Eight Candles on a Snowball

Eight Candles on a Snowball (1,231)

August 7th, 2011

It was one week before Christmas. It was also the day of my eighth birthday. Eight years old—an absolutely terrifying place to be. Caught somewhere between the potty training of babyhood and the teeming, frothing frustration of adolescence, I had two requests on my birthday list. I wanted a package of Hostess Snowballs with four candles on each one and a five dollar bill. (This was back when five dollars actually bought something.) I loved Hostess Snowballs—a quartet of flavors—coconut lying on top of marshmallow, which was caressing chocolate cake, with whipped cream in the center—a never-ending surprise of taste for your mouth.

I had plans for my five dollars. There was a local Five and Dime Store in town that smelled like maple syrup and had rows and rows of what had to be thousands of little toys. I was going to reward myself in an excess of pleasurable purchases.

For it had been a rough year. Very recently a little brother had been introduced into the household, which already had four male figures. One more seemed completely unnecessary, if not unrighteous. I remember when they brought him home from the hospital. I was sitting in the back seat of the car, looking at him, thinking to myself how much he resembled a hairless monkey. I found it within myself to learn to tolerate him and eventually appreciate his existence, even though he continued to be a defoliated ape who smelled of cottage cheese and poop. Disgusting.

At the very same time, my oldest brother had moved back into our little 1,250-square-foot, two-bedroom home with his new wife, and she, too, had birthed a little chimp of her own. It was really weird. For a brief season we had two pregnant women in the same house—my mother and my oldest brother’s new lady. (I believe that two pregnant women in the same house is the Chinese symbol for The Apocalypse.)

Also confusing was that I was not certain how to treat my older brother’s wife and her new offspring—because when they were not around, my mother and father talked about what a “nuisance” she was and how she was a “slut.” Not knowing what either word meant, I judged by the tone of their voices that it was unfavorable. So I prepared myself to be mean to her when she returned, and then, for some unexplained reason, my mom and dad would be nice, complimenting her and telling her how beautiful her new baby was. So apparently a “slut” that was a “nuisance” was a positive thing and I was just too young to understand it.

At school that fall, things didn’t get any better. Miss Solomon, who was my first grade teacher and also my piano instructor (yes, I took piano lessons) had, over the summer, acquired a husband and was now Mrs. Chevrant. She did not clear this with me. You see, I thought we had plans together. Based on the way she complimented my hammer action on the piano, I thought we had a love connection and she was going to wait for me to survive puberty and to get a little deeper into double digits before we would naturally become man and wife. On top of that, the music we had been learning during our special time together had been written in big notes, the size of doughnuts, by people with names like Thompson and Shaum. But now she introduced me to this guy named Chopin, and all of his music looked like little black bugs, multiplying and running up and down on the page. It was too hard to be fun and the lack of fun made it even harder.

Earlier in the summer, by the way, I had been outside playing baseball when someone struck the ball with the bat. It flew through the air and smacked me square between the eyes. It was weird—like time travel, because one minute I was standing in my back yard playing baseball and then the next thing I knew I was inside the house with an ice pack on my head. All I remember in the interim was a brief flash of everything I had done in my life up to that point. It only took a milli-second, but I saw it all. Honestly, it wasn’t that impressive.

So this day was my birthday—December 18th, 1959, and I was eight years old. I was small, big, happy, sad, glad, mad, growing, shrinking, a son, an alien, a student, a goof, a boy, a little man, a … real mess.

But you know the funny thing? It was kind of just like America. In my entire first eight years, we had one President who occupied the White House, like it was his ranch home in Kansas. Just one guy. But in the next decade we would have three Presidents—one murdered in Dallas, one defeated by a war and one disgraced by scandal. In my life, at eight years of age, there were no blacks. They were Negroes. (And in my community, it was even permissible to say “nigger.”) There were no Chinese—not even egg rolls. The Soviet Union was Satan. But soon all of that would change. Music would be rocked. Sex became a revolution and the atomic bomb was introduced into the living room of every American home.

There was a brief moment on that December day when I was eight years old when innocence still filled the air. I took my five dollars and went out to the Five and Dime and bought a big bag of army men, four huge candy bars, a coloring book, a box of Crayolas and a biography called Daniel Boone, Trail Blazer.

It was so much like the country I lived in. My choices were the same—an army, lots of sweet treats and delights, a history of great adventurers, all scrawled in crayon with us desperately trying to color within the lines.

America was me and I was America. I was eight years old and on the verge of my own personal coup d’etat. I was living in a country about to explode from its lack into a world of excess. I was about to see how drugs could make people sick and not just heal them. It was 1959 and I was eight years old. I was America and America was me. I had more questions than answers, more dreams than hopes, more frustration than fulfillment and more energy than sense.

I blew out my candles and I ate both of my snowballs at the same time. I said, “Happy birthday, Jonathan.” And I walked out of the room and headed outside to play.

Published in: on August 7, 2011 at 12:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

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