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Monday, July 11, 2016

California Dreamin'

Memory is something that is subjective, unreliable, easily-swayed, and often flawed, but it also forms the very foundation of who we are.  What are we if not the sum of all our experiences, the sum of our memories?  Most people think they have an excellent memory, but most people are quite wrong.  I think my memory is pretty good, and I have some evidence to back this up, but I am probably wrong as well.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to engage in a conversation about earliest memories.  What is your earliest memory?
Most people didn't remember things until they were in kindergarten or first grade.  One woman claimed she didn't remember anything until second grade.  I remember stuff from when I was 3.  Not 3rd grade.  Just 3.  Maybe even earlier.  And it's not a little.  I remember a good deal.  Granted, it is probably wrong, probably jaded or influenced by later thoughts. However, anything I remember from California is likely from before the age of 6.  This is what I remember.

One of my first memories is when I escaped the den and got into the kitchen.  I was an early reader, and apparently around 2 or 3 I could read some words, words I had a vested interest in... namely the word "sugar."  I remember thinking it was a weird word because it didn't sound the way it was spelled.  I knew sugar was a white, granulated substance that starts with an S and is found in the kitchen.  So when I found a small blue box of the stuff, I downed it.
To this day, I still cannot stand anything that is over-salted.

But there are more.  So many more.  I remember the dog, a standard poodle, running me down in the back yard after it escaped from the gate/got away from the person at the gate.  I don't remember anything AFTER that.  I remember that there was  tall red or brown fence and a very large dog on the other side that would peek over it at us, but I honestly can't tell you what the dog looked like.  I remember the back yard, the swing, there was something else back there, electrical... perhaps a pole. I remember when they were building the addition to the house, there was sawdust in the driveway and I had on shoes with tiger stripes on them... so I thought if I stepped in the sawdust it would look like tiger footprints and scare people.  I don't think it worked.

I remember the massive house at the bottom of the hill that had the most amazing christmas decorations every year.  I remember when mom and dad went to Germany and we got to stay with our grandparents for a while.  I remember my grandparents' house... the back yard where there was a citrus tree and cat tombstones behind the bushes, a large, covered back porch wit ha screen-in room, a large avocado tree grew near the stairs and we used to swing on the branches.  There was a crawlspace under the house we used to play in, especially when cousins were over.  There was Amos, the dog that would sing with grandpa.  In the back room, there were pictures my sister drew before she died.  We had Christmas there one year, all our stuff on a hard, red-cushioned sofa.  I remember grandma sitting us kids down because someone dialed 911 and hung up.  I remember getting in trouble for touching (literally, I just TOUCHED) grandpa's stereo system.  This was after I was already in time out for swinging on the avocado branches. There was a wooden den you had to step down into with an old dial TV that clunked when you changed the channel.  Teddy Ruxpin was a show I used to watch on it, with my very own Teddy Ruxpin beside me.  I have so very many vivid memories of their house.

One of the earliest memories I have is from a dream.  Mind you, I was 2 or 3 at the time.  I used to lean down and "spit" (inject saliva?) into the carpet.. I have NO idea why.  It stopped after this dream.  I did it and mom and dad wanted to see me.  They were in bed, only on the side they normally weren't on.  Dad asked what it was I did and I explained it.  He wanted to try, but wouldn't get out of bed, so I got an old VHS tape and handed it to him.  After he spit into it, he got red and the top of his head popped open.  Things of all sorts, like those fake snakes in the peanut can, flew out of his head.  That one freaked me out.

I remember being potty trained.  I remember asking how much toilet paper to use to wipe.  Mom used to have us sing a little song (to the tune of "Beethoven's 5th", "I am all dooooone."  and if it was number two, we would complete the phrase with "going poopooooooo!") so she would know to come in and wipe us (don't ask, she has issues with cleanliness).  We had little potties that we took in the van with us on long trips.  I even remember some of those long trips.. the Grand Canyon where dad pretended to fall in and freaked out mom.  Once we were in the desert and needed to use some sort of bladder to cool the engine... not really sure.  And we had little white harnesses with leashes to keep us all in check.  Nowadays, they hide those things like little backpacks made of animals, but kids still know them for the straight jackets that they are.

I remember seeing a picture of a girl in our house, a girl I didn't recognize.  I believe I may have seen it in grandma and grandpa's house, too.  When I asked mom about it, she told me it was my sister in Heaven.  She didn't really say much more about her, other than her name.  Little did I know that the wounds were still very fresh to her.  After all, what is two or three years?

I remember seeing my dad's parents a few times in their home in California.  We didn't spent as much time with them, but we did like playing with Marc, our older cousin, the only one on that side of the family. He was in a wheel chair and we always get his hand-me-down underwear.

Perhaps my first memory, however, is when my grandmother... or was it my great grandmother... died.  I have only one memory of her... visiting her in a hospital or hospice room... seeing her on a bed in a strange place.  And then, a short time later, having to dress up to go to a funeral for her.

The more I delve into my memories, the more come back to me. Swim lessons, the old house, the old pets, throwing a wooden block at my brother's head (the scar is still there), having my brother's hairy birthmark removed (the scar is still there), seeing gaps in the bark of the tree in the front yard, going to school, my brother's first "girlfriend," teasing him about her, my first crush, taking forever to get to school if grandma or grandpa drove, slamming my foot in the door in the parking lot at the school, the poem I wrote in Kindergarten which won some sort of award (The Windbow), releasing tons of balloons from the church grounds, learning that if you poke a snail its eyes withdraw, ringing the bell at the church (or trying to, we didn't weight enough to pull the rope down too far), visiting my sister's grave with flowers, the Donut Man playing songs at our preschool, explaining to the class that both 2+4 AND 4+2 both equalled 6, hearing an autoharp for the first time, when my sister stepped on broken glass, when we celebrated by dead sister's birthday with spaghetti (her favorite), the many trips to Disneyland, the first time I stole something (a small piece of wood in the shape of an owl I think), our first ice cream cone (sitting on the washing machine so mom could clean us AFTER our first ice cream cone), Haley's Comet coming by and claiming I couldn't see it when I did (I was 4 then), bathing with all three of us in the tub at once, the little jingle on TV for a mexican restaurant (Ay-yi-yi-yi someone stole my taco!), learning how to read hyphenated words...

Perhaps that is enough nostalgia for now.  But I like to think that I was formed in those days, that those memories are someone at the core of who I am.  I feel sorry for people who don't remember these childhood formations. But perhaps this is why I have always been in touch with my "inner child."  In a sense, I still am that child.

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