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Cool Fun and Other Memories

Some news dear reader, and it materialized on my birthday none the less! I have an appointment to be vaccinated one week from today. It will be the Pfizer vaccine, not that I really care too much about the origin. I believe I make the appointment for the second dose while there for the first; three weeks later I believe. Now to get my wife in for hers somehow… I need to work on that. Our neighboring state is allowing people under 65 to get the shot as long as they have an underlying medical condition so I have some hope that our state will follow suit.

Winter continues its assault on us, but with diminished ferocity; snow yesterday and more today and tonight, but it is not really adding up to a whole lot. We got around 3” of light fluffy snow yesterday and may get another inch or two today. Certainly not significant but enough to be an inconvenience. Looking ahead, we’ll be back into the 40’s every day by next week and that will surely bring out the late winter, early spring flowers.

There is a certain comfort with the cadence of the seasons. I find it funny that up here in New England there is a saying that if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute. We are prone to wild and unpredictable swings in our weather, but that notwithstanding, seasonal change follows a familiar path every year. The transitions can be longer or shorter, start sooner or later, and often may waffle to and fro, but they are wonderfully and rhythmically consistent.

We built an igloo yesterday. The snow was phenomenally compactible and the weather was fantastic. I initially called it my best igloo ever – mostly because I has all three grandkids and my wife working on it and they were such a huge help. We did it block and mortar style. I made blocks using a plastic tub and laid them out while the crew used snow to pack in between and around to cement each block in place. On each layer the blocks were laid with an increasingly inward lean, creating the angle up to the final hole to close it in. But as I think back, I am not sure I ever managed to build a complete igloo; I suspect I always gave up before closing the roof and settled for a snow fort. It came out absolutely awesome!

I am glad we got to do that, and to go sledding. We’ve been captive inside for so long due to the pandemic and the weather. We were out a lot through the fall, but the cold just kind of trapped us inside, frog pond the exception. But having the snowfalls we’ve had recently enticed out to enjoy; sledding last weekend and the igloo yesterday. I had forgotten how embracing play in the winter’s cold can be. I often allow the initial discomfort of stepping out into it to dissuade from staying out. But given just a little time immersing in it, you will often find it is wonderfully fun and you forget the cold.

I recall a few years ago, Teri became fiercely ill on a January night. It took a week or so to learn that it was mono, a virus that can bring you to your knees as an adult. And so it did to her. She was absolutely flat on her back, bedridden, for weeks, barely able to eat. I had to do the food and laundry and all else as she could do none of it. It was bed or bathroom, 24/7.

But the grandkids still needed us and we needed them; even sick as she was she missed them. So I would go pick them up Saturday morning and bring them home Saturday night, and then do the same in Sunday. She would get to see them, and them her, for five minutes here or there, and then I kept them apart as much as possible to allow her to rest. But boys being boys, they were rambunctious and would laugh and giggle and scream – nothing even remotely conducive to rest for her.

It was a cold January – bitter New England cold. But, to give her peace I needed to get the boys outside (it was just the two back then). So I would take them out in two or three degree temps and put them on a sled and drag them around the yard through the snow, lap after lap. They loved it and so did I. That bitter cold would quickly become unnoticeable to all of us we bounced through the woods with them intermittently tumbling off, laughing all the while. They were young enough that I am not sure they’ll ever remember those weeks, but I will never forget. Making good of the bad – and an awesome reminder that cold doesn’t mean it can’t be fun!

Memories intrigue me, more specifically, how many escape me. My wife will ask me about being 10 years old and I can’t remember much of anything at all, yet ask her and she can remember being a baby still crawling!! They say it’s all in there, just how you store it and retrieve it, but I am not so sure. I typically have great recall for things, that trait actually helped further my career. But my childhood? Not so much. I have no idea why either! There are some things I do remember, but almost all are my times in the woods or in/on the water (e.g. swimming or skating). But often, usually in fact, I do not have a clue as to how old I was in that memory. Odd.

There is little doubt that some of the logjam comes from me (or someone) blocking out the memories from when my mother died. I’ve been told stories by people who were there, with me, during that time, and despite how well they articulate the moment, I cannot jog a single iota of a memory. It’s not like I haven’t tried either. There is basically nothing up to… maybe six or so? And even at six, there are maybe a half dozen memories that probably range from six to ten! But nothing – almost nothing – before that.

But, and perhaps I have written of in the past – not sure – there are two or three memories that I would give my left arm to confirm or deny. I recall a simple day, a nothing day. It was, perhaps our last together because why else would it be a memory? It was sunny day and we (mom and myself I think) stopped in front of an atypical 1950’s neighborhood grocery store. I recall two big windows, bay windows perhaps, with a glass door set back and in between them, with something like three steps leading up and into the store; concrete steps I believe. She just had to pop in for something, and for the strangest reason I seem to believe that the reason was for a can of apricots. I have absolutely no idea if this is a true memory or not, and likely never will.

