When I was young, and in a writers’ critique group, every Friday afternoon we huddled together on an old, worn, horse-shoe-shaped sofa at our teacher’s home, surrounded by cats (Tuxey and Oliver), and poured over our pages for the week. I worked my way through an entire novel, a sprawling 600-page paranormal historical romance, which never saw the light of day once it was complete. Over tea, and sometimes wine, and often cookies, we spoke of “when” we could…would…maybe…never…ever be published.
Now, I press a button and, instantly, through the magical, mystical powers of the internet, I am published. And, oh, if I see a spelling error or a typo blinks to life in front of my eyes, or I just want to change a word or a sentence or a verse, in another two seconds, I can publish it again, newer and better.
I recently “re-found” a very old friend. Or rather, she re-found me — on Instagram. Crazy, right — this girl who was like my alter-ego from the first through the fifth grade who I thought had been lost to the sands of time, has re-appeared. And, in that time, we have both long-since moved from our childhood home of Fairport, New York, where we ran wild through the woods behind my house, climbing through magical forks in the trees to time-space travel to wherever our imagination took us.
I remember once, we found a patch of wet, red clay which we shaped into crude pots and placed in the path of the sun to dry. We didn’t just imagine it, we were young Native American girls, creating vessels.
And, the blackberries…. Armed with plastic buckets, we were sent to collect berries. Our small hands reached through the prickly thorns of the bushes to the tender fruit tucked away inside the brambles. We emerged with scratches on our arms, but with fat, juicy berries clutched tenderly in our fists. We probably ate more berries than we actually brought home, probably obvious by the purple stains on our lips and fingers tinged like wine. But it didn’t matter.
Along with my friend, all of these memories have reappeared. There was Mrs. Jones, who lived next door, who held a silver box up to her leathery thirty-five-year-old face each day of the summer as she lay in her white, plastic-strapped chaise lounge, placed carefully upon the grass so that she could rotate with the sun. The husbands all liked her, despite her overly-zealous tanning efforts, because she looked good in her white bikini.
These were the days before braces — but just before. My generation had buck teeth or a gap in between our front teeth, while my sister and all of her friends, a mere five years younger than us, spent at least two years in braces, silver ones (this way pre-dated Invisilign).
And Mr. Birch, a widower, who lived next door…. I used to bake cookies for him and sit in his living room, listening to the tick of his old clock, and to his stories. He had a heart attack one evening and ran his car into his own garage door. He had gifted us the use of the lower slope of his yard, the part that edged up to the forest, so that my sister and I would have a bigger entrance to “the wild places,” and a greater arc in which to swing upon a tire from a tree.
And Cathy’s mom had a yellow VW convertible bug, in about the same era as the “Love Bug.” And her brother, Ritchie, got hit in the head with a softball. But, I have just learned that it is her other brother, now, who lives in a wheelchair, due to an incident involving a motorcycle.
And Reika Pei had Barbie’s Dream House. I so wanted that shiny pink house that smelled like plastic. But, instead I had a hand-made wooden house that my grandpa had built for my mom. And my grandma hand-crocheted and stitched clothes for my Barbies. Ungrateful child that I was, I would have traded that wooden house in a heartbeat for that mass-produced three story dwelling that looked like it was made out of icing. I loved (and to this day, still do) the scent of plastic, probably because of this era. I did once get a Barbie Cruise Ship, a much smaller affair than the house, but a great treasure nonetheless. I just could not stop smelling it that Christmas morning. It smelled of dreams and visions and stories to be told about where that Cruise Ship would go.
I had a Great-Aunt Sally who came to visit occasionally. My grandmother’s sister, she was unusual for a woman of her day because she had never had children. Widowed young, she survived on a biology teacher’s salary and managed to travel her way around the world. I remember being in her home and reverentially touching her mementos of her travels: a carved jade dragon resting on a mahogany base from Japan; a small red-flowered paper mache box from India; and colored-glass birds and bud vases from here and there. Little did either she or I know that she would influence me so much that one day I would travel to India and return home with a red-flowered paper maché elephant that, when I placed it next to Sally’s box was an exact match.
