Spoiled Children of Divorce

E.O. Wilson Talks About His Life During Parents’ Divorce

Sociobiologist, E.O. Wilson, on events surrounding his Parents’ divorce when he was seven:

“Who can say what events formed his own character?  Too many occur in the twilight of early childhood.  The mind lives in half-remembered experiences of uncertain valence, where self-deception twists memory further from truth with every passing year.  But of one event I can be completely sure.  It beggan in the winter of 1937, when my parents, Edward and Inez Freeman Wilson, separated and began divorce proceedings.  Divorce was still unusual at that time and in that part of the country, and there must have been a great deal of gossiping and head-shaking among other family members.  While my parents untangled their lives, they looked for a place that could offer a guarantee of security to a seven-year-old.  They chose the Gulf Coast Military Academy, a private school located on the shore road four miles east of Gulfport, Mississippi.”

Wilson’s Mother takes him to the Military Academy:

“I looked at my military-style cot, the kind you can bounce a coin on when properly made.  I listened to an outline of the daily regimen.  I examined my uniform, patterned after that at West Point.  I shook hands with my roommate, who was inordinately stiff and polite for a seven-year-old.  All dream of languor and boyhood adventure vanished.”

p. 16-17, Chapter 2:  Send Us the Boy, Naturalist by E.O. Wilson.

In the first Chapter there is also discussion but it is seens as an event that is interspersed with Wilson’s beginning interests in the Natural world.  In particular his interest seems to have been triggered by memoy of a jellyfish he sees at an aquarium.  You can sort of see how part of him froze at this age on wonder and how he turned this wonder into his life’s work.

From Page 6:

“There was trouble at home in this season of fantasy.  My parents were ending their marriage that year.  Existence was difficult for them, but not for me, their only child, at least not yet.  I had been placed in the care of a family that boarded one or two boys during months of the summer vacation.  Paradise Beach was paradise truly named for a little boy.  Each morning after breakfast I left the small shorefront house to wander alone in seach of treasures along the strand.  I waded in and out of the dependable warm surf and scrounged for anything I could find in the drift…

“I have no remembrance of the names of the family I stayed with, what they looked like, their ages, or even how may there were.  Most likely they were a married couple and, I am willing to suppose, caring and warmhearted people. They have passed out of my memory, and I have no need to learn their identity.  It was the animals of that place that cast a lasting spell.”

Sounds pretty nice.  But, Wilson goes on to explain later in the chapter how he lost his vision because of lack of parenting.  While out fishing he caught a fish that had a spiny back fin.  One of the spines poked him in the eye. Wilson ignored the pain, the family who was caring for him did nothing about it.

Months later when Wilson was back with his family his eye clouded over. His parents took him to the Doctor who performed what is described as a very traumatic surgery and as a result most of the vision in that eye was lost.  That experience also is described as a key “seed” point in Wilson’s future work.

“I would thereafter celebrate the little things of the world, the animals that can be picked up between thumb and forefinger and brought close for inspection.”

– p. 15

from Chapter 1, “Paradise Beach”

I’ve discussed very briefly Wilson’s life after this.  He spent much of it wondering from caretaker to caretaker, sometimes living with his Mother whose finances were difficult and then living with his Father and Step-Mother.  He says he had a normal boyhood.  And he discusses how he doesn’t remember much of it.

Kind of interesting quote:  “always prone to closing and repeating circles in my life.”  p. 60

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