And that is the only possible memory I have of her. I now have some number of pictures of her, and of us, none of which seem even remotely familiar. I have movies of us all together and none them spark a flicker of recognition. I find that tragically sad, that you can have someone in your life so very important, lose them so soon, and not retain a single damned memory. It is so frustrating!

I also have one memory that may be from then as well, but it is a solitary one – I am alone. I am in a crib, in my bedroom, by a window – a 1960’s ranch style window – small and up high. I am standing and looking out the window and there are Christmas lights outside my window. That’s it.

The last also involves Christmas ironically enough. It is a huge shopping store parking lot and it is nighttime; dark out and cold. But there are lights in the parking light and Christmas lights are strung between the poles. There are Christmas songs playing from big speakers hanging on the poles, but they are a little tinny and scratchy. We are walking through the lot, but I am uncertain who is “we”. I am sure dad is there, suspect mom is as well but I am not so sure. Maybe even uncles and aunts and cousins….not sure. Our destination is what I seem to recall being a log cabin looking building perched in the middle of the parking lot. I am completely unsure if it really was a log cabin or just decorated to look like one; makes no sense that there would be a real log cabin in a parking lot so I suspect the latter. I am also fairly that Santa was inside and the goal of our journey, but can’t swear to it.

Where did those memories of those first six years go? I’ve researched it a little and there is a “thing” known as childhood amnesia: many people just don’t have memories of their early years, typically before age four. There is also traumatic amnesia in which children lose memories surrounding a severely traumatic event. In my case, there is little doubt that the death of my mother is a major cause, if indeed not the sole one.  But that does not explain the lack of memories after her death, although to be honest, there are certainly more after than before. I understand through family story-telling that our time as a family from her death, up until my age ten or so, was fractured chaotic, and even tumultuous at times, so that may also lend credence to the traumatic amnesia theory.

But how? How do we block memories? Capturing a memory is purely a chemical, or electro-chemical, mechanism within the brain, in an arcane sort of way like saving a piece of data to a disc or hard drive. How we store our memories, organize them and categorize them, is far beyond me, and I suspect, beyond science still. But whether we understand it or not, the fact is that our brains automatically and intuitively do it all on their own. And somehow associate keywords – search terms if you will – to them so that weeks and years later, we can instantly recall them. But how do we block them after trauma? I am not even sure if we actually block them, like building a wall or locking a closet, or if we actually delete and overwrite them.

Another fascinating thought on memories is the various things that can trigger a memory. Things such as smells, sounds, and tastes can all trigger memories. Music is extremely high on the list; hearing an old song will almost invariably fling you right back to a memory of listening to it years earlier. For example, the song Baker Street.

When I hear that song I am immediately 21 years old. I am sitting in my two-tone blue Rally Sport Camaro, parked at Cummings field for softball. I am backed up to the loading dock of one the old and abandoned Navy warehouses that littered the closed Navy base and I am waiting for our game to begin. I have the door open, am smoking a cigarette, and am listening to that haunting sax in the song. The sun is warm, there are cars and people coming and going everywhere, and lots of shouting and laughing. It is so strong a memory I can still feel the warmth of the sun on my face. And all it takes is to hear that song.

For me, there is also something of a hidden trigger in color. I will not be able to explain it because I don’t understand it. It remains hidden in the shadows of my psyche, barely appearing like a coyote in the foggy edge of the woods. It happens rarely, but sometimes seeing colors – no specific ones and no one means of seeing them – will open a door deep in the recesses of my brain and I will sense… something… there. I don’t know what or why, only that is goes way back in my life to a wee small child, but no idea what or why. I can’t provoke this either, it simply happens or not.

Researching it, a little, has revealed that colors can evoke childhood memories; that is not uncommon. But it typically evokes the memories of when you first associated a color to something; like the color of your first favorite baseball team’s uniform, your first bike, or a favorite doll. This is not that. It is not a singular color, it is not any specific group of colors, and it is not any combination of any of those things. Just sometimes seeing certain colors will sometimes overtake me from within as that elusive door opens back in the dungeons of my mind. Unfortunately, the door slams shut before I get anywhere near it, never mind catch a glimpse inside it.

My hope is that somewhere during or around my final moments, these things will be made clear for me and I will understand. And that all those missing memories flood back to me. Probably wistful thinking but to sleep, perchance to dream. Take some time to reflect dear reader, listen to an old song and relive fond memories, pick up a childhood book and take a trip back, look at some old photos, or maybe even do an internet search for toys of your childhood and bask in the fond memories of those time gone by. Sometimes looking back helps you move forward… Stay well dear reader!!

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