Archive for the ‘memory’ Category

Now Log

23 November 2009

Dear J-

We’re walking around the neighborhood looking at the lights (this is Thanksgiviing week here in the States, after all, and a lot of our neighbors have thought it easier to put their strands up while taking Halloween decorations down) pointing a few out here and there to figgy, who promptly responds, “Yeah, lights.”  I can’t help but think of last year when the only word we could get her to reliably repeat was “mee-mee” for the Christmas lights; she would walk, and point, and no matter how we said “lights” it came out “mee-mee.”

The whole vocabulary has expanded dramatically and with it her awareness of the world; her favorite sentences all begin with I:  “I want” (sticker, band-aid, mac’n’cheese, pasta, rice, TV, tissue), “I don’t want” (bath, lunch, clothes, new diaper, go outside), or “I can do it.”  She’s lost the invented words, but does a very good facsimile of what we say, and has learned, somewhere along the way, colors and basic sequences.  I have particular guilt, as I have guilt over so many aspects of my life, that I’m not doing more for her learning:  again it’s another opportunity to marvel at my parents for their patience in exerting a firm steady pressure to embrace knowledge despite our protests.

Some day — probably soon — we’ll start setting down memories she’ll be able to recall as an adult; though she still calls out for Bean occasionally (not as much as that odd first week:  “Bean, come on,” reliably though there was no comforting answering tags jingling as we were getting the leashes ready for the walk) I’m pretty sure she’ll look at pictures of him and ask what kind of dog he was (we’ll say a good one, you must realize he was getting old and crabby but under it all good, happy, and patient).  Yet that will be the same sort of projected memory that makes sense only when you stumble across old albums and a parent to explain it; our job is to catalog the now and keep it.



Annual Writer

15 August 2009

Dear J-

I used to pride myself on being able to write extemporaneously on the oddest topics — this would come in handy during yearbook season. Granted, we had a small school, so there was always something to talk about; some odd story, some rumor, some half-truth with legs all its own. You never knew how much to mention, or how little you wanted to believe — your experiences may have one day made a funny story one day, but in the meantime you had to live with the looks.

We could take a page from figgy in this regard, who wears her emotions out loud (dragged, kicking and screaming two blocks home when we couldn’t figure out the right configuration of leash and tricycle; bashfully hiding behind my leg for the friendly strangers instead of declaring her love for the fishies; sitting down and refusing to go any further, sorting pine needles from street to curb and back again); rather than leave it as a festering nonsense, to be read in some slight tilt of body language, it’s out for everyone to watch.

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You write something quick in the annual shoved in front of your face and maybe you’ve got a theme going, maybe you end up writing more than you intended. It’s strange how we treat our yearbooks — I’ve run across more than a few in thrift stores, but tempted as I’ve been, I haven’t bought any yet; when we write we assume it’s for forever and yet we never spend more than a few minutes composing and committing those words to posterity. It takes perspective — writing down those numbers, 1992, makes me realize we’ve spent a lifetime already, we’ve lived a life outside those flat pages bound together documenting a moment. It’s fun to visit; it’s impossible to dwell, no matter how infinitely forever and wise we believe ourselves at eighteen.


Key Note

4 August 2009

Dear J-

Every time I pull my keys out I flash back a little to when I got my first key to the house — it came in its own little leather wallet (this kept it from rattling around and alerting everyone that I had a key, and I was five kinds of secretly pleased by another stealth tool), just like my dad’s, but scaled down, and represented a new sort of freedom,  not having to wait on the porch to be let in after shopping or other errands.  I could also let my parents in when their hands were full with bags or other sundries.  Later on, though, it became representative of my generation of latchkey kids, entrusted to go home, go straight to home and do not pass go, do not collect $200.

Every generation has new challenges, I suppose; when I was little and ran off in the store to stare hungrily at the video games, hot dogs, toys, or cereal, my folks knew where they could find me after getting through the rest of the store and shopping in relative peace.  Now, of course, if you haven’t already embedded a GPS tracking device or LoJack somewhere in your child, chances are that they will be stolen as soon as they wander out of arm’s reach.  Latchkey kids were the scourge of the streets, coming after a world of always-sunny Leave it to Beaver stay-at-home parents; dad with slippers, pipe, and newspaper, mom with apron and a ready smile, each rigidly locked into their roles without question.

