So . . . let’s see . . . last time we were talking about me, I believe the mom, the dad, and the baby me were headed east, not west. From one ‘A’ state to another. . . .
Of course, I have no memory of this, but I like to imagine the journey.
I don’t know what their car at the time was, so I picture the beat-up old green station-wagon (complete with 1970s wood paneling, of course!) of my childhood, leaving Arizona and the Navajo Nation; through beautiful New Mexico, the ‘land of enchantment’; Texas, all of it. . . . Then, would it be Arkansas or Louisiana? My guess is Louisiana, the southern route, which would take us through Mississippi into south Alabama for a visit with the grandparents (well, their parents, of course, but, you know ‘me, me, me’. . .) before going ‘north’ to Birmingham.
To my ear now, which has adjusted slightly to ‘Europe’, it all sounds rather exotic – the names Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama all have that delightful ‘roll’, that lilt.
Of course, the American in me well knows that to most of the US, this was a journey through the pits of the nation.
The me of my 40s knows it’s both.
The me of the 1970s was clueless.
I suppose these were formative years. I think that’s what psychologists and lifespan development experts say about childhood. Much of it, I don’t really remember.
I know that we lived in Birmingham until I was four(ish). My dad finished what it was he had to do to be the doctor he was to be – I think maybe this was finishing up a specialty in pediatrics? My mom had two more babies – my sister and my brother. I think it was a fairly typical suburban American life for us.
Then. Then. . . .
When I was around four, or five, maybe four-just-turning-five, we moved.
I think it’s important here to insert a note, a word of caution, an explanatory statement. . . .
What has been and what will follow is my story. This is based on my memories. These are my thoughts and my emotions. This is not history. This is not fact. This is, just as I am, flawed. But it is true in the sense that it is my recollection and my life. I am sharing it with you, and what I share is yours to do with as you see fit and fair. You might agree, you might disagree, you might recognize, you might feel. But it’s my story, my reflection, my emotion, and I thank you for your kindness and your respect.
We moved south. To southernmost Alabama. Really, southernmost. Only a few miles from the Florida state line. To a small town, surrounded by nothing and close only to other small towns.
It was, importantly for my parents, mid-distance between the towns in which they had grown up – other small towns in southernmost Alabama, also surrounded by nothing and close only to other small towns.
‘Family’, we like to say in the South, is important. I expect both my parents, but my mother in particular, felt a great deal of pressure to live ‘close by’ their parents. It’s sort of the ‘way things are done’. I think, in fact, it’s sort of the way things are still done, not just the way things were done ‘back then’.
It must have been a jolt for them. A fairly hard landing. City(ish) life in Texas, Navajo Nation, city(ish) life in Birmingham – a broken city, but a city, nonetheless – then back to rural south Alabama.
These are not easy years for me to recount. I don’t, in truth, remember a happy childhood. This is no fault of my parents or my grandparents or the woman who cared for us and loved us and in many ways ‘raised us’ while my parents were at work.
There was no shortage of love.
But. . . .
But. . . .
The town we lived in was neither my mother’s nor my father’s hometown. Neither one of them was returning to the safety of a town they ‘knew’.
As I see it now, the town we moved to was one absolutely split into bits by racism and poverty. A ‘mill village’, where everyone was seen to be ‘lower class’. (‘Class’ a term, a phrase, a notion I deplore.)
Its name, even, was not pretty. A name that only garnered ridicule. None of the exotic Native American tones of some of its neighbouring towns. Just an ugly sounding word that everyone laughed at.
As a young child, I was fairly unaware of much of this. Children, for the most part, are, I think.
I remember that I didn’t particularly want to go to school. I remember that I was teacher’s pet in first grade, so I got to ‘monitor’ the incubator and witness the hatching of the chicks’ eggs. I remember that I was the first person, and one of only two, to complete the whole reading kit in the second grade. I remember that I was really quite strong – ‘not strong for a girl, just strong’ 😉 – and that I was champion of ‘mercy’ on the playground, regularly beating the oldest boy in our class. A ‘black’ boy. A boy who is dead now, I’ve heard; killed in a knife fight or a shooting or something like that, I’ve heard. Something so unfair and so hideous that it brings tears to my eyes now as I write it. My rival; my friend. Dead. Of course I hadn’t seen him in decades. Anyone – other than a child – would have known that way back when I was beating him at mercy on the playground. Our lives were never going to be the same. Our lives were never going to be even similar.
That’s what I remember of the early days. Or, perhaps more accurately, what I don’t really quite remember of the early days. . . .