Is it prosperity? I know plenty of prosperous people who don’t seem particularly happy.
My childhood began in Kansas where my father was a student. We lived on a student stipend on the third floor of a a small, rented house. The whole floor slanted toward the chimney. The bathroom was on the landing between the second and third floors and was shared with the second floor tenants. We had no car.
We left Kansas when I was two years old during severe flooding. Dad and other volunteers manned the levees until the whistle blew to tell workers the levees were breeching and that they needed to get to safety. Ten years later, when I revisited the town, water marks were still visible in some older buildings that hadn’t been repainted.
As a small child I had frequent, painful ear infections…often as much as once a month. As soon as I turned four, I was taken to the hospital for surgery to remove my tonsils. They promised me all the ice cream I wanted when the surgery was done. They didn’t mention that my throat would be so sore I wouldn’t want any ice cream. When they put the ether mask over my face I was terrified.
I longed for siblings but had none until we adopted a brother when I was five. The social worker who came to visit before the final adoption accused my parents of only wanting a playmate for me. She tried to get me to say that I didn’t want him!
For some reason, I never knew I was shy until we moved when I was seven. Changing schools was excruciating. It was so hard for me to make new friends.
It was also when I was seven that a teenager in our ward, Tommy Scott, was murdered. I couldn’t understand why a person would do such a thing.
By the time I went to school we lived in Indianapolis. At school they taught us to grab our coats and line up in a windowless hallway, squatting down facing the wall with our coats over our heads for tornado drills. I also recall several times at home during tornado watches when our family adjourned to our basement until we heard the all clear on our radio. Fortunately, the only time a tornado actually caused damage in our yard we were away on vacation. The area a mile from our home looked like matchsticks.
As a 4th grader, I realized that my father could not make everything right when my friend Sue quit coming to school. We eventually found out that she had surgery for a brain tumor and was severely disabled as a result. As an adult, she became the center of a right to die lawsuit.
The next year one of my father’s co-workers, whose children I often played with, died suddenly as a result of a brain tumor. I remember him coming to our home in his pajamas to say goodbye before going to the hospital.
During some of these years we were members of the Keen Kutters ice skating club. We skated at The Coliseum in Indianapolis. Usually we just skated for the fun of it, but sometimes we took lessons from Dan Ryan and wife who were professional skaters. When I was 12, Mr. Ryan travelled to the World Figure Skating competition in Belgium as a coach. During that trip, Mr. Ryan and the entire US Olympic figure skating team died when their plane went down in Belgium. He was only 31 and left behind a wife and five small children.
I was 14 when a girl in our ward died suddenly and mysteriously. The only reason I ever heard for her death was that she had a bad cold. I wondered for years what actually caused her death and with the naivety of a child wondered if I would die when I had a cold.
Again at The Coliseum during my freshman year of high school, Holiday on Ice was in town to perform. Opening night was on Halloween. Thankfully our family didn’t attend, but my best friend and my high school band director were both in the crowd of over 4000 people. The perimeter of the arena gave access to the area under the seats and was used for concessions. During the finale of the event, a propane tank for a popcorn machine exploded, destroying the seats above it. My best friend found herself outside with no shoes and no explanation as to how she got there. The section of seats right in front of her had been destroyed in the explosion. My band teacher told of holding a dying victim in his arms. There were 74 fatalities and more than 400 injured.
When I was 16, one of my good school friends, Marianne Sikes, a sweet and kind girl, was murdered, along with her younger sister and her mother, by her father.
Even after living through all these unfortunate experiences, I survived. In retrospect, I see that some of these experiences had a lasting impact on my life. But in spite of everything that happened, I do think I had a wonderful childhood. Thank goodness I had loving parents who supported me and protected me as much as they could. Somehow they helped me discover a sense of resilience in the face of adversity. Now as I look back and choose what to write about, I find that I usually am more drawn to the fun and positive experiences. As for the negative experiences, I am more able to see the humor in them and how much I learned and grew from them. As hard as it was, I am a better person for having had my particular ‘wonderful’ childhood.