“I’m going to paddleboard at the lake this weekend, I’m so excited!” The grocery store lady told me as she loaded the groceries into the back of the car.
“Oh fun! What lake?”
She froze for a split second and looked at me with her face all scrunched in confusion and I felt a little like a time traveler or something that just asked what a computer is.
I grew up here. Just down the road about a mile and a half. I lived the first 20 years of my life here. And then I moved to California for another 20 years and now I’m not from here anymore. All the local references have been wiped from my brain. I remember none of my life here. I don’t remember any of the local things, lexicons, street names. All gone. But I can distinctly remember what the lilacs in my grandma’s garden smelled like. And the feeling of the butterfly landing on my bare thigh when I was 5. I remember what a crawdad feels like when you pick it up out of the creek and the itchy feeling of wild grass hitting your bare shins in the summer. I remember the way an early Saturday morning in springtime smells and the way the mountains look on a clear day. I remember picking those little navy colored berries out of evergreen bushes and getting tiny, microscopic splinters in your thumb. I remember the smell of Leah Farrell’s basement. I remember the afghan Mrs. Teemsley had on her couch that day we found out where she lived after the principal died, and asked to hang out with her for a while. I remember the dried food on the black wrought iron chandelier that hung in the house my mom was renting. I remember the clogs I was wearing when I was 3 and I remember stretching my legs out straight ahead of me on the couch so everyone would see the heels on the clogs when I was having my picture taken in the den. I remember hanging out at the bowling alley with all the other kids whose dads were in a league and making hickeys on our necks with those rubber poppy things from the vending machines. And then in the summer, I remember hanging out at the softball fields with all the other kids whose dads were on softball teams and buying candy from the snack tent thing and hiding under the bleachers and getting sand stuck to my sticky fingers. I remember telling Heather Staroscik I was allergic to water because I didn’t want to run through the sprinkles and I remember watching “V” at the sitters house waiting for my mom to come pick us up.
“I thought you were from here” someone will always say.
I am and yet I don’t know how to make that relevant. My memories don’t include anything practical, unless twisting your ankle in a snake hole is practical. I remember the way my pink room would turn peach in the early morning sun. I remember reading Huckleberry Finn on my bed looking down the hallway to the stairs. I remember thinking I would remember that precise moment for no other reason but to see if I could. I remember trying to fly off the fireplace and I remember thinking it was possible if I thought about it hard enough. I remember eating a walnut from a glass dish at Christmastime and hating it and having nowhere to spit it out. I remember reading a book in the living room about a ghost while it rained outside and I remember the way the turquoise and red line printed on a shampoo bottle jumped into each other when you looked too close. I remember the feel of the knitted blinds in my parents’ bedroom and I remember prank calling 911. I remember where I was when Freddie Mercury died (in the backyard playing paddle ball with my sister) and I remember where I was when Ronald Reagan was shot. I was at someone’s grandma’s house. I think. The house was blue. I remember that my 4th grade teacher moved to the United States when she was a little girl and learned to speak English by watching Sesame Street and reading comic books. I remember the smell of her perfume.
Isn’t it like that with everyone, though? Who could possibly remember the name of the street some lake is on? The name of the video store that sold beta and vhs? Where the fish store was that smelled like cigarettes. I just realized that the cigarette smell is so much a part of my memory of it, that I expect fish stores to just smell that way. And I suppose they do not.
And if I’m no longer a local because I don’t remember where the haunted farm was or that it even existed until I got lost one time trying to get to the Butterfly Pavilion and happened upon it, where do these memories belong? I know the wild grasses and snake holes were in the field behind my house, but that particular field isn’t this vast space full of my childhood anymore, but only a small strip of overgrown land behind some houses I barely recognize. Or it was last I drove past it. I don’t like going over there anymore.
So no, grocery lady, I don’t know what lake you’re talking about, but it sounds really fun. And I’m going to nod my head and pretend I knew of a second lake that’s even cooler than your lake and I was making sure we were thinking of the same lake. You know, so I look cool. Like a local.