These years are remembered by little flashes, small moments here and there – not all of them connected with a particular year. A pair of recent poems, "Year of the Flood" and "Grandmother's House", capture many of those flashes fairly well.
This first decade of my life was marked by three negative events.
The first was my birth. Now, I'm not saying I'm sorry I was born – happily, I am no longer so melodramatic. But I was born with a birth defect.
Do you know what a harelip is? It's not a word commonly used anymore. You may have seen it in Erskine Caldwell's God's Little Acre. The medical term is "cleft lip" or "cleft palate", and the Wide Smiles web-site has excellent information on the defect. As the web site makes clear, reconstructive surgery is required, and the child's lip will never look exactly "normal".
The herd mentality of early childhood attacks these sorts of abnormalities with a keen ferocity. And once the pack learns that the object is vulnerable, they attack with all the more vigor. I was very vulnerable and sensitive about my abnormality. I longed more than anything to look exactly like everybody else.
This is why I identified with Frankenstein, and those other outsiders from Universal's glory days. In as much as I did not fit "normal", I was a monster, just like them.
The second negative event was my parents' divorce. My memory is that Padre told me when I was in the hospital to have my tonsils out, but I may have conflated events. This was 1961 or 62, and my mother automatically got custody – as was typical for the time.
Padre sued for custody, and received it – which was highly unusual. Mother sued for custody some years later – after Padre had remarried – and Padre drafted a document he would present at trial if she pursued her suit. I last saw the document over ten years ago (I've lost it since), but it included descriptions of physical and emotional abuse. There was also a description of my being left alone in a hotel while my mother rendezvoused with a boyfriend.
I have no memories of the period during which mother had custody. I always thought it was a few months. Brother Dave thinks it was almost a year.
The third negative thing that happened in this decade was just a tragic coincidence: the president was shot on my eighth birthday (November 22, 1963). Being the sensitive little cuss that I was, I felt uneasy celebrating my birthday for several years following.
There are pleasant memories in these decades:
Long trips to Ardmore to visit my father's kin. Cousin Billy was the closest to my age, and we were grand playmates.
Both my grandmothers were models of unconditional love.
Grandfather Sam, my mother's father, died when I was very young, but I still remember walking with him to the ice cream shop, and playing Chinese Checkers with him. He also taught me how little boys use the toilet.
When Grandfather Sam passed away. I remember feeling sad. I remember saying, "My eyes are leaking," and my older brother shushing me.
Mother worked, and Grandmother H- (her mother) watched me. I still remember the Christmas we went to John A. Brown in downtown Oklahoma City and there was a life-sized stuffed tiger that actually roared when you pushed a button.
I was very impressed by that tiger.
The boy next door to my grandmother had a somewhat peculiar caregiver who would never let him leave the fenced in backyard, nor would she allow other children into the fence. So, we played through the fence.
It seemed like we'd play for hours. The only way Mommom (as we called her) could get me to come in was to say the Three Stooges were on.
I remember the name of the girl at church who was my first crush: Janine. I once even fought another boy for her affections.
Mommom and Aunt Jo were part of a quilting bee. I was taught how to sew, and given small scraps of material to practice on.
After my parents divorced, I was sent to a counselor. Or a speech therapist. Main thing I remember is the lime sherbet Mommom would buy me at Kaiser's after each session.
I still remember the layout of Mommom's house, and of at least one of the houses we lived in prior to the divorce.
I could draw it for you, but I lack the words.
I remember balancing on the curb as I walked to school. And occasionally staying with the neighbors after school.I remember my father was the tallest man in the world.