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Archive for May, 2015

It’s strange that as I get older I find myself thinking about my childhood and remember it like it was just last week. A piece of music, a scent, or a sight, can trigger a distant memory. A snowfall invokes memories of hills I sledded down in winter, summer heat reminds me of the cool spring-fed pond where I caught crawdads and pollywogs, and the windswept waves of long grass bring thoughts of the vast valley between railroad lines where I felt like a lone explorer. A walk on the lakeshore brings back memories of swimming with friends, our dog Sparky rolling in the dead fish and keeping the windows down on the trip home to vent the smell. Sweet summers in Fair Haven with peeling sunburns and the smell of Noxema, days that seemed to last forever…

Because my brother still lives in our home town, he still sees and communicates with some of his first friends, those with whom we played stick ball, tag, and explored our surroundings. But my moving away in my early twenties severed all of those earliest ties. The homes of my friends are occupied by strangers now and all of our childhood friends parents are long gone. Billy Corradino’s bar, the Utica Market, Sereno’s restaurant, even the railroad tracks are all gone. But there is always that thought that if you wanted to, you could reconnect with those who shared those earliest times, bringing them back to life…

A few years ago I learned that my first best friend had died. Even though we didn’t pal around with each other through junior and senior high school, those earliest ties remain with me forever, and it was like a door had closed that can never be reopened when I learned Julie was gone. It severed childhood from adulthood with a sudden pain and regret that I had not connected with her after we had married and gone on with our separate hectic lives. How clear those days remain in my thoughts, playing house in her grandmother’s old chicken coop – I can still remember the musty smell of chickens long gone. I can see her clearly — French braids, plaid shirt and cotton shorts… Such innocent times…

So poignant and clear are those memories it would seem kinder if they had faded as the years did. But when I think of my mother, I see her not like she was at 84, but like she was before my father died, the vibrant young woman who was always there, thanklessly preparing our meals, cleaning our clothes, worrying about us. I see my father, tall and strong, with a twinkle in his eye and a broad smile. I remember his scent, the sweat of hard work and the railroad. I can hear him and Dick Buske laughing until tears flowed as they attempted to get the hang of a new toy called a hoola-hoop. I remember him taking me fishing down to the river and making for me a pole from a branch, some line and a hook, and watching as the fish nibbled the bait. Those days are like precious treasures I can take out and relive at any time. It’s just that I seem to be doing it more often these days.

Yes, there are wonderful memories of meeting my future husband, our high school days, falling in love, getting married and working hard to make a home, the birth of a son and a daughter. Watching them grow, taking them to ordinary places, a vacation in Redfield, hockey and baseball games, making memories they will treasure. There were backyard barbecues, playing cards with our neighbors. We left the city behind thirty years ago, and those years seemed to have flown by. It’s hard to believe we have been married 50 years and have grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

I look around these days and don’t see children playing outside the way we did and wonder what sort of memories they are making. We had no video games, we watched maybe five hours of television a week, but mostly we were outside from morning until the street lights came on. We had scabs and bruises in summer, red noses and numb fingers and toes in winter, but only a downpour kept us inside, and not always that deterred us when the rain was warm and the puddles deep. We had no expensive toys and used a stick and a ball or kicked an old ball, running the bases… Mr. Barney’s car was first base, pieces of cardboard were second and third base. In winter we built snow forts and had snowball fights, we went ice skating, sledding. We played hopscotch, hide-and-go-seek, jumping rope, roller-skating… A few days ago I watched my great-grandson run barefoot through the grass for the first time, chasing after his Uncle Jake, seeing the joy on his face and hearing him cry when his mother tried to bring him in the house. When do they lose that thrill of being outside?

I sometimes wonder what I would do if I could go back in time to those childhood days. What would I change? I know memories are selective, but I can think of little I would change. I only know I would appreciate and enjoy the good times even more knowing how truly special they were, and maybe hang onto that one perfect friendship that got away, taking a bit of those years along with me.

Childhood Memories

 

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