Memories Are the Paint Brushes of Our Lives

by Manueljoan Roybal 5 months ago in family

Children should be seen and not heard

Memories Are the Paint Brushes of Our Lives

I remember back as far as four and a half years old. Vivid memories of living in a basement apartment in North Denver, my Mom being on ADC and the County Nurse coming to visit and bringing a box filled with staples: rice, cheese, powdered eggs, milk, etc. I can still see the box on top of the table, way above my head. I can still feel the sensation of climbing up on the chair to look at all the goods being pulled from the box.

I remember the neighbors on the floor above us—a single Mom with two little kids. I don't remember the boy's name but the girl was Violet Jean. Her mom was Ruby.

We called her Ruby the Raisin. My little brother's name was Jake. We would chant "Jake the Flake and Ruby the Raisin," LOL, what memories.❤️

I remember my cousin Bobby coming over and trying to egg Violet Jean and me into a fight. He was older, in his teens. So we tried to obey, as we did in the 50s, and "speak only when spoken to and DO AS YOU ARE TOLD." We took it for as long as we could and then each of us ran separate ways, embarrassed that we could allow anyone to come between our friendship, even though we did not even strike at one another.

That may have been the very foundation I have based my friendships on. I am submissive and easily hurt. Once hurt, I run in the opposite direction.

I remember the Land Lady. I was very impressed with this woman, I remember seeing one time. Four things I remember about her: One: She was a large woman who wore a shiny black dress and a feather boa. She resembled Ella Fitgerald. Two: She had a male friend, Carl, who wore a black pin striped suit and a fedora. He was a slight built man who tagged behind her. Three: She built a bird bath with chicken wire and cement and which she decorate with broken colored glass—more than likely whiskey bottles (LOL). Four: She turned the chicken coop on the property into a bunkhouse. I have no idea what went on, I was four-and-a-half years old. At this age, though, I speculate (wink!).

I remember one winter's day, running into the apartment and down the immediate steps to the kitchen, the very steps my brother Jake, (then two-and-a-half years old) would sit at the bottom of. He would sit and look up the Nurse's skirt when she was on her monthly visit to the family. I was running to the bathroom, my mother had just finished waxing the kitchen floor. Back then there were several steps to doing your floors. First: sweep. Second: strip the old wax off. Third: wash. Fourth: apply a new coat or two of wax. She had just finished, and the wax had not dried. That, combined with the snow on my shoes, sent me sliding across the floor chin first. I cut the underside of my chin and my mother took me to get stitches.

I remember the smell of the stock yards and the tiny building, which still stood on Highway Two in 2015. I remember the stocky man in a white lab coat telling my Mom that he had no Novocain. I then remember him directing all his attention to me and telling me not to move, that this would hurt, but "big girls don't cry." I can still feel the pull of the needle and thread, back and forth, back and forth on my tiny chin. But I never uttered a sound nor moved an inch. To this day, I automatically check to see who, if anyone, around me has a chin scar. (There are more than one would think, LOL. We should have a book written about all our chin scar memories LOL.)

My Dad had had a kidney removed, and was at the Craig Rehabilitation Center for five years. I do not remember him at this address.

My next memories were of 58th Street in North Denver, on the North Side of the tracks—about 300 feet from the tracks, actually.

We lived in a fenced in acre of land owned by a little Italian man named Little Joe. He lived in the unfinished, dirt-floored basement of the house with a black dog and a white dog—I don't remember their names, but they were constantly with Little Joe.

We lived upstairs in a house I still feel the warmth of—the emotional warmth, at least. This place was COLD! The coal bin was attached. My Mom's (later Mom and Dad's) room was used as the refrigerator. We called it "the cold room." We had an out house and a red-handled pump outside the back door. I loved pumping water, but the handle was too hard for me to pump very fast, or sometimes to pump at all. Little Joe had animals: goats, a milk cow, maybe 30 chickens, about three roosters and a work horse called "Charlie Horse." Charlie Horse was an old white work horse. He was slow moving and never raised his head. One time, my brother Jr. went to town with Little Joe. Little Joe hitched up Charlie Horse to his hay wagon, and he and Jr. went right down the two lane Valley Highway. How amazing to have this memory! I wonder what my now departed brother Jr. was feeling. He was one year and four months older than my five years. When they returned, I remember all of us sitting on the back porch. Little Joe had allowed us, that one and only time, to go down into his home. I remember only being in the basement, not the door to enter. It was the whole size of the floor space upstairs with no partition walls, one small wooden kitchen table, and two chairs, with dim light and the outdoor smell of the dirt floor confusing my senses. I do remember the foundation wall, ledge and some of his things placed on it, in different areas around the large space.

