Posts Tagged ‘childhood’

By Bob Chrisman

When I was eight, I received a new robin’s egg blue, girl’s bike for my birthday in May. I had selected that particular bike at the shop in the South End where we lived. I wanted a girl’s bicycle so I wouldn’t hurt myself every time I slid off the seat when I stopped. That always happened on boy’s bicycles and kept me from enjoying riding.

My father looked at the price tag and shook his head. “I don’t think we can afford this much. Let me talk with your mother.”

At eight years old, I had already heard that one phrase, “I don’t think we can afford this much” so often that I knew I would never own the bike I wanted. That’s the way things worked in my family: you didn’t get what you couldn’t afford and we couldn’t afford much at all.

On the morning of my birthday I ate my breakfast and opened my birthday cards. When I asked if I had any presents, my mother rolled the bicycle I’d picked out into the kitchen. “Your daddy and I decided that you were old enough to have this, even though it cost more than we would usually spend for a present. You’ve got to take good care of it. Okay?”

I leapt out of my chair and grabbed the bike before it vanished. Only when I held the handlebars in my own hands was it real. I had the bike I wanted.

Later that morning I opened the screen door and made sure to pull the bike out before the door slammed. I took it down all the stairs to the sidewalk and rolled it down the hill until I reached Ozark Street which was flat and graveled. Only then did I climb on my new bike and pedal along the street with the wind in my face. I felt so happy and so proud.

My friends congregated up the street and I rode my new bike up there to visit with them and show them my birthday present.

When I arrived, one of the boys said, “Hey, Bobby, why you got a girl’s bike? You a sissy?”

“No, I wanted a girl’s bike because it’s easier to get on and off. That’s why.”

“No, you’re a sissy. He’s a sissy, isn’t he?”

Everyone laughed.

Then the kid said, “I want to ride your sissy bike.”

“No, you can’t. It’s brand new. I just got it and I want to ride it for awhile before anyone else does.” I held on tight to the handlebars.

“Hey, sissy, that’s not very nice. But, I don’t want to ride a blue girl’s bike anyway.”

I turned around to ride home. The kids screamed names at me as I rode away. I’d reached the end of the block when a clunk sounded on my rear fender. A cheer went up from the kids. I crossed the intersection and started pushing the bicycle up the hill. When I was out of sight of my friends, I looked at the rear fender. Someone had thrown a big rock and dented and scraped a place on my new bike. I lost it. I couldn’t stop shaking and crying, but I pushed the bike up the hill, up the stairs and parked it on the porch.

My mother came running out of the house. “What’s wrong? Did you fall?”

I couldn’t speak so I pointed at the rear fender. My mother looked at the damage. “So that’s what you’re crying about? For heaven’s sake, it’s only a bicycle.”

No, it was so much more than that.

NOTE: WRITING TOPIC — MY FIRST BICYCLE is the latest Writing Topic on red Ravine. Frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman joined QuoinMonkey in doing a Writing Practice on the topic.

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Things that are lost, and really I feel like taking a gulp of my coffee. I feel like lying on my tummy at Dr. L’s place and having him adjust whatever it is I lost and has been relocated just behind my shoulder blade. Maybe he’ll find a little trinket, one of Em’s sparkly necklace pendants that she picks up.

Things that are lost, and I picture myself at age 9, or 7, standing on the inside of a women’s clothing rack. I am in the hollow in the center, and all around me are the slacks and skirts and blouses on hangers. I have torn off the bottom half of each price tag, the portion normally taken by the saleswoman when she checks you out. I’ve collected a stack of them, quietly and without drawing attention to what I am doing, while Mom shops.

And now, standing in this center of the rack, in the semi-darkness, I feel lost. Lost in an urban center or lost in a crowd, lost in a stack of clothing, lost while all around me I hear voices of mothers like mine, talking to the salesgirls or to one another, but not to other children. I am alone in my size and in the fact that my mother drags me on her shopping trips. Lost to her, I am like a purse or the lipstick, something to remember about before and after but not in between.

Lost, I am a lost thing found, now, sitting here. My coffee still beckons, coffee is never a lost thing. It dawns on me that some objects, persons, places, things have a lost energy to them, others a found energy. Or maybe it’s not found as much as landed. Solid, rooted, and that’s the way I want to go. If I am on a road traveling, I wouldn’t mind being lost if I knew in my heart I were found.

Lost, lost in space, lost in a world. Keys, wallets, credit cards, what are the things in my life that are lost? I’ve lost jewelry, the blue-and-white round earrings I borrowed of Dee’s. I’ve lost clothing, I couldn’t find my green sweater and later it turned up in Em’s chest of drawers.

