Escape from NJ —
23 Aug 1997 06:46:12 -0700
& Country RV Park; Sikeston, Arkansas :: 21 AUG 97
Some strange bug met unholy purple death on my RV. Evidence
of this is a 4 cm huckleberry splat mark visible every time I check the
side view mirror. I can't imagine what kind of bug could leave such a
vivid stain, and yet leave no visible body parts. Squadrons of dragonflies
end their flittering forays suddenly wherever the truck and trailer pass,
as do the papery membraned butterflies that will flutter by no more. Some
leave a dollop of yellow-green goo and often a few remnants of wing, body
or leg but none of them leave behind vivid wet splats. Tomorrow morning
I'll have to remove the purple splot, if only to avert my mind from the
tumultuous carnage of the world's pretty flying beasts resulting directly
from my wish to retrace a long-decommissioned highway.
But where was I before this diversion following a diversion
about a diversion? Ahh, yes, Ontario and those self-impressed Torontonians.
21:45 Cuivre River State Park; Troy, Missouri :: 22
So let's try to finish this thought off. First, a recap of past
journal entries: You've heard all about atrocious far-northern Ontario
roadways that cuisinart RV interiors, and I've already spent some time
on Val D'Or and camping two nights in a Canadian Tire parking lot. Then
came Quebec City followed by Saint John. That means we're back to New
My childhood memories are primarily set in two places. There
are also a few dream-like glimmers from Dunellen, New Jersey for the year
I was four. Catching fireflies, leaving my crayons on the back steps and
finding them hours later in a hardened puddle after the warm sun had long
prior taken to its hiding place behind the old pear tree. It must have
been my first bee sting there-I recall the terror and pain so vividly.
A house across the street had a cherry tree in the back yard which we
gluttonously picked and ate. I can't even come up with images of who "we"
was that particular day. A neighbour kid. I was four; there must have
been adults. A family down the street, with the last name "Bullwinkle"
(swear to god), had all kinds of great Milton Bradley games, like 'Operation'
and 'Trouble'. There was honeysuckle lining the back yard, lightning bugs
in the summer, super balls, the abandoned-and therefore haunted-house
next door. One day, a neighbour kid and I threw rocks and pebbles from
my driveway into the street when cars passed by. Soon enough, someone
stopped and tongue lashed my Dad who in turn, tongue lashed his son.
The big kids walking by the house on their way to or from school.
They were in elementary school. I ran away from home once, hiding in the
hedges by the school playground. Worried my parents to death. It's my
first memory of ever having done so, though my mother will recount any
number of other times before that day I'd managed to slip away. (Apparently,
I walked the centre-line of the Trans Canada highway one bright sunny
day of my third year of life.)
I recall seeing The Wizard of Oz for the very first time, and
hiding behind the big arm chair whenever the wicked witch of the west
made an appearance. I picture a green two-story house, sided with those
asbestos shakes that were once so popular. The driveway entered at the
left of the property and went straight into the back yard up to the separate
garage, also sided with green asbestos shakes. Inside the house was wood,
plenty of dark wood and a doorway to the attic which was only slightly
less ominous a place than the cellar doors to the haunted house next door.
(One day, a neighbour kid and I opened those doors to discover a melange
of spider webs and several enormous web-spinners. Naturally, we ran screaming
to our mothers.)
A set of particularly vivid images centers on the days we moved
away. It must have been an emotional event for me because even now U-Haul
trucks can trigger a mix of excitement and...and I don't know what-the
word 'pivotal' comes to mind, something BIG.
I think this one memory best characterises all the memories
from those months at Dunellen. I can describe all kinds of events and
settings. Many of the chronological and visual details are intact in my
mind. But expressing how I felt at the time seems impossible in all but
the simplest terms.
By the age of four, I was no stranger to moving. In my second
year we moved from Baden Baden, West Germany, where I was born, to Red
Deer, Alberta just off the RCAF base in Penhold. It must have been in
my third year, or early in the fourth, that we moved again to Montreal.
I have an image in my mind of seeing my mother and two sisters off at
the airport, waving bye-bye. My father and I took his little red sports
car from Penhold to Montreal. Why that memory? Was I unhappy? Perhaps
crying for my mother? More likely, I was simply caught up in all the excitement.
But surely there were other excitements to remember.
I have two memories from Alberta, perhaps three. Playing with
adults, or much older kids, in the front yard of a row of houses. I think
it was dusk. Then, seeing mom and the siblings off at the airport. The
other might be spurious, but there's an image of an empty school parking
lot with lots of broken glass. I've long associated it with Penhold.
