I’m currently re-reading The Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson because we will be discussing it at my book club this month. Bryson describes life growing up in the idyllic fifties. Since I too am a product of the fifties I started to think about my own experiences of growing up in that era. I set foot on this earth on October 8, 1953. Googling my birthday proved that my birth was probably the most eventful thing as nothing else of any great significance happened on that date. My mother loves to tell the story about how I was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck. I was turning blue from the lack of oxygen. Dying if you will. The doctor slowly unwrapped the cord while simultaneously smacking my butt. I finally sputtered to life like an old Chevy. What a pleasant introduction to life.
My first memory was that of being kidnapped. Really! My brother, who was five at the time, was pushing me in my stroller. I was watching the sky and trees when suddenly the pleasant afternoon that I was enjoying turned to chaos. The stroller began to pick up speed and bounce around the sidewalk. It came to an abrupt halt and then silence. My brother ran home crying and starts blubbering that the neighborhood kids took me. He was probably secretly happy and hoped that I did not return. After all, he was the king until I, the pretender to the throne, came along. My mother ran outside and found me serenely parked in a thick hedge oblivious to the pandemonium that occurred. Mom to the rescue!
I spent my first few years in Bridgeport Connecticut. Its nickname is the Park City. There are close to thirty parks in Bridgeport. One in particular is Beardsley Park—Connecticut’s only zoo. I spent many summers wandering around the zoo checking out the animals. I still enjoy going there today. It remains a well-maintained facility that humanely treats and houses the animals. Seaside Park, located on Long Island Sound, was a favorite of mine. Ah, the memories! The sharp tang of salty air as you approach the beach from an unbearably hot and sticky asphalt parking lot. That first plunge into the cool salt water on a hot summer day was heaven. Quickly licking a Mr. Softee cone before it melted into a river of sweet, brown goo. Endlessly building and re-building sand castles and moats.
As far as cities went, this wasn’t too bad. Bridgeport was a manufacturing town and good paying jobs were plentiful. We were able to play in streets and not worry about muggers, thieves or other miscreants that seem to populate cities theses days. Streets were clean, sidewalks swept and we all felt a general air of prosperity. America had become the economic giant of the world and anyone with a little spunk could achieve their dream.
Our house was a post World War II ranch house, located on street that had nothing but ranch houses. The only thing that distinguished one from the other was the paint scheme. Ours was grey. It was a two-bedroom one-bath house. Cozy enough for my parents and my older brother, but when I came along it started to get cramped. This necessitated my father hiring someone to finish the attic. It must have pained him to hire someone because a) my parents were very cheap in many respects and b) my father was not handy at all. So not handy, that he would pretty much break everything he was trying to fix. This would then force him to hire someone to repair it at double the rate if he hadn’t broken it in the first place. The irony was that he thought he was handy. His job during the war was to fix the brakes on the B-17 bombers. I hope they had long runways in England. He eventually was made an MP. I guess prisoners were harder to break.
One of the first lessons I learned in school was that life is cruel. I was in Kindergarten and we were practicing for the Thanksgiving play. We had black paper hats that were supposed to resemble Pilgrims hats. I’m sure if the Pilgrims saw them they would be scratching their heads in wonderment at the strange headgear we were wearing. We made a model of the Mayflower out of blocks. My role was to jump out of the ship and exclaim, “Let’s chop down the trees!” I remember practicing this over and over until I had just the right intonation and feeling. Butterflies fluttered in my stomach as the day of the play approached. Finally--show time. Opening day. My mom was proudly sitting in the audience. The play started. The boat “docked.” Here’s my moment and… Freddy Aimes, hijacked my line! I heard him yell, “Let’s chop the trees!” I was stunned, frozen in my spot. Paralyzed that he stole my line. STOLE MY LINE! My one and only line—my springboard to stardom. I slowly jumped out of the boat and half-heartedly pretended to chop down pretend trees. I hated that kid. I wished him a slow painful death. As luck would have it he spent most of his adult life in and out of prison for grand larceny. Life can be cruel, but karma is a bitch.