“Leftovers in their less visible form are called memories. Stored in the refrigerator of the mind and the cupboard of the heart.”-Thomas Fuller
In the 5th decade of my life, my mind and heart are repositories for all sorts of life events. There are some I would much prefer to toss like those ‘biology projects’ that develop when cold pizza, Chinese food or rancid milk sit there for too long. Other are like treasures that I am grateful have a long shelf life. Those are the ones into which I delve, like a familiar book that I re-read, savoring with a satisfied smile. Proof positive that life is good.
I was blessed to have had a childhood filled to overflowing with family, friends, vacations, holidays, as well as day to day activities that are part of the book of my life. I often return to visit those times and carry some of the experiences with me, just as you would take some old soil with you when you transplant flowers. Fortunately, I have relatively few painful memories and those I use as fertilizer for new growth. Deaths of loved ones, loss of friends, endings of romantic relationships, conflicts, an ectopic pregnancy in 1992 that necessitated emergency surgery, destruction of our home in Homestead, Florida in Hurricane Andrew, watching my husband and both parents experience suffering as a result of illness, all are part of my memory banks too. As much as I would not have wished for them, they too are valuable and help me appreciate the ‘good times’ all the more.
I dipped back into the past over the weekend when speaking with my friend Greg about two incidents that occurred around age 6. Both had to do with feeling of loss that to an adult might seem trivial but to a little kid were pivotal. The first was connected to the kindergarten ritual of naptime. Lying on mats in rows, covered with blankets, we were tucked in for a brief bit. My mom had sent me in with a powder blue one that had a silky trim around it that I liked to rub against my cheek. One day, when the time came to gather our ‘blankies’, I couldn’t find mine and I felt a sense of uh oh panic. Then I saw that another classmate, Michael Jacobskind (I still remember his name 48 years later, holy moley!) was clutching a familiar piece of fleece. I approached him and told him that it was mine and he shook his head and claimed it was his. The teacher broke the stalemate by noticing that my name was on it. Whew! What a relief that I had my transitional object back.
The other one took place the following summer when I packed up my gear in anticipation of a week at Camp Kettle Run in Medford Lakes, NJ. It was my first sleep away experience and I felt like a big kid, going off to Girl Scout camp. I still have a Kodachrome moment shot in my mind of standing on our front lawn, with a white sailor hat, brim turned down and a yellow shirt, smiling confidently. The thrill was short lived when I lay down on the cot in the tent with a few other girls and realized that I missed my familiar bed and my family. It was my first experience of homesickness.
As best I could, I engaged in the activities, which included arts and crafts, hiking in the wood, music, learning about nature, storytelling and dancing around campfires. In between, I would write tearful letters home, telling my mom that if they didn’t come get me, I would die): In exchange, she sent loving letters back, written on notecards, each decorated with dolls from around the world on which she would write that she was glad I was having fun. Such denial of my feelings in an attempt to cajole me to really have a good time. What I didn’t know at the time was that she actually HAD come to the camp and met with the director who told her that it was best to let me stay the week and that she and the staff would look after me and that I really would have fun. She was right and by the last day, I was immersed in activities. The night before the last day, we had a campfire and painted our faces. The next morning, my mom, sister and Russian immigrant, Yiddish speaking Bubbe came to pick me up. I hadn’t fully washed the reddish brown paint off and she exclaimed “Oy, she broke her nose and they didn’t tell us!” After looking closely, my mother assured her that my nose was indeed intact.
Both of those memories had been lodged back there and minimized and in retrospect, I can see how my perception of them shaped some choices I have made. Glad they are now out and about, acting as tools to build my life, rather than weapons to use against myself for being so ‘sensitive’.
These days, I cherish so many experiences, anchoring them in with love, treasuring the people who helped me to make them.
http://youtu.be/EzErh_s62Wk Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah- Allan Sherman