Thursday, May 25, 2006

Reflections of My Life

Tom Kater, a friend of mine who is also one of the most naturally skilled and clever observers of life who's ever blogged, was recently doing a "significant numbers" thing, in the course of which he wrote:

"11. How old I was two decades ago. I have no recollection of what life was like at that specific age."

I presume he was serious, but I was amazed at the statement. I not only remember vividly an enormity of details of my life when I was 11, but I also remember vividly an enormity of details--even the most seemingly insignificant--of my life from virtually every year since I was 5. I don't mean the occasional memories; I remember trivia like dinner menus, breakfast items, homework assignments, my desk at school, the specific order in which I kept my comic books... and it takes no effort to call up these memories.

I always presumed that everyone remembered his life in such detail, but apparently not.

Proust was right; smells are the most vivid triggers of memories. When I walk at night, the smell of verdant lawns, or the heavy smell of honeysuckle or the ozone-laden smell of wet asphalt after a drizzle--any of them can trigger such an intense flood of memories that I can't believe I'm separated by twenty or thirty or forty or forty-five years from those moments.

I can remember the arrangement of every room in every house I've lived in since I was five years old. I can remember the grocery stores and drug stores and five and dime stores and discount stores of my childhood, before big-box mass marketers wiped them out. I can remember the muggy nights and the smell of Testor's paint and model cement and the grainy texture of Mom's cocoa fudge and I remember fresh apples with salt juxtaposed against the sweetness of the fruit. I can remember not liking foods like pizza and tacos, and then one day trying to figure out why I hadn't liked them to begin with.

When I was eleven, I was in Miss Smith's class at school--West End Elementary. I sat third seat on the first row. We played on the rope swing at recess, which was at 10:35. I had a watch with a brown band and a buckle that occasionally made little red marks on my wrist. My favorite shirt was a blue and white cotton button-up shirt that I would have worn every day if Mom had allowed it. I had to go to bed at 9:30. I watched Bestoink Dooley's Big Movie Shocker on Friday nights on a small black and white television in my room, because that was one of two nights when my parents would let me stay up late.

So many memories. How could it have been forty-one years--almost forty-two--now?

And could Tom really not remember all these details in his life? I hope he was only making with the joke...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Cliff, I demand that you write an autobiography! Your attention to details is amazing. I mean it, get cracking!