CHAPTER  THREE - PART A

GIFTS

 

 

INTRO TO GIFTS

 

As a little boy, I was painfully aware that I was different. I couldn't learn in school but yet thought I was smart. Punishment from my teachers was frequent and I admit that I welcomed trouble in an attempt to lead my educators and fellow students to believe that I was the bad kid.  It was much less nerve-wracking than the worry that others might think of me as the "dumb kid." My father's coaching saved me and continues to be a personal source of inspiration.

 

  

 

Do You See It, Nelson?

 

 

McAlisterville, PA—1969—Brons—Age six

 

I tried.  I gave it everything I had yet could not keep that bicycle upright.  I did what my brother Craig and his friend Jack told me to do, and it didn't work for me. "Didn't work for me," is not code speak for "because I'm"dyslexic," it simply means that it didn't work for me.  

 

Jack said, "Okay, Nelson, sit on the bike, and I'll run part way down the driveway with you and then let go.  Just pedal like crazy from there!"

 

Straight down at the end of the driveway was our backyard; slightly off to the left was Mr. and Mrs. Yeisley’s backyard. 

 

Jack did what he said he would do, and I followed his instructions, but it was as if a demon possessed the pedals. Furthermore, a preponderance of the evidence clearly showed that I had hold of the handlebars, but I can tell you that I was not in control of any part of that bike.   

 

Much to my chagrin, Mrs. Yeisley's clothesline post became the bikes de facto breaking mechanism. The front wheel flew off, the forks bent toward the east end of town, and the handlebars pointed west toward Bob Watts' cornfield.  

 

Mrs. Yeisley quickly appeared from her kitchen with a warm, wet washcloth in hand. Having an older lady scrub your face in the presence of your peers after such a debacle is always the next measure of obligatory humiliation.  She told me not to worry myself with her now crooked clothesline post as she applied ice to the goose-egg protruding from my forehead. I would have been much more satisfied with a split skull that spilled my brains, ending my life and sparing me of the dubious honor of being the only six-year-old in McAlisterville who couldn't ride a bike.  

 

I felt bad enough for destroying Jack's only form of transportation (Dad provided proper cash relief for the damages) but now, to top it off, I was the laughingstock of the neighborhood.  

 

I had a bike of my own, courtesy of my father and Wayne Schlegel's Mercantile.  It was the same good looking ride that would later earn me the nickname "Bronson," but I didn't want to get it out of the garage and risk someone seeing the training wheels. So the next day Dad took them off,  sat the bike broadside on the front porch and instructed me to sit in a chair next to it. 

 

Dad started in his calm voice, "Okay, Nelson, I want you to put yesterday's bike wreck out of your mind. Relax in the chair and narrow your focus.  I want you to look at the bike for ten minutes and figure out how it works. Don't think about how Jack told you to ride it. Examine its operation in your mind. You own that bike, that bike doesn't own you. If you have questions, I'm here, but other than that I'm just going to stay quiet until the time is up," Dad said.

 

I stared at it, moving my eyes from one component to the next and talking inside my head as confidence and deep relaxation fell over me. 

 

"Okay, the hand grips control the handlebars that control that up-and-down bar that gives direction to the sideways movement of the front wheel," I told myself. 

 

I continued to stare and study and speak quietly inside my head. 

 

"But take the up-and-down bar out of it—don't think about it, just trust that the wheel moves with the hand grips," I said to myself.  

 

I determined those movements in concert with one another dictated the direction the bike would carry me.  

 

My gaze moved to the pedals and began a secondary investigation as I restarted the verbal analysis in my mind.  

 

"The pedals move that round jaggy plate that bites into the chain, then that chain goes to that other jaggy plate and bites it to move the back wheel. Okay, I get that.  But what I don't get is how I keep from falling over when riding."

 

I paused to ask Dad a question, "What are those two jaggy plates called on each end of the chain?"

 

"They're called sprockets," Dad replied.

 

"Sprockets, okay. That's a funny word, but okay. Thanks, Dad."

