting through their screen door one time!

I had gone over to see my friend – it was ‘late’ in the evening – actually about six or seven – and we’d just eaten dinner (that’s how I know what time it was). We always ate dinner right around five-thirty, six o’clock, since that was when daddy got home. And I’d went over to my neighbors to see if my friend could come out and play.

And as I’m standing on the porch I look down and I see a long snake gliding through the vent just a few feet away.

Before you could say “BOOM!” I was on my way. Not even bothering to open the door – I could see through the rusted screen; they were eating within – I burst through that door like a shot, screaming “SNAKE!!!!” – and pointing back at the door I had just ruined.

The father – after they’d all recovered from their surprise at me bursting through their door – took me outside and we examined the vent. No snake was there (which I was relieved to find) – and he just laughed.

One day while we were living there my brother taught me an important lesson.

I was sitting there in the living room playing with something when my brother bursts in the door – crying and wailing that some bird has pecked on his head. Now I’m very amazed at this thing; I’ve known birds to be shy, though I’ve been told you can sneak up on them with a salt shaker, and if you shake salt on their tails they can’t fly. (Try it sometimes. I don’t know if it works – but I tried. Never could get close enough to know.)

And it turns out he’d found a baby bird in the front yard – and picking it up, he’d intended on rescuing the poor thing. That is, he was up until the parent bird landed on his head – and hooking its claws into his hair, gave him a good pecking.

So he comes in – and I kid you not – that boy was streaming blood. It was running all down his forehead and temple – and you could tell (I could tell, even at such a young age!) – that he felt he’d been betrayed by both of the birds. The baby one for ‘telling him’ or pretending to need some help – and the parent for attacking him when he tried to provide for its kid.

But I learned my lesson right then and there.

You don’t mess with no baby birds. Never ever again.

And I hadn’t even played with one.

I remember Kindergarten fairly well – I think. I say that because I think I went to two of them; one early on, another one a little bit later. The first, Wee Kingdom or something like that, was my ‘worst’ experience of all at that time, in a way. That’s the one where the cat bit me and I had to get the rabies series shots out at Fort Gordon under the hands of the unemotional and detached doctors. I’ve been told my screams were so bad they disturbed the Vietnam vets who were in the wards, though I was a fair bit away. The wards were on one side of a long hallway – miles long, quite literally, it ran rolling across the hills; the exam rooms, lobbies and entrances were on the other side of the hall, facing the road and harsh parking lots. Read “Cat Scratch Fever” for more on that.  So the doctors started having my mom drop me off in the evening – turning me over to them for my weekly (or bi-weekly – I forget) torture and treatment there.

But the ‘other’ kindergarten – I remember that one well. Unlike the first one where a kid stepped on my hand simply for being there – for being the ‘strange kid’ (though I was quite open and honest and friendly) – but I was the new one, and I hadn’t any friends there.

The same went for the second one – no friends – but it was much calmer there. The teacher treated me like somebody, which means she treated me like the rest of the kids. I just kinda blended in.

I remember that classroom real well – the ‘breaks’ we would take, laying down our thin padded mats, my was vinyl covered foam and it was red. I remember there was some difficulty in procuring me a mat – something to do with money I think. They were expensive and we were poor, and I remember sleeping on the floor in the beginning, curled in a blanket or two. And it was a hard floor, a concrete one, but it felt cool sleeping on the tile, though I didn’t sleep a whole lot. I was interested in what was going on.

They took us to a bread factory one day – I remember that one. It was a Colonial Bread factory (which has since then closed), but it was an amazing thing to a small child. They took us around, following the process – the dusty bags and clouds and dough; the stainless steel; the conveyors – I was enthralled. I can still remember the process they showed – we all stood around a big ol’ stainless steel bowl. Within was a smooth layer; a cake of dough. And the man, explaining, showed us this thing: how it had to be ‘punched down’. And with that he took his fist and pummeling it down, sank his hand up to his elbow in the dough. And with a soft and yeasty sigh the whole surface settled down. He withdrew his hand, looked up and smiled and said “We wait and do it again.”

I remember finger painting – barely. I remember my mom drawing profiles of my brother and I – but that took place on Oklahoma Hills. I remember the orange juice and snacks they would pass around – I didn’t like the orange juice much, but I craved those sweet and sugary cookies. Kool-aid was a special treat; cool and fruity and sweet (yet dry sometimes).

I’m almost certain it was two schools we went to; the playground, the buildings – they aren’t alike, neither is the yard.

I remember when we were at Ruby Drive (I always want to say “Ruby Falls” because we went there to see it somewhere around this time – that was when the incident with “The Bear” happened, we saw “Unto These Hills” and the mountains and Cherokee land . . . I got one of my most favorite toys and rode it as much as I could . . .

