It’s always good to recognise the dappled patterns of one’s perspective. ‘The way it is‘ contracts and expands. Memories come coloured with emotion.
I wrote in my last post about the environment in which I grew up – one of middle class privilege and relentless competition. This was the 1980’s and the Reagan years, a time when America rode a wave of material prosperity and the promise of evermore: endless growth and profit, bountiful rewards for joining the rat race and playing the game. I called it “the belly of the beast” and indeed, when I imagine myself as a teenager walking through the local shopping mall, with its designer boutiques and its trendy brand logos, its parquet floors and potted trees and fast food courts, the picture takes on the discordant atmosphere of uneasy dreamtime.
However: even in the midst of the spectacle and the striving, there were lifelines of human warmth and belonging. A few days ago I was reminded of this when I received an unexpected greeting from an old friend and neighbour: one of the little girls I used to babysit for, now grown up and a mother herself. It threw me into reminiscence.
The girls were three years old and three months old, respectively, when I first met them – and I was only thirteen myself. It’s easy to say I watched them grow up but really, we grew up together. Mr and Mrs H took a regular and well-earned weekly break: an evening out to the movies or dinner with friends; sometimes if their calendar was full I would be at their house twice or perhaps even three times over the course of a week. When I learned to drive I was entrusted to take the girls on outings to the library or the swimming pool. I was invited to join their birthday parties, and occasional holiday gatherings, introduced to visitors and relatives, and I was always, always made to feel welcome in their family.
Some stray memories: sitting on the couch in the evening with the girls in their pyjamas, watching Fraggle Rock or Fairy Tale Theatre. Playing Rainbow Brite. He Man and She Ra. Smurfs. Drawing pictures with coloured markers, and making a game of mixing and matching the pen caps with the pens. Sitting on the carpeted bedroom floor, back leaning against the bed, choosing bedtime stories from a pile of picture books. Angelina Ballerina. If You Give A Mouse A Cookie. The Berenstein Bears. Plastic bags full of gorgeous handknitted sweaters that Mrs H passed on to me from her mother. Mr H walking me home, along the pavement to my own house down the street, the dark summertime air heavy with humidity.
All just ordinary snippets of ordinary American suburban life. Nothing dramatic. No crises or conflicts, no serious accidents or notable difficulties. When I imagine myself as a teenager, in connection with this family, the picture takes on the gentle atmosphere of nostalgia. Fondness and gratitude wash over me. A Big Star tune comes to mind: thank you friends.