Andrew’s birthday last week made me mindful of the fact that he’s now of an age that I should remember pretty well from my own childhood. Those of you who know me (that is, both of you) know that I can’t really count my memory as one of my stronger qualities. Even so, I should be able to remember something from age seven, right? I spent some time trying to dredge up memories from that time in my life, and what I’ve come up with feels surprisingly scant:
- I was in second grade when I turned seven in December of 1979. Earlier that year we had moved from Moline, IL to Lebanon, MO, so I was a new arrival at Donnelly School that fall. I looked, and Donnelly is apparently an administrative building now.
- My teacher’s name was Mrs. Martin. She had dark hair, wore round, plastic-framed glasses, and was probably closer to retirement than her first day in the classroom. I remember one day she gave us a spelling test, and of was one of the words. She vocalized the f so that it sounded like ov, but warned that she’d “better not see any v’s.” This confused me for a minute.
- I loved to read Childcraft, especially the history volume. In particular I remember reading the story of Molly Pitcher, probably over and over. I don’t remember if the Childcraft books came from the school library or the classroom, but I do recall that I stuffed that history volume in my desk and would sneak looks at it during the day.
- I don’t remember much about my music teacher, but I do remember that I first learned to read music in 2nd grade. He had one of those five-pronged chalk holders for drawing staffs on the blackboard.
In terms of what I can pin specifically to age seven (rather than generally attribute to the four years we lived in Lebanon), that’s about it. Without assistance, I can’t recall my birthday cake. I remember my friends – in fact, I think I still remember Bobby O’Neill’s phone number – but I don’t recall exactly when we met up, so it may have been later. I may have started Cub Scouts that year, or it may have been the next year. The years between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back have turned into one big, pleasant blur.
Which, of course, doesn’t matter. I have a 21st-century seven-year-old now, and the stories of my childhood probably would make as much impression on him as my own parents’ stories made on me. And yet as Andrew engages in the things I remember from my own childhood, I can’t help but try to reach back to my own experiences for some common ground. In him I can see myself, and I can see Elise, and I can see elements of a new person taking shape. Surely that’s every parent’s experience, but part of being human is having these trite, done-ten-billion-times miracles living down the hall, and still not knowing what to do with them.
Except write, occasionally.