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Archive for October 2011

First Best Friend

I remember the day Bennye Jo and her family moved in next door. Mom went over to meet the new neighbors and came back with a little girl in tow. “Her name’s Bennye Jo,” she told me, “and she’s two.” I looked her over and felt much older at three. Little did I know that the next eight years of my life would pass with Bennye Jo at my side. I was the captain; she was my first mate. I was Tarzan; she was Jane. We played house on my back porch, sold lemonade on the street, read comics on a big quilt on the lawn between our homes, and rode our bikes to the library and city pool.

In the photo, I had come home from first grade for lunch and was ready to return to school. Since Bennye was in kindergarten, she had already changed into play clothes for an afternoon at home. I didn’t care; I enjoyed my seniority and was learning to read. When I moved from Vincennes at eleven, my first best friend, Bennye Jo, was replaced with my new best friend, whose name was Penny Jo. Even I paused with the irony.
I drew from my early childhood adventures when I wrote the Bailey’s Chase novels. Sparky and Grey lived in the house where I spent my childhood, visited the same library, went to the same Girl Scout camp, and the same school field trip. Meeting a ghost there was my idea!

 We moved to the farm for the summer following my first birthday in March. I have no memories of my first pet, this little blind chicken, but I clearly remember what happened soon after this picture was taken:  the day I understood language. It was there during that summer, so I must have been 14-16 months old. My brother, Johnny, and I were playing in the  yard and came to a fence. I couldn’t climb it and he said, “I’ll help you, sissy.” My heart soared. I understood what he said for the first time. I still remember the thrill I felt the day I understood language. I know some of you won’t believe this, but from that day on, I recorded memories. I haven’t researched what linguists declare to be true, but I know from my own experience that language is a gift and comes to young children all at once – not one word at a time. None of us could be placed in Russia or China and 18 months later suddenly understand everything people around us were saying, but it happens to toddlers. Ask parents of any eighteen-month-old child and they will affirm, “He/she can’t talk yet, but understands everything we say.” They will go on to explain how when discussing a ride in the car, the child will pick up her jacket, or find his shoes. Or run to the window if you  mention a squirrel at the bird feeder. Speech comes later, maybe at two or two and a half, but memories begin when we understand what those around us say.

In the fall we moved back to town. I still couldn’t talk but have many memories of those early days. I clearly remember the day this second picture was taken. Mom had taken Johnny and me to a photographer’s studio. He was three and I was seventeen months old. (Mom dated the picture on the back.) The photographer instructed Johnny to put his arm around me and he protested. “No, I don’t want to,” he wailed. There was a scene and I recall feeling hurt that he didn’t want to put his arm around me and wondered why. As the picture shows, he finally succumbed either to dire threats or bribes. No one considered my tiny self-esteem being injured by his rejection and I couldn’t articulate it yet. Mom said my first speech was very “Dutchy” and I stamped my foot in frustration when she couldn’t understand me. Everyone agrees I’ve  made up for my early lack of speech, but when I think about it  I’m still overwhelmed by the gift of language. It’s nothing short of a miracle and it happened to all of us.

Hi! I'm Marlis.

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