-NOTE: I did this writing practice with one of my writing groups.

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by Alissa King

The Note on the Refrigerator

When I have memories of my mother, they are other
other people’s mothers, other people’s memories.

A perfume like violets, and the cadence of gypsy
vials and colored glass bottles, pearl strands and
glittery earrings
arranged upon an upturned mirror; gold brooches,
delicate curios.

And there is tinkling laughter, and a swishy, glittery

This creature is surely a machination, for she is the
ultimate counterpoint to
the bold, broad shouldered woman forever hauling an
infant around
on a shoulder, a hip.

That harried creature of bustling industry with
kids seeping out of every nook and cranny.

No, I see chatelaines and laces, opera glasses, velvet
masques —
a curl dropped just so;
a deep red Tiffany Box with inlaid satin.

Whose mother was this?

And who is this other lady hiking through the Sequoia
the maternal one with arms and extra padding for comfy
wielding a trowel or a walking stick?

Yesterday, she scrawled a note and left it on my
in that loopy slant that is rounder and more measured
than my own:

“I brought you a medicine bracelet from the Cahuilla
Reservation. The red stone beads remind me of your
hair. Palm Springs was nice, we spent a day at the spa
but my favorite day was at Rancho Mirage, on the
reservation. We took photos. Beautiful places. Your
refrigerator was a MESS! I cleaned it out. Remember to
pick Sierra up at the library, 2pm. Stroganoff for
dinner, don’t be late.”

I study my note now, looking for the fusion, the
turning point.

It is just a little more than something that you read
and then
don’t look at any more.

I read it twice today, and fold it, and put it in a
with other sacred artifacts that cannot be thrown

This is today’s tangent, making me sensitive.
Morbid, my mother would call it, but I need to guard
against the day when such a simple thing, such a
casual scrawl
may be treasured and revered.

Reflections, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights

Discount Days at the Zoo

It’s been a handful of years
I’ve reigned as that supreme creature:
A mother minus a mate.
Funny how it has become a little box now
On certain administrative forms —
Single mother, broken and regal;
the words don’t communicate deficiency
in and of themselves.
They speak of obstacles
and somewhere, back and back,

Despite the challenges,
we find joy outside the lines.
We color new trails around
a path more customary,
marking our way with personal occasions.

I liked evenings in underwear,
a diapered, milk mustachioed young lady
grinning cheerfully.
The woman curled around her soft, sweet form
giggling and making expressions.
What so cozy as this half clad cuddle time?

after the stem fell off, after colic,
when dimpled buns could fill the thrift store
we’d make our sojourns out to the park
and the library,
and sometimes to bigger adventures.
Some days we would see printed in the paper
half way down, in bright, bold letters:
“Discount Day at the Zoo!”

Here was a cause for celebration!
This was call for preparation and ritual.
We would set out our clothes, the emerald tee shirt,
a tiny jumper, the box of crackers that would quickly
be forgotten
in the presence of more tantalizing treats.
We would revisit our short list,
making sure our favorites were still our favorites:
Polar Bears, Orangutans and Lions.
(For should some calamity befall mid-trip
such as the sky dropping unceremoniously
onto the concrete wall of the lion’s exhibit,
these were the creatures who would receive a final
a fond farewell. The Zebras and the Lemmings, however,
were simply on their own.)

And so we’d go, always to the shortlist first
making our rounds, stopping at the fountain
and at the statue park to play.
My darling is sunny in pigtails
beaming out of half a dozen photographs;
feeding ice cream to fiercely tarnished alligators

We would stare at one animal for twenty minutes,
and my baby would be transfixed
and I would be smiling,
lifting her up to see, my back strong and muscled
like the capable heroines of the bible.
I knew my strength and my joy to be here on this
with all these wondrous things; confident in my place
among the fur watchers, the beast seekers.
I was indomitable and graced —
some days.

There were other days my eyes were avid
raking the people, not the zebras.
Seeing the women shuffle and snort
instead of the rhinoceros;
their mouths complaining, soothing, calling.
There were days my eyes were searching
for women with two or three children;
I was searching fingers, taking note.

We would sit close to the families of four,
so pretty a picture in their family groups;
and you would see the family men:
The daddies with diaper bags slung over their
or a toddler in tow, gripping, yanking.
Men with daughters, men with sons
ruffling hair, teasing their women folk.
Their women folk.

Sometimes I wasn’t anyone’s women folk,
and I knew it.

