Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 484
Baker's personal memoir of growing up in the shadows of the Great Depression and World War II is poignant, sad, humorous, and moving. Baker recounts many stories of his life growing up with his mother, his sister, and his extended family during challenging times which tested the character of all.
This first quote powerfully portrays Baker's sentiments about the importance of family and knowing one's past; he recognizes that many events and people influence an individual's life and destiny.
We all come from the past, and children ought to know what it was that went into their making, to know that life is a braided cord of humanity stretching up from time long gone, and that it cannot be defined by the span of a single journey from diaper to shroud.
In reference to his very early years, Baker discusses what life was like after his father passed away in 1931, when his family had to move from country life in Virginia to urban life in Newark, New Jersey, and then Baltimore, Maryland. They experienced a hard, demanding life as the adults in the family constantly tried to secure work.
After that [his father's death] I never cried with any real conviction, nor expected much of anyone's God except indifference, nor loved deeply without fear that it would cost me dearly in pain. At the age of five I had become a skeptic and began to sense that any happiness that came my way might be the prelude to some grim cosmic joke.
Both Baker and his sister began working before the age of ten, selling papers to help bring in some income for the family. Working through family, community, and personal hardships, Baker learned to endure and write about what he learned.
“forsan et haec olim meminisse invabit.” After great difficulty and with much help from the teacher I had worked this out to mean, “Someday we shall recall these trials with pleasure."
Throughout the narrative, and his life, Baker's mother consistently emphasized to Baker, ''have a little gumption'' and ''make something of yourself.'' As a former teacher, his mother wanted him to do well in school.
She was tough on her son. She once stated, "'Just because you wear pants doesn't mean you're God's gift to creation, sonny boy..."
Determined to exceed his mother's expectations, Baker worked hard in an esteemed high school and did well enough to earn a scholarship to attend Johns Hopkins.
I would make something of myself, and if I lacked the grit to do it, well then she would make me make something of myself. I would become the living proof of the strength of her womanhood. From now on she would live for me, and, in turn, I would become her future.
Baker's autobiographical chronicle is both historical and personal in nature, providing a glimpse into some of the hardest and greatest years of America's history.