My earliest memory goes back to nearly choking to death as an infant. My Mom used to tell a story about how I had once tried to swallow a penny, and how she saved my life by grabbing me by the hocks and jerked me upside down until I spit it out after turning a deep purple. Psychologists may be quick to argue that she implanted the fantasy in my mind, but I have always been able to recall a murky episode in which I picked a coin from a spread before me and popped it in my mouth before it all faded away. I have always surmised that Manny had spread the coins for the baby’s delight with unexpected results. Of course, Mom strenuously disagreed with that recollection, since all is forever well in La-La Land.
Another of my earliest recollections was the day Lea was born. Manny left me with our downstairs neighbors, Margaret Rivera, Joe’s wife, and their daughters Miriam and Janet as he rushed to the hospital to bring my Mom home. I don’t remember a whole lot about the transition period, but Mom used to tell me about how I would punch at her when she drove the big metal pins into the crying baby’s diapers. Apparently I was gung-ho about being a big brother until I found, to my chagrin, that Baby Sis had her own wants and needs which would never coincide with my own. She also developed the rebellious family spirit that would set us at odds for most of our lives, bringing us to the impasse where we remain today.
Again, my pre-school world was all about comic books and TV shows, largely because the Lord had gifted me with the ability to read at the age of three. This could have well transformed my entire life, but thanks to my tunnel-visioned Mom, it never did. It enhanced my parents’ local celebrity with their new prodigy, but attempts to publicize the ability were flatly rejected. Later on, Mom also forbade Manny from teaching me to box for fear of having my brains scrambled. Either turning me into a child star or a boxer could have spared me enormous effort and turmoil in the years ahead. My parents were, though, in many ways, the Lucy and Ricky of the TV sitcom that most people said they resembled…and it was largely because of Mom.
She would never realize some of the long-term damage her misguided strategies caused. She was always telling me not to be afraid of anyone, and to punch them right in the nose if I got into a scrap. Yet she also made me think that it was a quitter who lost, and that I should never quit. That not only indoctrinated me into the never-say-die mind frame but also made me believe throughout my life that losing was shameful. It was a thought process that cost me some of the most valuable learning experiences in my life, just because the risk of losing was too great to bear.
It seemed as if her husband and kids had settled her down and renewed the strong sense of family that she so desperately clung to. It turned her into a raging lioness when any of these were threatened. The Butler Aces found this out during the SLEDCART affair of my youth. Of all her personal treasures, she constantly extolled the fact that I was the greatest of these. This was something I held onto as an entitlement for many years, and as I began to question its validity I began to resent its specious nature. It was far too late in life when its true nature was finally proven, her grandson Thumper having usurped my place in her heart as Lea stole my very birthright and inheritance. But, more about that later.
(To be continued...)