I believe that most of us love to live in the past. We dwell on it, we thrive on it. I have noticed, on social media, that we focus on “the way it used to be.” Even Mom has “fallen victim” to this, writing about her life, and then dad’s, and then ours–there is great detail about childhood, but she skips around when it comes to being an adult. Don’t worry, Mom, I noticed that I do it too.
Why is this? I think that we look back on our childhood, for the most part, as a time of innocence, and we long to have it back. We have grown up, we are disappointed, somewhat, with the decisions we have made (because, everything is cause and effect and my decisions help aide and abet others’ decisions, maybe…). We long for the days when life was simpler….when the mud pie, though inedible, was the basis for our day, walking with our friends down the street, and the rattle of the little red wagon pulled behind us.
This is what America looked like, for me.
I grew up in a very small community, it had a thriving downtown. I walked “to town” daily with my grandmother, holding her hand, especially across the bridge that I was sure I’d be sucked down through the slats and into the water….she had her “shopping bag,” we’d collect the mail, go to the grocery store, and do the various other little errands that made up her day. We would visit the old old lady next door, she was friends with her and her caregiver, we would visit the old old lady across the street, she was friends with her and her caregiver, too. I’d crawl into bed with my grandmother in the middle of the night, and twirl and entangle my little 3 year old fingers under her hairnet, driving her crazy. Why did I ever do that? I have no idea, but no matter how much she protested, I still did it.
I have very vague recollection of our very short move to Watertown, New York. We lived in the upstairs of a house, which was backed (and fenced in) by the Black River. I remember an older girl, Peaches Sticklebar, held me and told me she was going to toss me down and I’d land in the little row boat by the edge and I could go across the river (oh man! No way! But I was three, and would believe anything). There was a convent across the street. Very mysterious (I’d love to go back and see if it’s still there).
Later, we moved to a small house on the outskirts of the village. Our summer days consisted of swimming lessons, riding our bikes (or walking) to the library, buying popsicles or penny candy at the gas station, and visiting our downtown stores: Ben Franklin (a department store that had the coolest in pencil erasers, I remember buying a pink squirrel pencil erase, I vaguely remember it didn’t work as well as I thought it would…), the Rexall drug store (candy, of course), Hoppies (Mr. Hoffman used to have an ice cream parlor, before my time, but during my early years he had a shop that had a big case of penny candy, records of the latest hits from the Beatles and others in 45 rpm, cards, comic books, etc., I loved his shop!
I remember also summer days of playing with the neighbor children across the meadow. The four of us spent our eternities of summer days with hopscotch marathons, jump rope marathons, picking strawberries, and later on as we grew a little older, we helped them sell corn on the side of the road (50 cents for a baker’s dozen).
Then my mind chooses to skip over the teen years. There are some memories, but not too many worth recording, or not worth recording for others to read. Days of summer band trips, babysitting younger brothers and sisters, not wanting to go on vacation because I was too grown up to do so (I had to get into the car and go anyway). College and it’s anxiety, I quit because I got a job (don’t worry, I followed through a few years later and go my associate’s degree). Marriage. Skipping through Philadelphia for three years, moving to Allentown, and then the years just skip around a lot. I remember things, but mostly things that were difficult. Is this the way it is? Is this why we choose to dwell on our childhood? Surely our childhood couldn’t have been that good.
It’s interesting to take stock of our years, to figure this all out.
And, by the way, yes, it was that good. In my own personal reality, it was the best. This is why I ended up back in my little home town. This is why I ended up buying the house next door to my childhood home (not the one on the edge of town, the one in the village).
In my days as a substitute teacher, the kids were doing a project for Home & Careers and I heard one child say, “My childhood sucked.” My heart dropped. How sad that this child felt that way. My prayer is that, one day, she will look back, and remember it with the same fondness that many of us share.
I’m certain that my days were not all good, but our memories in childhood collect the good. I’m sorry for those that do not. Not everyone is as fortunate. War torn countries do not have this pleasure. But, my guess is that the children do hang onto the good memories. That’s what children do.
Now I realize that I’ve finished this article, I haven’t touched on what I intended. But that’s the nature of writing, isn’t it? It’s the soul working itself out into stories.