One of my earliest memories…it is strange how memories from childhood often take on the quality of dreams. I have tried to tell this little story through the eyes of four or five year old, while still maintaining an adult vocabulary. I hope I’ve been successful. My work is always available for constructive criticism. Please do share your thoughts!
It must have been my first trip away from home, a two-story eighty year old farm house located in Knapp, WI. My mother and I boarded a bus with tickets to Pennsylvania. I remember the bus was long and silver and gleamed brightly in the sun. We were traveling to visit my mother’s sister, my Aunt Phyllis.
My mother sat near the window, and I the aisle seat. I remember her continually having to remind me not to push my knees into the seat in front of me. The man in front was noticeably uncomfortable from my always bumping against his seat, yet he said nothing. I had a soft, warm blanket tied into a cape around my neck – Looking back, I have a feeling the man might’ve somewhat liked to have tightened it around my throat.
I ran up and down the bus aisle with the blanket-cape (I believe it had a picture of Tazz on it) flowing out behind me. I distinctly remember feeling the grandeur of being a superhero. People cheered me on as I held out my fists like Superman, in a glory of flight. I noticed the faster I ran, the more my cape would flow out behind me. So I ran up and down, faster and faster, feeling grander and mightier all the while. Soon enough, I was informed by the stern, tall bus driver that I must “sit down!”
Slightly shocked, I did. I had found my kryptonite in the stiff, demanding pointer finger of a conventional authority figure. It would not be the last time.
Soon night settled upon the moving landscape and all of the people on the bus were either asleep, or trying to fall asleep. Heads settled against shoulders, and many tiny pillows were awkwardly situated against the windows. My mother laid her head against the window and told me to keep quiet, so I did. When I looked over, I could see the reflection of her face, distorted in the dim light and added in detail by my wild imagination.
I imagined her face contorted into a monster’s face. Her nose all warped into an ill-blossomed mushroom, her cheeks ruddy slabs of muddy concrete, her chin a feeble disgrace. For a few moments, I was horrified and looked away. When I summoned the courage to look again, the monstrous face was still there. I noticed the overhead lights elongated and warped inside the glass. What little reason I had at that age suddenly kicked in. If the lights could be distorted in their reflection, so could my mother’s face. My mother was my mother, after all, and not a monster. I relaxed, yet still felt somewhat uneasy, and fell into deep sleep.
I don’t remember much about my Aunt Phyllis’ house in PA. But I do remember an average, oval table in the kitchen, where I was served a tall glass of Hawaiian Punch and a bowl of Cap’t Crunch cereal. I remember taking a bath in an unfamiliar bathtub, gazing in fascination at the brown rust upon the porcelain near the drain…
My Aunt Phyllis, my Uncle Ted, my mother, and myself were walking in a vast green field. Out beyond, an array of tall pines touching blue sky. The pines were a much darker green than the field, which was blossoming and bright in the Spring. The field featured large areas of a semi-liquid brown goop. Our tennis shoes inevitably contracted this goop as we continued along.
About thirty yards away was a winding stream which rounded itself into a little underground tunnel, then out of the tunnel and petering out into the forest beyond. I asked my mother if I could go play near the shallow stream and was given permission to do so on the agreement that I be careful. However loose the term ‘careful’ was in my young mind, I readily agreed.
Across the stream was an elderly couple sitting on a wooden bench. They had a little doggie with them. The doggie wandered about, occasionally dipping its nose into the current, lapping the water with its tongue. I began throwing what pebbles I could find into the water, delighted by the sight and sound of each individual Splash! At that moment, there was nothing in life that seemed better than a Splash! The world was born anew upon each and every launch of a pebble.
Then an idea occurred. Perhaps I, as opposed to the pebbles, would make the Splash! And then I would show mom and mom would say, “Wow! Look at you! You’re soaking wet!” and then my mom would show me off, soaking wet, to my Aunt and Uncle, whom would exclaim, “Wow! Look at you! Soaking wet, indeed!” This imaginary praise seemed to me a worthwhile endeavor. I approached the stream.
Unsuspecting, I slipped down the muddy bank and cascaded into the water. Now sitting in the middle of the stream, I laughed and enjoyed. The water was very cold, yet the sun shone down and made me happy and comfortable. I stood up and ambled a bit further down the stream, which was a bit deeper now, the current stronger. I turned to call out to my family, waving my arms, and clumsily I fell down again.
As I lay upon my chest, I could feel the stream pulling at my legs, the nearby tunnel now far less mysterious than it was frightening. I grasped at the soil, but it was no more than loose mud. I began to panic, and to drift closer downward to the dark little tunnel…its opening appeared as the mouth of a monster. The stones around it, ferocious black eyes. Then I saw a miniature isle nearer to the bank, and scrambled hopefully for it. Soon enough, I had secured a hold, and pulled my little body out of the water.
Dripping, gasping, I walked back over to my family. They were still busying chattering away as if nothing had happened. My mother then noticed I was soaking wet, and was without the praise I had initially imagined. This was OK though, because it was decided that we were to have a bit of fun. My uncle picked up some of the brown goop stuff from the ground and threw it at my Aunt, and my Aunt returned the favor by throwing some at my uncle, then both my mother and I were throwing it at each other, and soon enough the four of us were amidst an enormous brown goop-fight!
I found the goop on the surface was warm, but the goop beneath was very cold. Enjoying the feel of it on my hands, I applied some to my cheeks. I felt like an Indian warrior. I picked up a colder handful, laughing now, and threw it at Antie. We all went on like this for some time.
It was a bright day, full of smiles and laughter. I had faced a brisk encounter with the tunnel-monster, and had gotten in my very first mud-fight. Yet, as it turned out, not all of us were to survive that sunny, Spring day. For the old couple’s doggie that I had seen earlier lapping in the stream had been bitten by a poisonous snake, which had been slithering ominously about the bank. Their little doggie died.
I like to think that perhaps, inadvertently, that dog – loyal and venerable as dogs are known to be – saved my life by baring the poison of the snake.