My Earliest Memories

I am reading Bill O’Reilly’s book “Bold Fresh” and it reminded me that I have wanted to record some thoughts about some of the key events in my life. Well, maybe not so key, but at least things that I do remember….Things that made me what I am…

~1950 – Tonsils out.

I think that this is the oldest memory I have. I had my tonsils removed when I was about 5 years old. There are 2 specific memories associated with this event: in the first, I am exiting an automobile, type unknown, with my Mother. I am holding her hand and I can see the looooong, loooong, pathway leading up to a brick building that is the hospital. I am afraid. I can see the trees and the stairs and the walkway and the building. The second part of this memory is when I was put on a table and they administered Ether to me as an anesthetic. I am forcibly restrained, I am fighting the doctors and they are holding me down with some force. I can still smell the Ether. Later, when I studied chemistry, the smell would really bother me…not a bad bother, but a stick in the side sort of bother. 

~1951 – My Father leaves

The details are a bit murky but in 1951 my father left my mother, went back into the US Army and abandoned his 2 children, myself and my brother Henry. My understanding of the events leading up to this comes primarily from various things that my Mother told me later on. My father was a dentist in the US Army. He was in dental school at the start of the war and graduated in 1944. He had met Mother earlier at a dance held somewhere close to where Mother lived. This would likely be around Fort Campbell, KY as this is where Mother worked during the war. Her service is a story for a later time. They were married and I was conceived shortly after and he shipped off the Pacific. He served in the Philippines, where pictures were taken with him and some native people. I still have the pictures and describe them as my “National Geographic” pictures as they include bare-breasted native women. While serving there, he started using morphine and became addicted to it. He was on a ship off the island of Okinawa on the day that President Roosevelt died – he is shown in a movie segment related to that day that is a part of the “Victory At Sea” series. This is one of my personal favorite movies and it was quite a shock to find him in the film. I spend a lot of time, and some money, to be able to capture a series of still pictures from the film and confirm from the uniform that it was really my father. After the war ended, he was part of the occupation forces in Japan. There are lots of pictures from that time in the scrapbooks. He returned from Japan somewhere around the end of 1946 or the start of 1947…not sure of the dates off-the-top-of-my-head, but I can clarify that from the records I have. He was a morphine addict when he returned. He attempted to start a dental practice in Charleston, West Virginia. The practice was a failure – Mother attributed this to his drug addiction. I recall her saying that he was unable to keep a practice going as he was constantly stoned. They fought over this. I have no clear memory of any fighting, but I know it to be true….the memories are there. As a last resort, I assume, he decided to go back into the Army and was accepted back.

When my father left, he left without providing any support to the 2 children he left behind. Because my Mother was unable to support us herself, Henry and I were placed in St John’s Orphanage which is in Frankfort, Kentucky (I think that is correct). While we were technically not up for adoption, we remained there for 2 years. My father made one, and only one trip to the orphanage to see his children. There was a picnic or open-house and he showed up. I can remember the day and a number of events that took place. I recall that he was late arriving and did not stay long. I remember that my Mother told me that he was coming to say goodbye and that this was the last time we might see him. I remember her telling me this. As a consequence, I was somewhat aware, as aware as a child of 5 can be, of the consequences of this day and its events. There are pictures taken that day that I have. They were taken by my uncle Bruce, husband of my Mother’s sister Susie. In 1988, I traveled, with my 2 children, to South Carolina where Susie and Bruce were living. It was on that trip that I learned that my memories were accurate….On that same trip, I was able to give my Aunt Susie assurances, which she wanted and needed rather badly, that Mother had not blamed her for any of the problems that later visited Mother in her life. Susie and I had a very long and emotional conversation while walking the beach at Wrightsville Beach.

1951 – 1953 – The Orphanage

I have told my children, and I’ll repeat, being abandoned by my father and being put in the orphanage was a trauma that has reverberated thru all of my life. It is probably the single most consequential thing that ever happened to me. Most of my deep-rooted character issues (defects as we refer to them in AA) stem from this. While there are a fair number of pictures from this time period, I remember clearly only a small number of events.

