Sunday, November 29, 2009
On my facebook profile, there's a picture right now that might look a little... incomplete. Folks who have taken a look at my profile before know that that's only about 1/4 of the original picture, which is my grade 1 Queen E photo taken in 1971. I'm a not-very-ripe 5 years old in that picture. This is a rather indulgent post in my blog here because that's what I'm gonna talk about. By now anybody who's only a passive blog reader of Ragnar here has probably bailed right about by now.
In 1971, cigarette ads were banned on TV, School House Rock was born (remember "I'm Just a Bill"? "Conjunction Junction"? "A Noun Can Be, A Noun Can Be, A Person Place or Thing"?), Disney World opened, DB Cooper skyjacked a plane to Seattle (and more recently starred on Prison Break... j/k), Charles Manson was convicted of his monsterisms, "Dirty Harry", "The French Connection" and "A Clockwork Orange" hit theatres, John Lennon's "Imagine" - the Bee Gees "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart" - and Three Dog Night's "Joy To the World" hit AM airwaves everywhere. Good old Pierre Trudeau was Prime Minister of our fine country at the time, and Nixon was busy doing his best to bury the U.S. reputation worldwide.
I remember my mom bringing me to school for the first time. I'd never been to kindergarten, I'm not even sure there was a kindergarten back then. But I do know that I was very young to be in grade 1. I was always the youngest kid in my class, at least until I began failing grades 7 and 8, and later 12. I cried when Mom brought me to school and left me there. Mrs. Touche (pronounced too-shay) was my teacher, an older lady whom I have to think didn't like kids a whole lot. That seemed to be accepted as the norm back then. Mrs. Touche tested my very young patience throughout the year, and halfway through, when I asked to go to the washroom one day.... "Mrs. Touche..." --she ignored me. My hand was up. A long time. My arm was getting tired and my bladder was beginning to wonder what it did to have it deserve the overload it was experiencing. I know other kids in the class would have been answered a whole lot sooner. Eventually.... "What do you want?" she would snap.
"Can I use the bathroom?" My knees were knocking together because I felt like an overloaded water balloon flirting with a porcupine. "NO you may not!" No pun intended, but boy, that pissed me off. A couple of minutes later, my hand went up again. "Put your hand down, you're not going to the bathroom!" "Alright..." I said. So I let 'er rip right there in my pants all over the floor. "Michael Cook! What are you doing!" "Mrs. Touche, you said I couldn't use the bathroom." The whole class erupted in laughter as the spreading yellowness across the classroom floor invaded everyone's space. Man, I had to go alright! Talk about flooding the ice.
Anyway, my point being here, that I wasn't entirely well liked by my teacher that year. From the getgo. I felt rejected from my first day in school. I didn't have a whole lot of friends, but I did have some. Mostly, those kids were others who were like me, quiet and timid, looking for acceptance. And you know what? That continues to this day. But there's always something going on behind the curtains, right?
When I was that young, my hair wasn't brown. I was a platinum blonde kid, preschool, and it took on other colors as I grew older. In this grade 1 picture, it appeared strawberry blonde. Later, it would morph to dark brown. In this grade 1 picture, here I am, a strawberry blonde youngster, the youngest in his class, and somewhat bewildered at why this man was taking my picture. I didn't get a whole lot of pictures taken of me. I'm the youngest of 7 kids in my family, and judging by the utter lack of pictures of me that young, perhaps taking snapshots of kids was passe in my family. It was more expensive then, too, not like today where you can snap a gazillion pictures on a digital camera for practically nothing. But nonetheless, somebody was taking my picture! That alone is exciting to a kid. Especially me at the time.
My dad was a drinker, from all I can remember. A lot of things happened in his life that seemed to push him to the brink. His brother getting killed in the second world war maybe being the biggest. Recently I learned about another brother of his, Jerry, in Miramichi (then Chatham), losing one of his kids in a fire at home. He tried and failed to save his son, waiting for rescue from his daddy at his bedroom window, only to be thwarted by a ladder that didn't reach high enough. Jerry himself underwent personal turmoil throughout the rest of his life as a result of psychological damage from an event so traumatic. Dad losing his parents, perhaps especially his mother, from natural causes, probably didn't help. He turned to the bottle for comfort, and the bottle caused a lot of trouble at 136 Emmerson Street in Moncton. Dad was loud and obnoxious at times, at all hours of the night. It was not uncommon for us to dwell through the days like zombies because we hadn't gotten any sleep. Money was tight, because Dad drank a lot of it away. At the time, there were probably five or six kids still in that little house. That's a lot of mouths to feed, clothe and take care of on one salary. Take a look at my hair in that picture. It's shaggy and very unkept looking. Probably in need of attention from a barber. It probably wasn't brushed that morning or washed in a bit. This isn't because Mom was negligent, it's because she was overworked. I was cared for, but my mother was spread very thin in those days. She was the toughest, most caring loving person I will ever know or know of. In spite of all the adversity, she never left us, or Dad. She held fast to the vows she took upon marriage. Add to what's going on in the little boy's head in that picture that he's likely very, very tired, somewhat bewildered, a little bit afraid, yet kind of happy that somebody's taking his picture. At that very instant, I let my guard down, until it was time to return to the classroom.
I cropped that picture for my profile on facebook. It closes in on my right eye. The eyes, they say, rather a cliche... are the windows to the soul. True, isn't it? Especially when you hear the stories behind the eyes. Those were big, big brown ones on me. My mom loved my eyes. Always remarked how big and brown and beautiful she thought they were. She always bought me brown shirts, brown sweaters, brown corduroys, all to match my eyes. I grew to hate brown clothes back then, because it's mostly all I had. Today, I see brown very differently. I see my Mom's heart in that color, because that's how she always saw mine, through the windows of my eyes. Interesting to note is, that everyone's eyes are as big when they're born as they are the rest of their lives. I closed in on that one eye because I wanted to also point out that, in light of that fact, the eyes on that kid - the same eyes, same color, same size - are the same eyes that are looking at the MacBook screen that I type this on right now. Those windows never change. They might get a bit more blurry! But that same kid is still me. I have the same qualities, the same hangups, the same vision and outlook. And, everyone is that kid. We all have those pictures. We were all there, and are here, if we're lucky enough. Every pair of eyes carries with them a history that can hint to everyone where they've been. The stories they tell are vast, and endless. And, perhaps, they carry answers and keys as to why someone is the way they are. Maybe considering that, they can act as a sort of perpetual handbook as to how to treat those people. Or why they do what they do.
But the master key to opening someone's heart and getting past those windows, a key we all own and maybe don't use as much as we should, ALL of us, is Love. We shouldn't forget that we have that key in our pockets at all times. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, every year, for all of our lives.
Have you used your master key lately?