by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
June 2, 2004
LIFE, TOP OF THE EIGHTH
SEATTLE, Wash. -- The fingers typing this 998th Ink Soup came into the world exactly 75 years ago today, 31 May 1929.
It was not long before they were handing out sandwiches at the back door of our house to men who had been beggared by the Wall Street Crash. Here are some other memories from the center of the eighth decade.
First punishment for a religious crime: My mother is giving me a bath in the old iron tub. The same fingers make the figure of a man on the surface of the water. I say, "Here's ole Jesus walkin' on the water." My mother slaps my face.
First expulsion from an educational institution: I am expelled from kindergarten for hitting a little girl with a chair. No one believes my story that she pulled a knife on me.
First girl friend: Lucia Bingham, daughter of the minister of the ARP church across the street from our house. We race our tricycles down the walk lined with verbena, the first plant name in my vocabulary.
First hero: Harold Mattison, the son of our black washerwoman, Ida. It was the custom then for a slightly older black boy to replace the black nurse of a little boy. Harold was taller, stronger, and better looking than I was, and I worshiped him.
My black grandmother: This was Corrie Scott, who had been left as a child by her dying mother to my grandfather, in whose house she grew up beside his own six children. After he had died, and my grandmother descended into mental darkness, and all the children moved away, "Corrie's house" became the center of the family. Some of my younger cousins actually thought she was their grandmother.
My first knowledge of racial segregation: Corrie would take me to the movies and be compelled to sit in the balcony while I was below. This seemed to me crazy, but who was I?
Punishment in first grade: Miss Agatha Spellman, first grade teacher in North Fant Street Elementary, keeps me after school for shouting at a girl who claimed that the picture of an obvious submarine was that of a whale. Miss Agatha agreed with me, but she kept me in, anyway.
First operation: A tonsillectomy; the nurse sprinkled ether on a bit of gauze and plastered it down over my nose. As consciousness goes, I see a seahorse vanishing down a long tunnel. Ever since then, in similar situations, I see the seahorse. I have finally come to believe that this is a personal experience, that not everyone sees the seahorse.
First steps in journalism: I become editor of the Yellowjacket, the student newspaper of Boys Highschool in Anderson, SC. (The high school for girls was at the opposite end of town, and was later the setting for the film "Radio.") One of my editorials was reprinted in the Anderson Daily Mail, a paper owned by Wilton Hall, who also owned the other newspaper in town and the only radio station, WAIM. If Mr. Hall did not want you to know a thing, you seldom knew it. This was one of the things you did not know.
Moving right along: I am drafted for the Korean War, learn Russian, serve in Berlin, teach for 40 years at Princeton and am asked to write a newspaper column called Ink Soup, the name for which I take from a cartoon panel that I once drew for the Village Voice.
More later, I hope.
Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.