Sunday, April 17, 2011

When I was a little boy

When I was a little boy, my world consisted of a lime green, run down mobile home at the Green Pines Trailer Park in Raeford, North Carolina. There was no concept in my developing mind of the true enormity of the world... to me, that trailer park was planet Earth. A trip down to the Puppy Creek grocery, about a quarter mile down a brush lined dirt road, was synonymous with crossing the Atlantic. Not that I had the faintest inkling of what the Atlantic was at that time.

In my earliest memory I’m standing at the top of the front steps to our trailer and peeking in through a crack in the barely opened door. There was no porch at all, just that top step which butted up against a battered aluminum threshold. As I stood there, perched precariously on that step oh so high up in the air, I longed to open the door all the way and run inside to safety. However, it was my third birthday and my mom and my grandmother were doing something covert just beyond the door; something which warranted a loud “Kitate!" from grandmother, followed by my immediate expulsion into the front yard to play... I was pretty sure that kitate was Mexican for “Get the hell out of here!". We had a German neighbor who had a similar expression - “Roust!” - which I was pretty sure meant the same thing, as both were said loudly and were usually accompanied by the forcible removal of myself and/or my brother plus any other miniature people from the immediate premises. I don’t remember if I fell from those steps, but I’m still alive, so I must have survived somehow. I do remember though, later that day I was presented with a brown ride-em-up horsie which, due to four strategically placed springs, bounced and floated magically within a square frame of aluminum tubing.

There were woods that surrounded the trailer park - tall green pine trees, as a matter of fact. Kalamazoo, a roofed and walled fortification of branches and leaves established by grandaddy for me and my brother, was our sole outpost into that forbidding frontier. Our trailer was situated right up next to those trees at the far end of a dirt road which ran between two rows of about ten trailers each, with grandmother and grandaddy’s trailer being the first in our row. With a solid wall of immense pine trees enclosing our little community, it wasn’t hard to believe that the world in it’s entirety was represented inside. The dirt road which ran between our trailers connected the two grand loci of my existence; the opposite ends of creation... so, other than Kalamazoo, grandmother and grandaddy’s trailer naturally represented adventure to me. The day inevitably came when I took it upon myself to make the trek up the Grand Avenue all by myself. I don’t remember that adventure; I only remember running back down the road with dad running behind me, his foot connecting with my butt every few steps, propelling me along a little faster and a little more airborne than I could have managed on my own, yelling “I’m gonna slap the shit outta you!” I heard that so much when I was a little kid that for years I thought ‘slap’ was a cuss word.

On my fourth birthday, I woke up with the instant awareness of the fact that the day was MINE. With an excitement that has gone unmatched since then, I kicked the covers from my bed, leaped up, and ran to my dad’s waiting arms, yelling, “I’m four, I’m four, EEEEEEEE!” Later that day my shalocolate birthday cake was topped with a toy Noah’s Ark with little toy animals all over it. However, if you had asked me what Noah’s Ark was right then, I would have looked at you with the clueless expression of an ignorant four year old. To me, it wasn’t “Noah and the Ark”, it was “Nolah in New York!”, thanks to a record of childrens bible stories that I listened to obsessively - Nolah, of course, being my favorite bible character. When one of my plastic animals inevitably broke, my dad lit the stove and held each part over the fire, melting them back together. I was amazed.

I remember the first time I saw my sister Cheyenne. Previous events had left me tired and confused, as I remember long boring stretches of time spent in a hospital waiting room with grandmother and grandaddy, who seemed a lot more excited than the situation should suggest. Next I am standing in the yard, looking up the front steps through the open door of our trailer. Inside I see my mom seated on a chair, facing me, with a little blue bundle in her arms. That was my sister, Cheyenne, and it was the first time I’d ever clapped eyes on her.

I started kindergarten at Skerlock Elementary School in Raeford, North Carolina. Skerlock school was like another planet to me, representing the absolute limit of my ability to comprehend anything outside the things I knew. Certain memories of my kindergarten class are startlingly clear... for instance, I remember a kid named Brian. He used to wear a dark blue knit cap that had corners on each side that poked up. I was fascinated - they looked like kitty ears to me. I used to go up to him and say, 'meow, meow!' He was a shy kid, and small, even for a 4 year old. When I did that he would always run away to his cubby hole (a little square shelf where we would put our things; each kid had his own cubby hole). I also remember a kid named Vernon. He was the first black person I'd ever met, and when he had to go to the bathroom he'd shout out loud at the top of his lungs, "I need to go DOOKIE!" I even had a girlfriend, of sorts, back then. Every morning when I arrived at school and got off of the bus, she would be waiting there for me in the breezeway. "You got to walk me to kindergarten!" she'd say, and then she would grab my hand and lead me to the kindergarten room.

One day my mom gave me a Kit-Kat to eat at lunch time. I was so excited! During the entire bus ride to school all I think about was how much I wanted to eat that Kit-Kat, but everybody knew that we were absolutely forbidden to eat candy on the bus. I knew that it would be a terrible thing to break that rule, but oh how I wanted that Kit-Kat... so after a fierce internal struggle, I came up with a plan. I figured that if I was absolutely quiet and the bus driver couldn't see what I was doing, then I wouldn't get caught. I slumped down in my seat as far as I could and unwrapped my Kit-Kat as quietly as I could. I had hardly taken two bites when I looked up and there was the bus driver, standing right there, looking down at me with stern disapproval. He confiscated my Kit-Kat and pulled me up to the front of the bus, where he made me sit for the duration of the trip to school.

So there I sat there, afraid and in serious trouble, wishing that I'd never unwrapped that Kit-Kat and hoping beyond hope that the bus would never get to school. We got there all too soon however, and the bus driver immediately escorted me to the principals office. When we got there, the bus driver gave my Kit-Kat to the principal and told him what I had done. I started to cry. The principal asked me why I had been eating on the bus, and I said that I didn't know why. The principal frowned, handed me my half eaten Kit-Kat, and said that since I had already broken the rule, that I might as well just go ahead and eat the rest of it. I stood there with the Kit-Kat in my hand, just looking at it, not knowing what to do. The principal asked me if I was going to eat it, but I was to afraid to say anything. Finally he told me to either eat it or throw it in the trash can. I didn't hesitate. I threw in the trash. As I stood there and looked down into the trash can at my Kit-Kat, I felt overwhelming guilt. Guilt for breaking the 'no eating on the bus' rule. Guilt at wasting my Kit-Kat, all because I couldn't wait to eat it. And worst of all, guilt because my mom loved me so much that she gave me a Kit-Kat for lunch time, and there it was, lying half eaten, half melted and alone in a tattered wrapper at the bottom of a hard, cold metal trash can. I felt like I had thrown my moms love down there.

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