If you’re an only child, as I am, you’ll know what it’s like to grow up as the only one of your age, size, and style in a family of adults.If you have siblings—even one counts—then you may find what I’m going to say something of a puzzle. You’ll be asking, “But why didn’t you--?” Or, “How come--?” Or, “Really?”
Yes, really.Here’s how it went for me.
I was actually the third child of the family, but my two brother had died in infancy three and five years before I made an appearance. Thus, I was born into a family of adults—two parents, two grandparents, eight uncles and aunts with spouses, about 20 cousins (there were five or six after me) on my mother’s side, three aunts with spouses and 10 cousins on my dad’s side, plus assorted friends of family. Not to mention dogs, cats, and livestock. But those came later.Many only children become little adults very young, merely because it’s what the atmosphere is all about. My parents both worked, so my grandmother came to stay with me; that ended and my mother was a stay-at-home mom. (Very common in that era, so nobody thought it strange. Or commendable. Or worthy of comment at all.)
In my home, I didn’t learn to read as a three-year-old; my mother was busy homemaking—we had the cleanest house on the block and probably the best food (I always thought so). In lieu of reading early, I figured out how to use crayons to indicate what certain items were. I was allowed to play a phonograph (remember 78s?); to keep track of which ones I liked, I marked colored patches on the labels. Memory is forever buried so I don’t recall the names of the tunes I preferred. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, to learn they were cowboy songs, my dad’s favorites.I do recall, when I was a four-year-old, lining up my dolls on the living room sofa, and telling them all about something or other. That was, to my recollection, my first lecture to a class. Afterward I served them tea with my doll-sized tea set.
Shortly after the classroom adventure, we moved to the country where I had no neighborhood children nearby. Within a year or so I started my education at a one-room country school. Eight grades in one room. There were actually two other small rooms—one was a library and one we used as a storage room. I haunted the library room. It was worth getting all my workbook pages done quickly so I could go into the room with all the books—they had a fragrance all their own, mixed with wax crayons, pencil shavings, and sweeping compound. Heady stuff for a six-year-old.That school year was first grade. It was the beginning of my lifelong love of books and all things schoolish. I've never lost that connection to books and learning. When my mother and I moved to town, I began a big-school career at Lincoln Grade School. For the first time I began to make friends and have other girls to play with after school. Funny thing, though—they weren’t much interested in playing school, which was all I ever wanted to do.
After fourth grade, my mother and stepfather moved every year for a while. One year I again attended a one-room country school in southern Missouri (no library room this time—just well-filled shelves of books, books, books), another year it was a big-city school (Wichita, KS), and then back to my hometown.
By the time I got to junior high and high school, I was beginning to make friends, and we stayed put for the last years of my public school education. In later years I was very grateful that we didn’t move again; when my mother died during my sophomore year in high school, I had friends and classmates to help me keep an even keel. Nothing much was said; but they were always there in the halls, the classrooms, and the cafeteria. We wrote on the newspaper together, played opposite each other in the Thespians, sat together at basketball games, danced the bunny hop (Lord, Lord, I am dating myself now) and the hokey-pokey. Fellow students, teachers, and the familiar halls provided a known backdrop—I didn’t have to memorize which hall my home room was in or look for my locker or get lost on the way to the gym. For a few years I could settle.
I still had no siblings, but I had people who cared about me—students, teachers, parents of my friends. Living a solo childhood may have bent the twig one way, but I learned along the journey how to accept help, and love, and thereby to give back by giving away.
Today I celebrate friendships—all through the ages of my life.