Trail of a Heart 1 – Early Images

 In Autobiography

How far back do we actually remember. You hear so many stories about your deeds and misdeeds, but mostly the misdeeds. Which stories are your own remembrances versus just stories recounted. There have been a few stories from my early life that I at least heard repeated often enough to believe they really happened.

Surely everyone has a memorable moment involving food.  Mine was about oatmeal when I was still in a high chair. I apparently made quite a laughable spectacle having turned my half-full bowl on top of my head at the alleged prodding of my mother’s oldest brother, Durward. It is this uncle who retold the story, and since he was the instigator, I believe it. I loved my mother’s six brothers and her sister, Aunt Becky.

It must not be a personal recollection of having sat myself down in an ant bed at about 18 months. I was evidently happily playing in the dirt, oblivious to the little critters crawling all over me. The scream my mother expelled upon discovering me thus, and the subsequent and seemingly instantaneous biting of untold ants is certainly vivid, whether a memory or the ghost of a family tale recounted long ago.

The German Shepherd incident may indeed be a memory. I must have been about four when I was attacked by a dog. I don’t recall having been bitten, but my dress was torn from me by the dog’s teeth. I am not sure if anyone ever explained to me why the dog did such a thing, but I have a hazy picture of having just approached a leaky water faucet with buzzy flying things circling about moments before the dog grabbed my dress.  Only now, some 50 years hence, does it dawn on me that the dog may have saved me from stings, which would have no doubt deepened my insect biting fears but eased my concerns about big dogs.

One dog memory is surely mine. I was about five when Spud disappeared. Our Cocker Spaniel was a beautiful golden creature, that loved me and my siblings unconditionally. How he came to be ours is not stored in my mind; however, the day he was gone is remarkably sharp. Mother was distraught that Spud had disappeared and stymied that it could have happened as our fence was sturdy and the gate was still shut. I don’t know if she had a suspect in mind, but she was determined that some people had intentionally let our dog out, presumably to keep it for themselves.

Mother took us in tow walking about the neighborhood as well as she could with six children ranging in age from 9 years to an infant. In reality she more likely left the oldest, Carol, at home with baby Michael and probably two-year-old Linda and four-year-old Anita. It seems that Elaine and I, being about eight and six respectively, went on this hunting expedition. At any rate I have memories of mother whistling and calling for our missing pooch. Spud was nowhere to be seen. She had to wait for Daddy to return from work with the family car to continue her search. As we whistled and yelled from our slow-moving Chrysler, several times we were sure we heard Spud’s bark calling back to us, but he never appeared.

Losing Spud left an ache for some reason. Perhaps it was because there is always a feeling of there not being enough love to go around in a household of five girls, an older brother, and a newborn baby boy, no matter how hard the parents try. Mother had to have a hysterectomy after Michael was born, so she was laid up a couple of months.  Even though we had a woman come in to help during the day, there developed a sense of being detached that still lingers. To this little girl, it always has been about the heart, about relationships, making connection.

I did have a physical characteristic that set me apart, but I didn’t find that distinction pleasant. I was born smack-dab in the middle of this family with an olive complexion and dark hair, in contrast with being surrounded by my siblings who all started as “tow heads” and mostly fair complexions. My coloring made it easier for relatives to tell me from the others. I found that pleasant enough. Anything to be set apart for their attention. It also earned me “color” nicknames such as Dago, Blackie and Brownie. Mostly it was my mother’s brothers who used these terms of endearment for me. Coming from my beloved uncles, I loved to respond to those names.

Even though the terms were lovingly intended by the older generation, many of my siblings used them to separate me from themselves. It should be noted here that my family was predominantly prejudiced, at least on my father’s side which seemed to have a big impact on my siblings. My mother’s side included Native American ancestry and it just never occurred to my mother that color alone should have anything to do with value of a person. My sisters and my cousins from my Daddy’s brother made jokes about my being Black. They even found a girl who was Black with almost the same name, Shannie Marie to my Sharon Marie. I was often addressed by her name. I resisted, not so much because I understood racism, but rather because I understood the harm they intended.

Watch for next installment.

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  • j.d. ruby

    I can’t wait to see what happens next!

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