Thursday, October 25, 2012

Memories are like weed darts: Some of them don't stick (Originally in San Francisco Chronicle 9/16/06)

Walking my 9-year-old daughter home from school, I notice the great delight she takes in throwing weed darts. You may know what I'm talking about; it's a prolific weed throughout Sonoma County. She puts her thumb and forefinger together at the base of the weed and pulls up, plucking the darts to throw. She then flicks them at the back of whomever she is walking with (her sister, her brother, her father) to see how many darts will stick in the back of a shirt or in someone's hair.

I used to do the same thing as I waited at the bus stop when I was her age (as well as when I was a few years younger and a few years older). My family lived in a rural area of the county on an unpaved road with a dozen or so houses. Some mornings I waited 15 or 20 minutes at the stop for the bus. Of course, there were also mornings I saw the bus as I left the house and ran, hoping it wouldn't leave without me.

The following are the top five memories that come to mind when I think of our bus stop on Fulton Road and Raplee Terrace:

1) The weeds mentioned above.

2) Another weed with a head that would pop off when you twisted the stem just right.

3) Dark mornings. Because President Richard Nixon extended daylight-saving time, there were cold winter mornings when we wouldn't see the sun coming up till the bus was approaching Mark West Elementary School. I really couldn't have cared less at the time about breaking into the opponent's campaign headquarters -- making kids wait in the dark seemed the true impeachable act.

4) Kicking the bigger rocks on our gravel road from my house to the bus stop (and, of course, from the bus stop to my house). If the rock went in a ditch, it was lost. And, of course, I didn't want any other kid kicking MY rock.

5) Karen Cameron and Rachelle Merian repeatedly asking me to tell them whom I liked. I didn't tell them for a very long time. This was highly classified information that couldn't fall into the wrong hands. But day after day, they asked. It seemed their duty to collect all the data in our class about who liked whom. They needed this information because, well, I'm not sure why they needed to know, but it certainly seemed important to them.
Day after day, they asked, at the bus stop and on the walk home, with the promise that they would keep this information to themselves. No one would know. Their persistence paid off. Eventually, I told. And they told. The very person I most dreaded being told. The girl I liked.
So I had no choice to tell this, the cutest, funniest and kindest human being on the planet at that particular time, that I liked her, "You know, as a friend."
This was obviously a traumatic incident in my young life. That's why this memory had stuck with me. But I became curious. Would Karen and Rachelle remember this tumultuous event? Surely, something of this magnitude, they must. I decided to find out.

I had no problem getting in touch with Rachelle. After the bus stop years, in high school, I had driven her to school. Ever since our 20th high school reunion, we have kept in touch with Christmas cards and the occasional e-mail. I sent her a note asking for her bus stop memories.

In a phone call, she responded with these top five memories:

1) Her mother not walking with her to the bus stop.

Rachelle was much farther down the street than I, and she would have liked company for some of that walk, but her mother had to stay home with her younger brothers.

2) All the other kids that waited with us various times throughout the years: her older brothers, Randy and Ricky, and her sister Renee; my brother, Dale; the twins, Ronnie and Gary; and too many others to name, but the list would include Jack, David, Eddie and, of course, Karen.

3) The many times her grandfather driving along Fulton Road would slow down and wave. That made her feel quite special.

4) The mornings it rained and we all would take cover under the garage overhang of the last house on the street. But we would already be drenched from the walk.

5) The morning she had money to buy "The Boxcar Children" from the Scholastic Book Club. She wasn't usually given money to buy when book-order time came around, so this was a big deal. She had two quarters to pay for the book, and was playing with the money.
And what happened was what parents always warned would happen if you play with money. She dropped a quarter -- into the weeds. She didn't know what to do, so she threw the other quarter into the weeds, hoping it would find its companion. And it did. She heard them click and she found the quarters and bought the book.
This coin-finding trick never worked for her again.

You may notice that this list of memories makes no mention of her pleas to know my beloved (or more appropriate to the time, my "beliked"). When I asked her about the incident, she had no recollection of it.

(And upon further questioning, she was unable to recall the name of the girl her inquisition had dragged out of me, though she did remember some of the girls I liked in high school.)

It took a little more work to get in touch with Karen. After elementary school, she had gone to a different junior and senior high schools, and during that time moved off Raplee Terrace. I hadn't talked to her for decades. I checked with my mother for Karen's married name and her assurance that Karen was still in the area. After a calling a few wrong numbers, I finally reached her.

These are the memories that first came to her mind:

1) Our bus drivers, Mrs. Ward and Mrs. Albritton. (Both were moms of students at our school, Susan and Stephen, respectively, as I recall. Both were always threatening to give "tickets" for misconduct. I was never sure what these tickets would do, but it couldn't be good.)

2) Also the dark mornings.

3) Also the rainy mornings.

4) Being chased by chickens. Karen was also farther down the street than I was. I never encountered this fowl problem (there was a particularly nasty rooster, she recalled). She dislikes birds to this day because of these chickens.
5) During her kindergarten year, Karen broke her leg. She recalls struggling to get on the bus with the cast.

You might note once again, a glaring omission. When asked specifically about the afternoon when she and Rachelle implored me to share my heart, the moment my resolve broke and the consequences of it all, Karen had no recall.

I now know something more about those little weed darts my daughter throws, and that I used to throw (all right, I still throw them on occasion). They are wild oats. They are not indigenous to Sonoma County, but were brought long ago from Europe. The weeds with the pop tops are plantains.

These little factoids may stick with you, they may not. Like memories and wild oats thrown at the back, you just never know what will stick.

And you may wonder who it was that I had a crush on in the sixth grade. You're not hearing it from me.

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