Reaching a Milestone
Getting bigger all the time
Moving through life
REACHING A MILESTONE
I find it funny which memories pop into my head when I decide to start putting my life in to words. I certainly could choose better, juicier stories, but I find that some stories just reflect the times better than others, at least from my point of view. I understand that everyone will relate to these stories differently based on personal perceptions related to experiences in their own lives, and that’s OK. We all have our own truths, and those truths, whether they are really true or not, are true to us. No two people will ever experience life exactly the same way, even if they travel through the same place in time together. Just keep in mind that these stories only reflect my experiences, and my truths.
For me, leaving Park Hill seemed to end the second stage of our life as a family, and begin a third. As always, our family still was not rich, but now there was the sense that good fortune was smiling on us more than ever before. Whether anyone else in the family realized it or not, I, for one, felt we were all being shadowed by some unseen, protective force all along. Maybe it’s my imagination, but, looking back, things certainly could have been a lot worse all the way around.
We never developed strong, familial bonds, at least not to the degree we might have. Despite spending so much time together, I admit to not being particularly fond of any of my sisters, not really knowing any of them, and not ever feeling any strong attachments. Now, as an adult, I can see the family we became is rooted in the family we were all along - a group of related people sharing the same abode, but living very different, separate lives. It must have been in the genes because our relationship with our extended family was little different. Don’t get me wrong, we have and had some great family who helped us through difficult times, but most of the personal interaction we shared happened only during those few hours we were together over the holidays, or during one of the infrequent visits by cousins from California. One of the stronger relationships we developed, (even if more by virtue of just living closer than any of the other 15 grandchildren), was with our maternal grandparents, Andrew and Helen Demshki. That influence made us all better people, and I still thank my lucky stars for all of the intangible gifts they passed our way. The paternal grandparents, on the other hand, (by virtue of the great distance between where we lived), would pretty much remain strangers to us until their death. As for other family, I knew we had cousins, and some even lived in town, but, again, we rarely mingled except at Christmas and New Year’s, or during those occasional visits. Very little bonding with any family occurred at all. Thus, our family, both nuclear and extended, was more like a lot of people living in a lot of different worlds trying to make a family of it all. It was that way when I was young, and it pretty much remained that way throughout my life, or at least that’s how it seemed to me.
Despite that separation, even in the Projects, I developed a love for life. My feelings, my mind, and my heart were all about that wonderful sense of being alive. I loved being young. At age five, I had very little concept of the future I would grow into some day, but I knew I liked where I was in life right then. To me, the world was one big, beautiful place, even though that pretty much meant the one square block of the world that we called “home.” I liked to lie on my back in the grass, and stare at clouds. Simple things like rain, snow, and hail were wonderful and fascinating to me. I also loved Saturdays. Oh, I disliked how mom would make us kids help her clean on Saturday mornings, but I loved my Saturday morning TV - cartoons, Sky King, My Friend Flicka, and all that other, black and white, programming aimed at kids like me. Saturday remained my favorite day for a long, long time. It makes me happy that the only memories really remaining from the time in the Projects are the good ones.
Moving to Park Hill, my love for life, and my love for Saturday morning programming continued, but, along the way, I grew to love my Elementary school, too. It got to the point where I could hardly wait to go back each fall after summer break. I don’t know what made that school so special, but it was - at least for me. Maybe it was an expansion of that love for life I had, and maybe it was just that great neighborhood, but, thinking back, I really can’t think of anything I could change to make my life in Park Hill any better, either. Now, I didn’t like every, single student, or peer, and I didn’t like every, single teacher or adult, but there was enough about that school, that neighborhood, and that environment to make me remember only the best of experiences in the best, possible way, and, I do.
Part of that fond memory may be due to the fact that I really didn’t pay much attention to the world around me. When King was marching in Alabama, boys were dying in Viet Nam, and the whole world around me was changing by the minute, I was still living in a “Dick and Jane” world without fault, completely trusting all the authority in my life. My grandfather always seemed to have the news on the TV, or to have his nose poked in some newspaper, but that stuff all bored me back then. Sadly, most of the information on, and opinions about the world forming in my mind came from my peers, my chosen role models, and my casual observations. What’s even sadder is that I now understand that most people still rely on those sources for the bulk of their information. Back then, I really didn’t know who John Kennedy was until he was assassinated, and all I knew about Martin Luther King, Jr. was that he made Wes, my stepfather, very angry. Having studied history, and lived through some of it, I hope my understanding of the world is better now. If nothing else, at least I can appreciate my grandfather’s attention to the news; a trait I now share.
Near the end of her life, I remember talking to my mother, and trying to get her to talk about what life was like when she was young. I was very disappointed with her bland, empty responses, but I understand her better now, and, as a result, I understand more why I was the way I was when I was young. Even today, many adults really don’t pay that much attention to the world around them, or historical events happening right next door, and they tend to pass that complacency on to their children the way my mother did to hers. Managing our own lives is work enough for anyone, but, for my mom, she also had to work full time to try to manage to support four kids. How could anyone expect her to care much about changing the world when she was busy enough caring about changing food prices while trying to keep five mouths fed? How could anyone expect four young children to either understand the importance of current issues, or the day-to-day struggles of their mother at such an early age? To most people, whether child or adult, the most important history in their lives is their lives, and the small, personal world they live in. Oh, they may pick up some history along the way, but, for the most part, they will just relate what they learn to their own experiences in the manner I spoke of in the first paragraph, and all of it will be secondary to their own, personal lives. I am no different. Even with my acquired respect for history, it is reasonable to expect that I still understand what I know based on my own experiences of life, and my own ideas. And, when it comes right down to it, no matter how much I pretend it to be otherwise, everything else is still secondary to my own, personal life.
I am pleased at this stage of life that I can look back at my personal history, and smile. I suppose it is because I imagine things were easier, simpler, and happier in my youth. A lot of people do that. Also just as other people do, I didn’t seem to know how happy my past was while I was making it. It took years of mellowing in my mind to smooth into the life that makes the corners of my mouth turn up into a smile whenever a fond memory floats by. Why does it take so many years to realize the beauty we once held in our hands; that life is just a magic book opening before our eyes? Again, in that respect, I imagine most people - me included - get so caught up in living life, that they forgot to really take it all in and enjoy even the smallest, most insignificant parts- to smell the roses along the way, if you will. Yet, when it comes down to it, the only true treasures we gather and keep in our lives are our individual, special, and unique memories. We have just one chance to store ours away, and, then, time moves on without waiting for anyone to catch up. I guess that’s why my mind only remembers the good parts. When things start getting cluttered, we always throw out the garbage, but keep the gems. And, so it was in the Spring of 1968 when the family packed up its gems to begin a new life in Westminster.
For our family, the timing could not have been more perfect for the move from Park Hill. It may not have seemed so at the time, but the Projects had been our infancy, Park Hill our childhood, and, now, it was time to enter our adolescence as a family. We would do that in a new home of our own, in an entirely new neighborhood. In April, Wes and Mom married, bought a house, and moved us into the future. Who knew at the time that this would be the last house we would all live in together, and, that before that house was passed to the next family, each member of ours would have gone our separate ways? We had reached a milestone.