On a mild Wednesday evening in August of 1970, I was born. My first home was a ranch house with a full basement in Greely, Colorado. I was the youngest of six. My only sister had three older brothers and two younger ones. Although we moved to Turlock, California just as I started kindergarten, I have many memories of life in Greeley.
I remember playing alone in the yard, trying to catch grasshoppers. I was fascinated by grasshoppers. With all of these ultra-modern playthings kids have today, are children still fascinated by grasshoppers?
The three older brothers set a world’s record for playing Monopoly underground. There was a huge hole in the backyard, covered with boards and canvas. Mike, the oldest, spearheaded the feat. Some of the neighborhood kids participated; they played for a hundred hours straight. It was a big deal. Newspapers around the country mentioned it, they were on the local television. In some Monopoly boxes, there’s a listing of world records, and the brothers are mentioned. I remember being in the cave briefly.
Of course, I wanted to set some kind of record myself. We had a swing set, so I wanted to set a record for the longest time swinging. My sister, Dianne, helped, timing me and letting me have a five minute break every hour. I swung for five hours, which is pretty good for a five-year-old. Dianne made an official-looking certificate, I still have it.
I remember having to stand on the picnic table while my brothers fought off a scary snake. One time I stuck my bare foot in the spokes of the moving bike I was riding as a passenger. I remember my uncle Tim giving me a dog and letting me ride in his semi. Finally being able to reach a doorknob was a big deal.
Ballooning must have been a popular sport in Colorado. I remember seeing them in the skies. One time, my Mom took Dianne, my closest brother, Stephen, and me to a tethered balloon ride in the parking lot of a strip mall. I saw the flames and it looked like it was really loud, so I started crying and didn’t go. As an infant, I had ear problems. They said I would cry in pain all the time. I’d be sitting around, playing with toys, perfectly calm, then suddenly start bawling.
These early days of my childhood were in the day when there were less than a half-dozen television channels. I remember one show called Jot—it was about a circle with arms and legs who talked about religious stuff. Then, there was Simon in the Land of Chalk Drawings, about a boy who would draw things on his magic chalkboard and they would become real. I would get excited every time it came on. It was very imaginative.
But the cartoon that impressed me the most—I was four or five—was a Hanna-Barbera show, either The Flintstones or Augie Doggie. I don’t remember the storyline, but there was a carnation that somehow became alive. He wore a baseball cap and carried a book. He was named Carney. I found it the most fascinating thing.
I adopted the flower as my alter-ego. I didn’t have an imaginary friend, I was my imaginary friend. When I had my red Lil Slugger baseball cap on and a book under my arm, everyone knew that I was Carney. I was to be treated as Carney. If someone called me Dave, I would point to the hat.
My Mom would ask me if I (Carney) would like to stay for dinner. I would say that she’d have to call my (Carney’s) Mom and see if it was all right. Mom would pretend to call Carney’s house and ask his mother if he could stay for dinner. Everyone played along. I really thought I had everyone fooled.
Thanks to Stephen for finding the picture and a link to the full cartoon. It was Augie Doggie. All these years, I had thought that Carney stood for Carnation, but it stands for Carnivorous.
Seeing the cartoon again made me remember why I was so struck by the character. Since I was the youngest, everyone else was in school, and it was just me and Mom at home. Carney was a bad flower, but he became good and started going to school. It was a tale of redemption.