An imagined “memoir”, with fictional details that I believe are consistent with what really happened, of my life as a young child, growing up in the late 1950s in the progressive university town of Ann Arbor Michigan in the U.S. Midwest. My challenge is to try to capture the emerging world of a precocious three to five-year-old kid and his interactions with his peers and the adult world. The story starts just before my third birthday, in April of 1958, when I am just beginning to really talk.
Click on the chapter title to read the chapter…
PART 1: DUBIOUS – Shy to speak more than a word here and there, I finally come forth with full sentences a few days before my third birthday, noting that, “I will be three years old!”, to the surprise and relief of my mom and dad. And so the tale of my young life begins, including an imagined drama played out in the bathtub.
PART 2: INTERIORS – On a rainy early spring morning after breakfast with my mom and dad, I launch a personal exploration of all the spaces of our house with my dad off working in his office in the basement, and I find some surprises in places I would not have thought of, that might impact my upcoming birthday.
PART 3: BASEMENT – I spend the rest of that rainy day doing my imagination play down in the basement, a follow up on the same scenario, good guys vs pirates, that I played last night in the bath tub. My dad is also down in his part of the basement working in his office. Our worlds intersect for a moment and he tells me about some of his own experiences 13 years ago in World War II.
PART 4: THIRD BIRTHDAY – Rain holds off and we have my 3rd birthday party in the park, with my best friend Molly in attendance, along with other kids and adults. Have an altered consciousness experience on the merry-go-round with Molly before her accident. Finally get to open my presents and solve the ticycle mystery. The day is all about my rules of engagement with adults vs other kids like me.
PART 5: TRICYCLE – With my dad on the periphery to make sure we are safe, particularly crossing the streets, Molly and I go on an adventure on our tricycles pretending to be the “Sky King” character that we’ve watched on the television at Molly’s house. That imagined adventure leads us to the nearby Michigan football stadium where we transition to a real-life adventure watching the sudden approach of and take refuge from a violent thunderstorm.
PART 6: ATTIC – Molly and I return from our tricycle adventure with dad and the big storm at the stadium to her very complicated house to have cocoa with her mom and my dad. Becoming bored with the adult conversation, she and I head upstairs to her wonderful attic room to do some “pretend” play, and defend the fort from the approaching enemy cars until calamity strikes us.
PART 7: BASEBALL – A baseball game on the radio down in the basement between the Detroit Tigers and the New York Yankees draws my mom and dad into conversation about loyalties and what they do and do not have in common, and puts me “at the plate” and on the spot to show off my batting skills with plastic bat and wiffle ball. My mom brags about her baseball prowess and actually shows off some of her alleged skill by snagging a line drive.
PART 8: DIRT – Dad takes me on an early morning adventure in the car across town to get two trashcans full of dirt at Killins Gravel pit to be dumped in theT area between the maple tree and my bedroom window, for me to play with in our backyard. I get to be his helper on the way home, making sure the filled cans, standing in the open trunk, don’t fall over. He waxes melodically and otherwise about the nature of fences.
PART 9: HIDDEN – At Molly’s suggestion we hide in the spruce tree in our backyard where we can see out but nobody can see us. It seems like the perfect secret hiding place for us away from all the crazy world of the grownups and the baby in my mom’s tummy that is about to come out. But our disappearance causes quite a bit of consternation for our parents, until Molly accidentally gives our hiding place away, just before my mom goes into labor.
PART 10: BROTHER – That baby my mom and dad kept talking about finally came out of my mom somehow but I balk at going to the hospital and instead play at Molly’s house awaiting this event that is way beyond my comprehension. My mom and dad finally return from the hospital bearing that tiny human being that they call “David” who they tell me is my “brother”. His arrival as a new member of our little family causes unexpressed concerns on my part, but also the beginnings of a possible connection as well.
PART 11: COOPER – My mom and dad take me to a grownup party across the street at Molly’s house one evening, and in that milieu I see my mom in action, mixing it up with a couple of the male friends of my dad’s. Also my various names, proper or nick, become an issue that my mom feels needs to be resolved.
PART 12: TELEVISION – Dad surprises us with a small television that he bartered for, since we don’t have the money to buy a new one. It’s not as big as the one at Molly’s house, but it’s still pretty amazing. At my suggestion, we find a place for it in the fourth “quarter” of the basement and we turn the thing on.
