Whence I Came

We are all products of our environment. Our parents have everything to do with who we are or aren’t. One day you realize parents are just regular people who procreated- they don’t have any special training. In the parent lottery, some of us are luckier than others and I consider myself one of the lucky ones.

I was born to a renaissance man who married a pragmatist. At various times my father was a tree farmer, bee keeper, sculptor, painter, artist, gardener, builder and linguist (at least he thought so). My mother was far more practical and for her, family was everything. Her motivations and actions were focused on family. My parents had their hands full with four boys and our posses.

The place I called home was a big house. Zillow describes it as 12,250 sq. ft. on two floors with ten fireplaces and a pool. They don’t include the third floor or the basement which at various times served as playrooms, darkrooms and ad hoc studios for band practice. In the big hair days of super loud rock and roll, I am certain the neighbors appreciated the bad covers of the Billboard Top Forty. I can state for a fact that you can fit a thousand kids in the house for an impromptu party when the parents are out of town.

For all the boys and our friends, it was just home- nothing special. Only as adults raising our own families, have we come to appreciate how special our childhood home was. We bitched about mowing the lawn, raking leaves and vacuuming the pool, never stopping to think we had a regulation football field for a front lawn, a tennis/basketball court in the back and a pool to cool off in or parents who gave a shit about where we were, what we were doing and where our lives would take us. My Dad encouraged us to pursue our interests, to travel, to color outside the lines and my Mom was there to make sure we didn’t stray off the page.

On any given summer weekend day, you would find a gaggle of kids in and around the pool while my Mom worked her ass off to make sure everyone was fed. Regularly, my parent’s friends joined in the fray and, as children and young adults, we learned to navigate the social sea we would one day be set adrift in. My mother demanded proper etiquette and good manners. Both of my parents demanded tolerance and inclusion. Their friends were our role models and mentors, we were fortunate indeed.

On any given summer night, you would find a gaggle of naked kids in the pool. It was a right of passage to skinny dip in the Poindexter’s pool. My parent’s bedroom was at the opposite end of the house and they generally stayed put as long as the noise level was acceptable. To my knowledge, none of us were ever busted but I have to believe my parents practiced “see no evil” because they would announce their presence well before cutting on the flood lights. Of course, there were mishaps like the time one of the girls re-dressed wet in her new green dress and left a perfect bright green ass-print on my mother’s new white custom sofa. Being the creative and punishment averse children we were, we flipped the sofa cushion and it was months before the ass-print revealed itself.

My Dad’s interests aside, he made his living as an orthodontist. He began his career as a dentist but returned to school ten years later to become an orthodontist. I now understand that his career choice dovetailed with his artistic interests and passion to help others because he could change a young person’s appearance and influence their self-esteem and confidence. He treated a number of indigent patients pro bono because he knew he could change lives. My Dad was definitely more right brained than left, but he was intellectually capable of excelling in all things academic. Practical daily life could be problematic and his problem solving was entertaining to say the least. If anything could be repaired with the tools of his trade (cement and orthodontic wire), it was. If not, duct tape and some type of adhesive would suffice. My Dad believed in education because his Dad believed in education. My Grandfather was the only one of seven children to leave the farm and go to college. He educated his own children and all of his sibling’s children. It was clear to me early on that I was expected to get an education and to excel while doing so.

My Mom is a different story and one that I have taken care and time to reflect on to do her memory justice. We were not close like some of my brothers were. I was the oldest child and my Mom put great demands on me. Our disconnect was that my Mom was not direct, she was a manipulator. If she wanted or expected something, she never asked directly, she would find an indirect, and often guilt laden, way to deliver the message. My Mom was determined that I would follow in my Dad’s academic footsteps which was daunting since he was National Honor Society in high school and graduated pre-med from Duke University and University of Pennsylvania Dental school Magna Cum Laude. I remember playing with his Phi Beta Kappa key as a child. All in all, I managed the National Honor Society but graduated Davidson College as “Didn’t Flunk Outta”. School, in general, did not interest me but fortunately it came easy enough for me to earn a college degree.

My earliest memory of my disconnect with my Mom came on the first day of school heading into the fourth grade. I should have sensed something was afoot when she told me she was driving me to school (we walked ten miles each way uphill in the snow for our entire elementary school career). On the way, she told me that I had been selected for the “Accelerated Class”. I didn’t know exactly what it was, but I sensed I was being carved out of the herd. Turns out, she had decided for me that I would be a nerd for the rest of my elementary school career. Everyone else rotated classmates each year but not us, we were together for all three years. My classmates were and are great people, but kids want to be accepted not ostracized and we were definitely the nerd class to our peers. I was incensed that my Mom had made the decision without discussing it and sprung it on me at the last minute. I expressed my displeasure after walking home from school and was informed that my parents had tested my IQ. I asked what it was and the answer was “we know what you are capable of”. I still have no idea what my IQ is, but it must be over 70. The pattern would repeat itself throughout my life. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my Mom and I now have a perspective on how her childhood made her who she was.

4 thoughts on “Whence I Came

  • Beautifully worded, as always…I so agree with the fact that parenting has no handbook….I came to understand that my parents did not have examples of being a parent…they were raised by immigrants who knew nothing but hard work..that’s why photos of the old days had such solemn expressions…I made my own way

  • There are exceptions to every axiom. As one adopted as an infant—a war baby, if you will—I wonder daily how I became who I am. I share zero traits with my adoptive parents. While I have been able to finally learn who my birthparents are, both are deceased. I have half-siblings I’ve never met so I can glean nothing from them. Additionally, information regarding my heritage imbued upon me from my earliest remembrance has been determined to be an out right falsehood. It turns out I really was a blank slate upon which I chose and I applied the colors, hues and nuances that would define me. Perhaps I unconsciously chose to not follow the lead of the adults that influenced my childhood. I honestly do not know. If nothing else, what I learned from my earliest memories is that I always had a choice. I dont know how I knew that but know it, I did. And the more I was told I couldn’t choose, the more I chose. I still choose today…every day, every hour, every moment. An inherent right, not taught…not learned…inherent. You made the right choices, Clay Poindexter. Good job!

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