One of the weekly writing lessons that popped into my inbox a few weeks ago seemed worth pursuing. The focus was on my youth, specifically early childhood. To stimulate my memories the exercise posed several questions. Since I tend to be more forward-looking than reminiscing about the past, this seemed like a worthy challenge.
The first question asked me to paint a word picture of the first decade or so of my life. That one was easy: secure and loved. Even though we moved a lot a bit later in my life, my formative years were spent primarily in two communities, one in southern New Jersey and a suburb north of Boston. The towns were safe. Schools were well maintained with lots of PTA support.
The one I have the most memories of was in Massachusetts. It was a typical, well-off Boston suburb, with a white-sided Congregational church dominating the public square. Fourth of July parades, complete with high school bands and cheerleaders, kids on bikes with baseball cards stuck in the spokes to make a motor sound, and the local VFW in full dress.
I was the firstborn, which comes with its own privileges and burdens. First children usually have the strictest rules and concerned parents. We are given duties and chores that build in us a sense of responsibility, but also a pressure to not let others down. It is likely my need to have a to-do list for everything began during this period. While I wasn’t given specific instructions to watch over my two younger brothers at all times, the expectation was unspoken but clear.
Frankly, I don’t recall any early struggles. I remember my father spanking me once over some infraction, but that was a singular event. Neither mom nor dad believed in corporal punishment, understanding that expressing disappointment in my behavior was a more powerful deterrent.
I have written before that my dad endured several periods of unemployment and one major business failure. Yet, he never allowed his struggles to impact his family. In fact, until I was old enough to grasp what all the stacks of resumes meant on the dining room table, I had no reaction to his being home a lot more than other dads. It was simply the way our family was.
Mom’s teaching job, her ability to make casseroles out of anything, and her solid support for her husband meant the three boys were pretty much in the dark about family struggles. Decades later, when they both had died and left a sizable estate to their three sons I fully appreciated what financial discipline and familial dedication look like.
Watching Boston Celtics or Bruins sports on TV, a weekly time for Ed Sullivan (yes, watching the Beatles as a family), and an occasional special event were the extent of our TV viewing as a family. Howdy Doody was a favorite of mine but was watched at a neighbor’s home.
I do remember two special “Lowry” rules: no comic books, ever, and only one Coke a week. Of course, reading books and even newspapers was strongly supported. Even today, in my mind a cola is sort of a special treat.
Considering my career in music and radio you would think the groundwork was laid early, with music an important part of my childhood. Nope. I don’t remember music being on in our home very often at all. A record player broke early on but was kept as a piece of furniture near the front door; dropping keys and mail on it was the primary reason for its existence.
The writing course asked if I had any early influences or role models. As a young man, I remember Christmas get-togethers and a week’s stay at my grandparent’s “farm” north of Pittsburgh were enjoyable, but I was too young to be aware of any behaviors these folks modeled. As an energy-filled youngster, I don’t remember specifics.
As I went through my teen years that changed. In particular, my uncle was someone who shaped me in ways I am still uncovering. With maturity comes awareness. How he conducted himself and treated my brothers and me has had a lasting impact, even if I wasn’t aware of it at the time.
Rereading this post and reflecting on my early years convinces me I was incredibly lucky. Literally, I have no bad memories or lasting emotional issues to deal with. I was given a model of behavior and what it means to be a man, a husband, and a father that I continue to strive to achieve.
My early years had no drama, no pain, and very little disappointment. Things became a bit for interesting as I aged, but never of the sort that would make a good movie or novel.
Boring but true.