Let me say from the outset that I believe a sense of humor is one of the most essential traits any person can possess. Something doesn’t have to be uproariously funny for me to view the irony in a given situation. For example, how did my mother, who received a near-perfect score on the SAT® and a 4.0 GPA in graduate school, and my father, who was Teacher of the Year four times, get me for a son? I never take myself too seriously, and I pray that you don’t either. The ability to laugh at one’s self is probably the most valuable lesson I have learned so far.
But I digress… My sixteen-year-old sister, Elizabeth, and I grew up in rural Lexington County, SC and had a plethora of animals we rescued from various places. Currently, we have three horses, a Leonberger shepherd, a Border collie, and one very obnoxious Chihuahua. Added to this menagerie are two Lionhead rabbits, three Tabby cats, and a miniature donkey. (By the way, our donkey doesn’t bray, “Hee Haw” as you might expect. Instead, “Chico, Our Amigo” has a bloodcurdling scream that sounds as if another animal is tearing him apart limb from limb.) Anyway, if you ever need manure for your garden, you know who to ask.
Contrary to what you may assume, most of my education occurred outside of a traditional school setting. My mother taught ecology for a number of years at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory in Aiken County. Searching for reptiles and amphibians in Upper Three Runs Creek for scientists and graduate students kept me busy, and most importantly, out of trouble! I was the most popular kid in the neighborhood because I had baby alligators in my bathtub, an armadillo in a large, makeshift backyard pen, and about forty snakes in our den. While our neighbors had “Beware of Dog” signs on their fences, we had “Warning! Venomous Snakes, SREL Off-Site Research Facility” signs on ours. Consequently, we never had people soliciting at our door!
Academic subjects were something I avoided at every opportunity throughout my pre-college years. Foreign languages and language arts were my worst subjects. My parents encouraged me to explore new reading genres by surreptitiously leaving books around the house. Despite their best attempts, I tended to revert back to my favorites, science fiction and fantasy. J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Jordan, and J.D. Salinger are among my favorite authors, though I sometimes dabbled in Greek myths and the classics.
Most often than not, I practiced music when I should have been studying. I began playing violin at three years old because I was fixated on learning to play my West Virginia grandfather’s “fiddle.” After much begging, my parents gave in and allowed me to take additional music lessons a few years later. Eventually, due to my somewhat obsessive-compulsive personality, I became proficient in six instruments (violin, viola, piano, drums, bass, and guitar.)
I auditioned for and subsequently joined diverse...