What we remember

Becca was home from school with a bad cold for two days this week. I ended up sitting with her in the living room watching junky videos – Bridget Jones one day, American Graffiti the next – and it was so lovely, almost worth having her sick. 

My friend Melissa commented that 

I am convinced that when our kids grow up and think back upon their childhoods they will remember not the vacations or activities we provided, but the moments like when they were sick and mom sat on the couch with them and watched movies. 

It seems like a lot of my friends have been losing parents this year – an occupational hazard, I suppose, of being in one’s 50s. Ellen and Carolyn lost fathers to pancreatic cancers. My college friend Elliot lost his mother. Over the summer, Susie M.’s father dropped dead practically overnight. Now, just in the past couple of weeks, Laura and Susie W. lost fathers, Frances lost her mother, and Joanne lost her father-in-law. (I lost my own mother to ovarian cancer back in 1986.) 

That, together with Melissa’s comment, started me thinking.

What childhood memories of my mom do I recall with the most warmth and comfort? 

Just off the top of my head:

  • I remember her sitting beside my bed and telling me stories with her cigarette. The tip would be a glowing red point of light in the dark room, and she would make pictures or spell words with it, like in the book Gus and the Firefly.

    Catwoman and friends, 1966 / Copyright Ilana DeBare

  •  I remember acting out stories with her, entire cosmological dramas that she would let bossy-me narrate and direct, and that went on for weeks and months. In one set of stories she was Batman, my little brother was Robin, and my sister was a made-up villain called Rainmaker who used one of those old metal ice trays as her rain-making weapon. I was the antihero (but really the star) – Catwoman.

Of course we had family vacations and trips and parties. But as Melissa said, those mundane memories are more emotionally resonant than any of the exotic ones.

Now it’s my turn to ask you. I warmly invite you to post a comment:

Which childhood memories are most comforting and meaningful to you?

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10 Responses to “What we remember”

  1. Melissa Nappan Says:

    One of my favorite childhood memories was ongoing: as soon as the dinner table was cleared of dishes, the scrabble board would come out. I remember spending evening after evening learning the fine art of Scrabble from the master. My great goal was always to beat my father at Scrabble, a goal which I am happy to say I eventually achieved. I think my love of Scrabble (though of late the Facebook version) was nurtured at the post-dinner games with my dad.
    My other favorites are equally mundane: “working” in his garden with him (him pulling weeds, me eating pear tomatoes), his silly bedtime songs, and rubbing my cheek and saying “shana punim.”

  2. susie m Says:

    One of my favorite memories was when my father came to visit me in my classroom when I was a newly minted teacher (about 24?). My class of 4th graders interviewed him and I learned a few new things about him. They asked him what, as a little boy he had wanted to be when he grew up and he said, “A tugboat captain. If you’re a tugboat captain you can be on the sea by day, but sleep in your own bed at night.” What a sweet and surprising response I found it to be. I’ve never forgotten it!

    As for those sweet moments with my kids…well, I have to admit it’s one of the things I love best about homeschooling them, especially now that Harry is almost 17. We have so SO many amazing conversations. I hope it stays with him as well!

  3. Judy Says:

    My father and my mother patiently and lovingly watching my brothers and I doing ridiculously silly shows that went on for far too long; seeing their glow as they enjoyed our shennanigans. I also have wonderful memories of my Dad just listening to me, without judgment and with gentleness and patience. You are right, its not the big things necessarily. Thanks for calling on us to remember.

  4. James Richardson Says:

    When I was little — 4,5.6 — I still could not walk without assistance because of a disease in my hips. I wore heavy braces around my legs. My favorite memory of that age was my mother getting all these contraptions off my legs and getting me ready for bed. It was an elaborate operation. She’d then sit awhile with me, and I felt literally lighter.
    I also have wonderful memories of my dad, later in childhood (in the walking period — my childhood is divided into the not-walking and the walking periods). Nearly every Saturday we’d sail San Francisco Bay in those old Norwegian sloop of his, and we’d play games like we were a destroyer sneaking up on a U-Boat and throw cans overboard as depth charges. Ok, Sorry Sam, we polluted the Bay.

  5. Elliot Says:

    Most memorable besides backyard shenanigans or the dinner table scene? Summer vacations. We’d zig-zag out of the midwest, dotting each state’s National Parks day-by-day (mostly 1 day per Park). Zooming down the interstates in our stationwagon we were happy. My dad would kick off endless rounds of Botticelli, getting backrubs with my tiny fingers on huge shoulders. My mom would try to get us to sing non-rocknroll songs. My brother and I invented secret, gutteral martian gibberish – replete with Jewish inflection and gesticulations. On most trips I’d get sick or hurt, so my mom would ignore the vacation to hang out with me. And dawn/dusk rituals with my dad to give chase on foot to film wildlife with the old Revere 8mm and Kodak instamatic….. Ahhh, lost in American familyhood.

    PS: your little brother is the spittin’ image of 1 of mine at that age. Same barber and tailor, i guess.

  6. Nancy King Bernstein Says:

    I’ve also just remembered my dad getting up to be with me one night when I had a nightmare. He just sat on the bed and held me till I calmed down and was ready to go back to sleep. I don’t remember words, just a long quiet hug. I did that with my kids, too, remembering him every time. (My guys are big already! –So it’s been a while.)

  7. Janice Dean Says:

    Every time I was sick to my stomach as a kid (why did this always seem to happen in the middle of the night?), my dad would get out of bed, sit with me on the floor of the bathroom, and rub my back until it was over. This meant so much to me that I cried when Dad didn’t get up to sit with me when I was sick in the middle of the night towards the end of my senior year of high school. I have since sat up with and rubbed the backs of my college roommate and my husband (he now graciously gets up with me in the middle of the night when I’m ill — ah the joys of ulcerative colitis). Not the most glamorous story, but I can’t say enough how much it meant to me. I’ll have to tell my dad the next time I see him. That should be an interesting topic of conversation to bring up… :-)

  8. Mark M. Says:

    What a great visual. I’m going to start smoking again so I can try this with my boys. Naah, maybe not.

    My strongest memories of childhood with my dad were ‘helping’ him fix things around the house. Including looking suitably surprised when a square bottle from my chemistry set was found to be what was blocking up the toilet.

  9. Meg D. Says:

    Some of my strongest memories of childhood involve the good-night rituals that my siblings and I each did with our parents every night. With our mom, we’d say the Shema (both verses, Hebrew and English, and frequently all in one breath). With our dad, we’d do the “Who loves you” which consisted of him asking “Who loves you?” (hence the name) and each of us would reply, “God, Daddy, Mommy, Lucy, etc.” listing all the kids, cats, and dogs in age order. Then he’d ask “And whom do you love?” and we’d repeat the exact same list. Very sweet and comforting.

    • Ilana DeBare Says:

      Those are wonderful rituals, Meg. In retrospect, I wish that when my daughter was a baby I put some thought into consciously developing more rituals in her life (our lives). In particular, I wish we had built up more of a ritual around Shabbat. We always light candles and say the blessings, but I wish we had added something in like “everyone say one good thing that happened this week” or something like that to deepen the meaning of the moment.

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