The first memory I have from my childhood is riding my tricycle in the basement with gardener snakes slithering around. I had probably just turned four. We had an unfinished concrete basement, with a couple steps down to a dirt floor room where our washer and dryer were. I thought this had been a dream until one day my mother mentioned it. Now, I don’t know about you, but I think this is a logical start for my fear of snakes. This house also is the setting for another “dream” I had of a large tire filled with sand that was my sandbox. There was a snake in that too. I have no idea if this was a dream, or if this was also real.
I have many fond memories of that house. Most of them are the blurry half memories that you have as a child. Bits and pieces of moments. I could list them all, and maybe from there we could diagnose exactly what point in my life I became destined to have a life full of anxiety. But I guess I don’t really feel like dredging up my entire childhood. You couldn’t possibly be interested in it all.
Now, I won’t say that there weren’t good times, even great times. I remember giving many of my stuffed animals a bath and deciding that our cat, Bo Derek (yes, that Bo Derek from the 80s), needed one too. So, I tossed her in. She lived until I was in my late teens, and never forgave me for it. There was another time where one of my parents’ good friends blew bubbles while he smoked and made smoke bubbles. I thought that was the coolest thing, and years later in one of my finer parenting moments showed this same trick to my children. They were equally as enthralled as I had been.
My mom used to play records at night for me to fall asleep to. Cyndi Lauper & Lionel Richie are the two that always come to mind. The songs from those albums bring back that house and those nights every time I hear them. Mom loves music to this day, and still always has music playing on her days off when she is cooking or cleaning. It is something that I have always loved about her, this love of music. And strangely, a good portion of my childhood memories had music playing in the background. I never really realized that until just now, and it certainly explains my own love of music, especially 70s and 80s music.
I remember that one day, I was looking out the front window and someone showed up and put a for sale sign in the yard. Our landlord had decided to sell the house. I didn’t fully comprehend the level of significance, or the way that my life was about to change. This early experience reflects so many of the ways my life has become as an adult.
We started looking for an apartment, and we found one. I have a vague recollection of this place. I can see it in the deep recess of my memory. I know I didn’t like it. And I especially didn’t like that we had to get rid of our dog, Maggie. She was a black lab, and I loved her so much. One of the first A's I ever received in English was writing about losing her. My mother told me she went to live with a friend on a farm. I believed that, and I choose to still believe it. I know everyone under the sun has a story about a pet that went to live on a farm, but I refuse to ask my mother if this is really what happened. This moment, the moment of goodbye, was the first heartbreak in my life. Well into my late 30s I still have one of her balls with her teeth marks. I couldn’t part with it.
Most importantly of the things that happened with us moving was the official addition to my life of my stepdad. He had been around my entire life, since I was an infant. My biological father chose to not be a part of my life and instead went back to his family. From here on out, if I refer to my dad, it will be to the man who raised me. Because in my opinion, the man who began my existence is not my father. The man who raised me, who influenced me, who was there for everything I ever did, that is my dad. I am lucky to have been raised by him, and grateful that he chose to step up when another wouldn’t. I could not have handpicked a better daddy, and as it turns out, that was exactly what I did.
It was after we gave Maggie away, and were getting prepared to move into that apartment. We were all standing around the house and I asked why we didn’t just move into his house. And the adults exchanged a look that leads me to believe that it had been discussed previously. Then, just like that, the game plan changed. I remember after being told we would go live there asking if I could call him Dad. So just like that, no more apartment AND I had a Daddy. This very possibly could have been the only good choice I have ever made in my entire life.
So, just before my 5th birthday, we moved. It still bothers me that I hadn’t thought to ask sooner, because maybe we could have kept my dog. I was 16 before I had another. Though to be honest, I have always been more of a cat person. Anyway, my bedroom was the entire upstairs of the house, so much larger than the room I had before. This house, the years spent here, are unquestionably some of the best years of my life. I grew up in that house on 8th Avenue. All the friends that were made, every major event of my childhood happened in that house. It wasn’t huge, it wasn’t fancy, but it most definitely was a home. Our yard was huge, and there were tons of kids within a block radius. We had many cookouts, family gatherings, and birthday parties there. The neighborhood kids and I played in the sprinkler in the backyard, or on my swing set. We rode bikes. We ran wild around the block to all our different houses. There was always someone to play with. To this day I am still friends with many of these kids.
Granted, it was another town and another lifetime ago, and we only keep in touch via Facebook newsfeed or the occasional meme that we tag each other in. But those kids, they taught me about friendship and some pretty hard life lessons as well. It is painful to me to think of childhood friends, because not so long ago my best friend from those days died with her family in a house fire. Knowing that your oldest friend is no longer on this Earth is more painful than I can express, even though we hadn’t been close in years.
There is so much that can be said for the neighborhood you grew up in. The world was so different than it is today. Back then, we could stay gone for hours and our parents wouldn’t worry. We could go in and out of our friends' houses without having to let anyone know where we would be. I grew up in a small town in a time where people cared about their neighbors and everyone waved at everyone. A tiny town on the river, where we would spend as much time as possible. Either standing next to it, at a park beside it, or in a boat on it. In the middle of nowhere, with corn and soybean fields all around. Even today, the sight and smell of corn growing in the summer brings me a great peace. I always say that I am going home to center myself again when I take a trip down there. One of the hardest parts of being a mother is that I can’t give my kids that kind of life growing up. We live in a big city, technology is king, and neighborhood kids just come and go all the time. They would have zero appreciation for a cornfield. Things really just are so different now.