The Wonder Years

The first 10 years.
It is interesting to try to isolate those years. For most of us, there may be a couple vivid memories. But for the most part it is a blur or just a vibe of sorts.
Crib Vibes
Really crazy is a memory of being in a crib, probably between 1-2 years old, and this friend of my mom’s, who used to watch me, yelling at me. The reason I know it must’ve happened is because I have always have that glimpse. Certain parts of it have always been vivid and never change.
I know who it was.
I know I was in a crib.
I remember being yelled at –being confused and scared.
It was daylight outside.
I remember what house it was in.
It is crazy to think about how she probably has no idea that I know. Or that that memory triggered something that I held on to. She probably was having a bad day or something was going on in her life. Obviously, we’ve never talked about it and I am not scarred.
But I always wonder why my brain held on to it. Or what else happened.
Note to self: babies and children can and will remember.
Weeds, Berries and Bullets
Inner city Chicago. Real deal Chicago. Not tourist Chicago.
Lawrence and Kedzie– Troy and Ainslie to be exact.
To be allowed outside to play in the yard, was heaven. Playing all alone, without tangible friends, I used to love making “food” from leaves and weeds around the building. I would pretend I was making dinner or inventions. I never felt alone–despite being by myself.
Sitting outside our house on the corner of Troy/Ainslie, on a tree limb, on the gate of the corner park, I remember eating berries off the tree. Eating, throwing, eating, throwing….and watching over the neighborhood. I loved that limb and that neighborhood. I felt like I had an obligation to watch over it.
I have memories of Jill, my friend from across the street.
Us playing in the corner park next to my house.
My other friend was shot in the head, and killed, on the 4th of July.
Standing on the corner, 8 years old, staring at the fireworks, and then gone.
Stray bullet…..think of that. Living in a place where “stray bullet” was normal.
As if it was a condition that just struck–like a disease.
Looking back, I guess it kind of was.
Trains, Funerals, and Home Visits
Being the oldest daughter of a pastor, in the inner city, funeral attendance and home visits came with the territory.
I have vivid memories of sitting in the back of funerals, that my dad was officiating.
Not knowing the families –not knowing how that person touched the lives of others.
Just waiting to go home for dinner.
A tragedy occurred to a brother and sister that were playing on the ice, by the river, near our house. The sister fell through the ice and the brother couldn’t save her–
he watched her drown under the ice.
My dad, as the neighborhood Pastor, went to the family’s home.
I remember watching the brother, about 10-12, just playing with a toy train while it ran in circles, saying “I couldn’t get to her….I couldn’t get her.”
Where the White People Are
My neighborhood was a hub for World Relief. 66 dialects spoken over a 1 mile radius.
Refugees were introduced through America in my backyard.
From my corner, I had a view to nations.
I never really noticed that no one looked like me. Or that I was in the minority.
Everyone was so different.
Everyone looked different.
This was normal.
I remember going to visit Omaha, Nebraska one time and distinctly wondering why everyone there looked the same.
Then realized this was where all the white people are.
I wondered how they all had gathered there and why they weren’t coming to Chicago.
As I got older and kids got meaner, at school, I was made fun of for being white, too skinny and wearing second hand clothing.
At this point, it just made me sad.
I desperately wanted to fit in –be short with beautiful skin.
Inside Out
Unaware that my skin color was a majority in the rest of the nation, I held a minority slot in my neighborhood.
And on the block, that is all that mattered.
No one looked the same.
Every race, language, and color was represented.
Ironically, nowadays, as I travel the nation and the world,
although a majority skin color holder, my identity is unapologetically, and inexplicably forever interwoven with those in the minority. I
n any room,
on any issue.
Living from the inside out.
Things Remembered…
I remember getting a microwave when the church finally bought one for us.
I remember getting call waiting—way after everyone else got it.
I remember never being allowed to eat “sugar” cereal at home.
I remember eating pita bread at my friend’s house every chance I got.
Space and Camp
Second grade would be the first year I was allowed to travel to summer camp.
In Wisconsin!
I wasn’t going alone — which is what made it so great.
I didn’t fear being away from home. My older brother, Gene, was going with me.
Most of my earliest memories were tied to Gene being present at events.
He was only a year older but just enough for us always to be in the same age bracket and old enough for me to still feel safe at whatever we were attending.
This would be both of our first time away from home for any significant time.
The drive was about 4 hours to Camp Grow. The bus ride was the best. The camp songs, the views and getting to know new kids.
It was all going well.. in the first 2 hours of our trip until I had to use the bathroom. I had never had to pee so bad in my short lived life. The bus driver was adamant he wasn’t stopping because we had already had a pit stop. I just remember being in so much pain, terrified and crying.
The emancipating summer camp trip had quickly become a torture ride.
Gene kept walking up and down the aisle, checking on me, and probably checking the seat underneath me for any signs of liquidity.
Finally, I saw him at the front of the bus, talking to the bus driver. I will never know what was said nor will I know how it happened. All I know is that bus stopped for me to go to the bathroom.
And all was well.
If there was an event, or camp, or church function, Gene and I were always selected to be the kids to attend and try it out together.
This is how we attended summer Space Camp at the Museum of Science and Industry. This camp changed my life.
So much about it was memorable. But the main thing I have always carried with me was the moment I visited an air traffic control tower.
I can remember the smell, the temperature of the air, the dim lighting, the set up of the furniture– and the way I felt when I stepped in the door. I didn’t know what these people did or what this job was– but I needed to figure out how to do it.
The circular screens with radar arms bleeping across was mesmerizing. All I saw was numbers. It looked like a big math game that everyone got to play, on their own computer, in the air conditioning.
This had to be the best job in the world. (As an aside, we never had central AC growing up. We had fans in windows. So anytime some place had central AC– it may as well have been the Taj Mahal.)
I would later come to find it was the air traffic control (ATC) tower at Ohare Airport.
When I got home, I shared my new found love for being an ATC. Imagine the pride my dad had when his 8 year old child decides she has discovered her career of being an air traffic controller.
What I will always remember, and appreciate about how my parents did things, is from that day on, for about 3 years, birthdays were spent touring local towers.
I loved every second of those tours and to this day love the ATC profession and those who do it.
It didn’t end up being my path– but the love, passion, and curiosity for aviation would follow me throughout my life. I believe that was just a stepping stone.
To ignite something inside me directing me toward the Air Force later in life.
God leaves seeds of our specific destiny inside us that we discover along the journey.
I am grateful for the seeds.

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