My mother told me she didn't like children even when she was one of them. If that isn't a beginning for a Memoir, I don't know what would be, though it may not be the beginning for a Life.
Because she was not a Bad woman, though she may not have been a very nice one, when she ran away from my father, she took me with her. Thus it was that I was ripped before dawn one wintry morning when I was five from my bed, a pull-out couch in my Grandma's living room, where I had lived for all the early years I was alive. That was in an apartment on Melwood Street in Pittsburgh where, to my mother's chagrin and deep disappointment, my father had suggested they move, right after their wedding. What she had expected as a celebration had taken place in the basement of the building where Mom(never called that, as I remember,) Helen, had lived with her parents and four brothers and sisters most of her life, till she married this supposedly rich man. At least that was what the word about him was, as well as the reputation of his father, Adolf, a name that could not have seemed more fitting.
"Why don't we just move in here?" my father, Lew W. Davis, as my Uncle Harry always referred to him, in full, had said. So that was exactly what they had done.
Because Lew, my father, worked in a drugstore, pharmaceuticals came at cost, which was lucky, as along with his credentials as a pharmacist, came hypochondria. The medicine cabinet in the one bathroom there was for all of them once his request to move in was assented to, was overfilled with what he needed to fulfill his needs, or the imagined ones. The rest of the family would wait in the hall to use the toilet while Lew performed his ablutions, as he actually called them. (Helen's most vivid bathroom experience had been, when, as a single woman, attending the University of Pittsburgh-- she was very bright-- a foetus fell out of her when she used the toilet, and she had flushed it down. So bright she wasn't, when it came to sex.)
Summers the family could overflow onto the back porch, where I gave performances of the poems I was already writing at the age of two, after my inaugural recitation of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. According to Lew, I had said that in its entirety after hearing it read only once by him, marching into the kitchen and reciting it to my mother. Helen, however, said she had taught it to me. It was never clear which of them told the truth, but that had been true about many things in my life. What was inarguable was the fact that I won The Prettiest Girl Baby in Pittsburgh contest, and had immediately reached out for the Handsomest Boy.
That was a pattern I'd kept up for most of my life, at least the Boy part. Often, instead of Handsomest, it would be the Most Challenging, or the Most Difficult. That had been true till it came to the man who would be my husband, Don, who had been the Sweetest. But as life, to be interesting, is rarely easy, so he could not stay very long. But that is another story. ( Actually a novel: the one I may never write.)
Helen woke me in the middle of a night when my father wasn't home, and spirited me to the railroad station. We took a train to D.C. where we were to change for the one to Miami. There was a layover for some hours, so we went to a movie, The Wizard of Oz. Not the happiest choice for a child experiencing acute anxiety, with her life coming apart. For the next several years every night through my dreams I was chased by the witch, played by Margaret Hamilton. One day very much later in life I chanced on that actress in a train station, and told her: "When I was a little girl..."
She interrupted me. "I know," she said. "I'm so very sorry."