Sunday, January 11, 2009

A 48-year-old Memory

[When I was six years old, my sister, cousin and I spent the first of nine summers with my mother’s parents. We were a year apart in age, I being the oldest. A few years later, my youngest sister also joined us. During that time, our grandparents lived in three different homes in NH. I wrote this about the first of these places for a writing assignment about "place."]

Candia, NH, 1961 -- a 48-year-old memory

I come in the front door. It bangs behind me as I step into the front room of the cottage Papa and Mama call "Candia." The room is dark and cool, and not one I spend much time in. Instead, I head right, past the big black pot-bellied stove, and up the short flight of stairs guarded by a birch tree railing. I run my hand over its rough yet silky bark. I like the contrast of white and black, of smooth and jagged edges. My head rises above the floor and I step into the brightness of the kitchen.

Mama is there, and that means warmth and light and love. I sniff the air hungrily. Mama always has something in the oven--bread, cakes, loafs, potatoes, squash. This morning, it's bread. Whole wheat.

I climb onto the couch that crouches across the room from the oven. It is covered with a Navajo Indian blanket patterned in bright pinks, greens, and blues. Over my head, on a long shelf amidst dozens of books, sits the Bim Bam clock. I can't tell time yet, nor do I really care much about it at age six, but I ask anyway. "Mama? Is it time yet?"

Mama glances over her shoulder at the round face of the Bim Bam. "Soon," she says. "Just a few minutes, now." I wriggle in anticipation. I love the Bim Bam. I wait, not very patiently, until I hear the warning whir that signals the sound-delight to follow. A short delay, and it comes: "Bim Bam, Bim Bam, Bim Bam, Bim Bam" it repeats over and over until it has counted out the 10 o'clock hour. Then it is silent, and I have to wait another 60 minutes until it "goes" again. 60 minutes. That's a long time, although there's the half-hour "Bam" to break up the wait a little.

I climb down from the couch and go over to the picture window and gaze at the pine needle-littered forest floor beyond, searching for the now familiar red coat. "Has he been here yet?" I ask Mama.

"Yes. He came while you were out front in the strawberry bed with Papa. But he'll be back," she says, looking down at my disappointed face. "He'll be along for lunch, you know."

I sigh. I will have to see my red squirrel friend later. For now, I content myself with a stolen finger-full of the cookie batter Mama has just made.

1 comment:

Morning's Minion said...

My memories, and in fact anything I write, are firmly rooted in "place." Its as though a random "picture" pops up and then the background sounds and scents tune in and the whole thing moves like a video clip. My sense of place didn't transfer to Wyoming very well--it is firmly rooted in the dark soil of upstate NY and New England--where the bones of many ancestors have crumbled.
Deliberately evoking a place and time in writing can be a deeply emotional experience. I was at a writer's retreat in NH just before moving west. We had to write just such an essay as a timed challenge. To my surprise [and embarrassment] I couldn't read mine aloud all the way through when it was my turn. It was only perhaps in that moment of crafting thoughts and feelings into words that I knew the impact of all that I would be leaving.