What the Very Best Memories Are Built On

§  Pleasant childhood memories come from the most unexpected sources.  §

While talking with a friend not long ago, something I said triggered a pleasant childhood memory for her.  Reminiscing, she told me that her father had been a salesman, on the road sometimes for a week or longer.   Each time he returned from a sales trip, he brought small, inexpensive gifts to her and her brother—things that cost him little or nothing, but simply delighted his small children.  My friend particularly remembered the little paper parasols from fancy drinks (what little girl doesn’t just love those silly things?)

But time passed and she and her brother grew older.  Cheap little mementos no longer sufficed to entertain them, and Dad probably didn’t want to spend his hard-won cash on more expensive keepsakes.  Finally, her Dad warned the two of them, “Don’t ask me what I brought you, or you won’t get anything!”  Of course, my then-young friend didn’t ask…but the parade of little souvenir gifts stopped, anyway.  Such is life as we grow up. But even though there were no more small presents to be had, my friend never forgot the pleasure and excitement of the special things her Dad had brought home from his travels to his young  daughter.

My friend’s memories triggered recollections of my own, things I hadn’t thought about in years.  When my brothers and I were small, I remembered, Dad would often come home on Friday nights bearing a handful of comic books for us.  Probably he had stopped to fuel up the car, and in that era, an attendant would have run out to pump the gas, clean the windshield, check the oil…  In any case, my Dad had time to run inside and grab a pack of his cigarettes, and then a handful of comic books for his children.  But he always chose the good comic books—not just Superman and Wonder Woman, Adam Strange, or The Legion of Superheroes, but many issues of the Illustrated Classics series; even comics that described fascinating times and events in history, such as the rise of the Viking culture.  I loved these beautifully illustrated “serious” comic books, and read them over and over.  Years later, I would be astonished to meet in actual book form the  stories that I’d enjoyed so much in my comic books, when I finally discovered H.G. Wells and Mary Shelley, Jules Verne and Harriet Beecher Stowe.

I remember, too, that when we had moved to the then-unpopulated far south suburbs of Indianapolis, there were nearly no restaurants in our little corner of the universe—or so it seemed to my disappointed 10-year-old-self.  There were certainly no movie theaters, and even the local grocery store was a far slog from the house. But there was a Dog ‘n Suds drive-in a couple of miles from our new home.  The Friday night comic book fest changed to the thrilling adventure of sitting in the car, devouring a delicious meal of hot dogs and fries and root beer after Dad got home from work.  (More than half a century later, I still love hot dogs and root beer, and be damned to how unhealthy a meal it is!)

Vacations, too, held memories for me that had little or nothing to do with the actual trips.  Of a childhood vacation to meet all of Mom’s relatives in Kentucky, I recall nothing at all about the people to whom I was introduced  except for one memorable incident with my distant cousins, when they and my older brother and I were chased madly down a country lane by an enraged sow after we’d gotten too close to her piglets.

And the long three-week trek my parents took us on one summer covering most of the American southwest, seeing supposedly-memorable scenery and monuments, still does not bear a candle in my memory to the year that we spent our summer vacation trekking from one State park to another, hiking the trails and feeding the wildlife, riding in surreys and marching cautiously across swaying suspension bridges, picnicking and stopping at country restaurants to eat huge platters of fried chicken served family-style, topped off by rainbow sherbet for dessert.

The most precious memories that children carry away from their childhood may well have nothing at all to do with what we, their parents, hope to have created for them.  The simplest of events and seemingly-inconsequential occurrences, totally forgotten by the adults in their lives, stand out limned in a brilliant halo of shining light in the mind of each once-child.  It is those incidents which become the bricks and mortar from which children build their most precious memories. As the adults in their lives, all we  can do is to provide them scraps of building material, and watch in wonder what they create from that offering.

Happy Almost-Birthday to you, Morrigan Lynn!
I hope the memories that we, your family, are helping you build will be glorious.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “The Dance At My Daughter’s Wedding”, which can be found in the Archives from May 11, 2018.

When I Wore Wings

I had to give up Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy, but I refuse to give up the Loch Ness Monster. I  absolutely adore tales of Nessie, along with those of all other sea monsters.  I love the grainy, out-of-focus pictures and the videos that somehow never quite display the monster they purport to reveal. I’d prefer to believe in Big Foot, also, both in its North American incarnation, or as the Yeti.  I long to believe garden fairies, and mermaids, and dragons.

The simple truth is, I miss the overwhelming sense of wonder I had in childhood, when life was a series of endless, unimaginable possibilities; when daydreams were an alternate reality. I miss it all dreadfully. And that is why I long to, choose to, believe in the unbelievable: in lovely legends, and in miracles.

Children see the world using brains that are not yet imprisoned in the confines of an oft-unpalatable reality. As adults, we find their thought patterns difficult to follow, and invariably label those patterns as “wrong” or “undeveloped”.  “Magical thinking”, we call their unusual and curious view of cause-and-effect. But their thought patterns are neither wrong nor undeveloped; they are simply different.  (And, let’s be frank: as adults, it would be a touch frightening to admit that those childish thought patterns might, after all, be right.)

I recall an article I read once in which a woman, who as an adult was identified as having a mild form of brain disorder, described her first day of school as a child. Distracted by something, she sat down on the school steps and the principal, happening by, asked her if she did not know where she was supposed to be. She found his question bewildering.  Of course she knew where she was supposed to be: she was supposed to be in her body.  And she was.

Another adult told me of a friend’s small child who’d received a poor mark on an school paper.  The exercise was intended to determine if children could understand the difference between reality and fantasy.   The child had labeled the statement, “The little tan dog barked” as fantasy.  Why on earth, her mother scolded, would she say that was fantasy?  To which the upset child protested, “I didn’t know doggies could get a tan!”

A few years later my own daughter received that same paper, and, while passing the tan doggie question correctly, marked “The whale sounded and moved to the surface”, as fantasy. Just as that other mother had done, I scolded, and received a wailing protest, “But whales are under water! They can’t talk!  The Little Mermaid is PRETEND, Mommy!!”

I want a child’s brain like that. I am tired of seeing the world in black and white and sepia and grey.  I want to see it in brilliant technicolor.  I want a brain which denies that doggies can get a tan, or that doesn’t yet know a thing about whale song, so that it comes as a brilliant surprise.  I want a brain that understands that I’m supposed to be in my body.  I want a mind that sees wonders and marvels and sensations everywhere. I want existence as it once was, as in the poem I wrote decades ago:

When I Wore Wings

When I wore wings and gowns of green and jewel-dusted robes,
I danced on clouds and rainbowed paths, and sported crowns of gold.
I flitted soft from wood to sea, and rested on the stars;
vacationed in the silent spheres—on Venus, and on Mars.

But then, as creatures of my sort, it seems, must always do,
I traded up my crowns and robes for less enticing truths.
I placed my dreams on dusty shelves with labels (“Childhood Days”)
and took as recompense a drear allotment underpaid.

Yet, somehow she lives on in me, that creature lost in time,
for sometimes, when I least expect, her eyes look out through mine,
to glimpse the pixies dancing ‘mid the roots of giant trees,
or light from secret cities at the bottom of the sea.