Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Like the corners of my mind

Can it be that it was all so simple then?
Or has time re-written every line?
---Barbra Streisand, "The Way We Were"

Have you ever stopped to wonder why you remember the things you do? Assuming, of course, that you can remember anything at all. I've known people that could remember the birthdays of two dozen people but can't remember what you said two minutes earlier. Others can remember useless details of long-past minor events but can't remember why they went to the grocery store, coming home with chips and Hostess cupcakes instead of milk and dish soap.

Some memories lie deep within the folds of our brain, only to awake from their long winter's nap by the presence 0f some insignificant trigger, the key that has been under the couch cushion for 15 years. And some are as fresh today as they were when they happened, no matter how long ago. I am convinced that we could conceivably remember everything that has ever happened to us with the proper trigger. Why else would you dream of someone you haven't seen in 30 years?

My two earliest memories are of the same time frame, somewhere between 1967 and 1971, in Hayward, California. I was born in Oswego, NY but don't remember a thing; we moved to Hayward soon afterwards. I remember my mom being pregnant. Obviously not with me :) That means I was as young as two or as old as four. I also have a vague recollection of our house and neighborhood. And... I think we owned a red car of some sort.

Some memories owe as much to the telling and re-telling of the event as they do to the actual recall of information. Another of my earliest memories happened at what I believe was my Aunt Evelyn's 20th or 21st birthday party. This story has reached legendary status among my family members as "the Farrell's story." The party took place in California at Farrell's Ice Cream parlor. The story as it has been related to me is that my brother and I, four and three years of age, were absolutely terrified. Trumpets and drums sounded like the denizens of hell to a four year old's ears. (Farrell's puts on a pretty good show.) The highlight of the evening was when they brought a 50-gallon bowl of ice cream to the table.

Oh... it wasn't 50 gallons? It just looked like more ice cream than a little child had ever seen in one bowl before? That's another aspect of memory- perspective. For instance, when I was growing up my grandparents had a cat named Tavvy, short for MacTavish, and for the longest time I would have told you that that cat was five feet long. It was, I swear it. It was as big as I was; at least that's how I remember it. Then one day I had a revelation. Of course it seemed like that cat was as long as I was tall- when I was four years old it probably was that long, and my mind never made the adjustment.

As the years go one the vision gets clearer. I can envision our house in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan- a brown house, the last one on our side of the road. There was an abandoned high school behind our house. The neighborhood kids always fantasized about how we would get in, and for sport we would throw rocks at the highest windows. At one point during our stay the school burned down, which made for an exciting morning. A large crawlspace underneath the remains of the front steps became a cool hiding place.

I believe that I began kindergarten in Hayward, California, and finished it in Michigan. My teacher in Michigan was named Mrs. Curliss, and my remembrance of her can be summed up in one word- mean. First grade- Mrs. Lamoreaux; Second grade- Mrs. Knudsen; Third grade- Mrs. Stern. My best friend was Jeff Monica; we had a set of twins in one of my classes; and Esmeranda Ferris taught us all how to spell our names in Chinese. Music class was about learning popular songs. We sang On Top of The World by The Carpenters, Delta Dawn by Tanya Tucker and Joy To The World by Three Dog Night (with altered lyrics, of course).

But why do I remember some of these things? Obviously the excitement of fire engines and flames was enough to make an impression on a 6-year-old lad, but why does the picture of me hitting a little kid with a plastic shovel remain, thirty-five years later? Why do I remember our phone number (636-3646) but not our address? Why do I remember setting a fire in the field next door but not the resignation of President Nixon? Why do I remember the times my father yelled at me but not the times when he didn't?

Interesting question.

As the age of 40 quickly approaches (5 months away), I find myself suspended between the past and the future; the was, the now and the not yet; the beginning and the end. When I turned twenty- nothing. 30- it bothers a lot of people, but not me. But 40 is a landmark. When my father turned 40 he was the parent of four teenagers. When my grandfather turned 40 he had his doctorate and was the well-respected pastor of a church. When I was young and my parents turned 40- they were old! Now that I am on the verge of turning 40... ehh, 40 isn't that old. When I was 15 the idea of 40-year-olds having sex sickened me. Now? Doesn't bother me in the slightest :)

40 isn't old! I can still jam out some punk rock- can't I? I'm allowed to go to parent-teacher conferences with a Mountain Dew at my side- can't I? I can still take a second glance at the cute 19-year-old waitress, a woman who was born three years after I graduated from high school, a woman who is young enough to be my daughter, a woman who doesn't remember LPs and pop-top soda cans, 8-tracks and Betamax, a woman who knows Freddie Prinze Jr. but not Freddie Prinze...

...umm... can't I?

Holy crap, I'm getting old.


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