Disproportionate memories

Me, many many years ago, outside

I seem to be making a habit of ignorance. Should I see how long I can keep it up for?

What I remember about my childhood home: it was split-level. We had an above-ground pool. My Mom didn’t like it. (I lived there for nine years.)

What I remember about my adolescent home: my bedroom was blue, with a rainbow mural on one wall. The backyard was wedge-shaped with a large deck and a gazebo. We had two sets of stairs, one leading to an upstairs living room. There was a bridge between the guest room and my brother’s room; we used to swing from it. The family room walls were dark blue. The couch was grey. There were built-in bookshelves in the den. My brother and I would swing from the steel beams in the basement ceiling, until my Dad finished the basement. (I lived there for ten years.)

What I remember about the greenbelt near my adolescent home: A ribbon of grey concrete wound along the banks of a creek/drainage ditch, underneath bridges and culverts. There were goldenrod, Queen Anne’s Lace, thistles, clover, daisies, asters, in their alloted season. The goldenrods grew tall as me and leaned over the path like arches. It wasn’t wild enough to feel like you were isolated from the city–the traffic and highrises were always visible–but it was green, and unplanned, and I could walk for long enough to calm my mind when I was upset. One afternoon, shortly after my diabetes diagnosis when my blood sugar hit 19 and I couldn’t bring it down, I shot up several units and walked for hours and hours and hours until it came down again. When I left, diabetes seemed like the worst thing that could possibly have happened to me; when I returned, it was ok again. One day, after a rainstorm, there were fish swimming in deep puddles on the path. I agonized over those fish, wondering how I could pick them up and return them to the creek. I had nothing to carry them in.

This path wound near my middle school, and there was an unpaved path nearby that the middle school kids liked to hang out on during lunch or after school, called the Suicide Trail. No idea why. So far as I know, no one ever killed themselves there. Maybe it just reflects the preteen state of mind.

(I can’t have spent more than one or two weeks on that path, if you add up all the time.)

What I remember about my grandparents’ cottage near Apsley: It was a tiny little shack. The mattresses were lumpy and small. You couldn’t drink the water. There was no toilet; we had to use an ancient outhouse, even in the middle of the night when there was no light to see by. There was no insulation. Mice lived in the walls and ceilings and you could hear them scurrying when you tried to fall asleep. There was no TV, no radio. We played board games and played in the creek.

Eels’ Creek ran right beside the cottage (called a creek but more the size of a river; deep enough to dive in as attested by the presence of an old, rotted diving board). My father lost his wedding ring swimming in Eels’ Creek. The water was cold, the creek bottom stony and hard, and just fifty feet downstream a decently sized waterfall–big enough to roar, small enough to clamber in. In one pocket of the waterfall an ice-cold natural jacuzzi you could sit in while the rushing water pummeled your back, but the rocks were slippery with algae and moss and you had to position yourself carefully so as not to get swept away. We tossed pinecones, sticks and spiders over the falls. Occasionally a dog would get swept over too. They were always fine; climbing out twenty feet or so downstream, shaking themselves off and running uphill.

The cottage was far enough from its neighbours that you couldn’t see them or hear them, and was surrounded by pine woods with a pine forest’s acidic, bare, dusty floor. The soil felt like sand. You could lie down flat and touch nothing; if you were still enough, ants would climb over you. It tickled.

A stone path led to the creek, flat stones arranged but not too carefully so you had to watch your step. One wobbled. Along the bank several large stones were perfect for sitting. Sometimes there were frogs, but more often crayfish or minnows. If you sat on one of the big rocks, and rested your feet in the water, and were perfectly still, minnows would swarm your feet. That tickled too.

There was a metal drum we’d set fires in for roasting marshmallows and hotdogs. A bakery in town supplied us with treats for breakfast, kaiser rolls for sandwiches for lunch. There was an A&P. But we didn’t go into town much.

Dock spiders grew big as kittens. Mosquitoes, horse flies, deer flies gave us our souveniers. All week we’d stink of bug repellant and sunscreen. Of course, there was no shower. We’d just swim it off in the creek.

Once a bear chased my Dad when he dropped our garbage off at the dump.

If you add up every week I spent there, it would probably come to less than six months. I still remember clearly how the soil felt beneath my hands and bare feet.

What my daughter remembers of the house we lived in up to her third year:

It was bigger. It had a garage and a driveway. There were trees in the backyard. We’d catch frogs there sometimes. She misses the frogs.


This post is part of Backyard Mama’s blog carnival; this week’s theme, a special childhood place. As is normal for me, I had several and couldn’t pick one.

4 thoughts on “Disproportionate memories

  1. Wow, wish I coulda played with you as a kid! What wonderful images and I just love that you remember so vividly the nature surrounding your houses! Thanks for linking up!

  2. You have described your childhood places so vividly and beautifully. The strong impression that places in childhood leave with us as adults makes you realise how important it is for us as adults to get our kids out and about in nature so that they can have the same thing.

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