I suppose if I'm an Only child, then it follows that my mother and father were Only Parents. It wasn't exactly that they were my siblings. It was more that we were three people in a time capsule. It made me older earlier, and it made them . . . well, Nell and Edgar. I didn't call them that, of course. They called me Jimmie.
I was a little old man when I was 5 or 6. I would have a nice daily conversation with Mr. Sullivan at his house on Maple Street, where he kept his gardens neat and trimmed. He told my mother what a nice little man I was. And I was. Mostly.
When my Aunt Violet, my father's sister, came to stay with us to help out after my mother's surgery, she made the spaghetti wrong and I told her so. My mother was thoroughly embarrassed with me. She explained that Aunt Violet had come all the way out to the house from the big city to help us, and she was doing the best she could. I said, "Yeah, well she used tomato soup for spaghetti sauce!''
I had picked that up, I think, from my father. When my Aunt Bertha, my mother's sister, stayed with us, she was told by Nell that Edgar had refused to eat oleomargarine. That's what it was called in those days. Oleo. It came in a lump and was white like lard. There was a small packet of orange color that you mixed with it, and stirred it up in a bowl to look something like butter. It frankly tasted awful. Edgar would not allow it on the table.
Aunt Bertha said, "I'll mix it up and put it back into the shape of a lump of butter, and wrap it up in a butter wrap, and he won't know the difference.'' He took one look at it, and said, charmingly, "What the hell is this?''
I wasn't the kind of kid who made friends easily. I preferred to be by myself rather than waste time with children. But, when I found somebody simpatico, I went along for the adventure. Donald, the minister's son, was a buddy for years. We met walking to school when I was 6. (I was a November baby and so I had a late start.) Donald, a typical preacher's son, was into everything. His father had moved from church to church and so he had lived in a lot of places and was very worldly.
There was a huge oak tree in the back yard of the rectory, and Donald and I would shinny up to the first long branch, crawl out on it, and sit there discussing life. One time we sat there and then we pushed each other, and I fell out of the oak tree and broke my nose.
Actually it was kind of a good thing, because my nose was bread-knife thin in those days, and I had a sort of British look. The broken nose added width and gave my face new strength and toughness I didn't have before. I went from Leslie Howard to Charles Bronson just like that. Thank you, Donald.
I wrote a book in longhand when I was 11. I read the chapters out loud to my folks and visiting relatives, and they howled. They thought it was funny stuff. When they laughed in all the right places I was encouraged. Later, in school, when the teacher would say we had to write an essay, and the class would collectively moan, I would try not to show my delight. When I read my stuff to the class, I was pleased with the laughter. It got so when they said "James would read his essay,'' the class would actually say "oooh.''
I was a hit in junior high. You didn't know it, but I was writing those LifeTimes columns then, trying to put words in such an order they might make you smile.
You know about Brad Pitt's movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button? It's the story of a guy who is born a little old man, and then gets younger and younger through his years. I can relate to that, and I don't think there's anything wrong with it.
New Port Richey resident Jim Aylward was formerly a nationally syndicated columnist and radio host in New York City. Write him in care of LifeTimes, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.