After making sandwiches out of pressed ham and Vienna bread, we gathered on the back porch. We laughed, we talked, and we enjoyed those moments with Little Joe. I remember as a tiny little girl teasing and leaning on Little Joe's suspendered shoulders. My brothers and sisters teased me , saying "Joanie loves little Joe," LOL.

I don't know if our parents restricted him from spending time with us, but after that memory I only remember Little Joe in a visit to his place when I was ten or eleven. He granted me the privilege of gathering the eggs. The chickens were free to lay eggs everywhere on the property, and so loving the tradition of hunting for eggs, I set out with my basket in hand. Determined to make he and my dad proud of how I handled this responsibility, I searched every open area, including the wood pile for the nests of all the hens. I came upon a hen sitting on a nest of about thirteen eggs. I tried to scooch her over, as I did the others, but she would not budge. I got a stick and prodded her until she moved, gathered the eggs, and WITH SUCH PRIDE, ran to show my Dad and Little Joe my achievement. I excitedly told my story and while my excitement turned to pride at how I maneuvered the last hen, I noticed Little Joe's face had suddenly turned to ash. He grabbed the basket and hurried off in the direction I'd just come. I likened his exit to that of a leprechaun's gait in a movie. I did not know about hens roosting on their eggs until they hatch. That is my last memory of Little Joe, but not of his place.

There is another memory of living there that I would like to share. My brother Jr. would go next door, about a half mile down 58th, to the railroad yard. They would put creosote on the railroad ties and the smell would remain in your nostrils for hours. I don't know how he gained permission, but I do know he had the respect from all the grown men who worked there, and he brought home bottled soda pop every time he went! We loved it!

Now remember, we lived in a fenced yard about 300 feet from the tracks. Well, one spring we saw a big jack ass (a cross between a donkey and a horse). We all gathered around it and brought it into the fenced yard. We kept it maybe a week. I have no idea what the story was, we just figured it had fallen off the train. We played with that big jack ass and called him Jasper. (All jack asses were called Jasper or Jenny, depending on their gender. They were unable to bare offsprings, according to my memories LOL.) He was gentle with us. I do remember standing behind him and looking up so high to see where the top of his tail would be. We followed him around, stood him next to the porch, and would climb the porch to get on him. I can't remember if I ever rode him, but I remember the routine.

I remember going to Retreat Park School. I remember my first grade year, and having a cloak room just off the class room. I also remember being sent to the cloak room for talking while the teacher was teaching. I remember getting my first school picture taken, and not liking the photographer ordering me to smile. That picture is of a little girl with a scowl on her face LOL.

I also remember that the school was red brick, three stories tall, and the front and the back were divided. As you faced the school, the right side of the sidewalk leading to the front door was the girls side. The left, the boys side. Same for the back of the building, where the out houses were.

One day shortly after school started I was swinging on the swing, one of the center swings. I have always been annoyed at having to take time to go pee (grrr, still the same LOL), but I couldn't wait any longer, so I jumped from the swing as it was still in motion and ran right in front of the swing to my left. Back then the seats on swings were made of wood and when the wood began to crack they would patch it with lids from discarded tin cans. Well, I managed to cut the left side of the opening of my mouth on the edge of the can lid, patching the seat of the swing next to me. Yes, I got stitches. My mouth was so tiny that my mom had to feed me with a baby spoon for a few days.

I had a crush on a little boy. His name was Gary. I went to Retreat Park for perhaps a month, then we moved to South East Denver, where my mother had been house keeping for the family of a United Airlines Pilot. They had a little house at the bottom of the driveway from their big red brick farm house, beyond the twelve stall milking barn (or as we called it, the white barn), and the smaller, rickety wood barn with horse stalls. My Dad had been discharged after five years from the Craig Rehabilitation Center and had been working for Goodwill. He began working as care taker and field irrigator on this farm. We became a United family.

I finished first grade in Sullivan Elementary. My mother swore for years that I had failed first grade and had to take it twice. It was years before I realized she lied and tormented me throughout my life. (Boy, do I have stories, LOL.) Every time I see a stub of a sharpened-down pencil, I think of Gary to this day. He was a tiny little boy who probably grew into a very handsome man. But will always remain my fondest memory, my first crush.

As the years have sped by, I have tried on several occasions to share these memories with family and had asked my departed mother the unanswered questions. They are still unanswered, remaining in my mind. I was told time and time again: "I don't remember that, you must have made it up," by my siblings and especially my Mom. I realize that we all have different memories in our lives, and of different categories of our lives. My children have memories I do not remember, and some of theirs are traumatic, as I was a gullible mom and naive to the ways of the world. Telling our stories will bring out the foundation of our identity for a better understanding of self, wether someone else remembers it or not. LOVE!

Manueljoan Roybal
Manueljoan Roybal
Read next: 'Chocolate Kisses'
Manueljoan Roybal
See all posts by Manueljoan Roybal