Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Chapter 1, P.K.: continued, (2)

I began reading real books at about six. Mom took me to the library in the basement of the K of C hall in Clayton when she went to get the latest Ngaio Marsh mystery. I would have been about 4 or 5. While she browsed, the librarian put me in the children’s section. It was very small, but then, so was the library, since replaced by a magnificent brick building; but more about that later. There I was exposed to Peter Rabbit et al, which my Grandma had read to me as a little tyke. Also I found Raggedy Ann, Brer Rabbit, and “Little Black Sambo,” whom we mustn’t talk about anymore because he represents oppression. In those days, I found Sambo to be an inspiration. What a clever and resourceful little boy he was, I thought. No one had ever told me that the fact that he was black made him inferior, oppressed and in need of freedom. I thought it was a story about a little boy![1]

Enough about my politically leftist views and my white liberal attitudes: that’s another chapter. We were in the library, where I apparently began to read from those books. The first sign of it might have been when people began to point out my increasing vocabulary, and praise my parents on what an intelligent little boy they had (a somewhat mixed blessing, considering the above)! The next thing I knew I was no longer allowed to play with my Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls, because Dad was worried they might make me effeminate. I am confusing ages here, but the info goes together, because it reveals something about my parents and me. I was to become a bookworm, and for some time afterward, Dad, and my older brothers, could be seen to worry that, in today’s parlance, I might become a “girlie man.” But countless reads of Nancy Drew series notwithstanding, I did not (I can hear my friends asking rhetorically “how do you know?”). I also read The Hardy Boys, Tarzan, and Superman Comics.[2] Later, when I discovered that Mom had thrown out all of my Superman comics while I was off at college, I was furious. Of course, I was even more so many years later when their real value became apparent, along with all of the other collectible comics I once stored in an anonymous cardboard box that “looked like trash.”

I was amblyopic as a baby, and Dad’s job as principal probably helped get my eyes checked early enough to detect and correct it. They did not routinely test for it then, as they do now. Along with it came asthma. My older brother, Richard (Dick to all of us and his friends), had it before me, and of course its cousin Hay Fever. Many people considered Hay Fever to be a joking matter in those days, not worth serious medical attention. Remember Sneezy, the dwarf? It was even a misnomer: people who have Hay Fever are often allergic to many other things, but not hay. I was not one of those people, nor was Dick. Also, at two and a half, I was required to sit for hours at a time, attempting to cross my eyes (they both turned out) through the use of some eye exercise cards. In between those times I wore an eye patch until I was fitted with glasses, and then I had a set of black disks that went over one lens of the glasses or the other, so that I could exercise one eye at a time or rest the right eye, forcing the use of the weaker left one. The glasses were nearly as thick as the bottoms of coke bottles, and very heavy, though small enough to fit my baby sized face. They had wire rims and hooks on the bows to hold them behind my ears, and large nose pads, as I was blessed with a skinny little nose. My glasses were always falling down or off. Somewhere there is a series of studio photos of me which Mom felt were so cute, with the sailor suit and all, without the glasses. I still have them, but would like to trade them for all of the photos of Clayton which I lost later on. It was the last photo taken of me as a child without those glasses.

In our back yard was a deep sand box, in which I used to play. I frequently “lost” my glasses in the sand, probably because I hated them. This behavior went on for some years, until my eyes began to develop, and the lenses could be thinned. By the time Kindergarten rolled around, they were like old friends, because they allowed me to read. When the other kids were reading “see spot run/see Dick and Jane,” etc., I was very bored. Something I did not hide at all well, unfortunately. Also, along with the Hay Fever came an extremely developed sense of smell, like the overdeveloped auditory sense. Many foods just smelled “bad” to me, and I had no appetite for them. Macaroni and cheese (a staple for families with limited income such as ours) smelled like something rotten and moldy. It was the same with plain cheese of any kind, and don’t even mention hard boiled eggs! They smelled like sulfur. I still can’t eat them.

[1] The Story of Uncle Remus, by Joel Chandler Harris; Little Black Sambo ,by Helen Bannerman; Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter; Raggedy Ann & Andy dolls with made up stories, still sold today by Hasbro Toys.
[2] Nancy Drew was actually written by a “syndicate”, Edward Stratemeyer, Harriet Adams, Mildred Wirt Benson, etc.; The Hardy Boys Created by Franklin W. Dixon (pseud. of Edward Stratemeyer, 1862-1930, and others); Tarzan, by Edgar Rice Burroughs; Superman from DC Comics

1 comment:

Bill said...

Nice post! Your comments echo my thoughts as well... I do not recall any prejudicies going up, in myself, or my friends. It was much later.. late teens, early 20's when I recall hearing those first derogatory comments.

In fact I can distinctly recall the first time I heard anyone use the 'N' word, and that was in Navy boot camp... it was never uttered by either of my parents (at least in ear-shot of me).

I'm enjoying your writings.