I still remember the absolute despair I felt when my family went on an outing and forgot to take me.
It was the early 1960s and I think I was four.
I was playing in a vacant allotment next to our rented house in Canning Street, Launceston, when my father John, mother Grace and sisters Therese, Kate and Sally squeezed into the family's grey Austin Healey and set off to visit Auntie Joy and Uncle Acky in Exeter 14 miles away.
Apparently, they were halfway there - and at the end of a six-part harmony family sing-song - when they realised I was not in the car.
"Where's John Boy? I can't hear him," my mother, nursing baby sister Sally in the front seat, exclaimed in a panic.
My father turned the car around and they putt-putted home to find me on the front verandah, face-down and crying, kicking my feet on the painted timber boards, convinced I was now an orphan.
Some people remember a lot about their early years. Some really bright ones - famous people like Winston Churchill - remember glimpses of stuff when they were even two.
Not me though.
I only have smatterings of recollections from when I was four, possibly three, and some of them might have been from when I was five. I cannot remember.
I know we were conveniently situated at 14 Canning Street, which was fairly close to the city.
Up the street was an orphanage (which is how I knew about orphans).
I cannot remember why or how, but one year we got a box of toys from that orphanage and I scored a panda with a music box in his back.
I called him Panda.
I still have him around somewhere. The music box is long gone and so is one of his eyes but I have not been sick over him in bed for ages now.
At the back of the house was St Vincent's hospital, which was staffed by Catholic nuns.
One of the old nuns there gave me a framed print of the boy Jesus, which I promptly removed from its frame and tried to deep etch with a pocket knife.
We had a big old lemon tree in the yard and us kids used to collect lemons and take them to a nearby corner shop to sell. The shop was owned by a Greek immigrant named Jimmy, who went on to become a big supermarket owner and mayor of Launceston.
We also had a coal shed in the yard.
Apart from being a great place to store the black, dusty coal for the fire, it came in handy when I got my very own real live puppy dog, Lockie.
Lockie was an excitable dog that liked to bounce and lick and annoy the hell out of a four-year-old.
So I used to lock him up in the dark, cold coal shed!
I am not proud of that admission but, hey, at the time it seemed to me to be a lesser sin than taking the pocket knife to Jesus.
The empty allotment at the side of the house was my playground.
We did not have a television; heck, we did not even have a phone, let alone a DVD, VCR or computer game.
But the playthings I could imagine with a sheet of corrugated iron up against a fence! Submarines. Aeroplanes. Tanks. Wagons.
I used to play for hours and hours.
Just me, dogless and godless, quietly deep in play in what I called "my paddock."
No wonder my family forgot I was there that day.
©August 6, 2002 John Martin. All Rights Reserved
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