stories for my mom

This year for her birthday, my mom has asked all of her children to write down two stories they remember from childhood. I haven’t thought of which two stories I want to write down. Her birthday is today. Oops…

It isn’t just that I’m a lethal combination of lazy/busy/distractable, it’s that honestly, I can’t think of any stories from childhood worth writing down. My memory bank stores snapshots, not novels, and I can usually piece the remainder of the stories together from asking my parents or siblings. I called my mom to ask why she wanted these. When I first got the email, I made a stupid joke about her wanting to sell our stories on ebay, but she’s since told me that I was wrong about that. She said that she wants to start writing down these stories because as we grow older, we’re liable to forget. When I asked if they needed to be happy stories, she told me that it wouldn’t really matter as I’d be doing this for the next few years. “I doubt it!” I laughed. “You will” she stated, without a hint of amusement in her voice.

I’ve decided to write this not only to stall but because I had hoped that thinking about this “assignment” would help spark some memories besides the ones bullet-pointing themselves through my head. I’d offer these to my mom but I’m sure she’d just instruct me to give more details. And I don’t have any.

That’s not actually true. I do have memories from my childhood, but they’re of the bad moments. It isn’t that I had an unhappy childhood; my parents were together until I was 11, and even after he moved out, my dad made just about the same effort with us kids as he did when he lived there. Mom just seemed sad more often and dad started falling asleep earlier. They never fought, either while married or not. When I asked my mom why she and dad didn’t fight but still got divorced, she said it was better for us kids that they didn’t fight in front of us. I used to tell her that she was wrong, that I wished they’d fought where we could hear them, if for nothing else than to know that the end was coming. She was probably right in that decision she and dad made, but being blind-sided isn’t much less traumatizing. But now we’re on a tangent…

I think I can’t remember the details of the great moments growing up because there were too many. Like Christmas mornings, sometimes spent at mass pretending to listen to the Latin, sometimes spent just at home, racing outside with our newest toys to play as quickly as we could, as if we were afraid they’d disappear if we didn’t move fast enough. I remember 4ths of July, making shortbread cookies with Hershey’s Kisses in the middle of them, sitting around the retention pond and watching the neighborhood dads light off fireworks. I always thought we had the best fireworks, but that’s probably because of where they came from.

Whenever we went on summer vacations to New Jersey, we always drove. It made sense financially but was torturous, as it meant spending 20 hours in a car with few breaks. We’d pack our suitcases the night before and dad would wake us up at 3 am, shove us into the car and we’d be off. I have never been particularly great at sleeping sitting up, whether it’s after being awake for 30 hours on an airplane to Kenya, on the couch watching a movie or in a car traveling 80 mph, but I’m guessing I slept. We didn’t do what most families do when they’re on a trip that is 20 or so hours of driving time and stop part way through to spend the night somewhere. No, we drove straight through. Dad would drive during the wee hours of the morning and switch with mom after a little while so he could take a break. The four of us kids would be in the back, thankful for our old-school Gameboys and trying not to lose the tiny plastic pieces of over-priced “travel sized” games we’d bought to help us not kill each other. I remember mountains on one or two of the trips, but I’m not sure whether or not they’re from trips with both parents or the trip mom took us kids on to see our paternal grandparents at their 50th wedding anniversary. What I do remember vividly is the South of the Border fireworks place. We’d start to see the mile markers for it the same way you see the ones on I-75 for Ron Jon’s Surf Shop, even though you’re not actually anywhere near the store. We all knew that it was always one of our stops. If we stopped on the drive up to New Jersey, it meant that we planned to share our explosives with our 2nd, 3rd and 4th cousins; trips on the way back meant the fireworks were reserved for important holidays, like the 4th of July, New Years Eve, or Fridays. I remember the store, walking around with my dad, putting the giant Black Cat “these-are-clearly-illegal-and-it’s-probably-not-a-good-idea-for-you-to-let-your-kid-hold-them” cannons into our baskets. We’d pay and then stuff them down in the hatch of the minivan, careful to cover them with blankets or duffel bags in case we got pulled over.

I remember a lot of things about baseball. My dad was a pitcher, a fact that I was always proud of and am still proud of today. I glossed over the fact that he also apparently played soccer. To me, the more important, special job was being the baseball pitcher at Rollins College in the late ’70s. Obviously, I never saw my dad play at the peak of his career, but I remember his baseball and, when his arm couldn’t take it anymore, softball league games. Baseball is not the most engaging, exciting sport when you’re small so we came prepared with toys, specifically cars, to play with. The four of us kids would sit against the fence in front of the stands, where the clay meets the wire, and bury our cars. I’m not exactly sure why we did this; I would assume it was part of a game. Sometimes we’d remember to bring them all home. Sometimes we’d forget and find them still buried there the next week. I remember being surprised at not finding them sometimes but I shouldn’tve been, as whenever we found extra cars other children had left, we added them to our collection. And I remember that one of the greatest, most special treats was to get to go into the dugout with the baseball players during the part of the inning when my dad’s team was at bat. I was a lot older when I finally realized that these men who were on my dad’s team weren’t real baseball players anymore than my dad was. They were just people who were following up on doing something that they loved. After my parents separated, I remember going to one or two of my dad’s softball games but they weren’t the same. I was older then so the idea of burying cars into the soft red clay didn’t seem so appealing but I think it was more that those memories of baseball diamonds and watching my dad pitch are so built up in my head that the reality can’t compete.

I know there are more stories I could remember if I stayed up and tried, but it’s late, my mom asked for two stories and she already called me out on Facebook for not sending her my stories, so there you go. Maybe when I’m feeling more nostalgic, I’ll write down some more of them. Plus, it’d be nice to have someone’s Christmas present taken care of early.

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