These Dreams are Familiar

My childhood memories feel unquestionably true to me– and yet as time passes, I start to wonder how much gloss childhood has added to those memories. I remember my childhood in Sacramento, for example, as a really special time in my life (I wrote about it in this 2008 4th of July post), but does it only seem extraordinary to me because I still see it through a child’s eyes? If I could see it again as an adult, would it hold up?

After all, there are plenty of embarrassing things I remember coveting as a child. I’m humiliated to admit that I still remember how sad I felt when I realized that I’d left my ‘Where’s the Beef’ gum — it was shaped like a hamburger and wrapped in foil just like a fast food burger — in the kitchen cabinet of our old Sacramento house when we moved to the foothills. I also loved my Snoopy sno-cone machine — something I now see as a plastic piece of junk, as a classic example of marketing sugary crap to kids.

Maybe that time in Sacramento is so special to me because we moved when I was just seven years old. Maybe the kids who stayed on the block longer didn’t remember that time as I did or as happily as I did.  Or perhaps that time stands out in my mind because it was so rare. I never had that sort of intense neighborhood-as-family experience again.

In the 27 years since we moved away, that time in Sacramento began to feel like a dream. I wondered at times if my memories were really accurate, and yet they were so oddly specific: I remembered that Betty’s house was painted aqua blue, that Daniel had terrible allergies, that Matt’s dad worked for Frito-Lay. I can still mentally go down the block, remembering who lived in each house: Peter and Malena’s house, our house, Betty’s, Deena’s, Matt’s, Kevin’s, the house that had no kids but an incredibly smooth driveway that was perfect for roller-skating, the house where my 2nd grade teacher Ms. Hollis lived, the house on the corner that was scary on Halloween. I knew I couldn’t have made up something so detailed.

If you have memories of a singular time in your life, like my memories of my childhood in Sacramento, I hope that at some point, you get to sit down with someone else who was there with you and who can confirm all the random little things you’ve held on to all these years. I got that chance last Sunday when I saw Adam, who’d lived two doors down from us in Sacramento.

Here’s a snippet of our conversation (from what I remember):

What about the people across the street with the doberman pinscher and –“

“And the big cockatoo?”

Yes! I was just going to say that! Was the bird dangerous? I remember being afraid of it.”

“I think they told us it would bite us if we got too close.”

And what about Kevin with the capped teeth?”

“You remember Kevin? I stayed in contact with Kevin even after we moved out of that neighborhood. What about that religious family that lived down the block and who –“

Wait – was one of the kids named Laban?”

“Yes! And they’d put a sign on their door saying not to interrupt them because they were praying and the sign would be up for hours.”

This is going to sound strange but when your family moved, did you live near a Bel Air supermarket?

“We lived two blocks from a Bel Air. I can’t believe you remember that.”

I can hardly believe I remember such details from my childhood either, but those memories are unmistakably there. Memories are so incredibly strong that even now, thinking back to my talk with Adam, I still don’t picture him as the adult he’s become; I still picture the child with blond hair and an enormous temper who lived in the house two doors down.

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