Strange memories

We live through millions of individual moments during our lives — quadrillions, I suppose is closer to reality — so how is it that there are only a few moments that we never, ever forget?

I’m not talking about the big moments — that first kiss, the wedding day, the wrenching death of a loved one. I’m talking about the little ones that have no larger meaning in and of themselves, but take up a disproportionate space in the back closets of the mind.

The previous post is one of my old, odd memories. I hadn’t thought about that short Ray Bradbury paragraph in many years, but thinking about myhalloween-tree upcoming birth date anniversary opened the small, dusty box tucked back behind the Dinner-at-the-South-Seas-Restaurant-when-I-was-10 box (oh, that paper-wrapped chicken! Delicious!) and there it was, fresh and real once again.

If I still have Ray Bradbury’s book, “The October Country,” I don’t know where it is. I suspect I lost it during one of the many moves I’ve made since I was 12, the year I first read it. It makes me want to go through my bookshelves and look for it. I want to read it again. There was a story about the wind in that book that made the hairs rise on the back of my neck; because of it, the moan of the wind in the eaves has a different meaning to me ever since. There’s another story about the La Brie Tar Pits that twists and tugs at my heart even as it makes me feel chilled and desolate. But mostly, there’s that one, short paragraph. It stands alone on its own, slightly yellowed paperback page at the beginning of the book  in my memory, as if by placing it there Bradbury was reaching out, calling out to those of like mind.

As I was of like mind. I still am. From that day forward I had a group I knew I belonged to: the October people. They were invisible, but Mr. Bradbury’s words, printed in ink on paper for all time, had proven to me that they — we —  existed. As I read that paragraph, I caught my breath at the words “…and pantries faced away from the sun.” Yes, I know. I’m odd as a three-dollar bill. But I could see those pantries, those attics, those unmentioned-but-there-just-the-same long, dark, echoey hallways. And I nodded in profound and silent recognition as I read the last sentence: “That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain …”

I live each year in anticipation of October. Of true, not calendar, autumn. Of that first sharp, shocking ting of chill in the early morning air. I wait through the long, hot summers, enduring the blazing heat and blinding sunshine, and dream of cool blue skies, of trees turning color, of the enticing scent of woodsmoke on the breeze and the surprise and beauty of the sun glittering on frost diamonds. Cold fingers. A cold nose. Hot soup.

I would love to sound like rain.

As a child I loved Halloween best of all the holidays. It wasn’t because my birthday was just a few days beforehand, though that didn’t hurt. It wasn’t because of the stuffed-full bag of candy I’d come home with after a night of trick-or-treating all over the surrounding neighborhoods, either. No, for me the fun of Halloween was being able to wear a costume. For one single evening, once a year, I could be Someone Else.

In my costume, no one knew who I was (or so I hoped). I didn’t have to be the dumb kid who froze up at the blackboard during math, her mind blank, her heart beating so fast it was all she could hear. In my costume, I wasn’t the new kid, the runty misfit who’d never be accepted into the already long-established clicque, who spent recesses wandering the edges of the playground alone. Oh, my. Dressed as Dracula, I was more powerful than all of them. I could fly. I could turn into a wolf if I wanted to. No one would dare ask me — let alone expect me — to catch a softball or avoid being smacked in the legs by a viciously-thrown dodgeball.

On Halloween, I was free.

And Bradbury’s October people knew me. They respected me even though I was introverted and bookish. They liked that I could completely lose myself while drawing a picture or reading a book. They wanted to know what I thought about things. I was one of them.

There are other out-of-proportion memories that stand out in my mind, such as the first time I really got furious at my mother. She wouldn’t let me have a graham cracker before lunch, which was, simply, mean. It was unfair. How dare she? I was hungry!

I couldn’t have been more than three.

Much later, I remember sitting in an olive tree in the orchard across the street from my house. It was a hot, dusty day and the sun dappled through the gray-green leaves, heavy and silent. I was perhaps eight. I felt connected to the world, to the universe, for a short time that day. Why? Who knows. Why do I remember it? Your guess is as good as mine.

Other persistent, clear memories that should have faded into nothing long ago: The smell of jasmine as I walked my dog along a cool, night-shadowed street in Germany. The buzz of a blooming linden tree, completely alive with honeybees. The evening my cat, watching a bat as it flitted and swooped around our garden, reached a casual paw up and snatched the tiny creature right out of the air. Just like that.

Why do these moment stay with us year after year? Why do we remember them over others? Why are there so few? I don’t know, but it fascinates me. Do you have moments from your past that still seem like they happened only yesterday?


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