Yes, Virginia, I do remember looking through the slats, or bars, of my crib. But I never saw Santa Claus.
One of my dear friends and readers, BZ at The Mosquitoes Buzz, asked me, after my Meme post recalling the horrific clown doll that gave me phobias, if I could truly remember looking at it through my crib slats. The answer is, “Yes.” The answer why though is, “I'm clueless.” But detailed, strong memory is as much a part of me as this computer chair which has now grown attached to my posterior.
For example, if you're as old as I am (first of all, be gentle with yourself and then rush to the doctor for a check up - there’s probably something wrong with you) you may recall a contraption like this from the late 1950's (old people use the word "contraption" a lot):
I found this photo on the internet. It’s not me or my mother. We weren’t nearly this photogenic or pink. But the chair the baby is in gives you the idea. It was the early car seat. It put the baby right up front and in the middle of all the action. We babies were front and center in case anything crashed into the windshield. We had a birds-eye view. Babies hate to miss anything. And mom could be dutifully distracted looking at baby, like this mother, instead of actually driving the car. Which greatly increased the chances of items crashing through the windshield.
My little seat was equipped with a steering wheel. It was the beginning of my power madness. I was sure it was me, I TELL YOU IT WAS ME!, driving the car. But at the same time, I had a distinct memory of having a horse’s head mounted where the steering wheel was, with a little rein that I could hold and make my dandy automobile giddyap and go. So, which memory was right?
Both felt right and I was comfortable, if confused, in my resolve. It didn’t make sense but that has rarely influenced my opinions. My mother insisted I never had any such seat and was zonko. But every dog has its day and mine was coming, even if it had fleas.
The next few paragraphs involve depressing facts. Feel free to skip to the upshot at the end.
In a prior post, I mentioned being given up for adoption or placed in foster care, depending on who’s telling the story. How that came to be was a tragic turn of events. My mother and father married very young and both came from highly defective backgrounds, though vastly different. (Dysfunctional just doesn’t quite cover it.) Neither brought emotional health or stability into the relationship, but my father brought a level of anger and volatility right out of a Steven King novel. One Sunday afternoon he took us all for a ride in the hills and severely beat my mother. (He was known to beat the kids, too, but she was the target this day.) He broke her jaw and knocked out several teeth. She had a violently ill reaction – what other kind of reaction could you have? – as my brother and sister endured the trauma of watching from the car. I have no idea what I saw. This is one memory gone to me and I’m grateful. Somehow, my mother’s sickness snapped him out of his raging fury and he took her to the hospital where they wired her jaw shut so it could heal. The doctor told him it was jail or therapy. He chose therapy. He went once.
But my mother grew terrified at his menacing and began to stay awake not sure what he might do. She had already found him once with a pillow over my face when I was crying. She began to fear for all our safety. And in those days of sleeplessness and injury, she began to unravel. Shortly thereafter, she was admitted to the hospital for five months. (I remember a trip to see her once. I dream about it sometimes. Everything is huge – the elevator, the doors, the halls.) And being the father of the year that he was, he didn’t want any of us. His parents agreed to take my brother and sister, though they weren’t thrilled with getting my sister. She had been sickly and was the scapegoat of the family. And they weren’t willing to add the work and effort a baby would bring.
So, according to my adoptive/foster father, R.Q. – his real name based on the Royal Queen’s Highway in Texas – my biological father walked next door to their house and offered me to them saying my mother was hospitalized and would never come home (which was certainly not true) and he didn’t want me (which certainly was true).
Now, Mary, R.Q.’s wife, had three boys and had always wanted a girl. I guess she fussed over me regularly and when I showed up on the doorstep, they accepted immediately. R.Q. said, when I found him shortly before my 40th birthday (Mary had passed away), they always regretted not starting adoption proceedings, not that they necessarily could have under the circumstances but, it made me feel warm and fuzzy.
They were ecstatic. Their beloved boxer dog threatened me and, believing I was there for good, they rehomed it. They invested in a nursery and decorated it for me. The boys thought I was a fun novelty and regularly tied my shoes to table legs to keep me from getting into their toys (very fun grown up guys when I met them). I had five months of baby bliss in which normalcy reigned. The family was happy and the parents were doting. While I look unhealthy and a little forlorn in some of the pictures, I sincerely believe the time there may have saved my life – physically and emotionally - because I bear far fewer scars from this time period than my brother and sister (who eventually took her life).
Happy Part Continues:
But in those pictures which R.Q. gave me and I will scan in and show you if I EVER get a scanner, there I am, sitting on their couch in a car seat.
With a horse’s head and reins.
They bought it for me for THEIR car. I was right. I had two car seats. And I was in charge in both of them, I’m sure. I also saw pictures of myself in a high chair (most of our family photos were stolen when I was about nine though some remain.) The wallpaper in their home so closely matches the wallpaper in my own home, right now, and which was put up a few years before R.Q. and I found each other, that it knocked my socks off. I recreated my own happy little haven and didn’t even know it. I don’t know if I can ever take it down. I remember seeing it on display in Wallpapers-To-Go and loving it instantaneously in a “must have it” kind of way. Now I know why.
My mother did recover and I would celebrate my first birthday back in my own home. And I remember the dress I wore. Light lavender soft cotton with tiny smocking and a little delicate flower. I loved that dress.
My parents divorced three years later and there are definitely people who wish I couldn’t remember all I do from my childhood, but I am grateful. It has made me who I am, has given me the courage of my convictions, and, if I’m not mistaken, a keen memory and powers of observation help if you ever want to become a writer.
I do. Maybe, I am.