At the time I was born, my parents had been married less than a year. They had met in April 1960 and married on July 30, 1960. (My maternal grandfather was very much against the marriage, which I didn’t learn until I was seventeen. By that time, I felt much the same way, but more on that later.) They were both working full time: Dad was an engineer’s assistant at Buckeye Rural Electric, and Mom was a beautician.
Since they were both working five days a week, I was cared for by a babysitter, a trusted family friend, Mae Roush, known to family and friends alike as Mamaw Mae. According to my mother, Mae treated me like one of her grandchildren, and I was very happy with her. A story that gets told often is of Mae getting frustrated with people asking her how old “he” was, even when I was wearing frilly dresses. She began taping bows to the top of my head, as I didn’t have much hair to speak of, and was even more disgusted when that didn’t seem to make any difference.
When Mae had to leave us to care for a biological grandchild, Mom and Dad hired another babysitter. I don’t know her name, but I know she didn’t have the job for very long. She apparently took me downtown in my stroller as Mae had done, but she didn’t put nearly as much care into my appearance. When Mom started hearing stories of me being out with a dirty face and dirty clothes, she was upset with the sitter, but the last straw came on a day when I had a cold and it was raining outside. Mom specifically asked that I be kept inside that day for my health, but she learned from one of her customers that I was seen going down the street in my stroller less than an hour after Mom left for work. As soon as Mom heard that, she got on the phone with Dad, who got home before she did, and told him that when he got home that night, he should pay the sitter and fire her. For the next two weeks, I was cared for by my maternal grandmother and great-grandmother, and then Mom became a stay at home mother.
At the age of thirteen months, I got my first pair of glasses. I was born with crossed eyes, which did not correct themselves as my doctor had hoped. Wearing glasses was the next form of treatment, in the hopes that would resolve the issue. Since I was so young, and there was concern I would try to remove the glasses, Mom used rubber bands attached to the earpieces across the back of my head. I kept that first tiny pair of glasses for many years, but somewhere in all the many moves of adulthood, they were lost.
That same summer, it was time to wean me from the bottle. The day that the process was started, Mom and Dad were having a conversation in the hallway near my bedroom. Mom said something about not giving me a “b-o-t-t-l-e” at bedtime, presuming that I wouldn’t know what that meant. She was very surprised when she put me to bed that night without my bottle and walked out of the room. I started to cry loudly, and through my tears I was screaming “I want my b-t! I want my b-t now!” I guess even then I was smarter than they gave me credit for being!
In the spring of 1963, the three of us moved to the first home that I can actually remember clearly. It was a three bedroom home with a full basement, located at 12 Evans Heights in Gallipolis. The third bedroom became my playroom, where I spent a large part of my days, at least until I was old enough to go outside and make friends with the other children who lived on the street.
Around that same time, I decided to display my artistic talents by drawing a magic marker picture for Dad, using the hardwood floor of the playroom as my canvas. When I showed it to Mom, I’m sure she must have been horrified, but I do have to give her credit for handling it well. She left the picture there until Dad got home from work to see it, and then the two of us worked together to clean it off the floor.
One of the stories my mother always tells about me at this age has to do with a day she sent me outside to play in the front yard while she washed dishes, as she could watch me through the window over the sink. She apparently stopped watching at one point, and then realized that as cars went by our house, they were slowing down, pointing toward the yard and laughing. Curious as to what I might be up to, she came outside, where she discovered a totally naked toddler, and found all my clothes neatly folded and stacked on the front steps. I guess you could say that I was a streaker long before it became a fad!
At three and a half years old, I had learned to read well enough to read several of my storybooks to myself, or to anyone else who cared to listen. My Uncle Bob didn’t believe I could actually read, and suspected I had just heard those stories so many times I had them memorized. In an attempt to prove his point,he bought me a new book which Mom assured him I had never seen before that day. When I took the book from his hands and began to read it to them, he had to admit he had been wrong about me.
By the age of four, I was guilty of murder….of a goldfish. My Uncle Bob played a part in this story as well. He came by the house for a visiting, and I was eating an apple. He joked that my goldfish looked hungry and that I should share my apple. Not knowing any better, I later tossed what remained of the apple into the fishbowl. The next morning,I discovered my poor fish had gone belly up.
After three years of wearing glasses, with the adults hoping they would improve my condition, my eyes were still crossed. The next course of action was for me to have surgery to correct the problem by shortening the muscles attached to my eyes, which occurred in the spring of 1965. I only have little snippets of memory from my recuperation period at home, but Mom likes to tell a story from the hospital which is more about the nurse caring for me than about me.
When Mom and Dad were allowed to see me right after the surgery, the nurse told them she knew I was awake, but I was refusing to respond to her. She walked over to my bed to demonstrate, and said “Terri, can you hear me? Are you awake?” and when I didn’t respond, she looked at Mom, apparently expecting her to do something about the situation.
Mom gave her a disgusted look and said “If you would call her by her name, I’m sure she would answer you. She has no idea who you are talking to.” (Both eyes were covered by bandages, making me temporarily blind.) To prove her point, she walked over to the bed and asked “Teresa, are you awake?”
Without hesitation, I responded “Yes, Mommy, but I can’t see you!”
When we got home, I had two metal patches on my eyes, as well as tongue depressors taped to my arms to keep me from bending them, so I couldn’t remove the patches. Mom and Dad put me to bed, and told me to let them know if I needed or wanted anything. A little later, I heard my maternal grandmother in the living room, and couldn’t help myself---I got out of bed and made my way out of my room, then felt along the wall of the hallway to make my way to where the adults were, at which point I surprised all of them when I spoke up and said “Hi Granny.”
The worst part of the experience that I can remember had to do with the stitches. As they began to dissolve, the ends would be in my eye. That meant Mom had to apply a very warm washcloth to each eye for several minutes each, at least twice a day. I hated having to sit still that long, and I wasn’t happy with the heated wash cloth, either...it always felt TOO hot to me.