Orphan Story#1: The Phalanges

Note: Yes, I do really write “serious” stuff. I just don’t write about writing much. It’s so . . . meta, or something.  I also don’t share my writing on this blog because that’s too meta too.  If you want to read my best work, you’re going to have to buy the journals where it shows up (or the book, maybe, eventually).  However, I’m realizing that there are some pieces of “creative writing” (whatever that means anymore) that might fit for the blog. Below is a snippet of a piece of writing I’ve done that fits nowhere. I can’t seem to squeeze it into anything larger and it doesn’t really work on its own for something a literary journal would take. So I’m presenting it to you in the hopes that it might lose its orphan status by getting a read or two.

Orphan Story#1: The Phalanges

I was born into a house where my father’s huge textbooks lay on every surface. Later, when we moved to Little Rock for Dad to attend Medical School, they transformed into medical books. One room of our rent house was devoted to ceiling-high stacks of back issues of the Journal of the American Medical Association. I started reading at two years old, through a combination of memorizing my favorite stories and a little instruction from Mom. I was completely familiar with the notion of careful word choice by the time I hit kindergarten, because Dad used me as a study tool for his anatomy class. This had the effect of my deciding that there were correct words for certain things, that most people just got them wrong, and it was my job to correct them when it happened.


I went to kindergarten at Fair Park Elementary on the edge of the Hillcrest neighborhood in Little Rock. By then, Dad was already in Gross Anatomy II, so I’d already spent a semester memorizing the medical terms for my body parts. I suppose to test our cognitive skills, the Kindergarten teacher had each child stand up before her and recite the names for certain body parts. She pointed to my forehead and said, “What’s that?”

 “My cranium,” I said.

“No, your forehead,” the Teacher corrected me.

No, it’s my cranium.”

The teacher ignored me and moved on. “What are these?” She waved her hand in front of my face.

“Phalanges,” I said.

“No, fingers. Those are your fingers,” she insisted.

“No they aren’t. They are my phalanges. And those things at the end of my feet are phalanges too.”  The teacher stared at me, incredulous.

“Do you have a dictionary?”  I said. 

My mom got a phone call at work later that day and I got my first academic victory. Mom had to explain I was using the scientific terms for bones, since my father used me as a living dummy to study for his anatomy class. The teacher didn’t quite know what to do, so she looked it up. When she discovered I was right, she just let me say whatever came out of my mouth in reference to body parts. It’s a good thing we didn’t do the Human Body for our class play, because I would have refused to say breastbone and insisted on saying manubrium. I was that sort of kid.



3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Tipper said,

    Orphan story? I enjoyed it and want to know what comes next? What came before? I’ll adopt it!

  2. 2

    j said,

    What a fun glimpse at you as a little kid! I could see this as the intro to a Reader’s Digest segment about raising kids with a love of learning. And I say that as a fan of RD, so I mean it in a good way. ;P

  3. 3

    Mike Stangel said,

    [no need to post this to your blog — this was the only way I could find to send you a message]

    I read with fascination your stories about Joshua Barton and his family. He is my 6th great grandfather, as I discovered building my family tree recently. I’m an engineer at Geni.com, a relatively new site for building and sharing your family tree, photos, etc. We recently released support for importing GEDCOM files, and the site is free (re: your comment about ancestry being too expensive). We do not currently have research tools like ancestry, so it’s not a fair comparison. I do hope you’ll check out the site, perhaps as a way to share the fascinating results of your hard work with your living family members. Maybe myself included — we currently have the ability to link trees when common relatives are found, which we’ll soon be releasing as a feature for all Geni users [I’m working on the authorization system for that right now].

    Thanks so much for sharing your stories.


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