This picture isn't of me as a little boy, but of my son, wife, and daughter when we brought our little girl home from the hospital the first time. Little kids have such funny perswonalities, which got me wondering which of my memories is my oldest?
Was it the time that I got lost in the mall? Just like my parents taught me to do when I was lost, I found a mall cop and he took me to a holding room until Dad came to claim me, wearing his light blue striped overalls.
Was it the time that I was following Mom around the sewing store only to realize that I’d been following the wrong pair of legs? This lady looked just like my mom from the waist down and when I finally looked up, I was horrified to find that my mom was nowhere in sight.
Was it the time that I ran back to the back yard and when I came back to the car, my family had left to church without me? I sat in the bushes (why the bushes? I don’t know) until they realized I was missing and came back for me.
Was it the time I was throwing a tantrum and wanted to get back at my mom for punishing me, so I grabbed her Bible and held it up like I was going to rip the pages out of it? She just said matter-of-factly, “Go ahead. That’s your dad’s, not mine.” Then she turned back to what she was doing, which frustrated me even more, and I put his Bible back down.
It’s hard for me to know the chronological order of these memories, but I think my earliest is one of these two, all of which took place in Charleston where I lived the majority of my preschool years as a tyke:
“Russell,” Mom scolded. “Get off of there.”
The temptation was too great. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to be on the exercise equipment. Mom made that pretty clear even before we went into the store- I was supposed to keep my hands to myself and not cause any problems. Still, I really really really wanted to jump on that treadmill.
“Russell,” Mom shook her finger at me. “If you get on that treadmill, I’m going to have to give you a spanking. I’m serious.”
On the one hand, I didn’t want a spanking. On the other hand, I really wanted to jump on that treadmill. On the one hand, I didn’t like to make my mom upset. On the other hand, Mom didn’t spank very hard. Ultimately, I made my decision. The rewards outweighed the punishment. I would go through with it. I’d have my moment on the glorious treadmill before Mom would snag me and I’d get what was coming to me. Yes, I’d do it.
Oh, Mom punished me, all right, but not in the way she had threatened me. I sat in the back seat of the Sears, but I did expect it to come the second we got back to the car. I sat in silence, wondering in retrospect whether or not my decision was worth it.
She didn’t give it to me at the car, though, and when we got home, I wondered some more. I sat quietly on the couch, too worried about my impending punishment to go play with the other kids. Was it worth it? I was really going to get it, wasn’t I? I sat on the couch and stewed in my worry, wondering when the inevitable spank was going to reach my buttocks. Still, it didn’t come.
Finally, I went about doing what the other kids were doing. Even as I played with the others for the rest of the day, and for the rest of that week as well, I wondered when it was going to come. Once enough time had passed that I assumed Mom had forgotten, I began to wonder what the right thing to do was. My parents had always taught me to be honest, and I knew the honest thing would be to remind her that she owed my rump a smack. I never did remind her, though I felt like I should.
Now, years later, I think that the statute of limitations has probably expired. I didn’t avoid spankings for the rest of my days, but I did avoid that spanking. Ahh, yes, I remember like it was yesterday.
The other experience that was intense enough to leave an imprint as my possible earliest memory wasn’t about being scared, but it about thinking I was funny.
“Hey! Come back,” Mom said.
Mom was trying to dry us off. I had just been lifted out of the tub and when she turned around to fish one of my siblings from the water, I bolted.
“Where can I hide?” I wondered as I sprinted through the house.
When your legs are that short, it feels like there is a lot of distance to cover just to escape from the drying towel. I found the perfect place! When your legs are that short, you can fit nicely in a lot of fun places.
“Ha ha,” I thought. “This is great.”
Laying face up waiting for someone to find me was my last memory of the evening. I could see a tiny bit of light shining into where I was curled up waiting waiting waiting.
“He can’t be far,” Dad said. “The front door is locked, so he’s somewhere here in the house.”
Pretty soon everyone was looking. Still, no Russell. Apparently, I was pretty good at the hiding game.
It took my parents over an hour to find me. After lifting up the white wooden lid, there I was laying between some Lincoln Logs and a Jack-In-The-Box, fast asleep in the toy box. True stories.