The Decision to Plumb My Childhood
We set the dead aside as if we have no use for them. But I wanted to pluck my people out of time, to borrow them from eternity for a little while, to explore their worlds and to finally understand them. I had lived among them, knew their every gesture, had heard them speak so many times, and wondered greatly about them. But I didn’t know who they really were.
I longed to walk through the house in which I grew up and to look out on the street and see the wealth of familiar things that were before me every day in my youth, no sights as dear to me as what I saw from the kingdom of my porch.
I hoped to find as they had been, the people who had populated my world–to be among them again, to feel for them tenderness and pity and regret. I knew that time hadn’t disappeared, but had remained inside me. I realized that if I wanted to be with them, though most had died, I would have to discover them in myself where they still lived.
I wanted to see things as they were before my memories faded, or I died; to recapture the enchanted past; to walk the streets and beaches of my youth whose minutest detail I knew I would find waiting for me. I wanted to hold my father’s hand again, to look into his kind eyes. I wanted to revel in everything–the sounds of familiar voices, the smells of night air, the traces of my mother’s dinner in my mouth, the sight of her trying on a hat; my dead sister Sharon coming up the stairs–all from a time that was so happy.
I wanted to reconstruct my life by traveling backwards in time. I hoped to find there the origins of my mistakes, some indications of why I was now a person alone in a house by a field. I wanted my memory to rescue me from this house; to reveal lessons I had forgotten and must learn again that would help sustain me.
And so hour after hour, again and again, I remembered the days and nights of childhood. I remembered what I had experienced myself and what had been told to me. When I came upon something that didn’t make sense to me, and I couldn’t explain, or didn’t remember clearly, or couldn’t possibly know I used my imagination.
At first my remembering was over in a few minutes and was very general. But then I slowed down and remembered in finer and finer detail. Detail is the secret I discovered– details and details of details. Over and over, hour after hour, moving in ever closer, backing up and rethinking until I was satisfied and could say, “Yes, that is how it was when I was young. I have gotten it right.”
I wanted to do this very carefully; to take my time and not be in a hurry. My whole life had been a battle with time, but time doesn’t die absolutely, but remains in memory. The recreation by memory of impressions which later must be transformed is the essence of every work of art.
When my mind was free in time I had the impression that I had entered eternity.
© 2014 David J. Rogers
13 responses to “Origins of My Growing Up Stories”
Funny as a child you are running as fast as possible to grow up and leave everything behind and than as an adult and growing older, we long to get everything back.
When I see a magnifying glass I think of grandmother Rogers and when I see a glass case, I think of grandpa Rogers. A “squecky” sound always reminds me of grandmother Rogers. I think she had the same shoes my entire life and there was just a certain sound. I can’t pass a cracker jack box without thinking of the visits to my grandparents house. We always got a box when we left!
Yes, we do long to get everything back. Your memories make me happy. I can still hear the sounds of the squeaky bike of a strange boy who lived down the block who carried his dog in the bike’s basket.
Thank you for a thought-provoking article.
Often, when I am with my brothers and my sister we talk about our childhood. Sharing our memories of places, events, and people is so helpful in “getting it right.” I recall a project that my father, older brother, and I once did. Each of us drew a picture of a teapot that was sitting on the table. Each picture showed that same teapot, but each one was unique and each had a different perspective. Memory is like that, too. Shared memories give us the bigger picture of everyone’s perspective.
These are wonderful memories of childhood and I too love to sit with my brother and sister around a table and share memories of all those years ago. They make us closer in a way than we were then.
This note is so reminiscent of your Art and Memory post. I just love it.
The older I get, it seems I reach for my those times of comfort and predictability in ways I could never imagine. A smell or the sound of a laugh, the thought of a fall Nebraska day takes me back to a high school football game or hearing Rod Stewart’s Maggie May brings back faces and events from so long ago. If I see a clip from a Bob Hope special or a picture of Carol Burnett, I can almost be in the room and look at Dad in his recliner and Mom in the overstuffed chair. I’m on the couch with a book, reading during the commercials. It’s taken this long to appreciate the genius of Harvey Korman and Tim Conway.
I wonder, am I really that slow of a learner?
In my last post, I mentioned that I’m so grateful Mom and Dad never had to see the Presidential debates of this year and I know that if they had, I would have been once again schooled ad nauseam on the importance of respect and dignity. Then I began to wonder what Walter Cronkite would be telling us.
