My Introduction to Politics – Part One

I don’t remember not being able to read.   I do have a clear memory ( I was two or three) of being lifted up and placed in the center of a big bed — covered in one of those old-fashioned bedspreads with raised embroidery.   My father surrounded me with what seemed like a sea of comic books and told me to learn to read them.

And learn I did. I’m not sure how I did it — I have no memory of anyone sounding out letters for me.  I could tell you that I seem to remember words being spelled out for me, but I can’t be sure it isn’t an invented memory, created as I try to puzzle out this question…in any event , it doesn’t have the same clarity in my mind as the being placed on the bed memory.   My best guess is that, with help from my parents, I matched the pictures to the words.

Flash forward a few years.  It’s 1950, and I’m in New Orleans on a  trolley with my father.  he’s taking me to a drugstore near the Tulane University campus, where he’s a graduate student in mathematics.  I’ve received a few dollars for my sixth birthday, and I’m to be allowed to spend it on comic books — Donald Duck and Little Lulu are my favorites.  We get off the trolley after a short ride, and I’m left by myself for a while to look through the comic books — I call them “funny books”, like everyone else in that part of the world at the time.   My eye is caught by something anomalous sitting in the nearby magazine racks, along with Time and Life, and The Saturday Evening Post.

It’s a strange little book, shaped like one of today’s paperbacks, entitled “POGO” with a drawing of a winsome possum on the cover.  When I opened it up, it was filled with comic strips organized into stories that seemed to have more of a point than I was used to in the Sunday comics, home to Prince Valiant (boring) and Li’l Abner (often funny, but also often boorish – not that i knew what boorish meant in those days).  Howland Owl, Albert the Alligator and Pogo the Possum seemed much more, well , human, than Scrooge Mc Duck.    Then there was Wile E. Coyote.  Even at the age of six, I could tell that there was something wrong with the way he wanted to run the swamp.  It would be a few years before i realized that he looked just like  Senator Joe McCarthy…

(To be continued)

On Memory

All my life, people have remarked on what a good memory I have.   When I was younger, I was often asked if I have a photographic memory.   Well, I don’t and never did.  In fact, the so-called photographic memory of people’s imagination probably doesn’t exist.   What I do have is excellent recall, especially for moments that are emotionally important to me.   I remember vividly the night I broke up with my first wife, even though it was 1979.   No doubt many people recall such important moments.  I also remember the first fist fight I got into when I was a little boy and the time in seventh grade when I was told a cute little red-haired girl liked me.   ( I don’t remember her name; the emotional impact is what I recall.)  All that sounds fairly normal, I expect.

Unfortunately, I also remember casual remarks that friends and acquaintances made to me months ago, especially if they said something I particularly wanted to hear, and I am cursed by a tendency to assume that whoever I was talking to remembers the same conversation.    As you might expect, this ability of mine  has led to a fair amount of misunderstanding and embarrassment and even some heartache over the years.   On the other hand, it has also meant that I have exceptional recall of my earliest years.  For example, I have a vivid memory of being 2 1/2 or so and being hoisted up to the center of a large bed by my father and surrounded by comic books.   The words are not in my memory, but I also have the impression of my father telling my mother that this was how I was going to learn to read.  (He was right.   I was reading by the age of three.)

About fifteen years, ago, my memory started to change.   Where once I could remember any phone number I needed simply by telling myself to remember it, now when I called a number from memory, one or two of the digits would be uncertain.  I started to have difficulty remembering names for the first time.   Failure to recall a name is now part of my daily life.  My reaction to all this was to reflect on what my earliest memory was; to see how far back I could go before it was too late.

First, some context; I was born in February of 1944.   The comic books incident described above would have happened in the summer of 1946 at my grandparent’s house in Kingsville, Texas.   From September of 1944 until September of  1945, we lived on an army base in San Antonio, while my father worked for the Quartermaster’s Corps.   I was pretty sure that all the early impressions that were floating around in my head were from before the summer of 1946, but which came first?  When you that young, you don’t spend much time looking at calendars.

At first  I thought my first memory was of sitting on a kitchen counter next to the sink and saying  “airp’ane” as one flew overhead.   But then I realized I was remembering my mother talking about the day I said my first word.   So my first memory had to be the one in which I was sitting on a small chair on a small plot of grass and feeling proud that my parents weren’t hovering next to me.   I would have been around nineteen or twenty months.   I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s a real memory.   I wrote the following poem to commemorate it.

smells good
lots of room, nothing around
but grass

cane chair,  my chair
pretty flowers painted on it
stiff strings to sit on
my chair

my cowboy hat
pulled tight under the chin
I wear my hat in my new chair and smell