The Early Years

If I had to guess, I’d say things went pretty well for me in life, at least for the first year or so.  Mostly, I got to spend all my time with my mother, who, based on my perception of what other people seemed to think of her, must have been a pretty special person. I liked her fine, but it’s always nice when one’s own perceptions of someone– or something– are echoed and confirmed by others.

I’m not ashamed to admit it, but the truth is, I couldn’t walk until I was 11 months old,  so I guess my mother was pretty much stuck with me until then. We spent most of our days together for those first eighteen months, at least when I wasn’t sleeping, which, to be honest, was probably about half the time.

Come to think of it, a lot happened in those first couple of years, not all of it good.

I was born in Florida, lived in Georgia and learned to walk in Mississippi. My father had driven me out there in the back seat of our 1938 Studebaker. My mother rode shotgun. My aunt, whose in-laws we were visiting, sat in the back seat with me. She was wearing a funny hat.  She played “This Little Piggy Went To Market” on my toes the whole way across Lake Ponchatrain, which, if you must know, was more than a little annoying, but I liked my Aunt, so I put up with it. I even laughed repeatedly each time she pulled on my little toe when she got to the part where the little piggie went, “Wee Wee Wee all the way home.” Even then, I remember thinking that my Aunt should not have been discussing such things with me and that, at any rate, the little piggie should have been more in control of his bladder.

It was a long drive. We left home before the sun came up. My grandmother waved goodbye in her navy blue polka dot dress as our car backed down the driveway and slowly pulled away from the house. From the look on her face, I could tell we might be gone a right long time.

We were driving out to Mississippi to visit my father’s sister’s in-laws. Excuse me if I told you that already. They lived in a big mansion with four white columns in the front. And if you don’t believe me, that’s all right. I’ve got the pictures to prove it.

There was a big lawn out in front of the house.  At least it seemed big to me.  Everything seems big when you’re new in the world.

And that’s where I learned to walk. On that lawn. My mother gently lowered me from her arms down onto the grass. Then my father took about ten steps and turned around. Then he kneeled down with his arms outstretched to me.  I liked getting that kind of attention from my father. Usually, he was busy working or busy doing something else.

He gave me a few words of encouragement. Okay, I don’t remember exactly what they were.  It doesn’t matter.  Use your imagination. The thing is, I already spoke English at the time. I’d been speaking the language for about half my life. It was no big deal, really. I’d been listening to people speaking English my whole life.

In fact, when I was about six months old, my parents took me to the Lucas Theatre in Savannah to see a movie. I don’t remember which movie it was, or even whether or not it starred Gregory Peck, but I do recall that when my father stepped away momentarily to buy tickets, and left my mother standing by the curb, out in front of the theatre, holding me in her arms, a policeman in a dark blue uniform rode up on a big chestnut-colored horse.

I had seen many things up until that point in my life that really impressed me, but this time,  that policeman on that horse–well, that really made an impression on me.

No, I know what you’re thinking, it wasn’t the first time I noticed something and wanted to comment on it, but it was the first time I actually uttered an intelligible word.

I said “HORSE!”. Nothing more, nothing less. “HORSE! ”

I guess it could have been worse, I could’ve said, “PIG!!!”.

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