We had a treehouse in front of our Navy-base row house when I was three and four. I had the croup when my father built it so I couldn’t go out and play but only watch my brother enviously through the window. My father had a beard then and it tickled. He took us fishing off Monterey Pier and I caught only baby octopi, time and again. I remember the way the ink bled out, like watercolors into a wash, when we’d toss them back.
I remember telling my first lie. I went to a Montessori preschool in Carmel and my teacher was lovely with straight yellow hippie hair down to her waist. I was banging ruthlessly on the piano keys one day and she complimented me, and I looked her straight in the eyes and thanked her, and said I was taking lessons. Not much of a lie, but I must have been pretty shocked with myself if I still remember telling it.
I remember being turned loose to play in a carpet warehouse. How the stacks and stacks of rolled carpets were like mountains and we were set free to scale them and leap between them. It was glorious.
Being small. When I sat down to write, this is what I was going to write about, then all the other memories came tumbling out too. It must have been the open house for my older brother’s kindergarten. There were corridors of a school with drawings on all the walls and grownups everywhere, standing around. I love this memory for my only physical recollection of what it was like to be that small. They were just legs, for all intents and purposes: grownups. And I was racing through this forest of legs with the other kids, and when I came to what I thought were my dad’s legs I flung myself into them, hard, flung my arms around them. Then I titled my head back and looked up, and I still remember gasping, the horror of it. It wasn’t my dad, but just another grownup in brown pants! Mortified, I ran on.
It’s funny how so many of these early memories have to do with my father. I think he was home all the time then since he was in graduate school, whereas in my few years up til then he’d been at sea a lot and it was just my mom and brother and me in our little house at the edge of the cane fields in Hawaii -- but I don’t have real memories of that time. After Monterey I remember a lot more, from first grade through fourth in Virginia, and Papa was gone a lot, plying the Atlantic in a Destroyer, I suppose. Of course Mom is always there, in all my memories. During these years she caught the houseplant mania that was sweeping the 1970s and our house began to turn into a jungle. Each time we moved for the rest of my youth she’d have to give her jungle away and rebuild it from scratch in the next house. And she was pregnant with my little sister, and my brother and I weren’t permitted in the hospital so my dad had to take us to the parking lot and point at her window. Funny, I get a little choked up thinking of that. Of needing that reassurance, to see that window among windows, and know she was there.
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