Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Remembering My Primal Landscape

This week for my creative writing class I am to write a short story that takes place in my "Primal Landscape." What is that, you ask? Well according to the instructor, Amity Gaige, our primal landscape is "the place in which you were raised." I haven't even begun writing the story but I spent yesterday thinking about my somewhat chaotic childhood and the neighborhood I called home for eleven years in Lawton, Oklahoma: the nineteen hundred block of Taft Avenue. For inspiration, I went fishing through old pictures from my childhood and the memories these pictures evoked could fill several pages. 

When I picture my childhood in my head, visions of summers hanging out with the kids in the neighborhood are what I see. I won't go into long details (who am I fooling?) about my childhood but I will tell you some things I do remember when I think of my primal landscape.  

Six years old. Summer of 1969. 

I remember playing outside all day and being disappointed when Mom called me in for the night. When I was a kid, being outside was the coolest place to be. There weren't any iPads or video games and our television was black & white and only three channels. I know. Disadvantaged childhood. I remember the adults sitting on the porches in the evening chatting while the kids played up and down the block. Parents didn't periodically look for a glimpse of their kids on the horizon like we do today. If they heard a gaggle of kids laughing somewhere on the block, they knew their kid was with them and just fine. Though I had my group of similarly aged friends, I remember times when fifteen kids with ages spread across seven or more years would be playing a game of Red Rover or some other yard game. I remember hiding in the neighbor's bushes in the dark, trying hard not to giggle for fear of being heard by whoever was 'it" during a game of Hide and Seek. aWe didn't hide in our yards, we hid all along our block.  I remember playing badminton and catch in neighbor's yards. I remember my friend, Lee Ann May's mother discovering bats in their tall tree and all of us girls would lay on the lawn in the moonlight under a big sheet and scream everytime we saw anything batlike fly over. I remember sitting on the hood of Mr. May's station wagon and pretending we were in high school and acting like we were calling a boy we wanted to date while sharing a plastic sleeve of crackers.

I remember all my friends were afraid of my older sister, Linda.
Linda giving me the stink eye-her, her trademark look
and brother, Howard watching as I shove snacks in
my mouth. 
Linda was fifteen when we moved to Taft in 1969. She was nine years my senior and had spent her first thirteen years as the well-behaved, favorite daughter of our Army Colonel dad. A built-in babysitter who took care of younger siblings from a very young age, she was mature and a deep thinker. The ugly circumstances surrounding my parent's divorce changed her forever. She was pissed off at the world, rebellious and not very patient with her siblings, their friends or her parents. My sister is my best friend now but back then, I tried to stay out of her way. One of my most vivid memories I have is of her locking us all out of the house while my waitress mom was at work during the summer. My fourteen-year-old brother Howard and his pals, Rocky and Jerry had managed to climb up on the roof and into the attic window.  I saw them laughing in the window as I headed home from playing. Being five years younger and a tattletale, I yelled, "I'm gonna tell Linda!" They began scrambling out the window to escape onto the nearby roof but got tangled up and fell in a heap on the grass below. I ran to them but they were already running through our neighbor's yard and hopping the fence. Linda was that scary. As an adult, I appreciate Linda's fierceness. You mess with me, you deal with my sister. 

I remember the feel of Mr. Corcoran's grass. Weird I would think of this but when I think of childhood summers, I always think of that grass. Mr. and Mrs. Corcoran were our elderly neighbors who spent much of their time tending their grass and flower beds. When we first moved to Taft, our other neighbors, the Noriega's warned us the Cocoran's were very nosy and would yell at you if you walked on their grass. That first summer, I discovered their grass was different from ours. Their grass was wide bladed and was green even when the scorching summer sun had burned everyone else's dirty yellow. Best of all, in the evening if you walked across it, it was cool. I can still remember the delicious feel of my bare feet in that cool, forbidden grass. It was from the Corcoran's I learned that sometimes it's better to ask forgiveness than permission. 

I remember the locust's song. Yesterday when I thought of my childhood, the song of the locusts played across my mind. In the summer months when the sun would start to go down, the locusts would begin this loud, vibrating buzz that would permeate the entire neighborhood. To me, this is the song of summer and my childhood. As an adult, I don't hear it as often and that is probably because I'm not outside as much but if I do, I am immediately transported to summer in the 70s on Taft Avenue.

My friend Donna and I standing barefoot in Mr. Corcoran's 
grass decked out in our hand-me-down play clothes. We
had just returned from a tour of the neighborhood and felt
very stylish. 
I remember I had a talent for dramatic play and accents. I've always been a drama queen and no one appreciated that more than my friends. Mr. Noriega's mother-in-law, Mac came to live with them just before we moved to Taft and despite a twenty year age difference, she and my mom became fast friends. One day, mom brought home all these dresses. There were cocktail dresses, house dresses, and long lacy nightgowns. I can remember my pals and I playing on my friend Stephanie's porch just down the block. We were all dressed up in the dresses and I was speaking in an English accent that impressed all my friends and giving them the backstory on our pretend play. I couldn't make up my mind if we were English or Irish so I made us both. "You see," I told them, "we are from England but mother delivered us in the back of the family car on the border of England and Ireland so we are English-Irish." I'm always amazed to think these girls let me boss them around like that. Today, most girls would have said, "You're not the boss of me!" 

My 9th birthday. That's me on the l
I remember believing my friends would always be my friends and we would marry, raise our kids together and grow old together. When my step-daughter, Hayley was about to go into 7th grade, I warned her that would be the year she would make some new friends and she would shed some old ones. I was right and I knew this because I experienced it. The people I told my deepest secrets to changed with the onset of puberty and so did our friendship. Some matured quickly and some like me, did not. A few of my friends remained my friends until well into adulthood and I attended their weddings,  their children's weddings and sadly, their parent's funerals. The majority of my friends went off to college or married and only with the advent of Facebook did I even know what had become of them. Ask any eight-year-old if she is going to be friends with her BFF forever and she will tell you emphatically yes. That isn't usually the truth and that's okay because even though those kids are icons from my childhood and wouldn't trade the memories I have with them, I'm thankful I have an identity that is separate from them.

My friends during my 12th birthday slumber party. The last summer
of my childhood. In the fall, we would go off to Central Jr.
High and discover new interests and make new friends and
keep a few of the old. That is me in the back, second from the
My family was very dysfunctional when I was a child and though some memories are tough, I have great memories of my friends and my crazy family. I wouldn't want Seth to have to grow up like I did, but sometimes I kind of think he is missing out.