In The Beginning
It is ironic to me that Salinger spoke of ‘all that David Copperfield kind of crap’ in the first line of Catcher in the Rye, when David Copperfield is one of my favorite books. In the beginning, I didn’t exist. I have no memory of that time. The first memory I have, in my life on earth as a human, is as a small child, about two years old, in our house in Bowness, Alberta. This would have been during the latter part of 1955. Bowness would have still been a small community on the outskirts of Calgary at the time. This information, of course, I wouldn’t have known back then. Our house, however, I remember quite clearly and I have many memories that remain quite vivid from that early time. The event of this photo taking remains with me still. It was taken in mid-1955 (a guess). It was taken by a professional photographer who made house calls. He brought his equipment and set up in our living room. I am seated on a floor carpet that was draped over the console television set. My father had combed my hair into a ‘wave’, as was the style of the time. My arms are outstretched, as the photographer attempted to catch some expression from me by throwing a rubber ball for me to catch. It was red. Memories, lucid ones, from this age are quite rare, I realize, and this is not a testimonial of my amazing gift of infant recall, but rather just expression of those things in my life that I have reflection about and which may have interest to others. So this first reflection is ‘how is it that I can remember the tall thin photographer, with heavy brylcream in his hair, tossing a red ball to me so I wouldn’t look like a dead fish in my first childhood portrait but I can’t recall what I had for dinner this past Tuesday? There are a couple other portraits from early photo shoots that I will show you later. Dressed is suit pants and a sporty blazer so that I had the appearance of a real little ‘man’.
Why do I want to share this with you? It is because in our life as humans during our brief time on earth we really leave very little, if any, legacy. There is really not much of us left behind, not much to know that we were even here at all. As a human on earth, we are just a blink in time. Whatever we do, good or evil will come and go and have no effect on existence outside of a few years of our passing. Even those among us that have made a significant mark in human history, even that is nothing more than a blink and will be lost to the universe. Like a water droplet in the Pacific or a grain of sand in the Sahara. For certain there were brilliant or powerful or prolific humans before the time of recorded history, but they are lost, they have no legacy, just as if they did not exist at all. Perhaps now that we have invented tools and techniques to capture and communicate our bits of existence, we will not be lost forever, something of us will remain, at least while humans continue to exist on this planet.
And So It Starts
My parents were just starting out, really. I am the second of three children. Born in Regina in November of 1953. I often wonder how it is that I came to be born in the middle of nowhere in the dead of winter. My parents’ home town was Winnipeg. This is likely where my father signed up for his stint in the armed service. He had served a brief spell in the army and there was some travelling about. I’m told my earliest infancy was spent living in a trailer on the coast of the Atlantic near Halifax. There was a story of how I could pee from one side of our little trailer to the other while having a diaper change in progress. And how I played with a fresh cod just fished out of the ocean from the shore near where we lived. I have no recollection of this. These first couple of years are a mystery to me and there is nobody alive now that can tell me the detail of how my story began and of those first two years. Why did we go from Winnipeg to Regina, where I was born and then to Halifax and then to Calgary (Bowness) where my first memories began?
This is what I looked like about a month after emerging from the womb. You can see that I’m quite terrified to be in the grasp of my 20-month old sister. I wonder if this photo was taken in Regina or Halifax or somewhere in between. She’s pretending to look innocent but is probably sticking a diaper pin into my tiny buttock.
And here is me when I was slightly older but probably not yet able to chew my own steak. A back yard somewhere, probably at my Chinese Grandfather, Charlie Wong’s house on Pacific Avenue in Winnipeg. We stayed there a couple times when I was very young. Looks like I’m playing ball, probably with my father, Harold….. and he has just kicked dirt into my face.
Sometime before moving to Bowness we spent time in Winnipeg. I think we spent time at my grandfather’s place before moving to Alberta. Perhaps he let us live in the house for a while. Here is a photo from then.
You can see that this was printed in July 1955. This is taken in the front yard of my grandfather’s house. My father is dressed in his military garb; you can tell by the epaulets on his shirt shoulders. I am about a year and a half here and my sister is a bit more than three. Here are some then and now pictures of the house.
The first is from 1954 and the second is from 2015 from Google Earth Street View.
I have a few memories from this house. I recall having a nap with my grandfather and I also recall sleeping in the upstairs bedroom. There was a bit of drama from the second recollection as I had gone to bed the evening before with a large wad of chewing gum in my mouth. I woke the next morning severely stuck to the sheets by globs of pink gummy goo. These memories were from a later stay at this house, after we had moved to and returned from Bowness.
I’m not sure where this photo was taken. Could still be in Winnipeg or we may already be in Bowness. This location vaguely reminds me of our babysitters house in Bowness. She had a couple of kids and they had a very cool peddle car, that I was almost never allowed to play with. But who knows for sure.
You can tell by the long shadow that the picture was taken late in the day. I’m in a t-shirt so it must be warm out. This is the early fall of 1955. Whoever took the picture is crouching, to be at eye level with me and is probably trying to capture the white bulge sticking out of the front of my pants. Probably an errant fold of diaper or training pants and not my tiny blanched scrotum protruding from a crotch tear.
I was a happy little kid (see next photos). Although sometimes I would get pissed at my sister for laughing at me because I couldn’t figure out how to ride a tricycle.
Here I am again, on the steps at (perhaps) the babysitters place. I’m pointing at a plane in the first picture and in the second one I’m squeezing out a small shart. I’m smiling because I know the mean babysitter will have to clean my butt. My hands are in my jacket pockets because I have stolen her cigarettes from the coffee table and I’m hiding them.
Much, much, much more to come