One of the interesting things about my neurological condition is that I can recall things from my early childhood better than I can many things that happened earlier this year. This allows me to write this with certainty about many things that I remember exceedingly clearly.
I was born in a very interesting period, technology-wise. Computers already existed; mainframes had been a big deal for decades already, but my birth coincided with the period right before the “personal” computer became feasible for the average human being to own, much less before they became commodity or a normal part of life.
In my early childhood, I was a bit ahead of the curve. The kids I knew growing up were mostly not computer-literate or interested in such. There were, of course, some exceptions, but those will come up in a later post.
First, let’s set up a bit of background:
My father had served in Vietnam. The eldest of nine children, he had grown up with the responsibility for taking care of his siblings. He had told me stories about his own childhood— not a lot of them, but a few came up on multiple occasions. Enough that I could at least see some of where he came from, in any case. He’d hit a point in his life where there weren’t a lot of options left for him in California, and entered the military at, I believe, 19.
He proved to be good with mechanics, and having grown up in a farm environment there was not much of a surprise to that. He was, apparently, also good at long-range shooting. I believe he met my uncle in Germany and the two ended up being the best of friends. He introduced my father to my mother, and I would later be named after that uncle.
Some things I do know for a fact are that my father was very good with an exceptional range of mechanical and technological areas. Before I was born, he had been involved in fixing tanks, helicopters, and televisions. He had built a eight-segment LED clock, had been deep into HAM radio, did silk-screening as a hobby, and even worked in house construction.
In short, his interests were all over the place. That’s definitely something I inherited from him, even if my physical capabilities were not capable of matching his.
However, my father was the only survivor of a rocket-propelled grenade attack on the maintenance tent where he and several others had been repairing a helicopter. He survived, but took a severe set of injuries from shrapnel. The medics got what they could out of him, but there were several pieces they couldn’t do anything about. One was lodged in the base of the back of his neck and was close enough to his spinal cord that the medics were worried about doing additional damage in trying to get it out.
The far more dangerous shrapnel was the piece that lodged itself in his right leg halfway down from the knee. While they were able to remove that shrapnel, the wound was unexpectedly resilient. It started as a dime-sized open wound, and by the mid-1980s it would be the size of the palm of my hand.
I was born in upper-middle Michigan, in a town called Cadillac. The census reports say that it hasn’t changed much in terms of population over the 40 years since I was born there. It’s been around 10,000 to 10,500 from 1980 until today, making it a fairly small town. I didn’t grow up in Cadillac, however— my first hometown was an even smaller town nearby that was known as Lake City.
Lake City had a population of somewhere around 840 when I was born, and the population would literally triple during the summer when people would head to that tiny town as a quiet summer resort location.
As you can imagine, there were very few other kids my age.
I was born with Scoliosis and nerve damage, and I still have faint memories of seeing plastic wrapping all over the hospital beds and other tools. I remember holes in the walls showing red brick behind it. I was the very last baby to be delivered in the old ward of the hospital; they were literally already partially through dismantling the ward at the time and were working around us as safely as possible. I can only guess they’d run out of space in the new ward and had to use that space temporarily for my emergency c-section.
This next part is the bit that many people over my lifetime have had trouble accepting because it’s such a far-fetched thing: Because of the damage they’d found, the doctor who was assigned to me (Dr. Chang) suggested that my parents try using a radical experimental method of trying to compensate and build around my problems. She suggested they try getting me into video games.
Yeah, I know, sounds pretty hard to believe. I don’t know exactly when this conversation came to pass, but it was definitely before 1980. My parents had managed to dig up a Radio Shack pong machine with a light gun from a yard sale.
There were other odd experiences in my early life pre-1980. I don’t know where my parents had obtained a Dick and Jane reader, but they’d left it in my room with my toys. By the time I was three, I could already read marginally well. My father’s repeated trips to Lansing, Mi to go to the VA Hospital there meant that I spent a lot of time asking my mother or father to read road signs to me. This persisted until the day that they responded in exasperation that I should instead read it to them. Which… I did.. to their atonishment. Between the reading exercises during trips and the reading of that basic reader book, I’d somehow managed to get reading capability at least five to six years ahead of my actual age.
My physical skills, on the other hand, were not anywhere near that. I couldn’t ice skate, catch a thrown ball, or any of a million things from a list of standard childhood behaviors. I also had no real friends, living in a town so small.
1980 would be one of the two most pivotal years of my early life. First was that my parents upgraded my Pong machine to an Atari 2600. This was a massive step up! My father also got himself into a new hobby when he bought a TRS-80 Color Computer. He had the belief that computers were going to be an increasing part of normal life and wanted to get ahead of that curve, too.
Another was the presence of a small back room at the general store in town. Terry Coaster, who ran the general store, had added that small back room to cater to the bikers who rode through the area. It had several pinball machines and several early arcade games. It was there that I was introduced to that first arcade game I’d ever play: Pac-Man.
The experience had given me a brief bout of Tachycardia, though I wouldn’t know about my father’s side of the family not dealing well with stress until I was far, far older.
These experiences would come to build up some of the foundations of who I’d be.
Ah, that other year I spoke of, the one that was also pivotal? We’ll talk about that one next post.