For lack of better things to do, I have been taking a walk down memory lane recently and, without meaning to, have stumbled upon a number of memories that I had pretty much forgotten. So, for your reading (dis)pleasure: vignettes of weird, mostly unpleasant stuff that really happened.
We first moved to NC when I was nine. We were moving into a house that sat right off of a really busy road and even before we arrived my mom would worry loudly and often about living so close to a road with that much traffic because she had so many young children. Our move consisted of a three day trek across the country and we were all SO SICK of being in the car by the end that we thought we would kill one another if we didn’t get out soon. We pulled into the driveway of our new house and everyone jumped out. We were so grateful to stretch our aching legs and say hello to our grandparents who were waiting for us that we stood in the driveway for a few minutes. We literally had not even gone inside the house yet when all of a sudden we witnessed a semi-aggressive car crash. Everyone was okay, but they had been going very quickly, one of the cars was in pretty bad shape, it had been SO LOUD, and it literally happened right in front of our driveway where we were all standing not three minutes after moving in. Never has my mom ever had a bigger I TOLD YOU SO moment in my living memory. Funny enough, it was the only wreck we ever saw in the five years we lived there.
A number of years later we were pulling up after co-op one afternoon and a car that no one recognized was sitting in our driveway. It immediately started to back out.
“Oh, that’s awkward” I said, “They pulled in to turn around right as we got home.”
Just then some guys came running out of the garden (where my dad’s truck was still parked from dumping manure) and jumped into the car. It sped off. After a little investigation we realized they had sawed the catalytic converter off of his truck and stolen it. If we had hit fewer red lights on the way, would we have gotten home in time to stop this from happening? They hadn’t even tried to go into the house as far as anyone could tell, but it had us all solidly rattled and feeling vulnerable for several months after.
That same house had a big, open, two acre yard right in the middle of the city. The yard didn’t have any fences and I guess for a while the neighborhood kids had been using the biggest part of the yard as an empty lot where they would meet up to play football. Turns out, even after we moved in, they still felt like it was their right to meet up in our yard and play football. They never invited us to play. They didn’t ask for permission to be there. They just played. After it happened a few times my mom went out to talk to them about respecting other people’s property, but in the end she told them it was okay to keep playing IF they asked for permission next time and made sure to be respectful. After that they would sometimes ask before playing, sometimes they wouldn’t. Then, one day, we didn’t realize they were out there and we let the dog out to go pee. She weighed all of five pounds and her big pointy ears comprised 2/3 of her body mass, but she was a fierce protector and ran out into the far part of the yard to bark at the intruder. She wasn’t a biter and I guess in the kid’s defense, he didn’t know that. But also he would have known if he ever bothered to befriend the dog of the yard he felt like he was entitled to play in. Either way, she spooked one of the kids and he yelled at her and then reared back and pretended to kick her across the yard. He made a big show of punting her. Oh boy, that was a mistake. My mom saw and gave the kid an earful and told the boys that if that was how they were going to treat our dog in OUR yard, they were no longer welcome to play in the field.
It’s probably unrelated, but all of the trees in our front yard were TPed like two days later.
And then a little while after that our car got egged (no great loss in value there, though. It was a bright red fifteen passenger van that still had the faint outline of a removed stencil that read Faith Presbyterian Church on the side of it).
A while after that our tires got slashed. That one hurt a little more.
A while after that someone slingshotted — that’s the real past tense of that word, by the way, I looked it up — they slingshotted a rock through my mom’s second story bedroom window while she and I were watching a movie in there. At first we thought someone had shot the window (lol we had clearly never heard a gunshot up close before) but the rock came through with such force that the glass shards flew the full length of the room. Afraid, we crawled out and hid in the windowless hallway for a while until we felt like it was safe to investigate what happened. That’s when we found the rock in the room along with a small pile of similarly sized rocks sitting in the driveway below the window.
Obviously there is no way of knowing if all of that stuff was the result of my mom scolding one kid who was a dick to our dog, but it doesn’t seem too far fetched. Who else would have it in for us?
The fire place in that same house didn’t work. Something about it being too shallow, I don’t remember. So we closed the flue and used it to store a big, open tub of blocks instead (when you have a lot of kids and not a lot of space, everything becomes a place to store toys) . One summer, the living room positively stank. I mean it reeked. We cleaned, we hunted for the source of the smell, we cleaned again, we aired the room out, but nothing was helping the gag-worthy odor and we couldn’t figure out for the life of us what was causing it. Then one day my mom instructed us to go grab the tub of blocks from the quarantined living room and bring them to the kitchen to play with while she read aloud to us. We dumped the blocks out on the floor and after a few minutes we started to notice little white things mixed in with the toys. Upon further examination, they turned out to be maggots. Big time gross. My dad went and opened the flue and out fell the mostly clean skeleton of a little animal (I can’t remember now if it was a squirrel or a bird) that had fallen down our chimney and died there. I still get goose bumps on the rare occasion that the memory comes hurtling back into my mind.
The house we lived in from the time I was born until I was seven was entirely carpeted, including the kitchen and bathroom. That’s it. That’s the whole memory. Terrifying, right? Dropping food or overflowing the toilet were big frickin’ deals with gross, long-lasting consequences. Whoever designed that needed slapped.
