A Childhood Memory

The mental health writing group I’m part of gave the prompt to write about a childhood memory. I tried to keep it happy. It was hard.

 

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Should be simple, right? But, as of right now, I have no idea what I’m going to write about. I’m hoping something will come to me as I type. You see, this prompt (or, a similar one, at least) came up a couple of months ago in something else, and I discovered I don’t have memories from childhood. Except for the nightmares I have pretty much every night and the flashbacks every day. But I’m not going to write about any of those. I want to write about something normal.

And so, I struggle. It’s the strangest thing. I try to think about my childhood, and it’s like the part of my brain which holds the files for that part of my life is locked. Or, maybe it’s been thrown away. I’m not sure.

Okay. I’ve made myself a coffee and had a hard think about this, and I have something. Something that, actually, makes me really happy when I think about it.

I know I’ve mentioned a few times how important music and dance was to my Dad’s family. They were all singers and dancers, and I inherited the love for both. Today, music is the thing that links me back to Dad the most strongly. It’s the thing that can break me, but it’s also the thing that makes me feel loved.

So, this isn’t one specific memory of one specific event. Every Saturday night, we used to go visit my Auntie Beryl; Mum’s favourite sister. The car journey was about twenty-five minutes, and those whole twenty-five minutes were always packed with song and laughter and happiness. Dad usually let me choose the cassette tape (yes, I’m that old!) to play. Now, this is where I hold my hands up and say, “My taste in music is not cool. My taste in music is eclectic.” I guess, at the age when I used to go to Auntie Beryl’s with Mum and Dad (once I was thirteen, I opted to stay home alone and invite friends over) a lot of my musical taste was based on Dad’s tastes. I have to admit, I still like that music. I’m talking music from the 60’s, 70’s, country music. There were two cassettes I chose most often: one was a Beatles compilation and the other was a 60s compilation. On the Beatles album, ‘Eleanor Rigby’ was mine and Dad’s favourite. We always (and I mean every time we listened) discussed how sad the song is. It felt like it was really important. It connected Dad and me with a fine lasso. The song from the 60’s album that caught me was ‘Those Were The Days’ by Mary Hopkin. Again, we discussed the meaning every week. Dad would talk about how I should’t waste my youth because it would be gone far too quickly, and you can never get it back. He always had this wistfulness in his voice. It’s weird how I understood that; even when I was only, like, six or seven. I already felt like I’d wasted too much time feeling unhappy, and I was terrified that life would only get worse from there. I feel so sad when I hear that song today because my youth has gone. I did waste it.

Ahh, nuts! I meant to keep it happy. Despite what I’ve written above, we did sing along to all the cool songs. Like ‘The Devil Went Down To Georgia.’ That was one of our favourites. I still love it today. Those car journeys were special, bonding time. What I wouldn’t give to be in the car, singing along to Johnny Cash and Dusty Springfield.

Right, now I’ve started to write about a memory, I’m going to continue. Once we got to Auntie Beryl’s, I always had a great time. Mostly, because I was away from home, and away from my grandfather and my bedroom. My two cousins, who are both older than me, used to play with me. They had a huge garden with lots of places to hide and build dens. I loved going there. But the crowning glory for me was the dart board they had in their hallway. I loved playing darts every week. I don’t know why because it’s not exactly an exciting game, but I always looked forward to it. And then, there was the ice cream. Every week, Auntie Beryl gave us a Pzazz ice cream. I don’t think they sell them any more, but they were delicious.

On the way home, Dad would start by singing his own, local songs that he and his family used to sing in pubs and clubs. They were, mostly, really depressing, and I remember feeling sad when he sang them. But they were beautiful, too, and his voice was rich and lovely. He sang some funny, slightly rude, songs too, and I remember Mum tapping his arm more than once and telling him to stop.

It may not sound like much, but these moments are among the happiest of my life. Yeah. So, there is my memory.

Karen

This poem is one I wrote when I was about seventeen/eighteen. I haven’t read it for a long time, but I set my iPod to random shuffle this morning, and Karen Carpenter’s beautiful voice came through my headphones, singing ‘Rainy Days & Mondays.’ It sent me on a trip along memory lane, and I dug out this old poem. (I realise admitting to this makes me sound like I had a really dull childhood. But it wasn’t. Honest!)

