As a PK, preacher’s kid, I moved every few years. Last weekend, I became aware that, in writing memoir, I rarely address my past peripatetic life. And now I have a fresh reason to at least jot some memory prompts for later stories on the place where I lived from age nine to twelve: Lafayette, Indiana.
It’s been fifty-eight years since my family moved to Michigan from that white bungalow at 820 Salem Street, and I’ve been back to visit only a handful of times. A few weeks ago, Marv and I got an invitation to a fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration of a grade school friend, who later introduced me to Marv on our first day at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Our immediate response was, “Let’s go.”
My mind got buzzing. If we went early, we could make the rounds of places I wanted to see. I spent over an hour staring at a Mapquest street map to see if I remembered how to get from my house on Salem to the two schools I attended, to the church where my dad was the minister, and to the pool where I spent my summers with a visit afterwards to the Frozen Custard stand, the “oldest drive-in in town” serving ‘the first, the best, the original” thick, creamy ball of frozen custard.
After charging my camera battery, I was ready for this trip down memory lane, not realizing I’d come back with even more memories. Walk along with me to see how photos from one’s past can serve as memory joggers for later story writing.
My house at 820 Salem Street now:
Standing on the sidewalk to take this picture, I instantly remembered dusting the curlicue legs on the dining room table and chairs in the dining room on the left (and hating it) and learning about the birds and the bees from my mother sitting in the sunroom on the right.
When I went up the steps, I saw the house was vacant with a No Trespassing sign on the door.
My house at 820 Salem Street then:
The cement curbs edging the driveway are gone now, but, when my older sisters started driving, I remember they had trouble backing up the car to fit between them. I can still see a rear tire aloft on one curb and the car at an angle until the tire skidded down to the ramp.
We took many pictures of us on the front steps. I loved this black plaid, pleated corduroy skirt, one of the many skirts, blouses, and dresses my mother sewed for all four of us girls.
The backyard of my house now:
The smallness of the yard startled me! My mother’s peony bushes use to be far away in the corner, and my guppies had to be somewhere in the forefront of this picture. I’d buried them near the driveway in a cardboard cylinder with a metal lid. If I dug, I thought, the metal cover would still be there!
The backyard of my house then:
I guess my yard felt so big because I was so small and it was not encased in a fence. And, since we lived there, the white house in the background must have been turned into an apartment building, because there is now that dark red outside staircase to the back of the second floor.
The side door of my house now:
I had to take this picture because my sisters talk about how one sister used this door in some covert way to cover for another sister coming home from a date. Shady stuff, I might add, that they pulled off without my folks ever finding out and that they never wanted their kids (or grandkids) to find out about either.
The side door of my house then:
In seventh grade, I collected these dolls–skinny ladies, dressed in long satin costumes with fancy feather hats–that came in a box, whatever they were called. I think we got them free with grocery receipts.
You can barely see the black coal chute to the right of my dolls. I tried to see if I could find it under the more recent greenery, but the vines were too thick to separate without calling attention to myself next to the No Trespassing sign on the door.
With them in hand, though, I wanted to compare the present with the past. My childhood album was stored for posterity in a storage locker in our building, so I nicely begged Marv for help, luckily, because the album turned out to be the bottom box in the back of the locker. He had to remove at least ten boxes to get to it. But, I know he’s happy when he sees what fun I’m having digging up new memories!
Next week, in Part 2, I’ll talk about what I discovered in our visit to my childhood church and schools. Later, I’ll wind up Part 3 reminiscing about Frozen Custard and saying more about using photos in writing memoir.
Meanwhile, plan a trip back to the home or homes of your childhood…