Today is my thirtieth birthday. Since I was old enough to figure out the birds and the bees and the actuarial tables, I had it in my head that I was a New Year’s baby or a slightly delayed Christmas present. My dear sweet mother recently threw cold water on that assumption.
“Ten months! Ten long months!” Debbie Lott complained to her firstborn son.
She also told me some other things about my young self. That old saying, “You’ve got to crawl before you can walk,” simply didn’t apply to yours truly. “You never crawled,” she said.
Then how did I get around?
“You rolled everywhere and pulled yourself up on furniture,” she said. From that I eventually put together the strength and coordination to toddle and walk and run.
And climb. When I was five, I climbed to the top of the great fir tree that towered over our house in northeast Portland. She spied me up there and said to come down this minute, young man. I refused, so she started up after me.
Now, I think (a) wait a minute, there was no conceivable way she would have made it that high — so, great fake out, Mom; and (b) what in the world was I doing up there?
I once fell from near the top of that tree, catching a branch only a few feet from impact, but that obviously didn’t have much mental impact. I shook it off and scurried back up the tree. This in spite of the fact that I was, and am, quite afraid of heights.
My stubbornness was a thing of legend. One early memory is of my Baptist minister father yanking me out of a church kids’ choir, taking me backstage, and paddling my backside good. The whole church heard cries of “No! Don’t spank me!”
Did I have that coming? You bet I did! Though, in my limited defense, I had insisted that I wouldn’t get up there and sing unless my younger brother did as well.
When I got up on stage, I looked out and saw my brother Andrew sitting in the audience next to Mom. (He wasn’t feeling well — or so the story goes.) So I stayed seated when everyone else got up to sing, scowled at them, and ignored all hand signals and the silent mouthings of “get up.”
Their emphatic reaction to that one was an exception. Things that might have horrified other parents usually made mine smile.
One time, a church lady caught a very young me sticking my head just above the table at a wedding reception and licking the frosting off of all the pieces of cake in reach. She handed me over to my grandfather with a “Look what your grandson did” complaint. He passed me off to Mom, who couldn’t stop laughing long enough to scold me.
And I still like frosting, which brings us to what will have to pass for the point of this little reminisce. While it’s possible for people to change, usually they don’t. That’s what I’ve come to believe about human nature lo these last 30 years.
That’s not as dour as it probably sounds. When I look back over my childhood and life up to this point, I detect a bit of growing up — thank God — but few essential changes. I still roll differently than most do; still keep climbing and falling and getting right back at it; and still have a dangerous stubborn streak. It hasn’t always made for the easiest life, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.