I sometimes ask my husband to tell stories of his childhood, ones I’ve already heard before, just to see his animated face, the joy he feels at recounting a treasured or simply remembered moment. I do this because his memories go back so far and mine don’t. He tells me about preschool and his friends and what they played and where. He tells me about his sister and brother, how they were inseparable, how most of his earlier memories include them. I sort of remember kindergarten and bits and pieces of elementary school, snatches and snippets of things that happened, but nothing becomes a full memory, something I can say “this happened to me” until about fourth grade. What is that, age eight? Where’d the rest of my life go?
I remember playing the gong show with my sisters and cousins. I remember parts of conversations. But I rarely remember anything that is a full on experience. I remember almost drowning in the wild wave at Wild World but I don’t remember the drive there. I remember Danny jumping on the back of my big wheel as I rode down the driveway, making my foot slide against the gravel and my toe nail coming off. But I don’t remember what happened after.
I remember sneaking to see Salem’s Lot on tv as my father watched. I remember running from the room during the scene where the vampire brother taps on the glass saying, Let Me In. My father says my mother yelled at him for hours about it but I don’t remember that. I remember our cat getting run over but not what happened after. I remember hearing about our dog getting the popcorn box stuck on his head, but I don’t remember seeing it. I’ve created an image in my head, a whole scene of finding him struggling to breathe, and have to remind myself I didn’t actually experience it.
The weird thing is, though, I can remember other people’s stories. If you told me something in 1988 and you forget what color shirt you had on in the story or what the shirt read, I’ll remember and remind you as though I was there. But that gets sticky when I try to remember my own history. For instance, I’ve heard some stories so much, like ones involving my sisters, and I feel like I was there. I have to catch myself from appropriating those stories, recounting them as though I too was there, just like with our dog.
There’s a room in the basement of my childhood home. I refused to go in the room after the age of 10 or so. I have no idea what I saw or what happened in that basement, if anything did. But I remember having a physical reaction, hotness, discomfort, the need to flee, whenever I went downstairs and that room was slightly open. The room was unfinished, just light blue or white concrete walls, no furniture, a tiny window close to the ceiling. Recently, a friend tried hypnosis to help her stop smoking. I used to want to try it to see if I could remember anything about the dreaded basement room. At the same time, I don’t want to know.
I remember huge Halloween parties where the entire neighborhood of kids crammed into our basement: bobbing for apples in a steel tin, dancing to The Gap Band’s You Dropped A Bomb On Me, but I don’t remember any costume I wore.
I hope that this blog serves to remind my kids a bit about their childhood, or at least, remind me about things that happened as I get older and my memory gets worse. I hope that photos do that too. There’s nothing like wondering how I have a friend from second grade, still, but I can’t remember our playing together as children.