Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Adventures in Life: Fantastic Childhood

It’s amazing the little things the mind remembers from our long ago youth. I remember the strangest things from little me; playing outside with a yellow Tonka tractor, the busy street we lived  on, finding a decomposed cat skeleton and making my friend hold it on a stick, the elementary school I used to go to and how we used to play duck-duck-goose and hold classes outdoors, watching the old black and white Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on a big screen at the nearby park community center, coming home as a latch-key kid and watching Donahue on TV and how I’d make fun of his name.  This was all when I was in first grade. Do they even allow first-graders to be latch-key kids these days?

New building but old name: Housman Elementary School
On nice days, we'd have class under the trees.

We lived in an apartment complex in front of which was a brick wall I used to walk along with my friends. We would jump down and climb back up. I once pushed a girl who was too timid to jump and when she landed she ran away crying. Turns out she sprained her wrist. I got in a lot of trouble for that one.
You can still see where the wall used to be!

The guy who drove me to school was a rotund guy named Moe. I had a red pencil eraser in the shape of W. C. Fields with a top hat. I had no idea who Mr. Fields was- to me he looked like Moe and that’s what I called the little red rubber man when I played with him.

Down the street was the day care Mom would put me in when she went out on dates at night and from time to time I’d be there during the day on weekends. I had girlfriend (as much as one in first grade could have a girlfriend) with red hair and freckles. The sitters would get us all in our cots and would turn the TV on to watch MASH. The name of the place was The Ark.

Freeman Park Center used to show movies for kids.

Mom was dating a man who would become my step-father. He was a funny guy with a thick New York accent that she and I would make fun after his visits. He was my introduction to things Jewish. That Christmas, we didn’t have a Christmas tree in the apartment, we had a Hanukah Bush.
Down the street was a Dairy Queen behind which was a large parcel of land full of trees. Winding through these trees were trails that went up and down dirt hills, around bushes and along the banks of a small creek. Older boys would race their bikes in this forest and I thought they were so cool. I couldn’t wait to get older so I could ride up and down and around the dirt trails.
The very DQ where Dad taught me about manners.

Cleared of trees and bike paths, now an empty lot.

And in that very Dairy Queen holds a very dear memory for me. My father had once picked me up for my weekend visit. I suppose this particular night, he was a little early bringing me back and we stopped for dinner at that Dairy Queen. It was during this meal that I recall Dad telling me about the importance of manners. He instructed me on my use of please and thank you, of yes ma’am and no sir, and this was the first time I heard the word chivalry. It was a strange word to such young ears, and it would be a few more years before I really mastered the meaning of the word.

I took a drive to the old neighborhood. It’s possible that I’ve not been back since we left, circa 1974. The forest of bike trails is gone; it’s now an empty lot and a huge church. The wall I walked on has been torn down but for its foundation and a strong iron fence stands guard instead. The old elementary school is all new and modern; the original since demolished. The park seems so much smaller to my adult eyes. The Ark is now a gas station.  And my father recently passed away.

Inside the DQ

Little from our past ever stays the same. Things change, evolve or give way. Friends disappear as quickly as they became known. People grow old and die. We move on. But there’s nothing like going back down memory lane and seeing what has remained as symbols to remind us that no matter how far we’ve come, our more simple beginnings can always be humbling. 

And as I finished my meal at the DQ (the same meal I recall enjoying as a boy with my father) the rain started coming down. It was Summer Solstice and a Strawberry Full Moon. I looked across the street to the park in which I used to play and then up to the sky. There were huge billowing clouds reaching the upper atmosphere. And closer to Earth…a rainbow. I smiled as I looked at the empty lot behind and for a moment saw the bikes jumping hills and heard a young boy cry out, “It’s getting late, ya’ll. I better get home before Mom worries.” I’m glad I’ve been able to keep parts of that little boy in tact. He certainly had a fantastic childhood!

A rainbow arcs across the skies over where I once lived.


  1. This one made me cry. Beautiful story, so well written. You have a beautiful soul

  2. You did a very good job at preparing me for this world. My soul became beautiful thanks to you, your independence, your dedication, your ability to instill in me the character needed to be a kind, helpful, caring, intelligent and well-rounded man.