I, like many I suspect, who have read the basics of my story, have long wondered why I, alone amongst all those people who wrote or read the same research I read actually acted on it.
Part of writing this is to try and answer that question.
My family emigrated to the United States from England, my original “green card`” is dated May 31, 1968. Which made me just over four years old.
We lived in New York City, in Brooklyn. My father was a computer programmer, or systems analyst, COBOL. I don’t remember much about NYC, except that our car was stolen and I, my younger brother, and mother, were witness to the beating and pistol whipping of a health food store proprietor. Our stolen car was later used in a homicidal hit-and-run.
Welcome to America.
My father was of the mind that to spare the rod would spoil the child, and was besides violent in other ways. I can remember being thrown into my bedroom having committed some transgression, bouncing off the bed, onto the wall and from there to the floor.
I think my parents around this point discovered marijuana, and certainly there were a lot of parties at our house where various people drank and smoked until late, with my brother and I trying for as long as possible to watch the proceeding from the top of the stairs. I can remember falling asleep in bed listening to the music and laughter wafting into my room, and on those occasions when we went to other people’s houses for the parties falling asleep on the pile of coats and jackets in a spare bedroom, and on one occasion a drunken couple briefly joining us on the bed before realising their error and leaving.
My father believed, because his father had required him to cut the switches with which he had been beaten, that children should only be beaten with your open palm. I can remember beatings and violence in the UK, but it is really in NYC that my memories start in earnest. I do remember him destroying our washing machine in England with an axe in a rage because the wringer had taken my arm because I was sitting on it and did exactly what I was told not to.
Because of him, and my mother’s taste in men later all of whom had similar natures, I learned to be very observant, and reserved.
The most memorable beating in NYC was over either my brother or I cutting the rubber shower attachment which fitted over the faucets on the tub. Neither of us would confess, so we both got the beating. It was after that that he decided that since our asses were clearly becoming desensitised that he should add destruction of our favourite toys to the punishment.
A surreal tableau ensued in which he crushed some matchbox toy car of mine, that I had chosen from amongst my newer ones to make it credible, with a pair of pliers while the family sat around and watched.
What the hell were they all thinking, I wonder?
At that time beating children was much more common and accepted than it is now, and while my experiences with it were not those of the majority of my peers, it was not uncommon. I mention it here because later in my story it is germane.
After a year in Brooklyn we moved, now with a new car, to “upstate” New York. Suffern, in Rockland County which at the time was a very rural area, although I doubt it is any longer given its proximity to NYC.
We lived in this fantastic old two storey house at the end of this enormous horseshoe shaped gravel drive. A drive which claimed chunks of my knees at regular intervals, we having set up jumps and ramps from which to launch ourselves on our bicycles.
Behind the house were the woods, through which wound a trail to a lake that had been dammed. In the summer we would swim, fish and play on it in anything that floated. In the winter we could sled down the path and skate on the lake surface.
Giant puffballs, the size of a football (soccer ball) would grow, but sadly for me so would goldenrod.
Whatever it was, the doctors said goldenrod, I was allergic to it, in a big way. And not just allergic, I developed seasonal asthma, and spent every evening during the time of year this went on hunched over a bowl of hot water with a towel over my head. That was asthma treatment in the late sixties in NY State.
When we later followed my father’s mistress to Georgia my asthma disappeared, but my allergies continued.
When my parents’ marriage ended, mistresses can have that effect, we moved State again. A newly single parent, not getting any support from the father, who did not want to return home to her parents in the UK was looking for help.
My mother chose to move us to Texas where her eldest sister lived (Hi Nora). My uncle worked for NASA as an atmospheric scientist (Hi Uncle Bob – lovely man). It was from him that I first learned about the destruction of the Ozone layer, and fluorocarbons. And, perhaps, that grown men could be gentle men in the true sense of the word.
In Houston, and later Friendswood (about the least friendly place on earth to a seven or eight year-old professed atheist – I had to explain the term when asked what religion I was – with the name Jasper, and by the local standards long hair), I learned just how bad allergies, and children, can be.
Timothy grass, wow. I ran through a field of it one day, and on the other side it was clear I was in trouble. My eyes swelled shut, to the point of pain. I had to be lead home by my brother. I was blind from the swelling around my eyes.
Texas. Just. Wow.
Same later on in California, but somewhat milder, certainly no Timothy grass in force like in Texas.
It was here that I was to have the experience which later made me very, very receptive to the Hygiene Hypothesis.
Because I gained first-hand experience, I believe, of it’s potential for allergies. Although I was not to realise that until about 30 years later.
© Jasper Lawrence, 2012