Sierra and I would sit at the sticky, metal tables
beside the snack bar, and I would spread out our stuff

making it big; bags and coats filling up the benches,
filling up the space.
And I’d talk loud, and I’d laugh frequently, and sing
serenading my daughter, so lovely she was
so small, she could snap, and break,
If I should chance to take my eyes away too long.

I’d talk and laugh and sing to her,
creating bold outlines for our family of two.

And then, inevitably, the day would fade.
The frenetic energy of the throngs would give out
Slowly, and then more surely
sugar rushes would crash;
and while twilight advanced on the people of the park,
the birds of prey exhibit would wake.

Eerie hoots would indicate the advent
of fuzzy heads bent over tired shoulders.
A slow parade of people would make their way
gently from the gates of the park
and out into the world.

My daughter is cuddled in her car seat.
The velour snuggles her body like a womb.
We are two creatures on the planet heading out again,
to connect and to have our hearts broken,
to celebrate our little stretch of life here;
and tonight there is so much reason to
look forward.

About Alissa:  Alissa King attended Marylhurst University, a private college near Portland, Oregon for three years. She is a single mother who lives near her family on the Oregon Coast. She writes articles and stories online for Helium.com, Associated Content, and Elance.

About writing Alissa says: I have always written, since the age of five. I used to get out my mom’s old typewriter and compose short poems to hand out as ‘presents’ to my oh-so-patient family members. This year I’m taking the opportunity to really devote time to writing. Having developed a daily discipline, now it’s about finding the confidence to try and write the bigger stories. It’s scary in a way to actually attempt your dream. You can no longer say, “Oh, I could do that if I tried.” There’s no cushion between you and the dream anymore. You just have to do it.

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1567, from Anglo-Fr. memorie “note, memorandum, something written to be kept in mind” (1427), from L. memoria (see memory). Meaning “person’s written account of his life” is from 1673. The pl. form memoirs “personal record of events,” first recorded 1659. 
                                             – from the Online Etymology Dictionary


I’ve been thinking about memoir, the word, the difficulty people have pronouncing it. If you write creative nonfiction, chances are you read memoir. I am reading Bone Black, the bell hooks memoir about growing up in the South. Reading other writers jogs the memory.

My thoughts are pulled to the South because my step-mother in South Carolina passed away a few days ago. I wasn’t close to her, and had not seen her in a few years. Yet when I heard the news, I was flooded with memories of the time I spent with her.

That is the power of memoir.

I have a great sadness at her passing, though our relationship wasn’t as much about the present, as it was the past. Memoir is about the past. It revives and documents the history of living. History is full of contradiction.

Some of the sadness I feel is for my step-dad, who I was very close to as a child. In honoring his loss, I am sad, too. But the grief for me is deeper.

The most vivid memories of my step-mother are from the mid-sixties, my preteen years, a tumultuous time when my younger sister, two brothers, and I were uprooted and moved to the North. It was a difficult transition, and painful to be distanced from my family in the South – the only family I had ever known.

Looking back, it turned out for the best. I was exposed to a whole new culture in the North, different ways of thinking, talking, and living. I met my 8th grade English teacher, Mrs. Juarez, who made me read Dickens, believed in me, and inspired me to write. My experiences grew richer. All of them have led me here.

It has been 4 years since I’ve seen my step-mother; it was the year I quit my job and started writing. My last memories of her are leaning back in her rocker recliner, laughing and joking with us kids. We were all grown, well into middle age, attending a short reunion a few miles south of the border river that flows between Georgia and South Carolina – the Savannah.

Grandkids and great-grandkids were running, dancing, and jumping across the dark brick family room between rounds of lazy adult chatter and a noisy TV. I used to watch The Trooper Terry Show in that room, on a black and white with rabbit ears. It was the same 202 address, with the same aluminum mailbox, that received my letters to my step-dad in back slanted 6th grade handwriting.

The letters would soon drop off in 7th grade, a direct correlation to the rising teenage anger that welled up inside me. I attended New Cumberland Junior High in Pennsylvania and was teased mercilessly for my Southern accent. It wasn’t easy to change the way I talked. They might as well have asked me to cut off my right index finger. Yet, eventually, I did lose the accent. And ties to my Southern roots became confusing and disjointed.

It would take me a number of years to integrate and appreciate my past. That’s what memoir’s for. And in a few months, I’ll be travelling with my Mother to the South to begin researching my book.

Old endings. New beginnings.

I have done a lot of work since the sixties. A lot of letting go. On one of the last visits with my step-mother and step-dad, they told me how different I was from that dark, brooding teenager that sat in the corner rocker and never spoke. Those were their last memories of me.