I understand why — my mom worked 70 hours a week in the store for ten years, and my dad’s time was split between teaching and office hours; there’s no question that if they could have avoided it, they would have.  I still have fond memories of the ages before seven, with mom picking me up after school and whiling away afternoons in quiet play (Tinkertoys, you will note, do not typically make as much noise as LEGO or wooden blocks; we had a lot of Tinkertoys scattered around afternoons).  But it’s spooky coming home to an empty house; winters you hurried back to beat the sudden slide into night and stayed put in the rooms you’d managed to get lights on in time.  When the smoke detector battery ran low and started signaling, it sounded like the pulse of monsters in closets and dark corners.  You put the key in the lock and hear the tumblers fall, open the door (ours always gave a slightly reassuring shriek) and enter with trepidation and joy.  Keys to the heart manage to unlock all manner of old thoughts and dusty treasures, naturally.


Fly High

18 June 2009

Dear J-

After one particular parent-teacher conference in 5th grade, where the teacher, pleased with my progress, confided to my dad that they’d be able to place me in the “7th” grade reading level next year (they were implementing a new system; essentially, they slotted you in to one of three reading levels — above, at, or below grade level), he then asked why I couldn’t just go into 7th grade altogether. Not willing to let me skip that 6th grade year entirely — and it was a pretty important one, as the last year of elementary school before junior high (it’s since been amended to be K-5, 6-8, and 9-12) — they hammered out a compromise: two months of 6th grade to get acclimated to the new classmates, and then on with them to the big, bad junior high.

When my parents moved into their new house in 2006, they literally packed up everything without sorting — especially the things in our room — figuring that we’d eventually get around to looking through the boxes instead of having half a garage. This time I spent a few hours sorting through the boxes labeled “Michael” — some of those full of my brother’s college textbooks (I have a few boxes worth left to go through in our spare bedroom too), others full of schoolwork (I found the notes from our Russian Culture class, nearly twenty years old now). And finally, I stumbled across one of the boxes I was hoping to find — I used to keep various treasures of youth piled up in a chest of sorts: important papers, articles, crisp dollar bills, the advertisement from Sports Illustrated with Stephanie Seymour and Elle Macpherson.

The day I walked in to 6th grade was actually good timing — my 5th grade class was starting their year project (each student had an individual “state” report — my brother’s, three years ago, had been on Nebraska) at the same time the 6th grade had already turned in their “country” reports. But all else was horribly wrong; I knew of these people, like you know of people’s siblings and friends, but the divisions of elementary school dictated strong separation between classes: no mixing with the 6th or 4th graders and yet here I was, straight into the lion’s den, introduced like someone new from the foreign territory of Mrs. Presnell’s class.

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I mentioned Stina in passing — I’ll have to elaborate on that particular thought later — but that first day, thinking of how long the next two months would take, Emmett stepped up to the plate and let me know that I wasn’t so weird, having been introduced as a permanent visitor from below with piano, reading, and airplanes on the mind. I ran across that same drawing in my parents’ garage and I had to sit down immediately; twenty years later it still staggers me, reminding me how lucky I am. Thanks again, thanks always.


Division Mind

16 June 2009

Dear J-

In my mind I’m still making those late-night trips down Division — this before they split it into one-way streets in order to relieve traffic before they (assuming they ever do) put in a north-south freeway to put a permanent end to the charm. Remember of course that you could tell how close we were to I-90 (and therefore home) just by seeing which businesses you were passing at the moment — Wheelsmith and White Elephant, not so much; Arby’s a little closer; Red Lion closer yet. I watched the neon signs through sleep-blurred eyes drinking it all in hungrily, waiting for Frankie Doodle’s to light the way back.

It was something I found peculiar to Spokane as I’ve gone through life in different parts of this country; there are other places — Sacramento comes to mind — where you can take long trips along business-lined arterials if you want to, but none where you actually have to. It was inconvenient and certainly not world-class, but it’s how I learned dead-reckoning via landmark (“Yes, just past the Yoke’s, you can’t miss it.”), a skill that’s amply repaid itself in years past.

