“I am very happy, but I am acting sad…”
I am living in a small white wooden house in Oak Lawn, Illinois.
I am sitting across the street from that house, on the grass in the sunshine on a beautiful day. Three other children are sitting in a small circle around me. I am very happy, but I am acting sad while I rub my eyes and the children sing. They are singing about me:
“Little Sally Sau-cer,
Sitting in the wa-ter,
Cry, Sally, cry…
Cry out your eyes…”
I stand up, eyes closed, one arm out straight with finger pointing, and turn slowly, pivoting back and forth while they finish singing:
“Turn to the East,
And turn to the West,
And turn to the one
That you love best!”
I stop, and open my eyes. The child I point at will take my place in the circle.
I am two years old.
I love that happy memory.
We have a large weeping willow on the front lawn. Its long, trailing branches reach down to the ground all around. I can go inside this curtain and sit on the soft grass floor underneath. I’m surrounded by green, and no one can see me. I spend a lot of time inside this friendly tree.
I remember the day my sister Joe’s friend, an older boy, set our roof on fire. (Some of you better know Joe now as Macy Girl.)
Joe’s friend was playing with a firecracker, and threw it up there. The fire was burning almost over the front door. Joe went inside our house. I stayed outside and watched the fire burn. It was very interesting, to see our house on fire! I sat down on the grass to watch some more. My daddy came outside in a hurry with a big metal bucket, and told me to move back. He threw water on the roof to put out the fire. He hit it with the water the very first time, and the whole fire went out, just like that. It left a burned-looking spot.
I’m glad I got to see that.
I have one memory when I was a tiny bit sad and another one when I was mad.
I am still two years old, and I have pneumonia. My mommy won’t let me go outside to play. I remember not breathing well, but I don’t remember thinking I was sick. I’m standing by the front screen door, looking out at the outside and the other kids playing, and I want to go outside, too. I’m wearing my footsie pajamas, which are nice and cuddly, but I wish I could go outside in them!
The mad time is when I see my daddy way up the big, big, wide stairs that go to the attic. He is very far away, and he is looking down at me through a square hole. His head looks little, and his smiling teeth and his glasses are shining. Joe is up there looking at me, too. I hate to see them looking down at me. My daddy won’t let me come up. I say “How come Joe gets to go up?” He says “You’re too little.”
That makes me mad.
My most exciting Oak Lawn memory is about a bug.
Joe and I are in the living room. I’m sitting on the floor next to the fireplace. I’m watching a narrow brown bug crawling across the bricks on the hearth. All of a sudden, its rear end lights up!
“Joe! Joe! This bug has a light!”
She comes running over. We both watch the bug walking. Its rear end lights up, and then turns off, and then lights up again. What an amazing bug that is! I am so very happy to see a bug like that!
I learned to how to read in Oak Lawn. I could already read, but I didn’t know how to read.
One day, I am sitting in the back seat of the car. (It is a black-and-white De Soto the same age that I am.)
We are waiting to go somewhere, and the car is nice and warm, and I am reading my favorite book. It is a board book, and it is about Mrs. Squirrel. I like the story, and I like the pictures a lot. They show real squirrels with clothes on. (They might not be really real, but the pictures are photographs, not drawings, and Mrs. Squirrel has fur, and shiny eyes.)
In one part of the story, a friend of Mrs. Squirrel’s compliments her new hat. I can see why. It is a lovely straw hat with a wide brim and colored flowers. The friend says to Mrs. Squirrel:
“That is a be-a-u-ti-ful hat!”
That is when I learn how to read. I can hear the voice of Mrs. Squirrel’s friend, and now I understand that bigger words have pieces. You can read them by reading all the pieces.
Today, every time I write the word beautiful, I always remember that discovery. In my head, I still hear each word piece, and I see again Mrs. Squirrel wearing her nice new hat.
She looks very pretty!
Revisiting the Oak Lawn house when older, I learn that the wide, wide attic stairs are a tiny pull-down ladder barely a foot wide, with each step only four inches deep. To a two-year-old, objects may be bigger than they appear in later life.
Attempting to revisit the Oak Lawn house when even older, I fail. A tornado has left the houses on either side untouched, but removed all evidence of my home. The front-yard well that provided water to the family of my early memories is now an empty dry hole.