Route 66 :: June '97 -- October '97

Subject: Escape from NJ — Part III
Date: Sat, 23 Aug 1997 06:46:12 -0700

21:30 Town & 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 AUG 97

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 Hampshire.

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 97

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.
  graphical element Cyrill Connolly
The Unquiet Grave (1944)