I grew up in what I thought was a small town in Texas. Now, after traveling a little, I’ve seen smaller places but, at the time, I knew nothing different. There were two high schools and it was big enough to have neighborhoods of very diverse income. Having lived in neighborhoods throughout that spectrum in my childhood and adolescence, I got a sense for what was a good place and a bad place. As a child, there were times where I didn’t completely understand what was going on. However, growing up humble is something that in my adult life I consider to be a gift. It was these moments that let me learn the important parts of life quite earlier than some people. Although, some people never learn these things at all.
Family, love and laughter are 3 words I would use to describe my upbringing. We always ate and never went hungry even though, to this day, I won’t eat spaghetti. I don’t care how many leftover meals it makes. There were moments of financial stress in our four-plex apartment but I don’t ever remember the lights being shut off or the water never running. Often, I try to remind myself that not everyone is fortunate enough to have this reality. My mother worked very hard to do the best she could possibly do for the three of us. Four-plex isn’t a word that you hear very often so let me elaborate: It’s similar to a duplex but cut it in half. A tiny space. I couldn’t open my desk drawer from my bottom bunk, but I’m not complaining.
Living in this confined area helped me develop an imagination and sense of humor. It cultivated my love of music and of art because it wasn’t a good neighborhood for children to play outside a lot of times. So, I spent hours and hours doing other things inside the house. Playing video games when you had to turn the television to channel 3. Feeling like the man of the house at the age of 10, I knew that there was not a lot I could do to alleviate the financial concerns of my mother but I could make her laugh. We always tried our best to crack jokes and laugh at every given opportunity. Sometimes to the point where we had to stop because my sister would be close to having an asthma attack.
Callie, my sister, and I played “Battlehouse” which was basically my action figures waging war on her Barbies and once they got inside they had tea. It was a ridiculous game but a fantastic compromise since we didn’t know many kids in the neighborhood and mom worried when we played outside. Humor had a constant place in our lives. Our family outings sometimes consisted of going to the mall to “people watch,” where would try to catch people picking their noses or doing things unbecoming. We had a housecat by the name of Domino and a miniature Schnauzer named Heiny that we adopted from another family who had named her Heineken. The laughs that those animals brought into our home could probably be heard by our upstairs neighbor who was too busy being a vampire to come down and complain.
Stories would be made up about how mother could talk to the animals and hear what they were thinking. We told a story about why Domino was fat and why it was just her belly. She was a visitor from another world who had to eat her spaceship in order to conceal her landing but was captured and doomed to be a housecat who was diligently trying to escape the apartment and take over the world. I knew that it was play. For I had memories of the tiny kitten that we picked up from a newspaper ad, the one who nestled into the floorboard of the car and went to sleep on the drive home. Mom said that she knew Domino would be a good cat from that very first interaction.
Now why would I tell you such intimate stories? Because these are the things that are remembered. I don’t believe I currently hold any of the possessions that I did at this time in my life but I hold the memories. Things will come and go from your life, people and animals will come and go. Your memories live within you and can be brought up with a simple moment of reflection. Make sure that they’re good ones. Spending time drudging up bad memories will only taint the present ones you can be making. Create moments that you want to remember and make sure to do it now. Become so engaged with your life that you swell with happiness. Much like my cat did when she swallowed her spaceship.