Monday, April 6, 2009

ca. 1939

How to date the memory of lying on my side on the front porch and considering the rainbows formed by looking through my own eyelashes?  The memory of watching skywriter airplanes trying to spell out advertisements in the sky and my trying to make them out before they dissipated?  The fascination of a trench-excavating machine, with bucket shovels at intervals on heavy chain, always going down empty again, always scooping more up again, always emptying into a huge funnel-like receptacle at the top: where did it start, where did it end?  (One saw it again in Vitruvius decades later).
How to explain what one does, and what one does not, remember?  Doubtless if she were available my mother would remember enrolling me for kindergarten and taking me the first day, but I remember the songs, the circle games, the rules, all the novelties of it, the things we had to play with that only groups of children have, the easels with large sheets of paper and little pots of water color in a row in the manger-like box enclosure below.  I remember the glorious routine of it.  I remember monkey bars and swings and trapezes over sandboxes in the playground.  I remember the upright piano that accompanied some of the songs (Little Johnny Jump Up, Where did you get your name?) and games, such as Go in and out the windows, Come follow me to London.  I remember rhythm band.  I already knew some Vachel Lindsay, from "Silver Pennies", but in kindergarten we acted out in unison.  What made it so gloriously satisfying to do?  No, we had no cuisenaire rods, but we had coping saws with real blades to use on real wood, and we had real nails and real hammers, ditto.  What kindergarten has those today?  We did have blocks galore.  Going to school was wonderful, except for one thing.  Naps.  I'd never done it.  Why stop and waste time?  Besides, we were supposed to bring a small rug (such as you got at the dime store to put in front of the kitchen sink) or a large bath towel to lie down on, and there was trouble at home about that; I remember hearing discussion.  Eventually, and I don't know how it was worked out, I did have something to lie on, and I did lie down (if I recall rightly) for naps, and I did not act out (as I recall).  We lay head to foot, foot to head, in rows to discourage both talking to your neighbor. and catching each other's colds.
The other evening I googled to find out if my school, then the newest one in town, still existed.  I think it doesn't; I'll check again.  But googling took me to someone's Picasa albums.  He was grade one more than 20 years later than me, and someone else commented on his 'retro' class picture (we didn't have a class picture in my three years at Fremont School).  But what was really fascinating was that his town was not simply later than mine (since I was sometimes visiting there when I was in university and he was in grade school, so that I did know 'his' town as well as 'my' town) but, quite simply, his own.  I went through his albums carefully and concluded that even if we had been in the same kindergarten at the same time we'd have remembered a different kindergarten.  Each child has his own, even though each child that remembers honestly writes true memories.  And also, I was talking on the telephone to my sister.  Each of us remembers many of the same things but often in different connections.  With 30 months between us, she remembers at a given age a different year and in a different place.  She was never an only child, because I was already there, and the time when she was still at home full time and I was already in school we lived in different universes.  Above all, though, we were not the same child, though she and I learned in school with equal ease.
Once more, I try to zero in on why there may be so much more to the 'outer child' than to the 'inner child'.