At this point, I’d give anything to have the opportunity to hear the lectures once again, and this time I would take note and hang on every word, knowing things can change so quickly, too quickly.
There is a song called “The House that Built Me” by Miranda Lambert that takes me back again whenever I hear it, with such longing for that time of my life that my heart aches. I guess that’s the way it should be.
While I was in Virginia I made some audio recordings of my grandbabies. The sounds of their voices will be ready at the touch of a button for all time and through those voices I have the key to the mysteries of life.
I do believe, though, that our memories are present in our behaviors in ways we often do not recognize. Those words translate into our actions that we hopefully carry with us all the days of our lives.
Like sands through the hourglass…
BTW, is the picture of that handsome young man a photo of you?
Kathy, how beautifully you write about your childhood. You should do a book of your memories and write it in exactly the style you wrote your comment to my post in. Such nice images, and the energy of your writing that takes us from lovely memory to memory.
You mention Nebraska. I’m reading Willa Cather’s writing about her life on a farm in Nebraska. And you mention Harvey Korman. Korman was from Chicago and attended the high school I attended some years before I was there.
So now, Kathy, settle down at your work space and start the book.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I’m wondering if you are reading My Antonia. We were always very proud of Willa Cather. There seem to be so few people of note from Nebraska. Johnny Carson, Robert Taylor, Henry Fonda, there just weren’t very many who believed the world was big and beautiful and could offer the answers to dreams, even encourage you to reach for the moon and the stars. Some believe those extraordinary stars of the sky are there only for the asking but would always be out of reach if one settles for the familiar path.
The fields of golden grain were beautiful and the people…
Ah the people were strong and kind, the salt of the earth. None of them ever met a person they wouldn’t help if that’s what was in order. That’s my heritage and I carry it proudly. But it wasn’t enough.
I, too, dreamed and wanted something more than what was within reach. There was an uneasiness, a stirring in my soul that there was more than this, I just knew it. I’m still searching for whatever that is just outside my grasp. Is it the catalyst you wrote about in Turning Points? I’m still digesting your words. This one was a harder read for me.
So perhaps are your words the catalyst for me to develop a stronger sense of discipline and…gulp…write a book?
Some memories are good and some are very dark. I’m not sure I’m willing to deal with the darkness and what that meant for a little girl who always wondered and continues to struggle with the questions that arise even now as an adult child of alcoholics. It’s over, it’s done but it doesn’t go away.
I’ve never written that before. Maybe some mending, some healing might occur if I were to continue to write about it.
Thank you David for your encouragement . As always I respect your thoughts and words.
A few weeks ago I purchased my copy of Fight to Win. Staying the course has always meant more to me than winning, so I’m interested to see if your words change my perception. I have not started reading it yet…I’m in the process of reviewing a friend’s book, but I look forward to reading your words and I’ll be thinking of Sharon.
Hi Kathy. I am reading My Antonia, and the feelings of breadth, grandeur, and expansiveness I see in your descriptions of Nebraska, I also find in Cather’s.
I think the story you have to tell about growing up and its difficulties gives you dramatic content that many writers would give their eye teeth for. Your story will resonate with many readers.
Thank you for your comments, and I hope you’ll keep me posted on the progress of your writing.
I’m also reading Katherine Anne Porter, and am thinking of you. Porter selected the most significant and sometimes most painful events and periods in her life and wrote one story about each one.
You’ll see that “winning” in my book Fighting to Win is probably not what you might be expecting it to be.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I will keep you posted, David.
I learn so many different things each time I read one of your posts and I’m anxious to start your book.
You have been a sounding board for me and I thank you for that.
Kathy, thank you for letting me know that you like the posts and learn from them. That is important to me. I enjoy our conversations as well.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank David. I enjoy them as well. Today I wrote a postscript to a piece I did a year ago and found it extremely difficult to capture what was actually going on in my mind. The feelings are there but the words come with difficulty. I cannot deal at this time with the consequences of my actions over the past several months and now it’s too late. I hope in time the words will come.
The words will come. it’s never too late. Just don’t give up trying to say what’s there in your mind. I’ve always found it helpful when my mind is unclear when I’m writing to say out loud, “David, what are you trying to say?” And then reply, “All I’m trying to say is…..” and let what I’m trying to say just come out on its own very easily.
LikeLiked by 1 person
LikeLiked by 1 person