15 March 2020

Child Conspiracy

Recent SleuthSayers posts have taken a autobiographical turn. I don’t have any new great anecdotes, but I was talking with Haboob about early childhood recollection.

Early memories vary considerably. Ray Bradbury said he could recall his moment of birth and pretty much everything since. Another friend says she remembers almost nothing before the age of ten or twelve.

My memory falls in between, mostly significant events that rocked my infant world. I recall my first step, probably because of my parents’ fuss. Contrary to vicious rumors, that occurred well before my teen years when repairs necessitated exiting my beloved car.

The Rumor Mill

Long ago on Criminal Brief, I wrote about getting into trouble, mainly by being a good student. Weird, huh. I mean me.

Perhaps the most telling of those anecdotes occurred in the first grade. Miss Ruth, a fixture when my mother attended school, trotted us down to the gym. She sat us on the floor arranged in an alphabetical line. She explained how rumors couldn’t be trusted. We’d discover this, she said, playing a game of Telephone.

As a reader, you know Telephone: Into Amber Abelard’s ear, she’d whisper a story, who’d whisper it to Becky Bart, seated next to her. At the end of the line, Walter Younger would relate the story as he heard it. The teacher would then compare it to the original, lesson learnt.

Except… Even in the first grade, there was something of an investigator or junior scientist in me. (Adults usually called it other names.) Alphabetically, I sat dead center in the row of little whisperers. When it was my turn and the story about a cuddly bunny’s bicycle reached my ear, I realized I could run a double experiment. I whispered to the girl next to me my own fabrication about an ice skating duck.

After the words left my lips, I panicked. Miss Ruth was bound to investigate who’d sabotaged her tale. Our teachers believed in corporal punishment. They believed in capital punishment. I was done for, my life over barely into the first grade.

Walter duly stood and story-forthed the legend of a duck on roller skates.

The expression on Miss Ruth’s face… I can’t describe the despondency, somewhere between gaping and gasping.

Her hundred forty nine years of teaching (Did I mention she’d taught my mother?) fled before her eyes. Surely she wondered where she’d gone wrong. What had the Good Lord inflicted upon her?

She never finished the lesson, but packed it in for the day.

I had sold my first story.

Childhood Theory of Evolution
Childhood Theory of Evolution

The Grand Conspiracy

In retrospect, my weirdest early memory was the irrefutable evidence grownups lied to children. Nope, not like most kids. My parents didn’t believe in misleading toddlers about St Nicholas aka Father Christmas, the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy. Instead, they adopted sort of a conspiratorial approach, said many parents deceived their kids about Santa Claus, winked, and told us the truth. We fully enjoyed Christmas without the obfuscation. It puzzles me today when outraged parents scream when someone pulls aside the curtain of truth.

Nope, my parents played holiday games and the Tooth Fairy, but always let us know it was a game of make-believe.

But still, I knew adults lied. Specifically about growing up. I didn’t believe kids grew bigger or adults had ever been small. I need look no further than myself. On a remote farm, there were no other children to compare.

Childhood time moved so slowly, I never appeared to grow bigger. My next birthday seemed impossibly far off and anyway, birthdays were just numbers the people who controlled the world made up.

Obviously, getting bigger was an illusion promulgated by dishonest adults. Clothes shrank so how could a child judge whether he was growing bigger or clothes were getting smaller?

Old photos of grownups supposedly as children weren’t proof, all grainy and unrecognizable. They were just snapshots of other kids lost in the distant past.

Moreever, I knew things. I was raised amid farms and forests. Baby animals grew up in a matter of weeks or at most, months– mice, rabbits, chicks, and puppies. In less than a year, a calf would grow into a heifer or young bull. I didn’t grow at all during those weeks and months.

Who were they kidding? I’d exposed a dastardly plot to subjugate children and prevent them asking too many questions.

Without realizing the creeping evidence, I gradually became subverted. Or perhaps the adult nightly brain-washers laundered my thoughts.

But I was right about one thing. I never grew up.


  1. I remember the years when a school year would feel like three or four years! Been watching my nieces and nephew go through that over the last three decades! The last one is a few years away from leaving the house! Sigh!

  2. "The legend of a duck on roller skates." Hilarious

    Your post takes me to one of my favorite songs - Joni Mitchell's THE CIRCLE GAME. Yes, the young years go by so slowly and the old years speed by like a race car. Joni put it much better. "We're captive on the carousel of time ... round and round and round in the circle game." Go listen to that profound song. Yes, the older we get the more we "... drag our feet to slow the circles down."

    Good morning, everyone. It's Sunday and we're all still here. For now.

  3. your forte really is memoir!
    I loved the story about your teacher's ill fated Telephone class.

  4. I caught on to the adult lie about growing up, too! It was obvious that my parents and grandparents were a different type of human, and I'd never be them. Just made me shake my head in disbelief every time they said, "Well, it'll happen to you, too, someday." In the immortal words of Mark Twain, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

  5. There are times when I wish I had never grown up. The responsibilities are endless. Still, there are just as many times when the child I was peeks through the curtain and reminds me how much joy there is if we open ourselves to it.

  6. I don't often think about the past. But after I read this, of course I began to ponder. And I realized that much of what I remembered was places, not people or incidents. Oh, and other children who were friends. I remember being in kindergarten and marveling at how small the sink and toilets were, made just for us. In high school, I remember seeing a teacher get out of an elevator on the second floor I didn't even know existed, although I'd walked by it countless times. When I mentioned it at a group of others students, most of them didn't know it existed. I guess, bottom line, it has to be something really distinctive for me to remember. My mother tended to complain about how bad her past was, which made her depressed. I vowed never to do that, and I've kept that vow.
    So, this was a fascinating post for me. I knew I'd grow up and couldn't wait to be an adult. For the freedom and control.

  7. My memories go back to about age 3, Leigh. And I think about the past often, some of it good, some not so good. But as O'Neil was reminded of The Circle Game (a great song, but I have to say I prefer Buffy St. Marie's version of it) I'm also reminded of the Beatle's In My Life: "There are places I remember..."

  8. Jeff, I'm in much the same position, no biological children but I take vicarious pride in a couple of beautiul girls through extended family.

    Wow, O'Neil. I hadn't thought of Joni's song in eons. And yes, we're still kicking. Hurray!

    Thanks, Janice. I look back at that and wonder at my audacity. Back then I felt terrified at the chance of discovery, but now I'm pretty pleased at that long-ago kid.

    Eve! Bless you, my child. I'm so glad someone else held the same suspicions. The conspiracy was soooooo obvious.

    Precisely, Michael. That inner child lives on in most of us. I admire those who've had hard lives and still see the wonder.

    Jan, a few hurricane seasons ago, I evacuated to Tallahassee, where I spent three days in an elementary school. Taking my towel and shampoo, I followed signs to the restrooms… and encountered impossibly small toilets and sinks. No way a 6-foot-plus guy could wash hair there!

    Paul, I recall those songs. Good suggestions, thanks. The Beatles wrote a number of reflective tunes, every one good.

  9. Great article - this line is every bad moment in life in a nutshell: "I was done for, my life over barely into the first grade." (and I can't post as me so just to let you know, it's Mary Fernando)


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