For something more personal, here’s a piece that’ll start the memoir I’ll write someday. That book will be titled You Look Like You Been Through Some S#*t Too.
LIFE IN REVIEW PART 1
1962 – YEAR OF THE TIGER…Cuban Missile Crisis…James Meredith…John Glenn…The Twist…The Beatles…Wilt Chamberlain…Johnny Carson…Silent Spring…One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest…Dr. No…Lawrence of Arabia…To Kill a Mockingbird…The Beverly Hillbillies…The Jetsons…Marilyn Monroe dies…Axel Rose, Jon Stewart, Jerry Rice, and Tom Cruise born…Blowin’ in the Wind…
…I was born midway up the Chesapeake Bay’s rural Eastern Shore. Tenth generation on mom’s side. That bunch has been wading around these marshy rivers and creeks since the 1600s when my English ancestor Henry DeCoursey and his brothers sailed to the new colony of Maryland after a few years of lording over some prime Irish countryside. Henry DeCoursey was an honored gentleman of distinguished service, and was one of the few white men to negotiate with the Five Nations of Iroquois. Lord Baltimore rewarded his loyal friend with all the real estate Henry’s thumb could cover on a map. There are points of land, farms and manor houses, waterways and roadways named after Henry and his kin. My mother’s forbearers served in historic battles, and as judges and elected officials. They kept pretty thorough records, too.
Dad’s people were farmers and watermen and not so full of themselves. I don’t know that much about the Lewis and Coleman branches of my family tree. I love them individually. Just never knew them much as a tribe. That’s the first thing I ain’t take blame for.
The second is Ma’s illness.
Some doctors believed they could trace my mother’s heart problems to a case of rheumatic fever she may have had as a child, but the symptoms didn’t show up until just about the time I arrived on the scene. At twenty-nine she had her first open heart surgery and was sick the rest of her life. Ma’s poor health wasn’t my fault. Just seems that way a little.
Ma didn’t care. She might have loved me even more because of what my birth brought. I cost more than the typical kid.
Besides, the real culprit was the dog. Vip (Very Important Pooch) had chewed up and rendered useless Ma’s diaphragm the night I was conceived.
We lived in a trailer on the property line between my maternal grandparents and great-grandparents. My mom’s parents owned a general store. My great-grandmother, Granny, looked a little like Babe Ruth. Granny and her second husband, Norman, used to run a pool hall for black men during segregation. Granny died when I was five. Norman smoked cigars and always wore a bow tie, even when he cut the grass. He lived long enough for me to serve as pallbearer at his funeral.
My sister was there for me from the beginning. Eight years older, my sis always carried more than her share of responsibility. She inherited much of my mom’s strength.
Nine months after I made my March debut, my mother’s sister gave birth to my cousin. He’s the closest thing I have to a brother. On separate occasions when we were little, I told him I was glad his parents divorced, and he stabbed me in the neck with a fork. Only brothers can get away with such orneriness.
Dad would gather with his buddies, mostly watermen and other hard-ass nonconformists, drink, and tell stories. That’s when I appreciated my father most. My family went to the movies and took aimless Sunday drives. I loved the movies, hated the drives. On occasion, I’d throw up in the backseat to prove it.
I didn’t talk for a long time. Then I never shut up. Couldn’t tie my shoes or ride a bike, either. The old man with the bow tie, Norman, wanted to take me to a doctor to see what was wrong with me.
There were always animals around. I remember when there were three dogs, twenty some cats, two ducks that just came around and stayed, big fat goldfish in a lily pond, a neighbor mutt that more or less defected to our side of the road, and a chicken that thought it was the St. Bernard’s mother.
When I was little, a rooster mugged me for my chocolate bar. Knocked me down and kicked and cut me like I was his punk cellmate. They chopped the rooster’s head off. His punishment freaked me out more than his crime did.
There were always a bunch of people around, too. Friends of the extended family, out-of-state cousins, hired hands. Holidays were big events. My grandmother splurged on gifts and would seat a couple dozen people for Thanksgiving. She had lots of parties. There was always something cooking.
There was also a big furnace in her floor that would burn your cold winter feet and lots of books on lots of shelves.
My grandfather was a funny guy. Never really knew that until I got older. He wasn’t much on kids. Played the role of grump like he’d been cast by Norman Lear. He was softer inside than my grandmother was, I think.
Batman first came on TV in 1966. I was four. Ma had to read the Pows, Bams and Ka-booms to me. I’ve been trying to get away with wearing a cape ever since.
Eventually I learned to tie my shoes. Rode a bike even. Change was in the air…