by Alan Jarrett
1956: First House
Somewhere around my fifth birthday we moved to our first home. For some time we had lived with an aunt in her very small home, and now we had two stories with 2 bedrooms downstairs, one upstairs, and a great big area that would be mine.
We had a kitchen, living room, and one bathroom for a family of six. Dad and I were the only males. Things did get interesting with one bathroom. With two stories, all wood floors, a basement with a coal furnace, it felt like we were in a mansion.
The steps going upstairs and the ledge between first and second floor had an almost magnetic attraction to my young, adventurous spirit. My very first experience with this ledge was announced on the living room floor with a thud!
The first failed effort resulted in a concussion, and I was threatened with worse things if I repeated this feat of daring do. Learned to be far more discrete in my future successful efforts.
The Crime: Fire
Nap time was a bore and meant I was bound to miss some adventure. So excitement had to be waiting around the corner. An empty dress box, tissue paper and matches were it!
Having only recently discovered matches, starting a camp fire like my cowboy heroes seemed a great idea. Mom was busy talking on the phone with some neighbor, so I was left on my own. The tissue paper was a great starter, and the cardboard turned into flames almost instantly.
In no time the flames were dancing and I was mesmerized. Now the floor was beginning to get in the act, as the varnish or shellack began to act as an accelerant! I’m not certain when Mom realized the smell of burning wood was not coming from outside. It may have been when she saw smoke from upstairs descending downstairs. Her reaction was immediate, and so was the resulting punishment.
The Punishment: Fire and Fingers
While not entirely certain of how the fire was extinguished, I do remember a nasty black burned patch on the floor, just like some sort of scar. What happened next was totally unexpected.
I guess Mom figured I hadn’t had enough experience with fire to know it was more than just pretty flames. She lit the burner on our gas stove, and held my four fingers over the flame until they were well burned causing them to blister. Of course I cried bloody murder, threatening to tell Dad and she would be in big trouble.
All afternoon I lay whimpering in my bed where I had been verbally imprisoned. At some point I fell asleep, waking up with Dad’s arrival from work, finally to be exonerated of my punishment.
Dad heard Mom’s story first. I heard him get loud asking Mom what she was doing so long she didn’t know what was going on? I thought sure she was in for it.
Then Dad came upstairs to hear mine. Sobbing, I pleadingly explained how this was only doing what my cowboy heroes do, making a camp fire, and Mom burned my fingers because she doesn’t want me to be a cowboy.
Dad explained how the fire burns just like it did my fingers, and could have burned the whole house down with me and Mom in it. That this should be a lesson to never start a fire inside, unless it was in our coal furnace or on top of the stove to cook something.
I felt completely alone. That my Dad approved of my sore, burned and blistered fingers made me feel betrayed. It was a reminder of my exploits traveling to the center of activity in our little town at the seasoned age of three years old, of course unannounced to my Mom.
The third such exploit arrived naked as the proverbial “Jaybird,” being fodder for the widows and town busybodies, thoroughly embarrassing mom. My prize was being tied to the clothes line in the backyard, with the use of a dogs harness. I was all alone in that backyard on a beautiful sunshiny day, with no one to play with or even talk to.
Alone, abandoned, with no idea what I had done to deserve such treatment. Now here it was happening again.
In my young mind I reached a decision. I would survive. No longer could adults be depended on or trusted, so I would have to take care of myself.
I learned to hide my feelings and use it almost like a weapon. When punished for anything there was a refusal to cry, shout, or show any remorse. My facial expression were void of any sign of happiness or hurt, further frustrating my dominant mother in her attempts to control her only son.
SCAR= Surviving Creating Alternate Realities
Since I felt adults could not be trusted, then learning how to deal with them was essential. How to manipulate them, and others, is what developed as a result of this determination to control my life.
Make believe through reading books became my escape. I read novels like crazy, fully escaping into those stories of cowboys and rustlers, the adventures of Penrod and Sam, or Huckleberry Finn.
I soon became my own “fantasy hero,” creating adventures in my treehouse, or in the foxhole dug out of a dirt pile in our front yard. It wasn’t long before these fantasies led to writing short stories. Writing and reading managed to keep me occupied and out of trouble most of the time.
I thought the fiction was more exciting than real life, and began creating lies to feed my insecurities and lack of self esteem to appear as grand as those heroes in the stories. Soon there were more lies than truth coming from my mouth.
To be sure this sort of behavior created other problems, so I was constantly having to dig myself out of trouble with quick whit and words.
Those two incidents in my earliest memories are the ones that shaped my life for years. There was a constant conflict with any authority. A determined effort to do it my way at all costs, which on nearly all occasions was detrimental.
Fear of not being smart enough was my constant companion, as my way rarely worked to my benefit. The label of “You’re a no good s.o.b. and will never amount to anything!” was my constant companion throughout my teenage years at home. My actions were subconsciously programmed to fulfill this omen.
I had no sense of direction other than finding a way to make money and survive. With no degree and only a few semesters of college that led to nowhere, it was jump from one job to another.
My talking ability and outgoing personality easily landed me positions in sales or public contact, which initially seemed good fits. However, there was never any internal motivation towards improvement. It could be best described as self sabotage. In retrospect failing was more comfortable than success.
A long list of accomplishments that I can list, which by most would be considered successes. Out of those there are two I see as such.
The trips I won as a paperboy, earning my “Letter” in Cross Country as a Freshman, garnering honors in Speech class, awards as a vocalist to include the first ever vocal scholarship to college, surviving Vietnam, selling one of the very first cell phones in the Tampa area in 1988, selling a multimillion dollar rated insurance policy, performing numerous vignettes and monologues on stage, and there are more.
Two things I would list as significant, one of particular import since it could be seen as history making. The non-history making event was repairing a micro switch for an automatic doughnut fryer back in 1980-81 in Ecuador, similar in appearance to the points of a distributor on the pre electronic ignition cars.
Two contact points enclosed in a bakelite type ceramic knob, where spacing must be exact and the casing glued so it didn’t give when the operating gear created torsion. It took three days to make it work.
I pioneered the commercialization of yeast doughnuts in Ecuador. My first efforts ended in failure, but I was able to return three years later after the opportunity to be an apprentice under a master doughnut maker in Texas.
So in 1978 Rico Donuts was born, and a doughnut monopoly was created in Quito, Ecuador. This continued for 7 years uncontested, and to this day is considered by me as my greatest achievement.
Does any of that prove I am any more intelligent now than then? Am I a better person for that accomplishment? What about published eBooks, introducing bread dough Christmas Tree ornaments from Ecuador in Indiana or raising four sons? Is it enough to offset those emotional childhood scars? This transparency in my story should reveal the truth.