June 3, 2022

Looking Back At My Younger Self


One of the weekly writing lessons that popped into my inbox a few weeks ago seemed worth pursuing. The focus was on my youth, specifically early childhood. To stimulate my memories the exercise posed several questions. Since I tend to be more forward-looking than reminiscing about the past, this seemed like a worthy challenge. 

The first question asked me to paint a word picture of the first decade or so of my life. That one was easy: secure and loved. Even though we moved a lot a bit later in my life, my formative years were spent primarily in two communities, one in southern New Jersey and a suburb north of Boston. The towns were safe.  Schools were well maintained with lots of PTA support.

The one I have the most memories of was in Massachusetts. It was a typical, well-off Boston suburb, with a white-sided Congregational church dominating the public square. Fourth of July parades, complete with high school bands and cheerleaders, kids on bikes with baseball cards stuck in the spokes to make a motor sound, and the local VFW in full dress. 

I was the firstborn, which comes with its own privileges and burdens. First children usually have the strictest rules and concerned parents. We are given duties and chores that build in us a sense of responsibility, but also a pressure to not let others down. It is likely my need to have a to-do list for everything began during this period. While I wasn't given specific instructions to watch over my two younger brothers at all times, the expectation was unspoken but clear.

Frankly, I don't recall any early struggles. I remember my father spanking me once over some infraction, but that was a singular event. Neither mom nor dad believed in corporal punishment, understanding that expressing disappointment in my behavior was a more powerful deterrent.

I have written before that my dad endured several periods of unemployment and one major business failure. Yet, he never allowed his struggles to impact his family. In fact, until I was old enough to grasp what all the stacks of resumes meant on the dining room table, I had no reaction to his being home a lot more than other dads. It was simply the way our family was.

Mom's teaching job, her ability to make casseroles out of anything, and her solid support for her husband meant the three boys were pretty much in the dark about family struggles. Decades later, when they both had died and left a sizable estate to their three sons I fully appreciated what financial discipline and familial dedication look like.

Watching Boston Celtics or Bruins sports on TV, a weekly time for Ed Sullivan (yes, watching the Beatles as a family), and an occasional special event were the extent of our TV viewing as a family.  Howdy Doody was a favorite of mine but was watched at a neighbor's home. 

I do remember two special "Lowry" rules: no comic books, ever, and only one Coke a week. Of course, reading books and even newspapers was strongly supported. Even today, in my mind a cola is sort of a special treat. 

Considering my career in music and radio you would think the groundwork was laid early, with music an important part of my childhood. Nope. I don't remember music being on in our home very often at all. A record player broke early on but was kept as a piece of furniture near the front door; dropping keys and mail on it was the primary reason for its existence. 

The writing course asked if I had any early influences or role models. As a young man, I remember Christmas get-togethers and a week's stay at my grandparent's "farm" north of Pittsburgh were enjoyable, but I was too young to be aware of any behaviors these folks modeled. As an energy-filled youngster, I don't remember specifics.

As I went through my teen years that changed. In particular, my uncle was someone who shaped me in ways I am still uncovering.  With maturity comes awareness. How he conducted himself and treated my brothers and me has had a lasting impact, even if I wasn't aware of it at the time. 

Rereading this post and reflecting on my early years convinces me I was incredibly lucky. Literally, I have no bad memories or lasting emotional issues to deal with. I was given a model of behavior and what it means to be a man, a husband, and a father that I continue to strive to achieve.

My early years had no drama, no pain, and very little disappointment. Things became a bit for interesting as I aged, but never of the sort that would make a good movie or novel.

Boring but true.


  1. I so enjoyed your post about your first ten years. What evocative images you provided, too, as with the "white-sided Congregational churches." I've been trying to think of how my first ten years affected me, also an oldest child, but of a mercurial father and an (unknown to me at the time) depressed mother. Although Dad's job was steady at that time, working in the laboratory of refinery, we were renters and I had attended four different schools by ten. I also, on my own, shouldered as much of the responsibility for my younger siblings as I could, in an effort to keep things calm and brunt any criticisms or discipline they might face. My willingness to stand up for the underdog was born during that time. We children knew we were loved. However, by that time, I had grown to feel that I had to earn that love or approval would be withdrawn. Mom loved to read, so frequent trips to the magnificent Gates-funded and Warren-and-Westmore-designed library in Port Arthur with its columns and soaring interior, saw all of us leaving the library with the maximum number of books we were allowed. That set me on the course for my own love of reading and, eventually, my decision to become a writer. Dad had, unusually for that time perhaps, encouraged me in my love of mathematics and allowed me to help him nail shingles, stand by while car repairs were made and otherwise pursue non-feminine (for that time) endeavor. The backside of that was that Dad crowed about my success while I was still majoring in physics but never read a book I wrote and did not attend my only book signing event in my hometown. Dad's dissolving of the norms of feminine and male expectations did not extend to my behavior. I was not to speak too loudly. I began developing early and remember one evening while we were all playing happily outside, running around in the falling light while Mom and Dad sat on the porch steps after watering the gardens. The happy moment ended with me hearing Dad say to Mom, "Cover those things up," referencing my budding breasts. Mom, a long-legged, model-thin woman, stayed on me about my eating habits, and both told me I was plump quite frequently. Jokes were sometimes cruel. I weighed 103 when I married, so I was never overweight, but by ten, I already had body-image issues. They fortunately never developed into anorexia or bulimia, but are part of my emotional DNA to this day. Still, as I grow older, I know I experienced what it was to live in a home with parents who did not argue in front of us children, who wanted the best for us, and who provided us with a safe environment. We were loved even if our very-human parents didn't do it all right, They provided encouragement to fulfill our intellectual potential. On the balance, I had most of what I needed. Another, sturdier child who did not crave approval might have thought it an excellent upbringing.

