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  • 3 weeks later...



That was my first word.  


Most people don't believe me initially-- they usually have to speak with an ever-decreasing elder generation of my family who, through comments I've made in childhood, can confirm that, for whatever reason, the chemical baths that set and delete memories throughout various stages of brain development didn't work right for me.  I've only had one, and I remember it quite clearly.  Oddly, I had a complete "life flash before my eyes" event, and to this day, anything I did not remember in the moment, I do not remember.  (this is only unusual in that it only happened once, and that it happened while I was conscious.  It's supposedly normal, happens three to four times at various cerebral development stages during childhood, then never again.  If you didn't know that before, now you do.  :D )


That's not to say that I don't remember much from before that-- quite the contrary: having only gone through that once, I have a surprisingly comprehensive memory of my childhood.  The part that no one ever believes until they speak to my mother is that I remember being born.  No; she didn't believe it either, when it came up in conversation, at least not at first.  I was five, and we were at her father's house and watching a television scene where the newborn baby is hoisted into the air, slapped soundly on the butt, and handed to a nurse who swaddles him up and runs away off camera.


"Why didn't they do that to me?"


"Why didn't they spank my butt?"


There was some teasing-- "maybe you were a good boy"

"No.  I was mad.  I got more mad when they stuck that thing in nose.  I hated it."

This lead to confusion, which lead to a short conversation, which lead to her finally capitulating on an earlier claim:  I remember being born.  That claim had come up when I mentioned wanting my new sibling to be able to talk so we could compare notes about the whole being born thing.  It was laughed off then, but it's not laughed at so much now.  Honestly, I _feel_ like I remember shortly before being born, but I am going to just assume this is some fanciful fill-in-the-void stuff my brain does to keep things on a keel.  But after a fairly lengthy discussion of the events of my birth (there were a couple of odd circumstances, such as one of the attendants tripping over her own feet and falling over backwards, making quite the ruckus), no one doubted that I remembered it anymore.



In the grand scheme of things, it's pretty minor, and it's still possible to dismiss it as "memories of various discussions, etc," save that my memory had no vocabulary attached to it.  At five, I didn't know the terms that would have been used in the discussion, and since the action at the time made no sense, it took lots of describing and pantomiming to get my description across.  I knew the words at five, but I didn't know them at birth, and as such, the memory wasn't organized in any way that other memories-- memories with various labels-- were organized.





That's neither here nor there, and I offer you the choice of forgiving or ignoring any of this and moving on.  However, the last time I posted something big in my life, this thread was suggested as a harmless place to put it, so here it is.


Lots of you know I'm from Alaska.  Some of you know that my folks are from Maine.  My old man, like many young men, dreamed bigger than the town in which he lived (which, oddly, meant going to a town significantly smaller and even more remote.  Go figure).  Off to Alaska he went.  He got drafted shortly thereafter.  Hurriedly, he married my mother and headed to wherever it was that draftees go (I believe he said Texas-- later, I mean; I think he told me once that he went to Basic in Texas).  Then he shipped out.  I was born nine months after the wedding, and my mother wasn't handling homesteading and child-rearing and she locked up the place and went to stay with her parents.


She had a younger brother-- her only brother-- who hadn't quite left home yet.  He was a senior in High School and was laying plans put a payment on a little house and marry his own girlfriend.  I have no idea why, but he adored baby me and I loved big tall strong him.  His name was Neil, and we would be the absolute best of friends forever-- so much so that my only son is Neil, too.


Neil never left the house without "the kid."  He'd holler out to my grandmother "Ma!  Goin' to Madison.  I got the kid!" and off we went.  The bits of memory I retain from that era were filled with girls ooh-ing and aww-ing over the baby and Neil proudly proclaiming how he was helping to take care of his first nephew.  I also remember not liking the cheese that peeled off of pizza.


Neil was true to his word: he was going to be the best dad substitute he could be.  Sort of.   Every day, just before the sun started to set, one of the horses would walk to the small field atop the rise right next to the house.  My mother and her father would hold me up to the window, encouraging me to talk:  "Horse!  Horse!  See the horsie?!  That's a horse!"  Then one day the horse turned a bit and his tail went up-- and you probably know what happens when horses do that.  Neil was right there.  "And _that's_ horse sh*t, Kid."


"ho-sit!  Ho-sit!  Ho sit; ho sit; ho-sit!"  I was quite proud, and Neil's peals of laughter just encouraged me.  "Ho sit!  Ho sit, ho sit!   Hoooo   siiiiiit!"


I didn't really understand why my mother and grandfather weren't as thrilled; I was amazing.  It was perplexing, at least a bit.  Didn't matter.  Ho sit!