We spent the morning wandering around a park (Overfelt Gardens — we initially thought about Alum Rock Park but we tipped towards Overfelt because of the Chinese influence), figgy avoiding various traps (the fountains were off and the sleepy geese were warned off by her heavy tread). It’s how I think parks should be — manicured, tree-lined, and planned; we have city parks in San Diego but none I’ve been to with quite the same mix of water, vegetation, and structures. No playground, though, but the wealth of trails kept her busy; once again I rethink what I see in San Jose although the overcrowded buffet lunch we went to makes me believe the tastes aren’t perfectly in sync yet.


Oh, by the way, my perfect (for two years, at least) record for multi-day trips is still intact, but instead of the plunger everyone else gives me, my dad handed me a drain snake and a knife for my toilet fight. Are there crocodiles here or what?

Future Food

6 June 2009

Dear J-

We go to the same restaurants over and over again with predictable results: the servers end up greeting us as though we were coming home, and take liberties with figgy — though her cheeks are eminently pinch-worthy. I suppose that I take comfort in the same familiar foods, but I still owe a significant debt to my parents; although we ended up eating the same sorts of foods at home (soup, rice, and a couple of meat & vegetable dishes), they always pushed us to try something different, which has no doubt contributed to my eclectic tastes.

Specials always intrigued them; limited-time offerings — if you’re going to be spending the money, you might as well get something unique, right? Then again, these were the same parents who never seemed to pass up a buffet — this probably to satisfy me, who was so painfully shy that I could hardly bear to even speak to the server to, never mind make a choice about things (theVet will definitely vouch for my indecision, here). It’s part of growing up, like everything else, so hopefully we’re still exposing figgy to a sufficiently wide range, even if all she takes is starch-based (noodles, rice, bread) despite what we put in front of her.

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There’s distinct memories associated with my favorite foods; cold hot dogs — from sidling up to the counter at Butcher Boy and looking sad; SPAM — from Maui, for our honeymoon; Chicken in a Biskit — the first food we got after long illnesses; crystallized honey with peanut butter on toast — well, who wouldn’t like that? Are the memories strong enough for her yet? I’m seeing a lot of carbs in her future, but what will future foods trigger?


Time to Burn

31 May 2009

Dear J-

When I was young (okay, littler than I am today), I was incredibly afraid of dogs; here were these beasts that folks would take into their homes and share their lives with but somehow had neglected to tell them not to eat me. So, with the exquisite logic of children, instead of trying to work on my fear by working up from little dogs to bigger ones, I embarked on a campaign of trying to convince my parents that we needed what was, according to World Book, the largest dog breed — an Irish Wolfhound (the illustration, if I recall correctly, for the “Dog” entry showed one such joyfully greeting its basketball-player master with its front paws on the owner’s shoulders). Not only would such an action save time, I’d have the double benefit of not having to deal with other dogs, as they’d be cowed by the world’s largest dog.

Now, regarding tomcats, who I’d heard were mean and likely as not to fight as look at you …

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When I look back at my animal stories growing up, it was a litany of potential disasters and horrific deaths, from killer bees to rabid dogs and a pinch of Hitchcock’s The Birds thrown in for good measure too. The closest I usually got to wild animals was the hour of National Geographic on Saturday nights, so it’s incredible for me to have access to the San Diego Zoo; you have to forgive me the once-a-week trips there, as it’s filled with endless fascination for all of us. Now that figgy’s a bit older, she helps point out the animals as well; plotting routes and showing us corners we’ve missed before (today finding where the hyenas were kept). If I’d known parenthood would be so fun …


Sieve Mind

10 February 2009

Dear J-

Junior was talking about memories the other day and I have to add that it’s not necessarily the times you spend putting the most effort into — ask me to name a birthday from my youth and I’ll probably point out my fifteenth, when my family was out of town and I went to stay with Charlie’s folks; after pizza we went down to Excell Foods to pick out my favorite ice cream (I said Cookies’n Cream but maybe that’s because we only ever had Maple Nut at home and I didn’t want to remind myself of missing family that particular night) and a movie to watch — but rather the things we do most consistently.

