My earliest memories come from when I was in the vicinity to two-and-a-half- to three-years-old. My family lived in a duplex in suburban New Orleans, a neighborhood called Azalea Gardens. It was solidly middle-class modest, the kind of neighborhood you began on your way to the next economic step up. Most of it is still there.
My father worked for a company that published trade magazines, like “Shrimp Boat” and “Work Boat.” My mother was a housewife; my half-brother (older than I was by almost eight years) was a pain, like all older brothers.
The memories are like snapshots, disconnected photographs, fragments imprinted ona child’s mind.
The elderly couple next door, giving me a square of Kraft’s fudge, sometimes vanilla and some days chocolate.
The washing machine in the garage, with its roller apparatus.
A stash of black licorice on a shelf in the garage; one taste was enough to convince me I didn’t like it.
Wearing my Davy Crockett coonskin hat.
Our dog, a Boston terrier, the one I snuck into the house and then hid when my mother came looking for him. “He’s not in the oven,” I said.
Playing with the boy next door through the fence – he had measles.
My father coming through the front door, home from a business trip, carrying a jack-in-the-box. I learned later that he had searched toy stores all over New York City until he found one.
My mother making root beer floats with vanilla ice cream, in tall glasses with a red-and-green floral design.
I don’t remember the story my mother often told – that I had poured black shoe polish on the fabric soda.
The first family vacation dates from this time – going to Biloxi on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The only thing I can remember about it was the sulfur-tasting water that came from the tap.
Why do I remember jumping from the back of a pickup truck, yelling “Bombs away, Tokyo”? My father was a World War II veteran, serving in the Navy in the Pacific. Perhaps that was the reason, or the desired connection.
While the memories are simple snapshots without a connecting narrative to sustain them, all during this time my attitudes and personality and thought processes were being shaped, molded and directed. I still don’t like the noise of vacuum cleaners; my mother says the only way she could keep me still was to turn on the vacuum, forcing me to take refuge on the sofa, perhaps the one with the black shoe polish.
These were the early years of my parents’ marriage; I arrived just over a year after they had married. Certain themes were established in these years, family themes, that I would come to understand only much later, when I was older. From the fragments is a mosaic fashioned, and a mosaic discerned.
Over at Tweetspeak Poetry, there’s a discussion going on about Claire Burge’s new book, Spin: Taking Your Creativity to the Nth Degree. In one of the sections for this week’s discussion, she challenges the reader to descrive a childhood experience that especially surreal or dreamlike in its unfolding. I can say what I’ve written here is either surreal or dreamlike, but this is what the challenge brought to mind. Check Tweetspeak Poetry for more discussion. At the time of these memories, I would have been about the age that my oldest grandson is now.
Photograph by Amateur Pic via Public Domain Pictures. Used with Permission.