Just finished reading Michael Ondaatje's The Cat's Table, a beautiful, quiet, and sometimes unsettling evocation of childhood memories from a three-week sea journey from Sri Lanka to London, the events of which still weigh heavy in the narrator's mind.
Made me think of my own childhood.
March 1950, Farmington, New Mexico
In what eventually will become our hometown, for three days running, good citizens report seeing flying saucers. Between eleven and noon each day, hundreds of the alien craft thrill builders and teachers, cooks and civil servants, farmers and trading-post operators.
I was born seven months before the aliens were reported in Farmington. John was born fourteen months after their coming.
I have never seen a flying saucer. Nor, to my knowledge, did John.
September 1954, Paonia, Colorado
The little engine keeps leaving the tracks to frolic in meadows. Flowers snagged in his wheels betray him. Pedagogical engineers hide in a meadow and jump up with red flags when he turns their way. He gives up frolicking, stays on the tracks, and grows into a good puller-of-trains.
I put down my Golden Book to watch flatcars stacked with fruit boxes rattle past our log house. My mother leads me across the street to a warehouse. She knocks at a side door. It slides open. She passes her warm bread and a pot of steaming pinto beans through the opening to a dark-eyed woman holding a brown-skinned baby at her breast.
1956, Montpelier, Idaho
My friend Bernie shows me the litter of birth-wet puppies under his front porch. Their father, he says . . . my dad said their father was a dead daddy horse.
1957, Montpelier, Lincoln Elementary School
Pots, rings, or chase. We lay out our games of marbles on the playground. I drop my winnings into a blue-and-white-striped bag Mom made from a leg of a pair of overalls. It grows fat and heavy. I knot the drawstring carefully.
When I’m not playing marbles, I watch a girl with patent-leather shoes swing so high the chains go slack. Her shoes flash in the sun. Her black hair flies in the wind. She knows I watch her.
Mrs. Sharp has enrolled us in a reading contest. We write titles and authors’ names on lined paper. I speed through dozens of little paperbacks. My list grows and grows. Mrs. Sharp awards me a round steel medal engraved with my name and the number of books I have read: 129.
1960, Farmington, New Mexico
If it weren’t for our fierce soccer games on Ladera del Norte’s dirt field, I would gladly skip lunch to sit in class where our teacher reads another chapter of Little Britches. He’s tough. Determined. Good with horses. Ingenious. Saves his wages.