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Where am I Going, and Why am I in this Handbasket?

 

        My autobiography...part of it, anyway. The story of why I am no longer frightened by the idea of going to hell (I've experienced 7 years of Houston), why ground beef can set me laughing and crying, why abject cynicism is just a natural frame of mind for me, and why I'm always right, even though I'm usually wrong. Right now, it's a work in progress, which really means I just haven't written it yet. Have patience.

1. Jumping The Gun

2. The 'Rents, Et Al.

3. The Idylls of Youth

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1. I've Always Had Trouble Getting My Cues Right...

        It was not necessarily a dark and stormy night. My father was off gallavanting around the countryside, doing some kind of military thing. My mother was lonely, and the incredibly large (2 pounds!) box of chocolate was her only source of consolation.

        The next day, Hoot (a friend of the family) received a phone call, and came to take my mother to the hospital. I was on my way, spurred by the sudden siege of Hershey's upon my umbilical cord. My father also received a call, and began the journey back to Cape Fear Valley Hospital.

        August 21, 1982. It was not quite the Second Coming, and I like it that way. My hope is that since I was early to my birth, I will be late to my funeral in order to balance things out. We'll see. I was named Michael Adam, an auspicious combination of Angelic Splendor and Original Sin that has served me well throughout this life. My mother's first words, to my father, upon seeing me were, "Oh God, Terry...I left the meat on the counter!"

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2. A Little Background...the Family Tree:        

        My father, Terry, was in the Army when I was born. We were stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. In the Army, he held several roles, from helicopter pilot to engineer. He was born in Indiana, lived there for a while, went to high school with Fearless Leader Clinton (*coughs*) in Hot Springs, Arkansas, then went to college at Arkansas Tech. Despite the educational odds against him, he is an incredibly intelligent (and smart) individual, and constantly amazes me with his knowledge of things I would never have thought he needed to know about. Now, he is retired from the Army, works for a Headhunting firm, and builds furniture in the garage. He usually wants more router bits, more clamps, and fewer Craftsman power tools.

        My mother, Sarah, is a former teacher. She is an incredible cook, an impeccable hostess (though we haven't had a dinner party in years), and an all-around "good woman." She hails originally from Oklahoma, and we never let her live that down. In the past, she has taught at several different schools, at several different grade levels. Her most recent (and what will be, I think, her last) educational job was as an assistant principal at the Carlton Center, the Special Ed facility in Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District (in Houston, TX). She recently redecorated her kitchen, and it is yellow and green, and looks great. The counter is Corian, or something like that, with a butcherblock island. It has a gas stove. She uses Calphalon cookware. Now, she works at Williams-Sonoma at Willowbrook Mall, and I can't think of a more appropriate place for her.

        My godfather, Jerry, is better known as Uncle Downs. Uncle Downs is a really fun guy who enjoys making my mother crazy, although he is among the first to say she is indeed a "good woman." He met my father in high school, and they became good friends following a brief fight (against each other) in front of the school. He is one of the few people I know who seems always to be in a good mood, and I can't think of anything better to be. 

        My maternal grandmother, Mary, lives in Oklahoma. She is an incredibly young eighty-something. I'm embarrassed that I can't remember exactly how old she is, but it really doesn't matter, because she doesn't act much older than sixty. She is a wonderful woman, who dances to her Glen Miller flowerpot.

        My maternal grandfather, Lee, died before I had a chance to know him. I do, however, have one very clear, surprisingly vivid memory of him. I was holding his hand, walking along a sidewalk, and there were sparrows hopping about nearby. It's random, but it's clear. He was an ear, nose, and throat doctor. I recently came into possession of his old Bible, and a years-old note in his handwriting is responsible for the only Bible verse I ever memorized, Proverbs 6:6.

        My paternal grandmother, Cecil, had a lot of unconventional stuffed animals; a bunch of monkeys surrounded the door to her kitchen, and there were buffalo in one of the bedrooms. Aside from that, I don't really remember much about her. She died when I was about six, and I cried because I thought I was supposed to rather than because I knew her well enough to mourn her passing.

        My paternal grandfather, Roy, has always been something of an incorrigible old man, who tried to convince me that dinosaurs did not actually exist, and were nothing more than part of some kind of scientific conspiracy. He fought in World War Two, in the Pacific theater. He kept a journal of his voyage to the war, which provided me with some insight into his younger life. Recently, he's become a lot less incorrigible.

Suggested Reading, Chapter 2:

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3. Eventually, I Learned how to Operate the Light Switch:

        The first years of my life, especially that time I spent living in North Carolina, are rather hazily remembered...I know I was around, and I'm reasonably sure I ate and slept and made a lot of noise, but I can't for the life of me remember what I ate, how often I slept, or why I was making noise. Of course, the only thing that's really changed now is that I usually remember the things I eat.

        Once I moved to Maryland (Germantown, to be more precise), I started remembering more. I recall losing a Hot Wheels car in a snowdrift in the front yard. I remember riding a little plastic tricycle down a hill, and I remember riding my larger, metal tricycle (it was blue!) around the cul-de-sac while I was wearing a baseball cap and a dinosaur t-shirt. I think it was a Triceratops, but it might also have been a Stegosaurus. Then there was the time when Frankie and I dropped a Silverhawk (does anyone else remember those?) down a sewer in a field behind the house, and we were going to climb down and get it when his dad came along and asked us what the heck we were doing, and that's all I remember of that particular episode. I also remember Frankie's basement, and all the neat toys he had...he had all the ThunderCats. Even their big headquarters panther building thing. It was really neato. Maryland is also the first place I remember The Volvo: the diesel '83 manual transmission Volvo that would transport me through the next decade of my life (it was blue!). Mark and I once had an argument about who was taller...it ended when he stood atop a box and was undeniably looking down upon me. That was frustrating, to my child's logic. I also remember the big flying saucer birthday cake (it was blue!), and the big cake shaped like a 4 for my fourth birthday. And the time I came downstairs with a guitar, and my parents took the photo that will haunt me forever (no, you don't get to see it!). This was also the time of the bizarre recurring nightmare, in which I fell down both flights of stairs to the first floor, then around a corner, and down the basement stairs, and then I was surrounded by a vampire and a mummy and a witch and something else. I don't know where this nightmare came from. But I had it several times.

        By that list of memories, you might be led to believe that very little of import happened during my years in Maryland. You would, of course, be wrong; these were the years that involved Washington, DC. DC, despite it's less savory aspects, includes the Smithsonian Institution and its accompanying museums. These shall always represent the pinnacle of museum-based entertainment to me; no other can rise quite to the level of these wondrous history-filled buildings. This point of view rises, obviously, from the fact that I was very young and very small when I saw the Smithsonian last. From my child's perspective, everything was much more engrossing, much more fascinating, and generally much larger than it had any right to be. The airplanes suspended from the ceiling of the Air and Space Museum, the elephant in the front hall of the Natural History Museum, even the faded stripes of The Star Spangled Banner in the Museum of American History all represent the roots of my lifelong love affair with knowledge. It is only with great sadness that I can admit to never having revisited the museums of the Smithsonian, though I am a current and highly satisfied subscriber to the Smithsonian Magazine, the official publication of The Institution.

        I consider my time in Maryland to be The Technicolor Years, and remember it with a sort of hazy border, like they do in movie flashbacks sometimes. The grass was greener, the sky bluer, and life was carefree. That was, of course, soon to change.

Suggested reading, Chapter 3:

More Chapters Will Follow...

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Copyright 2000, 2001 Adam Rutledge

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