Today is a special character birthday. Ben Dorroll been my boy forever and ever, and when I saw the Beautiful People questions, and noticed the date of his birthday coincided with the day I do a blog post, I knew I had to do these for him.
Nothing says Happy Birthday like exposing an introvert's childhood secrets. *cough*
Oh, wait. This is a celebration of life. Of course he wants you to know them.
He would be 124 today, which in my mind is completely acceptable because he is immortal.
(Some of the questions he answered himself, and some I answered for him.)
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I remember boarding the steamer to leave England when I was four. My father was on the dock as we stood at the rail, but I can't picture my brother there, so I suspect he wasn't. My father's hair was brown then instead of white. He didn't look sad. There was an angry set to his jaw, I think, but he never said goodbye to me or touched me before I left. I remember the water widening and widening between the ship and the pier. And then I remember my mother pulling me away. The hallway was carpeted and well lit, but that's where the memory stops. I wasn't told that we were leaving for good. By the time I knew, Virginia was a way of life and my father was an old memory, so I wasn't terribly sad about it.
Best: Mother went away for a weekend once, and Mrs. O'Sean (his mother's laundry lady) came and stayed with Pearlie and I. She made us good things and gave us hugs, and we didn't have anything to be afraid of. She read us a story before bed each night and woke us up every morning by sitting on the edge of our beds and running a hand over our hair. That was when I was six, the first time I really paid attention to her. Afterwards I tried to be at home every time she came to do laundry, but I didn't see her often.
Worst: He only remembered the terror of being small, keeping quiet and out of the way, the distant sounds of raised voices from [his mother] and her parents, and the quiet undercurrent of tension at dinner tables, in which he tried to remain unseen and unspoken to. There were days when he was four or five when he sat on the bed, thumping his legs against the foot board, wondering with a sad, baby kind of resignation if things would get better. The babyhood had gone away. The resignation had not.
He grew up in Richmond, Virginia, and when he was very young he knew his grandparents. His grandfather gave him a set of wooden trains, and those were his favorite to play with. But after his grandparents died, he and his mother and sister moved to a smaller home and different school, and life changed.
What’s something that scared them as child?
Spiders, angry people, and imagining Things behind him in the dark.
Who did they look up to most?
His mother's laundry lady, oddly enough. Occasionally she would be ironing or washing when he got home from school, and sometimes she would look after him and talk to him. He switched to doing homework in the kitchen just so he could tell her things. She listened, and she was kind. It was she and Pearlie between them that always called him Ben, and after a while, he was more used to the nickname than his real name.
Favourite and least favourite childhood foods?
Favorite: Pie. Apple pie. Still is.
Least favorite: Chocolate anything.
If they had their childhood again, would they change anything?
Some things he wouldn't change. School was good, and time with Pearlie was good, and he found enough good memories to string together of the small variety. But some things he would change--like knowing why his father had been angry, and meeting the brother he didn't remember.
What kind of child were they? Curious? Wild? Quiet? Devious?
Tenacious, responsible, lonely, with an incredible capacity for loving and giving, and little to no means of using it.
What was their relationship to their parents and siblings like?
He was a good sort of brother to his little sis. If she was afraid of something, she could tell him what it was and he would face off with whoever he needed to make sure she wasn't scared. If she wanted something so bad she told him about it, she might find it on her bed sometime later, and then all he'd want was a hug and for her to tell him how delighted she was. She could tell him all her secrets, and he was the last one she wanted to see at night before she went to sleep.
(Now I want to do a childhood edition for her.)
What did they want to be when they grew up, and what did they actually become?
He wanted to become a doctor, and that's what he became. It was the one dream he reserved for himself. Everything else could be sacrificed or altered, but he did cling to that, and he wasn't above accepting help with his education just so he could achieve it.
And there you have it.
I won't be making elaborate celebrations today, since I have work to do, but I'll try to grab a cup of tea in honor of him if I can. Which is kind of fitting, because he doesn't like elaborate either. For him, the best kind of birthday would be someone making him apple pie, and maybe cranking ice-cream with friends, listening to them laugh and tease each other and talk about things they remembered.
He'd probably get a phone call, asking him to come see a patient who needed treatment right away, and he'd say of course, and never breathe a word about his birthday. But I think that fact would slip around town anyway. People would be sure to write it down and remember it, and have some little remembrance ready for him to take home. It's always nicest to get a glow out of the quiet people.
When it was late and he came back home, he would slip into bed beside his wife and listen to something very tiny and sweet stirring in the cradle in the corner.
And for him, that would be just about perfect.