My life, The Early Years

February 13, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

The good, bad and the ugly ... isn't that the way everyone life goes.

I don't remember much from my early childhood. I get to what I remember later, but for now I'll start with what I've been told. My parents met in TN or KY ... I think it was TN. They almost eloped but people found out and that plan was nixed. Both my parents were in college at the time. Back in the time, you didn't need to have a college degree to get into law school, so I know my parents got married my dad's jr year in college, he got into law school at Tulane, in New Orleans, so they moved down there. Pretty funny, my dad never graduated college but he's got a law degree from Tulane & a Masters from Colombia in NY. Anyway I was born while he was in law school. My mom said that he would study with me. I was a baby in my crib and he would read his law books to me and talk about the cases he was studying. It must have sunk in some way or another since I eventually went to law school myself, but I'm getting ahead of myself. I believe it was my dad's last year of school so I only lived there a year but I love the fact that I was born there. Its a unique state with a unique history. I've been back one and hope to get there again some day.

I'm not sure where we moved next, Jackson, TN I think, where my sister was born. We are 18 months apart. From there we moved to NYC where my dad went to Colombia. From what I've been told, my dad was a bit wild. Anyway, I have a few memories of NYC. We didn't have a car so my mom pulled us around in a little red wagon. The most vivid memory I have of this time is a little news stand/store that we always went to. It had such a distinct smell. It was a good smell. Its been decades since I have smelled that smell, newsprint maybe, and old wooden floors, I don't know, but I loved the smell. The couple who owned the shop were very nice to us. I can't see their faces any more but I can see their smiles and the remember the friendliness whenever we came in. I know this was in the late 60s. This was a time of hostility and unrest with the Vietnam War and the integration of blacks and whites. There were riots and lots of protests. Where we lived at the time, married student housing, is now a part of Harlem. I don't have any bad memories of this time.

From NYC, we moved to Athens, GA where my dad taught law school. Sadly my family started to fall apart at this time. My parents fought a lot and I remember those times vividly. They were not nice fights. I don't know the validity of a few memories but I do remember (I think) of being able to look out my bedroom window and being able to see my parents at the community swimming pool. A lot of parents would go to the pool at night. During this time I also had good memories. We had fruit trees growing in the yard and I remember picking the fruit and trying to eat them. I don't think they tasted so good but it was still fun. I also remember seeing little round mushrooms in the yard. I used to imagine they were fairy houses and no one was allowed to step on them. We had a lot of old pine trees in the yard. They were the best climbing trees. I loved climbing up there and sitting in the branches looking down over the yard. My sister loved climbing too but she loved to climb the other trees to get to the gypsy moth caterpillars. We loved to play with them but mostly that was my sister's thing. Once she tried to come into the house, she was covered in caterpillars. She had to strip in the car port so she could go in the house. I think we had to strip down to our skivvies a lot. We loved playing outside in the dirt. The dirt, best known to me at the time as Georgia clay, was red and stained. I loved coming home covered in the stuff. My poor mom.

Another GA memory, the first time I really felt scared, I was in our house in the kitchen with my mom. The heavy door was open with only the flimsy screen door keeping the GA wilds from entering the house. I don't recollect how or why I knew of werewolves but I'm sure a big kid let me in on these monsters, and I swore they were coming through the screen door to get us. That is another really vivid memory. Summer and the cool summer breeze blowing through the open windows and that flimsy screen door. If the werewolves were going to come out that night, they would definitely get us. I was scared.

Sometime after that, we moved back to Jackson, TN. The details aren't clear but my parents split up. We went to live with our grandparents until our mom found a place to live and got on her feet. That didn't work out well and my grandparents decided it was best if we stayed with them. I didn't see my mom for a while. I don't even remember how old I was, but not in school yet. My grandmom taught nursery school so she would bring me and my sister. We hated it because they separated us and we wanted to be together. Once during nap time we got caught holding hands and they separated us. It wasn't a happy time. As much as I hated the school I do remember Halloween and actually bobbing for apples. I didn't get an apple but it was messy and I thought fun. I also remember the "Country Club" where we went swimming on weekends. My grandmom loved the sun. She was so tan and would sit in the sun for hours. At the end of the summer season they had a big "party" at the pool with swimming contests and such. I was still small, and not a swimmer (story about that coming soon). There was a contest where they let goldfish loose in the "baby" pool. The baby pool was really shallow on one end, probably a foot, then a rope divided the deeper end which I believe was about three feet. I hated swimming but I wanted a gold fish so bad. I tried so hard to catch one but never did. My grandparents said if I swam across the "deep" end that they would buy me a gold fish. So although I never caught one, over the next few days, we wen to Woolworths and I got a little fish and a bowl. The fish food was a small wafer like the size of a graham cracker. I'd break off a little piece every day to feed my little fish. I loved that fish. It sat on my night stand next to my bed. On the night stand was also a little transistor radio, I remember listening to the country classics, with a lot of static but it still sounded good to me. I couldn't get many stations so my choices were country, country and more country. I listened to Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings, Jessie Colter, Loretta Lynne ... the "real" country, not like today's mainstream country.

