“Do you have any good memories?” My mom delicately asked, in almost a whispered hush. I knew she wanted me to say yes. I knew she wanted me to spill my soul in the parking lot of the mall where she had just purchased my 25th birthday present.
Without hesitating, I answered.
“Do you have any good memories from your childhood?”
I understood what she was asking, and realized I had become that person who asks, “What?” when they heard the question the first time.
“Not really, Mom. I mean, I have memories! I have vibrant memories of random things. Little slivers that come and go. I remember my purple bedroom, and it didn’t have a door, so we hung that big woven blanket up at night. I remember picking out stickers for Josh at the doctor to put on his bed at the nursing home. And I remember making a dream catcher at the hospital when Josh was sick, and how much I loved that dream catcher…”
My voice trailed off as I replayed my stop motion memories in the passenger seat of my mom’s heated car.
There was sadness in my mom’s eyes.
“I still have that dream catcher.” Her voice cracked.
In 30 seconds I had detailed the first three memories of my childhood that came to mind, and none of them involved picking out Christmas trees, or tickle fights, or family breakfasts.
“Do you remember movie nights on the living room floor?”
“OF COURSE I DO!” I beamed.
“I hope you think of me as somebody who loved tradition. I hope you have happy memories.”
“I do, Mom.”
We sat in silence before I changed the subject to something about work. To something about my new busy life in Brooklyn. To big city dreams and turning 25 and here’s to another year of making new memories to replace the ones you think I don’t remember.
When I was little, Mom used to drop me off to spend time with my Nana on Sundays. Maybe it was Saturdays. Either way, I would jump out of the navy blue minivan and run into the perfect white house with the perfect red shutters, but not before passing the apple tree in the front yard. I would pile as many apples as I could into my tiny arms and carry them inside to the counter where fresh loaves of bread always sat, waiting for me. The apples would roll off of the counter and onto the floor, and Nana would say something about not bruising the apples, but I had already skipped through the hallway into the living room.
Nana loved Wheel of Fortune, and I loved pretending to teach myself how to play piano while she was trying to watch Wheel of Fortune. During commercial breaks, Nana would tell me to pick a book out from the sturdy mahogany bookcases built into the wall across from the living room couch. I would always pick the same book, and I would sit on Nana’s lap as she read me “Three Little Pigs” from her blue sofa chair.
When Wheel of Fortune came back on, I would tip toe back to the piano. Nana would turn her hearing aid up, but she never could hear me banging on those keys, as I stretched my tiny legs to reach the foot pedals.
As I grew older, so did Nana, but our relationship remained the same. I went from bounding to barging through the front door, but not before handing Nana a handful of apples from the apple tree. We would sit at the kitchen table, and Nana would ask me how many sugars I wanted in my tea. I would only say one, because that’s how she liked it, but when she turned her back I would sneak a second spoonful of sugar into my cup of Red Rose.
“Nana, what was Mommy like when she was my age?”
“Oh little girly, she was beautiful, just like you.”
Her big blue eyes gleamed at me.
“But what was she like?” I asked.
“What do you mean, little girly?”
“Well, Mommy says she never spoke to you in the tone that I speak to her sometimes.”
Nana shook her head in amusement and dipped her black tea bag in and out of the water. The right corner of her mouth rose as she fluffed her perfect snow white hair.
“Well little girly, Mommy lied.”
I guess the memories we keep are the ones that mean the most to us. Movie nights, and Christmas trees, and family dinners are memories that most of my friends probably share with their families. They are pretty memories, and it’s not that these memories aren’t important, but I need my memories to feel human. I need my memories to not feel perfect, but real, and the memories I cherish most are the ones I tuck behind my ribs, and in my fingerprints, and behind my eyelids. They are the memories that I store in my deepest corners, and I don’t just recall them fondly, I feel them with my whole body. They are my roots, my fibers and every atom of my being.
These memories are like ripped out pages of my favorite story on that mahogany bookcase, stored safely in a shoebox beneath my bed.
These memories are not stop motion.
Read more from Carley Barton here.
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