I can't say I had an unhappy childhood. Tweens and teens? Yeah, those were miserable, but as a little kid I can't say that from my perspective at the time that life was anything but relatively happily insular. Like I said in my last post, I was born a little less than a year after my parents were married, and my sister came along a mere 17 months after me. Apparently I stated I wanted a "sisa" before she was born and I got my wish. We've been inseparable and best friends ever since.
Somehow, my memory stretches back to the days when it was just me and my sister, which is kind of amazing to me now considering my brother made his appearance when I was only 3 and a half. At the time we lived only a few blocks from my grandparents on my dad's side (I didn't mention it last time but my mother is from and lived in Great Britain until she married my dad), and those really early days are a mesh of going for walks to their house, being placed in the most terribly uncomfortable "church clothes" and having to sit immaculately still and quiet on the hardest wood pew imaginable to a 3 y/o, my sister and I chasing each other around and playing with the spare amount of toys that we had. I remember the unheated attic of the house where my dad built the toybox that lasted for years and climbing into and sitting in it before it was finished. And I distinctly remember the absolute adventure of roasting marshmallows in the middle of the kitchen floor during the winter over my dad's little campstove with him. I don't remember a whole lot of the music that was listened to except for one tape: Johnny Horton's Greatest Hits. We only ever listened to one side of the cassette as all the "bad" songs (i.e. bass/drum line infused as opposed to his ballads) were on the other, but songs such as "Sink the Bismark", "Battle of New Orleans", and "Johnny Reb" quickly became my favorites and ones I very rapidly and ever since I can remember be able to sing along with. In fact, a few months ago I did one of those '30 Days' memes revolving around songs and I re-remembered this tape. Looking up the songs on youtube, I found I could still recall every last lyric perfectly. On reflection too, it's really not terribly surprising that combined with my natural interests and songs about sinking battleships, the aftermath of the battle of Little Big Horn, Johnny Reb fighting all way, and using alligators as make-shift cannons, that my fascination with everything martial was only established. I'd march around the backyard at 2 and 3 y/o singing "Johnny Web, Johnny Web" at the top of my voice.
But there was also another song on that tape which even as young as I was, seemed so tragic to me, that every time it played in its turn, I'd get genuinely sad and crawl into my dad's lap until it was over. The song was, "All for the Love of a Girl" and is about a man who was left alone and devastated after his girl left him
"Well today I'm so weary, today I'm so blue,
Sad and broken hearted, and it's all because of you.
Life was so sweet dear, life was a song,
Now you've gone and left me. Oh where do I belong?
And it's all for the love of a dear little girl,
All for the love that sets your heart in a whirl.
I'm a man who'd give his life and the joys of this world,
All for the love of a girl."
It'd get me every time. Still does, to be honest. It's so straight-forward and unpretentious, and I felt so incredibly sad for the guy who'd loved this girl so much he'd give up everything for her....and then she left him, alone and struggling.
Now clearly I didn't have the vocabulary or understanding to articulate that that's why it made me sad, but I felt and saw it, and was probably the first illustration of the natural emphatic insight and ability to read people and emotions that has felt like both the worst curse and best blessing I have.
But back to specifics and less existential stuff.
This brief time period was when I remember my dad being the most carefree and involved: letting me "help" with the toybox and fixing the attic into a sort of room for when my aunt from England stayed for a while, roasting marshmallows in the kitchen, chasing me around the dining table, and just playing with us. It wasn't that he purposefully became less involved or stricter (he never did get stricter at any point in my life, the opposite eventually proving the case as you'll see) after this, but I think just became bogged down with establishing the career he was to have until he retired last year. He had left seminary shortly after I was born because he was too theologically conservative for the very conservative seminary he was attending and the churches he student-preached at, and had been basically bouncing from job to job until he got one of the early IT positions with a sub-division department of the USDA about the time my brother was born and I was 3 1/2.
But despite this overall impression of a happy really-little-kidhood, I already knew the very real mandate and expectation of near-instant and implicit obedience. Behavior above what is typically demanded from a sub-4 year old was expected, and the inability for a toddler to have a developed thought and reasoning process was not allowed or accounted for.
(to be continued...)