This week in my writing class we have been talking about writing a memoir – whether we want to write one, think we have one to write, or how do we feel about writing one. During our weekly conference call we did an exercise to pick a scene from our “life inventory” and write it out as though it were part of our memoir. Ironically, I have just begun reading Anne Lamott’s book Bird by Bird where she shares that in her writing classes she has her students begin by writing out their memories from childhood. She would tell them (and I am paraphrasing and embellishing here) that it didn’t matter whether your childhood was good, bad, or ugly, whether it was more MommyDearest than Mayberry, just write it down. I really have to admit that when it comes to my own childhood, my early memories are rather skimpy, and they are mostly not all that great. Even as I got into the older elementary years, I really have to concentrate to push the unpleasant memories aside to embrace the good memories.
Each week I see friends on Facebook posting pictures from “back in the day” for “Throwback Thursday.” I decided I would do my own take on this and commit to writing every Thursday a scene from my memory. Sometimes in the past, I have been pretty shy about talking about my childhood because it truly wasn’t fabulous and who wants to get all morose about life. I also have worried that those directly involved in those memories might see what I write and be upset that I a) shared a “secret” or b) portrayed them in a negative light even if it is the truth. But today someone shared with me an amazing insight about not writing things because you worry what others will think of you for doing so. She said a friend told her, “it’s none of my business what other people think about me?” Well, there you have it. Permission granted to not care what people think about me. Here’s my throwback for today:
In some respects, I lived an idyllic childhood. While my home life was miserable, the life I lived outside my house was pretty amazing. When I was five years old, my parents purchased my mother’s childhood home from my maternal grandfather. The house was located in a lake community about 45 minutes south of New York City. I am really not sure how big the lake actually was because when you are young, everything seems huge, but it was probably about a mile to a mile-and-a-half in circumference. At the entrance to the lake community, there was a club house and a beach that served as a central hub for meeting and hanging out with friends and family. In the summer, we had a swim team and diving team. We’d hang out on the beach all day long, the mothers sitting and visiting with each other, while kids romped in the water, or played in the sand. When I was about eight years old, I joined the swim team and had practice each morning. We lived in this community until just before the end of fifth grade (so until I was about nine-and-a-half), when we moved to a better school district about 30 minutes away.
When I was thinking about my throwback memory, it wasn’t the summer months of swimming, roaming the neighborhood with friends, and games until dark that I thought of first though those are great memories. It is a winter memory that sprung to mind first. Every winter, the lake would freeze over. It gets cold enough in New Jersey for that to happen with predictability though the ice might not last very long. We might get about one month where the ice was thick enough for skating. Inevitably, the much-anticipated day would arrive when some dad or grandpa would venture out on the ice to test the thickness and deem it ready for action. Either the men or older teen boys would get out there with shovels and clear paths and “rinks” for skating, hockey, and hanging out. I had two “besties” at the time, Tracy Collins and Kevin Collins. They weren’t related to each other but lived across the street from each other, and we were all the same age. (As an aside, Tracy and Kevin actually ended up marrying each other when they were in their early 20’s. How cool is that? I have lost track of them though so I don’t know if they are still together. I hope so.) We did most everything together, and so on the first Saturday of the skating season, we would cut through the neighbor’s yard across the street from my house, and sit on their bench by the lake to lace up our skates. Neighbors not only didn’t mind, but expected people to share in their lake access. As soon as the skates were on, we’d race out to the nearest rink if the older boys weren’t playing hockey and we’d practice our figure skating moves – very basic let me assure you, no jumps for me – or play tag with other children that were there.
My very favorite memory though was how we’d skate for a while around the middle of the lake, then as we became cold, we’d skate over to the club house at the end of the lake. There, some parents will have cranked up a fire in the clubhouse, and put on the hot chocolate. Sometimes we’d go inside but most of the time we’d sit out on the dock and drink cocoa and plan our path around the lake. At least once each time we skated, we would skate around the entire circumference of the lake holding hands. Sometimes, others would hook on to us as we’d gather them up along the way. Parents would join us sometimes and sometimes they’d just hang out in the clubhouse socializing with their doctored up cocoa.
That was my first real exposure to community and I think the desire for being part of a tight-knit community has never left me even though I have yet to experience it again. The next town we moved to was more rural, people had more property, and lived further from each other. We definitely had neighborhood interactions, and the Fourth of July activities were a huge deal for the whole town, but that feeling of having our lives really closely intertwined by the lake and the clubhouse, was never to be a part of my life again.
I haven’t figured out how to create a link-up, but feel free to post a link in the comments to your own “Throwback Thursday” memory. I would love to read them!