Thursday, April 14, 2016

On Memory and Childhood -- Recollections

            My earliest recollection of our family is watching my sister Peggy being hit by a car as she ran across the street during a church picnic.  They say that strong emotion reinforces memory and maybe that is why I remember this event so clearly, like a short clip of movie footage of a little girl in the street over hung by trees, running in her summer dress and a fender coming into view before me.  I can also recall sitting in the kitchen on another day while my mother put ice cubes on my bleeding head.  Peggy and I had been playing in an ash pile behind the shed and for some reason she was chopping the ashes with an old rusty axe.  She was swinging the axe when I bent over to mess about in the ashes, and I took a blow to the back of the head.  I remember screaming bloody murder as I ran to house, and my mother setting me down and  laying ice on the open wound. I remember the white kitchen and the blood running out over the white like I was some else watching.  And I don’t remember the pain.
          So much of what we seem to remember is images and smells, sounds, and I find that sometimes what I remember is not the same as my brothers and sisters remember, so I am left with a confusion of history.  I remember bits of our journey up the ALCAN in 1958, small bits like a collection of photos tucked in the drawer of an old desk.  When I reflect on those things that I do recall, like riding in back of the fifty-one Ford up a muddy hill on the day that my mom patched a leak in the gas tank with a wad of chewing gum from or collective mouths, a patch that lasted the life of the car. 

            Of course, when you are one of the young ones in a family, much of your memory is created for you by reliving events as they are told around the kitchen table.  But one pure, distinct and powerful image that I carry from than great journey north is the memory of one stormy night when the rain came down heavy and hard.  We made camp in a field where the skeleton of a barn stood gray and sinister in the night.  We lay down on boards laid across the floor beams – remember being wrapped in quilt and listening to rain hammering the roof and dripping steadily off the eaves.  There is no more warming feeling than being wrapped in warm blankets and listening to rain on the roof.  In the morning I remember sitting in the cold wrapped in my blankets watching my mother make oatmeal and coffee on the Coleman camp.  We ate our oatmeal on an that little island of boards lay on naked floor joist on that dark wet morning in Canada, when I first realized the great adventure that our family had undertaken that spring of 1958.

What are your earliest strong memories that your carry with you everyday?

1 comment:

  1. ahhh, dan...i love your posts, as much for the things you write about as the things that you write. maybe more. sadly, or not, many of my early memories center around emotional pain but there were others that foretold the good things in life. my earliest memory of my father is him telling me what a screw up i was that i could not be born right as i was supposed to be my brother's first birthday present and slave for life (turns out i was not born early and this was par for my life, but that's another story). then there was the time that i was helping cook dinner--i started cooking very young. it may have been the first time that i peeled carrots for pot roast. i remember the red stool that had two steps that folded out from under it for climbing to the seat to be able to stand on it to get stuff off the higher shelves. i peeled a chunk of my left index finger--the scar is still there. i remember the blood flowing into the sink (it seemed like gallons at the time, but was likely not much at only needed the smallest of bandaids). and i remember the pink carrots. i don't remember the pain or what that roast tasted like--it was a weekday so it wasn't a chicken. and i remember someone bringing us our first dog when i wasn't yet in school and i got to name it. scamp. funny, i don't remember if it was male or female but i know that it was a traveller--we were once visiting an uncle across town to see out of town relatives. someone was telling them about the dog and a dog looking like scamp came trotting down the street--someone said that the dog looked just like scamp and lo and was and scamp came running over to us. but my last memory is the fondest by far, and it too is about food and family. we rarely got to spend time with my maternal grandparents but i remember staying at their house overnight at least once. my grandfather was a dairy farmer and used to being up very early and out and about. he was no longer actively farming, but you know that never leaves you. zadi had told us the night before that whoever was up and ready when he left in the morning could go with him. you have to understand that this man loved his grandchildren and taught me everything i know about what family is or is supposed to be. i don't think i slept a wink--i would have killed for the chance to spend some time with him. i was the only one up. he asked to be sure and checked the other kids. he and i went out for the day and our adventures began--breakfast at his favorite spot with the neon bunny bread sign in the window. time at the farm. meeting all the farmworkers and seeing our milkman (we lived a few towns over but they still delivered that far, over 25 miles, was pierre, who always had chunks of ice for us and often had freeze pops hidden in the ice in the back of the truck to keep the milk cold). his stinky cigars he wasn't supposed to be smoking, a visit to my aunt, a trip to his buddy for a few hands of poker, with the cigar, in the back room of mo's liquor store (be sure you don't tell your grandmother), the bakery, uncle henry's deli, lunch somewhere, and "what do you want to do--it's your day to pick?" i could have died and gone to heaven (if it exists) that day. and leo thought he was king of the world. that's plenty for childhood, no?