 

I closed my eyes, and a pattern emerged as I imagined other kids I knew on their bikes. The common denominator among the bicyclist in my head was that not one of them seemed a bit worried that they might fall over -- they just rode, laughed, and hollered at each other as they pumped the pedals.  

 

I quickly arrived at the fact that my problem was overthinking the bike’s operation. I concluded that my friends stayed upright on their bikes because they didn't know enough to fall over.  The pedals/chain/sprockets/wheel action created forward power, speed and constant rotation of the skinny tires against the pavement. The front handlebars may have looked as if they were under the control of my friend's hands, but were, in all reality, controlled by something in their brain. That "something" was void of any deliberate thought until such thought became necessary for a direction change or to stop.  It was like going for a walk, in that there was no thinking involved. At the same time, I concluded that riding a bike was as close to flying through the air as a kid could get, and I was all about that! My friends weren't defying gravity but completely unaware that they possessed an ability somewhere deep in the recesses of their minds to get one over on the laws of nature.

 

It was the previous Christmas that I had received my all-time favorite gift, a Superman suit; it was identical to the real thing! 

 

Based on my belief that I, too, could soar high above the clouds, and my actual attempts at flight (including my famous leap from a moving car), my real dad and my secondary dad-like figure (our next door neighbor Mr. Frank Yeisley) determined they should provide me with an in-depth understanding of gravity. They spent hours one night demonstrating with tennis ball, furniture and other objects that made their point.  The instruction lasted so late into the evening that an entire fifth of Canadian Club slipped the bonds of its vessel. By the conclusion of the lesson, Dad and Frank were sufficiently pickled but confident there would be no more leaps from moving cars and that my neck was safe from fractures. I gained a fabulous, albeit disappointing, knowledge as it pertained to my inability to achieve flight under my own power.  

 

Now, as my eyes dodged to the front of the bike and again to the back,  faster and faster, back to front, I realized I might be able to manipulate gravity.

 

Dad broke the outward silence and my internal dialog.  

 

"Do you see it, Nelson?"

 

"Yes, Dad, I see it."

 

"Good job, Nelson. Tell me how it works.  I want you to break it down and number the steps." 

 

"I don't understand, Dad, what you mean by number the steps." 

 

"If there are three parts or four parts to understanding how to ride the bike I want you to number each as you explain it to me."

 

"Oh, oh, yeah, okay, I get that Dad." 

  

"One, the front of the bike has it easy like a boss who makes all the decisions. 

 

Two, the back of the bike is a worker doing all the hard stuff. 

 

Is this what you mean by numbering it, Dad?"

 

"Yep, you got it, Nelson."  

 

"Three, to stay upright, you just don't think about it. It's like breathing or blinking or other things we do without thinking." 

 

"Good job, Nelson I think you have this! Now get on the bike and ride out to Charlie the Millionaire's house without stopping.  Turn around and come back, and watch out for cars. But, before you go, you know what plan B is, right?”

 

I nodded my head reluctantly. Plan B was the extra motivation I needed—those training wheels were not going back on that bike if I could help it! 

 

I road the bike flawlessly to Charlie's and back!  Then I did it again and again and again. It was so exhilarating that I couldn't stop.  

 

There Were Five Firsts That Day:

 

1.) It was the first time I successfully rode a bike.

 

2.) It was the first time that I experienced what I initially called the "smart feeling." Years later I referred to it as "zoning," and ultimately would come to a clinical understanding that I was experiencing a massive amount of dopamine bouncing between receptors in my brain.

 

3.) It was the first day of a lifelong search for answers as I tried to figure out why, what, and who am I. 

 

4.) It was the first time my coach/dad asked me to number the steps of a solution to a problem.

 

5.) It was the first time I heard my coach/dad ask, "Do you see it, Nelson?"

 

Many years later while sitting in a psychologist's office I realized something important that took me right back to that moment on the porch with my dad and the bike. Working with the therapist was part of my participation in an occupational/vocational rehabilitation program where I was taught self-hypnosis as a way of improving focus. I realized that I had been hypnotized, and hypnotized myself, hundreds if not thousands of times before.  I never knew that was what I was doing when I solved problems. I learned it from Dad, and I'm sure he didn't realize it either. It was one of the many highly effective strategies he developed on his own and passed on to me. Thanks, Dad!

