I fold four large blankets in half on the floor, help each of the kids get settled in, then turn out the light. We all sleep in the same room when we go to Maile’s parents’ house for the holidays, and I have to admit that there’s something nice about all being there together, everyone accounted for. I often come in late, after everyone is asleep, gingerly walk among the sprawling bodies, then fall asleep listening to the hum of the fan and the quiet, gentle sound of their breathing.
“Daddy, what do you remember about me from when I was little?” Lucy asks. She is our family historian, our rememberer.
I have to think hard. She is eight, and so many thoughts have passed through my brain since she was tiny, so many memories and worries and years. They get caught in there, all of those things, like debris too large to fit through a fine sieve. I shake it around. I see what falls through.
“You used to like it when Cade crawled over you,” I say, suddenly remembering an image of two littles on the floor of a small house in England. Cade, only 16 months older than Lucy, wasn’t very careful around her, but she laughed and laughed, lying on her back as he bowled her over.
They giggle there on the floor as I tell them about it. I sit on the edge of the bed. It all seems not so long ago.
“What about me, Dad?” Sammy asks. “What about me when I was little?”
We all laugh, because we always tell the same story about Sam, how when he was little the rest of us were in the living room watching a movie. There was a crash, and we ran into his room, and he was standing there, outside of his crib, holding on to two bars that he had managed to break off. He quickly ran back and crawled in through the gap in the bars, then sat in his crib, looking up at us as if to say, What? What did I do?
I tell the story again, even though we all know it, and the kids giggle and Sammy is embarrassed, but he still smiles.
Behind my smile I’m remembering how difficult that time was, when we had first come back from Virginia to Pennsylvania, when I was trying to make my way as a writer. Those years when we had to decide at the end of the month which bills to pay and which to hold our breath about. Those years when, let’s be honest, I often felt like an irresponsible loser who didn’t know how to operate in this world, this culture.
Those were difficult years, but the kids want to remember them, so we do.
We pass the time that way, telling stories, the rain tapping on the glass, Thanksgiving only two days away.
* * * * *
There’s something powerful about remembering. Remembering where we’ve come from, where we’ve been. Sometimes, when we forget who we are, the most helpful thing we can do is remember the road we’ve already traveled. There’s much to be thankful for, and much to be bitter about, if we so choose. There were the days we thought that life couldn’t get much better, and the days when we honestly wouldn’t have complained if death came and took us early.
Such is life. And unless we take time to remember, we lose our perspective, like a boat lost at sea without any reference point. Like a man lost in the forest, unable to see the stars.
Their little voices echo in my mind.
Daddy, what do you remember?
* * * * *
Today, I’m over at Pilar Arsenec’s blog answering all kinds of questions about writing. You can check out that interview HERE.