One August afternoon in 1967, Mom dressed me in a navy dress, patterned in tiny white polka dots, with an appliqué of paintbrushes and an artist’s palette in primary colors at the hem, and a white Peter Pan collar around my neck. White anklet socked feet, fitting snuggly into blood-red Mary Janes, anchored my chubby legs. While standing at attention in front of my house’s picture window with my feet together and my hands folded in front, I posed with my heels brushing against the yellow marigolds in full bloom under a toasty blanket of Indian summer sun. My birch tree buddy stood tall and arabesque in front of me, extending its tree branches in effort to shield me from the sun. I was present in those moments as I stood before my house and my tree waiting for my picture to be taken. Life was good.
This was my first day of kindergarten and the reason I wrote a memoir.
I never forgot my early years growing up on Carlisle street. The details came alive one day as I discovered old blueprints of the house. I spread out the house’s map, traced the fine white lines on blue paper with my finger, and imagined each room as I remembered it: the living room with red carpet underfoot, satin-covered love seats in creamy white with crimson velvet piping at the seams, black velveteen accent chairs, pink-and-green wallpapered mural on the wall of the breakfast nook in the kitchen, pink wrought iron kitchen set, dining room walls in a large floral print in shades of green. And upstairs, yellow and white shag carpeting complemented cheery yellow walls in my bedroom where Nancy Drew mysteries, white table and chairs set for tea for two, records stacked on the floor, a white canopy bed, were just a few of the many things I recalled.
I continued my finger-tracing journey to the outside lines of my home and remembered the vast landscape of green lawn in front dissected by accented shrubs and my birch tree, and willow trees and rose bushes out back. My footsteps in the snow encircled the house as if marking my place to be.
At fifteen, I had to leave Carlisle; my parents divorced. Over subsequent years, life served me disconnections with friends and family relationships, more moves, job failures, and myself. I wouldn’t realize until later in life, when I needed to sort it all out, to figure out what my disconnections meant, why I didn’t know me, that I had memoir.
“I was once eager to find complicated significance in what I now see as simplicity,” I wrote in an essay published in in The Magic of Memoir. The understanding of my experiences I was seeking was not complicated. Making sense of my disconnections was not deep rooted. I simply had to go back to that day when I posed for my picture to be taken on my first day of kindergarten to explain.
Throughout our lives we discover connections that always take us back to home, a place to be. For me, spotting a birch tree reminds me of home, and assures me that I am in a good spot, that I am okay. A red carpet, yellow walls, treading footsteps, and a birch tree connect me where their beginnings comfort me because they are home. Home is where we come from, our origin from where we take root and grow, our reference point. And connections we can make will always lead us back to home.
I wrote my memoir because I wanted to tell my story of simple connections, of finding home and how life was good that day waiting in sunshine while my picture was to be taken.