“When she was there, she had not loved it enough” (Pachinko 239)
My mother says that I cried when we left “my little red house,” the first place I lay my head after the hospital. That’s it up there. It’s not far from where I’m writing this. In the late 90s, I even lived a few blocks from it. Still, I haven’t driven by it in at least thirty years.
It’s just north of the highway, but then again most of everything in the town is now. It had a low chain link fence, probably, and humble dimensions. One rectangle. No nooks or wings. When I looked it up on Google maps, I saw that simplest humblest of destinations — one of innumerable grey blocks. Like a little Lego that cannot be anything at all on its own. You can walk from the front to the back door in seven or eight steps. I imagine. I don’t remember much, and there’s little in the boxes of family photos that could jar any memory.
The family camera broke when I was born. They didn’t realize it until they developed the film, returning from the one-man booth in the parking lot of the mall to the little red house with an envelope of muddied prints, multiple images purpling one another on each glossy page, a date clear in the frame of each deep dark unreadable mass. The coffee-brown cellophane strips in the subpocket as always.
Surprisingly, mercifully, we have a few photos from back then, from there. They’re all black & white.
In my favorite of those photos, I’m in the backyard, almost two years old. My brothers, I know from other pictures taken that day, are on the swing set. I’m looking directly into the camera, my cheeks filling the hand-me-down hoodie on this cold spring morning. My lips are parted (in speech, in wonder, in exhaustion?).
Below the frame my left arm is in a cast, broken in a fall two weeks earlier while we were jumping on the bed. They took me to the doctor’s because I kept fainting — they took X-rays just in case I had swallowed something. My mother, out of the X-ray frame, no weighted apron to protect her, had to hold my shoulders flush against the cold clean metal, propping me up in case I fainted again. By chance, my left arm fell into the X-ray eye for one shot, the one showing the clean compound break.
You can’t see my broken arm in the photo, and I can’t see the backyard in Google. I could probably navigate the Google Earth eye into the backyard if I wanted to, could pivot and zoom in for a glimpse of something to jar my memory.
What I have instead — dimming greys, this black & white photo, of me alone (rare for a middle child of five). A record of my mother’s love. Her hands on the camera, ignoring her other boys for a split second, a morning at play behind my little red house.
13 responses to “first home.”
“Like a little Lego that cannot be anything at all on its own.” — this imagery. Chef’s kiss. Love the memories and at the same time impersonal-ness of finding your home on Google Earth. A powerful juxtaposition.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks for the kind words again! Over the years, I’ve found myself looking at google maps a lot
Maggie Smith did it with amazing power here https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/04/style/modern-love-end-of-marriage-google-maps.html
This writing is remarkable. I kept coming back to the craft moves used in the first paragraph. Each sentence makes me pause and look and imagine. Wow. And, then the weight of some of the lines, “The family camera broke when I was born.” It had me thinking about the sense of loss, of being undocumented and all the implications of this.
I am so glad that you are here sharing your craft.
Thank you so much for your kind words & encouragement:)
LikeLiked by 1 person
“cheeks filling the hand-me-down hoodie” — one of many evocative and moving images. and the amazing story of your left arm randomly coming into frame to capture the break! Sometimes I wish we’d all had our childhoods captured in the time of iphones, so we could hear our little voices and see every corner of the homes we lived in at every stage — but your piece shows the wonder and beauty of not always knowing. thank you for sharing!
You took me right into this time and place. I love the connection you make at the end with your mother. Thank for sharing
Thank you! As a parent myself, I’ve got a lens that I didn’t have on sooooo much from back then, so yeah, I thought a lot about my out-of-the-frame mom here : )
Great writing! I love the imagine you create in my mind of the photo of you. Photos really are all about the memory that goes with them.
It’s always interesting how connected we can be to place, and time, and memory.
When I can, I like to drive by the first home I remember. I have a similar memory of a backyard experience, but there are no pictures to verify it, just my faulty memory. This is a wonderful slice that brought me on my own trip down memory house lane.
Aw thank you, hello to your memory house 🙂
Your craft moves are abundant. I love the juxtaposition of an old photo with Google Earth dives, a mother’s love with the Pachinko quote. Just stunning.
Coming from you (having just read your dishwasher piece), that is *high* praise. Thank you so much!