Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Memory excercise. (after Calvino, again).

One of my earliest memories of St. Louis (and of my life, for that is where memory begins for me) is when my parents made a snowman for me. I was two or three years old, and I couldn't go outside to play in the snow because I had a cold, so my parents built a snowman for me, with eyes and a nose and perhaps a hat and buttons. I remember being wrapped up and carried outside to see this snowman, twice my height, round and jolly and white. I loved the snow, which covered our garden and turned the back lawn into an endless smooth whiteness that stretched as far as the eye could see, interrupted by paw prints and blotches of dog pee. After we moved to Seattle it would be years before I saw that kind of snow again, after I went to university in upstate New York, and learned how to live with snow once more.

Then came spring, cherry blossoms on the university campus and crab-apple blossoms over the driveway, the back yard a green carpet stretching far into the distance (or so it seemed to my eyes). Rabbits lived in our herb garden, and one day, Megan, the golden retriever next door brought a baby rabbit to my mother, holding the shivering little ball of fur in her mouth, but gently. It spent the day in a shoebox in my father's study, resting on a little bed of socks or rags or something, and when I came home from preschool my mother set it free again in the garden. It was so tiny, smaller than my three-year-old (or perhaps I was four) hand, so fragile and soft when I touched it.

Summer was hot, the sun blazing down and baking the lawn into golden straw. We would go canoeing on the river (there is a photograph of me, aged three or thereabouts, sitting on a watermelon left to keep cool in the stream), hiking in mountains (which ones, I cannot remember) with picnic lunches of baguettes and slices of salami and prosciutto wrapped in brown paper from the delicatessen. The basement was a cool refuge with its cement floors and walls (although perhaps I have imagined all that); it seemed huge and dark and only faintly lit by bare bulbs dangling from the ceilings. I am not sure how much of this is my own memory or my imagining of how things might have been. Such is the way of memories.

One thing I do remember with absolute certainty is the fourth of July fireworks at the Arch, of sitting on a blanket between my parents - they tell me that I always had to be in the middle, and that even if they were holding hands I had to slip in between and take their hands in my small grasp - and putting those earplugs that are a little like miniature marshmallows in my ears to deafen the boom of the fireworks. That is one of my earliest memories of my childhood, of the darkness lit up briefly by the bright sparks of the fireworks exploding over our heads, of the noise muffled by those squishy little earplugs, of sitting between my parents, my arms around my knees or my hands in theirs. I think of that time whenever I watch fireworks now.

No comments: