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Until I was four years old, home was a shack on an abandoned farm outside Elk Creek, Missouri called the McQuiethy Place.  I have no memory of this time. However, based on stories told by mom, everyone in the family believed me a terror.  Only grandma disagreed, she called me the “Wild Goose” because I was always flying off.  Jo Jo, my little sister, showed up during my second year. Two years later dad packed the family into an old Chevy and with a $51 fortune moved to St, Louis. Our new home, a one room apartment, framed my earliest memories.  It was 1950.

I remember Saturday mornings and the produce vendor’s cry “STEERAAWBERRIEES, FRESH STRAWBERRIES.”  The streets were alive with sound then.  Kids begging the milkman for ice, clanging of the knife sharpener’s cart, a whistle signaling delivery of Whites Bread, and kids being kids.  Evening offered the call of Hot Tamale man, and rattle of newspaper carts on the pavement.  Days were spent exploring alleys with my cousin and anyone else looking for adventure.  Nights were spent on a pallet below our window; Mom, Jo Jo and me listening to radio shows until falling asleep.

A  childhood bone disease left dad with a deformed right leg and whirlpool-like holes in his arm and side.  These holes were a fascination not only to Jo Jo and me, but the neighborhood kids as well.  Dad couldn’t wash the car on a hot day without a curiosity seeker pointing and asking “What are those?.” I was proud of dad.  He had survived Indian attacks, fought pirates, and defeated the Nazis and had terrible scars to prove it.  My dad’s legend didn’t last long, but for a while it was a lot of fun.

Physical problems made it difficult for dad to find work.  So, he created his own. He would borrow money from family for down payment on a flat, move us in, fix it up, sell it and sometimes pay on the loans. We lived off what was left over.  Dad wasn’t around much, always looking for the next deal takes time.  It is how we survived. Moving was our life and every move brought tears and disruption.  How many moves remains a mystery but there were eight school changes along with bad report cards, fights and calls from teachers and principals.  The first time Jo Jo and I ended the school year in the school we started, I was nine years old.  That school was Mullanphy Elementary and there were no failing grades, almost no classroom troubles and great friends.  Life was good!  Until dad announced: “We’re moving.”  Then mom had something to say,  “Melvin, if you try to move us out of this school district, you’ll do it alone.”  There was no discussion.  We moved but there were no more school changes. Mom was my hero.

For the next 54 years, life was pretty much normal. Education continued through college.  There was failure and success, tragedy and joy and far more good times than bad.

Learn to Draw with Jon Gnagy, a 1950s TV art show, was my introduction to drawing, art and a life-long avocation.  Never in my wildest imaginings did I see myself as an artist.  Nor did I ever consider poetry of any kind but, at 63 years of age, a Karmic string of coincidences inspired me to write and illustrate a children’s book, Santa’s Aching Back.

Portrait of Larry
Larry Mayberry