Saturday, June 6, 2015

Some Gifts Stay With You

People who have read my books often ask if they are in any way based on me and my life. My answer is pretty much always the same. Harry is an idealized version of myself. We share a view on life and a family background. Harry grew up being taught by a loving family the difference between right and wrong and the importance of doing the right thing and caring for the less fortunate. He also learned the vitality of his Christian faith That's just like me.

I often joke with my students that I struggle to fully understand just how hard their family lives are because I was raised in a Norman Rockwell painting, but it's not really a joke. Yes, there were hard times. I clearly remember sitting crying on my back porch because Dad wouldn't get me some thing that I felt like I had to have. I don't even remember what it was, but I'm sure it wasn't worth getting upset about. Mom came out to comfort me and I remember asking her why Dad was so stingy. She didn't try to explain, probably because she figured I, in my childish fit of pique, wouldn't listen. Only when I got older did I realize that we didn't have all the money in the world. As was common back then, only Dad worked. It was a pretty good job, but there were four kids (I was the fourth of three, but that's another story). We raised a garden and ate wild game because it was part of our family tradition but also because it supplemented our food budget.

The reason I didn't know when I was little that money was tight was because the main thing I felt as a child was loved. We never lacked for food or clothes or hugs or support. We always had what we needed and, once in a while, we got something we didn't need just to keep life interesting. An example of that was the year I was visited by the Great Pumpkin.

It was a crisp fall morning and I had jumped eagerly out of bed to face excitedly my day at school. Okay, that's just a lie. I got up with great struggle after begging Mom repeatedly for that great treasure all children seek on a school day: five more minutes. But if I had known what awaited me, I would've gotten up sooner so I would have had more time to enjoy it before dashing off to school.

When I got to the bottom of the stairs, Mom was looking out the back door at something in the yard. I assumed it was a critter of some sort, but she called me to look. What I gazed on was to become the talk of the neighborhood kids, most of whom were my cousins--but that's another story too. It was one of those objects that defied comprehension at first. It didn't seem real, like my eyes were playing tricks on me. My mind over the years has made it larger than I'm sure it was in reality. It was, without question, though, the largest pumpkin I had ever seen up to that time--by a lot. Why was it there? Who had brought it? Were they coming back for it?

There appeared to be a piece of paper attached to it, but it was too far out into the back yard to read, so I scrambled to find shoes (finding shoes was always a battle--another story) and raced out into the early morning dew to see if the note shed light on the mystery. It did, but it didn't. It simply said, "To Joe from the Great Pumpkin."

I can't remember how old I was, but I was at the age of Hero Boy from The Polar Express where I was starting to question those magical figures in my life, like Santa and the Easter Bunny. But for a little while longer, that magic still existed for me, thanks to a visit from the Great Pumpkin. We carved it that evening and had, by a factor of about eleventy billion, the biggest jack-o-lantern in the entire neighborhood. It was, to  invoke A Christmas Story, my leg lamp, minus the soft glow of electric sex. I was the talk of Tavennerville Elementary School. I was the kid who'd been visited by the Great Pumpkin, the recipient of a legendary jack-o-lantern.

I never asked who actually got it for me. I don't know if it was my parents. I always suspected it might have been my oldest brother Dave for some reason. Sometimes I wish it was really the Great Pumpkin, but I'd rather think it was my family once again doing something to remind me I was loved and worth taking the time and effort to make me feel special.

What about you? Do you have a childhood memory that somehow sums up your early life? I hope your memories are as warm as mine.

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