 

 

Why Couldn’t Everyone See What Dotty Saw

 

 

Our two-doors-down neighbor, Dotty Booker, told me all the time, “Brons, you're my image of the all-American-boy.  MY GOD, I think you're such a good-looking guy with your blond crew cut and those twinkling blue eyes!  Where do you get all that energy?  I wish I had some of your pep!" 

 

Dotty made me feel good, but I couldn't figure out why her husband, Mr. Donald Booker, always insulted me. I never did anything to him! 

For as much as Dotty complimented me, her husband ran me down. Every time she said something kind about me he looked at her in amazement and repeated the same ugly words while shaking his head back and forth. "The little boy is SOOO articulate; I've never met a little boy who was so articulate! He must get that from his daddy." The worst part was Dotty NEVER corrected him!  I figured Mr. Booker was the boss at their house and Dotty didn't dare stand up to him. How dare he call me "Little AND articulate" to boot! To think Mr. Booker pretends to be my dad's friend. I'll show him, I thought to myself. Someday I will grow up to be BIG, and no one will dare call me ARTICULATE, whatever THAT means! 

 

I forgave Dotty; she couldn't help that she married such a mean husband.  I wished everyone could see what Dotty Booker saw in me. 

 

 

Then There Was Gunther 

 

Gunther was huge with scaly green skin covered in bumps and warts and fins. Runny gunk oozed from his eyes and crusted on his cheeks. 

His invisibility cloak also served to masks his odor from other kids. Surely my teachers could see him every bit as well as I could. I understood why they feared him and were forced to do his bidding. Why else would my teachers dislike me so much? I had no choice but to face him alone with no help from anyone.  

 

The gator's stink hit me right away each morning as I walked through the doors of our elementary school. The smell of the floor wax in the hallway rubbed against the slime on his low hanging belly and created a stench alerting me that the prehistoric lurker was near.  Gunther the Gator's hot breath reeked of rubber erasers, chalk dust, paste and grindings from the pencil sharpener. Gunther gorged on the powdered hand soap from the boy's room. His swampy musk never left our school and permeated everything from the bulletin boards to the curtains, my clothing, and even the walls. His vile odor was everywhere. The gator smelled like our school, and our school smelled like the gator. When my stomach tied itself in knots, and I couldn't eat my lunch the hideous reptile was to blame. 

 

The gator was on a mission to convince me that I was the "dumb kid."  The second I forgot about him and felt joy or smiled or laughed or tried to be a typical schoolboy, he whispered in my ear, "I'm big, and you're puny and stupid." 

 

I was careful of Gunther's claws! What if he scratched me open and the other kids got a glimpse of what a tangled mess I was on the inside? They might even see what Mr. Donald Booker sees when he looks at me, I thought to myself.

 

Gunther, an evil dark creature from the swamp, was my tormentor bent on filling me full of feelings I was unequipped to deal with, and that was the reason I created him and needed him.  

 

Much like kids create an imaginary friend to cope with loneliness, I produced an enemy to deal with my pain. I refused to accept that my teachers didn't like me.  It wrenched my guts to think that anyone could ever think of me as "dumb."  Even more than that, I didn't want Dad to be disappointed in me for breaking one of his edicts. My father's rules forbade me from hating anyone for any reason. 

 

I was not at all delusional, but fully cognizant and equipped with the powerful imagination of a neurodiverse child. I was completely aware of what I was doing but saddened that I was creating a diabolical monster in my mind.  I could not understand why I was a poor student or why I had feelings of hatred toward others. The monstrous gator was my proverbial scapegoat. I found a "something" instead of a "someone" to take my hate. 

 

I swore to myself that this was the one story that I would never share as I thought it might make my readers think I was a volatile kid. That thought is hard for me to accept, but the very real truth is that I was a deeply troubled youngster filled with more anxiety than a child can adequately process.  Although my teachers in 1970s McAlisterville, Pennsylvania thought they had appropriately pegged my "problems," using descriptors like lazy and defiant, no one knew how to reach or teach me because they had no understanding of how my mind worked.

