We all have childhood issues. I think mine were a bit different. This is not an uncommon thought among those who have childhoods.
This is the part of the document, book, treatise, revelation, or biography where the Author justifies all of his/her life and specifically any mistakes he or she has made by describing the difficult childhood he or she had.
I had a terrific childhood, except for a few minor issues that I will briefly discuss. For all the mental health professionals reading this, you will find all that you seek here.
I was born in the middle of World War II in Louisville, Kentucky, to Ethel Slay McCaffery and Harold Bernard McCaffery, while he was in the Army overseas in what used to be called Persia, and is now called Iran. He had departed for the middle east some time in 1941. I was born in 1943. The plot thickens.
Ethel was born in the Florida panhandle to poor parents in 1915, my dad in south Philadelphia in 1901. Both went through the Great Depression, separately, and that almost completely formed their ideas and attitudes about life, forever, as it did for most everyone who lived in that period.
The common conclusion was “life is tough, then you die.”
Ethel was quite beautiful, very lively, incredibly smart, vivacious, and men really, really liked her. My dad was poor, Irish, handsome, a two-fisted drinker (isn’t every Irishman?), with “issues” he never discussed openly, which was normal for the times and his background. Neither of them had education beyond grammar school, although they both developed skills that well served them in the economy of the time.
They met at Ethel’s first husband’s funeral in New Orleans (he was a New Orleans cop, named Leo McCaffery – the brother of Harold, who married her shortly after meeting her at the funeral). She moved to live with him in Louisville, Kentucky, where he was an accountant for the Louisville and Nashville railroad. Leo had died at an early age of a self-inflicted gunshot wound while in bed with Ethel one night, for unknown and untold reasons. No one ever talked about that.
Ethel and Harold bought a new house in a German-Catholic neighborhood in Louisville with a VA loan, and it was an idyllic neighborhood for that post WW II era. I had lots of friends, attended a close-by and quite excellent elementary school (Isaac Shelby, whose principal became a lifelong friend that I discuss under Relationships). I spent most of my time with my mother, as my Dad was either working or carousing with his work buddies and/or friends, all male.
Sometime shortly before or after that, I contracted a fungal infection on my scalp that was called blastomycosis (apparently from playing in the grass outside a house they occupied in an industrial area prior to moving to the new home). It was quite serious, was a well-known infection typically affecting farmers who handled hay, and I almost died from it. Ultimately they took out part of my scalp to stop the spread of the disease, leaving me with a round area where no hair ever grew. I was very aware of - and ashamed of - the scar, and of course other kids would make fun of it, all the way through college, as I recall. And so gradually I learned to live with it by joking about it with the other kids, a technique that I realized worked, and that I began to use when I was uncomfortable about anything for the rest of my life, including writing this book, as the astute Reader can well see by now.
At some point in 1950 or 1951, I noted that my dad was not around much. My mother finally told me that he had been assigned inventory duty by the railroad, consisting of counting all the crossties, and that would take him away for a couple of years. I later found out from the neighborhood kids that he was actually serving time in prison for an unknown (to me) offense.
So we adjusted, my mother took a job, and hired various people to look after me during the day when I was not at school. Many were not reliable, stole from us, and were fired. It was a difficult time, even from the perspective of a seven-year old child. I was beginning to be seen as a special student in school, due to my increasingly superior performance and demonstrated abilities, which ultimately led to my skipping the third grade, something unheard of at the time. However, my social maturity suffered, and there was a downside to that in my sociability.
Later, my mother Ethel saw the need to take in boarders to help with expenses, and a parade of people came through and stayed at our house for varying periods of time, usually not very long, if I recall correctly. One set of boarders was a husband and wife (his name was Richard Ardo, and he was in his mid-twenties, very handsome with dark curly hair, very funny, quite open, friendly and gregarious, and I only mention his full name just in case in case there really is a vindictive and retributive God).
He became my best buddy, had lots of funny stories, and explained to me all about life, as he saw it and had experienced it. We would take bicycle rides together, he told me jokes, and got along well together. I looked up to him as a brother and father-substitute.