PART 13: TOM SWIFT – My dad reads to me every night before bed, and draws from a number of adventure stories featuring adventuresome boys like Treasure Island, and more recently our just finished Tom Sawyer. This brings up the dilemma of what to read next, and Dad remembers the Tom Swift books I got for a birthday present, and he lets me pick out one of them out to read. And with this humble literary beginning I am introduced to a new world of science fiction, that will become a mainstay of my imagination play going forward, and my overarching literary interest throughout my life.
PART 14: CIDER – On a fall day, I am invited to go with Molly and her parents to the Dexter Cider Mill for wonderful cider and donuts and Molly and I do our imagination play in the car and in the middle of the stream by the Mill. Along the way words kids and adults should and shouldn’t say are discussed and I get a sense of Molly’s dad and mom and their family dynamic.
PART 15: CAPTAIN KANGAROO – I discover a show on television that I really like to watch and my mom teaches me how to tell time well enough to figure out when it is on every morning. The show includes my favorite cartoon that features yet another young main character named “Tom”, who in this case has this amazing ability to transform himself into whatever he needs in the moment to solve his problems and continue with his adventures.
PART 16: ROOMETTE – My mom and dad take me and my baby brother on an overnight train ride to visit my grandparents in Binghamton New York, which is my first time ever riding on a train, and doubly exciting because we have a small sleeping compartment. Dad and I explore all the different “cars” on the train, which is more like a moving house to me. But later I am fixated with being “cozy” under the covers, of the bed I am sharing with my mom and dad, looking out the window at all the different things we go under, go by and go over.
PART 17: WESTWOOD COURT – I am reintroduced to my grandparents, my “Aunt Pat” and their very interesting house on Westwood Court in Binghamton. The grownups do lots of talking and try to include me, but I prefer a journey to the donut store and other explorations of the house on my own and with “Aunt Pat” and a shared fantasy with her that leads to a fitting climax!
PART 18: CHRISTMAS – Christmas morning at my grandparents house culminating in opening my presents. First my recollections of the party the previous evening with my grandma and grandpa putting on a bit of a show, my dad lending his voice (he always loved to sing). Then Christmas morning with my “Aunt Pat” (I thought that was her name, I didn’t understand the concept of having an “aunt” yet), providing a buffer and running commentary for me vis a vis the “grownups”, which though she sometimes seemed like one of them, I knew she was more like me only older. It all culminating in me opening my presents, my most favorite thing in the world to do.
PART 19: MOLLY’S 4TH BIRTHDAY – Hanging out with other neighborhood kids at my best friend Molly’s 4th birthday party, in her parents’ split level house with all the kids round the table in the dining room and all the grownups up in the living room. Conversation in both circles turns to the news of the day, and this older kid Ricky brings up the issue of “nucular” (nuclear) bombs, “radiation” and “Commies”, and the rest of us kids try to process our fears…
PART 20: SPRING – That magical first day that feels different after a long winter. I feel it, and it energizes me, and my family. I am drawn to the backyard and that special Spruce tree and somehow summon Molly to join me for a very close encounter of a different sort than we’re used to.
PART 21: MY 4TH BIRTHDAY – Relieved it’s not a rainy day, we celebrate my 4th birthday in Almendinger Park. Some of my mom’s behavior towards me is beginning to push my buttons. But I have a great day pretending with Molly and the other kids at my party as we journey to the Moon and later Mars, where we must be friendly with ugly Martians to protect the Earth from invasion. Molly has another fall off the merry-go-round but we manage to keep it under wraps.
PART 22: ALMENDINGER PARK – Mom decides I’m old enough to run free in the park across the street from our house, as long as she is sitting in the middle of the park and can see me off in the distance, the next step in my development as a “free range” kid. I explore every venue of the place and interact with all the other kids who are playing there and report on our main topics of conversation among us kids, including sports, space, war, mysteries, “cooties” and other issues and rules of engagement between girls and boys.
PART 23: THE SWAT – I am impatient and get mad at my mom for not tying my shoe laces, and use a swear word in my frustration. Then my dad “swats” me on my bottom, and I try to process the fact that he “spanked” me, something I cannot recall ever happening to me before, and something with a whole range of problematic implications to my rules of engagement with the grownups in my life.
PART 24: NURSERY SCHOOL – It’s my first day in this strange new place called “nursery school”, where my mom hopes I will have a good time playing with the other kids and can prepare for starting kindergarten next fall.
PART 25: PLAY SCHOOL – After that bad day at the “nursery school”, mom and dad pony up the precious funds to send me to Towsley Play School, and it works out much better for me. The place is bigger, the other kids are more welcoming, and their array of toys is spectacular!