 

I look back and sadly admit that I was a boy filled with an enormous amount of anger, rage, and resentment.

 

I've certainly come to realize that an academically neglected child is far more likely to commit an act of violence. Start adding in features such as bullying, abuse, and problems at home, and a child like me becomes the news story that leaves everyone asking, "why?" People wonder, "how could this happen?"  

 

We need to stop scratching our heads and start using our heads. 

I'm certainly not saying that all school violence is the result of academically neglected kids. Nor am I saying all academically neglected kids are violent. The FBI is at a loss to pin down a profile on school shooters. However, it's not hard to gain a consensus that happy, well-achieving students with a good support network aren't in the recipe when seriously considering profiles.

 

It's kids like 1970s-me who feel anger and humiliation that become lightning rods for violence.  I can tell you from personal experience that nothing fills a young boy's heart with hate any faster than the fear of wearing the label of "the dumb kid."  It's a fact society needs to recognize and do something about immediately, as in right now, not tomorrow, next week, or next time. Right now.

 

 

THE TWO MEs, SCHOOL, AND THE EXPERIENTIAL LEARNER  

 

Set in McAlisterville, PA—The early 1970s  

 

I reinvented myself every afternoon at 3:30 pm, imagining myself as a happy boy in a Norman Rockwell painting, bursting through the schoolhouse doors of McAlisterville Elementary as I ran for freedom.

 

I rocketed across the hodgepodge of brick, blacktop, and concrete sidewalks on my way to the rendezvous point to meet the other me. It was a daily transformation from the frightened second, third, fourth, fifth grader who vowed to someday vanquish Gunther the Gator to Dotty Booker's image of me as the all American boy.  I paused to catch my breath at the magic spot in front of the bright red overhead doors of McAlisterville's all-volunteer fire company. One breath, two breaths, breath three, and by the fourth exhale the change was complete. 

 

My imagination trapped Gunther inside the masonry walls of the school, refusing to allow him to follow me into my domain!  Like the terrifying gator that no other kid could see, busy locals were totally unaware that I owned the town, if only in my mind.  

 

I was the lookout, guard dog, the defender, and historian. Nothing happened in my town that I didn't know about or wouldn't discover. Observing with all five senses, I eavesdropped, employed subtle interrogation, and kept my ear to the ground. Copious mental notes stacked up in my memory catacombs while I connected dots and looked for patterns. It was my "thing." It was fun, easy, and it came naturally to me.  

 

My little town (population: 800) provided an epic ensemble. Laid out before me was a proving ground to demonstrate that I wasn't a dummy.

 

The Gods from Central Casting unzipped the sky above McAlisterville, Pennsylvania and dropped in the most splendid mix of colorful and chaotic characters anyone could have ever cooked up.  Furthermore, the Gods appointed ME the director and bestowed upon my person a stealthy curiosity with a steel-trap memory and a sponge-like brain. As if that weren't enough, at my disposal were four highly accomplished storytelling mentors, A.K.A. the McAlisterville Ratpack.  

 

Most importantly, the Gods of Central Casting blessed me with the ability to see what was extraordinary in this seemingly ordinary bunch of McAlistervillens. To this day I hardly feel worthy of the honor.

 

Amply sprinkled all around me was a collection of lovable, crusty, charming individuals filled with grit and spit. Here I was, a boy who flunked reading and couldn't even write my name, trying to figure out what I did to deserve a hometown like THIS!  That's what I mean when I say my childhood would have been near perfect if it hadn't been for a thing called school! 

 

The McAlistervillens were unknowingly part of a conspiracy to prepare me for my future business card: "writer."   I had no ambitions of becoming a writer and certainly had no grasp of what writers did. I was still holding out hope that I could turn things around with my grades and become a lawyer.

