And That’s The Way It Is
For the past several months, I’ve been immersed in a project that has a tremendous amount of sentimental value to me. I’m writing the history of Community Bible Church, a megachurch on the outskirts of Atlanta.
It’s the church that grew out of a youth ministry my parents started almost 50 years ago called the Atlanta Youth Ranch. Dad pastored the church for over thirty years. My brother is now the pastor, and we’re collaborating on a book outlining church growth and success principles based on the history of CBC.
Of course, all this history brings back memories for me. But as I’ve been delving into that part of my past, I’ve also been forced to look at my history from another perspective. In short, I have a relative who tells me things are not as I remember.
I was born in February 1967, not quite two years after the Youth Ranch’s first meeting. I’m no expert on memory, but one theory on the subject that interests me is the idea that we are able to repress traumatic events. To put it simply, traumatic events are what cause gaps in memory because the human brain represses them as a means of survival. I suppose I should say that the converse of that theory is what interests me — those who remember a great deal about their childhood and who do not have huge memory gaps were happy growing up.
My earliest childhood memory had to have happened when I was barely two. My little brother, Beau, was born in February 1969, and in the months before his birth, I’m told, I introduced everyone I met to my imaginary friend, a fuzzy blue-ish-gray guy named Friend Bear. Alas, Friend Bear went away forever when Beau was born. But my very first memory is this: I’m standing on the concrete slab outside of the Ranch meeting room talking to a group of teenagers. A pickup basketball game is going on behind them. They’re asking me about Friend Bear. Where is Friend Bear, they want to know. I think for a moment and then, pointing to the pickup game, say, “He’s inside that basketball.”
The teenagers start laughing, and I remember the delicious feeling of making someone laugh. I was funny, and I loved it.
I remember watching my first dachshund, a little red girl named Jessie, get hit by a motorcycle when she wandered into the street in front of that Youth Ranch building. I still see my dad trudging toward the lake at the edge of the property carrying a shovel and her body wrapped in a towel. In fact, I saw it this morning when the pool service left the gate open and I found one of my dachshunds, Shirley, trotting down the alley behind my house. I don’t know why my brain didn’t repress that sad memory; maybe because that picture in my head is the reason I feel compelled to take care of dachshunds for the rest of my natural life.
I don’t know how old I was – probably three – when my grandmother caught me trying to pee off her back porch like my cousin and my brother, but I remember it. And being called “Witchiepoo” because I somehow reminded Nanny of the Sid and Marty Krofft character Wilhemina Witchiepoo, the antagonist of the “H. R. Pufnstuf” live-action puppet show. (Incidentally, the Kroffts are reportedly trying to bring back the show, and Johnny Depp is rumored to be playing Witchiepoo).
I remember the first church “nursery” in the living room of our house, how we could hear the grownups singing downstairs. My cousins, mom’s twin sister Sandy’s kids, were there with me and Beau, along with a girl named Dottie Kohl.
I remember my little sister, Holly, being born. I didn’t know the details, that she was born prematurely because of Rh factor. I just knew she was sick and couldn’t come home from the hospital. I remember our family friends, Swifty and Arnette, driving us to the hospital to drop my mom off so that she could feed Holly. And this: someone in the car pointed to the moon on that cold December night and said that there really was a man on the moon.
Nearly forty years later, as I recall these childhood memories, I’m compelled to check my memory against history. Holly was born on December 14, 1972. Apollo 17, the last manned Apollo mission, landed on the moon December 7 and returned to Earth on December 19. There truly was a man on the moon that night.
I know people have different memories of the same events. But these are mine, and stacked one on top of another, they are the foundation for a happy life.
It’s like the way I remember Walter Cronkite signing off the nightly news when I was a kid: “And that’s the way it is.”