One of my earliest memories was of running away from home. I was probably 3 years old (1972) and I packed a little suitcase, threw in some ‘nilla wafers for emergencies, snuck out the back door, crossed the Big Ditch and made it all the way to my Aunt Cathy’s house (less than a block). As I recall, life was tough out on the open road: a dog barked at me, I stepped in the water and had a wet shoe, and due to poor planning I ran out of ‘nilla wafers shortly after crossing the Big Ditch. I’m sure I ran away to protest the Viet Nam war as well as the fact that my Mom would not let me eat my desired amount of ‘nilla wafers before dinner.
I remember my step brother, Dwayne, and I were once telling lies to each other about where we came from (no way we belonged in this family). As I recall, we both told separate (but absolutely true!) stories about how we grew up on Mars. After we were through, we each realized there was a major hole in our stories: how come we never met each other on Mars? The answer was simple, of course, when it came to be known that I grew up on the light side and Dwayne grew up on the dark side. Of Mars.
I remember one time when my younger brother, Danny, who was probably five at the time, tried to horn in on my joke telling territory with this little gem: “Why did the chicken swim like a duck?” Punchline: “Because he thought he was a duck!” My parents laughed at this and it made me mad. How dare he encroach on my territory? Comedy was my thing! I didn’t even think it was a joke, much less a funny one. I think I reacted by telling a “why did the chicken cross the road” joke or acting retarded. Thinking back on it, maybe his joke is actually comical in some psychoanalytical way. I still don’t know. My fear is that it is possibly funnier than anything I have ever written since then.
I remember once visiting my Grandma’s house and for some reason my brothers did not make the trip. My two girl cousins, Shaney and Robyn, were also there and were my only source of entertainment. We mostly played Uno, Checkers and Candyland to pass the time until one day they decided to “start a club.” For kids, “start a club” usually means “we don’t want to play with you anymore so we are going to go over here and talk about you.” So they started the Wild Horses Club. It sounded like a great club to be in for a seven-year old with nothing else to do, but they wouldn’t let me join because I was a boy and also because I didn’t “love wild horses enough.” After some pretty good begging on my part (and more likely on orders from my Grandma) they let me join. Be careful what you wish for, right? During the first meeting I got a taste of what the Wild Horses Club was all about, namely, wild horses. They talked about what color of horses they liked to pet, how they would braid their tails and manes, what they would feed them, what they would name them. After sitting through this for a few minutes and realizing I did not, in fact, “love wild horses enough,” I quit the Wild Horses Club and started the Killing Ants By Various Methods Club of which I was the only member.
There is a picture taken when I was five years old of me and my brothers sitting on a bean bag chair in our t-shirts and tighty whities wearing an assortment of fake moustache and earring stickers that we got from a box of Cracker Jack. I sort of remember the moment this photo was taken, but looking at this picture a few years ago I noticed how shoddy the furniture was in the background. I mean, it was in bad shape--faded, holes in the fabric where the padding showed through, springs popping out. I’ve heard the phrase “We never knew we were poor” quite a few times, but when I saw this picture I realized it applied to me. More importantly, I also learned that I should never let money define my happiness and no matter how bad things get financially I will always look good in a moustache and earrings.
One more: I remember once out on my Grandpa’s farm he let me and my older brother, Jeff, drive the riding lawn mower around the yard (this was the 1970’s and a perfectly acceptable activity for small children). My brother and I would both sit on the seat and take turns steering. At some point I decided he had steered enough and I pushed him off the mower so I could have it all to myself. When you are four years old you don’t usually think these things through, so rather than push him off the side I pushed him off the front of the mower--at which point I ran over him. He went under the deck, legs first, his head and torso sticking out (he somehow heroically managed to grab the deck which kept him from being dragged underneath it). I was frantically trying to figure out how to stop the mower (I was an excellent steerer but stopping was not in my skill set back then) but couldn’t figure out how to do it. In the meantime my Grandpa had reluctantly tossed his beloved Swisher Sweet, sprinted over (the only instance any of us ever recall of seeing him run), and all in one motion jerked me by one arm off of the mower and stopped it. My brother was fine (the blades were fortunately the kind you can disengage and the adults had at least done that). I’m sure I got a spanking or some other punishment but for the most part it was seen as just another day in the life of a five-year old in the 70’s.
For me, however, it didn’t end there. For years I secretly felt a lot of guilt over this incident and I always had the morbid thought of what would have happened if those blades were not turned off and my brother’s feet would have been cut off. I realize I was just a little kid at the time and really not to blame, but I always carried a bit of shame with me over this incident.
Flash-forward about 15 years later and my brother had become a huge Star Trek fan. We were watching one of the original episodes that featured this guy, Captain Pike, who had this chair built for him because aliens had done something to his mind, I don’t remember what, but he could use this chair to get around and it looked sort of cool (in an old Star Trek episode kind of way.) Well, as I watched that show and realized how much my brother liked Star Trek, I decided that if he didn’t have any legs because I had pushed him off the front of a moving lawn mower when we were kids, then ran over him because I didn’t know how to stop the lawn mower, I would have gone out after watching that Star Trek show and built him Captain Pike’s chair. I think he would have really liked the gesture and I now I no longer feel any guilt over the incident.
And finally, while I’d like to tell you about how I learned to dance like Michael Jackson in my downstairs bedroom while listening to Billie Jean over and over again, I think that story is going to stay between Michael Jackson and me.