THAT SNAIL BEHIND US IS GOING TO RUN US OVER-----------
Tomi was born in a maternity hospital around 3:30 p.m. of November 28, 1931.
In the words of his reminiscing mother, Alice, it was the time of day when the autumn haze starts to envelop the town. In later autulmn, night comes to Strasbourg early in the afternoon.
By four o'clock, lights have to be lit in every home, and a long spell of darkness covers the town.
But for a baby just born, it would hardly "make any difference whether the night were long or short.
"Tomi had beautiful and lucid eyes one hour after birth.
They seemed as if to say, "What in the world am I doing here?" his mother said, recollecting the hour 35 years later.
While nothing prevents proud parents from trytng to find a great meantng in the birth of their baby, it is a different story when they place too great expectations on the child's future.
There is a greater significance in the fact that Tomi was born as the youngest son of the Ungerers, a family whose business it was to manufacture astronomical clocks.
Tomi himself seemed proud of the family vocation. "
I like machines. And I know all about mechanics," he once confided to me.
The clock factory operated by the Ungerer family, it is said, was well-known in those days
when astronomical clocks were still in great demand. Tomi's father, Theodore, died of illness
when Tomi was only three years old.
It is not known, therefore, whether Mr.Ungerer had wanted Tomi, instead of Bernard, his
brother older by seven years, to succeed as head of the family business.
Nevertheless, Bernard chose a different profession, and the factory today is run by the husband of the sister who is nine years Tomi's senior.
In the reminiscences of mother Alice, Tomi looms almost as large as the Son of God.
On the Christmas Eve after his first year's birthday, there occurred a miraculous event. Attracted by something in the decorations on the Christmas tree, he suddenly stood and walked toward it.
To that day he had never walked, much less even stood up.
Brought up on the baby food then in vogue, his teeth had not appeared by his seventh month, so that his mother decided to change from this diet to a milk-based variety.
I would imagine that his insufficient diet had caused him to suffer from a form of malnutrition.
At all events, it so happened that Tomi walked for the first time that night.
And it surely seemed to his mother that there was something august about the baby who, sitting on her lap on Christmas morning, was staring at the solitary candle which had been burning through the night before.
I do not know exactly at what age artistic genius starts to bud.
In some cases, of course, as when both parents are musicians, the children are reared in an enlightening environment, blessed with the opportunity to become thoroughly acquainted with musical instruments from the time of their earliest childhood.
In his infancy, Tomi loved to play in the sand; using silver-coated paper, he would often make small rivers, animals, churches and towns; and he delighted in playing also with toy bridges.
I doubt, however, that such circumstances had a great deal to do with the artistic ability he was to develop in later years.
I am not so confident as his mother, but still there might be something to her remark that as a child Tomi never "became bored."
Nevertheless, there seems to be little significant connection between the youthful Tomi who could find unending pleasure in building fortresses out of sand and playing with toy soldiers, and the mature artist sitting in the deluxe study of his Park Side apartment and talking with evident pride about his collection of miniature soldiers on parade.
I talked with Tomi's mother and older sister for several hours, during which time they told me about his infancy and boyhood. One of the episodes that interested me the most concerned Madelaine, their housemaid.
They did not, however, tell me how old she was at the time, nor did they mention which part of the country she hailed from.
"She was a clever girl. Imaginative expressions would often spring from her lips, like
"We'd better hurry up, or that snail behind us is going to run us over,"
This was all that I learned of Madelaine, but that remark bounded to me like a revelation.
"We'd better hurry up, or that snail behind us is going to run us over."
What imaginative words they are!
Almost any infant spoken to in such wonderful words would surely quicken his step.
What is more important is that the child would have been transported int" a dreamlike world whenever Madelaine spoke to him---a world not simply of fantasy, but one in which the boy himself could actually play a heroic role.
Tomi himself never told me anything about Madelaine-perhaps because she disappeared long ago from his memories, or perhaps because today he lives in a world vastly different from the one created by Madelaine for the infant child.
Without doubt, however, she was the one who taught him to wander and dream into the land of fantasy.
Tomi has been accustomed to take sudden flight into the world of dreams ever since he was two or three years old.
As an infant used to hearing such "perceptive expressions as " a snail is going to run us over," it is quite natural that he should grow into a boyhood freed from the dread of boredom.