I ring my bell outside the door most nights and listen for figgy to come screaming up to the door with a “daddy daddy;” maybe repetition is our strongest learning tool.  We pick up habits through unconscious emulation; theVet keeps telling me to watch myself around figgy because you never know what kind of weird thing she’ll pick up next.  The other day I pushed Oliver away from the high chair (he has a little circuit — get up from bed, go drink water, check high chair for spilled crumbs, back to bed) with my foot and some force — and was not pleased to see figgy putting her foot on Oliver moments later.  It is an awesome responsibility, knowing every moment is a teaching moment; are you the person you want to be, knowing you fall under fierce scrutiny?


Memory Man

27 December 2008

Dear J-

I had a dream this morning where we had to move for some reason, into a house that was oddly like our own, but much bluer inside (whether curtains, carpet, or walls — it was all some shade of blue; of course, it was much more soothing than the fuschia shag that had inexplicably replaced our existing carpet, which is a pleasantly inoffensive shade of beige save the spots where our desperate dogs have attempted a home dye job). I remember falling asleep — in the dream — with a simplified layout of the house filled with jumbled 2×2 LEGO blocks in my head; after waking up, the blocks had started to assemble themselves into recognizable shapes — tables, chairs, and sofas.

I look for patterns sometimes when they aren’t — or shouldn’t be — there. Sometimes I’m justified — there’s a neat sequence to the square of an integer (n^2) being equal to the square of the previous integer ([n-1]^2) plus an odd number [2n-1] — which means that if you sum any sequence of odd numbers, starting with 1, you’ll get the square of an integer (1+3 = 4 = 2^2, 1+3+5 = 9 = 3^2, etc.). Other times I find myself looking at floor tiles in order to align my feet with the grain, whether painted-on or real. I rely on patterns to compartmentalize and rationalize the days; it’s my mnemonic. The routine becomes the reason and any disruption is likely to send me spinning off into forgetfulness.


The mind plays funny tricks with perception, and sometimes we don’t realize if we’re watching or being watched. I noted a crack in the back door jamb this afternoon — was it there before? Had I put it there? Or did someone try to force it? The inexplicable is chalked up to forgetfulness, and so also thus the long, slow decline.


Prom Apologies

20 December 2008

Dear J-

So to the downtown Spokane Bon Marche store Santa, 1976, let’s just say that the nearly-two-year-old that was plunked down on your lap wasn’t the most pleased to be there, so late at night anyway, and can we just sweep that meltdown under the table and let bygones be bygones?


But seriously, something that’s been stewing in the back of my mind for fifteen years or so — and I hate saying it, it sounds like I’m one of those people who never got over high school; it’s not something that kept me up at night, just more that I lost the chance to say anything at the time and in what’s becoming a trend for me, I lost track of, well, everyone not in my current life.  As a side note, I spent half an hour cleaning carpets this morning because I forgot to walk the dogs; theVet despairs of how easily distracted I am by the immediate task — this is why I’ve spent a small fortune on electronic brains that I invariably forget to update.

The point is that my relentless narcissism excluded any thought that hey, maybe it took TWO seventeen-year-olds (skip down to the Allman Brothers song, here) to multiply awkwardness into some perfect storm of silences and mis-communications.  It made for a memorable prom, but perhaps not the memories that most pairs take away from that particular night.  For my part, I left a lot unsaid; I wish I’d explained how long I’d waited — nearly three years, from the moment she’d walked in to homeroom — and that I didn’t care if there was no future in it, just to be there tonight with her was magical enough; all the steps — here for pictures, there for dinner, then back to the dance — all the rituals of tux and corsages and shaking the father’s hand — all that blurred together, all matching and missing the visions I’d had in my head for that night.

I’ll leave it there, but hasten to add that my contribution to it was not insignificant; as I’ve noted before, I chose inaction over initiative every time I had the choice.  My life was full of structure at seventeen; the next sixteen years have been filled with terror and learning at having that safety net slowly but surely cut away strand by strand until I learned (am learning) how and why to enjoy the moment for what it is, not compared to some ineffable ideal.