Growing up in Dallas - A Handful of Random Memories, both Good and Bad
This is my own "entry" for the contest I am running currently here:
500 Bonus Points AND a Chance to Win 5,000! New Contest - "Memories of My Childhood Home". It goes through Tuesday, August 4th if you are interested in entering. Obviously, this post will not be considered for the judging. Keep in mind that you get 500 bonus points just for entering! The grand prize is 5,000!
I was born and raised in east Dallas, in a neighborhood that has since gone downhill, sadly. Our home was about as middle class as you could get back then. One-story, white brick, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, supremely 70's decor complete with shag carpet (gold, brown, and orange, if memory serves). We also had that textured felt wallpaper in our entry - I remember how tactile it was. As a kid, it was hard to resist touching it.
I remember that my mom had a chair in her bedroom where she used to hold me and rock me when I was crying. I can still hear the sound that it made when it would squeak.
My Grandpa and Grandma (mom's side) lived close enough for me to ride my bike to their house, which was terrific, since my grandfather was my sole positive male role model. He used to pick me up from school and cook me grilled cheese sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, and homemade french fries. He was retired by the time I was born, so we were very close. He passed away 10 years ago, and I still miss him.
I have plenty of happy memories of my own childhood house, including listening to my turntable out on our back patio. Is that "freedom rock"? Well, turn it up, man! Actually, no. It wasn't freedom rock at all. It was probably Men at Work, U2, or maybe Nena singing "99 Red Balloons".
I remember having a pet rabbit named Thumper when I was about six years old. We didn't have him very long - a dog jumped over the chain link fence in our back yard and scared Thumper badly. We calmed him down, then went to eat lunch. When we returned, he was dead from an apparent heart attack. I went with my stepdad to a nearby field to bury Thumper. That was over 30 years ago, but the memory is still ingrained.
I remember climbing up on that fence and walking along the top of it, as if it were my own personal tightrope. We had an alley in the back with sloping driveways, and I learned how to skateboard serviceably well.
There were plenty of good Christmases in that house, like the year that I got Lester, a ventriloquist dummy. We still have photos of me with Lester. In some of them, I appear to be wearing a green leisure suit. I am not kidding. As I got older, I remember how fast I grew tired of the toys I got on Christmas morning. By lunchtime, I was ready for different stuff. This is the essence of good old-fashioned materialism, I suppose. :)
I ran a lot of football routes in our front yard with my stepdad as quarterback - I had dreams of playing for the Cowboys back then. I was a good wide receiver! My stepdad would take me out to play racquetball and basketball, and to ride on his motorcycle sometimes.
Then, a big shift came.
When I was about 11 or so, my relationship with my stepfather became....strained. No, it was worse than that. It was angry and a little violent, too. I had a lot of emotional issues, and my mom had to spend increasing amounts of time with me. I think he hated competing for her time, so he took it out on me.
He would lie around in his underwear watching TV, even when I tried to have friends over to visit. He cussed openly and often. I learned more creative curse words from him than I have heard in my adult life since. I was exposed to this language very early, so I have really made an effort not to do this to my own kids.
We fought a lot for about three years, until he and my mom divorced. One crystal-clear memory was of him watching TV on the couch while I was reading. He said something insulting, and I picked up the closest thing I could find (a dictionary-sized book) and heaved it at his head. His glasses cut into his nose and he began to bleed immediately, then he tackled me as I tried to leave for the safety of my room. He didn't beat me, but I was scared.
On a typical day, he would get home and decide to pick a fight with me, just because. He tore me down repeatedly with his insults.
On another occasion, he chased me into my room, and I broke a big radio over his back when he pinned me down. Usually, my mom was forced to referee this stuff when she was home. This was her second marriage, so I don't fault her for trying to work things out, but I was relieved when he left finally when I was 14.
I have forgiven him since then, although I have no idea where he is or what he is doing, and I couldn't care less, truthfully. That being said, I don't think it' productive to dwell on negative events in our past - it doesn't change what happened.
Right after he finally moved out, I had a lot of residual anger and resentment toward my mom for allowing that to occur, so we had our share of arguments, too. I am not proud to admit that once, following an argument in the car, I ran into the house with her behind me, and I slammed the door. She tried to block it, and her arm ended up with a hairline fracture. Still feel a little guilty about that.
The year after he left, I ended up in a psychiatric hospital with some rather severe depression. When I checked in, I really felt as though I wanted to die. I was there for 3 months. Frankly, it was one of the best things that ever happened to me, although I doubt that I felt that way at the time. My mom made a hard decision to admit me into the Baylor psych unit in Dallas, and I sincerely hope I don't have to make that call with any of my own kids.
I have said many times that I learned how NOT to be a dad by watching my father (an alcoholic) and stepfather (immature and abusive) when I was a kid.
I really try not to use any of that stuff as a crutch these days, although I guess it would be easy to do so.
It's part of my past, and that's where it belongs.