Other personal autobiography
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First drafted June 2, 2004
My earliest memories are things I’ve been told, not images in my mind.
Mother tells me that shortly after I was born she stared at me and started crying; she was seeing me grow up and leave the nest. On Mother’s Day 2004 I met her and Judi, Alan, Sol and Richard for brunch on the upper West Side. Afterwards Mother and Judi and Alan and I sat in a playground just inside the 81st St. entrance to Central Park. At one point I referred to this tale of when I was a few days old, and Mother had tears in her eyes—I’m not sure whether from the memory of the moment or something current. Certainly for many years (decades?) she has regularly expressed guilt about what kind of mother she was.
I am told that in one New York apartment we lived a few floors up and one day I climbed onto the window ledge. I think Mimi was there at the time.
My father was draft-deferred because of me; fathers had deferments until late in the war. In something like Feb. 1945 he was in basic training in Georgia, and my mother took my sister and me to live near the base (Ft. Benning, I think). I don’t know if Dad was able to live at “home” with us. I’d have been three and Judi 1. I think we were there several months before he shipped out, after which we returned to Manhattan, and lived in a Village or Lower East Side apartment with Dad’s sister, Mildred, whom much of the family called Millie but I always thought of as Mimi. I have the sense that at least while I was a child there was a special bond between Mimi and me. I have a memory of my father later telling me that he was on the Pacific heading for Japan when Truman dropped the A-bombs. He ended up being part of the occupying army in the Philippines.
My sense is that my father returned home 18 months or so later, and I have long imagined that I had changed in ways he didn’t like—that this was the start of his rearing me with disapproval. Or maybe it was when I was 2 and began saying “no” (which would be before he went into the Army); within recent months when I said something like that Mother said wistfully that he wasn’t angry with me but couldn't handle hearing “no” in general. This comment makes me think that I’m right to think he turned against me when I began diverging from his image of what I should be.
Not too long after he returned from the army—several months?—he used the GI Bill to buy a chicken farm in South Jersey. As an adult when I tell this story I always say wryly, “Some men went to college, some men bought homes—my father started a chicken farm.” I have almost universally hateful memories of the farm—actually, 2 farms at different times—but as an adult, especially once I was clearly going to be well educated, I have taken a perverse pride in letting people know that I grew up on a chicken farm; I often refer to myself as a peasant in origin; I shall press myself to remember pleasant occurrences as I write.
I have a memory—I'm not sure it's direct, much less acurate—of driving to the farm from New York City with a dog in the car that threw up during the trip (which would have taken perhaps 2-3 hours on 1946 roads). The following description of our first farm is impressionistic, but I will look for photos to clarify what life on the farm was actually like. The farmhouse was clapboard.. The chicken coop(s) (I 'm not sure if we had just one) held 3500 birds (the same as our second farm) had tarpaper roofing. I have the image of a few acres of property. We stayed on this farm about five years. Local board of education rules would not let me start kindergarten until I was 5 1/2; my girthday fell after the cutoff date for entry at age four. My parents lobbied to get me into school anyway when I was 4 1/2, but to no avail. I attended school here through third grade before we moved.