After spending a few months in third grade in Miami, my family and I went to see my father’s family in Wilmington, Delaware. I don’t remember much about it except that we all stayed at my grandparents’ house and I would have to go to school there. Being acclimatized in Miami was no fun when spending a Winter where the morning temperatures were around zero and a seven year old had to walk a mile to school.
Right before we left Miami, I remember going to Sears and getting a Winter coat. It was not something I looked forward to after trying it on. Walking to Harlan Elementary School every morning was only okay as long as my feet moved. The exercise kept my body warm. In my class in school was a third cousin I’d never met. In Miami there were no relatives; now I was in the land of my namesake. Having another Hicken in my class made me feel a little special. After I left that school, I’d never see her again.
I remember Sunday dinners with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and my family. Much of it is a blur. It was confusing – why were we there? I loved Miami. At night, the window of my room faced the Wilmington skyline. The tallest building had a large lit name, “Farmers Bank” on it. I could look out that window for hours at night. That’s one thing I didn’t see in Miami. The song “Downtown” would come to mind.
Eventually, the one thing I wanted to see came – snow. Waking up one morning, I came to the kitchen and my mother said, “Look outside.” Really? The windows were too high for me, so I ran to the door and there it was, three inches of snow! I finally saw snow. It doesn’t matter if my mother produces a picture of me when I was one or two all bundled up in snow. What matters is what I could remember. That’s all I remember, though. There are no memories of playing in the snow.
One day my parents told me I was going to live with my mother’s mother in Kearny, New Jersey while the rest of the family went back to Miami. They would then move us to Wilmington. My feelings were a blur but living with my grandmother was something I would enjoy. We were a block away from my aunt, uncle and cousin. I’d play with my cousin Michael and a lot of times we would hang out with my uncle at his favorite bar.
The school I attended was Roosevelt Elementary School. I don’t remember the teacher’s name but she would always have us singing. I think it was Rogers and Hammerstein musicals that we would sing to. There was a girl with red hair in my class named Claire. I think I learned about St. Patrick’s Day and about Irish people from her. My memory fails me, but either she had lent me or I had lent her something and her parents drove her to my grandmother’s house so it could be returned. She must have been moving away. That is my first memory of having feelings for a girl.
Graduating third grade, I’d stay in Kearny into the summer. Up north, the summer sun set later than in the south. Some nights I stayed at my cousin’s house and I remember it being light out at bedtime. Sleep didn’t happen when it was light outside. There were no shades in the bedroom there like at my grandmother’s. The house nextdoor to my cousin’s would occasionally have a band practicing rock music. Part of my wild imagination was thinking they’d play a concert in my cousin’s backyard. That would never happen. I don’t know if that band ever made it. I had no real interest in rock music until four years later.
I got to go on three trips that year. I really enjoyed the trip to New York City to go on top of the Empire State Building, then the tallest building in the world. That trip included a stop at a planetarium. Another one was to my aunt and uncle and family in Bedford, Pennsylvania. That included a tour of the Hershey Chocolate Factory along the way. The third trip was to Lake Wallenpaupack, near the Pocono Mountains. I think we stayed in a cabin there. Life was so much different up north with the change of seasons. Summer was always better than Winter and it remained that way for the rest of the fifty years it took before moving back to Florida.
My parents finally moved back to Wilmington and I had to move back with them. My life would change completely as the sheltered life was about to end. I never saw violence first hand until the fourth grade. I continue to analyze the mental state that changed after third grade. I became very insecure and felt like an outsider. Rejecting confrontation was sometimes hard to do, but remaining friendly and not fighting was something I stuck to. Social pressure became an exercise that drove me inward; it made me develop an inward, imaginary world that helped me cope until I grew up. That should be an article for another day.
The changing environments, seasons, families and feelings made my third grade experience unique. No one I know is like me at all. That may be a good thing, but God may have planned that from the start. Today I’m a man whose outlook on life is different than it was back then. And the world is different as well.