Friday, Jan. 13, 2006
The Radiostocene Age
I am shamelessly stealing this idea from Boxx. The theme du jour? My earliest memory.
I'd love to hear everyone else's earliest memory, too: good, bad or indifferent.
Mine was from a trip to the California coast. I was all of two years old at the time. I don't remember everything about the trip, but I do remember two very brief "vignettes" from the trip, vivid glimpses at the exotic moments so far-removed from my normal life.
One was a view through the window of the train. Yes, boys and girls; my mother, my baby brother and I took to the rails to traipse across the country, riding from northeastern Iowa all the way to California. I was looking out the window of the passenger car and saw the mountains, burnished to red-gold glory by the setting sun. I could feel the hum of the rails beneath me and hear the clickety-clack of the wheels as we rolled over the miles. That image still strikes me as hauntingly beautiful.
The second moment frozen in my memory was at the beach, where we were standing with my uncle and watching the folks swimming. There were a lot of folks there, but I recall a lady stepping out of her dress. She was wearing a late-1950's one-piece bathing suit, almost dowdy by today's standards, and one of the old white rubber bathing caps. In fact, beyond her in the water, I could see lots of those swimming caps bobbing in what seemed to be enormous waves. Of course, from the perspective of a two-year-old, everything was enormous.
During that moment, my uncle and my mother, with their southern-bred 1950's sense of morality, were discussing how scandalous it was that someone would shimmy out of their street clothes on the beach, in full sight of the world at large. Now, there are nude beaches and even on the non-nude beaches, the bathing suits are so teeny-weeny that there's not much left to the imagination, and we think almost nothing of it.
I'm not condemning the changed values, though sometimes I wonder if we've cheated ourselves. I don't condone reverting to a time when sex was utterly taboo and no one uttered the word "pregnant" in public. I just think we've become so desensitized that we've robbed ourselves of a lot of the mystery and the joy of the process, too.
I don't recall anything else that far back, though I remember snippets of life on the farm when I was about 3. We lived out in the boonies, in a house without indoor plumbing. We had a big porch (again, remember the 3-year-old perspective) and a tiny kitchen (which must have been REALLY tiny!) and an old-fashioned water pump out by the front steps, the kind like at right.
I remember having an outhouse; I also remember the big snow that really was big. We got 5 feet of snow in that storm and the temperature hit -50 degrees Fahrenheit. Nasty stuff if you were out in it, but from my perspective on the front porch, it was truly a winter wonderland.
There were farm animals, too. I remember seeing the pigs in their pen, where they enjoyed rolling in the mud and creating some rather unique scents and sounds. We had horses, too, which my little brother encountered a bit too closely. He decided to climb through the fence for a personal meeting with a new foal, to which mama horsey objected. L'il brother sustained a nasty kick to the head as a result of his inquisitive nature.
We had a garden. I couldn't tell you how large it really was. I do recall that at one point, we had a pot of gold buried there. Now mind you, we never actually found a pot of gold, but since I spied a rainbow that terminated smack-dab in the middle of the garden, I have to believe that it was there. The leprechauns were equally elusive, not deigning to come out and play with someone that had to be near their own size.
We also had an ancient and rickety upright piano. The finish was crackled and age-smoked and the ivories ripened to a deep shade of golden beige. But it was good enough for me to pick out the tune to "Jesus Loves Me," something I did the summer that I was three. My parents would later enroll me in piano lessons, which I loathed. I didn't actually learn to play until I was in high school and took music theory. While I can play either by ear or by note, I'm sure my technique and positions are all wrong. Considering I'm missing a couple of fingers on my left hand, I also don't really care, hehehe.
The aforementioned little brother was the bane of my life. I am the oldest surviving child in my family, having beat my brother into the world by about fifteen months. We had an elder sister who lived for only a few minutes after delivery. I've always privately suspected that she was killed by her name, Leota Gay. I endured growing up in the midwest under the moniker of "LeiLani." Can you imagine going through life with not only the name "Leota" but the middle name "Gay?"
It's different in some parts of the world, but in the white-bread midwestern US in the 1960's and 1970's, being different didn't earn you brownie points.
My brother and I were pretty darned close to Irish twins, I suppose, and to this day are diametrically-opposed in personality. I've always been incessantly curious and determined and relatively fearless if it meant a new discovery. Beatings cowed me to a degree, but some parts of me simply turned inward - they never died. I wasn't precisely defiant, which probably would have gotten me killed. (The defiance came later, after I was an adult.) But while I internalized most everything, my imagination swept me away from the abuse and sustained me, giving me an escape valve. I was one of the lucky ones, I suppose. For some people under those circumstances, the line between fantasy and reality becomes blurred, simply because the wish for escape becomes so strong. I always knew the difference, probably because I grasped that the situation, however long-lived, was transient. I knew that I would eventually escape, one way or another.
I had no idea of how long it would ultimately take me to escape, but that, too, is the two-edged sword of childhood. Optimism can carry you through hell and back, even when sometimes it shouldn't. Maybe if I'd told school counselors the extent of what was happening at home, someone would have intervened. Then again, given that I'd already had encounters with police who did nothing to help, I didn't have a lot of faith in outside help back then, something compounded by a spectacularly indifferent public school system.
Ah well. That's ancient history, too. While I can't exactly categorize the memories as nostalgic, they're relegated to a dusty and rarely-visited corner of my psyche, and appropriately so.
Boxx's post this morning was kind of interesting in its timing. My dad called me last night to while and moan over the fact that my baby sister's fiancee told Daddy what he could do with himself. I told Daddy I didn't want to hear it, literally told him it is his problem. He made the remark that sis's fiancee got "uppity," the quintessential and anachronistic phrase that was used by whites for decades to describe a defiant black person, someone who had the temerity to expect to be treated like a human being. I had to bite my tongue not to swear at Daddy Dearest myself at that.
Incidentally, sis's boyfriend is in fact a black man and my dad has disparaged him over and over again - behind his back, since my dad hasn't met boyfriend.
I didn't bother telling Daddy Dearest about MC, who was sitting next to me at the time of the call. The second I got off the phone, I explained to MC why I hadn't - that it was nothing against MC in any way, shape or form. MC had already gotten a lot of the story from sis's fiancee, and I told him I will be showing him off proudly to the members of my family who matter to me. My sis and 00 have already met him. I'll be introducing him to the my other children as soon as I can, and to my best friends. I have gathered enough information to know he's been shunted aside over the years, and I wanted to be sure he understood that was not the case here.
Darn - I guess I'd better sign off for now. It's my short day here at the studios and I've still got a lot of work to do. I'm looking forward to reading more of the early-memory series, so get cracking!
Before - After
In the grander scheme of things, no soul can truly be replaced. Each one of us has a place in the universal tapestry. We each contribute our own color and texture. When one thread is snipped too soon, it distorts all the threads around it. Other lives can unravel and tear. If the wrong thread is ripped away, the whole fabric of life becomes dangerously fragile.
- LeiLani, aka Radiogurl aka Bright Opal (1957 - )