See this girl? That's me, sometime in the early eighties. I don't think about this girl very often, mostly because my recall is not very strong. I don't remember a whole lot of specifics about my childhood--I remember in snapshots, not stories, and consequently, the tales I have to tell to my kids about my youth are few. The magical thing about memory, though, is that even if it can't be called up in an instant, that doesn't mean it's not there; a scent, a look, a song all trigger memories hidden deep in the dusty, cobwebbed recesses, and suddenly, they all come rushing back, fresh. Take this photo, for instance. This was taken in my grandfather's house. And that cat there is my first cat, Karen. There's only one reason Karen would have been at my grandfather's house, and that's if this picture was taken the day I made Karen mine and we took her over to meet the family. That means this picture was taken in the late summer of the year when I was six. I remember nothing more about the day, but suddenly, looking at this photo gives me some lines to color in. I will tell Charis the story about The Day Mommy Got Her First Cat, and even though many of the details will be recently-concocted embellishments, I know the framework will be true. (P.S. Judah looks JUST like me. This picture is further proof.)
One of the things I do remember about my childhood is that I loved to read. I have always loved to read. As a child, I would save up my pennies to buy books, and then I'd rush home, lay in my room, and read them cover-to-cover, then get antsy for the next book. I'm still this way; when I've finished a book, I'm immediately on to the next one. I don't like gaps of time where I have no books in progress, but these days, when I'm a little bit out-of-touch with modern fiction and take a little longer to finish a book, I am frequently at a loss for where to go next. So I have this friend, Beth, who was an English major with me, and I ask her what she's reading, and she tells me. And then I go to the library and check it out and read it. This always works out very well. Her most recent recommendation was to read L.M. Montgomery, who wrote the Anne of Green Gables books. I had all but forgotten about these, it's been so long since I've read them, so I was eager to dive in and re-imagine life on Prince Edward Island. I was immediately struck by Anne's imagination--it was a short leap for her to paint elaborate pictures of romances and pirates and fortunes made and lost. I found myself jealous. Oh, I'd love to write books and stories, even if they're only for my kids, but DOGGONE IT, I always feel like my imagination is in neutral. I wish I could conjure up pirates and fairies like Anne Shirley could.
But just today, I uploaded this picture, and even though it is a photo of my daughter, I saw in it a snapshot of myself.
See that look in her eye? She's just sitting in a mini-train at the fair, waiting to take a two-minute spin around a 1/32-mile track. But she's there with her cousins and her brother, and she sort of looks like she's waving at us, and you can almost her the gears turning in her head, spinning a tale of her adventure to come: Farewell, dear parents. We're off on a grand adventure! Of course, some girls would be scared to be on their own at such a young age, and put in charge of three other kids on an excursion like this, especially since there is all probablility that our train will derail somewhere in the Alps and we will be the only survivors, lost and on our own. But I am brave and smart and strong, and I will protect us from the kidnappers that will inevitably try to take us. We will hide under tarps and behind doors to escape their grasp. And when we get hungry, I will beg for food if I must, but we will be well-fed. I will create a tasty new dish from the scraps I collect to feed us, and perhaps a passer-by will stop and sniff it and think it smells delicious and say that I should be a restaurant chef. And of course I will become one, because I have three other mouths to feed--and maybe more, because other wandering children might see my excellent, capable leadership skills and want to be protected and taken care of and join our gang. And wouldn't it be amazing if you saw a photo of me in the newspaper in the review of my restaurant that declares it "The BEST RESTAURANT EVER" and you realized at that moment that you knew I was always meant for greatness, and if you'd only known that when you sent me off on a train trip from which I would never return, you wouldn't have lain awake in bed all those years wondering where I was and if I was safe.
Or, you know, something like that.
So when I saw this picture and the wistful look in Charis' eye, I was immediately taken back to my childhood, where I would imagine scenarios probably not very different from the one I just described. In my young mind, every stranger was trying to steal me from my parents, my swingset was an Olympic apparatus where I always triumphed over the evil East Germans, the tree behind the garage was a hideaway and lookout from which I could see the neighbors' illegal actions, and I was a pro tennis player. If only I had written down all my ideas then; I would have material enough for a thousand books.
What I love about this photo is three-fold: first, I love it because it reminds me of a young myself; second, I love it because it shows a real depth of personality in my daughter; third, it suggests to me that even though we don't look a whole lot alike, my girl and I are not totally dissimilar after all. And even though I may do a thousand things wrong as a parent, maybe, just maybe, I can help her imagine pirates and fairies and dragons and princesses. Hopefully, her recall will be better than mine. And then she can write that bestseller and support me in my old age.
I was also scared of roller coasters. So, see? She's just like me.