I just finished listening to the short autobiography of artist James Taylor. He titled it Break Shot: My First 21 Years.
Being a fan of some of James Taylor’s music, I was interested in the story of his early life.
Unlike many celebrities, who grew up in Appalachian poverty or on dirty streets of cities like New York or London, James Taylor was a child of privilege.
His mother was a socialite with ties to Martha’s Vineyard, and his father was the dean of the Medical School of the University of North Carolina.
Despite their wealth, the family, which included James, three brothers, and one sister, fell apart. Alcohol and drugs were their downfall.
I appreciated James’s telling of life lessons learned in his youth. Among other observations, he made this one.
Memory is tricky. We remember how it felt, not necessarily how it was.
He is right.
I recall specific events of my childhood, of course, but mostly I remember how I felt, the vague, deep-down-in-my-soul feeling that told me who I was.
This was my inner message to myself.
I was safe.
My childhood was spent among the woods and dirt roads of north Arkansas.
There were snakes, as well as wasps, spiders, scorpions, and even bobcats, though I never saw one.
The terrain was scattered with farm ponds, steep cliffs, creeks that gushed muddy water after big rains, abandoned cars in which nested heaven knows what kinds of critters, dark forests of pine trees, and fields of thick sagebrush.
But I stayed within my boundaries, and I wasn’t afraid.
I was loved.
I grew up in a house with my mom, dad, and three siblings. We lived just a short distance from both sets of grandparents and several aunts and uncles.
All these people loved me.
Every one of them wanted the best for me. I was hugged, snuggled, kissed, and read to regularly.
I was carried to bed when I fell asleep someplace else. When I called out, “Momma,” in the night, Momma always came.
I was pampered when I was sick and comforted when I was scared.
I had birthday cakes and visits from the Tooth Fairy.
Santa came every Christmas.
We had Easter egg hunts at my Aunt Freddie’s house, and big family get-togethers with yummy food and lively games of ante-over.
This little girl hula-hooped and made mud pies in her outdoor playhouse and knew she was loved.
I was valued.
I wouldn’t have known how to voice that feeling at the time, but what I thought, what I did, and how I felt—these things mattered to the people in my world.
My parents insisted that I do my homework, memorize my sight words, learn my multiplication tables, and go to school unless I was sick.
They bragged on me and told me I was smart. Mom and Dad encouraged me to read and write, to learn the meaning of new words, and how to spell them.
Dad, when he saw me reading a library book, asked me, “Who wrote that?” I made a point of knowing the answer to that question and came to appreciate the art of writing.
Not surprisingly, my favorite card game was Authors.
Ours may have been the only family within a mile radius that owned a current set of World Book Encyclopedia.
I was expected to do my best and received praise when I did.
Who can put a value on being valued?
I was a child of clotheslines and wire fences,
Bar soap, mercurochrome, and Vick’s salve,
Of bobby socks and hand-stitched quilts,
Mud-holes and wood stoves.
I was a child of hunting dogs,
And cows mooing for their missing calves,
Of homemade butter and yeasty-smelling kitchens,
Blackberry bushes and creaky wooden bridges.
I was a child of pickup trucks with cattle guards,
Long, cold school bus rides and the smell of burning coal.
I was a child of screen doors and woodsmoke,
Old, embroidered tablecloths thrown across picnic tables.
I was a child of book satchels and Big Chief tablets,
Of nursery rhymes and Dick and Jane,
Black-and-white television and 45-rpm records.
I was a child of the rural South in the 50s and 60s.
James Taylor has his memories, and I have mine.
You have yours.