 

Every day after school I picked up where I'd left off that morning: studying the cast, absorbing information while separating, correlating and storing every little detail. I sized up characters, drew mental parallels and relationships between every person, family, businesses, and co-workers.  Connecting dots, connecting dots, connecting dots: who, what, why, when, where, how, connecting dots, connecting dots.

 

Subgroups emerged in need of exploration and understanding. There was the hilarious but well-intentioned volunteer fire company, not to mention the Lions Club who constructed our community swimming pool, sourcing it with mountain water so cold that it created the Shrinking Violet Panic of 1970. 

 

Mary Dorner announced her two sons, Todd and Daryl (not their real names), were the victims of what she described as "shrinking scrotums" that took on a violet hue and was surely a result of food allergies. She went on to say, "According to a magazine article I read about allergic reactions, my boys will never be able to make babies."  Mrs. Dorner insisted Dr. Yoder was a quack for not diagnosing the obvious. Doc said, "For the love of God, Mary, it's the cold water at the swimming pool," but she vehemently disagreed and worked diligently at spreading the word. "Future McAlistervillens in the form of grandchildren will never arrive if we don't address the problem of Shrinking Violet Scrotums," she told anyone who would listen.  She warned, "No girl will ever want to marry a McAlisterville boy." Mary's sterility awareness campaign resulted in a non-baby-making-confidence among teenagers that resulted in a surge of teen pregnancy and Doc Yoder's vindication. 

 

We had the clique-y East Juniata Women's Club, the elusive Order of Odd Fellows, and the even more elusive Masons.  Almost every cast member fell into a subgroup spurred on by the primal desire to belong. The most interesting characters were those who felt no need to identify with any group.  They made up what I called the "Not Joining Any Club, Club."

 

I identified patterns of movement, behaviors, and habits among locals and watched situations unfold and theorized multiple scenarios as to how they'd play out. I saw when trouble was brewing, viewed problems in their conception and infancy with the hope that they'd be cut short by a solution. I witnessed other problems as they grew to their pinnacle of consequence, or worse yet, ballooned unchecked into utter heartbreak. All along the trail were dots in need of connection; I embraced the "responsibility."   

 

You Remember Mom, Right?

 

Readers met and fell in love with her in my memoir, and had a peek of her in an earlier chapter of this book, but here's all of her, the star of the show: MOM! 

 

You know how a person thinks something in their head, but then thinks better of allowing it to roll off their tongue? Yeah, that's not Mom. Mom is famous for saying what she thinks the second she thinks it, and her gift for language is truly impressive.  Mom is to any situation and curse words what a sommelier is to fine dining and proper wine pairing. 

 

 

 

Mom's Commentary On Just A Few Of The Cast Members Of "McALISTERVILLENS" 

 

Charlie The Millionaire, His Wife, And Trixie Too!

 

Charlie the Millionaire lived in the stately brick house out by the road, bore a strong resemblance to Alfred Hitchcock, and smoked Cubans. One phone call arranged for a nefarious smuggler, covertly operating under the darkness of night to ferry the precious puffs across the Gulf of Mexico. How the millionaire got the contraband from Florida to Pennsylvania is anybody's guess but not something Charlie ever shared. 

 

Charlie was in the candle business and his wife, Caroline, was forever in the dying business.  Mom said, "Caroline is a nutbag-hypochondriac." Charlie's wife had three dozen or more deadly diseases, numerous complications and too many run-of-the-mill maladies to count. Her "conditions" ranged from gout to gallstones, from bunions to bursitis to every mysterious illness that had ever received air on Caroline's favorite thirty minutes of the day, the CBS Evening News with Howard Cronkite. The weather, be it hot, cold, damp, or sticky was always a contributing factor to her suffering. 

 

Charlie and Caroline's little dog, Trixie, was in the eating business: fresh, never frozen, ground filet mignon delivered daily.  She preferred it raw. 

 

Mom said, "Charlie is a very kind gentleman. However, if you're stupid enough to cross him, you'll get a lesson you deserve in how ruthless, cutthroats do business." Mom was right, case and point: 

 

The Federal Powers That Be built a new post office in McAlisterville to accommodate Charlie's shipping needs but failed to honor the candle magnate's request for a shipping dock.  In retaliation, Charlie refused to ship out of McAlisterville for one year, opting instead to use a post office the next town over. 

