Wednesday, May 30, 2007

memory exercise (after Calvino).

One of the books Italo Calvino was planning to write in 1985 (the year of his death), writes his widow, Esther, in her forward to The Road to San Giovanni, was to be composed of a series of what he called "memory exercises." The first of these, his memory of his childhood home, brought back to me memories of my own childhood home, and this is what I remember:

Our house, the house my parents bought when my father was a young biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, was a small brick ranch house, one of many that lined a quiet street in the suburb of Ladue. It was a sort of sub-division, where all the houses were about the same size, in appearance rather like each other, each on a similarly-sized plot of land. I seem to recall that a brick gate separated our street from the main road, but that could be some flight of fancy, a false trick of memory. Our house was the first on the right, the driveway at the far right of the house, curving around to the garage (we had two cars: a yellow Mercedes-Benz, originally owned by my grandfather, and a green Volvo that was forever breaking down and was later replaced by a small navy-blue BMW - this was before yuppies started driving them, because no one could be less of a yuppie than my father - with navy-blue velour upholstery. I remember the feeling of the tan leather seats of the Mercedes against the backs of my knees, how hot it would get in the summer, and the soft, nubbly texture of the navy-blue velour in the other car). A crab-apple tree hung over the driveway; in the spring it would be smothered in fragile, white blossoms and in the fall it would be heavy with small apples that I enjoyed jumping on when they fell on the ground. I loved feeling the squish of the tiny little apples beneath the soles of my feet.

The front door opened into the rarely-used living room and dining room, both filled with a matching suite of carved rosewood furniture. A swinging door opened into the kitchen; we ate at a round table in one corner. The kitchen led to an open room with beige velour furniture; this is where I watched tv, or exasperated the dog by trying to climb onto his back. A glass wall/sliding-door opened onto an enclosed porch with a tiled floor and swiveling cane basket chairs, looking onto the great expanse of the backyard. There was a huge tree in the middle of the yard to which we tethered the dog with a long rope; in my mind I can hear his joyous barks as he chased squirrels and rabbits. My father had a study with a blue loveseat that was patterned with gold-and-silver rectangles embroidered into the fabric and a wall of bookcases; it opened into the great-room and into the Jack-and-Jill bathroom that connected to the hallway on the other end. At the end of the hallway was my bedroom, with its high bed in one corner; actually in my earliest memory I am still in a crib, in the center of the room, waking to see a stripe of light falling across the floor from the slightly open door.

There are other things I remember, too, but I will revisit them another time.

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