25 May 2015

All I Need To Know

Mystery Author Jan Grape
This past week I was thinking about how things learned at a very early age can form us in a way that we really don't understand. Thinking about that reminded me of the book title, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten. Have any of you read that book? I never read it but I did read Mr. Fulghum's original essay on the subject. If you haven't read the book or the essay here are some highlights:
  • Play Fair.
  • Don't Hit People.
  • Put Things Back Where They Belong and Clean Up Your Own Mess.
  • Wash Your Hands Before You Eat And Don't Forget To Flush.
  • Take a Nap Every Afternoon.
Pretty good examples of how to live a pretty good life, right? And we did learn this in kindergarten or if you didn't go to kindergarten, you learned it in first grade. A couple more things were mentioned but I didn't want to get into copyright problems. And the major point I was thinking about was how this all can relate to your characters as you write. Definitely to your main character and to your villain as well.

My late husband, Elmer, had a somewhat traumatic experience when he was five years old. In fact, it was on this fifth birthday. He was playing outside and although he knew he wasn't feeling too well, he kept running and playing and one of his older sisters who was in the house watching him out the window didn't see him fall. He just fell unconscious. No injury, no reason. If she saw him at any point, I'm sure she just thought he was playing dead or whatever little five year old boys do.

A nearby neighbor saw him and called for an ambulance. The ambulance took him to the hospital where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. A short time later, his mother who had returned home and found out her child was in the hospital raced to the medical center. Mama began having a screaming fit because this was a Catholic Hospital. She had been taught in her church that Catholic churches were evil and that all nuns, even nurses worked for the devil. She came into the children's ward, right to her son's bed yelling about how they were going to kill her baby and that she absolutely had to take him out of this Satan's Den of Evil before he died.

Fortunately, the medicine that had been given Elmer had broken his fever and since the family didn't have any insurance or money, they sent him home with his mother and medicine. For the rest of his life, every time Elmer had to go to the hospital and he had a number of surgeries after we were married, he always had a bad experience. There were times he called me to come get him, he felt they were doing him more harm than good. I had heard his childhood story but never connected the dots of the child's traumas with the man's bad experiences. Often because there were little things that had gone wrong, like pain meds making him sick or a bad nurse, or machine failures.

The mother of a good friend of ours died when he was five years old. He actually doesn't remember much of the next couple of years although his father remarried and his new mother was kind and loving to him and his three older brothers. His parent's had four other boys and all were happy and healthy. It wasn't until he wrote his memoirs when he was in his seventies that he recalled the devastation he felt. It also explained his fear of separation from his wife and children even though they were only going on a short trip to visit her mother two hundred miles away.

These little stories made me think of how things that could have happened to your main character when they were four or five or six can shape the life of a hero/heroine or the life of your villain or even secondary characters.

I even read that psychologist say that even if a young person goes bad and maybe commits crimes and seems to hate everyone and everything, love can save him.  If that person knew and felt love when he was a baby up to age five or six, that he will return to return that love. I have no idea how this relates to career criminals but it might redeem some bad person you're writing about it you know their life story.

I'm writing this on Memorial Day and I want to say thank you to all those who are serving in the military, those who have served through all the years, and those who have to wait. May all come back home safely. Including my father, my bonus dad and my husband who did come home safely.


  1. Jan, in the Trayvon Williams murder trial, you may remember one of the defense lawyers was a guy named Don West, a man I used to know. He mentioned that virtually every one of his clients had brutal, abusive childhoods. I’ve forgotten details, but he mentioned one boy whose parents chained him to a tree for some hours. I sometimes think the best way to fight crime is to see that all children are better taken care of, not merely our own, but everyone’s.

  2. Jan, I hate to be trite, but your piece makes think of the saying "past is prologue." I know that's true for me and many other people I know. We are the sum of our experiences and they lead us to act or react in certain ways. Sometimes not always good ways -- ie the villain in a story.

  3. Childhood traumas stick with you for years, perhaps always, because (like your husband's and your friend's), they're so deep down, (1) you don't have words to talk about them and (2) 99% of the time, whoever is your caretaker doesn't want you upset, and wants you to pretend you're just fine. And that's in nice families.

  4. Erk, I meant Trayvon Martin above.

  5. Oh shoot, i wrote some interesting ideas but lost as I was trying to post it. In too much pain right now to rewrite. All this rain has made me achy today.


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