I was sexually assaulted & abused…something for a later time

I ran away. I look back at this as one of the most courageous things I ever did and something I am very proud of. I hated that place. Not sure exactly why, perhaps related to one of the bad experiences I had there. Here’s what I remember: the orphanage was visited every morning by a bakery truck. I stayed up, or woke up, not sure which, but I had this planned so I suspect it was a matter of staying up all night. When the truck made its deliveries, I snuck into the back of the vehicle. The truck pulled away without my being discovered. Sometime down the road, the driver heard me in the back and stopped the truck. I can still remember a view from a hill, looking back and down to the orphanage after I was found and dragged out of the truck. The time was near dawn from the look of the sky. I can also remember having to be led back into one of the buildings with a serious feeling of dread. I do not recall any consequences or conversations about it except that my mother later on did remark that the story was true.

Mother visiting.  I’m not sure what arrangements Mother made with St. John’s but I know that she regularly came to the orphanage and did sewing for them. I can remember a scene where I come into visit her while she is there and sewing. Nothing  very clear, just an image of a room and her in it. If my memory is any good here, she came only once per month.

Tapioca. I can’t stand it. I don’t even want to be in the same room as tapioca. It is a bit of a family joke as to just how much I have an aversion to it. This comes from the orphanage…no memories of it, just a memory of an awful feeling in my mouth related to eating tapioca.

Deserts. I don’t share well when it comes to deserts. If I have a piece of cake to eat, I eat the cake first and the icing last. It’s the same with anything what has a good part and a better part. I always eat the best part last. On top of that, I have a habit of being somewhat selfish about deserts….”does not share well” as is well know in the family and routinely joked about.

I got sick.  When you had a cold or sore throat, you were administered a mixture of honey and ?. I can remember once when I lined up for the treatment and to this day can remember the taste…not a bad taste at all.

I hurt myself once while playing. This is kinda funny. We slept in a dormitory type  place with bunk beds. There was a wide walkway between two sets of bunks, running down the middle of the room. As kids, we would run and slide on the wood floor. Get a running start and throw oneself, rump first onto the floor to see how far we could slide. One evening, I caught a rather large splinter in my butt doing this. And, do I remember the night. I can still see the floor that I was running on. I had a scar on my left cheek for many, many years from that night. Sometime years ago, it seems to have healed and disappeared.

I sang a solo at Christmas. I had a rather good voice for a kid and still can do a fair job of carrying a tune. I still love to sing country and folk songs. One Christmas, I was chosen to sing “Adeste Fidelis”, also known as “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” to the community. It was a solo performance. I can still picture the scene of walking up to the piano to perform. I do not remember singing, just the terror of that walk to the piano. I can picture the darkened halls and the gathered children and nuns and that piano. I still love that song…As an aside, I once attended a performance of the National Symphony in DC and they played the Star Spangled Banner and the folks were invited to join in. My wife Jan was absolutely shocked at the rather fine manner in which I sang the tune….including all the hard parts!

I remember leaving the Orphanage. My Mother managed to get a job as an accountant in Ocala, Florida through the efforts of the Catholic Church. The same Susie & Bruce had move there already. When the time came to pack up and leave, I was told by Mother that I could not take any of my possessions and toys with me when we left. I was broken-hearted. We had a play area with individual lockers and I can still remember standing in from of that locker, crying my eyes out because I had to leave everything behind…for the other children. This was really terrible. I learned something important that day.

Grandparents Visit

My fathers parents were both immigrants from Hungary which makes me 50% a Hungarian. They despised my mother for the fact that she had converted to the Roman Catholic Church…they were Protestants. After we made it out of the orphanage and Dad had passed, they made one trip to Ocala to see us. I distinctly remember standing at an Ice Cream stand when my mother told me that they had just offered her $25,000 each for Henry and myself. Mother turned them down and we never saw them again. When they passed, Mother was sure to ask about the wills…it was mandatory that the children/grandchildren be left something…we were give precisely $1.00 each. Not sure if Mother actually collected it.

….an aside….I found it rather amazing that when I started this that there was so much I could actually recall.

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