When you don’t see distant relatives much, you tend to freeze them in place, lock them into distance and time. They are who they were the last time you visited them. But it works both ways. I am frozen, too – a still-frame snapshot in their memories.

Letting go is a great gift. It allows me to make room for all the good stuff. My memories may only be trinkets, shards of 40 year old bone, unearthed from iron-rich banks of Georgia clay that used to muddy my corduroys as a kid.

But my memories are mine. I choose to remember my step-mother for all the good things she gave the world, for what I loved about her:

  • Southern manners, the way she turned a phrase, the lawdy mercies! and come here, shugah’s, and my pet name for Liz, Shug
  • her warm smile, the way she laughed, a loud cackle that could fill a room
  • Southern cooking, buttery mashed potatoes with thick gravy, piping hot cornbread that melts in your mouth, spinach greens with just the right touch of vinegar and salt, fresh turkey and cornbread dressing, sweet iced tea, and a huge vat of homemade banana pudding. That girl could cook!
  • sipping 7up through a straw with me that time I was sick and laid up on the couch
  • she liked to go bare foot, paint her toenails bright red, and always wore flip-flops
  • she loved Granny and Pop the way I loved Granny and Pop
  • she loved the youngin’s, the babies, and hugged them every chance she got
  • she loved my step-dad, who I love, too

I live in the Midwest now. I walked the labyrinth on Monday and thought about how swiftly a little girl can shoot from 11 to 50, with barely a sneeze in between. My step-mother’s passing marks another fading link to my Southern childhood, roots whose stories die with the people who planted them.

I don’t remember the last time I openly grieved. We live in a youth-driven culture that does not emotionally or financially support taking quiet time to honor loss. But writing is a constant process of letting go.

It’s important to live well. Each time someone close to me passes on, it reminds me that this one life is precious. And the threat of death makes you want to live just a little bit harder.

In memory of my step-mother, Betty, who travelled into Spirit, Wednesday, March 28th, 2007, and is being laid to rest as I post this.

For all that has passed, and all that has been forgiven.

Friday, March 30th, 2007

-related to post, Labyrinth Walker

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Birth is a natural wonder. Those words refer to Dee and to this earth. How can I describe what it’s like having an eleven-year-old daughter? To the Natural History Museum today she wears a skin-toned tank top with black lace coverlet, blue jeans, and a pale pink tie in her hair. Her bangs fall around her China-doll face.

“Look, Mom,” she tells me as she debuts for the day, “I’m Violet Baudelaire.” Dee and Violet (from Lemony Snickett’s Series of Unfortunate Events) are pretty yet clever. (Always remember clever. Dee will never go for just pretty.)

A year ago–six months ago, in fact–Dee would be no one other than Dee. Play unencumbered by fashion. Digging a giant hole in the front yard–so what if high-water pants? Then suddenly this year, a subtle shift. This certain tank top from The Gap in Denver. We bought it on sale. Dee loves to wear it, although tank tops are taboo at her school. So she slips it into certain outings. Natural History Museum on a Sunday afternoon.

I birthed Dee in early fall of 1995. A roller coaster–that’s how I described pregnancy-to-birth. Being on the world’s highest roller coaster (which I’ve been on–The Viper in Six Flags Southern California), me screaming as the contraption click-clicked toward its pinnacle overlooking the entire amusement park. Are those specks the cars? I couldn’t even see people. You can scream your head off (I did) yet it won’t do a whit of good. The emaciated man with corn-cob teeth manning the controls on the ground can’t hear screams. They evaporate like steam into atmosphere.

When I used the roller-coaster analogy I didn’t realize I was talking about raising a child. I thought I was referring to the act of bringing another human into the world. Yet, the ride persists. I read today that it took six hundred million years after its birth for Earth to contain all the elements of modern life. Ocean, rivers, mountains, atmosphere, continents. After eleven years I wonder if I’ve delivered the most basic qualities: love, respect, self-confidence, compassion.

In the context of Earth’s six hundred million years, this particular day is not even a grain of sand. Not the cuticle on the left thumb of the person–what I presume to be a person–standing in the vicinity of the Ferris Wheel. Quartz, the most common mineral on earth, is more ancient and durable than me and my concerns. But I am a woman of today, aware that every moment I spend in my daughter’s presence is an opportunity. To be volcanic, gaseous, a tectonic plate pushing sea into land, land into mountains. Or a phantom–the invisible parent. (These are words from nature’s terminology. Phantom to quartz is the black vein-like formation inside the crystal, like tree rings symbolizing time on earth. In a human, phantom is the residue of childhood, what you take with you through years of therapy. Your true story.)

