Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Moving Polaroids

You can see children's faces light up when they get a birthday present or open Christmas gifts. The toys are shiny and novel and keep their attention for a while (unless it's a Wii system, and then apparently it's electronic crack, as it is with my own kids). But over time, most toys are forgotten. Their entertainment value isn't lost, but unless it's a favorite stuffed bed time animal, or a touch-worn blanket, there's usually no emotional attachment.

I look back on my own childhood and remember only a few favorite toys. A red and black Team Murray bicycle. My first Atari system (Megamania ring any bells? Cause that was MY electronic crack as a kid). A Rubik's cube that drove me to the brink of a padded jacket and then made me cheat and break it apart to put it back together again correctly just so I could find some mental peace. And... and... I don't know. I'm sure if I took some time and did a little mini-mediation I could come up with more, but the long and short of it is that any thing material isn't what makes me smile and look back on my childhood with fond memories.

It's the spaces between... it's the things that didn't cost money that are indelibly etched in my mind.

And I'll invite you to do the same. Have a favorite childhood memory? Think for a bit and put yourself back in the moment. What were the little details you thought you'd forgotten? They're there. Let me hear it...


I've got a few moments I'll share with you over the next couple of days, but here's the first...

Eight years old, I'm sitting at the kitchen table, a bowl of Lucky Charms in front of me and Tom and Jerry playing on the black and white 13" tv in the kitchen. My father has already gone off to work and my mother should have been gone too. By this time of morning I should be dressed and waiting at the end of our long driveway, waiting for the screeching brakes of the school bus to announce its presence.

But this morning, my mother is still home. She's standing at the front door, sipping her coffee and smoking a cigarette, while thick heavy flakes drift down from the sky.

My grandfather is already outside, most likely tinkering in the barn or sitting on an overturned 5-gallon water bucket and watching the snow come down too.

I tilt my bowl of cereal, slurping down the last of the milk, turned a robin's egg blue, and turn to my mother... who is smiling at me. She doesn't say anything... just stubs her cigarette out and slips her feet in a pair of my father's work boots. She shrugs on her coat and pulls a knit hat on, then reaches beneath the kitchen sink for a can of Pledge and tells me to get dressed because she'll be back soon.

I watched her through the side window of the kitchen as she made her way toward the barn. The snow was already deep, easily seven inches or so (and looking back, it makes me think that times must have been a bit tighter than I thought... what the hell was my father doing out driving for?) and it took my mother some effort to make her way toward the barn. I had no idea what she was up to, but usually when she got one of those grins on her faces, it was something to look forward to.

I ran to my room, threw on some clothes and raced back downstairs. By the time I pulled on my gloves, hat and boots, my mother was back at the front door, her grin even wider, and she motioned for me to come with her. She withdrew the can of Pledge and coated the sheet from top to bottom. The air was thick with the smell of fake lemons and the metal glistened.

The house where I grew up was a farmhouse over a hundred years old. It was surrounded by cedars and oaks and walnut trees and rolling hills and the valley that everything rested in was bookended by a humongous tin-roofed barn.

My mother, full of mischief, had a 3 foot x eight foot sheet of roofing tin, and she had curled the end up toboggan style, punched two nail holes at the corners and knotted a rope as a harness at the sides.

We trekked out into the snow and stood at the crest of the hill in front of our house. It was a long stretch, leading out about fifteen feet to a four foot berm, and then another ten feet to a deeper drop and continued on for a good forty feet. Mom giggled to herself, sat down on the tin and made me sit Indian style in front of her. It took a few pushes and jerks to get ourselves started, but once we hit the crest of the first hill and gravity took over, to say that we hauled some serious ass would be an understatement.

That slicked roofing tin cut through the snow like it was soft butter, and it only got faster as we forged a path and packed the snow down hard. I think we spent the better part of three hours out there in the cold, playing like children with not a care in the world.

Rosy cheeked and frozen, we finally came inside to warm up. I'm sure I had hot chocolate and my mother had coffee, but I don't truly recall. What I do remember, even is flying down that snowy hillside with my mother, arms raised high as if on a roller coaster, giggling and laughing as the snow drifted down on my face and open mouth. I remember my mother's arms around me.

I remember.

9 Comments:

Anonymous Kelli Dunlap said...

VERY nice... and fits nicely with my whimsical blog for today!!

3:56 PM  
Anonymous graveyardwalker said...

I turned over Megamania once (was that 999,999?) and took a picture of the TV screen!

5:23 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

Kelli: Hahahaha.. yes it DOES! And I'm thinking of my last whimsical moment right now to comment on...

Graveyardwalker: What??? You mean... You mean... I wasn't the ONLY one to do that? Shit... you've completely and totally shattered the image I had of myself as a 7 year old video-game god. =)

7:14 PM  
Blogger Joseph Mulak said...

One of the best childhood memories I have was when I was in cub scouts, my dad was one of the leaders. When we went on camping trips, he would sneak off to the fire pit and he would somehow rig up a battery with some wires and foot pedal. When it came to time for the nightly campfire, my father would pretend to do some form of ritual and secretly step on the pedal and the fire would light. We all thought this was the coolest thing ever, not to mention we thought it was real magic. And I was so happy that everyone thought I had the coolest dad in the world.

12:06 AM  
Blogger Bob said...

Joseph - that is a GREAT memory. It's those kind of things, I think, in our worst times, we can remember, live through again and smile, and help us carry on through whatever storm we're weathering. As children, I tend to believe that, if we're lucky, our parents really are magicians. They reach into the top hat and pull out a rabbit that lives in our minds the rest of our lives.

10:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also knew someone who enjoyed using pledge to slick a linoleum floor in college and watch room mates sock skate uncontrollably.

:-)

4:42 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

I... have no recollection of that incident or the said room mate skating across the floor like Michelle Kwan.

4:48 PM  
Blogger Am said...

LOLOLOLOLOLOL...I remember that story. Oh to see his face as he keeps slipping over and over again. If only I was there. Camera would be involved as well as pissy pants. heehee

11:42 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

Am: HAHAHAHA.. that's RIGHT! You read about that one... ohhh, that boy was skating like Bambi on an ice pond I tell you. Easily one of the funniest things I've seen in my life. =)

9:29 AM  

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