Stories not only describe a life; they can shape it as well.
That’s true for the stories I’ve heard about my infancy and childhood as I have constructed my life’s narrative. These stories contain clues that explain my reluctance to change, fastidiousness, stubbornness, refusal to give in, and spreading joy with humor and good spirits.
These are not the only stories I’ve heard, but they spring to mind most readily and are repeated most frequently. Here is my attempt to recreate them as accurately as my memory will allow:
As long as I can remember hearing my name come up in stories my parents are telling, I have heard about my first encounter with chocolate ice cream. The exact event is somewhat foggy, but I believe it was my second birthday. My family was in Columbus, Georgia, visiting my grandparents. The celebration included cake and ice cream, which my grandfather enjoyed while holding me in his lap. He offered me a spoonful of the dark brown ice cream, which I refused by shaking my head and saying, “No, burnt.”
Another often repeated story comes from my earliest days on earth. Apparently my mother was extremely careful with my hygiene when she first brought me home from the hospital. Prone to exaggeration, my dad insists my mom bathed me several times a day. He also said Mom disinfected every surface I might come into contact with as well my toys, pacifiers and teething rings.
When reminiscing about my childhood, Dad likes to tell about my resistance to sleep. When I was a toddler, they had the hardest time getting me to stay in bed and go to sleep. Desperate, they decided one night to test a suggestion from the pediatrician: let me stay awake until I fall asleep on my own to determine my natural bedtime then gradually put me to bed a few minutes earlier each night until I went to bed at the time they wanted. On the night they implemented the strategy, I stayed up playing until past midnight while my parents stayed in the den. Showing no signs of stopping, I left the den and toddled down the hall toward my room. My parents heard a “thud” from the hallway. When they got up to investigate, they found me passed out in the floor, still clutching a toy truck.
Even now that their son will soon be a 52-year-old adult, my parents like to tell the story about the time the power was out at our house. I was very young, just two or three, but I was old enough to make the connection between the lighting of candles and the singing of “Happy Birthday.” With no lights, my parents had lit candles in the house while workers rectified the problem. The candles put me in a festive spirit, so I began to sing my rendition of “Happy Birthday” around the house. I sang “Birthday you! Birthday you!” to my parents and the electrician. It’s such a fond memory for my parents, they repeat it annually, usually when wishing me a “Happy Birthday.”
I hope the stories my children hear me tell about them will bring them more joy than embarrassment and help them as they find their place in this world.