Me and Hart Lyon

At the Beginning: Page One

I was born in St. Margaretís Hospital in Montgomery, Alabama, on August 28, 1913. This event was not attended by Halleyís Comet, as was the case with Mark Twain.

After I had been sufficiently born I was brought to 307 Mildred Street, the home of my parents, in the Penick (pronounced Peenick) Apartments. The Penick Apartments were small brick houses, but called apartments because they were glued together by common walls. These walls must have been pretty thick because we never heard the neighbors.

There were four apartments on Mildred Street, and four, at right angles, on Mulberry Street. This semi-square was squared off in the backyard by a tall board fence. There were a couple of empty, optimistic garages if any of us got affluent. There were also eight large chicken coopsóone for each apartment. Chickens were executed by our janitor, Reuben. When I was a little boy this didnít bother me. Now it would bother me a lot.

When I was four my fatherís business (he sold candy) was not good, and we moved to my motherís house in Newark, N.J., for a year or so. My motherís father had a large house on Shanley Avenue. He had established the I. Lewis Cigar Manufacturing Company, a successful business. I donít remember my grandfather well, but I liked him.

I have a few memories from Newark. I remember falling off the porch, and my Uncle Donald digging me out of four feet of snow. And I remember a Galapagos tortoise in the backyard. He was so big, and I was so small, I could sit on his back.

Across the street from our house was an empty lot. There I used to play marbles, for keeps, with a little kid from down the block. One day I bankrupted himówon all his marbles and ten cents besides. Apparently I was born with a gambling instinct. Fortunately, it came with a good sense of probabilities. My advice to the unborn is, donít be born with a gambling instinct unless you have a good sense of probabilities.

In the field where we played marbles, there were lots of weeds. That summer they got pretty high and dry. I considered what lighting a match to them would do. I tried it, and the effect was better than expected. It started a roaring fire. I departed the scene early, and before the fire was discovered was a couple of blocks away. I was suspected but had such an innocent look that nobody could be sure. The fire was picturesque and also dangerous. It could have lapped over to the houses. Fortunately, it didnít. As the reader can see, I was rotten from the beginning. Later, my fatherís hairbrush didnít knock it all out of me.

* * *

When I was five we left Newark to return to the Penick Apartments in Montgomery. The one we returned to was 308 Mildred Street. It had two advantages over our previous apartment. It was an end apartment, with windows that gave us a side view. Also it had a small tree on the lawn. I loved to climb that tree. At the corner of Mildred and Mulberry Streets, there was a big old house. On its lawn was a great magnolia tree with white blossoms, the shape of melons. They smelled wonderful. That was the nice part of the house. The other part of the house was two kids, six and seven years old, named Sam and Charlie Gordon. They were tough cookies. I was six when Sam was six. One day I got in a fight with him, or rather Sam started a fight. Some of my friends were around so although I was scared to fight, I was more scared not to fight. So I fought. Apparently, it was a draw because Sam stopped. I was complimented by my friends, but I was not happy about the situation.

A few weeks later I found myself, fortunately, in front of my own houseóat least I thought it was fortunateóin a debate with Charlie, who was a tougher cookie than Sam. We exchanged comments that could not be mistaken for flattery. The name of the game was to look tough. I saw my mother peeking out the window, and I thought, ďOh, thank goodness, sheís going to get me out of this,Ē but she had more wisdom than that. I was shaking in my boots, although barefoot, but somehow I bluffed my way through, and Charlie went away. I went inside and asked Mother why she hadnít helped me. She said that would have made things worse, heíd have caught me the next day.

Except for the fight with Sam Gordon I donít think Iíve ever had an actual fight. I used to wrestle in the fourth grade, at recess, with my friend Willie Winkenhopper, but that was for fun. And nobody ever won. I love the name Willie Winkenhopper. Iím not making it up.

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