It was a little green pedal powered tractor, its body made of cast iron. It had a little umbrella on it, and a trailer – and it was cool. It was the coolest toy that I owned at this time (aside from my toy stuffed animals; they were special in my mind: not toys, but alive, and . . . well, dearly beloved friends of mine.)

I rode that tractor a LOT. When we first got it we were living on Ruby Drive – and there was that hill with the hollow below, the woods behind, and the guy with the snake right up across the road . . .

My mom says she caught me riding my little tractor right on up the road, leading a procession of cars (and impatient drivers no doubt!) – with my little umbrella and feet pumping as fast as I could . . .

I rode that tractor on into Oklahoma Hills, but there it didn’t last long. The umbrella went first; victims of us kids; the trailer soon followed since the big kids wanted to ride in it – and on it. I remember fighting with Barry – and also carrying Barry – on the nose, straining at the pedals. And I had gotten larger. And sooner or later the chain began to slip on the thing – falling off the sprocket – and finally, worn out, the thing was retired to the yard (it had been kept on the carport before) – where it functioned as a push-around toy – then like all good ol’ childhood toys, it finally faded from memory and time and disappeared, and obedient ghost (meaning while I am fond of it, this tractor and all – I certainly don’t miss it. Not anymore.)

I also remember the one-armed man in Ruby Drive. He was black (I think) and he was a car mechanic (I think). He was fat, I know. But my parents had sent the car to someone to get repaired, and he came driving it back up to the house – and I was amazed at this one-armed man driving this car. He slipped it in smoothly by the curb. I couldn’t see how he could do this thing! So I asked my mom and dad and they just sorta turned to me and said: “Well, he driving it, so there you go! He must not have a problem.” And that was that and I sort of understood – and yet not. How this one-armed man could manage driving.

There’s more of course – little bits and fragments, just like me. I remember loving onions until I decided one day (I was about three or four) – I’d had enough of them.

“My brother doesn’t like them so I won’t, too,” I suddenly decided – right there in the middle of eating an onion, biting it like an apple – and walking across the kitchen I looked up at my mom and handing it to her, I said:

“Here. I decided I don’t like them anymore.”

And I didn’t – from that point then on, I didn’t like onions. I had made up my mind. My brother – my BIG brother, no less! – didn’t like onions, and so neither would I.

This was about the Ruby Drive area . . .

I also remember going to the Smithsonian – going to Washington D.C. . . . the swinging pendulum whose motion was imparted by the earth – the pendulum was actually standing still, it was WE who were moving; the big gem – seeing the Hope Diamond in its glass window. Shining; blue – wonderful, beautiful . . .

The Washington monument. No, we did not climb it; nor did we go up in the elevator. We just walked past while I wished I could climb its stairs. Not for the view or thrill of climbing it – I wanted to simply for the challenge. I don’t know how old I was when we went up there, but I think we also passed through Philadelphia, where I touched the Liberty Bell . . .

There was one incident I remember real well. We were driving down near there – my mom was going somewhere – when, while looking behind us, I saw this guy jump a car.

Now this was an old guy, and we all saw him – my mother, brother, and I. That was because the car was getting in a wreck, and the sound of a car horn and squalling tires alerted us to look behind (or actually off to the rear of my right hand side).

This car had suddenly swerved out of the road – a black one if I remember – and careening in a tight curve across the road (the source of the tires squalling) jumped the curve (and gave a massive thump; you could see the driver thrown in the air in his car) – and nearly ran down an old tall dark man – a black one, I mean – who was simply strolling there.

And that black guy, gray haired – I guess he heard that thing coming, took one look and jumped straight into the air. Like a cat. Straight up – and the car went flying under him – and I think his feet must have touch the trunk hood, for he took a bit of a tumble when he came down. Then he got up – and dusting himself off (we were moving away by this time) – picked up his cane and started moving towards the car . . .

I remember learning to tie my shoes – again off Meadowbrook Drive. Under the table after sitting there on a chair with my mom patiently showing me how, over and over again. After awhile I seemed to ‘get it’ so I went to my favorite place to learn: under the dining room table. From there you could learn all kinds of things. Sometimes my parents would be sitting there; they would forget I am sitting under the table; the living room is dark, the kitchen is dark – the only light hanging over the table while they discussed – and often yelled; his finger stabbing down – oh, things happened. But we learned.

We learned our multiplication tables and our math tables under the dining room table, listening as a kid as my mom and my brother recited it above. I would listen in, memorizing this thing; that set of numbers or a word for a thing; how to spell it – whatever went on. I did the best I did; which was the best as I can for a young child. And my mom talks about when she would be sitting there drilling Bill on some math table or problem, or spelling, this voice would come whispering from below – from beneath the table – whatever the answer is.

