I have found myself lately consciously searching for memories of my childhood. This happens, I think, when both parents are gone. I believe we are still seeking connections from the past to the present. Here in no certain order are the experiences that have come to mind:
I see myself as a toddler walking into the ocean. Suddenly, I step in a hole and end up under water. I recall my father picking me up and rescuing me. This would have been in the early fifties at what was then Ocean Drive Beach in South Carolina,now North Myrtle Beach. This memory is a powerful reflection of my relationship with my father.
I see myself at our kitchen table having soup. We are eating by candlelight and the wind outside is howling. This was Hurricane Hazel in South Carolina in the early fifties which devastated the coast. We lived about 45 minutes away.
I hear my brother in his room next door screaming in pain from an ear infection. I do not know how to help him. I follow my mother into the kitchen as she heats up his eardrops. I listen as she administers to him and tries to calm him down. She was a nurse and knew what to do but I did not. I felt helpless and sad about his pain.
I am lying in my bed and am awakended to the sound of a train. But this train is louder and more insistant than usual. I awaken the next day and my daddy takes my brother and me in the car to see where the tornado hit. The victims were a poor black family in our community. I saw dead chickens and a doll on the ground. My daddy says, “Let’s go; there’s too much death here.”
It’s Christmas and Santa has been good. Daddy puts me in the car and drives me to the country. He shows me a grove of trees where he says the house once stood where he grew up. A child of the Depression, he adds, “We were excited to get an orange and a pack of firecrackers for Christmas. That’s why I want you and Vick to have a nice Christmas.” And we always did.
Our first pet was an English Shepherd named Prince. He was really Daddy’s dog but I loved him because when he stretched out, he would let me put my head on him and rest. Daddy used to feed him ice cream and water melon. He was scared of thunderstorms and learned to use his claws to open the screen door of the back porch. He was mischievious and learned to dig holes under the fence. Once escaped, he would steal the neighbor’s milk. He then developed a bad habit- chasing cars. One Saturday night, Daddy received a call that Prince had been hit by a car trying to cross highway 301 near our house. Daddy went and picked up Prince, put him in the back seat of the car, enlisted our neighbor, and prepared to drive to a nearby town where a vet could see him. I ran to the car to see him before they drove away. Prince was still but breathing heavily and his eyes were anxious. I am sure he was in pain. The next day was Sunday, Mother’s Day. Daddy took an early call from the vet who said, “We just lost the puppy.” Mama made us go to church anyway. I cried the whole time.
I started dance lessons at age three. I really loved dancing but when it came time for the recital, I told my mother I did not want to go out own stage because I had to hold a boy’s hand who would help me slide down a sliding board. My parents tried to bribe me by saying that if I did go out, they would take me to my daddy’s store and let me pick out a new dress. The bribe did not work. I refused to go out on stage. Daddy got me a new dress anyway!
My mother was very protective. She did not send me to kindergarten, so my first experience with school was first grade. I was terrified. For the first week, she walked me to my class, and when she left, I stood at the window and asked her not to drive off until she waved to me. Those of you who know me well know that I got out of my shyness.
I spent lots of time by myself as a child because I grew up in a neighborhood of all boys. I used to spend lots of time at the top of a pine tree that was taller than our house. I was able to see a couple of blocks ahead my Daddy’s car and knew he was on the way home. I also loved our local municipal park with its tall swing sets. All by myself, I would venture to the park and lose myself in swinging as high as I could. I recited to myself, “How do you like to go up in a swing, up in the air so blue? Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing every a child can do.” (A Child’s Garden of Verse, Robert Louise Stevenson.)
On November 22, 1963, I was on the stairs of East Elementary School, when a boy ran by and shouted that President Kennedy had been shot. I do not remember much after that except being at home and watching the funeral on TV. I think this was the first time I was aware of the presence of evil in the world.
Childhood- powerful memories.