Dee and I walk from Earth’s Origins to Triassic Period, walk across the super-continent Pangaea, and I wonder as she peers at Coeleophysis, New Mexico’s state fossil, whether she will remember me as an erudite mother wandering museums on a holiday Sunday or as a guilty, preoccupied parent touting an occasional mother-daughter to-do. Do the museum visits override the time I slapped Dee in the car when she was two and wouldn’t stop crying?

I read the exhibit labels aloud but she doesn’t hear me. New Mexico two hundred million years ago was hot and humid. The year I birthed Dee was dry. We grew sunflowers taller than the top of the window. They bloomed bright yellow-orange and beckoned my pregnant belly to give forth its contents. Scream your head off, it doesn’t matter.

Both our favorite is Jurassic Period, the age of super giants. New Mexico was covered with conifers, cycads, and ferns–not juniper or sage. When Pangaea split apart, we were sea or were we coast along the sea? It doesn’t matter. Either way, I like this version of life. Ultimately we are everything. Placenta and child and blood and beating heart. Happiness and frustration.

Dee runs from the whip-tailed dinosaur (whose name I forget) to a young man with a ponytail, little more than a teenager himself, standing at a small table showing his dino-wares. He holds up a fossilized dinosaur thigh bone with quartz growing where the marrow used to be. He describes the process of crystallization, water sitting in the channel of the bone over many, many years. The crystals glimmer and I notice Dee is mesmerized.

“What’s this,” he asks, and he’s on to a smallish oval-shaped thing that looks like rusted metal. Dee is thinking. I watch her instead of generating answers myself. This is how it is with Dee these days. I’m consumed with her process of growing up. Fossilized dinosaur poop, or coprolite, as he prefers to call it. Dee and I look at one another. I raise my eyebrows, in awe of nature. What nature does she see in me?

“T-Rex had 150 teeth,” the young man says as he holds up a giant white fang the length of his hand. “T-Rex’s brain wasn’t as big as this one tooth,” the boy-man says dramatically. He looks at Dee expectant but she says nothing. She doesn’t even make eye contact. She knows not what to do with sex or sexuality, and I am only now aware of this small seed growing inside her.

“…so, you could say T-Rex definitely had more brawn than brain,” the boy-man says. I laugh at the punch line while Dee skitters off to Cretaceous Period. For a moment I think I’ve imagined it all. She’s a girl, not a pre-teen.

In the Cretaceous Period shallow seas covered New Mexico. They say a type of plant-eating, five-horned dinosaur–Pentaceratops–was found only in this area. I like the idea that we have our very own species. This one ranged in size, they say, from no bigger than a dog to up to five tons. Flowering plants arose during this time. Up to then there were only evergreens.

There are different theories for why dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago. A great meteor, Chicxulub Crater, hit the earth and ended the reign of these creatures. Or mammals ate the eggs. I go for the crater explanation. I can’t imagine anything worldly preventing mothers–even dinosaur mothers–from having children. So many methods for not having kids today, yet so many babies born. Wanted or not.

On the drive home from the museum, Dee reminds me of our new joke. “What’s a man eating dinosaur?” We both saw the riddle on a wall near the exhibit describing the evolution of dinosaurs into birds. You lift up a little plastic tab and underneath is a picture of a man carving into a Thanksgiving turkey. “I don’t get it,” I first told her. She had to walk me through the dinosaur-to-bird section and explain that turkeys were ancestors of dinosaurs. A-MAN-EATING-DINOSAUR…GET-IT?, she asked. I did. Finally.

I notice something about Dee. When it’s all of us–me, her, her sister, my husband–Dee is distant. She snaps her answer whenever I ask a question. Yells from the bedroom, WHAT??? Yet when Dee and I are alone together in this fast-disappearing eleventh year (do we only have one more before she officially becomes a teen?) she settles into me. Me into her. We are earth settling into a new period. Shallow seas covering land. Flowering plants for the first time.

Eleven years I’ve had to be a mother. Eleven years of impatience and love. I’ve tried to make memories. Natural History Museum (age eleven and times before). Disney World (age three), Santa Monica Pier (age four). Six Flags too many times now to count. San Francisco, the same. Somehow, though, I know it’s the day-to-day that counts. I worry that I’ve been distant. That she emulates what she sees.

Some day it will be Dee’s own life. Her own eccentricities and values and actions that override everything I’ve stamped onto her. You can scream all you want but you still can’t get off.

I learned today that New Mexico had camels and elephants five to 18 million years ago. Nature–she has her own plan.

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