Sometimes, the people around us can have a powerful impact on how our lives unfold. Several members of my family had a direct influence on my life as a comic book pusher, mostly without realizing the path their actions were steering me down.
It's true. My mother would have preferred I become a priest, or perhaps a military general. I guess it depended on her mood that day, or, more likely, my own behavior that day. Sometimes when I look back at my childhood, I think that just maybe she wanted me to be both. (Perhaps a holy warrior? Sounds like a comic book I've read at sometime or other!)
For instance, when I would do something especially good she would tell me, "You're going to be a priest someday." (Good lord! No pressure there, Mom!) Then the next day she would say, "You're going to be a great general some day." (I don't know what behaviors may have brought that kind of praise, but she told me that on a regular basis. Maybe it was because I used to play with my G.I. Joe dolls -- ah, that is -- action figures so much. I'm not talking about those little eraser-size things that pass for G.I. Joes today. Oh no! I mean the foot-tall Joes that could be posed in any number of war-action-ready stances! Some even equipped with life-like facial hair!)
The thing is, my mother instilled in me a great deal of self confidence. Nearly every day when I was a kid, if I wasn't in some sort of trouble or other, she would say, "You're going to be great when you grow up." Her words made me feel good. In fact, they made me feel great. Really great. Like I could do anything. Be anything. Maybe be as great as Superman. Without ever realizing it, she was making me a bigger and bigger fan of the Big Blue Boy Scout.
There were others who would have their own influences in forming my early love for comic books.
I had an uncle named Clarence who everyone called "Sarge". He was one of my father's brothers. (My father had eight brothers, all older than himself.) Sarge lived in New York City, but he came to Detroit to visit us for a couple of days once when I was a kid back in the early 1960s. Sarge, being a big New York Mets fan, promised my brother and me that, if we would chant "Lets Go Mets!" at my father (a Detroit Tigers fan), he would send us Superman costumes when he got back home.
Superman costumes! It may well be that if my uncle had suggested I burn down our home in exchange for such a gift I would have rushed to find the matches.
That night, my brother and I proceeded to drive my father crazy with the "Let's Go Mets!" chant, much to the delight of my uncle. True to his word, a few weeks later we received Superman costumes in the mail with a note from Sarge that read, "Let's go Mets!". Needless to say, Sarge quickly became my favorite uncle. With all the excitement of a Christmas morning (although it was either early spring or late Fall as I remember, because all the leaves were off the trees), we donned our heroic apparel and became Superman and Superboy!
Looking at myself in the mirror, I could feel the power surging through my limbs! I could actually feel my muscles growing! I could hear my mother from all the way downstairs! Was my super hearing already kicking in?
With a great deal of apprehension, and with my "super-baby-of-the-family" brother at my side, I trotted out the door. The two of us "flew" through the yards and ally ways all afternoon playing Superman and Superboy. The older neighborhood kids gawked and laughed. The mom's smiled and waved because they thought we were the "cutest things". There we were, a chubby little redheaded Superman and a skinny little blond Superboy running up and down the sidewalks in utter Kryptonian abandonment. It was all over too soon as twilight set in and it was time to go back in for the night. As I stripped off the Superman costume and got ready for dinner, I realized something that would influence my behaviors for the rest of my life.
I decided that even though I would never be Superman, I could still be like Superman. I would never have super strength, but I could be strong in many ways. I could never have super speed, but I could use my mind to become something greater than the average mortal man. I could never fly, but I could believe in myself, be confident in what I could accomplish and use that belief to lift my spirit and let it soar. I could still live a life of truth and justice. I went downstairs to dinner that night with a whole new outlook on life.
I did my best to keep those ideals as I grew older, but at times the world can test the best of us mere humans, even those influenced by the standards of the mightiest superheroes. Life's realities just don't always jibe with Superman's ideals.
"Again with his mother! This guy has a mommy complex!"
Moving day was particularly memorable for me.
"My comic books," I said in a pleading tone and with some tiny hope still in my heart. But even as the words were leaving my lips I could feel the axe falling. From the stern look on her face I knew what was coming.
She shook her head. "They're not going to Florida."
Not going? I heard the words, but I did not want to believe them. I was devastated. I knew that no amount of begging and pleading was going to get her to agree to let me bring them with us. After all, my dad wasn't bringing his beloved pool table. There was no way I was going to get to bring my comic books. But I had to try.
"But they're my comics!" I whined. It was a feeble attempt, lacking in any real enthusiasm, but I already knew I was beaten.
"You can't bring them to Florida," she said emphatically.
"Well, what am I supposed to do with them?" I whined again.
"Throw them away," she said carelessly.
"What!" I said, stunned by the very idea.
"Then give them to Ronny," she suggested as she turned back inside, repeating over her shoulder for emphasis, "because you can't take them to Florida."
I stood peering down at my cardboard treasure chest of fantastic wonders for a brief moment before resigning myself to the inevitability of the situation. I dragged the box down the sidewalk to Ronny's house; tiny cardboard shavings trailing behind me. It was, perhaps, the longest thirty yards I would ever walk. There was, however, one bright spot in it all. At least my best friend would be able to enjoy my comics while I lived out my life in exile in the far off, mysterious land of Florida, which, as far as I knew, was entirely devoid of comic books.
As it turned out, comic books could and would be found in Florida, but it didn't really matter by then. Like ocean foam caught in a riptide, my interests would quickly begin drifting toward new horizons as I adjusted to life on the beaches Florida.
How On Krypton Did I Get Here? Part Three: Look! Up in sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's . . . Spider-Man?
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