Twilight Musings Autobiography (Part 1)
In February of this year, I did a Musing justifying writing an autobiography. My reasons were that every life has a story that will be interesting to somebody; that if one has lived as a Christian, his or her life will reveal what God has done in that process; and that people should have access to a record of their forebears’ lives. My own notes for an autobiography were experiencing a long pause when I had a lengthy conversation with the manager of this site, David Baggett. He encouraged me to get back to the notes and the drafting of the treatise because (bless his heart!) he wanted to see it come to completion. And he had the concrete suggestion that I use material from the autobiography to do my Friday Twilight Musings.
I will try to comply, but I don’t want these very personal Musings to be the undisciplined ramblings of a garrulous old man, and I want them to have something of take-away value. I trust that my wife and David and his wife Marybeth will prevent my using this venue for mere self-referential satisfaction.
My life began with my being different from my three older brothers. I was born in Hendrick Memorial Hospital, Abilene, Texas, on June 14, 1937, the youngest of four sons and the only one to be born in a hospital; the other three were all born at home. There were eight years between me and my closest sibling, so I was raised pretty much by myself, and some of my brothers saw me as rather pampered, which may have been true. At any rate, I avoided the kinds of problematic development that made things difficult for my brothers. I believe that God’s hand was in my being born the youngest of the four and in my coming as late in my parents’ lives as I did (I doubt that my arrival was expected). Let me expand on how my life was significantly formed by my being last in the birth order.
The oldest son, Ordis, was born with cataracts on both eyes and was sent off at an early age to a school for the blind to learn how to make his way in the world. He engaged in some rebellious behavior at the school, resulting in his being sent home before he graduated. In spite of that rocky beginning, he eventually married, had children, and became a responsible Christian citizen. Although he was designated as legally blind, he was able to transcend his limitations through learning braille (which he used mostly to read the Bible) and taking advantage of jobs for the blind supplied by the state he lived in. For many years he operated a stand selling newspapers, snacks, and other items in the state capitol building, and he was able to take up a similar job when he moved to another state.
The two middle brothers were also rebellious. The second in line, Otho, got married before he was out of his teens, and he and his wife had to live with our family for a while—a complicated beginning to an enduring but troubled marriage. However, he managed to achieve some stability by joining the military during WWII, gaining enough G. I. benefits to fund some training in watch repair and electronics. He eventually had his own store selling home electronic devices and repairing watches.
The third son, Thavis, ran away from home when the family moved back to Abilene from Stamford, because he wanted to finish high school in Stamford. He ended up joining the army so he could finance his college education after he finished his army stint. Having played an instrument in an Army band, he determined to get a degree in music education. He was ambitious and determined to have a life with more opportunity than had been available to him at home, and he wanted the same for me. He had a variety of music-based jobs after he graduated: teaching band at the high school level, being a traveling sales representative for a band instrument company, and owning a music store. He earned extra money during most of his life playing the saxophone for dance bands. His vocational life was rounded out by a decidedly non-musical job, doing rural mail delivery. That gave him some retirement benefits, along with a bit of social security income.
All my brothers, then, worked at a number of jobs, and the middle two were very entrepreneurial. I was the only one of the four who led a fairly normal and conformist life. I was a “good” boy and unduly proud of it, I fear. Perhaps the lack of adventuresome activity in my early life was attributable in part to my parents’ being already in their decline by that time; they were less restrictive with me and and I was less dependent on them than my older siblings had been It was also true, however, that my temperament was more sanguine than that of my older siblings, particularly the middle two. Whatever was the cause, my upbringing was more peaceful than that of my brothers.
The lesson that I draw from these circumstances in my childhood and teens is that they laid the groundwork for my later life going in more conventional directions than my brothers had. I also had the advantage of being encouraged in my development by the two closest to me in age: Thavis urged me to equip myself intellectually and socially to have a better life than my parents had, and he furnished me with the model of completing a college education. And during my senior year, Otho gave me some hands-on instruction in basic service to electronic devices. However, after seeing my ineptitude for applying what he had taught me, and seeing that I excelled in academics, he gave me the memorable advice to “stick with your books.”
So it was that God helped me to avoid the difficulty of a rebellious early life and provided a push toward my pursuing an academic career. But more about that in another Musing.
Dr. Elton Higgs was a faculty member in the English department of the University of Michigan-Dearborn from 1965-2001. Having retired from UM-D as Prof. of English in 2001, he now lives with his wife and adult daughter in Jackson, MI.. He has published scholarly articles on Chaucer, Langland, the Pearl Poet, Shakespeare, and Milton. His self-published Collected Poems is online at Lulu.com. He also published a couple dozen short articles in religious journals. (Ed.: Dr. Higgs was the most important mentor during undergrad for the creator of this website, and his influence was inestimable; it's thrilling to welcome this dear friend onboard.)