Returning to my Childhood, part 1

Are we products of our environment?  According to William Clement Stone (1902 – 2002) we are.  I don’t totally buy that, but I’m sure environment plays a large role.  It is not my purpose to restart the nature/nurture debate, but simply to ruminate a little.  These are a few of the things that likely make my watch run today.

Baby John drew his first breath in 1951.  A quick glance at Wikipedia reveals 1951 to be a fairly uneventful year.  Dennis the Menace first appeared in what we then called the “Funny Paper”, Catcher in the Rye (which I would later read as a senior in high school) was published and Luke Skywalker was born (Mark Hamill, actually).

I was apparently born to a middle class ‘old money’ family in South Alabama.  My momma wasn’t married to my daddy – so I was placed for adoption, as was common in those days.  When the rendezvous that resulted in my unplanned birth occurred, my dad was 22 and my mom was 17.  That was interesting to me when I discovered that bit of trivia in 1991 because when my wife and I were married in 1973, I was 22 and she was 17.  Uncanny, isn’t it?

I was picked up off the street – hang on, I’m embellishing that – in December 1951 at the tender age of 9 months.  It all happened through the proper channels.  They said my mother even brought me stuff at the orphanage, or whatever it was called, and that that was unusual.  I talked to her sister once in the 90’s.  She said my mom just went away for a while – and then came back.  The siblings didn’t, at the time, know where she had been.  She had been delivering me.

I was adopted by Carl and Maye Brown.  So, I quit being a Thompson/Sims, and quit being Michael Ray, and became John Walker Brown. Mother and Dad must have been worried that they wouldn’t be approved as adoptive parents, because they apparently enlisted the help of Carl Elliot, who was a congressman or something at the time.  I remember his newsletter coming to the house when I was a kid.  The process worked, the obligatory documents were signed and sealed and I was delivered to North Alabama, about as far from my point of origin as one could get and remain in Alabama.  I figure that was the intent.  I have never met my birth mother; though I saw what I think was her driver’s license picture a couple of years ago.  She appeared to be still alive.  I have no idea whatever happened to my biological dad.  Carl and Maye are both deceased.

I am glad I was adopted, as you will see if you haven’t fallen asleep reading this yet.  I respect my mother (Maye), but it would be hard for a son to be any closer to his dad than I was to mine (Carl).  He died in 1999 and I still miss him every day.  I dream about him frequently.  I wish I had tried to be more like him when I was younger.

I remember very little before I started to school at age 6.  I do recall a framed poem about a baby hanging on the wall in the “back bedroom.”  When my youngest son and his family moved into Dad’s house a few years ago, the framed poem resurfaced.  As I write this, I’m not sure where it got off to – probably in my basement with the other assorted relics.

School was no big deal.  It was small, peaceful, not particularly hard, and I moved from grade to grade.  I turned out to be good in reading.  We took the California Reading Test, I guess it was the precursor to the Stanford, but it was reading only.  I remember my third grade teacher calling my mother when the scores came in; I had scored seventh grade level.  Looking back, that was probably the academic high point of grades 1 – 12.  I also turned out to be pretty good in one particular skill in one particular sport, but I had stupidity issues and wasted it.  I still think about that after all those years.  But, if I had stepped up, I likely would have never met my wife.  I had rather have her.

We were and still are members of the church of Christ.  A congregation was started in Sulligent, where we lived when I was 10 years old.  My dad was, I guess, the main local leader.  M.C.Mills from Hamilton was the one who got the process started.  I was the first one baptized there.  We went to gospel meetings a lot through my early teens.  The older preachers were good men.  In hindsight, I wished they had preached a little more directly about Jesus.  I became deeply religious around the eighth grade.  I would carry my Bible to school and read it openly.  I was the only kid in the entire school to do that, to my knowledge.  Looking back, I guess I was showing off, a practice condemned in the Bible.

After elementary school, my best year was my senior year.  It was the best year for two reasons.  One: it was the last year, and I was ready to move on.  Two: (this is the best one) I met my future wife.  I had discovered her the spring of the year before, but I didn’t actually talk to her till my senior year.  Yeah, I was scared.  I would say she was the prettiest girl in the high school, though some other guys might want to argue that for their wives.  She defined “hot,” but I think that word wasn’t used then as a synonym for “pretty.”  I think it was words like “gorgeous” or some such word that has long since passed out of the vocabulary.  Anyhow, we dated, “went steady” (look that up in an old dictionary), and were pretty much together during the waking hours.  There are pics of her during that time on my FB photos.

After high school I was off to college and my introduction to Freed-Hardeman.  That’s another story.  To be continued….

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