It’s fun to map out memories

Published 12:48 am Saturday, December 6, 2008

How far back can you remember?

According to author Bill Roorbach, a way to bring back hazy memories of the past is to draw a map of your earliest neighborhood.

Following his suggestion, I sketched out a rough map of the neighborhood where I lived when I was 4 to 7 years old.

It was amazing. As I made my little boxes representing houses, one memory led to another.

First, I placed our house on the corner of our street, and the kindly old lady who lived in the house directly behind ours came to mind. She was humpbacked, with an olive complexion. Whenever my mother and I visited her, my eyes wandered over the living room, taking in a crucifix and other religious symbols on the wall. The house smelled of garlic and was always dimly lighted because her husband worked nights and slept during the day.

It was certainly different from our house, where a gentle breeze floated into open windows and teased the curtains all summer long.

After I drew that house, I thought of my playmate Emily, who lived across the street from the dark house. Her mother was constantly in the kitchen cooking or on the back porch, washing and ironing mountains of clothes. Unlike my mother who kept a spotless house, Emily’s mother plodded along, but never caught up with her work.

Back on the street where I lived, I bypassed the two houses next door and roughed out a huge magnolia tree right next to the sidewalk. My friends and I rode our tricycles up and down the sidewalk to that tree, which was my boundary line.

In later years, a controversy raged between the city and the residents about the tree after its roots spread into the sidewalk. The city wanted to cut it down, but those in the neighborhood felt a sentimental attachment to it.

Across the street from us was a big two-story house belonging to the people who owned the house we lived in. Their granddaughter, Betty, and I were best friends.

One day Betty and I were swinging on our front porch with a piece of jawbreaker candy in our mouths, when mine suddenly hung in my throat. Betty screamed for my mother, who came running to my rescue.

Across the street, a block or so in the opposite direction, lived red-haired Elizabeth, who was a bit older than Betty and me. Elizabeth was always prim and proper. Her dresses looked as if she had just performed in a style show.

For years I had not thought of the humpbacked lady, the magnolia tree, Emily’s topsy-turvy house, Elizabeth’s pretty dresses and the time I almost choked to death on a penny piece of candy.

You know, that the map plan worked for me. Maybe next time I will try the same method on a later neighborhood and see what happens.