When do we begin to remember?

“We come into this world, get walloped and it goes downhill from there.” I don’t remember who said that but I’m sure you’re familiar with the sentiment.

I could tell you I remember that incident and have been looking for the little punk who mugged me ever since, but to be honest, the details are a little hazy.

Some people believe all that brutality in the birthing room sets the tone and that’s why we have the world we have today. Others would say it is preparation for that world and birthing into foam and flowers is not only unrealistic but a cruel hoax setting the innocent up for false expectations.

The fact is a freshly born baby may not be paying much attention and there’s nothing like a smack to bring some focus into the equation. After all, nothing like a little pain to make you feel alive.

My first memories were formed when I was about three. This is sure because we moved after my sister was born and I was three when we moved.

This is what I believe is my first memory. A girl about my age lived directly across the street from us then. I remember her name being Karen Diamond. My Mom assures me that her name was not Karen but she doesn’t remember what it was.

(Karen (if that is your name), if you are out there reading this, I want you to know I never forgot you!)

My Mom does remember that Maj. Diamond (USMC) was a very nice man who would sometimes come over to our house, sit on our stoop and talk with my Mom while we kids played in the yard. Mom says that Mrs. Diamond was stand offish and was never was very friendly. I asked if the fact that her husband was spending so much time on our front stoop with her might have something to do with his wife’s shyness. Mom didn’t have an answer for that. Being shy herself, and modest, she wouldn’t have thought of that. She was always beautiful and still is.

At three, I was oblivious to all those subtle emotional undercurrents the grownups were navigating. However, at three, Karen (for lack of a better name) was a real looker herself.

One cool morning I went calling. I don’t honestly know what three year olds do for entertainment. Television was all the rage so we probably watched “Laurel and Hardy” or “Ding Dong School”. “Sesame Street”, was light years away in television’s conceptual universe.

Around lunch time I started home. It was summer and I was barefoot. We lived on a quiet street and I thought nothing of crossing it to my house by myself. I also didn’t think about the fact that the sun had been heating the asphalt to egg frying temperatures all morning. Quietly humming “Singin’ in the Rain” to myself I blithely stepped onto the boiling pavement and immediately let out a shriek that I’m sure rattled windows for blocks around. Having no experience with this kind of pain nor understanding of its source all I could do was scream and dance from one foot to the other.

Maj. Diamond happened to be home and came to my rescue. He swept me up like a small bag of potatoes and in about three strides deposited me gently into the cool grass on my side of the street. That grass was cool. My feet were, and therefore I was much relieved.

I’m sure experts can say how much trauma affects our earliest memories but that experience shocked me into consciousness like nothing else at that age. Many decades later, recovering from an operation it occurred to me that it is not the pain that is so horrible but the fear that it won’t stop. I was taking pain pills and was concerned I would run out because the pain kept getting worse and the pills had no effect. The nurse I spoke with told me I would kill myself and the pain if I kept taking the pills at the rate I was consuming them. After she assured me the pain would stop eventually I decided to tough it out and quit taking the ineffective pills. A child’s first shot is horrific due to his having no perspective. But in time (for some of us) a shot is but a momentary discomfort and that is all.

I think that fear of the unknown is the source of much more anxiety than any known consequence to which one can adapt.

How many people are on Prozac?

Berlin Wall Falls!

“Will the last person to leave Seattle please turn out the lights?”

It is hard to believe that jewel of the Northwest was ever ridiculed in such a manner but in the 1960’s it was a one industry town and Boeing (yes, that Boeing) was on the skids. People were leaving Seattle for greener pastures. People will always move toward opportunity however they define it.

Then Bill Gates moved Microsoft close by and the term ‘Californication’ was coined as Californians migrated north and snapped up beautiful homes for a fraction of what they sold theirs for back south. Berlin, Germany was another city in the ‘60’s that struggled with an outward migration.

After WWII, Berlin was in the curious state of having been partitioned by the victorious allies who were not so allied anymore. Berlin was situated in what had become East Germany but was divided among the U.S., English, French and Soviet Russian forces. Thousands of citizens would go about their daily routines and cross at various checkpoints. But thousands who left East Berlin (controlled by the Communistic Russians) in the morning would not return at night. About this time, the term ‘braindrain’ was coined.

