Sometimes everything has to be enscribed across the heavens so you can find the one line already written inside you. Sometimes it takes a great sky to find that small, bright, and indescribable wedge of freedom in your own heart. David Whyte

An Unpicturesque American Childhood

on October 8, 2015

When I think of my childhood I remember words and objects in the house that was home to me for my first ten years. I remember the word “Taylor Tot” though I no longer know what it refers to. I Googled the word and sure enough my stroller was a Taylor Tot. I think it is amazing that the word has remained lodged in my mind all these years. My mother wrote in the Baby Book she kept to chart my growth that one of my first spoken words was “book”. My attachment to words began at an early age. I remember the bookcase at the end of the hall that contained my comic book collection (called funny books in those days). I had three years worth of “Loony Tunes and Merry Melodies” which I eventually sold to a boy across the street for $3, a small fortune to me. I remember my copy of Kipling’s Just So Stories my dad gave me when I was three. I remember the old radio that sat on a low shelf by a window in the living room. I listened to “The Lone Ranger” around supper time every night and to “Let’s Pretend” on Saturday mornings.

I remember the ironing board in the kitchen. It was stored in a closet of its own and was pulled down like a folding bed when my mother wanted to iron. I remember the round washing machine, a tub on wheels, that connected by hose to the hot and cold water faucets of the kitchen sink. I think the brand was ABC but didn’t Google that. There was another round tub with a wringer to squeeze the clothes as dry as possible before they were hung on the clothesline in the backyard. I remember the box of Milk Bone Dog Biscuits in the kitchen pantry closet on a shelf I could reach if I stood on a little step stool. I often sneaked one for a snack. I Googled “Milk Bone” and the brand is still in existence. When my siblings and I gathered six decades later to find our old house it was still there. The funny ironing board was just the same, as were other things we collectively remembered. Coming home to 1933 Lexington Avenue was a magical moment.

The scent I remember most from my childhood was the strong, head-clearing smell of Vicks Vaporub. I had serious asthma attacks years before there were inhalers. My mother rubbed my chest with Vicks and hung a flannel square from a ribbon around my neck that covered my chest to prolong the effects of the Vicks. She melted Vicks in a metal measuring cup for me to sniff the fumes. Both were intended to break up congestion. I reeked of Vicks Vaporub but remember the smell with thanksgiving because of the relief it brought me.

My favorite food memory was eating watermelon. My mother put me, along with my sisters, in the bathtub wearing only my underpants so the juices could dribble off my chin without getting on my pinafore. I also remember my mother’s sewing machine and watching her make wonderful dresses for my sisters and me. When she died my sisters said I should have the sewing machine since they both had one. I liked the idea of sewing but gave my mother’s old Singer sewing machine to my son who enjoyed sewing billowy pants like those worn by men in Middle Eastern countries.

6 responses to “An Unpicturesque American Childhood

  1. J Lapis says:

    I too remember the Vicks!! Amazing and wonderful that “book” was among your earliest words–prophetic! What did the dog biscuits taste like??

    • vivachange77 says:

      I thought they were like a cereal. Thanks for your gracious correction on the spelling of Vicks. 🙂

      • J Lapis says:

        Oh–on the spelling–I’m not sure where you reside, so I just thought it was a different spelling than I was familiar with, not intending to correct 🙂
        I remember once reaching into a bag of fertilizer, thinking it was white rice (hungry childhood).

  2. vivachange77 says:

    Your spelling was fortuitous. I corrected my post before it is sent out as a Daily Digest in the morning. I lived in Houston, Texas until I was ten years old. I feel sad knowing you had a hungry childhood.

  3. Watermelon is the bathtub! I love it. We ate watermelon outside, leaning over, and spitting seeds into the grass. But then, I grew up on a farm and we had lots of grass.
    Your memory photos are priceless. Good job.

    • vivachange77 says:

      I think spitting seeds in the grass was preferable. I wonder what my mother did about seeds in the bathtub. Thanks for your comment. I enjoy prompts that lead me back to experiences I haven’t thought of in years.

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