The funny thing is that he was a grade above me – and that I was sometimes considered (as least by myself!) – a slow learner; just an average kid – if not a little below when it came to learning. Maybe this was done by my first grade teacher; I could tell she resented me in some fashion; didn’t like me in some way. I was always the last in the line, or there near; the one sitting in the back – and it took me forever! (or it seemed like forever it seemed) to earn my “Gold Star” for learning the entire alphabet and saying it out loud. I was the last one in the class to do that – and it was days later, after the other kids had done it . . .

and yet here I was, spelling words for another child . . .

I remember my first grade teacher got mad as snot one time and forced us all to write to 100. The problem was: we didn’t know how. We hadn’t gotten much above ten. Nodody knew how to write to one hundred! Finally – the teacher gone; she had stormed out of class after giving us this assignment (I think we must have pissed her off) – all us students put our head together and pooled what we had collectively learned – and then we came up with the right answer, one student copying off another – until, some time later, all us kids had it. I was just finishing mine when the teacher walked in. I had ‘seen’ the pattern, soon after reaching twenty – then thirty and then on. The “100” was most confusing, because I didn’t know where to put the other ten. . . .

oh well, go on figuring things out sometime . . . that seemed to be in my nature. As well as being curious about things. ALL kinds of things. Everything from day one.

(now here’s something odd; just remembering that; a faint ghost of memory . . . seeing an x-ray; a child’s broken bone? Just an infant I am wondering, just a faded forgotten ‘frag I don’t trust . . . but there’s almost like a strange reality to this image as well . . . who knows.)

Odd bits in school:

A fart that had a lump. Marching down the hallway. Quite to my embarrassment. I went to the bathroom and took care of myself.

Getting cussed out by that teacher – after that art project that I had done . . .

Watching the snow fall down outside as we marched past the courtyard . . . wondering at its soft flakes . . .

Seeing the school library. How I wanted to go in! But it was for the ‘big kids’ and we were forbidden to use it . . .

Playing those little tin cymbals in first grade. That or knocking sticks – or a stick on a box. “The First Grade Band”. Hold your ears and put in your earplugs – what a strident (and discordant) band!

Us making butter – I think it was in first or second grade. We had to bring in our own container or something – it was hard. But buttermilk I think was used, and we shook it and shook it – and then: tada! Little bits of soft butter floating around in milk, which we then spread on salty saltines and passed them around. I think there were about two, maybe three on average per child.

The talking game; the passing of secrets: where you whisper one phrase to someone and then they pass it down – and by the time its reached the end, it’s changed. That used to fascinate me as a kid – I LOVED playing that game – and still do. It’s amazing how something can change (especially the more complicated and alliterative it is) – into something else – and the effects that people’s minds can have on it. I’ve found that it changes as you go. Get a group of dirty minded people together and the most innocent of phrases will be turned into something unclean. And the opposite does NOT hold true more often than not. Those Christians seem to turn some good phrases on their heads, too. (Smiling with lots of inner laughs among my children; they’ve seen this sort of thing. Over and over together – about all kinds of things; the inverse and stood on it’s head.)

Then there was this kind of thing: Candyland.

Candyland was a children’s park located on the South Side of Augusta. It’s right next to the Tag office on Lumpkin Road. It had a spiral slide – the only one I knew of. Perhaps that’s where that dream with the white hall came in; those spiral ‘chutes’ and slides – though this one was an enclosed one, and not open like those. Maybe by some weird fusion – those long hallways from Fort Gordon coupled with this spiral slide coupled with my mom’s joking and her beliefs (though I didn’t – to my knowledge – know about cloaks and . . . well, I want to say ‘things’ without knowing what those things may be – my substitute sometimes for either something I don’t want to say or don’t want to remember. I don’t know.)

But I do remember what a treat that was! When my mom would announce we were going to “Candyland” – wow, that just perked up us kids. Though that was mostly again when we were Oklahoma Hills.

Speaking of ‘Candyland’ we had that game; that and the one with the Cherry Trees. A counting game if I remember. And we had some card games – Old Maid, Go Fish – things like that, and we’d all sit around playing them – my mom and me; sometimes my mom and brother and me – sometimes just ‘me’. I was good at that thing: making up playmates within myself for me to play with. Having conversations in my mind. “With them” – though who ‘they’ were . . .

Well, that was a funny sort of thing. I couldn’t control what they were ‘saying’ so much as just listen to them; they were like another people. I could listen to them in my mind but I would respond verbally, which sometimes got me into trouble for ‘talking to myself’ all the time. And I would – sitting along I would chirp and cheep and play along with my toys – perfectly happy being alone, because I was not lonely.

I had all these ‘friends’ in my mind . . . and my stuffed animals to play with

And even when they’d stick me in the corner sometimes (both at school and at home) – I’d be entertained . . .

Listening and whispering and talking to the voices in my mind.