This was troubling to the powers controlling East Berlin. A worker’s paradise was being created and the best and brightest were leaving, sometimes with only what they could carry. Each day the man in charge would get up and before his cornflakes were soggy would lose a thousand more of his citizens to the West. It is enough to make a dictator testy.

Of course, this was embarrassing to the authorities. People were expected to flock into East Germany, not out of it. But there you are. Many things were tried to stem the flow but with no good results. In fact their tactics of intimidation only made matters worse and were a PR disaster. Mass arrests and shootings by the police tend to get misconstrued by the hoi polloi.

Finally, one morning all of Berlin (and the world) awoke to find a crude wall had been erected completely surrounding the city of West Berlin. This was unprecedented. Usually in history, walls were erected to keep people out; i.e. castles, forts, etc. China built the Great Wall of China to keep the Mongol hordes at bay, not to keep the Chinese from escaping to Mongolia.
When it happened, the world was outraged. No one ever expected it to fall. The Communists held their territory and people in an iron grip. Winston Churchill spoke of this as an ‘iron curtain across Europe’. And now we are celebrating 25 years since it was torn down.

Up to then, walls built to keep people in were associated with prisons. The Communists wanted to avoid that particular connection and so it was explained, with a straight face, that the wall was built to keep fascistic influences from polluting the worker’s paradise.

It was easy in those days to blame the fascists for almost everything as they had just lost WWII, were universally hated and deserved to be. But no one really believed the wall was built to keep the fascists out as most of the surviving fascists had magically transformed into Communists. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss…

The irony which escaped no one was that while the East German police claimed to be protecting their city, the ‘infiltrators’ coming into East Berlin were all shot in the back as they climbed the wall to escape.
One of the great Cold War novels, “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” is centered on East Berlin and the Wall and is deliciously cynical about that time and place.

In a side light, the fascists got their name from an odd weapon made up of an ax like blade protruding from a bundle of sticks bound together, a ‘fascio’. The old silver Mercury dimes in the U.S. carry an image of one for reasons I’ve never understood. That design disappeared when FDR’s image replaced Mercury on the dime, which I do understand. FDR may have been many things but he was no Fascist.

I remember seeing a movie then, now long forgotten, called “the Seventh Question”. It was made in Germany and released with subtitles about a German boy, Hans, about ten, living in East Berlin at the time the Communists took over.

One day in school his teacher hands out a questionnaire and instructs the students to take it home and complete it with their parents. The seventh question on this document inquires about each family’s religious affiliation and activities with any churches or religious organization.

Hans realizes, having just survived the Nazi scourge that a regime which puts the state first and the individual last could only want to know this information for purposes of control. The boy struggles whether to show his parents the questionnaire. His father is an official at the local church. Hans doesn’t want his father to get into trouble.

Events put Hans in a position where he must act. He crosses from East to West and doesn’t look back.

People move toward opportunity.

Halloween Fun

Disclaimer: Do not try this at home!

I know this is a few days late but it just came to mind.

My Dad would amuse my brothers and me with stories he told about how he celebrated Halloween when he was a kid. My Mother would let us know these stories were for entertainment only and we were not to emulate his behavior in this regard.

Most of his exploits were pretty benign being done back in the mid-1920s. He taught me how to string a button and get it spinning very fast like a flywheel. A great way to terrify and “trick” the unsuspecting occupants of an “non-treating” home was to get the button spinning and then press it up to a window pane. The noise it produced was startling, bizarre and incomprehensible to the victims of the prank.

I don’t know about then, but nowadays a young goblin is taking his chances on getting shot for doing such mischief.

The really funny story he told was about the mean man at the end of the street who attempted to squelch the trick or treating by blockading the street and standing with his arms crossed defying the children from crossing his barrier. My Dad would laugh  as he described the look on the old man’s face as, undaunted, the crowd of twenty or so kids charged him while screaming for all they were worth. His face changed from defiance to doubt and then fear as he realized the kids would not stop. He finally retreated into his home and the kids took over the night.

Perhaps this same man was the recipient of this other prank. My Dad said he and some friends filled a paper bag with fresh dog waste and put it on his front step. They set it on fire and rang the doorbell. When the man came out and saw the burning bag he, of course started stomping on it to put out the fire and covered himself with dog waste.

Such are the innocent pranks of our parents.