Sometimes, I still have the dream. You know the one; it’s universal, ubiquitous and unerring in its ability to strike terror into our hearts — even at these great distances of time, geographic location and experience. And although the details vary from person to person, the overall theme is the same: unrelenting terror. For many people it involves underwear, which is the case for me. Standing in front of the class, expected to give an oral report and there you are with your tightie-whities or Monday-Tuesdays visible for all the world to see.
How frequently people mentioning having this dream is, I think, a clear indication of how very much with us our childhoods always are. During the sunny light of day, our memories and daydreams are of childhood’s carefree existence. No worries. No bills. No drama, no money woes. Very little demands upon your time, apart from an occasional chore or two. Time to dream. All sweetness, peace and light.
More lately, though, instead of standing stricken before Sister Mary Roberta, the St. John’s third graders, God and everybody, I dream that I am in college. It’s not the usual Final Exam and I Haven’t Gone to a Single Class! type of horror. Instead, mine centers on the terror that is furnishing a dorm room. How is this sectional sofa going to fit in here, for God’s sake? Where am I going to put this king-size sleigh bed? How do you expect me to cook for five people without an oven? It probably says a lot about me that I have this particular fear, but then again I’m also someone who occasionally dreams about vacuuming, or packing a suitcase.
But the point is, our memories surround us, shape us, make us who we are. Occasionally a scene or situation from my childhood will pop up on its own, surprise me, and send me wool-gathering down memory lane. It’s a nice trip.
I grew up in a small Kentucky town; just 2,500 people in Carrollton and what, three times that many in the whole of Carroll County. For us all I think, the places of our childhood are the center of the world — and while I certainly knew about and visited larger cities, they were relegated the periphery. Everything that happened surrounded 315 Ninth Street. It was my world, and that world, truth be told, it was defined, circumscribed and delineated by sidewalks.
Sidewalks. What a thing to catch hold of me, but surprise me a sidewalk did, one afternoon not long ago, as I meandered down the street in my old neighborhood, the house-before-last in which I lived. I’m now in a newer subdivision, but my old neighborhood was more mature, more idiosyncratic. The sidewalks there, like those of my youth, are a patchwork collection of old and gray, new and white, lifted and bumped with tree roots. Sidewalks with character.
Up and down sidewalks such as these we ran, with bare feet, flying to a friend’s house, or walked, poking along on a summer’s day with nothing to do and all day to do it. Three houses down, the sidewalk in front of the Day’s house wasn’t lined off with horizontal lines every three feet or so, like God intended sidewalks, but instead doodled fancifully, like children’s scribble drawings that are then colored in. Interestingly, I never asked, or wondered, really why that patch of sidewalk was different. It just how things were.
So walking along, a few years back, I caught sight of a patch of sidewalk that was fairly unremarkable. In fact, I can’t even say what it looked like, physically, that caused me to return in my memory, barefoot and age 8, on a Ninth Street sidewalk. But return I did, and I could smell the chalk of our hopscotch games, feel the sting of a stubbed toe. It set me to ruminating on how much of my life, back then, was spent walking, squatting, sitting, dreaming on those concrete pathways that adults laid down for ease of walking. But for the young, it was where we lived.
Today, such a visit, even in memory, is a pretty alien experience. It’s like a visit to another country, the country of childhood. Where paintings on your dad’s office wall are scrutinized. Well, I guess I do that still.
Yes, the world of sidewalks is an alien country, these days. But it’s nice to visit it, once in a while, in memory. Quite often, I’ll take a trip there too, as I watch my three little monsters jumping on the trampoline, riding bikes, laying on their backs and dreaming.
It’s a fun place to visit, but, you know — I don’t think it’s a place I could stay. I have enough trouble figuring out where to put the furniture as it is.