By Alan S. Chartock
For Capital Region Independent Media
It’s amazing what we remember. We are told by some psychologist types that what happens to us in our early years has a great deal to do with what transpires as we move on in life. I absolutely believe this to be true.
I attended Joan of Arc Junior High School on West 93rd St. in New York and I was fortunate enough to have been elected to the presidency of that institution’s General Organization (GO). That has always been an important memory that, I suspect, has played a crucial part in my personal and professional development.
I won that office despite the clear opposition of the teacher who ran the whole show. The General Organization’s teacher-in charge had her personal favorites in her IGC (Intellectuality Gifted Class) but I won anyway, despite the fact that I was not in that elite class nor one of her favorites.
It is so interesting that now at age 81, I remember that victory so clearly. I’ve mentioned it before but while the junior high school GO presidency was fundamental to my life-long interest in politics, it also was the beginning of my unfortunate need to be competitive. Of course, when you are an identical twin, it is pretty much assured that a bone-deep competitive streak is pretty much a given.
Do you remember your first girl or boyfriend? I certainly do. Her name was Florence and I remember what must have been one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. When I was very, very young, the doorbell rang and I thought that it was my twin brother so I answered the door clad only in my underpants. I was so embarrassed by my appearance that I have never forgotten that horrible moment.
I guess those painful memories stay with us for a good deal of our lives. It would be interesting for each of us to catalogue moments like the one I’ve just described that stay with us.
I now get great joy when I look at my beautiful granddaughter, Hana, sitting across the breakfast table from me examining her food and speaking words that describe her mood. Her smile is so infectious that her grandfather’s heart melts. Grandparents across the world know of what I speak when I talk of the fullness of my heart when I see that beautiful child smile.
This is not unique to me — generations of parents and grandparents have experienced that profound love that never goes away. My special Hana (five years old, soon to be six) means so much to me and I understand how many generations of grandparents hang onto every word and every smile. We are all suckers for the smiles and appreciation of all who have come after us on the generational chain.
There are so many transformational moments in our lives. Some of them we forget, but many stay with us for years to come. I remember to the second some of the early “fights” I had as a child with some of the tough guys who lived next door. Part of the story has to do with our relatives. My twin, Lewis, was tougher than I was and I depended on him when it came to dealing with some of the kids with whom I had to contend. Looking back on those times, I often wish that I had prepared myself better for doing battle in a very tough world.
As we progress through life, we try our best to remember to be tough even when we don’t have that toughness in us. Sometimes it comes down to pretending to be something you really are not. I suspect we’ve all done it.
Alan Chartock is professor emeritus at the State University of New York, publisher of the Legislative Gazette and president and CEO of the WAMC Northeast Public Radio Network. Readers can email him at email@example.com.