I have never liked my birthday. Not for fear of getting older, or leaving things to the past as the always unknown future beckoned. I think it was the attention, I don’t like the attention. I have always enjoyed celebrating those around me much more than celebrating myself. Also, there is the fact that I am an observer and it doesn’t feel right to be observed. Still there is no feeling on earth so good as knowing my life is populated by so many intelligent, loving, and fun friends and family.
The blink of an eye that has been the last 55 years has come at a price. I am missing so much of my childhood. The tide of time that flows behind starts out a full river from today, but when it hits my first 15 years it has shallowed and is broken by water rounded stones and sandbars. My early years exist as little more than countless unconnected tidal pools. Still, the reflections found in these pools do provide insight into who I am, how I came to be.
For the past 32 years I have worked in the rail industry as consultant and researcher. A result more of lucky happenstance than choosing. But I have a certain love of trains in my earliest days. I have pictures of me playing with toy train sets, there is a film that has me whirling some coupled rail cars above my head when I was just a toddler. There was a story my father told me over and over of me mimicking his hand gestures and sound effects when showing how a grade crossing worked when I was just in a high chair. And then finally, memories I will always cherish are those of going to the train station to pick up my grandmother when she would visit for holidays in the 60’s. What I do remember most about that is looking down the track and seeing the parallel rails merge in the far distance and thinking that is where Connecticut must be.
There are images in my mind of sneaking into my parent’s bedroom when they were not around. I would look around and sometimes snoop in Daddy’s things. Mainly I went in there for the security it provided to me. Being among Mom’s and Dad’s possession, the bed they slept in, the toiletries they groomed with brought me to the bedrock that was their love and support. It made me feel safe. Such memories often have bitter sweet ties, because it also brings back the time we small children were gathered about our parents in the living room as they told us that they were separating, and even though they got back together, their bedroom, my bedrock never felt quite as concrete.
I remember the birthdays of others when I was growing up. As a small person once, Mom was taking me to John Wilson’s birthday party. We had gone to Eckerds Drugs and picked out what I thought was a neat toy for John and wrapped it up. On the way to the party I cried because I couldn’t keep the toy and had to give it away to my friend. There was a birthday of my best friend Ben Lovejoy one year where in tribute to our favorite SNL skit, I made for him a model of George and Yortek’s (two very wild and crazy guys) industrial vacuum cleaner, and gave him a Hulk-head bank with a mock check for one million dollars to put in it. When I told my father about these gifts, he was genuinely shocked and told me that even written on scrap paper the check I had drawn was legal tender. I never worried, Ben knows I am good for it.
There are a million more fragments that have formed me. Recollections of sailing, vacationing at Calloway Gardens, playing baseball and football with the Griffiths next store, visiting grandparents and cousins in Atlanta, seeing ball games, stealing through the woods and swamp that were so close to our home, the vine kingdom, running through culverts, laughing, running with packs of friends on the warm, humid nights in South Carolina. There were the fears that helped mold me like my early (and not completely resolved) fear of heights, frightened of being sent to Vietnam because my draft lottery number was 5 (even though I was only 7), fear of the police looking for me after some insensitive adult yelled at me and threatened me because I was putting dirt clods on the road and watching cars run over them. My life to me is an impossibly complicated puzzle of countless pieces, that have assembled into a life I am blessed by and could never have imagined. In observing others, I guess I hope to make sense of the observations I see in me. Then again, miraculous outcomes are made to be accepted and not explained.