It may be March, but winter still has Northwest Illinois held firmly within her grasp. I’ve been bundled up for most of the day checking out the first quarter of Roger Ebert’s memoir, and it is a pleasure to be reading him again. Ebert was able to remember the moments of his early life with a level of detail that I find staggering. I have plenty of stand out memories from my own past, but I struggle to remember the names of a lot of the people in those flashbacks. Perhaps if I ever decide to write a memoir of my own I will try to get in touch with the people who had a memorable impact on my own life.
I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about my childhood, perhaps because it was not all that memorable. The memories that really stand out include the time I woke up and saw a bat sleeping on the door beside my bed, the time I was roughhousing with some friend and got pushed onto a piece of plywood that had nails sticking out of it, and I got a couple of teeth kicked out when my friends and I started a fight club. I can also vaguely remember being by far the worst player on a little league team that happened to win the city championship.
Oh boy was I terrible at baseball. It didn’t help that I had little interest in the sport to begin with, and that I would kind of wander around right field when the other team was up to bat. When I was up to bat I would cower in the furthest corner of the batters box and just pray that I the pitcher would walk me before I was put in a situation where swinging would be absolutely necessary. Every at bat was a concentrated dose of terror. When one of my coaches asked me to step into a pitch in order to draw a walk, I decided I was done with baseball.
There are a lot of unpleasant memories from my childhood that I would rather not talk about right now, but it does bother me how they take up so much of those early childhood memories. It would be nice to have more memories of time spent with family members who have since past away. It would help if I had more pictures from my childhood but my father never owned a camera and I would only stay with my mother during the summer and on weekends. I still have pictures of a time I went late night fishing with my late Uncle Mike. I was probably nine or ten years old, and not only was it one of the only times I’ve been fishing, but the there was also a thrill to being out so late with someone I really didn’t know that well. In the pictures I am holding a pretty good sized catfish, and I remember freaking out that the fish was going to some how come back to life and attack me.
There is another memory in which my sister and I were watching cartoons late into a stormy night, when cars pulled up to the house that my parents were constructing on a neighboring lot. After what felt like hours, people got out of the car, went into the unfinished house, turned some lights on, and after a couple of minutes got back into the car and left. As you may imagine this really freaked out my sister and I. We ran upstairs to tell my mom what happened, but in her sleepy state she told us not to worry about it, but we were already well beyond, “not worrying about it.” The country property my mom and stepdad owned at the time had a very long driveway that connected to the highway. For the rest of the night my sister and I would watch for cars heading down the highway, in mortal fear that one of them may turn on to the driveway. No one ever did, and when we talked to my mom about it the next day she was upset that we didn’t walk to the other house and turn the lights off. So much for being babied.
Most of the other memories from my early childhood involve watching TV and playing video games, and are the same shared memories that everyone my age can recall. I remember that I was especially drawn to old, Nick at Nite shows like Get Smart and Bewitched. I can also remember with startlingly clarity playing the first Mario and Mega Man games on my Nintendo, and playing games like Pitfall on my friends Atari. I remember that the first movie my parents took me to see in the theaters was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle’s, and almost not being able to handle the immensity of the cinema experience.
My memories start to clear up once when it comes to the ages of ten on. I have fond memories of middle school. Back then I was living in a town that was just large enough to have a diverse public school program. There was never a hint of racial tension between the black and white kids, and it would only be later, when I moved to a smaller town that I would here racial slurs for the first time. My parents moved to a smaller town because they wanted to raise us kids in a safer environment, but it was at the smaller, “better” school that I first experienced hatefulness. Sure, I got bullied a fair bit when I lived in a larger town, but these were equal opportunity bullies. Moving to a small town and meeting kids who were small minded, entitled - and in some cases - cruel hearted that marked the end of my childhood. Most of the kids were friendly, and incredibly kind, in fact I am still close friends with a number of them. But t there were a couple of kids whose actions were so full of hate and pettiness that it shook me out of childhood and put me on the jaded path towards becoming an adult.