Before long, he began talking about the “facts of life”, meaning “sex,” and went into some detail about that. I was of course curious, as I had no knowledge of those things. I did not understand what relationships were about, based on my limited experience. I was seven years old. The Reader can by now likely guess where the story is headed, and I will skip over the more tawdry parts, except to say I learned quickly about “sex” under his tutelage, along with feelings of wonder, pain, and fear. He told me he was my best friend, and was doing me a favor, and it was good for both of us.
At some point, this all became known by everyone in the neighborhood, most likely because I began to proudly and avidly describe to the other kids my age what I had learned, and proceeded to show them, persuasively, as I had been taught. Seduction is a talent that can be learned and recreated, apparently. I took mental notes that stayed with me for a long time.
Once their parents found out, I was banished from any contact with my friends, told never to see them again, and quickly became the neighborhood pariah. I recall our next-door neighbor screaming at me one day that I was never to come into their yard again, or have anything to do with her children, who were my best friends at the time. My mother (I have no idea if my father Harold ever knew about this) quickly sold the house, and we moved away back to Alabama, where Ethel had sisters and I had cousins. We never lived in a house again, only apartments.
I was also told by Ethel prior to the move south that Harold was actually in a reformatory, not a prison, and I could go to see him with her if I wanted to. The first time we went, I was excited, since I had never been to a “jail” before. To see him, we took a bus to a place out in the country, and got off at the large gate, beyond which was a small gravel road that we walked along about a mile to get to the building where Harold stayed. When I saw him, I was shocked. It had been only a year or two, and he looked ten years older and very sad and unhappy. Years later, when he was drunk, he would tell me some of the things that happened there, which I unsuccessfully tried to forget.
Ethel told me he was in a reformatory because there had been a misunderstanding one night when Harold was out drinking, involving a teenage boy, and he had been mistakenly arrested, but they mistakenly sent him to the reformatory anyway.
I spent about a year or two in Alabama, living in a one-room apartment with Ethel, and she had a number of relationships with men. Being quite poor, it was natural that she enjoyed the company of men, their money, and their attention. Occasionally one of them would sleep with us, and I would hear and see them having sex. This made me uncontrollably angry and turned on at the same time, and I had a difficult time handling my various strong mental, physical, and emotional feelings and urges. I think I was about eleven years old at the time, had no idea of what was normal, and accepted it as the way it was.
We later came back to Louisville, and our little family was reconciled and reunited when Harold was released from the reformatory. He got a job polishing jewelry, and later as a bookkeeper with a small homebuilder, and we lived in tenements and apartments until their death a month apart about six years later, a month after I graduated from high school.
At some point during that time, and shortly after he was released from the reformatory, he was drunk one night and told me that I was not his child, and that some other guy had done that while he was fighting the war (he was a railroad clerk in the middle east during the war), that my mother was a slut and had been impregnated (he did not use that word) by someone else while he was fighting the war, that she would lie under a snake if she could, and that no woman was ever to be trusted. He was a broken and bitter man, but he had his principles, and stayed with us “for the good of the family.” As I think about both of them now, my heart goes out to each for the pain and suffering they endured, and having to do the “right thing.” And of course, in the way of children, I figured that somehow this was my fault.
I accepted that he was right; he was my Dad, after all. And he knew lots of stuff.
Shortly after this, I had a simple yet transformative experience. I’m adding this after having written this work, since it came to me suddenly and from a distant memory, which at the time did not seem worthy of remembering. Now it does, and this is it:
When I was about nine or ten years old, I was playing with a friend one summer day on some stone steps of an old church or museum - shallow sloping steps constructed in the previous century - and found myself lounging on my back, looking up, feeling quite comfortable, although the steps were made of carved out stone from a quarry. I craned my neck even further, until I saw the horizon and the features as before, but of course upside down to me now. I was a bit scared and startled, as I did not recognize the view. As I further looked, a whole different world entered my consciousness, and I became totally disoriented and almost unable to remember where I was.
This was perhaps one of my first out-of-body experiences. I was not afraid, felt comfortable, but there was a whole new world before me that I had not previously recognized. I stayed that way several minutes, incredulous, almost breathless, until my friend asked what happened and I of course replied: “Nothing.”
That was perhaps the experience that started my real life, one of wonder, experimentation, awe, and uncertainty. I also now realize that was my first thought that how one looks at something determines what one sees there. I still think that is true.