As you know, Oops50 is not a literary blog but a site dedicated to women baby boomers – a place where we share whatever we feel like. And today, I want to share an essay, 5/28/58 written by our friend, Terri Kirby Erickson.
Terri is the author of three collections of poetry, including her latest book, In the Palms of Angels (Press 53), which won a 2012 Nautilus Silver Award for Poetry and a Gold Medal for Poetry in the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Her poems are forthcoming or have appeared in American Life in Poetry, 2013 Poet’s Market, The Christian Science Monitor and many other publications. She lives in North Carolina. Please visit her website for more information about her books and poetry.
It would be convenient to blame Stephen King’s novel 11/22/63, wherein a guy who owns a diner in Lisbon Falls, Maine, finds a portal to the past—a certain day in 1958—for the longing I feel these days, when I think about my childhood. But I’m only on page 81 of Mr. King’s 842-page book, and I was feeling this way before I ever checked it out of the library.
No doubt memory has put a patina on my early years that have rendered them golden in my mind’s eye. Intellectually, I understand that life wasn’t perfect when I was a kid, that I still sometimes felt afraid (particularly of what might be hiding under my bed at night), and my family didn’t have a lot of money, which meant that my father worked two jobs sometimes, instead of one. Also there were the usual number of bullies in the neighborhood, injuries suffered in bike accidents, etc., and my mother often served peas for dinner, which I cleverly hid beneath piles of mashed potatoes.
I’m well aware, too, that the 1960’s were tumultuous years in our nation’s history. But children back then were not necessarily macrocosmic thinkers. All that existed for us was our own neighborhood, the people we knew. There was no such thing as the Internet, and we were too busy playing outside to watch much television.
For us, every day unfolded like a flower. My parents were young and beautiful. My grandparents and my little brother, Tommy, were still alive. And I felt safe, loved, and happier than I’ve ever been since then, mostly because I didn’t know that unhappiness was an option. Summers above all, were magical. Centuries passed between the moment I woke up in the morning in a body so new it practically hummed with health and vigor, and suppertime, after which we still had hours of daylight left.
And death, although we knew about it through the loss of an occasional pet or finding a dead bird in the yard—was something that only happened to ancient animals and people, and it would be a thousand years before anyone we knew, including ourselves, could possibly die. Besides, we would all “wake up” in heaven, a wonderful place where good people and animals go when they pass away. We didn’t know anyone who wasn’t good except for the aforementioned bullies, and they deserved whatever was coming to them as far as we were concerned.
I still believe in heaven, but I’ve lost count of all the loved ones who are there, now. I miss them more than I can say, especially Tommy, who was killed in an accident when he was twenty. If I’d known what was going to happen to my brother, I would have let him hang out more, with me and my friends. I wouldn’t have cast the blame on him for schemes that I cooked up. I would have been a better sister, all around.
But none of us knows what lies ahead, which is probably for the best. What I do know is that I’m very glad I was born to my particular parents in my particular town—that I have my own “portal” to 1958, the year of my birth, and I don’t need a diner in Maine to find it. And I’m lucky enough as a writer, myself, to have such a wealth of memories from which to draw for my work—to have the opportunity to make the past come alive for readers who have walked a similar path, and others (including my own lovely daughter!) who will not know what it was like to be a child in the 1960’s, unless we tell them.
But I have to admit, it would be nice to wake up tomorrow morning feeling like I did when I was six, to climb one more tree without being afraid of falling. On second thought, maybe I’ll just write about it!
Later this week, we will share a poem by Terri.