I have such random memories during this time. Much good and bad.We had a big yard with apples trees in the back. My sister and I would pick apples and my grandmom would make apple pies. They were so good. During the summer we had watermelon in the back yard. They always put salt on their watermelon, so I did too. It was so fresh and so good. I remember sitting in the lawn chairs with the weave strips and my knees would always fall through. I never sat on my bum, I always sat on my knees or my feet. I NEVER ate watermelon inside. NEVER. Out in front of the house we had 2 huge magnolia trees. We were never allowed to pick the magnolias but our grandfather would hold us up so we could smell their sweet smell. I loved how they smelled and they were so pretty. My grandad also used to let us "drive" the car. Me, my sister and our cousin would take turns sitting on his lap (we couldn't reach the pedals) and he'd let us steer. I loved driving.

Skipping back to that school, that separated my sister and I, one day my sister and I decided we weren't going so we hid. My grandmom looked everywhere and couldn't find us. She had to call out sick that day because we hid so well and made her late. When we finally came out, in big trouble, we told her how much we hated school so she agreed to have her housekeeper look after us ....

The housekeeper didn't last long. I think a few days and we hated her. I really don't know or remember why but we did. At some point we bagged to go back to school. Unfortunately I don't remember much about what happened next.

In that period of time, our Sunday church experiences had a lasting effect. It was another thing I absolutely dreaded. My grandparents went to a huge southern Baptist church. The church was so big its services were on TV every Sunday. I always pleaded & begged to be allowed to stay home & watch it on TV but it never worked. I remembered waking up Sunday morning, pretending to sleep, smelling my grandfather cook bacon, eggs & sometimes green-fried tomatoes. I tried to pretend to be sick but that never worked either. I'd have to get up, put on my Sunday dress, eat breakfast, & we'd all drive to Church. The church was huge with big balconies and the people would pile in. There was a big choir, singing was my only "favorite" part. We sang a lot. In between the singing came all the preaching, which really scared me. It was all about "burning in hell" & all "fire & brimstone." For a young child it was very scary and not a fun experience. It had a long lasting effect & I never looked at church the same. In later years my grandparents switched to Methodist. I never went to their Methodist church. You also have to remember, we were in Jackson, TN, in the Bible Belt & there was no escaping that.  After church we had to keep our Sunday dresses on so everyone knew we went to church. You didn't want to be the person outside washing a car or doing yard work on Sunday. My grandmom would make a statement about how that person didn't go to church, she judged & put them down. I didn't want to be that person.

Another big event (in my young mind) was the time I tried to run away. I only got to the end of the block because I wasn't allowed to cross the street alone. I stood there afraid of my grandmom's wrath if I disobeyed that big rule. They found me standing there ... I was in trouble but I didn't cross the street. Running away wasn't going to get me anywhere so I didn't do that again.

I also vividly remember my grandparent's house. It had a huge formal living room which we were never allowed in unless there was company. Those guests always came through the front door which opened directly into the living room. There were 2 doors into the living room, they were the sliding pocket doors. They were always closed unless we were expecting guests. There were 3 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms. Off the kitchen was the eating room. It had a huge raised fireplace. The fireplace was about 6 bricks high. Next to the fireplace the bricks extended to a little area with a bookshelf built into the wall behind it. I used to love to get a chair and TV tray and sit up next to the fireplace with all the books behind me and pretend I was a teacher. Sometimes my sister played student, other times I used my dolls and toys.

My Aunt, Uncle & cousins lived nearby so we went to visit there a lot. My cousin wasn't the most fun to play with at that young age. He loved to bite and he always chased us around the house trying to bite. It never failed that he would always catch me when I tried to hide behind the couch.

Speaking about my grandparents (on my dad's side), my grandfather was President of the local bank and for a while managed the local yearly carnival. I have many good memories of the carnival and my best memory is of the organ grinder and his little monkey that would run over and hold out his little hat so you could put money in it. That little monkey was so cute. I also remember the dancing poodles. We could hang out behind the scenes and the poodle trainer had a trailer with a fence and all the little poodles would be running around the yard. I don't know how accurate my memory is but that's what I recall. I also loved to watch the pony rides. About 8 or 10 ponies were hooked up to this walker thing and all day they just walked in a circle. It was almost like a an alive carousel. It wasn't very exciting but when you love horses and you want one then this (in the mind of a 5 year old) is the next best thing. I remember there was the fat lady and I think there was a bearded lady too. The cotton candy was a great treat. The swirls on the little paper cones were as big as me. The carnival was also scary for me. 2x a day they would have the live cannonball show where a man was shot out of the cannon. I hated it!! I hated the loud cannon. Seems so funny now but back then I would hide in my grandfathers office and hold my ears until that show was over. I think I watched it once because I have vague memories of the guy flying out of the cannon sailing across the air into a big net. Even the clowns didn't scare me as much as the guy and the cannon.