I have but one memory from Montreal: my mother handing me down
from the balcony of our apartment to my father standing on the ground
below. This one could be spurious too, since for some reason the image
in my head is not from the perspective of being handed down but rather,
from the ground and seeing someone being handed down. Perhaps I have just
been handed down and am now watching one of my two sisters coming after.
It's odd, but I've been associating that image with myself being handed
down for decades now, without ever noticing the illogicalness of the perspective.
From Dunellen there is a larger store of memories. How many
have I recounted so far? A couple dozen? There are another couple dozen
or so floating in my mind. Recounting those might jog loose a dozen more,
which in turn might bring other flashes. However, eventually-soon-I'd
run completely through all of them. Let's call it a couple hundred. The
interesting thing is, although I can churn out pages of visual description,
it's difficult to conjure up all but the simplest references to the meaning
of those images for me, and even more difficult to define my emotional
state at the time.
There is pain, fear, glee, awe and the excitingly unfathomable.
That sums up the pivotal emotional responses of a four year old judging
from the content of my memories. Bee stings and tongue lashings: pain;
haunted houses, forbidden attic doorways, wicked witches: fear; honeysuckle,
cherries, lightning bugs and super-balls, elementary school kids: glee
and awe. And there's that U-Haul memory.
Why are two of my most prominent early memories about moving?
And why, in these memories, do I recollect the leaving and not the arriving?
Years later we would move again, when I was 12, but of that event I have
only the memory of arriving in New Hampshire, nothing of leaving New Jersey.
7:35 Cuivre River State Park; Troy, Missouri :: 23 AUG
Ahh, re-reading the previous paragraph kicked off a recollection:
adults loading a moving truck at 9 Putnam Rd., our address in Candlewood,
just north of Lakewood in New Jersey. I think it was another U-Haul?
Coyotes howl ruefully in the distance. Rue, sadness is our human
interpretation of their call. The coyotes are probably just wishing each
other a good morning.
Even though I've identified emotional states for several memories
above, most of these are an adult interpretaton of childhood images. So,
while the bee sting is definitively associated with pain, the wicked witch-fear-and
to this day those kids on their way to school sparks that sense of awe,
for most memories there are no clear emotional recollections; there are
no meanings associated with them. They're just images that stuck for some
unknown reason. As an adult, I'm curious as to why they stuck.
Honeysuckle: they smelled so sweet, summer time nectar, and
smell's supposedly the strongest sense for associating memories, but I
really remember the taste. Was it simply the pleasure of the taste coupled
with a whiff of nectar in the air that keeps the image alive in me?
What about the lightning bugs? I'd catch them and keep them
in jars by my bedside. In the darkness of my room while drifting off to
sleep sleep, I'd watch the green phosphorescense flicker. Obviously this
brought me intense pleasure. Is it the beginning of an aesthetic consciousness?
What about lightning bugs made them so beautiful, awesome or simply non-trivial
that these moments would win out in the battle for conscious memory against
so many other potential moments? I haven't a clue except that even today
fireflies, as I now refer to them, seem a little magical.
Louise and I left New Hampshire after loading Rolling Thunder
to the gills with loot from the house. The road taken led west and a little
south through New Hampshire and Vermont into New York, avoiding interstates.
This meant skirting the NYC megalopolis in such a way that we entered
New Jersey through Port Jervis, at the northern-most tip of the state.
Our second day on the road ended at a rural RV Park set in a region of
rolling hills, forest and farmland. It was a pretty picture from the hill
overlooking the RV parks small lake, full of green, leafy nature.
Louise's memory of New Jersey didn't allow for such beautiful
scenery. "If you'd ever asked me to describe New Jersey," she commented,
"I certainly wouldn't have mentioned pastures, leafy green hillsides and
pretty lakes rimmed with cattails." She remembered the state for its turnpikes,
commercial strips and subdivisions. But many of my parent's Airforce friends
settled in northern New Jersey, an easy commute to the international airports
in New York. We often visited them, and I remember it very well.
Unlike Dunellen, and the places that come before it, the eight-or-so
years spent in Candlewood form a rather large reservoir of memories. Any
one recollection leads to several others in an exponential explosion of
sight, smell, emotion and, something new, meaning and thoughts. To try
and keep the recounting of those memories humming along like a controlled
reaction rather than a hydrogen bomb, I'll write about the afternoon Louise
and I drove through our old home. That is, I'm finally getting around
to the point that started off this three-part (so far) series of dispatches.
(Thanks again, Mom, for getting me out of there.)
Err, time to get up and make another day of it. Looks like it's
going to be four-parts...
~~~ Responses Sought ~~~
Our memories are card-indexes consulted, and then put
back in disorder by authorities whom we do not control.
|| Cyrill Connolly
The Unquiet Grave (1944)