Last night I was finishing the new book “My Life in Middlemarch” by Rebecca Mead. In it she was discussing childhood memories and how we tend to best remember the beautiful, pastoral things of our childhood – tending to suppress the muddy fields and darker events. She said something that really resonated with me. She said that we remember the beauty of childhood because that is the part of our lives where we “became human”. This reminded me of one of my favorite Roland Barthes quotes, from the essay called “The Light of the Sud-Ouest”. Barthes says this:
“…childhood is the royal road by which we know a country best. Ultimately, there is no Country but childhood’s“.
The reason these quotations resonate so strongly for me is because, now in my 50’s, I do exactly what Mead says that all of us do. I think back about my childhood in Inglewood California and I remember playing “hide and seek” on my block of Condon Avenue; working in the back yard garden, with my dad, because he promised to take us to “Bob’s Big Boy” for dinner; climbing over the back fence into Ladera Park, via the well positioned lemon tree; Rabbi Soloff praising me in Hebrew School for trying to do “sleep learning” by listening to my Torah portion via a pillow speaker as I slept; visiting with my neighbor, across the street, who’s garage was filled with a giant ANALOG computer; camping with the Cub Scouts and the Indian Guides; playing handball on the courts at La Tijera Elementary School; Shopping at Henshey’s and Builders Emporium and hanging out at “Pizza Palace” (thanks, just today, to my Facebook friends); schlepping around the neighborhood kids in mom’s maroon and white Buick Skylark; sailing to Catalina Island on weekends with the Eddy’s; swimming in the Nelson’s pool; playing basketball with my uncle Mel and his kids in the driveway after Thanksgiving dinner; visiting grandma Bea in Santa Monica; turning one of my bathrooms into a darkroom at the age of 11 or 12; the “Chicken Kiev” at my Bar Mitzvah luncheon; the time my poor old dog Coco got hit by a car and broke her leg and I sat with her under my dad’s desk; the old Philco black and white TV in my bedroom and the 25 foot long-wire antenna I hung out that bedroom window for my Heathkit Shortwave radio; sending off receptions reports to the shortwave stations “Radio Moscow” and “Radio Peking“, and how I got the QSL cards back in envelopes that had been opened and had numbers written under their flaps; watching Apollo 11 land on the moon at the Baffa’s house because THEY had a color TV and watching cartoons and the Rose Parade (!) on our first color set; and on and on and on. It all seems really wonderful as long as I suppress (repress?) the memories about being teased for my “coke bottle bottom” glasses and the fact that I was the shyest, lowest self-esteem, kid I knew.
But, that is exactly Rebecca Mead’s point. Becoming human is such a significant part of youth that it’s easy to idealize that youth. I think it’s possible that we could more easily wrestle with, and dispel, that which we suppress and which ultimately makes adult life more difficult, if we did not do that. But, at the same time, I rather like thinking back on the good things.
Besides, it makes Facebook a hell of a lot more fun!