 

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Karen

 

She pauses beside the curtain,
hiding from the sea of adoring fans,
heart in her chest, she reflects its rhythm,
“I can I can I can.”
Her brother is at the piano,
already playing out the tune which heralds
her entrance
she sighs; this was never her plan,
but her painted-on-smile
looks authentic to those expecting so much from her.
Her cue is the music,
steps bouncing with energy
follow its course, but the
lights—oh, the lights—
are blinding, scrutinising every inch of her
grotesque body . . .
the one the critics called chubby.
The piano grows insistent, and she opens her mouth
to lull the audience with
her rich voice, seeped in pain;
she assures the crowd
they have only just begun,
and in that moment, there is no one else in the
whole auditorium,
it’s her and the music;
the way it used to be
before they were famous,
in the time when it was her brother who held all the talent
and she, merely the drummer,
tapping out rhythms on pots and pans,
in awe of the revered sibling.

I regret being born too late to see her perform live;
by the time I was old enough to understand that voice,
she had already suffered too much
at the hands of those who should have
protected her, put her first.
When I see her waif-like figure,
tiny in the middle of the stage,
I can only imagine how
terrifying
that must have been
for one so utterly aware of herself,
for one who never believed in herself.
In the beginning, her dark eyes sparkled,
as she sat behind her beloved drums,
jamming with her brother and his friends,
but the business decision came to
push her centre stage;
people wanted to see the girl with the golden voice,
so her fate was sealed
because success was paramount,
and she, the pawn who could achieve it.
In her last years, the sparkle vacated her eyes,
but the music—faultless—never ceased to flow,
it was the one thing keeping her alive,
but also the beast that slashed at her heels,
and on a cold February morning,
her bag-of-bones body shivered into its last deep sleep.
Found by her mother,
the whole world became darker,
but she rests now, finally she rests,
albeit, in agonising peace.

Impromptu Contest

My prompt for today was to write a piece of flash fiction containing as many names of US sitcoms from the 80s and 90s as possible. Quite a task! Very enjoyable. So, I’m going to share with you my writing. It occurred to me I could make a little contest out of this.

The contest is to read it and reply to this post with how many titles you think I’ve included.

You have until midday GMT tomorrow (so, 24 hours from now), and the person who guesses right (or nearest to right) gets to feature a poem or piece of their writing on my blog. How does that sound?

If lots of people guess correctly, I’ll feature all of you. It will be wonderful to be able to share some of the talented people I’ve met through blogging.

So. Here is my story:

The Memory Chest

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Emptying my mother’s house is harder than I anticipated. This intricate little box incites butterflies to float and dance in my stomach. The box, which is shaped like a pirate’s chest, is a deep plum purple and decorated with tiny green rhinestones and cut-out silver spoons. Mum was obsessed with spoons. I have already taken five complete sets to charity shops. I kept her favourite for myself. On top of the chest, Mum has written “Small Wonder”, her nickname given to me following my miraculous, if somewhat arduous, fifteen hour birth. It is a perfect title for the snippets of life I find inside. I lift the lid to a plethora of old photographs, newspaper cuttings, and letters.

The photographs are bound together with a length of purple lace so dark it reminds me of aubergines. I smile without trying when I see the first picture. It is taken at our old house, 227, Benson Road. Three girls, as yet untainted by the traumas of adulthood, smile awkwardly at the camera. On the reverse, Mum has written “Roseanne, Kate & Allie”, 1989. My smile falters when I look at the background scene. I see the looming figure of Mr Belvedere, our creepy next door neighbour. I could never understand how he made a living out of driving a taxi. He smelt of mildew and feet and was always watching us from his garden. One time, I ran straight into him when I was late for the school bus. I got to see his (not so) lazy eye study me carefully. It was too close for comfort. I was happy when we moved to our new house on Alf Tyler Street. Our new neighbours, The Jeffersons, were much less intimidating and, as far as I know, they never once smelled of feet.

I dig deeper into the chest and find my mother has lovingly documented every stage of my growing pains; all my happy days. There is a newspaper cutting, which evokes the fondest feelings inside of me. The picture is of my two friends and me. This time, we are smiling with all the confidence our new-found adulthood and sexuality has brought. The heading reads, “Three’s Company For This Homegrown All Girl Group” and underneath, the article continues, “The Golden Girls of Tucson land their first top ten hit.” Not just our first, but our only hit. I read the whole article, which gushes huge helpings of praise onto Saved By The Bell, a decidedly average song which, somehow, made it to Number 6 on the Billboard Chart. Mum almost burst from her pride in me. It was a magical time, a different world to the one I inhabit now.

Today, I am married … with children. Three children, they are my world and I am a full time mother to them. My life is still full of cheers. My full house of loved ones is more rewarding than all the bright lights and fame in the world.

Even so, I think I’ll keep this treasure trove of memories. When they are old enough, I will show it to my children. Maybe I’ll create my own box and fill it with my new beautiful family ties.