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  • One of the things I truly love about Cowbird is that it is so dynamic. The landscape is constantly changing, new energy gets added daily as newcomer story-tellers join us and bring their unique perspectives as story-tellers to our community. I have my regulars who I follow, and eagerly look forward to their next postings. But I also look forward to reading brand new stories from brand new story-tellers (brand new to Cowbird, that is.) Some, I just know from the first story I read that I’m going to enjoy their energy and perspective. I felt that way reading Annmarie Brennan’s first couple of entries.

    Annmarie talked in her story “Slow to Warm Up” about “reading somewhere that your earliest memory is a clue to your inner self”. What an interesting concept! I loved the story she told about how her earliest memory tied directly to who she is, or who she sees herself as.

    While I am on the complete opposite end of that Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator (MBTI) test – I’m an off-the-charts “E”, and love being in the middle of a crowd and get all charged up being around people – I thought about my earliest memory, and it kind of fit that concept – I think. I’ve previously written about this event, but in light of Annmarie’s story, I thought I’d take another look at it.

    I was the 6th of 7 children in my family, the 5th of 5 boys. I was born in 1954, smack in the middle of the baby boom era. Large families like this were the norm in those days. I had 42 first cousins, and growing up, we were always visiting cousins and there were tons of kids around. I was in my element.

    With my family so big, and Dad worked hard, but wasn’t exactly raking it in, we couldn’t afford fancy vacations. There were no such things as “allowances” in my family. If you wanted money to spend, you got a job. Back then, kids delivered newspapers, and once my oldest brother got a morning paper route, that became the family business for the next 10 years or so. I began delivering papers when I was 5.

    But my earliest memory goes back to when I was 2 ½ - it was the summer of 1957. We were at “the cottage”, a wonderful vacation spot right on Pymatuming Lake in Western Pennsylvania. The cottage was where we spent most of our summer vacations when I was growing up. This was due to the wonderful generosity of my Dad’s older sister, Lollie, and her amazing husband, Roman Eichenlaub. They always invited our large family to come stay at the cottage for a couple of weeks in the middle of the summer.

    It was a wonderful place for us kids. Some of my fondest memories of growing up are from the cottage. There would always be fresh berries to pick, it’s where I first learned to fish, and there would be wonderful picnics on islands way out in the huge, man-made lake that we’d go out to in Uncle Roman’s little motor boat and the Daffins’ larger yacht. It was really a magical place for a young boy, and was the background of many of my rich fantasy scenarios that I would often play out in my mind as a young lad.

    Parts of this earliest of my conscious memories remain etched in my mind as if it happened last year, not 55 years ago. Mom and Aunt Lollie went into town (Jamestown) to go shopping, and I went along with them. We went in Lollie’s wood-paneled station wagon. I can still vividly remember the old store, the rich smells of it - there was a place around the side of the store where you could buy worms for fishing, and the store itself had tables filled with fruits and vegetables of all sorts, big ripe tomatoes and bushels of the tastiest, melt-in-your-mouth corn on the cob, and several aisles with shelves full of various canned and boxed goods.

    There were also various toys up near the register that could be purchased. My eye was drawn to a set of 3 colorful styrofoam plastic balls in a mesh bag, a small blue one, a medium organge one, and a large one. I begged Mom to buy them for me, which she did. I would watch the older boys playing baseball in front of the cottage, and it looked like so much fun – now, I had my own set of balls to play with!

    Upon our return to the cottage, there was indeed a game of baseball being played right in front of the cottage, and I eagerly ran over to my brother Chris and asked him if he would hit one of my new balls for me. I asked him if he could hit it all the way down to the railroad tracks.

    He laughed and said that he would give it his best shot. Poor Chris never expected that I would stand there right behind him to watch the feat as he tossed that styrofoam ball up in the air, wound the bat back and gave it a good, hard swing with everything he had. As he completed his powerful stroke, there was a loud crack that one would not expect to hear from a wooden bat hitting a styrofoam ball. The cracking sound was my nose being broken by the bat, which just crushed it on the back-swing!

    Everything went dark and quiet, and then I was laying on the ground, and really felt nothing at all, at first. All the older kids had gathered around me, and Chris was just beside himself as he bent down to tend to me – it was just about that point that I noticed all of the blood, and realized it was all coming from me! I thought for sure that I was dying, and became frightened beyond belief. A towel filled with ice was quickly produced, and there was a swirl of activity going on all around me, and I grew more and more frightened and could barely catch my breath I was crying so hard and loudly. At some point, I was carried into the cottage and laid down on one of the benches by the windows, still crying my eyes out and scared beyond belief.

    Then, my cousin Janey, several years older than me, a very pretty blonde haired girl who I thought was like a princess, sat behind my head on the bench, looked at me and said, with a soothing voice, “Don’t cry, Pete. You’re a big boy, and big boys don’t cry.” I immediately started choking back the tears and stopped crying as Janey kept calmly talking to me, saying how proud she was of me and what a big boy I was. I was always a sucker for a pretty girl, and Janey talked me down from the edge of sheer panic with her calming voice and presence.

    It was so far from the cottage to the nearest hospital, by the time they got me there, there was nothing to be done but wait until I was 18 or 19, when my nose would be fully developed and they could “re-break” it to put it back where it was supposed to be on my face. However, I would take matters into my own hands. I broke it twice more, once at age 16 playing football, and once at age 19 in a barroom brawl in the Navy. As a result, I never needed the follow up surgery. These breaks “fixed” it.

    But, for the rest of that summer when I was 2 1/2, my broken nose made me the center of attention, and I loved every minute of it. I’m sure I never would have remembered that summer but for that broken nose.
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