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by George Lester
George Lester
I suppose I was about three years old when I first noticed something strange happened every time I walked across a certain type of floor. I remember that black and white checkered tile was the vogue of that era. The first time it happened my father was holding my hand and leading me to the front desk of a hotel. I froze in my tracks and refused to budge. My dad's confusion was understandable. I just kept staring down at the floor with a frightened, wide-eyed expression. Finally, he picked me up and carried me the rest of the way. I don't think he ever asked what I was afraid of and I don't believe I ever told him. It's kind of hard to explain, but I'll try. Do you remember those computer generated pictures of about 20 years ago? I saw a bunch of people staring at them in a shopping mall. I was curious so I took a closer look at one of them. At first glance it looked like a bunch of meaningless numbers and letters. I read the instructions and saw that you were to relax your eyes and not try to focus on the image, just stare in space. It took several tries but finally I started to get double vision and then it happened. The picture popped out in beautiful 3D. After all those years I realized what happened when I stood in the middle of a black and white tile floor. As I stared down at them I started to get double vision and the tiles overlapped until they fitted neatly over each other and looking like just one floor beneath me. . I had the 3D illusion that I was standing waist deep in the flooring. I tried it again the next time I saw a similar floor and it proved my theory correct. You may not be able to get it to work for you, but if you do you'll see how it could really frighten a small child.

Have you noticed how little tykes take everything you say literally? At that age I was no exception. My mother had made some of her famous fudge and the grown ups were enjoying some of it. When I went to the dish to get a square for myself one of my older cousins asked me to bring him a small piece. When I brought him his candy everyone in the room laughed hysterically. I didn't understand until years later that it was because I gave him a sliver of fudge about the size of BB. Well, he did said a small piece, didn't he?

Also, there was the time I heard one of my friends tell about one of our school mates who had "feet like a man". I offered no comment but a vision came into my mind. I reasoned that instead of feet below his ankles there were miniature men. "Feet like a man". I stared at his shoes for the rest of the day trying to think of an excuse to get him to take them off.

There's one thing kids can do a lot better than grownups. Pretend. I suppose I was as good at it as anyone. There was one particular time I remember in Marlin, Texas. I guess I was about nine. I had just emerged from a darkened movie theater and I was trying to adjust my eyes to the bright light of day. I almost ran into a black boy about my age. He looked frightened and quickly stepped out of my way. I wondered why he reacted that way. After awhile I came to the conclusion that it was because I was white. As I ambled on down the street to rejoin my parents I started to wondering what it would be like to be of that race. With every step I felt my skin getting darker and darker. My cotton white hair became black and kinky. I found myself stepping closer to the curb to let the "white folks" have the sidewalk. The transition had taken its full measure. I was now black. Even during the ride back home I couldn't shake it. That experience left a lasting impression on me. Today I could never create a fantasy any where near as real as that one no matter how hard I tried.

My first memory of the state was the featureless country around Wink in far west Texas. When we went eastward I noticed that the prairies gave way to beautiful rolling hills and finally to the thick forest of deep east Texas. It seemed to me that it was reasonable to assume that every state had the same east and west land features with prairies to the west and forest to the east. When we got to Louisiana I expected to cross the border and find myself back in sage brush, sand and cactus. After all, this was the western part of the state.

I guess I always had an eye for detail and dimensions. This had an effect on my social life with other children. When we played with toy cars everything went fine as long as all the autos were of the same scale. I recall one day when we were enjoying our magic world. Little streets had been laid out in the dirt and we were driving our miniature cars up and down them. It was so real to me I could almost see the families in the cars and hear their conversations. It was a perfect, peaceful place with no problems or cares. Then another boy suddenly plopped down beside us with a car that was many times larger than ours. I took one look and the whole scene went "poof". The beautiful wonderland I was enjoying so much evaporated into an incongruent mess. No one else seemed to notice and my objections fell on deaf ears. Try as I might I could not make them understand why his out-of-scale car spoiled the illusion. Compromise was not in my vocabulary. I picked up my toys and went home.

When I was approaching my eightieth birthday my wife wanted to have a big party to celebrate that milestone in my life. I had refused her attempts to plan such parties in the past but this was a special occasion and she thought I would relent. I stood fast. "No birthday party for me, that's it". It goes back to my childhood. I had attended many birthday parties for other children and enjoyed them as much as anyone. But that all changed when my mother had a party for me. When the other kids arrived and they all gathered to sing "Happy Birthday" to me I suddenly turned and ran away. My poor mother was mystified and tried in vain to get me to return to the party. I spent the rest of the day hiding in my room. I have no idea why, even today, I don't want a birthday party for myself. I just don't. My wife and I observed my eightieth birthday with just the two of us having a quiet meal in my favorite Mexican food restaurant.

In the thirties there was a border dispute between Texas and Louisiana. A small parcel of land was claimed by both states. It was eventually resolved peacefully but at first my brother and I imagined there would be a war between Texas and Louisiana. He proclaimed that it wouldn't be much of a fight because Texas was so much larger. I pondered this for awhile. After much contemplation I returned with my theory of how the battle would turn out. I agreed that Texas was a much larger state but he was forgetting about Barksdale Air Base in Shreveport and all those war planes readily available to repel the invading Texans. That's the only time I can remember Sam being stumped. He said he had completely forgotten about that.
George Lester
Spunky Flat and Beyond - A Memoir >

August 15, 2006 column
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