NOTE: This is one of a series of descriptions of my life and my recollections starting at my earliest childhood. I have divided my life into stages that I call “Epochs”, and if you have arrived in the middle of this and have an interest, you may find the other related entries in this blog under the category “Life Epochs”.
As one might expect at the age of 59, I have few clear memories of my early Epochs of life. There are a couple of hazy recollections – perhaps merely imaginings – of Epoch-1, but these are little more than very foggy and indistinct still-pictures in my head – more like “feelings” than real memories. There is an image I have at the “glider field” (to be described in detail later) of a large tent on a wooden platform. I was told that this existed, but my mother thought that I should have been too young to remember it. I also have a very fuzzy picture in my head of being a pre-schooler and being along with my mother playing on the floor as she worked as a librarian at the local high-school. Once again, she always thought that I should have been too young to remember that but the image, real or not, is there in my mind. I also have a couple of “photo-images” in my head of the public elementary school that I went to for kindergarten and 1st-grade. I remember a wooded area behind the school and the school’s playground and the kindergarten classroom. I don’t remember teachers, or fellow students, though I have a few of those “still-image memories” of the first-grade classroom; learning to read with the classic “Dick and Jane” storybook; and watching grass-seed sprout on a damp sponge as a “science experiment”.
I recall my parents owning some very old cars too; a two-toned green Ford of my father’s, probably mid-to-late 1950’s and a black, beat-up and exceptionally ugly Chevrolet of my mother’s, probably a late 40’s vintage. Once again, I have been told that these existed, but my parents were astonished that I should be able to remember them.
I have no significant recollection of “events” or people in Epoch-1, however. For example, although I have seen actual photos of me as a small child with my mother’s father and another with a neighborhood child, I have no personal memory of either of them. The fact that these photos do not raise memories suggests to me that the memories that I do have may be real and not externally induced.
Because Epoch-1 is so vague and short, perhaps I should pad this out with a short general description of my parents and childhood family life. I was an only-child. People often respond by saying; “Oh, you must have been spoiled”, but I beg to differ. Yes, when you are the only kid in the house you get all the attention, but from the kid’s perspective this is not always a Good-Thing. There were no siblings to distract adult supervision and with the ratio always 2-against-1 there was seldom relief from this oversight so it was hard to get away with anything. There was also no one else handy to create reasonable doubt if something “got broken” or a mess suddenly materialized. Altogether, I would say that being an only-child was a double-edged sword. One thing that this condition did do – for which I am eternally grateful – is that I became used to “alone time”. I learned very early how to amuse myself and I became comfortable living with silence and with nothing but the world around me for company. I believe that the life-skill of finding contentment in the quiet of your own thoughts is both powerful and important.
I grew up in a comfortably middle-class environment in the suburbs of Philadelphia. The house was new when my parents bought it in the latter portion of the 1950’s, but though I was alive I don’t remember the apartment that predated the house. The house was on about an acre in a typical residential development of similar structures, and in my early childhood our property was bordered by undeveloped woods providing easy access to “the wild”. The house was a 3-bedroom/2-bath rancher and at some point in my earlier childhood my parents “finished” the basement, which became a “rec-room”, TV-lounge and work-space for my father. There was a 2-car garage in the other half of the basement. I was told that there were some bad storms including a hurricane in the first few years that caused some damage and forced some early “improvements”, and one of my Epoch-1 memories is of sleeping in the living room huddled around the fireplace for warmth because a major winter blizzard had taken out the electricity. I also have an Epoch-1 memory of the construction of a screened-in back-porch that would eventually become a favorite warm-weather place. This memory is of playing with the tools and construction material while my father was working on the project. I remember raising a claw-hammer over my head to bash a piece of scrap-wood but having the hammer slip out of my hand and land claw-first on my head and my father rushing over in concern at my howling. Man; that hurt ; but no permanent damage occurred – I think. Altogether this was a nice house for a kid to grow up in and I remember it fondly.
In another of those Epoch-1 snapshot memories, I recall leaving a hospital with my father and seeing my mother waving at us from a window of her hospital room in a yellow bathrobe. This was probably when she had her mastectomy for breast-cancer. She told me much later (in a sort of apologetic way) that because of this cancer-scare she never expected to live long enough to see me grow to be an adult. She said that because of this she was deliberately “hard” on me as a child to “toughen me up” and make me mature and self-sufficient at an early age so that I could get along in the world without her. I’m not so sure that the results were as she intended – but there certainly was an effect on me from this deliberate course and it definitely affected our relationship. In the event, cancer did finally take my mother’s life, but not until another 30-years had passed after the mastectomy.
While it may not be typical, my mother had a strong Type-A personality and my father was a quiet Type-B person. Interestingly, my wife was also an only-child with a Type-A mother and Type-B father, and our in our adult life my wife follows after her mother closely and I my father, at least in terms of personality. I have a lot more to say about both of my parents (which will explain a lot about me), but perhaps I should save that for another entry so that this one does not become too unwieldy.
The house in suburban Philadelphia where I grew up; with me. This is dated “July 1955”, which would be shortly after we moved in and shortly before my 2nd birthday.