I went to a gathering of alumni from my high school on Sunday. I was driving the back way from Baton Rouge – the way that I always drove to Baton Rouge from Watson as a teenage girl – and I realized I didn’t know where to turn to get to Clay’s party. Clay lives up past Watson on one of the bar pits, and he has gatherings all the time for the original Watson gang and the new friends they’ve made over the years. It’s a town small enough that when Clay has a party, you don’t need an invitation. And, if you did, I don’t know if Clay would know how to do those computer email invites that everybody uses these days. His invites are word of mouth, and I actually got a personal invite from the man himself.
I called my brother Terry and asked where I should turn to get to Clay’s. He said, “You remember where that old black church was right next to Dean and Ray’s place on 16?”
“No, Terry,” I said. “I don’t remember that.”
“Do you remember where Dean and Ray’s place was on the river?”
“Well, I do in my mind, but nothing looks the same. I don’t recognize anything,” I answered. “Can you just tell me any landmark? Is it past those casinos?” I asked. He couldn’t think of anything. Luckily, they put a sign out at the end of the road and I saw it just as I was about to throw my phone out the window.
I’ve done this a hundred times since I’ve been here. People give directions based on the way things looked 30 years ago. The problem is that the roads are now 4 lanes, and all of the old stuff is interspersed with the new. That’s the way my brain feels right now adapting to this place. I have this really weird mix of the old and the new that keeps jerking me back and forth from the past to the present. It’s a little disorienting at times. It’s just like Barbra Streisand describes in her song Memories. She calls them scattered pictures.
Memories light the corner of my mind.
Misty water color memories
Of the way we were.
Scattered pictures of the smiles we left behind,
Smiles we gave to one another
For the way we were.
Can it be that it was all so simple then,
Or has time rewritten every line?
If we had the chance to do it all again,
Tell me? would we? could we?
Memories may be beautiful and yet,
What’s too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget.
So it’s the laughter
We will remember,
Whenever we remember
The way we were;
The way we were.
A friend of mine mentioned Fun Fair Park the other day. Wow! I had forgotten all about that place. The minute he said it, I got a visual of what it looked like. Memories of Fun Fair Park and listening to bands there as teenagers and riding the rides as kids came flooding back. It was as if a dam had been built in my brain to separate the past memories of Fun Fair Park from the present day. A pinhole pierced the dam, and all of a sudden a hurtling rush of memories came flowing over the top, and I didn’t have the bandwidth to even process them in the moment.
The first thing I saw was a concert we went to one night when I was in high school. I remember getting dressed. It seems there was some guy that I wanted to see, and I had this favorite pair of red jeans that I loved to wear. I paired it with a bright red tube top that was so popular at the time and topped it off with an opaque gauze top. It was one of my favorite tops. It was that button down gauzy hippie-style top that was long and baggy. It reminded me of those gauzy embroidered Mexican dresses you buy down on the Mexican border but it was all white. I wore my hair in a big curly afro, and I loved heavy makeup – the bolder the better. I remembered getting dressed in that as plain as day. I remembered walking through the park next to the roller coaster. I don’t remember much else about it. It must have been cooler because I had on jeans. Who knows if I even ran into the guy of the moment?
This week, I drove past the old Kornmeyers Furniture building, and I was transported on another memory avalanche. Kornmeyer’s had windows all around the building that they would decorate like different rooms – dining rooms, bedrooms, living rooms, etc. My cousin Marilyn, Momma and us kids would go to Baskin Robbins (which is also still in its same location) and get ice cream. We’d take our ice cream and ride around the Kornmeyer’s building to look at the furnishings. It was a big night on the town for us poor country folk. One particular night, we saw a streaker run past the big plate glass window in Baskin Robbins. It was pretty exciting for a young gal from Watson. I texted my sister and asked if she remembered going to Baskin Robbins, and the first thing she said was, “Do you remember the streaker?” I always got Pralines ‘n Cream. My sister always got Rocky Road.
I’ve lived away for more than 30 years. So much of this place and my younger days was locked away in my brain. Every now and then I might think of something that happened, but I never had visual stuff to jog my memory. My parents moved out of the town we grew up in, and I just never went back for about 20 years. Over the past 6 months or so I’ve been getting back in touch with old friends and going back to my hometown for events. When a memory gets triggered, it’s as if there’s a ribbon tied to that initial memory. The more I pull on it and talk about it, the more stuff comes back. One name or a vivid description or funny story is mentioned, and something else is gently pulled out. They are all connected in some way. Other times it’s like the dam bursting where a flood of memories comes all at once. I think the brain is so interesting. It stores these long term memories, and they can resurface even after being buried for so long.
Childhood memories are the first memories. The brain is a blank slate when they are made, so they are the first trenches in the knowledge bank. In Educational Psychology, I learned that we learn by assimilating information along the same pathways that already exist. In a simplistic sense, we take in information like a stream takes on rainwater. If there is already a stream there, and the water fits, it will follow the stream. But, if the water doesn’t fit or it’s headed in a different direction, it may have to make a new path. The new path is never as deeply ingrained as the old stream bed. Our brains are like that, but it’s not the water that’s different, it’s our brain that decides if the information fits in this branch or another one. So, those childhood memories are those deeply dug stream beds that create our brain’s wiring structure. Those memories come back strong and quickly. They are not forgotten easily.
I guess if I had not moved away, I would have seen things change gradually, and the impact of this resurgence of memories would not be so dramatic. It’s kind of fun to have it hit me like this. It keeps things interesting. I find myself texting people and saying, “Do you remember….???” I’m enjoying it. I wonder what else I might remember tomorrow. I can’t wait. It’s almost like a new show everyday…. lighting the corners of my mind.