Childhood Years

My older brother, Richard, I still remember as one with whom I tumbled on the grass in the back yard, as he allowed me to pretend wrestling him to earth. Together we picked from our two apple trees, and one pear tree. We shoveled snow together in winter and rode our tricycles together in summer. Richard died when he was nine, and I, only five; the “hole” left was my first experience with the wonder of death. Richard suffered from spinal meningitis. Days before his death there were nurses around the clock, tending to him in our home. Fond memories of my brother are accompanied still by a strong view of Richard in a casket in our front “living room”, as my father lifted me to say goodbye. I know now the power of that moment for my father, who then had seen two boys die, and whose hopes for a son now rested solely in me. In the fourth grade of school, I was often ill; my parents were openly frightened about my health, and in some ways they became protective of me in those early years. A lasting legacy of that protection is my continuing hesitance to feel comfortable as a swimmer in open water. As I write I can hear the cautioning voice of my parents as I dog-paddled too far from shore!

Through those early school years I was frequently ill, contracting the usual childhood maladies, but also limited by conditions which today could easily be diagnosed in psychological terms. Fourth grade was especially difficult for me, since the teacher was one with whom I was in constant conflict, and she frequently yelled at me in class. I was terribly frightened by her, hated school, and managed to stay home “sick” often. My parents tried any number of “remedies”, including putting me on a regimen of drinking “Ovaltine” more often than I cared to. It was advertised as some sort of magic elixir for kids like me! On the physical side, I knew I worried the family; I remember well, one occasion when I was confined to bed. My visiting grandmother entered the room, stood by the door looking at me, shaking her head sadly, saying nothing. Her expression is still clear to me; I knew she was worried about my condition.

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