Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Art of Childhood

Hubby and I were talking the other night and he was amazed I remembered some insignificant detail of my childhood. He joked that he can hardly remember the names of people he met last week and I can merrily skip down Memory Lane naming kids on the block like I saw them yesterday.

Either I had a wonderful childhood or have an extraordinary memory. I suspect it's childhood itself.

Now granted, I've always been good with names. But I think it all goes back to the fact I love to write. Words fascinate me. Names are just words....with personalities. And yet, that creative streak in me didn't just log a name and a one line mental reference note, it often filled a file on that name. Maybe that's why it's so easy for me to reach back and reclaim childhood. I would say it was the only time I was the same height as everyone, but as the smallest kid on the block, that wasn't true unless the other kid was say, in diapers. People often comment that they find it hard to believe that I actually recall my youth. Only when they demand a detail or two and I can supply ten do they believe me. And when the conversation is over I always think....

Didn't YOU have fun as a kid? If so, why can't you remember?

Sure, not everything about childhood is fun. Like vaccinations. Math tests. Eating tuna fish casserole against your will. Having the Measles, Mumps and Chicken pox all in a four month time span. [No, they didn't have vaccinations for those until AFTER my childhood]. But for the most part, I remember being a kid with the same joy and giggles that I experienced as a child. And even then, I wrote. For fun. No. Really.

Today I found a copy of a very limited edition of the "Hulote Gazette". It was pronounced Who-Lot-E. Never heard of it? That might be because it went to press once a month the summer I was eleven. Available only on Wren Street, where I lived, it was printed on onion skin typing paper. Poor Mom was our publisher...meaning she typed about a dozen copies, using carbon paper. If you don't understand what that entails, find someone older who can relate to correction fluid, before the birth of spell check. My older next door neighbor, Lisa, wanted to take credit for the idea, but I'm the one who wanted to write. So we compromised, let my little sister and her friend tag along and in the ultimate goodwill gesture, named our little neighborhood missive using the first two letters of all our last names....alphabetically. Bet you couldn't get a politician to be so diplomatic.

Sis was in advertising, which meant her first story highlighted both the furniture store our Dad managed, as well as an ad for the lemonade stand she and her buddy Martha manned. As the "World News Reporter", Martha also had a dog walking business on the side. She had the time. All she ever did was pick the three biggest headlines off the local paper, add two sentences and her stories were done. Sis wrote at least a paragraph about Dad, which might've seemed dedicated for a nine year old but I still think she was softening him up for a bigger allowance. My buddy Lisa was the "Fashion Reporter". She got all her tips from her 15 year old sister, the wannabe hippy in a well to-do family. The fashionista reportedly proclaimed that, "people should wear what they want, when they want." Lisa followed up this sage advice with a survey of 10 adults in the neighborhood. The results stated no one in favor of long skirts, 2 in favor of knee length and 8 in favor of mini skirts. I'd be willing to bet she didn't interview our mothers but the gentlemen in the neighborhood as they mowed their lawns.

That left me. The Neighborhood Reporter.

Looking at the issue I found today, it appears I was the only one truly interested in what happened in the neighborhood. There were notations like, "Mrs. S. has the prettiest yard on the block, with colorful flowers against her white brick home" and "Mr. X. fell last week and he's okay now but you should still think about him." I encouraged people not to smoke and to remember to vote. I noted the birth of a baby boy named Matthew, who would play a major role in developing my childcare skills. When Matt turned 6 months old, I babysat him and his evil two and a half year old brother twice a week until Matt entered first grade.

It wasn't the excellent reporting skills, low cost of 10 cents a copy or the scandal which made us churn out 4 whole editions. Oh yes, by-the-book-me created quite an uproar by pointing out the beauty of Mrs. S's yard. The other homeowners were already quite jealous and didn't need an eleven year old to point out the obvious. Guess that's how I learned about the power of the written word. But what made me keep going was....the power of the written word. I loved words and I had this urge that I couldn't explain to put them on paper. Even when there wasn't a teacher demanding I do so.

I enjoyed childhood because I was able to drink it in, write it down and take it with me. In an ironic twist, several years ago I entered a "Name the Children's Magazine" contest for heck of it. I knew the publisher, not just from her work as a reporter for the local paper, but as a twelve year old brat from my childhood. 300 kids and 9 adults entered names. Guess who's won? I submitted the title "imagine that!" because the magazine's premise was to get kids reading. The best part of reading includes bringing along your imagination. Okay, there was another reason. My favorite grandmother, Memaw, when met with an idea or event that amazed her, would softly drawl, "Well, imagine that!"

I went from a contest to a monthly column for three three years of volunteer work I ever did. Yep. We ALL volunteered to be a part of this project because we believed in it. Sadly the funding ran out and the magazine was put permanently to bed. But at the time, the publisher said we were both meant to be part of this process: I' d moved to the town where she'd grown up and she lived on Wren Street, almost across the street from Mrs. S. , who still plants vividly colored flowers against that white brick home. The publisher said we'd come full circle as adults. One day when I turned in my column she looked at me in amazement and said, "It doesn't matter what topic I give you, you always come up with a story from childhood that not only fits, but that children enjoy."

Maybe Wren Street was magic after all.


Susan said...

Wow--I read this with the smell of carbon paper all around me, in memory. Remember the bluey-black it turned your fingers? LOL

And remember Harriet the Spy? A neighbourhood gang of reporters would make a wonderful story too, with a good plot for them to get lost in.

What a great post. School was painful for me but my parents were the best; great memories. Thanks!

Rachel Fox said...

That fashion reporter - she had the right idea! I like the sound of her.