A Young Mind Swells, Expands, And Opens
Young childhood for my Grandfather came with both challenges and triumphs. As was expected from such an intense birth and first few weeks of life, Otis grew up small and very fussy, often needing to be held throughout the night and coming down with a fever just after his latest cold was clearing up. He was prayed over daily, in just about every way possible, and would often be bundled up for nighttime walks when the moon seemed particularly promising to Mary.
Gradually, whether it was through sheer force of will or his Mother's varied prayers, Young Otis would fight back against the world that seemed set against him. Though his father didn't care much to hold or interact with him, he bonded tightly with his mother, beginning to sleep through the night occasionally, if she was in the room. Though constantly sick he would beat every disease without too much worry. His appetite and development began to improve, and one thing became very clear: Young Otis was smart.
Since he was just a small child, Mary and Otis Sr. would marvel at how their son seemed so intent on taking in the world around him. He could focus with a frightening intensity, and it soon became obvious that what Otis lacked in physical health, he certainly made up for mentally. The few children's books were read over and over again to get Otis to sleep, and remarkably, at the age of four, Otis began reading the books himself. It's possible that, had he had some sort of different start in life, his talents might've been capitalized on earlier, with nicer schools and private tutors and things like that. Rulo, Nebraska didn't have resources like that, and the best that most of the scholastically gifted people around the area hoped for at the time was an easy ride through school before finding a partner and settling down.
Being a quiet and studious child, Otis was quickly the favorite of his teachers, to the disdain of his classmates, who didn't enjoy being compared mentally to a boy they saw as an unusual outsider. Otis was teased rather relentlessly, and on more than one occasion was forced to return home with a broken lunchbox and torn clothes. This would almost always earn him another beating from Otis Sr. as Mary prayed and chanted over a candle for strength, or peace, or vengeance, or whatever she felt was necessary that day.
An interesting snapshot of Mary's thoughts can be found in what remains of a diary she kept from 1956 to the middle of 1959. A diarist in fits and spurts, Mary would sometimes go days without a single entry, or could write four or five pages on a single afternoon. The following comes from an entry in early November, 1957.
'The angels have visited me both asleep and awake, and they assure me that Otis will find his greatness, and be his Mother's pride, however Ms. Dorothy Potter and Janice Elgood felt the need to remind me again that both of their boys would be starting baseball the next Summer, and would Otis be ready to do the same in a year or so? Bitches. Their jealousy nearly brings me to bitterness myself, but they haven't spoken with the angels like I have. The angels would never speak to the two of them. Angels are always silent to the close minded.'
When I showed my Grandfather this entry, he had this to say about it:
“I think it's wonderfully beautiful that my Mother was able to hear the Voices as well, even if she didn't comprehend the enormity of what she was hearing. In her own simple way, she made what she could with what she had. She had Voices, Great Voices, speaking to her, and so she made them angels. Isn't that beautiful?”
In 1961, the old gas station in the town of Rulo was replaced with a combination gas station/general store, a luxury to the people in the town who had been driving 20 or in a few cases even 30 miles just to get groceries. Ease of access to food and something new happening in a small town were cause enough for excitement, but what really made young Otis enraptured with the new store was a rotating wire rack, completely filled with books.
A town without a grocery store doesn't have much of a chance of having a library, so being well read in those times wasn't as important in Rulo as it might be now. As such, the wire rack in the general store was a veritable cornucopia of literature, and it's where my Grandfather made one of his longest lasting friends, the world of science fiction.
According to my Grandfather, the first book he ever happened to pick off of that shelf just happened to be a pulpy science-fiction collection. A classic of it's time, with busty space-women being "rescued" by very homo-erotic men with odd ray guns. Most of it, apparently, was trash, but one story stood out to my Grandfather. “Earthmen Bearing Gifts”, by the famous Fredric Brown.
In essentially two short pages, (that's as long as the story is), Brown had taken my Grandfather's mind, parked firmly in the middle of Rulo, Nebraska, and had expanded it enough to include the last martian city on a dying martian planet. With this stretching of the mind, my Grandfather also experienced something else, a stretching of his empathy.
“It seems to me that once you realize you can care for a made up person on a planet in a book, so much so that it can make you cry, really cry, then you realize that you can probably care for someone on the other side of the planet just the same. Why not?”
Whether the books were having an influence, or something powerful was beginning to stir very early, my Grandfather, when he was quite young, had a dream that stuck with him through most of his life:
It began in darkness, studded with lights, like a chessboard where the white spaces are much smaller than normal. Everything started still, then began to whirl, like I was at the center of some sort of carnival ride spinning around me. The white spaces slowly resolved themselves into a hundred staring eyes, all pulsing and throbbing to some sort of beat that seemed to be connected to my heart. Crazy music came from everywhere and nowhere, shrieks and whistles over the top of some sort of low bass that must've come from the Earth itself. They say people can't hear sounds lower than a certain point, but...dreams don't work like that.
The eyes began to blink, and with every blink another tooth would pop out, all from different animals, all broken somehow, all pushing through the eye meat, and throbbing themselves as the music got faster and faster. Eventually I was in a tornado of whirling eye-mouths, swelling and undulating in a cacophonous rhythm that would've sent me running in terror had there been any place to go.
I had shrunk down into myself as much as possible, falling to my knees, even in my dreams I was only 7 or 8 at the time and didn't have much bravery. Suddenly, everything was silent, in the way that makes your ears ring even louder somehow. The eye-mouths were gone, replaced by a giant pillar, ringed with fire on top and on bottom. I'm still not sure exactly what the pillar is, or whether the eye-mouths were there to keep me out, or something in.
Even today I have that dream every month or so. I'm still not sure what it means, but it frightens me like not much else in the world does, and that means something.