My grandparents were interesting. My grandfather dated Dinah Shore in college. My grandmother also went to college, as a matter of fact both my grandmothers went to college. Back in the day that wasn't very common. My grandfather taught me this thing when I was little and I have never forgotten it - he would say we had this relative and her name was ... Mary Anne Marinea, Sara Anne Sabrinea, Easter Jane, Edmarulla, Elphie Delphi, Darthoola, Darthoola, Patia Bowla, Cannon Nite, Calvama Stewvama, Stitamastain Brown ... I cannot spell the name and I have no idea the whole story behind it but my granfdather would tell us that over and over as we pretended to ride a horse on his knee ... and it stuck, over the years I memorized it and never forgot it. I don't think anyone alive now knows where it came from. I'll have to ask my dad.

Picking up where I left off, at some point, my parents decided to remarry (they had divorced during our time with the grandparents). If they hadn't gotten remarried, my grandparents were discussing fighting for custody of us. I loved them but thank goodness that didn't happen. We belonged with our mom.

After our parents were remarried we moved to NJ. My dad started teaching at Rutgers Law School in Camden. We lived in a town house as a family for almost 2 years, but my parents together was just not meant to be. My dad could drink a little too much and had a mean side. He could be destructive. Thank goodness its not the dad I know now. Anyway, I remember coming home from school one day and my mom saying we were going to stay with friends down the street. We all stayed there for about a week and when we came home my dad was gone. I really don't remember seeing him for a year or so. We had to move from the town house to an apartment. My sister and I got the coolest bunk beds. I slept on the bottom and she had the top. We lived on the first floor. A single dad and his 2 boys moved to the 3rd floor. We became best friends. I used to imagine our parents getting together but it never happened. We were pretty inseparable from the boys and spent hours playing in the hallway of our building or running between our apartments. At that time we had a Poodle, she was ugly by Poodle standards but we loved her. Her name was Babette - actually Cin Tams Babette de Bridgebee Taylor. I have no idea when we got her but she was always a part of my early years in NJ. I also had a cat named Pyewacket and we had 2 guniea pigs named Nutmeg (mine) and Grumpy (my sisters). My sister was the biggest animal lover a person could be (she still is). She brought all kinds of animals home. Some were strays and some she only thought so. At one point we also had 2 other cats, Champagne, a REAL mean Siamese and Carnival Queen - we called her Carney. My parents had Champagne from when I was born but I have no idea what happened to them. Carney was from my grandfather's carnival in Tennessee. I think they came to NJ with us but I really don't know. My sister still loves animals! She took care of any and everything that needed care.

During that time, we didn't have a lot but life was good. It was simple and it was just good. I really have no bad memories. We adapted to the new life of a single parent household. We had a loving mom that taught us to be loving, compassionate, caring and nonjudgmental. Mom was always there for us. She worked at a local hospital and we were latch-key kids. We'd call her at work and that was the days when there was an actual operator person who answered the phones. Doris was one of the operators. All the operators knew me and my sister and were so polite, talking to us and connecting us to our mom. I'm guessing we called mom a lot. My mom worked at the hospital for many many years.

The complex where we lived, in Blackwood, NJ was huge. I remember I would find big rocks, paper weight size, and glue kitten & puppy pictures on the rocks and then go door to door selling them for 25 cent each. I (obviously) didn't get rich, but I sold a few. I also remember one Christmas Eve, when I couldn't sleep and I was in my mom's bed and I swore I heard Santa's sleigh bells. It seemed so real at the time, I would have sworn it was true. Who knows what I heard but in the mid of the kid I was then, it was definitely Santa Claus.

In going back over the years, I realize I left out a few things while my parents were together, that left a big impact. One was back in GA - The Last Resort. (The link takes you back to things you'll never see in Athens, GA again) .My parents hung out there and saw a lot of greats. Jimmy Buffet played there before he was famous, a lot of people did. One was Steve Goodman. He became a friend of my Dads. If you don't know Steve Goodman, you must know his most famous and my all time favorite song, City of New Orleans.

Of course since I was born there, I loved the song. Since the songwriter was friends of my parents, I was lucky and privileged enough to have Steve Goodman sing this song to me.

more soon ...


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