Memories and Story

I have always believed in the value of stories. I think they teach us who we are. That’s why I think sharing stories about the past, about your childhood, is valuable. Sharing memories comes with a caveat, though. I have found over the years that some of my childhood memories are faulty. I put together the facts that I had at the time, but I didn’t have nearly enough facts.

Let me give you an example. When I was six, something was going on in my house, and I, in my six-year-old mind, decided that it had to do with me. This was back in the day when parents didn’t share with their kids like they do now. Kids were on a need-to-know basis like you see on TV, and the adults mostly figured that kids didn’t need to know. Anyway, I decided that I had been adopted and my parents were going to send me back. In my own defense, I have always been a reader, so I must have read a story like that. Still, I was firmly convinced that was the case, and I was MUCH older when I found out that the big deal had to do with my brother and not with me at all.

This experience, combined with a couple of others, caused me to make the decision to BE an adult at the age of six. I remember doing it. And, being six (and seven and eight and…..), I screwed it up. A lot.

That might be why my husband said he could not envision me as a child until this vacation. I have told him plenty of stories about my childhood. I enjoy the stories that he tells me about his, even though some of them are sad. I can see, in my mind’s eye, the little boy who blew up the tree. I smile when I think of the little boy who rode his bicycle out in the country as far as his little legs would take him and came home hours later. I lived in those times. We both lived in the times when summer was sweat without air conditioning and falling asleep meant listening to the crickets and the cicadas and praying for a breeze to come through your window.

On our vacation this year, we went by my Aunt Jeanette’s house, which will soon be razed for a highway ramp. Aunt Jeanette’s was always the first place we went when we visited Fairmont, WVA, where my parents were born. Aunt Jeanette’s second husband, Finley, passed away at the beginning of May, and my cousin has been urging me to go back and see if there was anything I wanted from the house. My memories, though, are OF the house, not so much of anything in it.

To get there, my husband and I had to find the house, which involved getting off at interstate exits with which we were unfamiliar, but we managed. We went up East Park Street, where my dad lived until he was seven and his parents lost the house because of the Depression. We went by where the old toll bridge was. I remember my dad paying a nickel for us to cross just so I’d know what a toll bridge was.

Finally, we found State Street. I used to walk down State Street to cross the river and go to the pool. I also visited my Great Aunt Lucy. Good memories. But Aunt Lucy’s last house is boarded up, and the house she had before that was not in much better shape. It looks sort of like people have given up on this side of Fairmont already.

Finally, we were at the house. We parked and walked around it. There used to be an orphanage at the top of the hill, and that is gone. One of the neighbors noticed that we were there and came out to find out who we were. She wanted me to call my cousin, who is the executor of Uncle Finley’s will. I did call to please her, but I was sort of glad he wasn’t home. I didn’t want to go in. I wanted to remember the big garden at the side of the house and the black cocker spaniel, Prince, who lived in a house behind it. I wanted to revisit the grape arbor under which I lay on my back and watched the clouds roll by.

Then I decided I wanted to visit the house across the street. I could tell that this surprised my husband, and he actually just pulled the van up and watched. The house across the street housed an Italian family, and the summer I was ten, I played with their youngest daughter, Mary Theresa. I told the mom who I was, but she did not remember me. She remembered my cousins, who visited much more frequently. She invited me, though, to wait for Mary Theresa, who was due at any time.

I was getting a little nervous making small talk, especially since the lady I was talking to did not remember me. Neither did her older daughter. But see, I did not spend time with her older daughter. There was a group of kids just older than Mary Theresa and me, and they did not want “the kids” hanging around. So we played with each other.

Finally, Mary Theresa arrived. She knew me right away, although she had not seen me for close to forty years. I felt a lot better. We made a lot of small talk. She has one son. She showed me his picture. I pulled out the pictures of my kids and the grandbabies. When I left, she gave me a hug.

My husband was quiet after we left, and I was sort of teary. Then he told me that he had actually not been able to envision me as a child before, but as he watched me talk to Mary Theresa, it was as if we were both ten again.

That summer, see, I came back to Fairmont with my Mom’s dad because our bathroom was being remodeled. My sister had just graduated high school, and my little sister was three. I guess my parents figured it would be better for me to have my cousins to play with than to be there amidst all the remodeling chaos. We only had one bathroom. Surprisingly, I do not remember putting up a fuss, and I was a homebody as a child.

Aunt Jeanette had a lot of kids in her house, and times were safer then. She really didn’t care what you did between meals and bedtime as along as you were there for your assigned chores at the assigned time. So that summer, unlike other summers in my life, I was free to wander. I remember wandering out in the country just to see where a road would lead. And I was all by myself. I probably didn’t go more than a few miles, but it seemed like quite a trek to me. I went up the hill to visit Aunt Florence and Agnes, and I came home when I wanted to. I lay on my back and watched the clouds roll by. These are all kid things to do, but that summer is really the only one that I remember doing them.

All the houses on Pleasant Street will be gone by this time next year, so I probably will not go back to Fairmont again. I am glad, though, that I got to see it. I am glad I let Mary Theresa know that spending time with her is a pleasant memory for me. And I am glad that my husband finally got to see me as a little girl.

The stories we tell people, and the stories people tell us, really are a means of understanding them. I have known my husband for over thirty years. We have been married for twenty-seven. I am glad this one finally got told.

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