 

Just as the McAlisterville Post Office was ready to shutter, Charlie quietly re-requested a loading dock. It was twice the size and cost of his original wishes. The postal service was more than happy to oblige.  Mom still says they were a "bunch of dumb shits for messing with Charlie in the first place!" 

 

When Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev visited President and Mamie Eisenhower in Washington,  Mrs. Khrushchev said, "Hey, Mamie, wherever did you get those delightful candles?" 

 

Mamie said, "Oh, Neena we get those from Charlie in McAlisterville, Pennsylvania!"

 

From that moment on, Cold War embargo be damned, Charlie not only sold his patented "Never Burn Down Candles," to the White House, fifty governor's mansions, every church in America with a checking account, Ike and Mamie's Eisenhower's Gettysburg farmhouse, fashionable restaurants in The Big Apple, The Big Easy, and The Biggest Little City in the World; he also supplied the Kremlin in Moscow.  

 

 

The Cobbler

 

 

By day, Mr. Wayne Goodling, a lankier version of Mayberry's Floyd the barber, owned the shoe store right across the road from Charlie the Millionaire's home.  Mr. Goodling provided and repaired "Footwear For the Whole Family." The cobbler subjected himself to every smelly, disgusting foot in a thirty mile radius and made a tidy profit doing so. By night, Wayne and his wife Mabel lived next door to us. Mom thought the world of Miss Mabel, so much so that she told her, "You have a blank check to just go ahead and fan Nelson's ass a good one anytime you think he needs it."  It never happened, but Mabel looked eager for the opportunity. 

 

Mom said, "WE" could all take a lesson from Mr. Goodling.  He's a good Christian who never uttered a cuss word. I'm telling you that man wouldn't say shit for a bucket full."

 

I think Mom needed to brush up on her grammar, "WE" probably wasn't the appropriate pronoun. 

 

 

That Nasty S.O.B.

 

Across the road from our house was Mr. Freyermuth, the chain smoker, or as Mom referred to him, "That dirty rotten prick, Jim."  Mom wasn't sure "How in the hell Betty puts up with that nasty S.O.B. I mean to tell you, if that man were my husband I'd be in jail for murder. I'd cut his throat in his sleep." 

 

I have to admit, I try not to go past the occasional damn, or hell, and never swear on stage or the radio, but that Mr. Freyermuth was one nasty fellow. 

 

Mr. James Freyermuth was, without a doubt, the meanest man in town. He yelled at every kid in the neighborhood. Dad said, "Jim just needs to feel important."  There was a meeting right after Christmas 1970 amongst some of the people in the neighborhood who thought that perhaps Jim needed a beatdown for yelling at all the kids.  Dad said, "There will be none of that. I'll talk to Jim." Dad was a peacemaker, but Mom thought it was just a matter of time until Jim was back to his "prickish ways." Mom told me, "Nelson, you ignore that S.O.B., and if he ever as much as lays a finger on you I want to know about it right away!" I would have bet on Mom in that spar, but then again maybe that goes without saying, as I would have plunked my wager with Mom in any fight with anyone, including Muhammad Ali in his prime.  Mr. Freyermuth obviously wasn't in the neighborhood club with Miss Mabel, and thus lacked pre-authorization for the fanning of my '"ass a good one."

 

 

Frank, Nancy, and Coffee In The Red Can

 

The Yeisley's lived on the other side of us. Frank Yeisley, was a towering man in his fifties, well-groomed with an appropriate splash of bay rum. He was a Federal Meat Inspector who naturally looked, walked, and talked very presidential. I mentioned Frank earlier when I spoke of the gravity lesson. He was like a second father to me and quietly delighted in my mom's frequent exasperation over my mischievousness. 

 

Frank's wife, Nancy, was Mom's all-time best friend and came over daily for coffee (Folgers in the red can) with timing dependent on Mom's shift schedule at the rayon plant.  Their coffee conversation yielded tons of local intel, but I had to pretend as if I wasn't listening if I wanted to get the really good stuff. 

