The Story of My Early Childhood
Dear Readers, this early childhood piece makes very clear that there was nothing in my early childhood that pointed to Godwriting or spirituality. Nothing I could see in any case. If you see anything, please let me know!
But this absence of foreshadowing emphasizes, once again, that anyone can Godwrite. There are no prerequisites, and there are no contra-indications. Whatever one’s life has been up to now, they can Godwrite. There are no exceptions.
In writing this quick run-down of my early childhood, I discovered some things about myself that I had had no idea of. I had never thought that being born Jewish was much of a factor in my life, yet, in writing this, I see that it was huge. I couldn’t seem to get off the subject!
In looking back, how haphazard everything in my childhood was. Or was it? From everything I can see now, I led my life blindly. Or did I?
In writing this short piece, I discovered that I led several lives – two, three, four, five! – and I was not quite at home in any of them.
Was your life filled with so much contradiction as well? Perhaps you will tell me about your early life too.
Now I begin:
I Arrive on the Scene
My mother went back to work at the store when I was two weeks old. I was the only child my mother did not nurse. Not to take it personally, my mother didn’t want another child. I grew up with a bedtime story about how my father saw my mother taking money out of the cash register, how he was suspicious, followed her to a doctor’s office and stopped her from having an abortion. I was told this story over and over again the same way a child is told the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. And each time I heard it, I held my breath to see how it turned out.
Someone named Mamie first took care of me. Then someone named Martha. And then Margaret until I was seven. Interesting that their names all began with the same sound as Mother.
When my mother and father would come home from the store at seven at night on weekdays, (midnight on Saturdays after delivering orders) my mother would cook and my father would spend time with me. It was an adoring time with my father, while my mother cooked wonderful Jewish food. This was in contrast to the white Wonder bread and Campbell’s tomato soup that Margaret gave us.
When I was seven, Margaret left. There was no one at home to take care of me. No one sent me off to school. (My mother would wake me up before three in the morning to give me cocoa and toast before she went off to work, and I would go back to sleep.) No one was home to greet me when I came back from school. No one told me when to get up or what to do. No one told me what to wear or not to wear. When someone invited me to their birthday party, I went to the drug store by myself to buy something. I didn’t know how to wrap presents.
No one told me to do my homework or to do anything. When I became a schoolteacher, I was surprised when I saw how the parents made their children do homework. No matter how alone or lonely, I was spared having an adult hover over me, and I had the freedom to get to know who I was. But, of course, I always tried to be like everyone else.
But I did know about Christmas, for it was celebrated in schools. Chanukah was not, but I doubt that I would have felt more a part of Chanukah than I did Christmas. I did not belong with either.
On Christmas Eve my mother and father worked extra late delivering orders.
When Margaret was still with us – Margaret came to us when she was sixteen because her family could not afford to feed everyone – she got room and board and 50 cents a week – she stayed with us until I was seven. Sometimes she put a handkerchief over my head and took me to the Catholic Church with her.
Christmas Eves we took the bus over to her house. Christmas was a big event for Margaret’s family. As poor as they were, they would have a gift for me. Once there was an unboxed present wrapped in paper, and they asked me if I knew what it was. From spending time in my father’s store and being very familiar with everything stocked there, I thought it was a chicken! But, of course, it was a doll! One year Margaret’s family gave me a book. They knew how much I loved books. I can feel now how my heart and eyes lit up.
When I was seven, Margaret moved on, and I spent Christmas Eves alone. One year a neighbor heard that I was alone and came to my door and insisted I come over to their house. I remember their sweet kindness, but, of course, as kind as they were, and also because they were so kind, I felt apart. This sense of being on the outside haunted me most of my life.
Thank goodness for school. I can’t say I loved it, but I can’t imagine what I would have done without it. Schools were quite strict then and not primarily loving places, but I had a second grade teacher, Miss Bancroft, who loved me. On my seventh birthday, she held me on her lap. She was a bleached blond, which was a horrific thing in those days. She only taught at my elementary school the one year I had her. She married the following summer and moved to New Hampshire. Her name became Mrs. Ballard. Our third grade class wrote to her the next year, and she wrote back and she said that my handwriting was the best of all.
I loved stories and compositions and art and did well in school, but I was not lit up by it. I do remember learning about metaphors and similes in eighth grade and feeling a recognition of something wonderful. Perhaps this was a precursor – or memory – of the beautiful imagery God was later to give in Heavenletters.