    1. So, a mixed bag might be a fair description of your early years. As you properly note, parents are human, and with the first child tend to make mistakes that aren't replicated in other siblings. They learn on us first-born and adjust for the next ones.

      The most important takeaway for me is your solid belief that your parents loved you, encouraged you, and wanted you to achieve your potential.

  2. My memories of my first decade are quite bucolic also. I had a TON of cousins and we lived in a duplex with my grandparents upstairs. So they all visited my grandparents and we got to play a lot. I was the oldest, too, and I actually started taking care of the younger kids (in the yard mostly while we played) when I was quite young. Enough that I was babysitting a young family of 5 kids while their mother took a summer job when I was 12. I still marvel that I thought that was normal. It was a tiny rural town and not much happened that didn't come directly back to your parents, so it had a built in neighborhood watch -- the whole town.

    1. I've always envied kids who grew up with lots of relatives and grandparents. My dad's parents died well before I was born and the other set lived 300 miles away. No cousins and an uncle who was a confirmed bachelor, also 300 miles away, My dad had two brothers, each with a family, who we never met and were not part of our lives. A very small family seemed normal to me, until I hear of family situations like yours and wonder what it would have been like.

      My grandkids are luckier in this regard: both sets of grandparents are 5 minutes away, plus three cousins and an uncle who they see on a regular basis.

    2. An AMAZING gift your grandchildren are getting. And you get to enjoy the world through their eyes :-)

    3. You are so right. We go to church together and have Sunday dinner together almost every week. We also see their school plays, performanes, and sports matches.

      We teach each other!

  3. As I have stated here before, I had a Goldilocks childhood. Not too much, not too little… just right…even though at the time I often thought otherwise. I was essentially, “Beaver Cleaver,” for those who remember that TV series. I also strongly relate to the movie, “Stand By Me” in so many ways, as it accurately provides a glimpse into to the type of friendships I had and the adventures we shared (including the loss of one of my best childhood friends to a stabbing.. just like in the movie). It was a working/middle class neighborhood, full of people who were getting by…and willing to help others to do the same. I learned later in life how we sometimes struggled economically in that time, but my sister and I never experienced want. We always had clean clothes, enough to eat and even some of our special material desires. (And with respect to food, a shoutout to my childhood dog, Inky who sat under the table and cheerfully ate the canned asparagus that I hated and would slip to him, unnoticed.)

    I felt embraced by the neighborhood. I knew who lived in all of the houses, and they knew me, which was sometimes problematic. If I misbehaved when out, my mother would receive a phone call, detailing my infraction…. and there were consequences when I came home. My mother always kept a paint stirrer propped up behind the counter. It was implied that it would be used to deliver a spanking if necessary, but I do not recall it ever being deployed. There were so many people of interest in my neighborhood; A man down the street building a boat in his backyard. Another building an airplane in his garage. And they, and so many others were always generous to share their knowledge and experience with inquisitive, pesky kids in the neighborhood.

    During my childhood, most of my extended family lived within 100 miles of me (since the year 1852). This allowed for frequent family gatherings. I was fortunate to regularly meet and talk with my cousins, aunts, uncles and great aunts and uncles. Family history and stories were flying around all of the time. It gave me a sense of roots, place and purpose that I would only come to appreciate later. I was the first person in my family to attend college, but I always felt I was standing on the shoulders of others who did what they had to do, when they had to do it.

    I went on to a career in higher education, far from my childhood experience and the people I encountered there. But fate has brought me back to my childhood home, my neighborhood and the people who live here. I am happy to find that they are still included in the “my people” category and that some of my childhood experiences and memories are still alive, even today.

    Memories can be instructive.

    Rick in Oregon

    1. Your mention of canned asparagus took me back to childhood meals where we had a special treat: canned asparagus. I liked the taste but not the slimy texture. Imagine how delighted I was with asparagus prepared the right way. Your childhood experience does sound idyllic.

    2. Your upbringing sounds very much like mine, except we moved 21 times before I left for college. Granted, a few of those were to different houses in the same town, but far enough apart that friedndships had to start anew. The feeling of "my people" was one that I never experienced.