Remember, remember the Fifth of November. In Scotland, I remember bonfires and firecrackers on a dark night. Cold too. And excitement. My brother’s face lighting up as he plans fiery escapades with friends.
In childhood, so many events seem full of wonder and excitement. Halloween, Guy Fawkes, Fourth of July, New Year’s Eve. It’s all new. A world of meaning unfolding before us and our growing sense not just of awareness but of confidence that we understand how this part fits with that. This holiday recalls religion, that one history. Fireworks denote celebration and also mayhem. Stepping out of the quotidian into the disruptive. Shaking up our lives for a day.
We looked ever forward. The trail behind us was too short to even consider.
Saturdays, we walked along the Firth of Clyde into Dunoon to pitch pennies at the arcade beside the pier or watch a movie matinee on the main street. We climbed over the dark grey boulders that jutted up and down the shore. Our shoes crunched in the shingle as we slipped over the top of a rock and slid down. Water slopped about us, soaking socks and hems of pants. Cold water, the kind that stops your breath.
With our weekly allowance in hand, we stopped at the sweetie shop and then the news agent for the Saturday funnies–a whole newspaper devoted to comics. My brother bought licorice, which I hated, and I bought a Tootsie Roll, something to last a whole movie long. At the arcade, I sometimes won a goldfish that would inevitably die within a week or two. Then on to the movies. Too young to even remember the names.
Now I spend more time looking back.
Of late, I have noticed that the past seems more palpable, like I can touch it. I close my eyes and do more than see. I feel throughout my body some past scene–my oldest daughter at two and a half running in dappled sunlight on a fall playground covered in leaves; me sitting on a friend’s balcony in Trumbull College senior year, looking up at Sterling Library, the sky a perfect cool blue of dusk; my younger daughter sitting patiently, waiting to catch a feral kitten underneath our beach house; me, cold, riding the bus down California Street back from Ocean Beach in San Francisco, with a crazy man in the seat in front of me, whispering his too big thoughts out the open window. The cold breeze brushes the back of my neck. The cold water seeps into my shoes. The sound of laughter, of the toddler, of the boy playing reggae in the dorm room, the dust of the stacks at Sterling beside the desk where my friend John was finishing his senior thesis.; the hum of ocean a block away; the smell of salt. I can walk down Sacramento to Fillmore in my mind and get a sunlit table in the corner at the Grove cafe. A pot of tea, a salad, a book, and words.
Now, memories disrupt the day. I don’t carve pumpkins anymore nor play with fire.
Corner of Sacramento and Fillmore