The Early Years
I didn’t come out of my mother’s womb with a pen in my hand. She had a hard enough time as it was; I was giving her trouble even before that august day. It was a day in August. We did not get along for many years, most of my life. But she mellowed toward the end, or maybe she just forgot.
The year was 1953. (A good year for jazz.)
The place: Chicago Heights IL. The third child of Ron and Mary Ann, I was the second girl. (Somehow they arranged to have two of each.)
Theirs was a mixed marriage: Protestant and Catholic, a big deal at the time for my mother’s side. This was before the woman’s movement stirred things up and since Mom was a housewife, as were most of the neighbor ladies in the suburban town we moved to when I was a toddler, I grew up with no real sense of some day having “a career.” The nuns were intriguing in first grade. I liked Sister Anita, but subsequent nuns were not so nice and I quickly dropped the idea of entering the convent. Other than that, private detective seemed a good choice. Sure Nancy Drew, crossed with 77 Sunset Strip.
My mother’s hobby was oil painting from photographs. Very little self expression went into her canvases, but we at least learned of such things as composition and perspective. Color. My absolute favorite thing as a kid was to take the train into the city and go to the Art Institute. I never learned how to draw, but I had a thing for collages and spent happy hours cutting up magazines and putting together unusual pictures. None of which survived. My earliest literary effort was a kindergarten project called Me, Myself, and I. Also I enjoyed making cards (Happy Birthday, Christmas, Get Well). My sister would do the graphics and I would write the greeting. Other than that and my collages, I don’t think I showed any particular potential.
I loved to read. Sam and the Firefly was one of my first loves. The Witch of Blackbird Pond another. A vivid memory of being curled up on a rainy day with a book I couldn’t put down has stayed with me all these years. The book was Jane Eyre. The next book what gripped me in its feverish clutches was Crime and Punishment. I read it too young, I think. It was assigned reading in my sister’s high school English class and I got a hold of it, so I must have been thirteen or so. I was myself fairly alienate by then. I had fallen out with The Church, the government was bombing the hell out of a small country in Asia where people still plowed fields with oxen (we saw the horror on the nightly news), and it was clear that Mom and Dad did not love each other and were not just unhappy but maybe had no capacity for happiness.
Other books I remember: East of Eden (Had to read it after seeing the movie because I identified so much with the James Dean character.) In high school we passed around On the Road, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Candy, Catch 22. I was a solid C student, just doing enough to get by. Except for one year in English, there was a teacher, I think his name was Mr. Morgan, whose enthusiasm rubbed off on me and I got a B in that class. I also remember, maybe it was senior year, reading and being impressed with The Grapes of Wrath and 1984.
The Later Years coming soon.