Just two days ago, I was invited to a birthday party. My buddy Gavin was turning seven. There was pizza, cake, and ice cream for the kids and salad for the grown-ups. Sigh. Maybe that’s why I started thinking about the time I was seven…
Like Gavin, I was in the second grade. My teacher, Miss Cook, was young and pretty and I thought I would marry her one day. Now I know that was just a crush but at the time, it made perfectly good sense to me. It was very likely my first crush and it was certainly a memorable one. Two years later, I had another crush on my fifth grade teacher: Mrs. Lively. She was a little older, but pretty, too, and she seemed to me to be just like her name. But she was already married and by then I knew she wouldn’t want another husband. One was enough.
When you’re seven, life is pretty good. You have no idea about the potholes and speed bumps that lie in wait in the road ahead. High school, broken hearts, college, Peace Corps, marriage, grad school, two kids, first job, second job, divorce, more broken hearts, therapy, third job, second career—a long one this time—eventually a second marriage, a repaired heart, grandkids, and finally, a new home over here on the Eastern Shore. When you put it all in one long sentence, it doesn’t sound all that bad, but the day-after-day aspect of it is another story. Thankfully, it all came right in the end.
But back to seven. As numbers go, seven has a heady legacy. There are, of course, seven days in a week. There are seven seas and seven continents. Snow White had seven dwarfs. Once upon a time, there was a drink called Seven-Up and there were seven deadly sin although it seems like there are a lot more sins these days. The wee wife is the seventh of nine children in her boisterous family. A rainbow has seven colors. It even used to take seven virgins to light the Olympic flame. I could go on but you get the picture. There is something quite mystical about the number seven which is probably why the secret society at my alma mater was called the Mystical Seven. I still haven’t gotten over the fact that I wasn’t one of the tapped.
Whatever. But Gavin’s seventh birthday got me to thinking about the lay of the world when I was seven. A nice old man named Eisenhower was in charge of things and life seemed pretty good, at least until he had a thrombosis (whatever that was) out in Colorado and another man named Nixon—he didn’t look so nice, needed a shave—took over until avuncular Mr. Eisenhower thankfully recovered and went back to work. At home, one of my older sisters had just gone off to college and I inherited her former bedroom, a giant step up from the little room with the single bed I had been living in for the first seven years of my life. My new room had twin beds, my own desk, and enough space for a miniature pool table. High cotton! Sure; there were hurricanes down in Texas and a pogrom over in Greece, but at the time, I had no idea what a pogrom was, let alone knew where Greece was on the map. All that came later.
But by far the biggest event of the first month of my seventh year took place down south in a place called Mississippi: the acquittal by an all-white jury of two white defendants charged with murder for brutally killing a fourteen year-old African-American boy named Emmitt Till who was accused of offending a white woman in her family’s grocery store. The jury deliberated for all of 67 minutes before rendering their verdict of innocent; one of the jurors famously said “it wouldn’t have taken us that long if we hadn’t stopped to drink a pop.” A few years later, one of the two men acquitted of the murder later admitted that he and the other defendant had in fact killed the young boy but thought “they hadn’t done anything wrong.”
Now, more than ten times those first seven years later, I still shudder to think about all the things I didn’t know that were happening back then. Or were yet to happen. Maybe that’s a protective blessing for a seven year-old. The world can be a pretty tough place and your seventh birthday should be a wonderfully happy affair, full of pizza and ice cream and cake and a bright future.
The salad can come later.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with a home in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com