Monday, August 23, 2010

Guest Blog: Memory Threads from the Basement of Time

Lisa asked me if I wanted to guest blog while she was out of town, and so here goes.

I became a father a year ago at the tender age of 41, and about a week later I uttered for the first time in my life the sentiment "I'm too old for this shit." The first weeks were exhausting, but, as you might expect me to say, the last year has been the most sublime experience I have ever had.

I have a friend from school who was paralyzed from the waist down when he was three. He has been in a wheel chair ever since, and one day someone he didn't even know brazenly asked him whether he missed walking. I am color blind, and I don't think I miss out on any experience color-wise. However, I think walking is more central to your life experience, and so I was surprised when he said that being in the wheelchair is all he ever knew, so no.

I didn't know what wasn't in my life before Lisa and Jordan, and so I didn't see my life as less than whole. However, my life is so much fuller now, I can't fathom my prior existence anymore.

So, this weekend Jordan and I had a boys weekend at home. As Jordan is one, this consisted of sampling ice cream and going for walks. We also read a lot, and I grew up reading Noddy and Beano and eating scones, leg of lamb, Welsh Rabbit and chip butties (which Lisa forbids me from ever eating again or from feeding to Jordan in the future). Jordan and I have recently been reading Mother Goose, and I couldn't tell you who likes the nursery rhymes more.

I assume that nursery rhymes are far more familiar to most American children than are french fry sandwiches, which I assure you are spectacular. However, I didn't realize how familiar these nursery rhymes were to me until I read them to my son. Suddenly I remembered wearing corduroy shorts in winter and being at my Aunt Mabel's candy shop in Yorkshire. I remembered the caravan in the garden and the way it smelled and the popsicles that had been in freezer for so long that they didn't taste like popsicles any more. And I remembered my grandmother reciting from memory rhymes that I now read to my son:

I had a little nut-tree, nothing would it bear
But a silver nutmeg and a golden pear;
The king of Spain's daughter came to visit me,
And all because of my little nut-tree.
I skipped over water, I danced over sea.
And all the birds in the air couldn't catch me.

It struck me that my grandmother remembered these rhymes from when she was a girl and someday Jordan will hear these words and will pause and remember, although he probably won't be aware that the source of his memories first began to take shape almost a hundred years ago and thousands of miles away. For now, however, we simply enjoy the pictures and the rhymes and the time we spend together.

I always enjoy it when Lisa's blog resonates with readers, who then share their similar experiences. I would love to hear some distant memories that were suddenly awakened by a familiar sight or sound, if you are willing to share.



  1. My mother is the queen of the nursery rhyme, and will bust out with a "diddle diddle dumpling, my son John" when something reminds her of the line. So I likewise find myself suddenly reminded of rhymes, pieces of songs, and blurting them out at random times. I did it this weekend when I was visiting family with my mom and brother, and my brother remarked, "you're getting to be more like mom every day."

    I'll take it as a compliment.

  2. Hi Nick, thank you for the post. I'm so glad the past year has been full of happiness for your family. I recently bought a copy of The Poky Little Puppy for myself. I saw a Little Golden Book at a baby shower and the memories of storytime as a kid came rushing back. So, now there's a golden spine in my library.

  3. One day, a few years back, I was driving home from the university and the song "Funny Farm" from Doctor Demento came on the radio. I froze and couldn't believe it. My dad used to sing snippets of that song to us when we were watching a scary movie and I NEVER knew it was a song. It reminds me of all the times we would watch movies together on Friday nights growing up.

  4. It's funny how the memories just pop up when you least expect it. Sometimes my memories get blurred because so much of my life was video tapped and my parents graciously let us watch home movies of ourselves for hours on end. I think of my childhood most when I smell or eat certain foods. Mexican Sopa de Fideo and my dad's Kraft mac and cheese will always make me feel 4 again.

  5. Great post, Nick. Thanks for sharing.

    My British husband introduced me to the chip butty, but somehow - despite an intense love of junk food of all types - I never really got on board the chip butty train. Maybe I didn't consume it with enough beer or something.

    I recently posted about the summer camp memories that came rushing back with the evocative scent of a summer morning:

    I think Lisa commented on that post about a summer camp you attended in Maine. Ah, good times, no?

  6. Hi Nick,
    AAAhhh the chip buttie, so so good no? Fresh white bread so soft and lashings of real butter and Watties Tomato Sauce (has to be Watties if you are a Kiwi) and layer on those hot chips. Smash it together and chomp chomp chomp. I am not a big fan of hot chips but the buttie raises them to an entirely different universe. Over here we also have Kumara Chips or to you guys I guess its sweet potato not kumara, these also make a lovely buttie. My 17 yr old goes through half a loaf of bread making chips butties sometimes lol. (you could sneak one while Lisa is away lol) Oops sorry Lisa :)
    On another note......
    The grand old duke of york,
    he had ten thousand men,
    he marched them up to the top of the hill
    and he marched them down again,
    and when they were up they were up,
    and when they were down they were down,
    and when they were only half way up they were neither up nor down. (total nonsense lol)

    So much fun teaching these to your kids and watching them start reciting and singing them to themselves when at play.

    Loved the blog of memories. You and J have a great couple of days.

