But now it’s easier to feel better
Life was hard when I was a kid. It’s not so hard now, and for that I am grateful. These days I have the time to look back and think about the troubles I went through as a kid. Nobody bothers me about them, and in writing about those times, I find others who experienced similar things.
I remember the experiences I had as a kid and realize my life now is good. I wouldn’t trade anything from my past if it meant my current life had to change.
Sometimes, though, I still hear the cries of my child self. This is the story of one of those times.
Moving and changing schools
My family moved when I was entering the third grade, so I got to go to a new school. It was a saving grace for me. A new environment, a place to start again, a place for me to do things I hadn’t done before.
We had music class each week and got to sing a lot. I loved it and as it turns out I had a pretty good voice.
One of the things living with a mentally ill mother gave me was courage. When being at home is scary, everything else pales in comparison. So in third-grade, I sang a solo in the school talent competition. I didn’t win, but I got noticed by the music teacher, Miss Beach.
The next year she recommended that I represent our school in the district-wide chorus concert. I was very excited, and my parents were thrilled. Since we had no piano at home, Miss Beach would help me practice during lunch.
A side note for clarification
My dad worked as a used car salesman. There were two great perks that came with that job. He got to borrow a car to use and when he cleaned out the trade-in cars, he could keep anything he found in the cars.
That’s how my dad found my most prized possession in the world, a wooden nickel. It was a salesman’s promotional giveaway item, but to me, it was magic. It was made of soft balsa wood and had red print on it. My dad gave it to me and told me it was a lucky charm. He said that as long as I had it with me, I would have good luck. I was nine and poor and good luck sounded great to me.
I carried that nickel everywhere and I firmly believed my lucky charm was why I had been chosen to be in this choir. So when it came time to go to rehearsal, I made sure to put the nickel in my pocket so I could have even more good luck.
Off we went to practice, and I had a great day. We sang all morning long, had lunch, which was a real treat for me, and in the afternoon we practiced some more. “Follow me Down To Carlow” and “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” were two of the songs I remember singing.
At the end of the afternoon rehearsal, we got to eat again. Afterward, we were sent to change into our good clothes for the concert. We were sternly admonished to take everything out of our pockets and place those items into a box. My mom had told me to follow directions that day; so I dutifully took out my prized wooden nickel, rubbed it one more time between my thumb and forefinger, and placed it in the box.
Then we marched out to the auditorium stage past our proud parents and handed them the clothes we had been wearing for rehearsal.
The concert was wonderful
What a glorious night. The singing and the cheering and the applause were nothing short of fabulous. I had never experienced anything like it. I was delirious.
The people who put on the concert recorded it and sold vinyl LP’s to the parents. Afterward, there were even refreshments. I was tired and energetic at the same time when we got in the car to go home. I was singing the songs again and drifting off to sleep when I realized I had left my cherished wooden nickel in the box.
“Mom,” I called from the back seat, “We have to go back. I left my lucky wooden nickel in the place where they made us change our clothes.”
My mom looked at my dad, who was driving and asked if we could. He looked down at the dashboard and told her no because we only had enough gas to get home and to work in the morning.
Years later I realized they had spent all their money buying the concert recording and there was none left for gasoline that night.
But that night, I just sat in the back seat crying because I had heeded my mom’s warning to be a good boy and follow directions. As a result, I had lost my most cherished possession.
“Stop crying!” My mom said, “Or I’ll give you something to cry about. You should have kept better care of that stupid piece of junk. There’s no such thing as good luck, anyway. Even if there was, you’ll never have any.”
I sat in the dark on the cracked vinyl back seat, the warm feelings of joy and pride burnt away by rage and frustration. Over and over I pounded my knotted fists into my thighs to punish myself until I did have something else to cry about.
That was the past
Years later, when I was teaching, I did sometimes take things away from kids who were disrupting the class. I put them in my desk drawer. I always gave them back and always asked each child to tell me the story of their prized possession.
Every once in a while, though, that old heartsick memory of grief and frustration comes back, and my nine-year-old self lets a tear roll down my cheek.
When my wife sees that, she pats me on the hand and says, “You can let that memory go now, you don’t need it anymore.”
She’s right, of course, and at that moment I remember the warmth of the stage lights on my face and I hear the singing and applause. And if I rub my thumb and forefinger together, I can feel that precious wooden nickel one more time. Then I know good luck is waiting there just for me.