And, in Minnesota, we swam in Lake Koronis, where my grandparents had a trailer home for the summers. Stacey Hanson, another old friend, who is truly lost to the sands of time (because how many Hanson’s are there in Minnesota, and how difficult is it to find the right one on the internet?), and I used to float in inner tubes. One summer, the seaweed took over the sand that my grandpa had brought in to make a beach. And so, as we languidly lounged in our inner tubes, our bottoms, hands and feet trailing in the greenish water, we were unknowingly eaten by chiggers. I have never before or since known such itching. It was not even quenchable with chamomile and oatmeal baths lovingly poured by my grandma, who always smelled of Avon and the rose-petal lotion she wore, in the pre-cast tub of the trailer.
But, also the home-made ice cream, churned in an old “cranker” over ice and salt, while Stacey and I cartwheeled across the lawn…. I’ve never tasted anything like that. But, I wonder sometimes now if it may be more the memory of a time that was so wonderful than the taste itself, which lingers with me still.
And, the snapping turtle that that “Logan boy” brought down to my grandparents driveway, where it y-d with the Hanson’s…. Those boys dared me to touch it. And, I did! That was the first and last time that I was ever that naïve. It bit me on the finger — hard — like REALLY hard. It bled, and I knew I had been stupid.
And Mr. Cush had a little shop down the street, where he sold candies and other summer sundries to lake visitors. He used to give me red licorice when grandma and I, and my cousin Greggie would walk to windmill point where we would picnic amidst the Queen Ann’s lace. And one time, Greggie and I climbed the windmill to a platform and looked out across the lake and saw something bigger.
There was an island, First Island, I think (there were three), where an Indian maiden was said to have jumped to her death from the cliffs when her lover died. Now, that, really, was stupid! Why would any woman give up her life for a man?
I sit here now, a rainbow spilling across the pad of paper I write upon (a rainbow because the summer sunset happens outside my leaded glass window, and paper because maybe I am “old-fashioned” in a way and still prefer this medium to write a story or poem).
And, downstairs sits my other old friend, Corrine, whom I have known since the eighth grade, and her daughter, who is her twin, and who is the same age now as when Corrine and I first met. How strange is it to ask this girl what she will be doing at our age, and to realize that this seems infathomably distant to her — so far in the future that I am not sure she really even puts a time frame on it. It reminds me of how we used to love to dance to Prince’s Party like it’s 1999, and 1999 seemed so impossibly far in the future that we could not even imagine what the world would be like then.
Who knows? When my friend’s daughter grows up, will there even be such a thing as Instagram? She does not even remember a time without cell phones. We described to her how we used to buy extra-long phone cords so that we could trail them into the next room to be able to talk with a modicum of privacy. I remember crouching under the kitchen table talking to a boy once. I so did not want anyone to listen, but I wonder now if anyone really cared to listen to my adolescent conversation anyways.
And when cell phones first appeared, I did not take to them. My husband did not understand why I even had one because I never seemed to have it close enough to answer it. It always seemed to be buried in the dim recesses of my purse, beneath the Kleenex and car keys, just out of reach. I probably got this from my father, who simply refused to answer the phone when he didn’t want to talk to anyone. I used to get irritated with him, but now I understand this better.
Oh, how the world has changed…in good ways and bad. My grandfather used to pull a horse-driven ice cream cart when he was a teen-ager and remembered the advent of airplanes, and could not understand how his son could dedicate a career to making a contraption like a computer artificially intelligent. This seems so oddly old-fashioned now, but what will our children’s children think of us one day? Will they have memories like these, from days untouched by electronic devices? Maybe, maybe not…. Or maybe something we haven’t even anticipated will take the place of the iPhones and Instagram accounts, and someday they will tell their children, “when I was young, we had these rectangular things that we used to talk into — they were so primitive!”
These days, I have few photos of my childhood, and more photos than I know what to do with of this day. And yet, the memories of those days of flowered miniskirts and ruffled underwear and climbing crab-apple trees and catching minnows in the stream and being awed by a fuzzy striped caterpillar are still so vivid in my head. And, perhaps those are the more important images anyways. These are the images of an era, of a time slightly hazy through the years, and yet still so vivid in my head. And I am also grateful to the world of Instagram to have re-connected with a voice from my childhood, someone else who remembers those idle summer days and warm summer nights chasing lightening bugs and sneaking out onto the roof through the window above my sister’s bed to listen to the crickets and admire the lavender glow of the sunset, as we began our lives.
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