Saturday, March 6, 2010

Memories for Mom

I think of growing up and remember all kinds of things. I remember our house on the hill, and big willow trees along the driveway, and all those magical places in the woods and fields that we turned into “forts.” I remember the Wolf House, the rotting shell of what had been a guest house in the woods, and the old dilapidated chicken coop down by the barn that our inventor father converted into his laboratory, and that my brother and played in until it collapsed.

I remember the white picket fence that was always in need of paint and with tines missing here and there, and the mulberry tree that grew at one end of it, remember? And the time I nearly sawed down one of the three enormous maple trees around the house. All kinds of things like that I remember. The little slate stone patio next to Nonnie’s room and that we never used, and the forsythia bush that was visible outside of her window, and under which we built a baseball dugout that we used maybe twice, since there really wasn’t enough room in the back yard for a baseball field (instead George and I played “catch” on the grassy raised terrace behind the house). All these things I remember, but there are thousands more, all kinds of sweet little memories, like the space under the stairs leading down to the basement, how George and I would worm our way behind the trunks and other things stored there and play “Gilligan’s Island,” though what the basement stairs had to do with a motley crew of stranded castaways is anyone’s guess.

But the other thing I always remember is riding around in your black Mercury, how enormous that car seems in memory, so much like a boat, with its big chrome bumpers and scratchy upholstery and the hump in the middle of the rear seat. I remember us going to Danbury, to Jenung’s and the Bargain World and McRorey’s and other shops in and around Main Street, to Woolworth’s where I’d search the lollipop rack for my favorite flavor, root beer, and where we’d sit at the counter and order frankfurters for lunch. There was another store, too, that stands out in my memory because it seemed to stretch infinitely backwards, a never-ending store, I don’t recall its name, but they sold lady’s fashions and probably boy’s clothes, too (though these, I think, may have been upstairs at the top of a creaky wooden escalator).

These are good memories, very good memories, memories so good they make me slightly queasy with nostalgia. You were a good mom. You took us everywhere and did lots of things with us. I remember the carousel in the Buster Brown shoe store: do you remember the carousel? It was in the back of the store. And the Marcus Dairy bar—we used to go there, too. There was one on Federal Road on the way to Caldor’s; at least I think it was a Marcus Dairy, now I’m not so sure. And the one by the airport, though we didn’t go there so often. I remember the one on the way to Caldor’s had these big bowls of green relish on the counter, and how I would order a hot dog just to eat the relish.

Oh, yes, and there was another place you used to take us to on the way to Lake Candlewood, to the Landing (remember the Landing?), a place just at the start of Federal Road, before the Howard Johnson's there, called the Chuck Wagon, where they served fried chicken and had a salad bar with baked beans, coleslaw, and three-bean salad: George and I were crazy about that place, and especially about the three-bean-salad, so sweet it turned vegetables into candy. We liked going there and we liked going to Val’s Hamburgers and Carvel: all of these good places were on the way to the Lake Candlewood, where we’d meet up with Dotty and Hank and Papa Joe and Vera and Dut and other people whose names I don’t remember anymore. Papa Joe would take me out on his Sunfish sailboat, and Hank would take us out in his little motorboat that he’d always have to bail a bit first (with the bilge water smelling of gasoline). Afterwards we’d all eat obliquely-sliced barbecued skirt steak with macaroni and tuna fish salad. I hated the skirt steak; liked the macaroni and tuna fish. I remember, too, that we had all kinds of elaborate rubber and plastic gear (bought at the Bargain World) with which to broach the Lake: a rubber raft that took forever to inflate, goggles, and fake plastic scuba tanks whose nonfunctional air hoses George and I sliced through with steak knives playing Lloyd Bridges in "Sea Hunt."

But mostly I just remember lumbering around in the back seat of the Mercury, a car I didn’t much like back then (I thought it gave me headaches), but which I look back on very fondly now: I even look back fondly on the car that replaced it, the poor Rambler, which no one but you and the collector who bought it from you for $500 liked. I remember going to visit to Hollandas, and Ludwina B. and her daughter Jane.

In reliving all these memories I don’t know whether to feel happy or sad, because I miss things so much. I miss the innocence and simplicity and protection I felt back then, as a child. I had no idea, of course, how lucky I was, what a heaven childhood is: no child really knows it until it’s too late. As children we long to be men, and then at last we become men only to realize our longing for childhood. We appreciate everything once it’s gone. I do. Why is life that way? I miss so many things. I miss shopping at the Grand Union and the First National with you, and insisting that you buy frozen baked clams and prepared spareribs sticky with red Chinese barbecue sauce and Ovaltine and egg nog and anything highly caloric and otherwise useless.

Now I've got a daughter. Some day I'll be part of good memories like this of hers. I hope.

Well, I’d better stop reminiscing. It’s probably not all that healthy. But I do enjoy remembering. And my memories are almost all like these ones, good. And I felt like sharing them with you.

1 comment:

Arkiver said...

Great recollections you've shared here. As a fellow Hat City native I do appreciate hearing them, and as a fellow one-time kid growing up there I certainly agree that it seemed to be a magical place. I did want to mention, though it's hardly important, that it's Genung's and McCrory's that were such fixtures of our bustling downtown experience. Loved them both and can think back to many great childhood moments, usually with my own mother. Funny how such simple experiences can be so lasting and seem so important even still. Thanks for sharing.