I figure I’ll do these “memoirs” bits in stages as I go along. Many of my reminisces will be kind of jumbled since I can remember that certain things happened, but am less clear on when they happened.
So here’s the first.
I was born early in the year 1961 in the small town of Kennewick, Washington. My mother claimed that I was a month late–she knew exactly when I was conceived because there was only one time when my father was home. (He was in the Navy at the time, so she said.) To be honest, I’m not sure how much of that I believe. I have since come to learn that my mother was not terribly reliable in reporting events from her first marriage (or afterward for that matter). As a result, I have my doubts about the details. But for much of my life, I grew up believing this to be the case and who knows? Perhaps it is.
My sister was born in Portland, Oregon two and a half years later…to the day.
I had reasons to consider my birth date unfortunately timed. It was close enough to Christmas that over the years that “this present is for both Christmas and your birthday” was a refrain that I would come to hate. With my sister born in mid-summer, I quickly realized that she would get two presents during the year where I would often get only one. To a child, of course, this was completely unfair.
I have few memories of those very early days. I remember a car seat we had. The seat would have given modern certifying board the vapors as there was nothing safe about it. It served mainly to keep me out of the way of the drivers in the car and to keep me mildly entertained. The seat had a steering wheel with a button in the center that “beeped” every time I hit it. Great fun to a two year old, let me tell you.
I remember a folding crib we had for my sister. Something not unlike this:
There are several events I remember from those days. One of them, is that I was staying with some people–relatives I think, while my mother and father were out. It was a house in the country. They didn’t have a garage, but they had a “cinder block” driveway and car park with an awning to provide modest protection to the cars from the elements. I was out playing in the field when I learned that my mother had returned. I raced toward the house. As I neared it I tripped and fell, catching my right eyebrow on the edge of the cinder block driveway, laying it open. Blood everywhere.
They ended up taking me to the hospital where I got three stitches. While it’s mostly faded now, I carried the scar through much of my childhood, with a matching one on the other side that we’ll get to later.
I think it was from this same household, although not the same visit, when my father took me on a ride on a motorcycle. Little attention back then was paid to protective gear. He sat me, no helmet or other protective wear, in front of him wedged in between his lap and the fuel tank, and we went riding out on old country dirt roads. I can still see the image in my mind and remembering thinking that it felt like flying. I think I’ve been enamored of the idea of flying ever since. Many years later I had a motorcycle of my own and, yep, that old feeling came right back. Unfortunately, I ended up losing that motorcycle and haven’t really been in a position to get a new one since. Sigh. Some day, I’m sure.
I remember a toy fire truck I had, with a little rotating water cannon on the top–purely decorative of course in that it didn’t actually squirt water. But I loved it dearly.
Not all my memories from that period are pleasant ones. I have a vague memory of being in the hospital. Later my mother told me that I had had severe bronchitis when I was young that had me hospitalized twice (and have always been susceptible to upper respiratory infections ever since). Perhaps one of those incidents is what I am remembering here. A distinct memory I have of being in the hospital is my mother telling me that the IV was how they were “feeding me”. I suggested that the bottle contained mashed potatoes and gravy in liquid form.
Another incident involved the baby aspirin that was available back then (long before the association of Reye Syndrome and aspirin were well known). Unlike regular “adult” aspirin, this was flavored and not bad tasting. I got my hands on a bottle and ate the entire thing–telling my mother when they found out that “I just had a little headache.” This prompted another trip to the emergency room but by that time there was nothing they could do except hope that I hadn’t overdosed to the extent of poisoning myself.
I’m here, so it looks like I survived.
I remember a fight between my mother and father. Perhaps it was one of many, but one in particular that I remember. My sister was in her crib on one side of the room. My father was in the doorway to the kitchen, next to the refrigerator. We had several cans of orange juice concentrate in the freezer. (The stuff you mix with water to make a yellow drink almost, but not quite, exactly unlike orange juice.) In the course of the argument he took one of these cans, made some comment about the logo on the can (a little cartoon figure with an orange as a head) and threw the can across the room.
I think this may have been not long before my parents split up. I do have a memory, probably not long after that fight (although I can’t be sure) of waking up in a strange place. I opened the door and went outside to a parking lot that I did not recognize. In retrospect, it was clearly a motel and motel parking lot.
In any case, my parents did separate. I have spotty memories of taking a bus across the country. My mother bought me a toy bus at one of the gift shops along the way. And in this way, we made it back to her hometown of Portsmouth Virginia.
And that’s where I’ll end this part. More to come at a future date.