Reasonably Humble Beginnings
I was born the youngest of three children to a traditional family back in the 60s. By that I mean my mom stayed home with us and my dad was the breadwinner. Throughout our lives, no matter what demons he was struggling with he provided for us. For the biggest part of my life he was on the road as a salesman five days a week and was home on weekends. He was a functioning alcoholic. No matter what he was doing the night before, he always went in to work. For that, I can never thank him enough. Not only did we not have to suffer being hungry, homeless or worse but he taught us in his own way to not let a personal demon keep you from doing what you must.
Jeff Visits Too Much
Although I don’t remember much from my very early years, I do remember the last two places we lived. One was in a suburb of Chicago and the final one was a suburb of Cleveland. I made quick friends with the neighborhood kids and most of these friendships lasted into at least elementary school. For me school was a dream come true. When else in your life are you going to be able to meet so many different people and then get to see them five days a week? This mindset continued on into and through high school. I knew so many people that I never walked down a hallway without being able to talk or joke with somebody. Unfortunately, this habit continued on into the classroom and many of my teachers didn’t think broadening my social skills was of paramount importance in their curriculum-HA! My report cards frequently made mention of how “Jeff tends to visit too much with his neighbors.” I don’t think I ever got scolded for that by my mom because she always enjoyed the company of others and she saw this as a positive character trait. Thank God for mom! Besides I was always at or above my grade’s requirements (except for math for some reason) so what’s the beef there?
Performance Bug Bites Me
Mainly because my sister had played and quit earlier, I was the recipient of a trombone and I actually took it up at school. Like any kid that age, practicing was a bore and no kid that age sees the bigger picture. Plus, neither of my parents were musical so it didn’t come as a surprise that I didn’t want to continue it into what we called junior high or middle school. Plus, I’d heard the junior high teacher was mean or something so I just stopped playing. One of the biggest mistakes of my life but I’ll get back to that.
I have no idea how this came about except possibly a children’s show that must have featured Jimmy Nelson. I don’t remember watching the show but somehow I asked for and got a Danny O’Day ventriloquist doll for Christmas. Oddly enough, my story and Jimmy Nelson’s started out the same. I got this doll so I learned how to do ventriloquism. I then would take him to school and perform for groups of other kids in all grades. I remember that I memorized a short script to sort of improvise from. I do remember how much I loved watching the kids laugh and who doesn’t love applause, huh? I still can’t believe it when I think back on this because I seemed to have again completely drop this when I left elementary school. Sure, I know ventriloquist dummies were not exactly “cool” for junior high students but I’m still not sure that’s why I quit. I DO believe that this was yet another attempt by God or The Universe (or whatever you care to call it) to get me in front of an audience to do what I was put on this planet to do: make people’s lives better by allowing them to feel a positive emotion
I finished off my years in elementary school with a ton of great memories and a zest for what was to come in junior high. Of course, like any kid, it was a new place with older kids I didn’t know YET but that didn’t daunt me. After all, I already DID know a whole bunch of kids that would be going with me there. Like I’ve said many times. I really enjoyed school the whole way through to high school graduation. During elementary school I also played football and softball. The athletics were things I also enjoyed for the recreation and team building aspects even if I didn’t know it at the time. Athletics also gave me a base line to realize when I was and wasn’t being very good to my body and giving it the exercise it needed. This too would resurface other times in my life.
One Happy Kid
I credit my mom for most of my social skills. Don’t get me wrong. My dad was a salesman and by no means a recluse. He knew how to make people like him and laugh with him even when he wasn’t drinking. I do think drinking may have made it easier which is another trait all of the kids kind of inherited as well. I believe we all also got the anxiety trait from her too. Even with her quick smile and laugh she still could find one thousand reasons something was not going to work before the one way it would. I loved her and miss her dearly but I had to introduce that because it too is a theme that resurfaces at different points in my life. This is NOT about blaming somebody for what’s wrong with me or any such nonsense. It’s about examining my upbringing to tell a story.
My mom would later in life tell me that she remembers I was such a happy kid and then she would half-kiddingly ask “So what happened?” It wasn’t until very recently having some therapy about my early life that I discovered the irony in that question. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me finish elementary school off by saying gashing my leg in an accident in fifth grade and having an appendectomy in sixth grade can do wonders for your popularity as well-LOL!
So, I headed into junior high full of anticipation, incredibly well adjusted and totally enjoying my huge posse of friends and acquaintances. Life was indeed great!