I've been told it took several weeks of deprograming to get me to stop pointing at horses and gleefully exclaiming "Ho sit!"


I learned other words.  I learned "Mama" and "Gumpa" and "Gamma," but the very second word I learned with "Unkoh."  Unkoh Neuw.  Before he died, my grandfather let it slip that while she loved her brother, it broke her heart that I learned that before I learned "Mama."   It wasn't on purpose; I promise.  Mama was-- mama was feeding and bathing and changing and all the unfun things that a living, breathing thing requires, even when it can't do them for itself.  Unkoh Neuw, though-- he was all the _fun_ and exciting things the world had to offer.  He'd swoop through the house-- even after he moved out-- and off we'd go, looking for adventure.


He taught me to tie my shoes.  He was notoriously short-tempered, but even after everyone else had given up, he kept on going, and going, and going.   I don't know how long it took-- kids don't pay attention to time.  I know there were several attempts because I remember sitting in different places and looking down at different pants, all being given very patient lessons on tying shoes.  The maddening thing is that I remember _getting_ it, but the _fingers_ didn't understand.


I met my father some time after that.  I remember meeting him and being told who he was, and I  instantly remembered all the stories I had heard about him being in a war overseas.  (For the record: kids have no idea what that means, okay?  You can describe it all day long; they aren't going to get it.  The entire idea is so unimaginably stupid to a child's mind that we just can't process it).  He didn't stay long, I don't think, and he had to go back to whatever "war" was.


Neil was done with school, and he went back to Alaska to help my mother and the sibling that was going to arrive in nine months or so.


My first betrayal was from Neil.  Neil was bound and determined to teach me to ride a bicycle before my father came home.  He did, but my biggest takeaway from that was _not_ "I'm doin' it!  I'm ridin' a bicycle!" like you see in the movies and like you pretend that you remember and like you pretend was the big takeaway your children had.  I _knew_ going in that I was going to get it eventually; I just needed help.   My big take away, though, was that he let go.  You all did it; all of you that taught your kids to ride a bike.  I don't want to sound stupid or high-falutin, but I didn't do it.  I couldn't do it, because to this day I remember that betrayal.  Instead I was running far harder and faster than I could sustain, waiting for them to yell "let go!"  I couldn't simply let go after telling them I wouldn't.


Neil did it, though, and I was devastated.  He laughed about it, the way that adults do when they don't remember having that feeling themselves, but when he saw I was really, truly upset, he took the time to calm me down, apologize, and spent I-don't-remember-how-long explaining to me that sometimes adults have to break a promise to give you the confidence you need to do a thing.  He went on and on to explain that this did _not_ excuse doing it, and that this was _only_ acceptable-- if awful-- when it was truly helpful to a child to briefly deceive them.  He then went on to explain all the  ways that were _not_ okay for an adult to break a trust or a promise, and we talked and talked and talked until I really _did_ understand.  I know all the experts tell you that kids aren't capable of understanding X concept until Y years and a lot of other nonsense, but I am here right now to tell you that they _can_, if you are patient enough to understand them, and patient enough to present it in a way that they can understand.  I understood it.  I didn't _like_ it, but I _understood_ it.  He told me that was good, and that I should _always_ remember how it made me feel, even when it was for the right reasons, and that it was absolutely imperative to remember it when I was considering doing it "for the right reason."  Comparing the reason I was doing it against how I would make someone else feel would be the best measure of whether or not it was really for the right reason.


My father came home after that, and Neil went back to Maine.  We stayed in touch through letters, and every couple of summers we'd travel back to Starks and and visit, and in spite of being related to every single person in that town (my parents' wedding joined the two largest extended families in the area.  Even if we hadn't gone to Alaska, I'd have had to leave town just to date!  :rofl: ), and while I had cousins my own age to go lots of cool things with, I always made it a point to hang out with Neil just as much as I possibly could.   Even after I left home, I would, every few years, manage to swing through Maine and see Neil for a day or two.  Chris, if you're reading this:  remember when I told you that until recently I had to make arrangements to get Moxie shipped out of Maine?  Neil was my connection  ;)   



Neil loved his hometown.  He didn't travel, _ever_.  He left Maine three times: once with me and my mother, to take us back to Alaska and stay with us until my father came home from war.  Once, when I was in high school, he came and stayed two weeks because he wanted to see just how "the kids" had turned out, and the last time for my wedding.   I tried so hard to get him to come see us after my son was born, and he said he'd really like to, but he just didn't like to travel, and hated not being home.



Today is my mother's birthday.  I was rushing the kids through their little chores so that we could hurry up and go see Grandma for her birthday.  Before we made it to the truck, she called me.  Neil died in the wee hours of the morning.



It's been a pretty crap day.




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