They say the most important things in life are learned by the fifth grade. Now I don’t profess to know just who “they” are, but if I did, I’d tell them “they” were wrong. I learned the important stuff about life during the seven years I spent at 110 Flamingo Street.
I learned about being different. The Sister was the only girl amongst us four boys, and she never really fit in. She spent her time gathering small rocks down by Cripple Creek and reading books.
Those rocks she gathered? She still has them. Polished for hours in a rock tumbler, they were made into jewelry. And she still reads books – mostly about arts and crafts. Now she makes stained glass windows. The Wife and I have one in our bathroom.
She taught me that even though you’re surrounded by a loving family, you can still feel alone and different. But different is okay. If we were all the same, the world would be an extremely boring place.
I learned about injustice and kindness. Bradley McAllister a.k.a. Down the Street Bully Brad seemed to find me every week and beat me for no apparent reason, with little or no consequences from his parents. Because of him, I learned that there was injustice in the world, and the only way to combat it was by being resilient. The cruelty he showed me for seven years, I swore I’d never show another.
I learned about occupations. When I was 8, my three brothers and I accidentally set the woods on fire behind our house. It was a flaming marshmallow fight one night that got way out of hand. The fire department was called. With Indian cans strapped to their backs and hoses pulled from the engine, they finally doused the blaze, but not before it burnt the entire backyard. At that moment I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.
I learned about relationships. By watching my parents raise us five kids, I learned how to raise The Boy. There was church every Sunday in spite of tummy aches, fake sicknesses, or a myriad of other excuses. Respect for your elders, good table manners, and zero tolerance when it came to foul language were the norm at our house.
And when it came to discipline, Dad had a strong but fair hand. Mom and Dad also taught me that two people who love each other could disagree, or even argue, but at the end of the day still come together and love one another – and stay together for 33 years. Above all else we’re a family, and that was a bond that nothing could break.
And finally, I learned about death. Forty-three years ago on a hot August afternoon just before summer ended and school started back, four young indestructible kids from Flamingo Street climbed an electrical tower. One reached the top ahead of all the rest. The other three never did. They climbed down in tears. Forever changed.
You see, the fourth had already fallen. That’s why we moved.
In his death at age 12, Older Brother Richard taught me the most important life lesson of all – how to live. Every day is important because it truly could be your last.
Richard lives on each week right here in this column, and that’s a big part of why I write: to keep his memories alive through the re-telling of our childhood adventures and the lessons that we learned.
During those seven years spent at 110 Flamingo Street.
[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, has been a firefighter for more than two decades and a columnist for The Citizen since 2001. His email is email@example.com.]