My earliest memories are of Brazil. This makes sense because I lived in Brazil from 1980-1984. I was aged 1 through 3 years old and somewhere in that span my consciousness really spun up and started weaving electricity in my little dumpling head.
The first memory that always comes to mind is of Chicklets. Chicklets was a little box of little chips of color that were actually gum. For a toddler they were glorious. The box made a nice shaking sound and, instead of a boring stick of gum, I could masticate a mouth full of pebbles into a sweet chewy lump. I did this and then I ate it. I was, after all, too young to heed the warnings of how long chewing gum (pebbles, rock, or stick) could live in one’s tummy. I think it was Halloween.
Funny enough, even though it was Halloween, I don’t remember any of the other candies or my consume—Just trick or treating in the “super block” apartments we lived in and then swallowing a mound of gum. I was probably dressed as an army man. I was really into camo at the time.
I was so into camo that one year I got camo underwear for Christmas. I didn’t have any camo shorts so I made the logical assumption that if I wore my camo undies over my tightie whites they would magically become shorts. They did not, and I was late for pre school that day.
Another memory from that time is of my “Big Wheel.” For those yet uninitiated, a Big Wheel was a lowrider plastic tricycle often modeled after something that kids like. There was probably a yellow Tonka truck edition and a My Little Pony edition. Mine was the black Knight Rider “Kit.” The hood of the famed talking car was molded between the handle bars, the fluctuating red light an awesome sticker. I rode that shit everywhere.
I have distinct memories of riding that Big Wheel through yellow brown mud puddles, creating cascading waves like wings in my wake. I have a foggy memory of being wet afterward.
I had a giant yellow metal Tonka truck too. It was a popular toy and was a hell of a lot of fun in the sand box. It was freaking huge, matching my girth and maybe a third of my height. I would fill up its cargo bin with sand and then empty it. Such a beautiful game of logic for a three year old!
One bright morning I was “driving” this bad boy to the sandbox. By “driving” I mean I was leaning far over it as I pushed it through the hallways of the apartment building on the “highway” to the sandbox. Everything was awesome until I tried to go down the stairs and somehow rammed my chin with the big yellow metal truck.
My exact next memory is staring up at the lights of a doctor’s office as a thick dark thread was sewn through my chin. My mother tells me that I didn’t even cry. I was probably more upset that I didn’t get to truck any loads of sand around that day, enjoying the satisfying logical progression of filling up a thing and then shortly thereafter dumping its contents elsewhere. I still have the scar on my chin, though it’s now obfuscated by a graying beard.
I’ve actually met many folks in my life with the exact same scar on their chin. Perhaps you have one as well? Whenever I am made aware of one of these shared scars I immediately believe that is it from a similar Yellow Tonka Truck accident. And you can’t tell me otherwise.
Shortly after the Truck incident and my celebrated show of stolid bravery, my pops must have gotten a promotion because we moved out of the tall and crowded Superblock and into a house with a pool! It must have been a nightmare for my parents, but I had a great big sister to help keep an eye on me. She is ten years my senior, and back then I was quite an annoyance to her burgeoning teendom.
I couldn’t swim yet, but I had water wings. They were bright orange and I quickly learned to inflate them myself just enough to squeeze onto my baby biceps and have a dip. So I was probably actually very much a nightmare for my parents and sister.
One day my mother took me along with her to the grocery store. It was called “Jumbo” and had a big elephant for a logo. Jumbo seemed like a perfect name for an elephant to me at the time. As a name for a grocery store it was acceptable as well. It was after all a huge grocery store! I quickly learned where the toy section was and would lead my mother there should she be foolish enough to loose me from the cart seat.
On this day in particular, I somehow managed to get to the toy area ahead of her and open, not one, but two plastic bags of little plastic soldiers. They were different colors, so of course I had to open both to confirm it wasn’t some trick of the plastic container. My curiosity payed off because she ended up buying me both of them! I think I was too young for her to try to make a lesson out of it, so I got some little army men instead. Little did I know that having two different colors of army men meant that war was inevitable.
On the way home I watched a sea of brown faces outside our VW window. Their hands would press against the glass and their sad eyes would dart past me before focusing on my mom. She would always roll down the window and give them some change. This was something I did not ask about, but I thought about a great deal.
I’m still thinking about it right now as I stroke my graying beard over a hidden scar. I’m thinking about bravery.