A Memory Salad

The child has few memories, so those he has are detailed.

We were in my hometown for some reason one summer Sunday afternoon a couple years ago and I said to my girlfriend that I wanted to show her where I grew up. (As if I have.) We drove down roads I used to bike on, walk on. I grew up in the suburbs, in upstate New York, in the 1970s and ’80s, a neighborhood without sidewalks, with kids biking across their neighbors’ lawns (well, I did) without fear of criticism. I remembered knowing which houses had dogs that were poorly restrained (avoid those lawns or find a new speed in my pumping little legs) and which houses were simply scary for reasons no one could explain but everyone knew which houses simply seemed scary.

(Years later, in high school, I was fundraising or campaigning for something and I dared, out of my OCD-ish sense-need to knock on every door, I knocked on the door of one of the houses that I always thought was scary. The owner was friendly and nice as could be. I felt like I had discovered something.)

We drove down a road I biked on 35 years ago, a road lined with trees (“The Woods“) whose branches now are meeting above it, which must keep it in permanent shade and a continuous risk of electrical outages, and which renders it even more spooky than it was every Halloween, when I would walk it in costume to leave my neighborhood and visit the next one over.

I did not know when I was 10 years old that I was memorizing these roads, their very surface. I recognized a kid-created access point into The Woods. (Was it the steepest point on the hillside? Yes, for reasons that were clothes-ruining obvious to us.) We turned left onto the street I spent the first 18 years of my life, and there it was: “my” home, but painted the wrong color and sporting a new garage door and a driveway overhang. But I didn’t notice what was different at first. At first, I gasped.

Jen heard it. I sometimes forget in my relatively simple life that gasping is an actual thing real people with real hearts do. I gasped. It had been decades since I had been there. Every image my brain could offer me was tossed into a memory salad: which window was my room, a rock I always avoided with the lawn mower, which trees remained, every single blade of grass. I said something about how my name is all over the inside of that building, because I was a possessive kid and wrote my name on sheet rock (sometimes exposing it to do so) and hidden spots on wooden beams throughout the house. (To the residents of 4 Sheraton Drive, I’m sorry.) (Another thing: yes, I am aware that there is a connection between the number 4 being my secret favorite lucky number and my first street address.)

At the top of my road sits my elementary school, another building that may have my name in it, as I was the sort of kid who won awards in school. It was summer and we walked on its grounds. How could my brain retain that this one, particular jungle gym was the one that I always climbed, and that the other, identical, jungle gym on the same patch of yard was the one that I only climbed when mine was occupied? But there it was. There it is. I stepped onto a lower rung. It was as if I had had no other life.

The WordPress Daily Prompt for October 2 asks, “A place from your past or childhood, one that you’re fond of, is destroyed. Write it a memorial.”

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  1. Martha Kennedy · October 2, 2015


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Relax · October 2, 2015

    I love it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. lifelessons · October 2, 2015

    In a good story, there is always a point at which the story “steps down” to a deeper level. “I did not know when I was 10 years old that I was memorizing these roads, their very surface,” is one of those points. “It was as if I had had no other life.” is another. I loved traveling back with you, Mark. http://judydykstrabrown.com/2015/10/02/merry-go-round/

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · October 5, 2015

      Thank you, so much, Judy. I tried to discard that last line three or four times. It kept climbing out of the wastepaper basket and sneaking back in.

      Liked by 1 person

      • lifelessons · October 5, 2015

        It knew where it lived even if you weren’t too sure about it!


  4. loisajay · October 4, 2015

    I got goose bumps from this. I left NJ for FL so, so many years ago and never went back. Years ago my dad told me the new owners of our old house had added a fireplace in the bedroom. He was shocked! I think that was enough for me. I enjoyed this memory-jogger.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Childhood’s End | The Gad About Town
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