When I was eight or so we lived on this little farm in the middle of nowhere that honestly was the literal worst and probably the source of most of my hatred of nature to this day. Even as a kid I was a diva (hard to imagine, I know). Early that summer there was some kind of plague-like moth infestation, not just of our house, but of the entire countryside. Hundreds of them. Thousands of them (or so it seemed). It was all we could do to kill them and it was impossible to keep them out. I don’t know if you’ve ever killed so many moths with a fly swatter that you could distinctly see and smell their guts and the powdery stuff on their wings smeared everywhere, but it is a super unpleasant experience. Not to mention the horror of getting them caught in your hair.
We needed a more efficient way to kill them. One day someone had the idea to leave water in the kitchen sink and leave the light on above it overnight. The moths would be drawn to the light reflected in the water, fly to it, and drown themselves (it was some siren/sailor bullshit, but we were desperate). It actually worked! It must have killed hundreds of them the first night. You couldn’t even see the top of the water through all the little moth corpses. Which, of course, meant someone had to then stick their hand into the pool of dead moth bodies and pull out the drain. I don’t want to throw my parents under the bus here or anything, but it was rarely mom or dad who drained the moth massacre each morning to clean the sink and, yes, it has come up in therapy.
Side note about that little farm house, it ALSO had carpet in the kitchen (fortunately not the bathroom though). Once again, terrible design.
While on the farm, we and the neighbor kids (the family who owned the farm and let us live in the little house next door) were responsible for collecting dry cow patties for kindling every now and then. Our house didn’t have central heating and relied mainly on a wood burning stove for warmth (ask me sometime about wearing seven pairs of pajamas and a hat to bed to stay warm in the winter). Often while out in the field, we would toe a patty to make sure it was dry and not stuck to the ground, and then we’d kick it around while we worked. It was gross but fun.
We could go pretty much anywhere we wanted, but weirdly, that field also had this giant mud pit that never seemed to run dry and we had been instructed to never go into it. It was such a big, beautiful pit of mud though, it looked perfect for stomping through. One day, despite the instructions not to, I decided I would stomp through it instead of around it. Who would know? It’s not like my mom could see me from the house. About halfway across the pit, the mud proved stickier than it had originally looked and it suctioned my little boot off of my foot. I wobbled, I waved, I tottered (enjoying the thrill and drama of making a big show of almost falling so the other kids would worry for me) and then I lost my balance for real and fell all the way in. I was absolutely covered from head to toe. I realized then that it seemed likely that mom would know I had gone in the mud after all.
I returned home contrite. When mom saw me she had plenty to say about it. She scolded me thoroughly for my disobedience and stripped me to my underwear while standing in the mudroom. Once I was naked, clothed in nothing but dry and caking mud and my shame, she decided to inform me that a good portion of that mud was actually cow shit and she hoped I remembered that the next time I wanted to disobey.
Well played mom, well played.
As a child, I once spent an afternoon with my siblings and a few friends picking crab apples from the tree in my grandmother’s yard. I had climbed pretty high up when something heavy hit me in the head. I looked up, surprised and hurt, to yell at whoever had kicked me, but no one was there. Weird. A few minutes later a rather cross and very tubby squirrel jumped on my hand, ran up my arm, and leapt off my shoulder again. It happened so quickly I barely saw it and almost wouldn’t have believed it had actually happened except he left me with two deep, long scratches up the back of my hand and extending onto my wrist/arm to remember him by.
Growing up we always checked out mountains of library books at a time on a nearly weekly basis (the librarians actually removed the checkout limit on my mom’s card because we always had more than we could get and they got tired of telling us to put books back). We were each responsible for keeping up with the books we borrowed and had to pay the fines if we racked up a late fee. One summer my mom told me an American Girl book I had borrowed was missing and I needed to search for it. I told her we had returned it. She told me there was a mounting fee on her card, and I must have overlooked the book so I needed to stop what I was doing and find it. I tore apart (and then had to put back together) every room of the house and still the book was nowhere to be found. I was in big trouble.
Where is the book, Sierra? You need to take better care of your stuff (totally true, but I was sure I had returned it). I was grounded from checking out more books until it was found (lol what a little nerd punishment) but weeks passed and it still didn’t turn up. Finally, my mom and I went to the library so I could purchase the book I had clearly lost forever, that way I would be able to check books out again. While explaining that the book had been lost, my mom happened to mention that I still maintained that the book had been returned. The librarian offered to double-check for us and WOULDN’T YOU KNOW IT Molly Saves the Day was there on the shelf where it belonged, it just hadn’t been scanned when it was returned. Boy was I smug. But the librarian just laughed it off while she removed the fine from my mom’s card. She said it was a “silly mistake” that “just happens sometimes” as though she could flippantly dismiss the fact that her sloppy check-in skills had caused me weeks of torment and gotten me grounded from the library for half the summer.
In the years that followed, whenever a book went missing I was always quick to accuse the librarians, but as it turns out, it was always genuinely misplaced in the house somewhere after that (ask me sometime about the twenty-something dollar fine I had to pay once because my baby sister got creative with where she stashed a Fancy Nancy book for the better part of a year).
There are more stories, I’m sure, but these are the ones I’ve been ruminating on. It’s funny to think of all of the little traumatic moments that seemed so big when they happened that are now a small pieces of the larger blur of childhood. They are memories that only leap into focus when they are deliberately called to mind now. Then they swirl back into the indistinguishable mass of what was.
I hope you enjoyed.
Until next time,