Today I will tell you
Of average height and average weight, I am a 72-year-old man who spent the last week in September in a hospital where a great deal of poking and prodding and sticking with needles and photographing of my innards and receiving a couple of pints of blood and a few other things too horrible to think about took place. And that was just at the admissions desk.
I was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, (it’s the smallest state in the union, and it’s in New England) because I wanted to be near my mother, and she happened to be there at the time.
We lived in a third-floor apartment of a house at 61 Larch Street and my pediatrician was a Dr. Kachichian. I attended the Pawtucket Day Nursery while my mother, who had received a teaching certificate from West Chester State College in Pennsylvania, worked at the Coats & Clark Thread Factory. My teachers were Miss Irma Chisholm and Mrs. Yvonne Schack. A Portuguese woman in the neighborhood would sometimes take care of me as well and give me apple pie and pastrami for breakfast.
One day at recess, while two children were playing on a seesaw, one jumped off and the other, a black boy named Peter, fell and hurt himself. His arm was bleeding, and I noticed that his blood was red just like mine. I decided on the spot that people are alike on the inside and it is only on the outside that we are different.
When I was about four or five, a man wearing a white sailor uniform began visiting my mother occasionally. My mother called him “Ted” and so did I. Eventually he moved in permanently and my mother told me to call him “Daddy” from then on.
I went to Hancock Street Elementary School to Mrs. Mullins’s kindergarten class, but after four days she took me to first grade. Apparently Pawtucket Day Nursery had done its job well, because I was answering all the questions and telling all the other children the answers. My teacher in first grade was Miss Edith Wildegoose.
(Here I am in the spring of 1947 as a student in Miss Edith Wildegoose’s first grade class. I was six.)
In August 1947 we moved from Rhode Island to Fort Worth, Texas,
on a train. It took three days. We arrived on one of the hottest days in the history of Fort Worth, Texas, and walked several blocks from the Texas & Pacific Railroad Station to the Majestic Hotel, which was inaptly named, carrying our luggage. One day, while leaving the hotel to get something to eat, I saw a hotel employee whose skin was so black it was almost blue, who had the whitest teeth and the whitest jacket I had ever seen, sweeping little black things off the sidewalk into little piles in the gutter and setting them on fire. The little black things turned out to be live crickets, and the smell was beyond awful. I was scarred for life in that instant.
A few days later we moved to a boarding house in the Arlington Heights section of Fort Worth. Mrs. Cash, who owned the boarding house, spent her days telling everyone who would listen that her close relative, actress Faye Emerson, was married to Elliott Roosevelt, the son of the President. The phrase “six degrees of separation” had not yet been invented, and actor Kevin Bacon was not born until 1958, but Mrs. Cash was eager for all to know that she was associated with the rich and famous.
My parents eventually rented a small post-war bungalow on a horseshoe-shaped street (2332 Chandler Drive East, on the other end of the horseshoe from Chandler Drive West) and I was enrolled into Mrs. Wolfe’s second-grade class at Oakhurst Elementary School.
I was not to experience urban life for long. In the spring of 1948, we moved again to a three-acre plot two miles from a little town that boasted a one-block-long business district with a traffic signal at both ends. I was to live there for the next ten years.