 

Nancy came of age in upstate NY and, according to Mom, "inherited a whole shithouse full of Ford Motor Company stock from her mother." 

 

A "whole shithouse full" is an obvious comparison in size to a "whole pisspot full." While I’m not sure how many shares of Ford Motor Company stock fits in either, I would opine that a "shithouse full" is substantially more than a "pisspot full."  See your broker for a prospectus. 

 

Those are just a few of the people who lived right around us in our neighborhood. There were many more characters who congregated downtown. 

 

 

Downtown, A Tightwad, And an Apology

 

 

The town square was action-packed, especially after the new and novel traffic light was installed.  '"New and Novel" as in we never had one before.   

 

Most everything McAlistervillens needed was on the square: Doc Yoder's Office, Kipp's Market, Leister's Hardware Store, the firehouse, the bank, AND a payphone in a real phone booth like Superman used for wardrobe changes. The authentic small-town bustle was so ample that it became necessary for a traffic light to manage it all.

 

I stopped at the square on my way home from school the day the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania installed our slick new red light. At least twenty-five locals were gathered on the sidewalk in front of the bank watching the light as it changed from green to yellow to red, lather, rinse, repeat.  Mr. Leister from the hardware store was looking at his Timex, (not that he couldn't afford a Rolex) counting the seconds between colors. He snapped his gaze back and forth, wishing out loud for exacting nanosecond technology instead of relying on rudimentary gaze-snapping. Certain things were more important to some McAlistervillens than others.  Anything having to do with numbers was of great interest to old man Leister. I knew this about Mr. Leister even though I was only eight years old. 

 

I had studied Mr. Leister's thoughts, motivations, what made him tick, his body language, the way he double knotted his shoestrings, and how many clicks he rolled his sleeves when getting ready to stock shelves in his hardware store. I knew how much he valued precision in numbers. The traffic light was merely a curiosity, but his money was an obsession, every ...last … dime. 

 

Mr. Leister spent three full days in the winter of 1968 looking for ten cents missing from his deposit ledger. He couldn't sleep until he found his missing money.  It was all John Leister could talk about until Dad "solved" the mystery by quietly sliding a dime with his shoe under the counter at the cash register. Dad then asked John, "Did you look to see if it rolled under here?"   Upon the discovery, old man Leister said, "I'll be darned, and all along I was blaming one of the bank tellers for pocketing my money." Evidence collected in my routine ear-to-the-ground investigations revealed that Mr. Leister apologized to bank teller Linus Brubaker. Even though he never mentioned Linus out loud as the imagined thief, John was compelled to do the right thing.   Everyone agreed John Leister was a tightwad, but no one ever said that he wasn't an honorable man.

 

I tucked those tidbits away under "old man Leister" and filed them in the catacombs of my brain.  I'm not sure what value that talent would have to anyone else, but for me, as a writer, those details from my childhood are a treasure chest filled with moments waiting for ink. 

 

In all the exploration of my hometown as a kid, I boxed up thousands of memories and placed them in my catacombs.  I never once considered what was driving me. That is to say, I never thought about why my heart beat in my chest or why my lungs drew breath, they just did. Details of local life, people, and situations funneled into my purview.  

 

In an attempt to grasp a better understanding of myself and my boyhood motivations, I've studied the narratives of prisoners who relied on ingenious strategies to maintain their sanity during the worst of incarceration. I  identify their patterns of behavior with those of my own. Today I realize that my developing gray matter was starving and desperate for knowledge. Considering my academic misfortune something had to fill the void, or I would have gone mad.  The McAlistervillens saved me. Ninety-nine percent of them are gone, and while I can't thank them, I can honor them by sharing them with you. They weren't just cast members dropped from the sky, they were the teachers of my difstypro mind. 

 

I was and am what the world of academia has come to recognize as the experiential learner. We'll talk more about that as I continue to make my argument: Dyslexia/difstypro doesn't have to be so hard.