  7. "Greasy Chip Butty," sung to the tune of John Denver's "Annie's Song (You Fill Up My Senses)," the theme song of Sheffield United!
    Great guest post. Keep 'em coming.

    PS If you're not allowed to feed him chip butties, she's not allowed to read him Gashlycrumb Tinies. Until he's 8 or so.

  8. Good golly no wonder Lisa loves you so much! Great post Nick.

    Below is a letter I wrote to my best friend when my husband and 16 y/o son left for a week to a wrestling camp over the 4th of July. The fact that I was alone really made me feel so much more aware. Do you feel more tuned in to Jordan (or for that matter, yourself) having him all to your self this weekend?

    So here goes my recent childhood memory, pardon my grammar:

    Good Morning!
    So, my vacation finally started last night at 8:22! The guys pulled out of the driveway on their way to Iowa City, IA and I poured myself a drink, made sure all the doors and windows were locked and then sat my backside down, put my feet up and did nothing on the computer for a few hours. Yesterday was a hot one, 105. As I made my way up stairs for bed I could feel the coolness settle on my arms and was happy to find my clean bedroom the coolest spot in the house. I put my jammies on and tucked my self in to a crisp, cool king-sized bed. I turned the TV on, then muted it. Picked up the book I had started earlier in the day and began to read. I heard noises.....waited a few minutes...heard them again...what the heck? I have a loaded Glock in my closet. Do I get it out already? Sheesh. The dogs don't seem alarmed yet. I walk in to the bathroom, open the tiny window to the back yard and feel the hot rush of baked summer.

    Tonight the view is not down below, but up above. The stars! Oh.....My....God.... I never get tired of that view out here in the Dakotas.....As the noise quickly happens again I let out a hot sigh of my own. It's fireworks!

    I hear a band playing across town. The song, "Midnight Confession" I can picture the whole street dance scene. I smile that I have not had to go this year! I sat at the window on my knees and rested my chin on my arms and remembered one happy day in my childhood. We moved in to a real house on the 4th of July. I had my own room!!!!!!! I was in-between 6th and 7th grade. On the edge of tomboy and teen. Life would get harder (for all of us) down the road. But that day? I was in heaven. My mom was too. We owned the American dream. A beautiful home, a Southern California night lit up with fireworks, the smell of red white and blue sparklers and the bliss of ignorance...mine. my mothers.... and all of America...Summer 1968...

    I slowly shut the window and made my way back to bed. I shut the AC off and opened my bedroom door. There are no stairs to the deck up there and we sleep most summer nights with the screen door closed and the cicadas lulling. I shut the light out just so I could hear better. And fell fast asleep to the sounds of the summers...past and present.

    This morning I am drinking coffee, sitting with two fans blowing a soft breeze at my head and watching all the chickadees and a family of blue jays run amuck over freshly filled feeders. My guy called early to say they had made it to St. Paul and were sleeping a few hours before they hit the Mall of America. I'm glad I'm not there! The mall that is....America? Now that's one dammed place I aint ever going to leave. And I pray it never leaves me....

    So this was long and not at all what you asked for. But the fact that I was alone made me so much more aware of how lucky I was to have this home, this life, this land, this family, these memories.

    Please post again! I promise not to write a book next time!

    Lynn in ND

  9. i don't know that i was ever read nursery rhymes but i remember reading them myself once i could read. we had tons of books of them, which leads me to believe they must have been read to me at some point, right? no infant memory i guess.
    and i really apprecaite your post. my husband will be 40 when our first child is born and i'm so curious about how different an experience it is at that age.

  10. This is maybe not what you're looking for but since you asked Nick, I'll answer.

    I am afraid of snakes. Desperately, violently afraid. It's dumb. I have had many young childhood encounters with snakes but I can't remember any of them inspiring terror.

    I was sure, quite positive, that before the age of 10 someone had read me a book about a snake eating a little girl alive. When I told people this is where my fear came from, they laughed at me. Who would write that book? Who would read it to me?

    I got the answer a few weeks ago. As soon as my friend mentioned in passing that she thought Shel Silverstein was a little old for her kids, I remembered: Boa Constrictor. A poem I'd read around the age of 8.

    I have good memories too but that was the one that struck me most out of the blue, a few words triggering my memory.

    Thanks a lot, Shel Silverstein.

  11. Chip butties make my life complete. I only lived in England for a year but I managed to develop quite the taste for fries in sandwiches. Mmm.

  12. This post made me so happy. Here's my story:
    When my kids were little, I bought a collection of children's rhymes and poems. One day I flipped through them and one stuck out in particular. Instead of reading it, I sang it. I don't know why, but I did. A few months later, my father overheard my son singing the song to himself while he played on the floor. He told me that my Grandma sang it to him and then to us. I didn't remember it until he reminded me.

    My little boy sat dreaming
    Upon his mommy's lap
    That all the stars up in the sky
    Fell down into his hat
    But when the dream was over
    What did the dreamer do?
    He looked into his hat and
    Found it wasn't true.

  13. Chiming in way late here, but on a trip to Canada recently I started remembering rhymes & songs my grandmother used to sing/say... Like "Polly put the kettle on" and "There was a little girl / Who had a little curl / Right in the middle of her forehead..." I can't imagine why those brain cells woke up in Canada! But it was nice--it made me think of happy times with my grandmother.

    Thanks for posting!


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