A few years ago, I was given an assignment to write your earliest memory. I remember childhood being scary and confusing. I am not one of those people that wistfully remembers childhood as a time they want to relive. I am happy to be an adult – even though it sometimes means I actually have to “adult.”
Anyway – here is what I came up with for the assignment – it was not an edited or polished writing, but I can’t help making a couple fixes for clarity.
When I was a kid, my grandpa use to take me fishing. I don’t ever remember being picked up, but I remember the drive. It is about 45 minutes from my mother’s home to our river, but it is only the last part that I remember, the part where we got to the mountains. I lived in the city, but I was no stranger to the outdoors, my family went camping when my parents were married, and my grandparents took me to camp twice a year but there was something uniquely special about driving to go fishing with my grandpa.
For one, fishing with grandpa was special – it was ours. Once my mother remarried, we no longer did ‘outdoorsy’ things in my immediate family. There were baseball games and amusement parks, but the river belonged to me n grandpa. My cousins fished – with their parents – my grandpa rarely took them. On one of our trips, grandpa told me that he didn’t take them fishing because they were whiny – he said – I shouldn’t tell you this but you’re my favorite. Even before his stroke, grandpa talked to me without much of a censor. (After his stroke, his stories got even more colorful but that is another story for another time). One time, we were fishing in the snow and my feet were frozen because I had regular shoes – but I was tough, I didn’t want to be whiny like my cousins – so I didn’t complain … at first.
Later, I was trying to unsnag my line and I fell into the ice crusted river – HARD! – of course cried, and I now remember that I was worried my grandpa might not take me fishing anymore. In writing this, I realize for the first time that my grandpa was really angry, I knew this but not really thought about it – he should have comforted me – I don’t know, I would have comforted me, but oh well, I was tough. Even though I didn’t feel tough at that moment. He reluctantly took me back to his Explorer and we packed up to head home. For a long time, we didn’t speak – grandpa was still angry and I was feeling pitiful. My grandpa loved to fish and never got to go enough – we headed back down the mountains. I don’t remember the rest of that drive. I don’t remember if we stopped for our traditional lunch at A&W or if he just took me back to my mom. All I remember is feeling pitiful because I had ruined fishing, my body was bruised, and I was cold and wet like a dog left in the rain.
Grandpa told me lots of things on those trips – one I really remember was the story of falling rock. I have no idea if he made the story up but he told me a story about an Indian boy named Falling Rock who became lost and that’s why they had all the watch for falling rocks. It was a much longer and detailed story, but he told it often enough for me to remember it even today. I still think of that story when I drive home on that same road. I think of my grandpa’s stories. When I take my kids fishing, I think of the memories we are making and how we are connected through generations.
Looking back at this now: (still part of the assignment and not Now/Now)
This memory surprised me and disturbed me. When given this assignment, I started to think of childhood memories. The first thing that came to mind was the ditch where we played – but then I started to think how we would hide from the kidnappers, how we would find porno mags and bum houses, and play in sewer chutes and the memories became sort of ugly. Then I thought of another memory and another and they were all horrible or started happy and turned sour. I started to think about a very happy time in my life and that is fishing with my grandpa. I specifically chose this because it was good and in writing it, it became tainted. Am I stuck in seeing myself as a victim in childhood? This was a great set of memories but strung together – the memory of my grandpa telling me I was his favorite and the memory of falling into the river became a realization that I was afraid to complain, that I thought my grandpa wouldn’t love me as much because I cried. This funny memory in telling became profoundly fucked up in writing. I idealized my grandpa, so it is difficult seeing him as flawed but looking back now, I remember him being angry with me for falling into the river. Here I had been whining because my feet were cold and now, I fell in the river, and we would have to be done fishing. I felt horrible for falling in, not as much from the cold, wet, and pain of the rocks – but because I wasn’t tough enough. I was ashamed – even I was angry with myself.
I’m also not sure if he was that angry or if I am remembering it wrong, now. I know how I feel now but how did I feel then? When I have told this story in the past I did feel embarrassed to have fallen in the river but I also remember telling the story and saying – of course I cried, I was freezing so I know my grandpa was mad that I was crying and making a fuss. It makes me think about the stinging nettle story he had with my uncle – where he got so mad at him for crying that he grabbed the stinging nettle with his bare hand and his face turned red and tears creeped from his eyes – this story connects now because I think if my grandpa had fell in the river, he would have felt bad for being angry with me.
I’m not sure how this story would be helpful except to remind me that everyone gets angry sometimes. Even grandpas.